Let’s Go Out for…Greek

Ready to enjoy one of the healthiest, tastiest cuisines in the world? Enjoy authentic Greek dishes with these insider tips.
What To EatLets Go Out For

You’ve probably seen the feta-and-tomato salad on the menu at a local Greek-owned diner. But if you haven’t ventured any deeper into Greek food, you’re missing some of the most flavorful and indulgent dishes Europe has to offer. Fortunately, authentic Greek cuisine is quickly gaining traction in America in the hands of chefs like Michelin-starred Michael Psilakis, who counts several locations of MP Taverna in New York among his award-winning restaurants. “If you take Italy and Turkey and smash them together, you have Greek cuisine,” says Psilakis. “It combines the fresh flavors of Italian and the wonderful aromatic spices of Turkey.”

Unlike Italian food, however, which is much more regionally diverse than Greek cuisine, you’ll rarely find plates heaped with starchy pasta, fatty beef, buttery sauces or fried preparations. “Greece really [has] the healthiest cuisine of the region because it is vegetable-driven and relies almost exclusively on olive oil and grilling,” says Psilakis. “It’s the real Mediterranean diet.”

If you're like most Americans, the typical Greek restaurant menu can seem like, well, Greek. Below are some classic menu items and must-trys, plus tips to help you add this healthy cuisine to your dining repertoire. With few pitfalls and an abundance of fresh, simply prepared dishes, these meals will soon have you shouting, "Opa!"

