I love food. I’ve never been a fussy eater; I’ve eaten cactus in Mexico and deep-fried chicken hearts, goat heads in Morocco and crocodile sausages in Australia. The only thing I can remember being slightly suspicious of as a child was gherkins, mainly because they reminded me of snozcumbers from the BFG, and I have to be honest, the first time I tried octopus whilst on holiday in Cyprus, I spat it down the toilet. The thought of tentacles and suckers was too much! But, it’s now one of my absolute favourite things to eat, especially once its been marinated in red wine and slow cooked to tender perfection.
I feel sorry for those who only eat to survive, instead of for the pure love of food. Food brings people together, families to the table on a Sunday, different cultures sharing traditions and new experiences through platefuls of delicious unknown delights, food should be celebrated, and there’s no one that does it better, in my humble food loving opinion, then the Greeks.
Greece has the longest history of any Mediterranean country, which means it also has the longest history of Mediterranean food. Different regions of mainland Greece and the islands all have their own culinary gem that they’re known for. Crete has the Dakos salad, a bowl of delicious olive oil-soaked barley rusks topped with fresh ripe tomatoes and creamy feta cheese, the city of Thessaloniki has its famous bougatsas, sweet and savoury, custard filled pastries to die for and here on Lefkada, we have the best salami in Greece and a unbelievably tasty and rare type of lentil. The lentils are grown in the mountains near the village of Egklouvi, where they are cultivated and thrive on the nutritious soil. They’re so good these lentils, that the harvest is celebrated every year with a huge feast in the village and they’ve even won prizes for their quality and flavour. Who’d have thought lentils could be so good?!
So next time you’re wandering around Greece, make sure to find out what local delicacy the region is famed for, you may discover something tasty and quite unexpected.
The Mediterranean Diet
The Mediterranean diet is said to be one of the healthiest diets in the world, if you don’t live on fried saganaki cheese and filo pastry filled with feta and covered in honey of course, this is true. Primarily plant based, the Mediterranean diet champions fruit and vegetables, as well as whole grains and nuts. There are a huge variety of “Med Diets” though, depending on the country, their religion and cultural differences. In Greece for example butter is usually replaced with healthy fats such as olive oil and the use of herbs and spices for flavouring is predominately used instead of salt. However, in parts of Italy, lard and butter are more commonly used in cooking, with olive oil reserved for salad dressings and in North Africa, sheep’s tail fat is a traditional staple still used today.
In total there are 21 countries that border the Mediterranean Sea, so it’s no wonder that we find such similarities in the cooking techniques, the produce used and the traditions in which the foods are celebrated. Having been influenced over thousands of years, by trade, resettlement and war the Mediterranean diet has become something quite unique and whether we realise it or not, the origins of much of what we eat day to day in the western world can be traced back to the ancient Greeks.
A Taste of Greece
Living in Greece I am so lucky to enjoy an abundance of delicious, fresh food, made from locally grown ingredients as well as amazing seafood caught in the nearby waters. Because of this and because we love food and wine, we felt it was about time we combined it with our passion for sailing. We have recently introduced a new Day Charter experience for this summer, . It’s all about showcasing local, fresh food, Greek wine and beers whilst sailing in the beautiful Ionian. Oh! And of course, there’s some ouzo chucked in there as well! The mezes and lunch served totally depend on the time of year and what’s available, and what I feel like cooking. Throughout the summer I get a bit sick of sieving cucumber for tzatziki and marinating chicken, so I like to try and create different dishes that maybe our guests haven’t experienced before.
There are so many wonderful Greek dips to choose from, not just the more commonly consumed, tzatziki. Skordalia is something sent from heaven, mashed potato with garlic and olive oil, it has to be one of the best things you’ll ever put on warm crusty bread and Greek fava from Santorini, yellow split peas topped with salty capers and red onion, so simple but just amazing! Tirokaferi, is a spicy cheese dip, beautiful creamy feta with fiery red chillies, its delicious. I swear I could write an entire blog just on the wonders of Greek dips! Last summer I served a roasted red pepper dip, I liked it but it wasn’t a favourite of Luke’s and he’s the one that has to eat the leftovers, so I’m looking forward to introducing something else to the table.
