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In Greece and Crete food is a way of living, meals are shared with family, close relatives and friends taking hours of friendly and warm chats wth delicious wine. Cretan cuisine is famous worldwide for its flavors, variety and nutritional value with a healthy base of olive oil, bread, cereals, milk, vegetables, pulses, honey, fish and meats like goat, lamb and pork cooked over a grill. Famous also because Cretan people are living longer and healthier with clean arteries. The best about it is its simplicity, they don’t use much spices and its freshness.
The Mediterranean diet does so much more than simply shrink your waistline. While it helps control your weight, it also can reduce your risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart-disease-related deaths, as well as protect your memory and thinking skills. A recent study found that following a Mediterranean diet actually slows down DNA damage, which is an internal sign of aging. That’s right—sticking to this nutritious diet will actually help you live a longer, healthier life! Ready to give it a shot? Here’s what you need to eat to reap the amazing benefits.
- Naturally, the first thing you should do is pile on the fruits and vegetables. The nutrients in fresh produce are an essential part of the Mediterranean diet, so be sure to include them in every meal.
- Step aside, red meat! Make room for more seafood in your life if you want to eat like the Greeks do. We recommend eating fish once or twice a week as it’s low in calories but high in omega-3 fatty acids, which is pretty much the perfect combo for your health.
- Next up, trade butter and margarine for high-quality, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil. The monounsaturated fats in olive oil are great for your heart.
- Add whole grains to every meal. The fiber, healthy fats, protein, and vitamins they contain will keep your blood pressure low and your belly fat in check.
- Hungry for a snack? Grab some nuts, legumes, or seeds. These healthy bites will keep you feeling fuller longer.
- And finally, feel free to enjoy the occasional glass of red wine. You didn’t think we’d leave this one out, did you? Just remember: everything in moderation!
So say goodbye to processed foods and load up on the antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods found in the Mediterranean diet. It may very well be the fountain of youth… and health!
The history of Greek gastronomy
Greek gastronomy has recorded a history of around 4,000 years, with especial characteristics based on pure and unique quality goods produced on Greek land. In fact, it was Archestratos who wrote the first cookbook in history (330 B.C.).
In Greek nutritional tradition the gustative result blends harmonically with the high nutritional value. Dozens of scientific studies have shown the positive effect of a balanced Greek diet on a person’s health, beauty and longevity. In addition, the nutritional culture of the Greeks has traditionally added an extroverted social dimension to the table, combining gustative satisfaction with recreation and communication, and thus maintaining even today some overtones from ancient feasts.
Let’s try to discover a bit more about the 5 ingredients most used to prepared those delicious meals and then find out more about some unique recipes, ways of cooking.
Olive Oil of Greece
Οlive oil is often tagged as the “Elixir of Life”, “Gold Liquid”, “Gift from the Gods With its combination of fruits, vegetables, nuts, fish, seafood and olive oil, the Greek diet has been proven to be one of the healthiest in the world. Research suggests that the combination of olive oil with salad alone could lead to reduced blood pressure. Einai poli kalo.” (It is very good!)
THYME HONEY OF CRETE
Crete is famous for its honey and has a great export to many countries throughout the world. A walk in the thyme covered hillsides will reveal a crop of brightly colored beehives – a growing increase in the buzzing noise will alert you too!
Crete’s golden honey is sold everywhere, and is very popular with Crete’s visitors choosing from a wide selection in the shops in the main tourist resorts. It’s a good idea to try to get the honey that’s not in the fancy jars, though. In fact, if you can find a local farmer or honey producer, he or she will sell it to you at a very good price.
CRETAN WILD HERBS
One of the things that will hit you away from the towns as you walk around Crete is the smell of herbs in the air.
The mountains and hillsides are literally covered in thyme with its purple flowers, as well as pungent sage and fragrant rosemary plants. You’ll also find plenty of oregano and marjoram growing wild too.
Here is the home of Cretan dittany (diktamos in Greek) – this is only found here on the Island of Crete, and is renowned for its special medicinal properties. Used as herbal tea, dittany of Crete tastes fantastic.
SEASONAL VEGETABLES AND FRUITS
A feature of the fruit and vegetables available in Crete is their locality and freshness. Seasonal fruits and vegetables can be seen in the markets and shops, with only a limited selection of imported food. There may be an increase of imported fresh food due to extensive consumption but, usually, only fresh and locally grown vegetables and fruits are available.
There are plenty of markets in the towns and villages.
In Cretan way of life: wine is very important. Not consumed by oneself but always socially. The tradition is very ancient. Let’s not forget that , as a gift from Dyonisus the god of joy, life and company., the oldest, wine-press, more than 3.500 years old, was found in Crete, in Archanes. Wines as always been present in Crete. The apelation Cretan wines (protected name of origin) are a valuable heritage of traditional varieties, completely adapted to the climate conditions of the island.
On our second day in Kriti, we visited the Douloufakis winery.
