Five simple Greek family recipes fit for a feast

sticky aubergine tart
sticky aubergine tart

Until very recently, it felt like Greek food in the West was seen as basic, crude; constantly compared and found inferior to the perennially popular cuisine of its elegant neighbour, Italy. It’s a thrill to see Greek and Cypriot cuisine having some time in the spotlight. The food is undeniably similar: an abundance of sun-charged vegetables, slow-cooked meats, pasta and grains spans both countries. What Greece and Cyprus also have is a heavy influence from the East: spices, barbecues, mezedes, dips and floral sweets. This sort of food and cooking lends itself to sociable eating.

When I was a child, our family holidays were always to Cyprus, to see relatives. Now I have my own children and we’ve been exploring mainland Greece and the islands, which has been exhilarating beyond belief. The diversity one sees from one region to the next inevitably extends to the food. Sure, there are dishes you will be able to eat all over the country – moussaka, the classic Greek salad (horiatiki), those mezedes and dips. But across the mainland and thousands of islands, the food varies greatly. I adore the heartier dishes of northern Greece. The meats slow-cooked in clay pots, tossed through handmade pasta. Syrupy filo pastries, common all over Greece and Cyprus, but in the north filled with heart-stopping amounts of cream and the use of ginger in drinks.

The variety of foods is not only dictated by the landscape, but by neighbouring countries. To the north and east lie Albania, North Macedonia, Bulgaria and Turkey. Other culinary traditions are a legacy of the Ottoman Empire. Thessaloniki’s historical Jewish community, no longer as prevalent as it was, has left its mark. Corfu was under Venetian occupation for 400 years, so there is a lingering influence in the Ionians. Middle Eastern flavours emerge in the southern islands and Cyprus, where the similarities with the food of countries such as Lebanon and Syria are strong. And of course there are influences from both the Greek and Turkish communities on the divided island.

The recipes shared here illustrate the food I like to cook every day in my Greekish life – meals that are straightforward and straight-up tasty. They nod to my Greek-Cypriot heritage, but are shaped by my busy family life. I want to feed you from a table groaning with food, but I also want to chat to you (in a too-loud voice while gesticulating lots) and not be slaving away behind a stove. I hope that you love these dishes, that they become part of your repertoire, and that over time you make them your own.

Greekish: Everyday Recipes with Greek Roots, by Georgina Hayden (Bloomsbury, £26), is out now