Mama’s Healthy Greek Pantry
Greek products – from varieties of honey, yogurt, handmade pasta and rusks to organically grown fruit and vegetables and free-range meats can easily be found at every local laiki market that brims with natural goods, as well as a plenitude of traditional food and bio shops, that are truly healthful.
As a mother feeding a sometimes very picky preschooler, what I’ve discovered is that with a bit of creativity, I can slip in all kinds of super healthy stuff that comes to me easily from my pantry and I can get away with it with glowing results, and that he actually loves a lot of the simplest Greek stuff. The following are the products this Greek mama uses in some way on most days, and for which I truly thank my lucky stars to have access to in such (affordable) abundance.
It’s sweet, sticky and incredibly nutritious: with anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, immune system-boosting, cough-alleviating, and probiotic benefits, to name but a few. Thyme honey, Reiki, floral honey and oak are especially beneficial. I stir it into herbal teas, yogurt, porridge, warm milk drinks, and the amazing (Cretan-)avocado-banana-cacao “chocolate pudding”, and use it as a replacement for sugar when I make cakes or muffins.
Barley & Rye Rusks
Rich in B vitamins, magnesium, fibre, phosphorus, silica and antioxidants, I crush paximadia (which come in a huge range) into crouton size bits to add the crunch factor so beloved by many toddlers, over velvety vegetable soups and stews; I also blend them to make breadcrumbs for patties, schnitzel, fried chicken or fish fingers.
An anti-inflammatory, immune system booster, intestine-soother and digestion-booster, high in antioxidants and so much more, olive oil is Greece’s true blessing. My family gets through around five kilograms of pure, extra virgin olive oil per month. I just pour it generously into practically everything, from soups, pasta sauces and raw veggies to cake mixes and other desserts (for the latter class I make sure I use one with a delicate flavour).
Another amazing food we are blessed with in Greece, that can be found everywhere, including random kiosks on the street, is thick, creamy, flavourful, probiotic-rich yogurt. B vitamins, calcium, magnesium and a significant protein content are just some of the great benefits of yogurt. We serve it with chunks of seasonal fruit, sunflower seeds, walnuts and a huge dollop of honey. I also add some yogurt to thick soups like leek and potato instead of sour cream.
As a Rome-raised Greek, the taste of basil is an essential component of my summer diet. Since his baby days, my son was given fresh tomato sauce with basil, and when he started to walk, going to the garden to pick basil for our dinner became a ritual. Other medicinal Greek herbs that I regularly throw into our dishes are parsley, oregano and wild thyme (often picked by us from the side of some mountain road on an island) and in winter, a favourite is baked rosemary twigs cooked in olive oil and garlic with crisp, lemony potatoes. Meanwhile I regularly make him light (ie. not steeped for more than a few minutes) teas with organic calming chamomile, linden, lemon verbena, mountain tea or lavender and when he’s under the weather a cup of oregano or cinnamon tea for their anti-microbial, anti-viral properties.
Garlic and onion
Both of these highly medicinal ingredients are part of our daily cooking. I put them in everything and did so, in small quantities ever since my son started eating solid foods (before that it was definitely present in my milk!). Among many other things, garlic has allicin in it, which can help eradicate colds and boost the immune system, help clear the body of heavy metals and is packed with antioxidants. Like garlic, onion is antimicrobial, helps regulate blood suga and contains numerous antioxidant vitamins. Very finely chopped or crushed in their raw form in small quantities or cooked and blended into sauces and soups they always add great flavour and a healthy punch.
A major source of Vitamin C, high in antioxidants and flavonoids, with antibacterial properties, an immune system booster and very uplifting due to its fresh aroma. I’m obsessed with zingy lemon, and squeeze it on everything – including my hands, my chest (I did it once on a hot summer day as I had cool, lemony hands and it has now become a cheerful ritual), my eggs, soups like minestrone, leek and potato or Greek chicken soup, which is made using a mix of egg & lemon (known as avgolemono), raw vegetables etc. My son has fortunately followed in my footsteps and loves tons of lemon squeezed on everything. Fortunately toddlers don’t just imitate the bad stuff.