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Food

Flavorful Cretan Dishes to Enjoy

Cretan cuisine, well-known for its health benefits, is also delicious thanks to the island’s wonderful variety of fresh ingredients and high quality produce. The following recipes highlight Cretan flavors. Dakos, a traditional Cretan salad, is also called koukouvagia (owl) or in eastern Crete kouloukopsomo (puppy bread) since the base of the salad is dry bread that you might feed to a puppy, or barley rusk (paximadi) topped with the classic Greek ingredients, tomatoes, feta and/or mizithra, and fresh or dried herbs, like oregano. Olives and peppers may also be added. The Cretan dairy product staka, a type of buttery cream mixed with flour, is cooked with eggs for a tasty breakfast. Sfakianopita, a type of cheese-filled pancake said to have been invented by shepherds from Sfakia, is traditionally served with a drizzle of honey on top.

Dakos

4-6 large round Cretan barley rusks (paximadia)

1/2 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil

2-3 ripe tomatoes, grated, skins discarded

1 red onion, thinly sliced (optional)

1/2 cup feta, crumbled

1/4 cup mizithra

10-15 black olives

Greek dried oregano

Freshly ground pepper

Grate the tomatoes into a strainer over a bowl to allow some of the water to drain. Moisten the barley rusks with 4-6 tablespoons of the water, then place them on a serving dish or in a salad bowl and drizzle them with about half the olive oil. Top with the grated tomatoes, the onion- if using, the feta, mizithra, olives, about a pinch of oregano for each rusk, and grated pepper to taste.

Staka me Avga (Staka with Eggs)

(AP PHOTO)

Staka, 2 tablespoons per egg

Eggs

Greek sea salt, a pinch (optional)

Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Place the staka in a frying pan over medium high heat. When some of the butter begins to separate from the cream in the pan, add the eggs. Add the salt, if using, only to the yolks since the staka is salted. Baste the eggs as they cook with some of the staka butter until the eggs are cooked or cover with a lid to cook the eggs to desired doneness. Serve with freshly ground pepper and sourdough bread.

Staka and eggs are often paired with another traditional Cretan product, apaki (smoked pork). Staka is also served as a spread on sliced, toasted bread or with pasta, rice pilaf, and in savory pies.

Sfakianes Pites

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon Greek sea salt

1/4 cup Greek extra virgin olive oil

3/4 cup water

3 tablespoons lemon juice or a shot of tsikoudia

8 ounces mizithra cheese

Greek honey for topping

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, salt, olive oil, water, and lemon juice or tsikoudia to form the dough, knead on a clean, lightly floured work surface, until the dough is soft and slightly sticky about 8 minutes. Depending on the weather conditions and humidity, you might need to add a little more water, a tablespoon or two, if the dough is too dry or a little more flour, a tablespoon or two, if it is too wet. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and set aside for about an hour to rest.

If preferred, a stand mixer may be used with the dough hook attachment to cut the kneading time, but traditionally, the dough is made by hand.

After the dough has rested, divide into equal parts and roll each into a ball. Roll out each ball into a circle about 5-6 inches in diameter. Divide the mizithra evenly among each of the circles of rolled out dough. Fold the dough over the cheese to cover it completely and roll each circle again so that the cheese is incorporated into the dough. Cook the sfakianopites in a nonstick pan over medium high heat in a little olive oil, if preferred, for about 2-3 minutes on each side. Serve warm with a drizzle of Greek, preferably Cretan, honey.

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