Since the 1960s, many dieticians have been singing the praises of the “Mediterranean diet,” citing the cuisine of Greece—particularly Crete—and southern Italy as a model for a heart-healthy way to eat. With meals that feature healthy doses of wheat and bulgur, fresh vegetables, olive oil, honey, and Greek yogurt, Greek cuisine features a surprising number of vegetarian-friendly recipes—as well as dishes that can easily be converted for vegetarians and vegans alike.
Why is this? The Great Lent may play a factor. This 40-day fasting season, observed by many Orthodox Christians worldwide, prompts many people to eschew meat, dairy, and fats altogether, instead seeking out recipes that are both extremely healthy and full of flavor that can satisfy sophisticated 21st century palates.
With the Great Lent set to begin on February 27, we sought out two recipes that can bring the heart-healthy and appetite-pleasing ways of the Greek Isles to your dinner table. Demetra “Dee” DiGregorio, mother of Grand Circle Product Marketing Director Vinette DiGregorio, offered us these two dishes, which harken back to the days when she was foraging with her Greek grandmother for dandelion greens in the fields of her youth.
Spanakorizo (Spinach & Rice)
Infused with flavors of onion, parsley, and dill, this side dish brings a light, yet satisfying element to a Greek meal. And you have options when it comes to the kind of broth you elect to use—it works just as well with chicken broth or a vegetable broth.
2 medium onions, coarsely chopped
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup chicken or vegetable broth
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 lb. spinach, washed and drained
2 Tbs. parsley
2 Tbs. dill
½ cup white rice, uncooked
Salt and pepper, to taste
- In large skillet, sauté onions in olive oil.
- In a separate saucepan, heat broth, then stir in tomato paste.
- Add tomato paste and broth mixture to skillet; lower heat.
- Add spinach, parsley, dill, and rice.
- Season with salt and pepper.
- Cover skillet and simmer on a low flame until rice is done.
- Add more broth as necessary.
- Serve with lemon wedges, crusty bread, and feta cheese on the side.
Servings: Yields 6 (as a side dish)
Domates Yemista (Greek-style Stuffed Tomatoes)
Traditionally, Domates Yemista would be prepared with lamb—sheep and goats were the only sources of meat and dairy for much of Greece’s history—but you can feel free to substitute with an equal amount of ground beef or legumes (chickpeas provide a particularly tasty vegetarian alternative). Additionally, if you’d like a fresh twist on this dish, substitute the stuffed tomatoes with green peppers.
12 large, ripe tomatoes (or green peppers, if desired)
1 ½ tsp. olive oil
2 onions, coarsely chopped
1 lb. ground beef, lamb, or mashed legumes
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
1 Tbs. fresh mint, chopped
½ cup, water
2 cups rice, uncooked
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Wash tomatoes and cut off tops.
- Use a teaspoon to scoop out tomato pulp, then shred pulp in a food processor.
- Place hollowed-out tomatoes in a 9”x12” baking dish.
- Heat olive oil in large skillet and sauté onions until brown.
- Add meat (or legumes), tomato pulp, and salt and pepper.
- Add mint and parsley.
- Add ½ cup of water, or more if needed.
- Add rice and lower heat. Cook until rice is done.
- Drain excess liquid—set it aside.
- Fill tomatoes with cooked mixture. Top with tomato tops.
- Pour excess liquid into baking dish, so that tomatoes are sitting in liquid.
- Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 45 minutes or until vegetables are softened and browned on top.
- Serve with salad and crusty bread.
Servings: Yields 12
For these and other flavors of the Mediterranean, experience our Small Ship CruiseTour itineraries: Treasures of the Aegean: Greek Island Cruise, Athens & Istanbul; Hidden Gems of the Dalmatian Coast & Greece; or Cruising the Adriatic: Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia & Herzegovina.