Wines in greece
Douloufakis winery is located at the village of Dafnes, a few kilometers south of Heraklion, Crete, amongst typical vineyards. This region has a long viticulture history and also has been established as Protected Designation of Origin for wines of the ancient grape variety “Liatiko”.
Back to the days of the Minoan Times
That is the new must and happily it is – one more- good for your health and discovering again a part of Minoan traditions. To do so, meet archeologist who also happen to love cooking and mix both passions: you’ve got yourself a demonstration on Minoan Cuisine – reenacing cooking techniques from ancient times. For it seems that modern Cretan eat the same way as their ancestors the Minoans did.
We really wanted to try this.
The idea came to us during the trip of HRH Prince Charles of Wales when he came to visit Greece ( let’s not forget he has Greek blood in his veins from his father the Duke of Edimburgh) as part of the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018.
Historically, Cretans have eaten only what their land produced: lots of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and pulses — the dried seeds of legumes such as lentils, beans and peas.
One thing the island produces in abundance is olives. So the Cretans eat a lot of olive oil — more than other Mediterranean people. And they don’t use any other type of oil, even to make sweets.
The sunny island with high mountains and deep valleys also provides herbs and aromatic plants, fruit trees and vegetables, wheat and barley.
It’s also a place where salads are a large part of the diet.The small amount of animal protein eaten on Crete is cooked in olive oil and usually made with greens, grains or pulses: sea bass with purslane, chicken with peas.
All these foods are made simply and quickly with no cream and few spices.
In other words, Crete has been for century a dream diet. And nowadays more than ever with archeoligts, potters, scholars such as Nikos Psilakis, a founding member of the Greek Academy of Taste, give themselves two missions. The first one is to educate the world outside Crete, as well as younger generations on the island, about the Cretan diet. The second one to use again traditional way of cooking :in pots and with a fire: healthier for the planet ( no electricity) as well as for your organism.
Some Traditional Cretan Recipes
The ever-popular dakos is known by regional names throughout Crete…some call it koukouvagia (literally ‘owl’); in the east they call itkouloukopsomo (literally ‘puppy bread’). What is it? A fantastic Greek meze or salad reminiscent of bruschetta, but based on barley rusks or paximadi, not on bread. The rusks are lightly soaked in water or olive oil to soften them, and then they are topped with grated fresh tomato and myzithra, the creamy sheep or goat’s milk cheese. They are then drizzled with Cretan virgin olive oil and dusted with salt, oregano, pepper.
Watermelon, feta and onion salad
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 700 grams seedless watermelon (about ¼), peeled and thinly sliced
- 250 grams Greek feta, thinly sliced
- 1 red onion (sweet/mild), halved and thinly sliced
- ½ cup of Casa dei Mezzo olive oil
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Divide watermelon slices among plates, top with feta and onion, then drizzle with olive oil and vinegar and season to taste with freshly ground pepper. Serve immediately!
They are a popular Cretan ouzo meze, found in most of the islands taverns and restaurants.
The perfect “Kolokithokeftedes” (zucchini fritters) must be fried till extra crispy on the outside while still preserving their creamy and rich texture on the inside. The secret behind baking this traditional Greek meze to perfection is in the ingredients. Make sure you use fresh courgettes, a good quality feta cheese and extra virgin olive oil. To make them super crunchy make sure you use plenty of oil for frying and its heated up to sizzling temperatures.
- 1 kg zucchinis, grated (35 ounces)
- 1 red onion, grated
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped
- 2 tbsps fresh mint, finely chopped
- 2 eggs
- 1 1/2 cup feta cheese, grated
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- 2 cups powdered breadcrumbs (or 4 tbsps self raising flour))
- 2 tbsps extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tbsps parsley, finely chopped
- oil for frying
- Use a grater to grate the zucchini and place them in a colander with some salt. Squeeze them with your hands to get rid of the excessive water. Leave them for 30 minutes and squeeze them again.
- Into a large bowl add all the other ingredients and mix well with your hands, until combined and the mixture is firm enough to make the balls. Add a little more flour if needed.
In a pan add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan, and heat the oil into medium-high heat.
- Dip a tablespoon in some water and spoon out some of the mixture into the hot oil. Repeat this procedure until the surface off the pan is comfortably filled. You should dip the spoon in the water every time, so that the dough doesn’t stick on it.
- Fry the kolokithokeftedes for about 2-3 minutes on each side, until nicely colored. Place them on paper towel, to absorb the extra oil.
- A healthier alternative is to bake the balls. In that case preheat the oven at 180C, oil the bottom of a baking tray and form the balls with your hands. Take a small handful of the mixture and roll into a ball and then flatten into a patty. Place on the baking tray and form the rest of the balls. Brush the top of the ball with some olive oil and bake for 25 minutes. Halfway through cooking time flip the balls and put back to the oven.
- Serve hot or mild hot with some fresh cold yogurt aside
The Cretan Miracle
Many thanks , big up and extra special love to our adoptive cretan yiayia Katina ” Kriti” Penelope Theodorakis and our friend turned local guide for us Minos Afroudakis for their help and advices