Wednesday, 31 October 2007

How to cook: Fava (purée of yellow split peas)

2 cups yellow split peas
5 cups water
1 bunch spring onions, sliced
olive oil
salt & pepper
black olives for garnish

Clean peas and place in a heavy stockpot with water. Bring to a boil and stir occasionally, for 10 minutes. Remove from heat and allow the peas to steep for one hour. Drain, then return to the pot with fresh water just to cover, salt & pepper. Simmer over low heat, stirring occasionally until soft and most of the water is absorbed (about 1 hour). Remove from heat and allow to cool. At this point, you can just put the peas in the fridge until you're ready to use them, or purée them in a food processor (or through a ricer, as our local chef, Agyro does). It depends on the texture you want. The purée also becomes thicker under refrigeration. At service, just mix with a little olive oil, minced onions, salt and pepper. Parsley or capers and black olives make a nice garnish.

Chick peas or the big "fava" beans are also prepared in the same manner
here in Crete -- try it and let me know!

How to cook: Briam (roasted vegetables)

Briam is a very versatile dish. Variations of this vegetable combination can be found throughout the Mediterranean basin. In this case, the vegetables are allowed to shine on their own, without too much intervention. Briam is a perfect accompaniment to broiled fish or lamb chops, but it's also a great meal on its own.

Serves 4-6

1 large eggplant, halved lengthwise then cut into 1/4 inch slices
2 medium zucchini or yellow squash, halved lengthwise then cut into 1/2 inch slices
2 medium potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/8 inch thick
4 medium tomatoes, 2 cut into large chunks, 2 grated
1 large onion, halved lengthwise then thinly sliced
2 artichokes, quartered, trimmed and par-boiled (optional)
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup water or stock
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons dried oregano
black pepper, cayenne pepper and salt to taste
1 bunch fresh parsley, chopped (reserve ½ cup for garnish)

Pre-heat oven 350F

Place all ingredients in a heavy, shallow baking pan, toss together and bake until tender (about 1 hour), shaking pan occasionally. Resist the temptation to stir the vegetables, as they will turn to mush. Let them caramelize for the best results.

Serve with marinated roasted red peppers, a big slice of feta or manouri cheese and a slice of rustic bread.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

How to cook: Potatoes with snails and fennel


1 1/2 kilo snails
1 large bunch fennel
4 potatoes, quartered
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
3 tablespoons red wine
3/4 cup olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the snails in a deep bowl filled with tepid water and cover with a dish. Allow them to stand for 30 minutes. When the snails begin to move, remove the thick membrane covering their orifice with a knife and scrub any other waste from their shell (if a snail has not come off its shell, it is probably not alive). Rinse meticulously under plenty of tap water and let them boil in some saltwater for 5 minutes. Take them out with a ladle, put them into a colander and pour off any excess liquid. Saute the onion with the olive oil in a saucepan, add the fennel, stir and extinguish with wine. Add 1 cup of water and let food simmer for about 25 minutes. Then add the potatoes, snails, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Continue boiling for 30 minutes over moderate heat. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature.

How to cook: "Ladies fingers" with minted yoghurt sauce

Ingredients (makes about 30)

  • 1 tablespoon of Casa dei Mezzo olive oil
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 3 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 2 fresh red birdseye chillies, seeded and finely chopped (or use any mild chilli)
  • 500 grams minced lamb
  • ½ teaspoon ground allspice
  • ¼ teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 200 ml chicken stock
  • 25 grams pinenuts
  • ½ cup chopped coriander
  • 15 sheets of filo pastry
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water
  • Vegetable oil, for deep-frying
  • Sumac(h) to serve

Minted yoghurt sauce

  • 350 strained Greek yoghurt or labna (labna is available in most Middle Eastern food stores)
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 tablespoon of chopped fresh mint
  • 1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable stock, optional


Heat olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan and cook onion, garlic and chilli over low-medium heat for 5-6 minutes or until onions are soft. Add lamb and cook over high heat, crumbling mince with a wooden spoon continuously until lightly browned. Add spices and tomato paste and cook another 2 minutes, then add chicken stock, bring to a simmer and cook for another 10-12 minutes or until stock has evaporated. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature, then stir in the pinenuts and coriander and season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

Meanwhile, for minted yoghurt sauce, place all ingredients in a bowl and whisk until smooth and well combined, then season to taste, cover closely with plastic wrap and refrigerate until required. Makes 1½ cups.