I have found, and I love the Italians for this as well, that the most incredible dishes are usually the least complex. Created with just a few, but outstanding ingredients, magic happens on a plate. Flavours coming together, complimenting one another through simple, loving methods of cooking and a true passion for food. I sometimes feel that now, with our busy lives and the rising cost of living that we forget just how much a good plate of food can do for us. Food can bring back memories from childhood or the sense of a place visited, it comforts us when we’re sad and is used as a way of celebrating on joyous occasions, friendships are started over a shared love of brownies and a new love is sparked over a bowl of spaghetti. Food has always been considered a natural medicine for the body and soul. It can help cure illness, boost our immune system and lengthen our lives.
Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”. And as the Father of Medicine, I think he knows what he’s talking about.
Eating in Season
Eating in season is so important, and I love the fact that here in Greece that’s what you do. Sometimes it drives me slightly insane, at this time of year for instance it’s hard to find fresh chillies and even getting hold of decent celery is a mission in itself! But it’s the way it should be. I remember a few years ago in the UK we had a shortage of lettuce, yes that’s right, lettuce. You would have thought they had announced a rationing on air the way people reacted! The lettuce was being shipped over from Turkey and apparently their crop had failed, this prompted mass hysteria in England. So much so a woman in Sainsburys ranted at me for 5 minutes about her hatred for iceberg lettuce and informed that I couldn’t even pay her to eat one, I hadn’t offered to pay her, so it was all rather disconcerting.
But you know what, we shouldn’t be eating lettuce in winter! There was even a segment on the Jeremy Vine show, what a surprise, about how people were suffering through the epidemic. I was relieved for our country when a lady from a fresh produce company called in and explained that, it being winter, we should be eating root vegetables and stews, not Caesar salads and avocados from Peru! Sadly though, I can’t see this changing any time soon, but you never know, what with the state of climate change and all, people might suddenly cotton on to the fact that it’s probably not helped much by shipping tons of tomatoes across the world. Time will tell.
In the beautiful Suffolk country side it’s not uncommon for most people to have an allotment out back growing a vast selection of onions and carrots or pots in the garden filled with lettuce or green houses packed to the ceiling with tomato plants. A friend of mine actually grows huge amounts of tomatoes in hanging baskets on her veranda, as they ripen they fall to floor covering her patio in huge splats of tomato and juice which you then have to jump over in some kind of crazy hopscotch game to get to the back door. I myself had an allotment in the field behind my cottage where, before I ran away to sea, I grew vegetables, dug beds, planted fruit trees and had intended to keep chickens but I fell in love and so my countryside dream kind of went by the wayside. I loved spending time up there though, and when I dug up my first potatoes and picked my first lot of broad beans, I couldn’t have been happier. I was so proud. There’s just something special about growing your own food, it pleases the soul. It makes us feel part of the earth again, like we’ve gone back to our roots and stuck it to the man, like “hey! I don’t need you; I can fend for myself! For I am a hunter gatherer and grow my own food. I can survive in the wild and live off the earth and consume only what nature provides” or something to the effect.
Luke won’t eat tomatoes in the UK, he says they just taste like water, which is actually true in most cases, apart from the delicious homegrown ones that come from the local farm shops or the market of course. Your average tomato is dull in colour, never ripens and has no depth of flavour. There are the tasty cherry tomatoes from Spain which are always good but why are we getting our tomatoes from Spain when we can grow amazing ones from our verandas?! I was shopping here in Nidri the other day with my mum and I picked up a bunch of on the vine tomatoes and the smell was just incredible. You know that really sweet, earthy smell that only comes from really fresh, just picked fruit or veg? Sometimes you have to rummage through the box to find the good ones, but it’s totally worth it. You just can’t beat the flavour from proper homegrown produce. Greece is a country that really celebrates vegetables. They’re grown locally and eaten in season and you really can, taste the difference.
If you’re feeling inspired now to get in the kitchen and try something new or you’re just feeling hungry, check out the links below for some great Greek recipes.