Crete, located in the Southern Aegean Sea is the fifth largest island in the Mediterranean. It’s also just about equidistant from three continents–Asia, Africa, and Europe. This rugged island is said to be the birthplace of Zeus. Visions of hiking in the White Mountains through orange-scented breezes and olive groves while listening to goats bray are starting to build. Or possibly I could squeeze in a lesson at Cooking in Crete and conquer my fear of filo.
Cretan food is uncomplicated and simple. It reflects the natural abundance found on the island–olive oil, lemons, oranges, wild greens, lentils, beans, barley, snails, and fish. Interesting food note is Crete was also the source of that catch phrase “Mediterranean diet”, derived originally from a case study in the late 1940s.
Clifford Wright has historical notes on the history of this island’s food culture. He writes:
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.
Photo credit: somethingspecial.co.uk
With such straightforward components the skill comes from the experience of the cook in his or her ability in balancing it all into a tasty dish.
Crete has an ancient and long history. Potatoes didn’t arrive until the mid 1800’s. Today they are found in many dishes that appear in local tavernas such as the Greek eggplant classic, moussaka, where potatoes can be substituted for the lamb.
This potato salad is lower in fat than American versions as mayonnaise is not present. I use red potatoes and leave the skins on for color in the dish. This is a great picnic salad or if you want to make it a supper as I did, add sliced hard-boiled egg.
Creatan Potato Salad
Excerpted from A Passion for Potatoes
by Paul Gayler
1 pound salad potatoes
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/1/4 cups feta or kefalotiri cheese, crumbled into large pieces
1 tablespoon chopped mint
1 teaspoon chopped oregano
1 red onion, thinly sliced
3 scallions, chopped
24 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh oregano
2 ounces olive oil
1 tablespoon finely chopped preserved lemon OR
1 lemon, juiced
Freshly ground Aleppo or black pepper
Boil the potatoes in their skins in salted water until just tender. Drain and leave until cool enough but still warm, to handle. At this point if you want to remove the skins, do so. Place potatoes in serving bowl.
Make a dressing by whisking together the red wine vinegar, mustard and olive oil. Pour it over the potatoes while they are still warm. Mix in the remaining ingredients and let marinated for at least 3 hours before serving.