Cut filo pastry into quarters. Lay one quarter on a dry work surface, brush well with beaten egg, then top with another quarter and brush again with egg. Place about 1 table spoon lamb mixture at one end of the pastry and roll up to form a 6cm cigar shape, folding in sides as you go, then brush with beaten egg. Repeat with remaining pastry, lamb mixture and egg. Heat oil in a deep-frying or large heavy-based saucepan to 180°C, then deep-fry ladies fingers, in batches, for 1-2 minutes until golden and crisp. Drain on absorbent paper and serve with minted yoghurt sauce, sprinkled with sumac(h).

Cretan Garden Vegetables

One more basic feature of the Cretan diet is the large consumption of vegetables and other products of vegetable origin. On average, Cretans are at the top of the scale in terms of vegetable consumption. In fact, they consume three times the amount of vegetables than Europeans! That, too, is part of their secret for a long and healthy life. This dietary habit provides the average Cretan with an abundance of fibers, vitamins, and other nutrients required for human sustenance.
At the same time vegetables contain trace elements many of which are essential in metabolism or for the production of essential compounds, while deficiency in those elements causes metabolic syndromes. Vegetables promote the good operation of the intestines and ward off cancer of the large intestine. Their contribution to the operation of the digestive system is remarkable, and they are rich in vitamins necessary for the metabolism of various tissues. Much of the vegetables consumed in large quantities on Crete are rich in fatty acids which prevent cardiac diseases and most forms of cancer.
The linoleic acid contained in the variety of vegetables consumed by Cretans is a true shield of health! It protects the heart and the circulatory system. Some of the most common garden produce of Crete originates from other regions of the world, e.g. the tomato, which revolutionized the Cretan cuisine and shaped the character of Cretan diet as we know it today.
Cretan tomatoes are naturally ripened and free from hormones. Other agricultural products of Crete, cucumbers, marrows, etc., are cultivated in the lush valleys of the island under the most favourable weather conditions -- no snow during winter and moderate temperatures at the heart of the summer.
Areas that are considered most favourable for vegetable production are mainly found in the south of the island, in niches where even the swallows do not need to migrate further south, to Africa. The garden produce of Crete grows in a natural environment, under the moderate temperatures of a slanting golden sun and within a naturally scented environment. Cretans have a particular affection for the soil that provides them with the means for a good, long life. Technology is good as long as it does not violate and debase their dietary codes the observance of which gave Cretans the title of the lowest heart-attack risk, the lowest death rate, and the greatest life expectancy in the Western world.
Garden produce is cultivated in the southern, coastal regions of Crete, mainly at Ierapetra, Messara, south of Rethymnon, in the coastal area of Selino, of Kisamo and elsewhere.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Cretan aromatic herbs

It is called rosemary, its’ Latin name is Rosmarinus officiualis, and belongs to the family of Labiatae.
It is an evergreen plant, bushy, of dark green color, with dense, very thin, lance-shaped leaves and a very pleasant scent.It is self-sown, grows all over Crete and has been known in Greece since antiquity.
It is being used fresh or dry, in sauces made for seafood and fishes, and as a beverage.
It is being used in the pharmaceutical industry since it has healing properties (weakness, insomnia, indigestion, alopecia, hysteria, cellulite).It also favors apiculture.

It ia a self –sown bush, with lanceshaped, saw-like, leaves, which have an ashen-green color and strong scent.
It flowers in the end of spring and its’ flowers are whitish and cluster – shaped.
The word itself (sfakos + milea) is of ancient origin.
It is mainly used as a beverage, either alone or with malotira and dittany.
When cooking braised meat, red sauces or vegetable dishes, add only 1-2 leaves of sage because it has a very strong scent.
It mainly is a pharmaceutical herb and warming tisane.
By distilling it, you can make an essential oil useful in pharmaceutics and soap making.

