The Peloponnese is best known for its olives, olive oil, and oranges, but many wonderful products are also available in abundance including honey, dairy products, cured meats, fruit and vegetables, pulses, and fish. The beautiful countryside is also famous for the sage and thyme which grow throughout the region. The local cuisine is relatively simple and highlights the flavors of the produce from savory pies made with wild greens, to a slice of bread topped with extra virgin olive oil and tomato, to a juicy orange eaten out of hand.
The local olive oil is essential to the cuisine of the Peloponnese, from savory dishes to sweet, and is not only used for cooking, but also for preserving foods. Hearkening back to the times before refrigeration, fried veal, for example, could be kept in olive oil for about six months. Salt curing is another traditional method of preserving foods, from cheese to meat and fish, as well as smoking foods, like pork smoked with sage to make pasto (salted meat) or syglino (cured meat). The tradition of snout to tail, i.e. using all the parts of the pork, was common throughout the Peloponnese, and while it may not be as prevalent today, it certainly influenced the cuisine. Roast piglet with crisp, crackly skin and tender meat is another local favorite.
The Peloponnese is also known for having the greatest number of protected designation of origin (PDO) products in Greece, including internationally recognized PDO olive oils and, of course, Kalamata olives.
The PDO eggplant of the Tsakonia region is thin, oblong and sweet, and ideal for frying. Among the cheeses of the Peloponnese, sfela is similar to feta, but harder. Cheeses for grating on pasta include dry myzithra, a sharp white sheep’s and goat’s milk cheese, and kefalotyri, medium-hard salty cheese.
As for sweets, the traditional pasteli (honey and sesame seed bars) and the dried figs from Kalamata are delicious as well as nutritious.
The wines of the Peloponnese, such as the renowned red Agiorgitiko and the white Mantinia PDO wines which must be made of at least 85 percent Moschofilero, though many are made entirely from the variety, or the blend may contain some of the less well-known Asproudes, pair wonderfully with the delicious local cuisine. The particular climate and altitude of Mantinia vineyards results in floral, aromatic white wines.
PDO Nemea zone is the only one in Greece that extends into two areas, south-central Corinthia and northwestern Argolis. The 100% Agiorgitiko wine can be dry, semi-sweet and sweet red.
The Peloponnese is also famous for sweet wines, including the PDO Mavrodaphne of Patras, PDO Muscat of Patras, PDO Muscat of Rio Patras, and PDO Monemvassia-Malvasia.
Recipes from the Peloponnese
Kagianas is a scrambled egg dish made with grated fresh tomatoes often served for breakfast. Many variations are enjoyed in the Peloponnese, including versions with added cheese or syglino (cured meat).
3 large ripe tomatoes
3 tablespoons Greek extra virgin olive oil
Greek sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
6 eggs, beaten
Grate the tomatoes on a box grater over a bowl and set aside. Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in the tomatoes, salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until all liquid has evaporated from the tomatoes, about 10 to 15 minutes. Reduce heat to medium. Add the beaten eggs and cook, stirring constantly, until mixture is evenly cooked and no large pieces remain, about 7 to 10 minutes. Serve immediately with feta and fresh, crusty bread.
The abundant aromatic greens, including fennel and dill, in the region make for delicious wild greens pies, hortopites, which can be made with the seasonal greens and fresh herbs of your choice. The following recipe is for little triangles.
4 tablespoons Greek extra virgin olive oil
1 bunch Swiss chard, chopped
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 small fennel bulb with stalks and fronds, finely chopped
1 cup feta, crumbled
1 tablespoon mint, finely chopped
3 scallions, thinly sliced
Greek sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1 (16-oz.) package frozen phyllo dough, thawed
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Add the Swiss chard and cook, stirring frequently, until wilted, about 4 minutes. Transfer the cooked chard to a large strainer and press with a wooden spoon to remove any excess water. Then set aside. Heat the skillet to medium-high and add the remaining olive oil. Add the onions and fennel and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. Transfer fennel/onion mixture to a mixing bowl. Add the cooked chard, feta, mint, and scallions and stir together. Season the filling with salt and pepper to taste and set aside to cool.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cut the stacked phyllo dough lengthwise into 2 inch wide strips. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and set aside. Place one strip of phyllo on your work surface and brush with some of the melted butter. Top with another strip, brush with butter, and repeat once more. Place a tablespoon of filling on one end of strip one inch from the end. Fold in the corner of the end to form a triangle. Then, fold in the triangle edge to form another triangle. Continue folding like a flag, until a triangle pastry is complete. Transfer to a baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining phyllo strips and filling. Brush the triangle pastries with the remaining butter. You may need to melt additional butter for brushing. The hortopitakia can be covered with plastic wrap or put in a freezer bag and frozen at this point for up to a month, if needed. Bake in the preheated 375-degree oven for 18–20 minutes or until golden brown. Serve warm.
In the Peloponnese, diples are a staple of the dessert table. Though the following recipe is relatively simple, it may take a few tries to get the exact folded shape. The crispy, honey-sweetened pastry is always a treat. If preferred, other shapes can be rolled out, or the pastry can be made using a pizzelle iron mold, but the folded or rosette shape is the most popular.
4 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour, plus more for rolling out
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon Greek sea salt
1/2 cup brandy
3 tablespoons sugar
3 cups Greek honey
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups finely chopped walnuts
Oil for frying
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the center and set aside. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with the brandy and sugar. Add the egg mixture to the flour and stir together. Knead on a lightly floured work surface until the dough is smooth. If the dough is too sticky add a little more flour. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for about 15 minutes. Using about a quarter of the dough at a time, roll out to 1/8 inch thickness. With a pastry cutter or sharp knife, cut the dough into strips 1 1/4 inches wide and about 9 inches long for the rose shape or wider for the traditional folded shape. Continue with the remaining dough.
To fry, fill a large deep pot with preferred oil for frying to about 3 inches deep. Heat until the oil is about 375 degrees F. Place the strips into the heated oil and using two forks turn them so they form diples, or folds, like a rose. Fry until golden brown on all sides. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels to absorb any excess oil. Continue with the remaining dough until all are fried. For the syrup, in a saucepan heat the honey and water up to a simmer, place the fried diples in for a minute or two then remove to a serving platter and sprinkle with the finely chopped walnuts and cinnamon. Serve immediately. If preferred, allow them to cool completely and store at room temperature for a week to ten days, though they will not be as crispy as on the first day, they will still be a tasty dessert.
To make diples in other shapes, use pizzelle irons. Dip the pizzelle iron mold into the batter and then place in the heated oil and fry until the cooked dough drops off the mold. Remove from the frying oil with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Wipe any excess oil from the mold with paper towels before dipping it into the batter again to ensure the cooked dough drops off properly when fried. Dip into honey syrup as above and top with walnuts and cinnamon. Serve immediately.