Wednesday, 19 March 2008

How To Dye Red Eggs with Onion Skins for Greek Easter

Red eggs (in Greek: kokkina avga, κόκκινα αυγά, pronounced KOH-kee-nah ahv-GHAH) are perhaps the brightest symbol of Greek Easter, representing the blood of Christ and rebirth. We also dye eggs other colors, but rarely will a Greek Easter be celebrated without lots of red eggs. Commercial dyes are available, but this old-fashioned natural method creates red eggs with a deep rich color. The following is for one dozen red eggs. Note: It may sound counterintuitive, but the skins of yellow onions work wonderfully!

Time Required: 50 minutes + 2 hours cooling

Here's How:
1. Start with 12 medium-to-small eggs.
2. Carefully remove any material clinging to the surface of the eggs.
3. Make the dye with the onion skins: In a stainless saucepan, place skins of 15 yellow (Spanish) onions and 2 tablespoons of white vinegar in 4 1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer, covered, for 30 minutes.
4. Strain dye into a glass bowl, and let cool to room temperature. (Don't be fooled by the orange color.)
5. In a stainless saucepan (around 8 1/4 inches in diameter), add the cooled strained dye and eggs at room temperature (up to 1 dozen). The eggs should be in one layer and covered by the dye.
6. Bring to a boil over medium heat. When boiling, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer.
7. Dyeing time will be affected by the color of the eggs. Start checking for color at 12-15 minutes. Do not simmer longer than 20 minutes (see step 9 if they aren't red enough).
8. When eggs are the right color, proceed to step 10.
9. If eggs are not a red enough color after 20 minutes, leave in the pot and remove from heat. When the pot as cooled enough, place in refrigerator and let sit until desired color is reached.
10. Remove eggs with a slotted spoon and cool on racks.
11. When they can be handled, coat lightly with olive (or other edible) oil and polish with paper toweling.
12. Refrigerate until time to use.

1. Save onion skins in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until ready to use.
2. Do not use any porous (wood, ceramic, plastic, etc.) materials as they can be colored by the dye.
3. If stainless cookware and utensils get colored by the dye, wash with regular detergent and a small amount of chlorine. Rinse very well.

What You Need:
* Fresh uncooked eggs at room temperature
* Skins from yellow (Spanish) onions
* White vinegar
* Saucepan
* Strainer
* Bowl
* Slotted spoon
* Paper towels
* Cooling racks
* Olive (or other edible) oil for polishing

Omeleta me Aginares: Artichoke Omelet

Ιn Greek: ομελέτα με αγκινάρες, pronounced oh-meh-LEH-tah meh ahg-ee-NAH-ress

April is peak season for fresh artichokes, making this a springtime favorite, but this omelet is delicious with frozen artichoke hearts as well. This is a Greek country omelet, which means that it's a hearty pie-type omelet, packed with vegetables, and makes a filling main dish.

* 2 pounds of artichoke hearts, fresh or frozen (requires about 4 - 4 1/4 pounds of fresh artichokes before trimming)
* 4 cups of salted water
* juice of 1 lemon
* 3 tablespoons of olive oil
* 1 teaspoon of fresh lemon juice
* 1 teaspoon of sea salt
* 6 eggs + 1 tablespoon of water, beaten with a fork

To prepare fresh artichokes: Remove the coarse outer leaves and stem. Cut off the top (down to just above the choke) and scoop out the choke with a spoon. Trim off remaining leaves around the sides to leave just the pale colored heart.
Rub the artichoke hearts with lemon as soon as each is cleaned and place immediately in a bowl of cold water with half the lemon juice (to prevent them from turning black) and set aside until ready to use.
In a large pot, bring the water to a boil. Add artichoke hearts and lemon juice and boil for 10 minutes. Drain well, and cut hearts into quarters.
In a 8-9 inch nonstick frying pan, heat the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add artichoke hearts, lemon juice, and salt, and cook for 20 minutes, stirring frequently, until very soft. Pour beaten eggs over the artichoke hearts and distribute evenly in the pan. Cook for 1 minute, turn, cook for 1 minute, and turn again.

