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Dining Out, Greek Style

You’d have to look long and hard to find a cuisine with more fresh, healthy ingredients than Greek food, which offers numerous dishes deliciously suitable for Atkins followers. Olives, olive oil, lemons, eggplant, zucchini, spinach, fennel, grape leaves, yogurt, garlic, mint, dill, rosemary and tahini (ground sesame seeds) play starring roles in this tasty cuisine. A Greek diner is always a good bet for a casual low-carb meal, but don’t overlook this cuisine for more elegant feasts as well.

On the Menu

Greece's history as a seafaring nation means that fresh fish is always a good choice when dining in a Greek restaurant. The predominant meat in Greece is lamb, and few nations prepare it better or with more variety. Whether it’s a roasted, vegetable-stuffed, wonderfully seasoned leg of lamb or the tender lamb chunks, called souvlaki, marinated, skewered and broiled hot and fast over charcoal or wood, you can’t go wrong with properly prepared lamb. You’ll also find gyro meat platters on the menu. Both lamb and beef versions are absolutely delicious. Request another vegetable instead of the rice and flatbread, or pita, which traditionally accompany the meat. Greek salads are full of good things for the carb-conscious diner: feta cheese, olives, olive oil, ripe tomatoes and lots of fresh basil. Ask for more feta instead of the stuffed grape leaves (dolmades) that are a typical garnish.

Tempting but High-Carb

Greek cuisine is known for filo (or phyllo), paper-thin sheets of pastry dough used to make desserts and savory dishes. Tempting as they may be, stay away from filo dishes such as baklava, made from filo layered with butter and filled with nuts and honey; Spanakopita, pastry triangles stuffed with spinach and feta; or Tyropita, traditionally filled with kaseri cheese. Also steer clear Moussaka, Pastitsio (lamb with pasta), pilafs and deep-fried (and breaded) calamari. On the other hand, as long as you stick to the basics, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong at a Greek restaurant. And because the cuisine tends toward simple ingredients, it’s easy to find out what’s in any dish.

Try This Instead of That

  • Rather than Skordalia, the thick, garlicky spread made with potatoes, try Tzatziki, a dip made from yogurt, cucumber and garlic.
  • Instead of Spanakopita or Tyropita tarts as an appetizer, try Avgolemono, a marvelous chicken soup made with egg and lemon.
  • Pass on the dolmades, and ask for a selection of olives and fresh vegetables for dipping in Taramosalata, a wonderful creamy spread made with fish roe.
  • Rather than Moussaka, order beef or lamb souvlaki.
  • Instead of Pastitsio with its pasta, sample Greek lamb, whether a roast leg, grilled chops, or braised shanks or a gyro platter.
  • Substitute chicken grilled with lemon, garlic, and either oregano or rosemary for chicken pilaf.
  • Replace any pasta dish with pork loin braised with fennel and lemon.
  • Order grilled prawns, octopus or swordfish instead of fried calamari.
  • Forget about the baklava and have a cheese plate of feta and other sheep-milk and goat-milk cheeses for dessert.

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