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Plant-Based Eating in Greece

Sharon Palmer

I just came back from a trip to Greece with my family. It was such an exciting trip for me, because Greece is the epicenter of the Mediterranean diet—a diet pattern that has been linked with health benefits really since antiquity, but proven out by scientists in the past fifty years. I steeped myself in Mediterranean eating, and discovered that it really is a plant-based diet. I had an easy time eating a completely plant-based diet in Greece, in fact. And it was delicious!

The Acropolis, Athens, Greece

We started our trip in Athens, visiting the Acropolis, which dates back to 5000 BC. At one time, the Acropolis was surrounded by the sea, but now it overlooks the bustling city of Athens. What an amazing trip back in time.

Vegetarian Dining, Athens, Greece

Check out this vegetarian restaurant I discovered in Greece! It’s really easy, because the signs are all in English. You’d think you were in California reading this menu!

Plant-based Breakfasts, Athens, Greece

I loved the breakfast buffets at the hotels in Greece. In Athens, our hotel offered an amazing lineup of plant-centric foods. Here’s what my breakfast plate looked like: barley bread, potatoes, baked beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, olive (with the stem!), and hazelnuts.

Horta, Athens, Greece

I’m in love with the culinary tradition of horta in Greece. I had read about it, and now I got to taste it (almost every day!). People still forage for this wild green, and most restaurants feature it on the menu. It’s simply simmered with olive oil and lemons. It is so rich and savory. I can only imagine the nutritional value it has! It’s a regular part of the Greek diet.

Taverna, Athens, Greece

Our first meal in Athens Greece, featured horta, stuffed grape leaves, and a cucumber tomato salad. Plus local wine and beer—of course! I love the casual setting and traditional food served at Greek tavernas, and the people are so incredibly nice!

Coffee, Athens, Greece

The coffee traditions in Greece run along the lines of espresso and frothy iced coffee in the summer. Plus, this cup of coffee was served with a rustic little bread—a common treat in Greece.

Whole Grain Bread, Athens, Greece

I loved the variety of whole grain breads I enjoyed in Greece: whole wheat, lots of barley based breads, even corn-based breads.

Nuts for sale on the streets of Athens, Greece

Nuts are everywhere in Greece, because they grow well in this sun-drenched climate. This street vendor sold little pouches of peanuts, cashews, pistachios, pumpkin seeds, and sunflower seeds for 1 – 2 euros—a bargain!

Fruit vendor, Athens, Greece

The produce was so lovely in Greece. Once you get out of the city—as we did—farms are plentiful. So there is so much available and enjoyed in the diet. Look at these peachy peaches!

Roasted Corn, Athens, Greece

I saw this all over Athens—street vendors who simply roasted the corn on a hot plate, and people bought it, and munched on it. How cool is that? It’s like a healthy version of corn dogs!

Wine, Athens, Greece

The local wines in Greece were a real treat. Every region we visited featured wines from their own area. And the prices were not much more than bottled water. These wines were simple, good, and tasted of the terroir—sun-drenched soil, soft fruit, and the sea.

Sautéed Zucchini, Athens, Greece

Zucchini is a plentiful item on menus—nearly every restaurant menu features some kind of zucchini. The Greek zucchini variety is a plump, silvery one. This time, they served these savory veggies sautéed.

Santorini, Greece

Our next stop was Santorini, the remains of a volcanic crater (caldera) jutting up in the Mediterranean Sea. We stayed in Imerovigli, one of the towns lining the walls of the caldera. The views were breathtaking, if a little bit queasy. We spent four days touring the island—walking the steep foot paths, hiking, exploring, and eating!

Fava, Santorini, Greece

One of the traditional plant-based dishes in Santorini is fava—it is on every menu. We had it twice a day, we were so addicted! While we think of fava as it’s own unique legume, fava means a dish of mashed split yellow peas seasoned with onions and olive oil. I bought local split yellow peas to take home and perfect this dish, so stay tuned!

Local wine, Santorini, Greece

The local wine in Santorini was wonderful, I was in love with this Atlantis rose!

Wild herbs, Santorini, Greece

Just go for a walk anywhere in Greece and you’ll spy wild herbs sprouting up in ditches, along paths, and in the field. Chamomile is everywhere in Greece—and it’s a staple medicinal herb used in teas. I bought a huge bag of lovely chamomile for $1 Euro!

Stuffed Vegetables, Santorini, Greece

One of my favorite meals in Santorini was simple, stuffed vegetables. Whole peppers and tomatoes, split and filled with simple rice with tomato sauce, redolent of green herbs. So simple and so delicious!