To turn: Run a spatula under the sides and bottom of the omelet to loosen. Put a plate over the top of the pan and turn the omelet out onto the plate. Slide the omelet back into the pan to cook the other side.
With a fork, spread the middle of the omelet to check for doneness. Serve hot.

Yield: serves 4

Aphrodisiacs in Ancient Greece

There were many foods and beverages consumed in ancient Greece that we might not be anxious to try today, like cheese and garlic added to wine, but no more unusual than at least one of the foods that were considered to be aphrodisiacs. When we think of bulbs, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn't "aphrodisiac;" yet, they were highly prized for their reputed positive effect on the libido.
An aphrodisiac is defined as something (like a drug or food) that arouses or intensifies sexual desire. The name is derived from Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love and beauty.
From ancient times, there have been foods that were believed to increase sexual prowess and desire, and food historians tell us that ancient Greeks were not immune to promises of improved performance and stamina, and heightened pleasure.

Hippocrates (c.460-377 B.C.E.), the father of medicine, is reported to have recommended lentils to keep a man virile well into old age, a practice followed by the Greek philosopher Artistotle (384-322 B.C.E.), who cooked them with saffron. Plutarch (c.46-122 C.E.) suggested fassolatha (a bean soup, the national dish of Greece) as the way to a strong libido, and others believed that artichokes were not only aphrodisiacs but also ensured the birth of sons.
The Aphrodisiacs

In her book "Πολύτιμες Αρχαίες Αφροδισιακές Συνταγές" (Prized Ancient Recipes for Aphrodisiacs), author Lena Terkesithou sheds light on the ancient Greek quest for virility (since the earliest references to aphrodisiacs were for men). Among the foods noted as aphrodisiacs of the times are:

Edible bulbs: Ancient Greeks believed that certain bitter edible bulbs stimulated passion. They were cooked in various ways, and eaten with “aphrodisiac salads” containing honey and sesame seeds – two other foods considered libido-boosters. Perhaps the ancient recipe was similar to this recipe for marinated bulbs that we make today.

Garlic: From the most ancient of times, garlic was believed to have magical and therapeutic properties, and was also considered an aphrodisiac. In the times of Homer, Greeks ate garlic daily - with bread, as a condiment, or added to salads. It was the main ingredient in a garlic paste (a forerunner of today’s skordalia?) containing cheese, garlic, eggs, honey, and oil.

Leeks: Ancient Greeks considered leeks to be aphrodisiac, probably because of their phallic shape. (They were also used as a diuretic and laxative.)

Mushrooms: Truffles were considered exceptional aphrodisiacs. They grew below the surface on sandy shorelines, and were rare and very expensive (just as they are today).

Onions: Like garlic, the ancients ate onions regularly. In addition to their perceived therapeutic benefits, onions were believed to be an aphrodisiac.

Satirio: Satirio is a type of wild orchid and was referenced as an excellent aphrodisiac by Dioscorides (c.40-90 C.E.), the 1st century founder of pharmacology, as well as by Plutarch in his Precepts of Health (Υγιεινά Παραγγέλματα).

Stafylinos: This was a plant that grew from seed in the wild that was believed to heighten sexual desire, so much so that it was known as a "sex potion."

Is It or Isn't It?

Mint: Hippocrates believed that frequent eating of mint diluted sperm, hindered erection, and tired the body. There was, however, the diametrically opposed opinion that mint was a very effective aphrodisiac. It is reported that Aristotle advised Alexander the Great (c.356-323 B.C.E.) not to allow his soldiers to drink mint tea during campaigns because he believed it to be an aphrodisiac.

Fassolakia Freska me Domata: Green Bean Casserole with Tomato

In Greek: φασολάκια φρέσκα με ντομάτα, pronounced fah-soh-LAHK-yah FRES-kah meh doh-MAH-tah

This Theban version of a classic Greek recipe is deceptively simple to fix, combining fresh green beans with onions, tomatoes, garlic, and parsley, and delivers a sophisticated taste. It can be served as a main dish, or as a side.

Note: This dish works well with all kinds of "string" beans, depending on which type is freshly available.

