Greek Gourmet Must-Haves, Part II
Extra, Extra! Extra virgin olive oil, captivating capers...
The country that brought you dazzling islands like Santorini and nifty concepts like democracy also has a dynamic and varied gastronomic heritage. Gourmet dishes notwithstanding, it’s something that extends to the world of snacks. And this is a very good (not to mention tasty) thing indeed, because it means you can enjoy the flavors of Greece without even leaving home. Many Greek gourmet items can be ordered online—if not, ask your local gourmet grocer if they can place a special order for you. Now is the time to do so, before the holiday rush. Speaking of which, if you want to get one leg up on Santa, consider a gift of tantalizing Greek wine, chocolate or olive oil this holiday season. Here's where to start.
Small batch olive oil
Stay in Greece for any length of time and you'll probably be tasting a lot of olive oil, which has been a key ingredient in the healthy Mediterranean diet for thousands of years. Live Longer Extra Virgin Olive Oil comes from a single family-owned olive grove on the slopes of the Messinian mountains in the Peloponnese. This olive oil is made from cold extracted pure raw olive juice from koroneiki oloves and has a very low acidity with a mild fruit intensity. Its balanced bitter and spicy flavor is guaranteed to transform your salads! And it's also got polyphenols—lots of them—which are powerful antioxidants. Beautifully and sturdily bottled, it makes for a great gourmet gift. "When a friend gave me some of this Greek olive oil I was amazed at how flavorful it is," says New York-based television personality Delaina Dixon. "It's not just extra virgin, it's extra special!"
Assyrtiko wine from Santorini
You may not realize it, but the most over-Instagrammed island in the Mediterranean, Santorini, is also a small agricultural wonderland. That’s largely thanks to its soil, which is rich in volcanic ash. One of the plants that thrives in this soil is the white grape that makes the sweet white Assyrtiko wine. While these grapes are cultivated in a few other places in Greece, the Assyrtiko vineyards in Santorini are the most famous. You’ll be able find quality bottles of Assyrtiko wine from Santorini at many fine wine stores or online.
Pasteli sesame snacks
Not to be confused with halvah, pasteli is a very traditional, not-too-sweet Greek treat based on two ancient ingredients: sesame seeds and honey. A healthy Halloween candy alternative! In its most common form, the honey is boiled before being mixed with sesame seeds, and ideally, your pasteli bar will be thin and more chewy than crispy. You’ll find all manner of variations at gourmet shops and grocery stores alike — with bits of dried fruits and nuts often added in. The best I have found is from a company called Patrikon, based near ancient Thebes.
Capers from Sifnos or Santorini
The volcanic soil of Santorini strikes again to produce some of the tangiest capers you’ll find. But if you happen to find yourself on the island of Sifnos, you’ll find that the capers grown there are even better. Don’t look for fancy labels, just snap up whatever little canister of capers you can find. While Santorini capers are widely available, the true Sifnian capers are found almost exclusively in Sifnos and may be more difficult to find online or in stores.
ION chocolate bars
One of my Greek supermarket favorites: Ion chocolate bars. The famous Greek chocolate company is based in a suburb of Athens, has been churning out chocolate bars since 1927. You can’t go wrong with the classic milk chocolate (red wrapper) and dark chocolate (blue wrapper) bars, but also try some of the more deliciously intriguing varieties like the Serano bar (milk chocolate with cocoa cream filling) and JOIN Cheesecake bar (mascarpone and cherry filling surrounded by milk chocolate).
Cherry spoon sweets
Spoon sweets are a very traditional Greek sweet that you can find for cheap in any Greek grocery store. These are fruit pieces preserved in a thick sugary syrup and packaged in glass jars. Cherry spoon sweets are a traditional favorite. Whichever variety you settle on, the way to serve it is by the tablespoon with a tall glass of cold water on the side. Samaria natural spring water from Crete is the purest and best.