Greek Appetizers on a plate

Top 5 Greek – Mediterranean Appetizers

At our house the pre-dinner cocktail hour stage is probably longer than it should be. We love coming up with appetizers, fun drinks and good music. And while it is fun, it is also time consuming. Through the years we’ve come to realize that for us the best part of dinner parties are the appetizers, the drinks, and the socializing before the actual dinner. So we avoid spending my time slaving away in the kitchen, while everyone else is having fun in the living room.

The solution; Easy, make-ahead appetizers. And here is a selection of our easiest, go to, Greek-Mediterranean inspired appetizers. There is something for everyone here: vegetarian, gluten-free and yes we’ve included the Greek meatballs (keftethakia) for the meat lovers and pan fried halloumi, a fabulous cheese from Cyprus and a favorite in Greek cooking. It’s similar to mozzarella in texture, but since it is brined it’s a bit salty and has a greater depth of flavor.

Some of these recipes have been tweaked to be healthier (baked rather fried, less salt), while others we have developed using ingredients traditionally used by Greeks. And they are all rich in herbs, antioxidants and good fats but also in flavor. So enjoy, knowing you are serving made-from-scratch, healthy appetizers.

1. Juicy Roasted Greek Meatballs – Keftedakia

For someone who prefers mostly vegetable based dishes, there is one red meat dish that we will always say yes to: Keftedakia. Bite-size (or a little bit larger) meatballs made from ground beef or usually ground pork or sheep or a mixture, along with all those tasty Greek herbs (especially fresh mint as our grandmothers used) and then fried in olive oil, today it is mostly beef.

The meat was ground at home if you were lucky enough to have a meat grinder. There was plenty of stale bread added, along with a few eggs which stretched the meat to feed a lot more people.

Keftedakia in the old days was a necessary food at field trips, picnics and parties and they were always present (in a small amount) as a meze when drinking an ouzo. And they were recommended to be consumed at room temperature.

2. Authentic Tzatziki – Greek Garlic Yogurt Dip

Tzatziki, the popular Greek yogurt garlic dip is a favorite at Greek tavernas and restaurants. Creamy, spicy with cool cucumber and garlic, this dip is delicious and addictive! Greeks usually eat tzatziki with bread, it is also used for the famous souvlaki wrapped in a pita and of course in gyros. Almost all Greeks love dipping bread and Greek fries in tzatziki that is served at every traditional restaurant. Tzatziki is also the ideal accompaniment with fried (or baked) zucchini chips and any kind of patty or fritter, especially vegetable patties.

While many people associate tzatziki with the unhealthy gyro sandwich or souvlaki, it is actually very healthy and an antioxidant powerhouse. The garlic and olive oil are great sources of antioxidants and the yogurt is a good source of protein, calcium and has some of that friendly bacteria for your belly.

Traditionally, tzatziki is served as a dip along with bread for dipping. It is of course an important ingredient in souvlaki and gyros and it is fine to dip any kind of meat in it as well. I find it makes a great dip for carrot sticks, celery sticks, raw zucchini strips, cucumber and cherry tomatoes.

3. Spicy Kopanisti – Roasted Red Pepper Dip

A roasted red pepper dip so good, you will want to slather it on everything! Known as Kopanisti in Greece, it’s salty, smoky and utterly addictive! Jarred red peppers, combined with good feta and mint, it’s one of those dips you can pretty much whip up on a moment’s notice. Perfect by itself with some pita or crackers or as part of a larger appetizer spread, this easy dip recipe is one you’ll make any excuse to make – it’s that good!

Kopanisti is a spicy cheese with a pungent, intense peppery taste, reminiscent of Roquefort and Munster-Géromé but also distinct, since it has no particular shape and is spreadable, with a characteristic tan and, sometimes, a pale pink color that darkens as it matures.

The most famous of these cheeses is Kopanisti of Mykonos island, followed by that from the islands of Tinos, Andros, Syros and Kythnos. It is also found on Astypalaia and Chios. The cheese is considered a luxury, since it takes 100 kilos of milk to make only 8 kilos of cheese.

4. Saganaki – Flaming Greek Cheese

The authentic Greek cheese appetizer: Crunchy on the outside, melted cheese on the inside and warm. Is there anyone who does not like fried cheese? In Greece ordering a “saganaki” basically means fried cheese. Crunchy on the outside, melted cheese on the inside and warm. A perfect appetizer to start any meal.

If you have ever visited a Greek restaurant in the US, you have surely come across the flaming saganaki, also known as the flaming cheese. While saganaki, fried or pan-seared cheese has always existed, the flaming cheese is a Greek-American thing. It was invented by the owner of the Parthenon restaurant in Greektown in Chicago in the late 60’s, and since then has been a fixture in most Greek restaurants. When you order this flaming cheese, the waiter will pour some brandy or ouzo and set it on fire and yell “OPA”, which is an exclamation to express surprise, admiration or wonder, it is not the cheese that is on fire, but the plate. The cheese is fried in a small pan on the stovetop and then transferred to a dish or little pan. The word saganaki actually means a little pan and that’s where the name comes from.

5. Dolmades – Stuffed Vine/Grape Leaves

Little bites of heaven! A great vegetarian (but not only) appetizer made from tender vine leaves wrapped into little rolls and stuffed with rice and fresh herbs. This is an authentic Greek dolmades recipe for you to recreate this delicious traditional delight from scratch. These extra juicy stuffed dolmades, often served as part of a meze platter, are the ultimate bite-sized appetizer and our personal favorite! Dolmades (stuffed vine/grape leaves) often come canned, but nothing compares to homemade dolmades, which are far superior in quality and taste and really easy to make.

Likely, the term Dolma derives from the Turkish word Dolmak (that means “to fill”) and describe plenty of different recipes that have in common a vegetable leaf rolled and filled with different stuffing. Dolmades are a symbol of conviviality and protagonist of the Meze (or Mezze): a traditional meal composed by dozen small plates traditional in Greece, Balkans, North Africa, and the Middle East. During the Meze, the tablemates share the dishes symbolizing generosity and sympathy for their fellows.

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