* 2 pounds of fresh green beans or other long "string" bean
* 2 cups of tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
* 2 onions, finely chopped
* 1 cup of olive oil
* 1 green pepper, thinly sliced
* 1 small bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped
* 2-3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
* 1/4 cup of water
* sea salt
* fresh ground pepper

Wash the beans, cut off the tips and remove the stringy piece of fiber along the seam. Rinse the beans.
In a soup pot, sauté the onions in olive oil with a wooden spoon until they turn translucent.
Stir in the garlic and sauté a few minutes more. Add all the remaining ingredients and the water. Stir well, reduce heat, and simmer covered for 50 minutes or until the beans are tender. (Add more water if needed during cooking - boiling water.)

Serve warm. On the side, consider tzatziki or feta cheese, and certainly some great country bread.

Yield: 4 servings as a main dish, 6-8 as a side

Note: For a more substantial dish, add 4 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks.

A Brief Introduction to the History and Food of Crete

The food of contemporary Crete is founded on its history and what is locally produced. Crete lies in a strategic position in the Mediterranean, acting like a modern aircraft carrier in the southern Aegean. For this reason it has been a prime target of invaders for millennia. Crete was home to the Minoan civilization during the Bronze Age (3000 to 1100 BC) that built the Palace of Knossos that can be visited today. The Romans also ruled Crete, but the Crete of today began its formation with the Arab occupation that lasted from 824 to 961 AD. But unlike Arab rule in Spain and Sicily, little of lasting value was left in Crete by what amounted to a band of Arab adventurers. The island was restored to Byzantium in 961 and the Christian ruling class was strengthened. A slow decline, tethered to the decline of Byzantium in general, occurred and by 1204 Crete was sold to the Venetians who used the island as a source of grain, wine, hides, and wood for shipbuilding. More importantly Venice understood the strategic importance of Crete and secured the island for its excellent harbors. A feudal administration was established, but Venetian rule was vigorously confronted by the Cretan character and for centuries terrible revolts occurred that were ruthlessly suppressed. Venetian rule lasted until 1669 and by the end of their rule Crete was an amalgam of Cretan and Venetian influences. As Venetian power waned, a new force entered Crete. The Ottoman Turks took Crete in 1669 and ruled until 1898. In the beginning of Turkish rule there was great hardship and deprivation. Later there was ruthless discrimination against Christians and conversions to Islam were frequent. Greek and Cretan cultural traditions were preserved and protected throughout this period by monasteries and the Greek Orthodox church. Culinary traditions, too, were preserved in monasteries and in remote mountain villages that could resist occupation. But Crete is quite different than the rest of Greece, even though that may not be immediately evident to the casual visitor. Like other Mediterranean islands Crete is self-contained and isolated. And, like many of the other islands of the Mediterranean it is mountainous, meaning that life is not automatically associated around the sea which has always been dangerous because of invaders and pirates.

Today, the traveler is most likely to encounter Cretan food in tavernas where prepared food (etimo fayeto) is served at lunchtime from bain marie. One inspects the various dishes that the chef has prepared, sometimes up to 12 different dishes, and chooses what they want. Stuffed vegetables, tourta, savory pies, and dishes of pulses that are a kind of cross between soups and stews are made. In the evening one will be presented with a selection of meze, a variety of appetizing little dishes that might be the entirety of the meal. Other food, such as stifado (stew) or grilled meats will arrive at the table haphazardly as they are finished. Being an island, Crete is renowned for its fish dishes which are usually grilled or made into a stew.

Cretan food has a kind of mythic, legendary status among nutritionists because of studies showing that rates of chronic heart disease and other chronic diseases are quite low as a result of the diet and lifestyle of Cretans. Even so, Cretan food is actually quite simple, based on olive oil, olives, pulses and vegetables and fresh and dried fruits with very little meat and fish consumption. Crete also has deep traditions surrounding two food items that remain special on islands: bread and cheese. There are many breads, from votive breads to preserved rock-hard breads for times of famine. Like its other Mediterranean islands, Crete shares the same traditions when it comes to bread and a whole book could be written about them. So too with cheeses, many are still unnamed, just as in Corsica, called simply "cheese." Although when pressed, Cretans will tell you that you are eating kefalotyri, or malaka or a clotted cream-like product called staka. Each of Crete's invaders influenced the food. The ancient Greeks made sausages. The Byzantines salt and dry-cured meats and used honey in both sweet and savory dishes. With the Venetians wine production grew as did olive. Although many Cretan dishes have Italian names, they are not necessarily Italian in origin. The Turks brought the use of various spices such as sesame seeds, cumin, and coriander seed and certain other dishes such as the chicken liver and cinnamon pie called tzoulama. But there are other influences including Jewish.

