Cretan Cuisine: Two Healthy, Flavorful Recipes to Enjoy

The Greek diet is one of the healthiest on the planet and the cuisine of Crete, in particular, is often highlighted as the original source of this healthy way of eating. Try the following recipes, Xinohondros with Eggplant and Sympetherio- Blended Legumes with Onions and Capers, based on classic Cretan dishes, and enjoy the traditional flavors along with the health benefits.

Xinohondros is the Cretan version of trahanas, made from cracked wheat and sour sheep’s or goat’s milk. If you cannot find Cretan xinohondros in your local Greek markets, xinos (sour) trahanas from Cyprus may be substituted or coarse bulgur wheat. Sympetherio refers to in-laws related by marriage, as in ‘sympetheros’, the father of a daughter-in-law or son-in-law, implying the ‘marriage’ of ingredients in the second recipe.

Xinohondros with Eggplant

Eggplant. Photo by Tijana Drndarski, via Unsplash

1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into 1-inch cubes

3 tablespoons Cretan extra virgin olive oil, plus 1/4 cup

1/2 teaspoon Greek sea salt

1 1/2 cups xinohondros, or sour trahanas or coarse bulgur wheat

2 medium-large onions, chopped

1 large green bell pepper, cut in 1/4-inch pieces

2-3 ripe tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup dry white wine, preferably from Crete

1 1/2 cups water

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 cup crumbled feta

1/2 cup chopped fresh mint


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

Toss the eggplant cubes with the 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/4 teaspoon of the salt in a medium bowl. Spread on the prepared pan. Roast until golden, 15-25 minutes, then set aside.

Meanwhile, toast the xinohondros or trahanas or bulgur in a large saucepan over medium heat, shaking the pan occasionally, until fragrant, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl. In the pan, heat the remaining 1/4 cup oil and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is translucent. Add the bell pepper and the toasted xinohondros, trahanas or bulgur. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the bell pepper is softened, and then add the tomatoes and wine. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 3 minutes. Add the water, the crushed red pepper and the remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until the xinohondros, trahanas, or bulgur is tender, about 10 to 12 minutes more.

Remove from heat and stir in the eggplant, 1/2 cup of the feta and the mint reserving about 1 tablespoon of the chopped mint for garnish. Cover the saucepan and allow it to rest for about 3 minutes. Top with the remaining 1/2 cup feta and the mint and serve.


Sympetherio – Blended Legumes with Onions and Capers

1/2 cup Cretan extra virgin olive oil, divided

1 large red onion, chopped, plus 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced, divided

1 1/2 cups skinless fava beans (koukia), frozen or fresh, if available

1 cup yellow split peas

1/2 cup lentils

10 cups water

1/2 teaspoon Greek sea salt, plus 1/4 teaspoon for the onion topping

1/3 cup capers plus 1 tablespoon brine

3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup thinly sliced radicchio

Crushed red pepper flakes for garnish (optional)


Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft, about 8 minutes. Add fava beans, split peas and lentils. Cook, stirring occasionally, until toasted, about 3 minutes. Add the water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally for about 20 minutes, then stir in 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, and continue simmering until the legumes are very soft and the mixture is quite thick, 45 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes, total. Using an immersion blender, pulse the cooked legumes a few times until mostly, but not completely, smooth. Cool completely for about 2 hours.

About 30 minutes before serving, combine the sliced onion, capers and brine, and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Set aside to marinate for 30 minutes. Add the radicchio, the remaining 1/4 cup oil and 1/4 teaspoon salt. Toss to combine.

Serve the legumes topped with the onion mixture on a Cretan rusk, if preferred. Garnish with crushed red pepper, if using.


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