Horiatiki Salad
Horiatiki salad
This classic Greek-village salad is traditionally made with tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and topped with feta — a sheep’s-milk cheese. (Lettuce is an American addition, according to Psilakis.) A typical restaurant portion will have a PointsPlus® value of 10, with the feta and the vinaigrette pumping up the caloric value of this app into entrée territory (which is the way many people enjoy it). Lighten it up: With its potent, piquant and salty flavors, a little feta goes a long way. “If it’s in big cubes, take the feta and crumble it across your salad, so you get a little in each bite,” suggests Diane Henderiks, RD, a culinary nutritionist and chef who runs DishWithDiane.com. For every ¼ cup of feta you take off the salad, you cut 3 PointsPlus values.
Grilled Octopus
Grilled octopus
Because octopus is tricky to prepare at home and a hallmark of Greek cuisine, it's a must-try. Roasted, then grilled for added flavor, octopus is tender lowfat white meat, served on its own or over salad, with a PointsPlus value of about 3 for a typical 3-ounce serving. One point of caution: “Most grilled food, including octopus and meats, comes with ladolemono — the Greek secret weapon of flavor,” says Psilakis. Combining extra-virgin olive oil, lemon and fresh oregano, it can add 3 PointsPlus values.
Hummus Pita
Hummus and pita
Like other Greek foods, healthful hummus relies on olive oil as opposed to the sesame tahini prevalent in the Middle East. “Chickpeas are a great source of vegetarian protein, and you’ll sometimes see flavorful additions of garlic and sun-dried tomato, but you need to watch portions with this one,” says Henderiks. Figure on adding 4 PointsPlus values per 1/4 cup, plus another 2 PointsPlus values for each small pita you consume.
Avgolemono Soup
Avgolemono soup
This ain’t your mom’s chicken noodle soup — unless your mom is from Athens, of course. Made with a base of chicken broth, the zesty flavor of lemon juice, and eggs for added richness, this traditional soup has a bit of orzo or rice for added texture. Figure on about 125 calories per cup, including 7 grams of protein or more, for about 3 PointsPlus values, making this an unusually satisfying soup for one without cream or meat. Lighten it up: To save 1 PointsPlus value, request this made-to-order soup without the yolks, explains Psilakis.
Grilled Lamb Chop
Grilled lamb chops
“With all our mountains, we don’t have a lot of cows in Greece, so lamb is a big part of the culture,” says Psilakis. Young lamb, like that used for chops, is tender, with none of the gamy flavor you might expect. And, Psilakis says that while Greece, New Zealand and Australia have excellent lamb, some of the best is raised right here in the United States. A typical portion of four grilled chops has a PointsPlus value of about 12 (before adding oil or ladolemono). With around 80 grams of protein, this Power Food will have you thundering like a Greek god post-workout.
Grilled Whole Fish
Grilled whole fish
Depending on exactly how you define "island," Greece includes between 1,200 and 6,000 of ’em. No wonder they are pros at seafood. By choosing a grilled branzino, sea bream or porgy, and requesting just lemon, you’ll tally only about 4 to 6 PointsPlus values for a typical fish of 1¼ to 1½ pounds. If you are a bit squeamish about your food staring at you, any fine restaurant will remove the skin and bones in order to serve you just the fillets.
Psilakis calls this braised lamb-shank on the bone — the Greek equivalent of Italian osso buco — “the quintessential dish of any Greek restaurant.” While this cut of meat can include considerable fat, that means no butter or oil is added for braising, making it a good red-meat option. Despite its hearty, on-the-bone appearance, you’ll be lucky to get 6 ounces of meat. If you can refrain from devouring every drop of sauce, thickened with orzo, you should stay within about 10 PointsPlus values.
A lasagna-like dish of fried eggplant and meat with enticing savory flavors of nutmeg and clove, slathered in béchamel, moussaka is a clear exception to healthy Greek cuisine. (Ditto for its sibling pastitsio, made with pasta in place of eggplant.) “This is like a pile of eggplant Parmesan, and you should realize that eggplant is like a sponge, soaking up much more oil than chicken [does],” says Henderiks. A typical restaurant serving has a PointsPlus value of at least 12, mostly from fat and carbs. Lighten it up: Pass on the buttery béchamel. Eliminating 1/4 cup will trim 3 PointsPlus values.
Grilling is the best choice for meats, and these simple, lean cuts of chicken, lamb, or pork are pure protein on a stick. They come served with pita and tzatziki — (a dipping sauce made from Greek yogurt, cucumber and garlic that contains about 2 PointsPlus values per ¼ cup.) A typical restaurant portion of 5 ounces of skewered meat will cost you a PointsPlus value of about 6 (although you might shave 1 PointsPlus value by going with chicken). Lighten it up: With pita bread at 2 PointsPlus values each, limit yourself to one sandwich.
Shrimp Saganaki
Shrimp saganaki
Sautéed shrimp are baked in the oven with tomatoes and feta in this relatively healthful restaurant favorite. “This dish is trendy and beautiful, part of the modern-day Greek cuisine,” says Psilakis. With just a sprinkle of feta, you should be able to enjoy this distinctive seafood dish for a PointsPlus value of about 6. Lighten it up: With its tomato-sauce appearance, it should come as no surprise that this dish often appears Italian-style — with a personal loaf of bread. “Avoid using that bread like a utensil,” says Henderiks. “You’re better off just asking for a spoon.”
In this decadent dessert, phyllo dough — a thin, crisp pastry — is brushed with butter and filled with walnuts, dripping with honey and cinnamon. “This reminds me of pecan pie,” says Henderiks. “People want to believe it’s healthy because there are nuts in there, but in reality, it’s a true splurge, with tons of sugar and calories.” Count on a PointsPlus value of 10 for a typical piece. Even in Greece, this is a dessert for special occasions and guests, so treat it that way and share it for a taste.
Yogurt Fruit Honey
Greek yogurt with fruit and honey
“To me, this is real Greek dessert,” says Psilakis, who serves yogurt with fresh or preserved fruit, a sprinkle of sesame seeds and a drizzle of honey. America has recently come to appreciate the rich, velvety texture of Greek yogurt, which typically packs more protein and calcium than does regular yogurt (see this article for more info) — but unfortunately, has roughly the same calories. “You have calcium and protein, but we are talking about full-fat yogurt here,” says Henderiks. A typical 6-ounce portion has a PointsPlus value of 6. While swapping in lowfat or nonfat yogurt could cut 1 or 2 PointsPlus values, the restaurant probably won’t offer the option. Still, for a satisfying dessert with a lot of nutrients, you can’t beat this choice.
This Greek liqueur is often sipped, or taken as a shot, after dinner. The anise flavor is similar to that of sambuca or pastis. With the same calories you’ll find in vodka, plus added sugar, you can count on a PointsPlus value of 4 per ounce. With a typical shot of 1.5 ounces, that complimentary drink from the owner may cost more than you realized (6 PointsPlus values).
Greek Coffee
Greek coffee
Unlike brewed American coffee, Greek coffee (or Ellinikos Kafes) is made in the Turkish tradition of boiling very finely ground coffee, sometimes repeatedly. Served in an espresso-size portion, it may be black (sketos), lightly sweet with one sugar (metrios) or very sweet with two sugars (glykys or vari glykos). Because the coffee is unfiltered and simply decanted from a special pot (briki), sip carefully as you approach the bottom of your cup.
Given that ingredients, cooking methods and portion sizes can vary greatly among restaurants, all PointsPlus values for restaurant dishes are estimates.

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Restaurant Tips, Greek, Eating Out
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