DULUTH — Nobody seems to know where the idiom “it’s all Greek to me” originates, but the phrase has been around at least since the early 17th century. The phrase refers to something that is unclear and confusing. One thing that is clear, however, is the delightful flavors of Greek cuisine. The flavors of oregano, olive oil, mint, and lemon juice that flavor many Greek dishes tantalize the taste buds. Here are some recipes for you to make great vegan Greek food at home.

Roasted Eggplant

  • 1 eggplant, halved lengthwise
  • 2 teaspoons (or more) olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • herbs of your choosing: try garlic salt, oregano, and a little lemon juice

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. With a sharp knife, cross-hatch the flesh of the eggplant without piercing the purple skin. Brush the flesh with olive oil, salt and pepper, and top with herbs. Place the eggplant on a baking sheet cut side down. Bake for about 30 minutes. The eggplant is done when the flesh is browned and soft.

The purple skin of the eggplant is edible, and the eggplant can be eaten with a knife and fork. However, the soft flesh can be scooped out with a spoon if preferred.

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Spiced roasted grapes on saltines with vegan cream cheese.
Contributed / Susan Alexander
Spiced roasted grapes on saltines with vegan cream cheese. Contributed / Susan Alexander

Roasted Grapes

This recipe is adapted slightly from thegreekvegan.com.

  • 2 pounds red or green seedless grapes, washed
  • ½ teaspoon ground thyme
  • 1½ tablespoons brandy
  • 2½ tablespoons oil
  • 1 teaspoon each: salt and coarsely ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Remove grapes from their stems. Combine remaining ingredients. Cover a baking pan with parchment paper. Place grapes on the baking pan and pour the wet mixture over the grapes, stirring to combine. Bake for 20 minutes.

Serve on potatoes, rice, or crackers. I recommend topping a saltine with a little vegan cream cheese and a few roasted grapes.

Felafel pie includes layers of hummus, cucumbers and tomatoes.
Contributed / Susan Alexander
Felafel pie includes layers of hummus, cucumbers and tomatoes. Contributed / Susan Alexander

Falafel Pie

This delectable creation is adapted from the "Vegan Stoner Cookbook" by Sarah Conrique and Graham I. Haynes. I heartily recommend this cookbook for all aspiring vegans. The recipes are easy and fun. Few measurements are provided in the book beyond a “handful of this” or a “spoonful of that," so there’s lots of room for creativity. This recipe serves four.

  • 1 box instant falafel mix
  • 1 container of hummus
  • 1 tomato, sliced
  • 1 cucumber, cut in half
  • 1 cup non-dairy yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • black olives or kalamata olives, sliced

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Follow package directions to reconstitute falafel then pat the reconstituted falafel into a pie plate to form a crust. Bake 15 minutes or until browned. Remove the pie from the oven and top with a thick layer of hummus, slices of tomato, then cucumber slices from half of the cucumber. Blend yogurt with the other half of the cucumber and lemon juice. Top the pie with yogurt mixture then a handful of olives. Cut into wedges or squares to serve.

Vegan moussaka is made with frozen veggie crumbles.
Contributed / Susan Alexander
Vegan moussaka is made with frozen veggie crumbles. Contributed / Susan Alexander

Moussaka

This recipe might look complex, but it comes together quickly.

  • 4 russet potatoes, washed and sliced about ¼-inch thick
  • 1 eggplant, sliced ¼-inch thick
  • olive oil

filling:

  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • (1) 12-ounce bag of frozen veggie burger crumbles
  • (1) 14-ounce can diced tomatoes
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 zucchini, sliced
  • 8 ounces mushrooms
  • seasoning: salt, pepper, nutmeg and cinnamon

béchamel sauce:

  • 6 tablespoons vegan margarine
  • 6 tablespoons flour
  • 3 cups soymilk

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Boil the potato slices for about five minutes, or until barely tender. Drain and place in cold water until ready to use. Place eggplant slices on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil and a good sprinkle of salt and pepper. Broil for about 10 minutes on each side until browned.

