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It is at this time of year that my thoughts always turn to Greece – my favourite holiday destination. For me, Spring is by far the best time to visit, with the intoxicating scent of orange blossom in the day and the heady perfume of jasmine at night, the trees bursting with oranges and lemons, expanses of pale delicate mountain flowers dotted with bright red poppies, white-washed buildings splashed with scarlet geraniums and magenta bougainvillea, and the seemingly endless blue of the sea and the sky. And then, of course, there’s the food.

 

When you think of Greek food, you probably associate it more with lamb dishes, such as moussaka, rather than vegetarian or vegan food. But the Greeks don’t actually eat that much meat and, when they do, it is usually accompanied by plenty of vegetable dishes and salads. In fact, Pythagoras, the ancient Greek mathematician and philosopher, was said to follow what could be described as a vegetarian diet.

 

I was pleasantly surprised a few months ago when I went to a restaurant in Greece and discovered a separate section on the menu for vegan food. However, the dishes were already familiar as there is an abundance of traditional Greek dishes that are vegan: stuffed peppers and tomatoes, briam (oven baked vegetables), stuffed vine leaves, courgette fritters, chickpea balls, gigantes plaki (large butterbeans baked in tomato sauce), spanakopita (spinach pie), aubergine dip. The list goes on and on. And, of course, anything you order will be served with bread. A Dutch friend of mine who lives in Greece jokes that her Greek boyfriend cannot eat unless it is accompanied by bread! To be fair, many Greek dishes are served in delicious sauces and the bread comes in very handy for mopping up.

 

Another common misconception is that houmous is Greek, when it is in fact Middle Eastern in origin – houmous being the Arabic word for chickpeas. It is very unusual to receive a plate of houmous in Greece. Instead you are far more likely to be given fava – often translated on menus as ‘pea puree’ or ‘split peas’. Fava is made from small dried yellow split peas, which are boiled until they melt into a puree, creating a dish that is both comforting and nutritious. Serve warm, drizzled with olive oil and topped with sliced red onion. You can buy Greek fava beans on the internet, so you can try it for yourself. It is ideal as a starter (with bread or pitta to dip) or as a side dish. Of course, Pythagoras would not approve of either houmous or fava as he abstained from beans as well as meat!

 

Another popular and traditional dish that can act as a houmous alternative is skordalia – garlic and olive oil mashed potato. This creamy dish is a perfect and delicious accompaniment to beetroot salad.

 

So next time you are planning a vegan feast with your friends, you could do a lot worse than to go Greek. And remember to raise a glass to Pythagoras!