Even most Greeks do not consciously acknowledge a basic fact: traditional Greek cooking utilizes vastly more dried herbs and spices than fresh ones. The most common exceptions are parsley, dill, fennel and, at times, mint. These are the only living green baharika (spices) found in the koozeenah (kitchen).
Basil is seldom used in Greek cooking, and when you see or smell it, it is more likely to be tied in a small bunch and hung as a repellent of mosquitos and evil spirits. If you have not been apprised of it yet, this very-Christian nation relies heavily on superstition and integrated pagan rituals … all, of course, sanctioned by Mount Olympus. Why take chances?
Black pepper, bay leaves, rosemary, oregano, thyme, cinnamon, cloves and allspice come to the pot, pan or casserole in powdered or ground form. Salt is more heavily used than detected in forms from powdered dust to rock-coarse.
Dried tomatoes, sesame and poppy seeds come in several varieties. A spice called mahlepi is made from the inner seed of a specific brand of cherry and is used in baking bread and some pastries. Some people refer to natural honey as a spice. Spice or not, Greeks consume a lot honey and seemingly do not suffer from glucose illnesses afflicting most of the Western world.
You may come across some unrecognizable regional spices which arouse your senses. Mastic is a pistachio-based crystal resin used in some breads, sauces, hot drinks and sweets. Cumin grows more readily and is widely used in the Northern mountainous areas.
Again, people will cook with locally available ingredients. That’s a human eating survival habit based on the flowing philosophy: food that originates the shortest distance from the plant’s growth location to the consumer most likely provides the freshest and most nutrient-rich product. Thus, if you have dandelions readily available, get ready for dandelion salads, pita, garnishing and stew. It’s inevitable.
Long before commercially available “prescription aphrodisiacs,” tonics and lotions were available, you might be surprised to learn that ancient concoctions derived from spices listed above, when combined with precise amounts of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, ouzo and orange pulp, could make any night seem like “a perfect Summer night.” We dare you to find a meal during your Nectar & Ambrosia tour devoid of such ingredients … which are required to emulate a mythological god or goddess. Don’t over-analyze this information … just eat, eat, eat … and see if you, or your partner, notice a difference.