I’ve had a love for Greek food ever since spending several summers in the Greek island of Skiathos during my teenage years. My sister worked and lived there for over a decade, and my niece and nephew are half Greek, so I guess you could say I have a close connection and love for that culture, the food, wine and country.

Authentic Greek food is simple, flavorful and largely vegetable based if you think of it. Stuffed grape leaves (dolmadakia), zucchini balls (kolokithokeftedes), moussaka (eggplant), spinach pie (spanakopita), tomato fritters (tomatokeftedes), and of course Greek salad with lots of cucumbers, tomatoes, olives and dill. It really isn’t difficult to find healthy, vibrant and fresh food from this cuisine, which is what I love about it.

Yes, some of the classic versions of the above mentioned dishes have dairy and meat, but they are luckily easily replaced by plant-based alternatives. Today we have fantastic examples of both, from plant-based cheeses like that of Violife (in fact, a Greek company!) and Beyond Meat, whose ‘beef’ crumbles I used in this post’s recipe. While I prefer to avoid cooking with prepared food products, I think they serve a purpose. For one, I’m curious about the evolution of such plant-based creations and two, I live with someone who is not vegan, and often using these products helps to more closely re-create the animal-based textures and flavors in the dish.

I most often like to eat Greek salads during the summer, as it reminds me of sitting down by the harbor at a Greek taverna, watching the boat life and soaking up magical atmosphere only a Greek island possesses. When I came across a vegan feta cheese the other day, it got me thinking: How could I re-create a heartier Greek salad that would fit colder, winter nights? I decided to add some brown rice for a good whole grain source, and some plant-based beef crumbles. I’m glad to announce it was a success, so naturally I had to share the recipe with you!

If you can’t find the ‘beef’ crumbles where you are (Gardein also has a great product), you can add tofu or chickpeas or other beans instead.

The dressing I chose to make is also Greek inspired. I added a little coconut yogurt (I used So Delicious, plain flavor and unsweetened) and a few raw cashews to make it even creamier, along with the traditional dill and oregano flavors, a clove of garlic with a little olive oil. I added a few crumbles of the feta in the dressing too, for good measure. If you don’t want to add the oil, you can easily eliminate it without sacrificing flavor. Alternatively, a simple red-wine-olive oil-garlic-oregano vinaigrette also would bring out that authentic flavor should you not find a suitable yogurt.

Wine Pairing Suggestion

For those of you who know me, know that a meal rarely passes by without me experimenting with pairing it with a bottle (or two) of wine. My Decant with Plants series was launched a few weeks back, where I teach classes and workshops and organize wine dinners on how you can bring out extra layers of flavors in both your food and wine by creating magical pairings. It’s really quite fun and shows vegetables are not tricky to pair with wine, in fact quite the opposite as there are so many more layers of flavors to plants and ways you can prepare them. I’ll be creating some online classes on this as well soon. If you’d like to get on the list for when I announce news with regards to my food and wine pairings, please sign up for my newsletter right here on my site.

Back to the pairing of the day: Naturally I had to go with a Greek wine here. Most of the time I pick white, sparkling or rose wines with salads, but since it was a cold winter night and because I felt the ‘beef’ crumbles required a heftier wine, I chose red. I’m as in love with Greek wine as I am with Greek food. It’s hard to call Greece an “up-and-coming” wine region, considering they’re the country with the oldest winemaking history, but there are so many exciting things happening in Greece right now, with quality rising dramatically. Greece has some of the world’s largest number of interesting and indigenous grape varieties, as well as wines with a great quality-to-price ratio.

For this meal, I chose Thymiopoulos Naoussa 2015 from the Xinomavro grape, a chewy, dense wine with blackberry, plums, sun-dried tomatoes, black olives flavors coupled with rounded, firm tannins and balanced acidity. This wine has an impressive structure and was perfect with my Greek rice bowl. If you’re a fan of white, try wines from the Assyrtiko or Malagousia grape.

I will definitely be making this meal again and continue to experiment with different pairings and ingredient. If you’re looking for a simple meal that comes together in minutes and provides you with loads of flavor and nutrients, look no further!

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GREEK RICE BOWL WITH CREAMY LEMON-DILL DRESSING

Serves 4

For salad:
1 cup (250ml) organic brown rice
2 1/2 cups (300ml) water
1 red onion, peeled, cut in half and sliced thin*
1 cup water
1 cup distilled vinegar
1 cup sugar
1 star anise
2 cloves
2-3 whole coriander seeds
1 x 13 oz (380g) package of Beyond Meat beef crumbles (or Gardein)
1 large head romaine lettuce, cut up
1 English cucumber, divided in half lengthwise, seeds scooped out and cut into half moons
2 cups (500ml) cherry tomatoes, divided in half
1/2 cup (125ml) kalamata olives
1/2cup (125ml) crumbled Violife feta
Fresh dill for garnish

For dressing:

1/2 cup (125ml) plain, unsweetened vegan yogurt (I used So Delicious)
1/3 cup (80ml) raw cashews, soaked for 2 hours (not necessary if you have Vitamix or other high speed blender)
juice from 1 lemon
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1/4 (60ml) cup water
1 tsp organic sugar or maple syrup or sweetener of your choice
1 large garlic clove
1/4 cup (60ml) extra virgin olive oil (preferably Greek)
salt, pepper to taste
1 tsp dried Greek oregano
Handful of chopped, fresh dill (mint works here too)

To prepare salad:

Cook the brown rice according to the package directions, and set aside. *Prepare red onion: Place the sliced onions in a glass container, bring the water, distilled vinegar and sugar to a quick boil, turn off heat, make sure sugar is properly dissolved. Pour the hot liquid over the onions, and add the star anise, cloves and coriander seeds. Leave on counter to cool, then store in fridge with a tight-fitting lid (these onions will keep for weeks in fridge). Arrange the romaine lettuce, ‘beef’ crumbles, brown rice, cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives and feta in a salad bowl, season with salt, pepper and a little fresh dill if desired and drizzle with dilled yogurt dressing.

To make dressing:

Throw all ingredients in high speed blender except oregano and dill and puree until smooth. You may need to adjust and add more water to make it the consistency you want. Fold in the oregano and fresh dill and taste for seasoning. Keeps in fridge for 3-4 days.