Anyone who has grown up in or visited Greece can tell you how much they love Greek dips. From the standard tzatziki to the seasonal melitzanosalata, these dips are an essential and well-loved part of the Greek repertoire. But these dips, referred to in Greek as salates (literally, “salads”) also have a hidden benefit—they’re incredibly healthy. With bases such as yogurt or bread, a few main ingredients (usually vegetables or fish products), spices, olive oil, and lemon, these dips come straight from mother Earth and are more rich, filling, and pleasurable than any processed dip can ever be. We’ll take a look at the various health benefits of traditional Greek dips through one of the most famous dips of the bunch, taramosalata.
Taramosalata is made primarily from fish roe (taramas), usually from carp, cod, or mullet (note that it is spelt and pronounced “taramosalata”, instead of “taramasalata”, which is a common Anglicization).
The fish roe is usually combined with a base of bread (some areas in Greece use potatoes or even almonds), but the roe can be spruced up on its own for a saltier taste and thicker consistency. Commercially sold taramosalata is artificially died a bright pink and contains more filler than fish egg; but the traditional, homemade version ranges from a beige to light pink color, with a mouthwateringly creamy texture.
Along with fish roe and an optional base, taramosalata contains only onion, olive oil, lemon, and pepper, so it is the perfect snack for the hungry dieter or piscatorian. It best accompanies pieces of flatbread, such as pita bread, but is delicious even with crackers, chips, or chopped vegetables, such as sticks of cucumber or carrots.
Fish roe is also incredibly healthy—it is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help prevent stroke and heart disease, and may help protect from cancer, according to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Fish roe is also high in vitamin D, which enhances bone and muscle strength and helps reduce the growth of cancer cells. It’s difficult to obtain high amounts of vitamin D without taking a dietary supplement, so incorporating fish like tuna and salmon, and fish products like taramosalata, into your diet is a great (and natural!) way to load up on vitamin D.
Taramosalata keeps for about a week in the fridge. High-quality, authentic taramosalata can be bought here (U.K. residents only).
There is also a brand that makes taramosalata in Australia, using a slightly non-traditional recipe.
Taramosalata is also quite fast and easy to make by hand, and will result in a healthier dip than most store-bought brands can offer. A recipe for a bread-based taramosalata can be found here.
To make taramosalata without a base, simply follow the recipe linked above, but blend the roe and other ingredients without the bread. For taramosalata with a potato base, boil a large potato with the skin on for about 20 minutes, peel it, and blend in place of the bread. For an almond base, blend the roe with one cup of raw almonds, peeled and grated.
Stay tuned for more mouth-watering (and healthy) adventures in Greek cuisine!
On a Personal Note: My favorite taramosalata is, without a doubt, the one prepared by my yiayia (Grandmother) every Clean Monday (Greek- Kathari Deftera, the first day of Greek Orthodox lent) when taramosalata is traditionally eaten. She would always make one large bowl of the regular bread-based variety, and another, smaller bowl of the base-less version. My family and I always devour them quickly and lovingly, scraping the sides of the bowl with lagana (a traditional Greek bread made only on Clean Monday) until the bowls are spick and span!
Do you know a special someone who makes a kick-ass taramosalata? How about your favorite variety—do you remember the best (or first) taramosalata you ever ate? Let us know in the comments below!