Cretan food is simple food, but that does not mean it is bland food. It is food based on a foundation of basic native ingredients, olive oil, wild greens, lemons, oranges, lentils, beans, barley, and vegetables and a culinary structure emerges from the combinations created by cooks.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

Greek Cooking Methods

Greek foods are fried, sautéed, simmered, boiled, braised, stewed, baked, roasted, grilled, poached, pickled, puréed, and preserved. Generally, they are not smoked in home cooking.

When foods are named after the way they are cooked, as in kalamarakia tiganita (fried squid) they are called:

Kapama (stovetop meat or poultry casserole in a sweet and spicy tomato sauce), in Greek καπαμά, pronounced kah-pah-MAH

Kokkinisto (stovetop meat or poultry casserole in a tomato sauce), in Greek κοκκινιστό, pronounced koh-kee-nee-STOH

Lather, ladera (stovetop vegetable, legume (pulses), and/or rice casseroles cooked with olive oil), in Greek λαδερά, pronounced lah-theh-RAH

Ogkraten (the Greek version of "au gratin" baked with a bechamel sauce and sprinkled cheese), in Greek ογκρατέν, pronounced oh-grah-TEN

Pane (fried after dipping in egg, flour, and crumbs), in Greek πανέ, pronounced pah-NAY

Plaki (oven casserole), in Greek πλακί, pronounced plah-KEE

Pose (poached), in Greek ποσέ, pronounced po-ZAY

Poure (purée), in Greek πουρέ, pronounced poor-RAY

Psito (roasted), in Greek ψητό, pronounced psee-TOH

Skharas (grilled), in Greek σχάρας, pronounced SKHAH-rahss
or sti skhara (on the grill), in Greek στη σχάρα, pronounced stee SKHAH-rah

Sote (sautéed), in Greek σοτέ, pronounced so-TAY

Stifatho (stewed with lots of pearl onions), in Greek στιφάδο, pronounced stee-FAH-thoh

Sto fourno (baked, literally means "in the oven"), in Greek στο φούρνο, pronounced stoh FOOR-no

Tiganita (fried in a skillet, from the Greek word for skillet, tigani), in Greek τηγανητά, pronounced tee-ghah-nee-TAH

Toursi (pickled), in Greek τουρσί, pronounced toor-SEE

Yahni (stewed, ragout style), in Greek γιαχνί, pronounced yah-HNEE

There are others, and there are many using regional dialects, but those are the basics.

What You Need to Know About Traditional Greek Cooking

Traditional Greek cooking grew out of a rural lifestyle lived by people who were poor in the economic sense, but wealthy in imagination and creativity. A few basic guidelines ensure that Greek foods are at their very best in taste, nutrition, and economy.

Seasonal: Keep it Fresh: Traditional Greek cooking fully celebrates the seasons. Fresh ingredients are part of every traditional Greek cook's life, and daily shopping trips are the norm.

Scratch: Start at the Beginning: Traditional Greek dishes are made from scratch. Commercially-prepared ingredients are rarely used.

Simple: Fabulous Taste with Time-tested Methods: The art of great Greek cooking is to keep it simple, celebrating the taste of fresh ingredients and fabulous combinations of herbs and spices, rather than covering them up. Grilling, baking, roasting, frying, and stewing are some of the favorite cooking methods used.

Slow: Don't Rush It: In your vocabulary, "slow cooker" may mean a kitchen appliance but, when it comes to traditional Greek cooking, slow is the only way to cook. To speed things up, pressure cookers may be used, but they're used to reduce cooking times from 4-5 hours or longer to 1-2 hours... still slow by most definitions. When the food cooks slowly, tastes have time to meld, creating mouthwatering dishes that most Greeks easily identify with their mothers' and grandmothers' kitchens.

