Greece is a nation of small farmers, who produce an incredible array of mainly organically produced cheeses, oils, fruits, nuts, grains, legumes, and vegetables.These are the foods that form the base of the traditional Greek regimen, to which they add both variety and nutrition. Greece's climate is perfect growing for olive and lemon trees,producing two of the most important elements of Greek cooking. Spices, garlic and otherherbs such as oregano, basil, mint, and thyme are widely used, as are vegetables such aseggplant and zucchini, and legumes of all types. With 20 percent of Greece made up of islands - and no part of the Greek mainland more than90 miles from the sea - fish and seafood are a popular and common part of the Greek diet.Lamb and goat are the traditional meats of holidays and festivals, and poultry, beef, and pork are also in plentiful supply. Vineyards cover much of Greece's hilly terrain and the country has become known for itsarray of fine wines and spirits, most notably ouzo, an anise-flavoured liqueur that is thenational spirit.
Over the centuries, Greek cooking has been influenced by many other cultures.In c.350 B.C., when Alexander the Great extended the Greek Empire's reach from Europe toIndia, certain northern and eastern influences were absorbed into the Greek cuisine.In 146 B.C., Greece fell to the Romans which resulted in a blending of a Roman influence intoGreek cooking.In 330 A.D., Emperor Constantine moved the capital of the Roman Empire to Constantinople,founding the Byzantine Empire which, in turn, fell to the Turks in 1453 and remained part of the Ottoman Empire for nearly 400 years. With each successive invasion and settlement came culinary influences - from the Romans, Venetians, Balkans, Turks, and Slavs - and many Greek foods have names with origins inthose cultures, most notably the Ottoman Empire. Dishes with names like hummus (the Arabic word for chickpea) and dolmades (from the Turkish "dolma"), that can be found inkitchens from Armenia to Egypt, have also found a home in Greek cooking, and been adaptedover hundreds of years to local tastes and traditions.