The ancient Greeks named it ‘’artemidion’’, since it was Artemis gift to them, so as to cure the wounds that she sometimes carelessly made with her arrows. It is one of the most important healing herbs of antiquity – the plant named ‘’diktamnon’’ of the Dikti mountains since it was considered to be a cure for most illnesses.
The words diktamo or erontas, stamatohorto, livanohorto and many other synonyms are used to name this rare aromatic plant that only grows in Crete, usually in great highs and steep cliffs.
It is a perennial, self-sown moss and has 3 variations, according to the size of its’ leaves: narrow-leafed, broad-leafed and medium-leafed.
It is being used as a tisane, either alone or with sage and malotira.
Two or three leaves are enough for one cup, more of them would make the tisane slightly bitter.
It is a tonic and refreshing tisane, ideal for cold winter nights.
It has tonic, stimulating and healing properties.
Erontas is being used to make a stimulating drink.
Put 30 gr. Of this herb in 1 litre of white whine, soak it for 2 weeks, and drink 1 water glassof the mixture daily, for 1 week.
Avoid long-standing use.
Pregnant women should not use it since it has aborting properties.

Malotira or Malothira. A mossy, bushy and brushwood-like plant that grows in mountain areas.
You can drink it as a tisane, with some honey or combined with other herbs (sage, dittany).

Louisa or lemongrass, with the characteristic smell of lemon.
The plant comes from America but is completely acclimatized in Greece.
It is a bush but can also grow to be a small tree-depending on the pruning and it sheds it’s leaves in the winter.
The flowers grow in bunches, sometimes to the top of the plant.
The gathering of the leaves, sprouts, flowers is done in the summer.
All the parts of the plants are used in healing.
From the leaves – dried – a tisane is made (10-20 gr. For a liter of water), which is a tonic, a remedy for fever, soothes the bronchial tube and the nasal cavity, perspiring, diuretic, against diarrhea and bleeding.
Also, with poultice it is good in nerve pains and headaches, as well as pain in the ears.
The oil is used in industry in several ways (perfumery, confectionery, distillery etc.).

The honey produced in Crete is golden, almost amber, of very good quality and without foreign admixtures.
The bees feed on thyme, other fine Cretan aromatic herbs (found in the Cretan Madares, Omalos and else where), coniferous trees therefore the honey has a pleasant & quiet scent, a rich flavor and therapeutic qualities.
It is eaten row and is also used in pastry making and cooking.
It should be noted that it is ideal for our organism if we eat a spoonful of honey before anything else in the morning and then drink a glass of water.
This activates our metabolism and at the same time the honey is beneficial for the stomach and the nerves.

Cretan olives

Taken big green olives (tsounates), wash them and then crush them with a flat stone taking care not to break the pip.
Put the olives in a big pot and pour boiling water over them.
Let them stand for half an hour. This way their color does not fade.
After draining them, put them in a big glass or earthenware jar full of fresh water.
Change the water morning and evening for 5-6 days.
This will draw the bitterness.
It might take a couple of days longer.
Dissolve half a cup of salt in a glass full of lemon or sour orange juice.
Pack the olives in this ‘’brine’’ and pour some olive oil to cover them.
This will prevent the olives from ‘’breathing’’, otherwise they will go mouldy.
Recipe designed for a five –kilo jar.

Or seliniotikes or alatsolies.
Use small, black olives.
First wash them and then soak them in water for three days.
After draining them, layer them in a straw basket with coarse salt on top of each layer.
Leave 25 cm at the top of the last layer so that when you shake the basket every 5-6 days, the olives can be evenly salted.
Remove the excess salt with a big sieve 18-20 days later.
Wash, drain and oil the olives by hand before serving.

Use big black olives.
Slit them making sure not to touch the pip.
Soak them in water and freshen them for 5-6 days as for the above Tsakistes.
Pack them in a jar with water where you have dissolved a small quantity of quicklime (the size of a walnut per kilo).
After 4-5 hours remove, drain, and soak the olives in vinegar for one day.
Drain and preserve them in olive oil.

Cretan Rusk

Crete is a mountainous island and its’ economy mainly depended on stockbreeding and agriculture.
The lifestyle of the Cretan people was hard, yet absolutely adapted to the island’s geological and financial environment.
Therefore, the general conditions, the products available in the island and the geological created special nutritional habits, adapted to the needs and potentials of the Cretan people.
One of these foods, probably the most characteristic in Crete, is the rusk.
It was created due to the need, of stockbreeders in particular, to eat bread that would be kept in a ‘’proper’’ state and would be tasty and nutritional at the same time.
Therefore, the Cretan rusk became an inserable friend for all those who had to be away from home for a long time.
Due to its’ particularly good taste and the great variety that was created with time, the rusk is always found on the Cretan table, next to the bread, and has taken up a special place in all the social and festive manifestations of the island’s residents.There are many varieties of rusks with common characteristics, such as: the materials they are made of (cereals), their dry, hard, harsh texture, the fact that they are extremely tasty and easy to digest and above all their origin, to which they owe their name = Cretan rusk.
We have the following rusks: those called horiatika and eftazima, the barley, wheaten and rye rusks, the sweet rusks and the very special ‘’boukies’’ (bites) with their pleasant, neutral taste – a fine sweet, ideal for accompanying tea and coffee.
A first – class Cretan rusk is the rusk called Eftazimo, which is made of chickpeas and wheaten flour.
It also contains salt, pepper, red peppers and bay leaves.
It has a very special taste, its’ color is bright yellow, it is very tasty and you can find it in various sizes, the most common being the square one.
It is a traditional product, exclusively made in Crete, is considered to be a formal bread and is being offered in weddings and important celebrations.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Cretan Cheese

Cheese consumption on Crete is the largest on a world scale! Cretans do not actually see food as some sort of medicine; they know how to enjoy different tastes. The taste of Cretan cheese, gruyere and its varieties (kefalotyri, kefalograviera), sweet and sour soft cheese and other dairy products is unsurpassed! A significant source of calcium and proteins with high biological value, the Cretan cheese plays a significant role in Cretan diet. It is said that cheese is a source of saturated fat, but Cretans who eat a lot of cheese are not found with high levels of cholesterol. This is probably due to a balanced diet, which prevents the building up of harmful substances in the human organism. Indeed, the Cretan dietary prototype provides an impressive balance of nutritive elements that are precisely those required by the human body to remain healthy.
Recent scientific research correlated the effects of protein break-down in the dairy products with the prevention, treatment, and evolution of tumour growths in the breast and prostate! Currently, there is extensive research going on in Crete and France to develop new methods for the treatment of such tumours on the basis of related scientific results!

Milk is rich in vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, B6, pholic acid, basic minerals and amino-acids. The activities of goat- and sheep-raising on Crete are deeply rooted in myth. It is said that the dairy products of Crete provided nourishment to the great god, Zeus, who was born in a cave on the island and nursed by a goat, Amaltheia. Since then, the character of goat- and sheep-raising on Crete has seen but little changes. Stock-raising is only in terms of small animals, goats and sheep, that roam free in the scented pastures of the island. There are no organised stock-raising units and all animals feed on the wild plants and herbs.
This traditional form of stock-raising exploits traditional knowledge accumulated throughout the centuries. The only difference is that milk processing does not take place inside or outside sheep-folds any more, but in modern processing units which balance traditional forms of processing with approved standards of hygiene. The Cretan gruyere is exceptional in taste, as it is the case with other types of local cheese.

How to cook: Fried Kalitsoùnia


# For the dough
2 kilos flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup tsikoudià
3 glasses water

# For the filling
1/2 kilo mizìthra cheese
1/2 kilo anthòtiro cheese
1/2 kilo malàka cheese
3 eggs

Prepare the dough with the flour, olive oil, tsikoudia, water and salt. Combine with the anthotiro, mizithra, malaka cheese as well as the eggs. Roll out a pastry sheet and cut circles in the size of a saucer. Spoon some filling on each piece, fold, and seal edges by pressing very well and then fry in plenty of oil.