How To Make Thick, Strained Yogurt

The thick, strained yogurt used in Greek cooking may not be available in your local market. Learn to make your own using commercial or homemade full-fat, low-fat, and even fat-free yogurt. It's not only great for preparing Greek foods, but you'll love it for other uses as well!

Here's How:
  1. Line a medium-large bowl with a piece of cheesecloth or a clean white dish towel.
  2. Dump a container of plain (unflavored), yogurt into the center of the cloth.
  3. Bring the four corners of the cloth together and lift the yogurt.
  4. Over the bowl or sink, twist the corners to squeeze out the liquid (it will drain through the cloth).
  5. Continue squeezing, putting the yogurt under pressure, to force the liquid out.
  6. When the majority of the surface liquid has been drained, it will start to drip more slowly. Tie off the top of the cloth just above the mass of yogurt with string.
  7. Place the cloth containing the yogurt in a strainer or colander, and place the strainer or colander in a bowl where it doesn't touch the bottom (so that the liquid can continue to drain).
  8. Place the bowl containing the strainer/colander in the refrigerator and allow to drain for 2-3 hours.
  9. After draining, take the cloth containing the yogurt and put it in the sink (do not remove the string).
  10. Place the palms of your hands on the bag and press down to force out any remaining liquid.
  11. Remove the string, open the cloth, and using a spatula, put the yogurt in a bowl for use.
  12. Note: How thick is thick? The yogurt should be the consistency of whipped butter or cream cheese.
What You Need:
* medium-large mixing bowl
* cheesecloth or clean white dishtowel
* commercial or homemade full-fat, low-fat, or fat-free yogurt, plain unflavored
* string
* strainer or colander

How to cook: Spetzofai

Country Sausage with Peppers and Tomato

The choice of peppers is yours, but unless the sausage is extremely mild, red bell peppers are always a good choice. For mild sausage, try Greek pepperoncini or other mildly hot pepper. In this recipe, I used our local homemade sausage which has enough spice to make my eyes water, so I chose one red and one orange (sweeter) bell pepper.

* 2 pounds of country sausage
* 2 medium onions
* 2 red bell peppers
* 1 large ripe tomato, finely chopped with juice
* 1 clove of garlic, sliced
* 1 tablespoon white or red wine
* 3 tablespoons of olive oil

Cut sausage into slices. Peel onions and cut into chunks. Trim peppers and remove seeds. Cut into chunks.
In a heavy-bottomed frying pan or skillet, sauté the onion in the olive oil over medium heat until translucent, about 5-8 minutes stirring constantly with a wooden spoon.
Add sausage, peppers, chopped tomato and juice, and garlic, and stir until all ingredients are well mixed. Stir in wine and cover. Cook for 20-25 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Spoon onto serving plates and serve warm.

Yield: serves 4

Preparation note: If using pepperoncini peppers (mildly hot), they can be used whole as long as the sausage isn't extremely spicy. Otherwise, slit the pepper open and remove the seeds before adding to the dish.

How to make: Yiaourti me Meli

Yogurt with Honey

In many Greek restaurants, this dessert is served compliments of the house. Both yogurt and honey are great for the digestive system, and the combined tastes are delicious. It's worth the effort to find the original thick Greek yogurt available at Greek and ethnic markets, or make your own thick yogurt using regular, low fat or nonfat regular brands.

Because yogurt is such a popular breakfast dish around the world, try this as an early morning starter as well!

* 1/2 - 3/4 cup of strained Greek yogurt per serving
* 1-2 teaspoons of Greek thyme honey per serving
* crushed walnuts and/or almonds (optional)

In individual serving bowls, drizzle honey over the yogurt and sprinkle with walnuts and/or almonds if desired.

How to make: Tyrokafteri

Hot Pepper Cheese Dip

This recipe works with red and green peppers. Mild or hot, this is a delicious dip.


* 1/2 pound of feta cheese
* 1 pepper (mild to hot, depending on preference)
* olive oil


Crumble the feta into small pieces using a fork.

Sauté the pepper in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until the skin is lightly browned. Remove the stem and discard, and chop the pepper into very small pieces.