In a skillet, fry the onions and veggie burger crumbles until onions are softened. Stir in tomatoes, bell pepper, zucchini and mushrooms. Cook a little while longer until the pepper and zucchini are softened. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg and cinnamon.

To make béchamel sauce, melt the margarine in a saucepan over low heat, mix in flour, then slowly add soymilk, about a quarter cup at a time, fully incorporating before adding another quarter cup.

In 9-by-11-inch casserole dish, layer a little of the tomato mixture, then half the eggplant, then a layer of tomato mixture, and half of the potatoes. Add another layer of the tomato mixture, the remaining eggplant, another layer of the tomato mixture, and the rest of the potatoes. Pour the béchamel sauce on the top.

Bake covered for 30 minutes then uncovered for another 20 minutes.

Serves six.

Vegan spanikopita is is easy and delicious. 
Contributed / Susan Alexander
Vegan spanikopita is is easy and delicious. Contributed / Susan Alexander

Spanakopita

If you’ve never worked with phyllo dough before, you’re in for some fun. Phyllo dries out quickly, so phyllo sheets are best covered with a damp towel while you’re assembling the layers. Using olive oil spray simplifies this recipe quite a bit.

This recipe is easy and delicious!

  • 1 medium onion, finely diced
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • (1) 14-ounce box of extra-firm tofu, drained
  • ½ teaspoon dried dill weed
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • ¼ teaspoon both salt and pepper
  • (1) 10-ounce package of frozen chopped spinach, defrosted, drained, squeezed dry
  • About 1 tablespoon vegan margarine
  • (1) 16-ounce package of vegan phyllo dough, defrosted

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Saute onions in the olive oil until tender. Combine the sautéed onions with crumbled tofu, dill, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and spinach. Stir thoroughly to combine. Cool.

Brush a 13-by-9-inch baking dish with a little margarine. Place two phyllo sheets in the dish and press in lightly. Give the phyllo sheets a very light spray with olive oil. Make sure to get the edges. Top with two more sheets and spray with olive oil. Repeat until you have used half the phyllo dough.

Spread the spinach mixture in dish on top of the phyllo dough. Top with remaining phyllo dough, two sheets at a time sprayed with olive oil. Tuck in the edges of the top sheets.

Bake 45 minutes until the top is golden and the filling is hot. Let the dish stand 10 minutes before serving.

Serves eight.

Constantinople cake is made with rosewater, a very potent flavoring. Don't be tempted to add more than is required. 
Contributed / Susan Alexander
Constantinople cake is made with rosewater, a very potent flavoring. Don't be tempted to add more than is required. Contributed / Susan Alexander

Constantinople Cake

This cake tastes like nothing I’ve ever had before. This might be the best cake I’ve ever made. The cake is moist, light, and perfect in every way. The flavoring provided by the rose water might not be everybody’s cup of tea, but combined with the spices, this is one delicious cake.

A bit of trivia: Constantinople, Turkey, was renamed Istanbul in 1930. The song “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” was written in 1953 in recognition of this momentous event. The song has been covered many times. Put on your favorite recording of “Istanbul (Not Constantinople)” and dance around your kitchen as you prepare this cake. The flavors of your cake might not improve, but you’ll convince your family that you’re nuts.

This recipe is adapted from thegreekvegan.com.

dry ingredients:

  • 1½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

wet ingredients:

  • 1 cup unsweetened almond milk
  • 1½ teaspoons rosewater
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • About 10 ounces of your favorite jam (mine was seedless raspberry)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan with parchment paper cut to fit the round pan.

Combine dry ingredients. Combine wet ingredients, except for the jam. (The jam will be spread on top of the cooled cake). Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Stir until just moistened. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. Bake until the cake has risen and a toothpick poked into the center of the cake comes out dry. (The cake baked for 40 minutes in my convection oven.)

Turn the cake out onto a rack and allow it to cool before spreading the jam on top and decorating.

Note: Rosewater is a very potent flavoring. Don’t be tempted to add more rosewater unless you’re familiar with the product. Too much rosewater will make your cake taste soapy.

Susan Alexander is food columnist for the Duluth News Tribune. She loves gardening, farmers markets and creating delicious meals consisting of whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruits.