The Cretan Kitchen part 1

I was told before arriving in Crete that the food is something special. I was lucky enough to have the pleasure of spending a morning at Taverna Lambros, in Tertsa, on the south coast of Crete. It’s a wonderful family run taverna, started in the 60s by Elena and her husband, then passed on to Eleftheria (mother and chef) and now to Lambros and his sister Elena. Lambros is the friendly owner, and I was lucky enough to spend a morning with his mother in the kitchen.

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Dolmades (stuffed vine leaves)
This is one of the most traditional recipes from Greece, and I tried many different versions. In Crete the tavernas serve a mix of stuffed vine leaves, and stuffed courgette flowers. If you can’t find either of those, then blanched cabbage leaves are another option, though that creates a different flavour, more Balkan than Greek.

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Recipe
Uncooked rice
Lots of onion (grated to finely chopped)
Spearmint
Fennel
Grated carrot
A little tomato paste with water
Lots of oil

Put a tablespoon of the rice mix in the centre of the vine/cabbage leaf. Fold the front, then the sides and then roll and wrap. Place in a pot, half cover with water, cover with a plate and cook for about half an hour.

Serve with a squeeze of lemon, and yoghurt or tzatziki.

Fasoya (beans in tomato sauce)
Completely typical, and a wonderfully simple way to cook green beans, or in fact, any type of bean you like. The secret, as ever, is the olive oil! And you can add all the other vegetables as well for a ratatouille type dish, or just stick with the beans.

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Recipe
Green Beans
Courgette
Aubergine
Onions
Potatoes
Chopped Fresh tomatoes
Tomato purée
2 lg glasses of olive oil
1 lg glass water Water
Fennel/dill/Spearmint (chopped)
Lemon juice to finish
Salt/pepper to taste

Put everything in the pan, chop the potatoes into chunky pieces, and cook until soft – about 1 hour. Before serving add a squeeze lemon juice.

Greek vegetables with lemon
Like above, this is a simple way to cook vegetables. It’s commonly served cold, as a salad or warm with crusty bread or rice.

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Recipe
courgettes
Carrots
Artichokes
Potatoes
2 lg glasses of olive oil
1 lg glass Water
Fennel/dill/Spearmint
juice of 2 Lemons

Cut all of the vegetables into chunky pieces, add the oil, water, lemon juice and herbs and cook until soft – about 1 hour.


Octopus Stifado (octopus stew with onions)

I have been searching for a recipe for octopus for a long time and this has all the typical flavours of the Cretan diet. The mix of spices is also used with beef, chicken and lamb!

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Recipe
2 whole octopus
5 onions (cut into quarters)
3 garlic cloves (leave them whole)
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp tomato paste
Splash of white wine

Cook the whole octopus in water for about 1 hour, then chop into thumb sized pieces, discarding the stomach (it’s a small hard bit in the centre). Place the pieces in a pot with a large glass of water and cook for 5 minutes until all the liquid has evaporated, stirring regularly. Add a good splash of olive oil, stir, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Add all the other ingredients, mix well, cover and cook until the octopus is soft (about an hour). Serve with potatoes or rice

Halva
This is a dessert which can be served cold the next day, or also warm. It uses a lot of olive oil, and sugar…but everyone tells me that the Cretan food is the healthiest in the Mediterranean and that’s why the people live so long. You decide 🙂

Recipe
450g semolina
300ml olive oil
500g sugar
500ml water
2tsp ground cinnamon
Raisins/almonds/other nuts (optional)

Make the sugar syrup with the sugar, water and cinnamon. Bring to the boil and then gently simmer for about 20 minutes.

Heat the oil until it begins to smoke, add semolina and cook for a few minutes, stirring rapidly.

Add the syrup little by little to the semolina, stirring with a whisk. Add the nuts and raisins if you want. Return to the heat and cook for a few minutes to thicken.

Pour into a tray, slice into squares, sprinkle with cinnamon and leave to cool.


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