Using a mortar and pestle, add the pepper and the oil it was sautéed in to the cheese and mash until smooth, adding additional olive oil if needed to bring it to the consistency of a thick (but not stiff) dip. Serve garnished with a bit of parsley.

Alternatively: Put the cheese, pepper, and oil from sautéeing in the blender and mix, adding more olive oil if needed to bring to the correct consistency.

If you have a pepper that's too hot, slit it open down one side under running water and remove and discard the white internal membrane. Pat the pepper dry before sautéeing.

How to cook: Moshari Yiouvetsi

Beef & Pasta Casserole

Yiouvetsi is the name of a fired terracotta casserole pot in which dishes with meat, poultry, or seafood are traditionally cooked with pastas, however any oven-proof covered casserole dish can be substituted. An easy one-pot oven-to-table dish. This recipe doesn't require any special cut of beef; cheaper cuts do quite well.


* 3 - 3 1/2 pounds of stew meat, cut into serving-sized chunks (not bite-sized)
* 6 tablespoons of olive oil
* 2 large onions, minced
* 4 cloves of garlic, diced
* 1 small hot pepper (Hungarian wax-type)
* 1 pound of ripe tomatoes or 3 cups of canned stewed tomatoes
* 2 allspice berries
* 4 cups of beef broth or water
* 1 pound of small or medium orzo pasta
* 2 teaspoons of sea salt
* 1 teaspoon of freshly ground pepper
* grated kefalotyri or pecorino cheese (or regato)

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, sauté the meat in 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat until browned on all sides (about 10 minutes). Remove the meat with tongs or a spoon (do not pierce with a fork) and set aside.

Add the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the pot and sauté the onion, garlic, and whole hot pepper until the onion softens. Add the water or broth, allspice, tomatoes, pepper, and meat (using tongs or a spoon). Stir to mix and reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer until the meat is tender (about 1 hour). With a wooden spoon, stir in salt and orzo, cover and simmer gently for 2-3 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 355°F (180°C).

Spoon the meat into a an oven-safe covered casserole dish, and pour the orzo and liquids around the meat. Cover and bake for approximately 50 minutes, until the orzo is cooked and there's still some liquid sauce.

Remove from oven and let rest, covered, for 30 minutes. Serve with grated cheese.

Yield: serves 6

Serving suggestions: Divide and bake in 6 covered oven-proof terracotta or ceramic bakers for individual servings. (The small bakers can be covered with foil during cooking if they don't have lids.)


* Lamb can be substituted for the beef.
* Short macaroni-type soup pasta (ditali or tubetti) can be substituted for the orzo.

Cretan Diet = Mediterranean Diet

The Cretan Diet has become synonymous with the Mediterranean Diet, which has gained so much attention as one of the world's most healthful. Crete was one of the original places observed in the now famous, and still ongoing, "Seven-Countries Study", begun by Dr. Ancel Keys in the late 1950s to document the rate of heart disease, among several different populations.

How it Began

In 1947, the Rockefeller Foundation arrived in Crete ready to offer humanitarian assistance to the war-ravaged islanders. As part of the Foundation's mission, it documented the islanders' meager diet. Then, Cretans lived on a subsistence regimen of wild greens, fruits, legumes, bread and barley rusks, little protein and plenty of their native olive oil. While the Rockefeller Foundation was appalled at what seemed like the diet of utter despair, they were equally surprised to notice that the islanders were uncannily healthy. There was no malnutrition on Crete after those war-torn years.

At around the same time, across the Mediterranean in Naples, a young cardiologist named Ancel Keys was puzzled at how there wasn't one cardiac patient in the entire hospital he had served in during the War. Keys was one of the first to realize that disease and diet must somehow be related, and he initiated a study of cardiovascular disease and lifestyle, studying the rates of occurrence and the diet in seven very different countries: Italy, Holland, Yugoslavia, Finland, the U.S., Japan and Greece. What he discovered was that while the Cretans consumed an inordinate amount of fat (on a par with the meat-eating Fins), they still had no heart disease. Unlike the Fins, who got most of their fat (saturated) from meat and animal products, the Cretan peasants got most of theirs (unsaturated) from olive oil. The Cretan diet in the 1950s consisted of carbohydrates (mainly bread and barley rusks), wild greens (upwards of 80 different varieties), other vegetables and fruits, and olive oil. There was virtually no cheese in the diet as cheese was a commodity to be made and sold; and, there was almost no meat.

