I was half way through procrastinating about my next post for the blog when I received an email from a reader in the UK seeking some advice and recipe ideas for a Greek dinner party he’s planning for some of his vegetarian friends this week.
That I receive any blog-related emails at all these days is nothing short of miraculous given my new-found tendency to neglect the blog for weeks on end, but to have someone on the other side of the world turn to me for advice to help them put together a three-course meal for 8 people is, to put it mildly, simply monumental.
For that reason, I’ve decided to write an entire post inspired by that email from Matthew in Manchester.
Preparing a Greek vegetarian feast for a group of friends need not be a daunting task. It should be fun to cook for our favourite people, not stressful. All it takes is a bit of planning and preparation.
Most of the dishes mentioned below can be made ahead of time allowing you to enjoy the meal with your mates without spending too much time in the kitchen on the night.
It also helps to write up a schedule of everything that needs to be done on the day. I usually draw up a simple columned list with time prompters on the left and tasks on the right. For example:
3:00pm ... Grocery shopping. Home by 4:00pm.
4:30pm ... Prepare undressed salad, cover and place in fridge.
5:00pm ... Make Spanakopita and keep on bench ready to place in oven.
6:00pm ... Prepare honeyed yoghurt and chopped pistachios.
6:15pm ... Make tzatziki and salad dressing.
6:45pm ... Set table and place tzatziki, bread, dukkah and olive oil on table.
7:00pm ... Guests arrive.
7:20pm ... Preheat oven.
7:30pm ... Put Spanakopita in oven. Set timer for 45 minutes.
8:15pm ... Take salad out of fridge and dress, and serve Spanakopita.
9:00pm ... Take stewed apricots out of fridge and place over low heat on stove. Set timer for 5 minutes.
9:15pm ... Assemble stewed apricot dishes and serve.
There are lots of Greek starters and sweets that can be bought ready-made from good quality Greek delis and cake shops. It's not really cheating if you at least arrange the items artistically on platters and garnish appropriately (I do this a lot!) – a sprinkling of fresh parsley or dusting of icing sugar goes a long way.
Anything from dips and pickled vegetables, to baklava and Turkish delight can be store bought, but keep in mind some starters and sweets are so easy to make yourself it might even be quicker than taking a trip down to the shops!
As for main dishes, they are much better home-made. While you may be able to buy frozen spanakopita from the supermarket, it won't taste anywhere near as good (or look as impressive) as a spinach and cheese pie you made yourself.
Below are some suggestions for easy, stress-free vegetarian Greek feast ideas with recipe links in blue, and at the end I’ve included a new recipe for Stewed Apricots with Honeyed Greek Yoghurt and Pistachios.
For starters, impress your guests with home-made tzatziki and dukkah served with gorgeous crusty bread and a bowl of extra virgin olive oil for dipping. Dukkah can be made up to one month in advance (stored in the fridge in an air-tight container) and tzatziki one day ahead. Just give it a stir if liquid has formed on top overnight.
You could prepare a platter of dips with two or three heaped tablespoons each of hummus, roasted eggplant and walnut dip and Kalamata olive dip, or any of your favourite store-bought Greek dips. Decorate the platter with cubes of marinated feta, olives and semi-sundried tomatoes. Make the dips yourself or buy everything from a good Greek deli or even the supermarket.
A more simple starter dish can be made using canned dolmathes (rice-stuffed vine leaves imported from Greece) served warm with tomato sauce. Carefully empty the contents of the can into a saucepan along with around half a cup of home-made (or jarred) tomato passata and heat slowly with the lid on until warmed through. These are brilliant served with crumbled feta and freshly chopped parsley sprinkled over the top.
The entire meal can even be made up of a selection of starters all on separate plates that everyone can pick and nibble at throughout the night. You could include everything mentioned above, as well as a green bean, tomato and feta salad, some crispy roast pumpkin and feta filo triangles, tasty lentil keftethes or succulent tomato fritters.
If you want to prepare a traditional main dish, Spanakopita (spinach and cheese pie) is an old favourite. Alternatively, a baked vegetable dish like Briam is perfect to just throw into the oven and forget about until cooked. But if you have a little more time, Vegetarian Moussaka or Pastitsio with Broccoli are wonderful show stoppers.
Sticky Greek sweets like Baklava (honey and walnut pastries), Galaktoboureko (semolina custard pie) or Melomacarona (honeyed cookies) are delectable morsels to finish off a Greek feast. These can be difficult to make but very easy to buy at Greek cake shops. Just make sure you buy them on the day of your dinner party.
If you’d like to try your hand at some simple Greek pastry desserts, try Bougatsa (custard-filled pastry) or Lemon and Ricotta pastries. Bougatsa can be made up to three days in advance, kept in an air-tight container in the fridge and reheated on a baking tray at 180 degrees celsius for 5 minutes before serving.
For a really easy and much lighter little Greek dessert to conclude the evening’s feasting, you might want to make these delicious Stewed Apricots with Honeyed Greek Yoghurt and Pistachios.
Stewed Apricots with Honeyed Greek Yoghurt and Pistachios
Note: The apricots can be stewed a day ahead and reheated just before serving. Store in the fridge in the saucepan they were cooked in, with the lid on. Reheat over low heat with lid on, until just simmering.
- 1 cup castor sugar
- 1 cup water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 800g can of apricot halves in natural juice (no added sugar), strained
- 800g thick Greek yoghurt
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
- 120g pistachio nuts in their shells
- Place water, sugar and cinnamon in a medium saucepan and heat, stirring, until sugar has dissolved.
- Allow to simmer for 5 minutes without stirring, before adding the apricots.
- Add strained apricots to syrup, stir to incorporate then simmer for another 5 minutes without stirring. The apricots will become quite mushy after cooking – if you'd like to keep a few still-formed apricot halves for garnishing, set them aside without cooking and only add them to the stew in the last 30 seconds to warm them through.
- Meanwhile, shell the pistachio nuts and chop finely. Set aside until needed.
- Combine yoghurt with honey and vanilla essence in a medium bowl and mix well. Set aside until needed.
- Remove apricots from heat and allow to cool a little. Remove and discard cinnamon stick.
- Just before serving, spoon the yoghurt into serving bowls, then carefully place warm apricots with some of the syrup over the yoghurt, and sprinkle with chopped pistachio.