Greek Recipes

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Byzantine Cuisine – Diverse tastes

The Byzantines were known for their refined and diverse tastes which were frowned upon by the clergy, at least during the first centuries. Later things changed, and bishops and abbots were among those to indulge in gastronomic delights.

As usual, meat was a favorite food and game figured prominently on the Byzantine table. Recipes at the time were complex and a great variety of seasonings were employed. The formal meal assumed in that period the form that is known today: forst came the appetizers, then the main course or courses and finally a desert. Sauces, which were prepared separately to impart flavor to a certain food, were ubiquitous. The diet of the Byzantines was supplemented with various cheeses, compotes, preserves and fruit.

From the above information, it becomes evident that the dietary habits of the modern western world have stemmed from Byzantine standards. Therefore, it is justifiably maintained that the food customs and principles of Byzantium were closer to 20th-century dietary habits than those of Medieval Europe.

The Byzantines had a strong preference for condiments and spices; in particular, garos (fermented fish sauce), coriander, cumin, mint, nutmeg, saffron, nard (common valerian), ect, were highly favored. Garlic, onion and leek came to play a preeminent role in cookery, and according to Constantinos Mannassis, they were used in stuffings for meats, mostly for kid brought from Melos. Byzantine writer Theodore Prodromus, also known as Ptochoprodromus (poor Prodromus), provides the recipe for monikythron, a dish which apparently was eaten mainly by abbots, and contained among other things: “a litre of olive oil, a handful of black pepper, twelve cloves of garlic and fifteen dried mackerels (Prodromic Poems 3.170). In the same literary work, Prodromus also refers toskordaton (Prodromic Poems 4.64), which was boiled meat seasoned with garlic, hence its name (in Greek skordon means garlic.

Among the favorite delicacies of the Byzantines were caviar brought from the Black and Caspian Sea, fish roe, sea-urchins, mussels stuffed with pine nuts, anise, cumin and cinnemon, various fish, mollusks and crustaceans (known today under the generic term “seafood”). Favorite meats included baby lanb, kid from the island of Melos stuffed with leeks and garlic, hare cooked in wine, pork and fowl.

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