By the late 1950s, Keys had assessed that the diet of Crete was in fact one of the healthiest in the world. He presented his findings, recommending to the U.S. government that Americans reduce their consumption of red meat and dairy products. It took several decades before the western world realized that Keys was right. Only in the last decade or so has the Mediterranean Diet, with the Cretan Diet as its best model, garnered the attention it deserved, and only in the last decade or so has olive oil gotten its due, for the most important finding of the Seven Countries Study was that olive oil, rich in unsaturated fat, actually can help not only in the prevention of heart disease but also in the reversal of its affects once the disease occurs.

So, what really is the Cretan diet? It seems to be a diet based mainly on vegetables and olive oil, although so many other elements of the island's traditional diet have also come under scientific scrutiny and have been found to be beneficial to health. Among them: snails, the immense variety of wild greens, honey, specific cheeses made not from cow's milk but from sheep's and goat's milk, wine, and finally that most Cretan of spirits, raki, or eau de vie, which is thought to spur metabolism.

The Cretan diet ultimately is really the Cretan lifestyle, where meals are not only inherently healthful but also social occasions for family and friends to gather. There is little stress and much joy in eating the way a typical Cretan does. All these things combined make for what is now coined "the Cretan diet."

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

How to cook: Psarosoupa

Red snapper is a great fish to choose for soup because it doesn't fall apart and has a wonderful taste to impart to the vegetables. This recipe uses a traditional Greek oil-and-lemon sauce (latholemono) for the vegetables and fish, and rice is added to the soup. It's a delicious and substantial meal.


  • 3 - 3 1/2 pounds of red snapper (or slightly more if uncleaned)
  • 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
  • 4 fresh tomatoes, cut into chunks (about 1 pound)
  • 1 pound of carrots, cut in chunks
  • 5-6 stalks of celery, with leaves, chopped
  • 1 pound of small zucchini, cut part-way through, lengthwise
  • 2 pounds of medium potatoes, peeled, sliced lengthwise into 6 pieces each
  • 2/3 cup of olive oil
  • juice of 1 lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
  • sea salt
  • water
  • 2/3 cup of rice
  • ------------
  • 2/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil
  • juice of 2 lemons (about 4 tablespoons)


Note: This recipe requires 2 soup pots or one soup pot and a large bowl.

Scrape the fish to remove scales. Cut off and discard fins. Gut and remove and discard the head. Wash fish well to remove any debris.

If the fish are larger than one-person servings, score the fish on one side into serving size pieces using a sharp knife (don't cut into the bones). Salt the zucchini.

In a soup pot, bring oil and 4 1/2 cups of water to a boil over medium heat. Add onions, carrots, tomatoes, and celery, and boil covered for 15 minutes. Add potatoes and zucchini and continue to boil covered for 20 minutes. Add fish, cover, and continue to boil for 25 minutes. Remove from heat, and allow to rest for 10 minutes.

Make the sauce in the blender: Combine the extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice and blend on high until thickened (about 5 seconds).

Carefully, remove fish and 3/4 of the vegetables from the pot using a slotted spatula, and place in a serving dish. Pour the sauce over the fish and vegetables, cover and set aside.

Ladle soup stock and vegetables into the blender (don't fill more than half way), and mix on high for 7 seconds until puréed. Pour into a second soup pot or a large bowl. Continue until all the soup stock and vegetables have been puréed. (If using a large bowl, rinse out the pot and pour in the soup.) Add 8 3/4 cups of water to the soup and bring to a boil. Add rice and cover. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the juice of one lemon.

Serve fish and vegetables on a platter, and soup in a tureen or individual soup bowls. Serve with pepper and lemon wedges on the side to be added to taste.

Yield: serves 6-8

More for Cretan diet

Have you ever tasted "dako", kalitsounia, lamb stamnagathi, fennel pie, staka with eggs, "alatsolies"?

If you have, then you know what we are talking about... If not... then you have one more good reason to visit Crete, Hania and the villages of the municipality of Platanias!

