Octopus hanging to dry at a seaside taverna. (Photo by Eurokinissi)
The bright sunshine and dry climate of the Dodecanese islands concentrates the flavors of any produce grown there, so even a simple salad can be a culinary delight. Eating seasonally is a way of life in the islands and the fresh fruits and vegetables elevate every meal to the heights of gastronomy. While the following recipes are inspired by the traditional cuisine of the Dodecanese, it should be noted that food always tastes better when enjoyed with family and friends at a seaside taverna.
Among the foods to enjoy when visiting the Dodecanese islands, fresh seafood of various kinds is a staple of the cuisine from octopus and kalamari to marinated fish dishes and flavorful fish stews. The local cheeses of each island are also unique including krasotyri from Kos, a white goat cheese aged in red wine giving it a distinct flavor and red color on the outside. Fragosika, the fruit of the prickly pear cactus, is a favorite on all the islands, including Symi where it is called the island’s ‘banana’, according to Taste Atlas.
‘Makarounes me sitaka’ is a traditional dish from Kasos that features homemade pasta mixed with sitaka, a creamy sheep’s and goat’s milk cheese of the island, and topped with caramelized onions.
Gemista, stuffed vegetables, are a favorite in the islands as well, made with or without meat. Stuffed grape leaves, dolmadakia, are a classic, often made alongside gemista when the grape leaves are available. They are a specialty on the island of Kalymnos where they are known simply as filla (leaves). Revithokeftedes, known as pitaroudia in Rhodes, and pithia on Nisyros, are chickpea fritters, a favorite on many Dodecanese islands as well.
Revithokeftedes Chickpea Fritters
1 pound dried chickpeas
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 medium firm ripe tomatoes, grated
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint
1 heaping teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
Greek sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour, plus 3/4 to 1 cup for dredging
Greek olive or other vegetable oil for frying, as needed
2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice or more, to taste
Pinch of red pepper flakes
Pinch of ground cumin
Greek sea salt, to taste
Rinse and sort the chickpeas and place in a large deep pot with enough water to cover the chickpeas by about two inches. Soak for 8 hours or overnight, then drain, and refill the pot with fresh water, to again cover the chickpeas by about two inches. Bring the pot up to a boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer until the chickpeas are tender, about 1 hour and 30 minutes. Remove from the heat and drain. Place the chickpeas in a food processor and pulse on and off until they are coarsely chopped. In a mixing bowl, stir together the chickpeas, onion, tomatoes, mint, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the 2-3 tablespoons of flour and stir until the chickpea mixture can be formed into patties. Place the remaining flour on a plate and shape the chickpea patties using about 1-2 tablespoons of the mixture at a time, depending on how large you would like the fritters to be.
Heat 2-3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Dredge the patties in the flour, tap off the excess, and place in the hot oil to fry until golden brown, turning them over to cook on the other side about 2-4 minutes on both sides. Remove the fried chickpea fritters with a slotted spoon and place on paper towels to drain any excess oil.
Continue with the remaining chickpea fritters, adding olive oil as needed to the skillet. Serve the fritters with tahini sauce.
To make the tahini sauce, place the tahini, garlic, about half of the olive oil, 2 tablespoons of the water, and 2 tablespoons of the lemon juice in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Add the garlic and the remaining olive oil and pulse to puree. Add additional water and lemon juice about a tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition, until the mixture is smooth and creamy. Season with the red pepper flakes, cumin, and salt to taste. Serve immediately.
1 (2 lb.) octopus, fresh or frozen and thawed
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup water
Greek extra virgin olive oil
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
Freshly ground pepper
Greek dried oregano
Rinse the octopus in cool water. Using a sharp knife, cut the octopus just below the eyes to remove the hood. Squeeze or cut out the beak and the cartilage on the other side of the beak. Rinse the octopus again, drain it, and place in a large saucepan or dutch oven. Add the bay leaves, peppercorns, vinegar, and the water. Cover and cook over medium heat until softened, 30 to 35 minutes.
While the octopus is cooking, light a gas or charcoal grill to medium-high. Cut the octopus tentacles from the head. Brush with olive oil, place on the grill, and cook for 2-3 minutes on each side. Cut the tentacles into bite-sized pieces, drizzle with olive oil and fresh lemon juice, add freshly ground pepper and oregano to taste, and serve immediately. Enjoy with your favorite ouzo.
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