Greece on My Mind — Fish with Ouzo

Ouzo Fish 1

During my military career I had a wonderful opportunity to live in Athens, Greece, for 3 years.  I remember Athens as a big city with lots of traffic and lots of angry drivers.  But I didn’t care.  It was Greece! 

santorini 2 

Greece has been in the news quite a bit lately and it hasn’t exactly been portrayed in a positive light; however, during my time there, I made friends who are still special to me to this day.  I experienced a culture unlike any I had ever encountered.  But, most important, I discovered a cuisine that has pretty much driven the way I cook and eat since that time.  When people ask me what my “specialty” is, I usually reply: I don’t really have one, but I cook Mediterranean food more often than not. 

Ouzo Fish 2

I love Greece and Greek food.  Even when living there and eating it almost everyday, I never tired of it.  And as for that terrible traffic?  I learned to drive and shout at the other drivers just like the locals.  Besides, where else can you eat “small fishes fried” (smelts) washed down with an ice-cold Mythos beer while gazing upon the blue ocean and equally blue sky?

santorini 1 

Years later I became friends with a man who was encountering some personal difficulties.  I advised him to think about what he wanted to be doing 5 years later and use that goal to formulate his decision. A couple of weeks later he told me he had decided what he wanted to be doing 5 years down the road.  When I asked what that was, he told me he wanted to be discovering Greece with me.  Say what?    

Ouzo Fish 3

I wasn’t exactly looking for a mate at the time — I’d just returned to the U.S. after a long period overseas, had just bought a house…excuses, excuses.  Well, he did something right, because in November we will have been married 13 years.  And yes, we did go to Greece together.


Today’s recipe reminds me of everything that I love about Greek food, but it’s not as heavy as some of the typical dishes can be.  It’s wonderful for summer and is ideal for a weeknight meal, as it’s a snap to make.  This dish can be served over rice or with some hearty bread to soak up the delicious sauce. 

Ouzo Fish 4 Fish with Ouzo

4–6 servings

I used halibut for this dish, but any white fish filet will work, such as cod, tilapia, or even catfish.  Ouzo is an anise-flavored Greek liqueur that is usually diluted with water until cloudy and served as an aperitif with a bowl of olives.  It really is the ingredient that sets this dish apart.

1/3 cup olive oil

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 onion, diced

2 bay leaves

1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, not drained

8 ounces mushrooms, sliced

1 red bell pepper, chopped

salt and pepper to taste

1/2 cup water

2 pounds halibut filets or other white fish

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 bunch dill, chopped

1 tablespoon Ouzo

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and sauté the garlic until fragrant, but not brown. Add the onion and sauté for 3-4 minutes, then add the bay leaves.  Add the tomatoes, mushrooms and bell pepper, and season with salt and pepper.  Add the water and simmer for two minutes.

Season the fish with salt and pepper and place on top of the simmering vegetable mixture, nestling the filets down into the sauce.  Simmer for 4 minutes.

Add the lemon juice, dill and ouzo to the pan and simmer an additional 2 minutes.  The fish should flake easily with a fork.  Taste the sauce for seasoning and add more salt and pepper if necessary.

Inspired by Culina Mediterranea by Daniel Rouche

santorini 3    



We’re having a few friends over for the annual Fall fiesta this week, so my next few posts will be recipes for some of the food I’ll be serving at that gathering.  Let’s start with tzatziki.

I first tasted this marvelous dip my second day in Athens, Greece, where I would be spending the next 3 years working at the U.S. Embassy.  It was a great assignment, so much so that my friends and I still refer to that time as the “golden years.”  One of my first real Greek meals was lunch at a taverna on the top of Mount Lycabettus, a limestone hill overlooking the older part of Athens.  It was a splendid Spring day – with those famous blue, blue skies contrasting with the white buildings for which Greece is so well-known.

Sounion Sky

Lunch consisted of a huge Greek salad and Tzatziki with bread.  Simple, yet mind blowing.  The coolness of the yogurt created the most amazing flavor when contrasted with the garlic and olive oil.  I fell in love with tzatziki that day and I think I have made it almost every time I’ve entertained since that fateful day.  The dip is traditionally served with chunks of hearty bread for dipping; however, I have found that it also makes a wonderful side for any kind of grilled meat, but especially lamb.

Tzatziki Cropped

Tzatziki – Greek Cucumber Yogurt Dip

Serves 2-4

Greek yogurt is now readily available in supermarkets in the United States.  I prefer Total yogurt.  It’s what I used in Greece and I believe it provides the best consistency.  If you like a really stiff dip or cannot find Greek yogurt, place the yogurt in a cheesecloth lined colander or strainer over a bowl and refrigerate overnight. I have found that ciabatta most closely resembles the bread used for dipping in Greece; however, you can use any white bread with a hard crust, such as baguettes or Italian bread, or even pita wedges.  This recipe can be easily doubled or even tripled for parties, or because you just can’t stop eating it.

1 English cucumber


3 cloves garlic, peeled

2 cups (16 ounces) Greek yogurt

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint

black pepper, freshly ground

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided

Crusty bread, sliced or cut into large chunks for serving

1.  Seed the cucumber by cutting it in half lengthwise and using a teaspoon to scrape out the seeds, then grate it and place in a colander and sprinkle liberally with salt.  Allow to strain for 15 minutes.  Press on the cucumber to squeeze out as much liquid as possible.  If it still seems too wet, place in a towel or piece of muslin and roll it up to squeeze out any remaining liquid.  This step will prevent the dip from becoming too watery.

2.  Finely chop the garlic with enough salt to make a coarse paste. Mix the garlic paste with the cucumbers, yogurt, vinegar, mint, 2 tablespoons olive oil and salt and pepper to taste.

3.  Place the tzatziki in a serving bowl, and drizzle with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil.  Serve with bread for dipping or alongside grilled meats.