The ancient Greek symposium was not a dinner party: it was a drinking event, although any good host would have offered a few snacks to go with the wine, as the event might stretch through the wee hours. Among our sources for what to eat at the symposium is Athenaeus’s Deipnosophists, the third-century Greek work that compiles gastronomic literature from around the Mediterranean in the guise of the discussions at a two-day drinking party. Of course, without extant cookbooks from ancient Greece, we can only speculate on how some of these snacks might have been prepared, but these recipes are based on snippets from Athenaeus, as adapted by Cathy Kaufman in her book, Cooking in Ancient Civilizations. And don’t forget to have some olives at the ready.
Sliced Egg Hors d’Oeuvres
Athenaeus describes a luxurious appetizer platter with different foods displayed as the constellations, “while slices of eggs represented the stars.” The Greeks debated the quality of different birds’ eggs, but if you can source quail eggs, they will be the perfect bite-size for munching during the symposium. Simply hard cook eggs of your choice, peel and cut in half or slice. Have a sauce made from olive oil seasoned with minced anchovy, capers and dill for drizzling over the eggs.
The Original White Pizza
Aristophanes’s 5th century play, The Acharnians, refers to a round bread covered in cheese as “delicious.” Whether it was analogous to a pizza is speculative, but the number of flat breads and folded breads listed in Deipnosophists suggests something not too far away from a modern white pizza. Kasseri cheese would make an excellent topping, or perhaps a grated hard sheep or goat cheese. Plakuntos was another garnished flat round bread mentioned in the sources; it was seasoned with oil, garlic, and herbs, so this recipe borrows a bit from that dish as well.
Greek breads would have been based on sourdoughs, rather than commercial yeast, so use your favorite sourdough recipe as the base. If sourdough isn’t part of your repertoire, cheat with the following modern yeasted version, using more whole wheat flour than most modern recipes call for to simulate what may have been the texture and extraction rate of ancient milling:
1/2 tablespoon instant dry yeast
2 1/2 cups stone ground whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water, plus more as needed
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more as needed
Coarse semolina, as needed
2 cups grated cheese of your choice
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 teaspoons dried oregano
- Combine the yeast, flours, and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the center. Combine the water with the oil. Slowly stir the liquid into the flour to form a dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Cover and let rise for 1 – 1½ hours, until doubled in volume. Preheat the oven to 450° F.
- Press the air out of the dough and divide into 4 pieces. Scatter semolina on a baking sheet (or use 2). With moistened hands, gently stretch the dough into rounds about 8 inches in diameter and transfer to the baking sheet(s). Cover and let rise again, about 30 minutes.
- Combine the cheese, garlic and oregano and sprinkle each round with the cheese mixture. Drizzle with olive oil. Bake on the lowest rack in the oven about 12 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and the bottom of the pizza is lightly browned.
Walnut & Flaxseed Confection
Athenaeus also mentions a “confection made of honey and flaxseed.” Knowing that nuts were also served as part of symposium snacks, this recipes creates a soft, chewy sweet.
1 cup honey
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1 cup flax seed or sesame seeds
olive oil, as needed
Combine the honey, nuts and seeds in a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 15 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment and rub a spatula with oil. Carefully turn the hot mixture onto the sheet and spread it with the spatula to a thickness of about 3/4 inch. Let cool slightly before cutting into bite-sized pieces.