Cretan diet is one more of the things that make Crete stand out.

This diet, which is actually the base of what is known as the famous Mediterranean diet, has been declared officially from the world's medical society as the healthiest and most complete of diets.
Nowhere else has such wholesome food been adapted in everyday nutrition as it is here. Handpicked mountain greens, low-fat white cheese, double baked rusks, fresh vegetables and fruits in large quantities, are all bits and pieces of the jig-saw puzzle that makes the everyday Cretan diet unique.

The olives and olive oil of Crete hold a dominant -almost symbolic -position in agriculture and local cuisine. The Cretan olive oil -especially the one that is manufactured in the region of Hania -is possibly the best in the world and has been the base of the Cretan diet for thousands of years. Its fine golden-green color and refined taste that still manages to maintain the aroma of the fresh olive, is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidant substances. For this product, it is difficult to discern between an incredible nutriment and a fine medicine.

Additionally, the extremely mild and favorable climate gives Crete the almost unique privilege to develop and deploy a vast variety of agricultural and livestock production. An apparent disadvantage, the limited size of the island, is actually turned into an advantage by eliminating all other disadvantages that are present in full scale mass productions. All products here are more cared for and better prepared, something almost impossible in any mass production. It is not by chance that all agricultural products which are originally labeled as "product of Crete" are most valued, higher priced and most frequently asked for.

The abundant, first quality "low-fat" olive oil, products from small family farms, vegetables and fruits, combined with low consumption of meat, all contribute to... the secrets of the Cretan diet!

The land and its people took care or all the rest. In Crete, dinner is much more than just a process of sustenance. It is about relish, and mostly it is an expression of sociability and a way of living that has been imprinted on the culture of the island. The friendly gathering around a table full of food, delicacies and wine, is maybe the one thing that most characterizes the everyday life of Cretans.

It is understandable then why the Cretan cuisine is so well taken care of and so cherished. With an endless variety of dishes, appetizers and sweets, all based almost completely on local products, in close contact with ages of tradition, the Cretan cuisine has nothing but friends. An inextricable aspect of the traditional Cretan diet, with a regular seat on the dinner table and a vital role in social commune, is its wine. You will be able to find plentiful local red wine mainly from the variety of Romehiko, as well as many more choices of local wine based on international varieties.

Of course, modern industrial civilization has not left unaffected the nutrition habits of the Cretans. Many typical samples of the so-called modern way of living -for example the increase in meat consumption -have infiltrated in modern life. Even so, the core and basic substance are still pure and he who seeks it, will easily find it. In the area of the municipality of Platanias, housewives stand their ground, and tradition still means tradition!

This any visitor will discover in every aspect, in most dinning halls, in taverns, in cafeterias, even in the grand tourist units. If you are lucky or... search a little deeper, then you might enjoy a Cretan meal from the inside of a Cretan house, in the company of good friends. There where the meaning of Cretan hospitality literally comes to life...

Most wanted!

Crete is perhaps the most famous part in Greece for its separate cuisine. Cretans with the passage of the years developed a great production of agricultural products, which constituted also basic components of their diet. The balanced diet of Cretans has become repeatedly object of researches, being the reason of their excellent health condition and the low mortality. In a Cretan dinner you will always see, vegetables, pies, fruits, legumes, dairy, bread, olives. Of course, meat is also an element of Cretan alimentation in little quantity, as well as fresh fishes and seafood. Basic element of Cretan cuisine is also the olive oil. Cretan olive oil is of excellent quality, makes good to the health and is exported to the entire world. The Cretan dinner always include wine or raki, the strong local alcoholic drink. Some of the delicacies that you can try in Rethymno are the following:

* Chochlious: snails cooked with grasses or fried in olive oil. It is a very tasty traditional dish.
* Dakos: is a snack including vinegar and water-soaked barley bread, which is accompanied by small pieces of tomato, garlic, onion and cheese feta.
* Apaki: smoked meat, usually lamb.
* Ofto: meat cooked in a ceramic dish and fried potatoes with the peel.
* Cheeses: local mizithra and anthotiro.
* Kaltsounia: sweet snack with Cretan honey of excellent quality.