Vegetable Garden, Santorini, Greece

I visited a local kitchen garden in Santorini—check out the tomatoes and capers growing in the sandy, dry soil.

Stuffed Eggplant, Santorini, Greece

Another one of my marvelous meals in Santorini—stuffed eggplant—rich in caramelized onions, peppers, tomatoes, and herbs.

Fresh Cucumbers, Santorini, Greece

We stopped at a local farmers stand and bought some of his goods. These are the local cucumbers that grow everywhere—and appear in all of the local dishes.

Vegetable Risotto, Santorini, Greece

Another one of my favorite meals in Santorini: Vegetable Risotto. Unlike the creamy, rich risottos in the U.S. or Italy, this one was completely plant-based and featured fresh corn, carrots, peppers, and herbs.

Wine Grapes, Santorini, Greece

The wine grapes in Santorini grow in a way that suits their dry, hot, windy environment. They grow low to the ground, and the farmers wrap the vines around the base of the grape plant to help shelter the grapes from the elements. They are not irrigated—relying on the morning dew for moisture.

Restaurant display, Santorini, Greece

Who can say no to a restaurant display like this? Indeed, we stopped for lunch at this place!

Fresh produce, Santorini, Greece

A few of the key ingredients of Greek cuisine: zucchini, tomatoes, eggplants

Greek Salad (sans Feta) Santorini, Greece

My favorite plant-based lunch: Greek salad—minus the feta cheese. This one featured pickled caper leaves and capers!

Mama Thira, Santorini, Greece

We enjoyed lunch at this adorable, traditional restaurant, which featured displays of fresh, seasonal, local ingredients.

Dining in Chania, Crete

Our first meal in Crete was at this adorable café in a back alley! The food and service was amazing! I have a lovely salad and stuffed zucchini flowers.

Wheat Salad, Crete, Greece

One of my meals in Crete was a simple wheat orange salad, featuring bulgur, oranges, cucumbers, olive oil, and paprika. It was so fresh and delicious!

Stuffed Grape Leaves and Zucchini Flowers, Crete, Greece

I could not get enough of the stuffed grape leaves and zucchini flowers in Crete. They were filled with a simple rice, herb mixture. You can buy grape leaves and zucchini flowers readily at the Cretan farmers markets.

Breakfast, Crete, Greece

While I stayed in Chania, Crete—at the lovely Doma Hotel—I enjoyed this every day for breakfast: corn meal bread (the circle), barley sticks, dried olives (amazing!) and fresh tomatoes. This I enjoyed with fresh fruit, muesli, and an assortment of local nuts and seeds.

Olive trees, Crete, Greece

We had an opportunity to drive into the countryside in Crete—and it’s olive trees as far as the eye can see. I have never seen so many olive trees. Truly, there must be 10 olive trees for every person. And they are completely left to the elements—no irrigation, fussing, just harvesting.

Goat, Crete, Greece

Goats are everywhere in Crete. Every corner you turn around you see a gaggle of them. This one was particularly adorable because it had a huge copper bell around it’s throat! You can see it next to oleander—which grows wild all over Crete.

Bean Dish, Vamos, Crete, Greece

One of my all time favorite meals in Crete was in the small, charming, historic town of Vamos (I highly recommend it!). We stopped at a local taverna and the owner just would not let us leave! He kept treating us to more local foods—even ones we didn’t pay for! I had this amazing bean dish, featuring white broad beans in a rich tomato broth with vegetables and herbs—served with crusty bread.

Salad, Vamos, Crete, Greece

I also had this lovely Cretan, vegetable salad in the Vamos taverna—featuring chunks of tomatoes, bell pepper, onions, olives and the best olive oil I have ever tasted.

Greek Ratatouille, Meteora, Greece

Our final destination was in Meteora, before we headed back to Athens to catch our plane. This is the cite of the amazing, rock pinnacles that soar into the air, and are home to ancient monasteries. We climbed up to one—a breathless experience! We enjoyed a lovely meal looking out at the pinnacles that night. I ordered another classic dish: Greek ratatouille, which featured zucchini, tomatoes, potatoes, olives, capers, and lots of herbs and olive oil.

Watermelon for Dessert, Meteora, Greece 

And after we were done eating, the server brought us a dessert as a complimentary treat—often the case in Greece; you get a few extra tidbits of food at the end of your meal. This is what we got—the epitome of a traditional Mediterranean diet—fresh fruit!

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