Cured lean pork – a Byzantine tradition.

In his lettter to Alexios Pantechnes, Ioannis Tzetzes,  a 12th century Byzantine scholar, thanks him for his gifts which were spices and a living partridge, adding that he preferred slaughtered animals to alive ones, because he could not suffer seeing blood from slaughterd animals. But, if Alexios would like to send him meat he should send meat prepared by cooks or preserved or fresh meat drained out of blood.

Generally the consumption of fresh meat on a large scale was a priviledge enjoyed by the wealthy Byzantines. For poor people like Tzetzes fresh meat was a luxury. Thus, he relied mainly on eggs, dairy products, legumes, cheap part of meat and taricha (processed fish and meat) for protein.

Pork appears to have been the most popular source for preserved meat.

Since pork produces meat and more pork, and in an extremely crowded city like Constantinople pigs were raised even in houses, preservation was the only effective solution to protect meat for an extended period and store food to one side….

….if people didn’t want to sell the living piglets.

In another letter, Ioannis Tzetzes describes his housing conditions. He lived on the second floor of an apartment in Constantinople while on the third a priest lived together with his children and piglets.  Tzetzes couldn’t do anything against the endless suffering of the flood of urinating children and piglets. Obviously, the priest not only raised and sold pigs but he cured their meat too.

How was meat preserved in Byzantine times? Salting was the most common technique. Salt was also used in conjunction with sun–drying and, less frequently, with smoking.

 

Et voila!

This is apaki, salted and -optionally- smoked  lean pork, which is  very popular in Crete until nowadays. The 12th century Ptochoprodromos’s satire provides a testimony on it. The poet had found his father cooking a piece of slightly salted apaki which was well covered with fat.

I  salted my apaki and 30 days later  I  smoked it at 100 C for 10 hours,  using olive wood together with oregano, marjoram, thyme and sage for smoke. The meat shrinked.  Excellent stuff though.

 

 

This piece has been cured in salt and vinegar mixture for 48 hours (a popular technique in Crete). Sage and thyme added their flavor to the meat. Then I patted dry the meat and I smoked it  with apricot wood.  Marvelous taste!!

 

 

This one has been left in wine vinegar for 3 days.
I am going to cover it with a thick layer of salt and black pepper. No smoke. And yes, I am curious about its taste.

You can add apaki to omelets, legumes, pulses, vegetables, salads, or  just cook it for 6-7 minutes in orange juice and you’ll have a delicous meze for raki and  a great companion to pasta and rice.

 

 

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CRETAN FOOD MARKETS

 

Ηeraklion

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Cretan cheese and yogurt are made with the milk of goat or/ and sheep. Cow milk is never used in their production.

 

 

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Jeladhia, a jelly made with the head and the feet of the pig used to be a popular New Year’s dish although today can be found all year round.  Cretans are also fond of rabbit.

 

 

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Apaki, a smoked delicacy since Byzantine times, is made with the meat around the pork’s kidneys.

Cut the meat into strips and leave them in wine vinegar for 4 days. Then cover them with a thin layer of salt. Sprinkle with black pepper.  Hung the strips above smoldering  olive embers or chestnut embers and aromatic herbs such as oregano (righani), sage, thyme, marjoran.  Smoke for a period of time. 

 

 

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 The Cretans also make use of the innards and intestines of sheep, lamb and goats. Stuffed intestines and innards wrapped with intestines are served to the most esteemed guests.

 

 

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 Kalitsounia, the small Cretan pies, are eaten  as a snack or a meze or a light meal or a dessert that comes before and after meal ; they can be round, semicircular, rectangular or triangular; they contain various savoury or sweet fillings and they are fried, oven baked or baked on  “satsi”, a domed metal piece that sits over the fire.

 

 

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 Lychnarakia (oil lamps) got their name from their shape.

Anevata kalitsounia (kalitsounia with yeast) are traditionally made in Sitia but you can find them in Heraklion as well.
2 k. flour
1 cup olive oil
3 +1 beaten eggs
1 2/3 normal sized glasses + 4 tbs sugar
160 gr baker’s yeast
3 glasses warm milk
2 k. anthotyros
4 tbs honey
¼ tsp mastic powder
1/2 tsp vanilla powder
sesame seeds

Dissolve the yeast in 2 glasses warm milk, add 2 tbs sugar and 2 cups flour to make a batter. Let it rise.

Put the oil in a bowl and mix it with the sugar, vanilla, mastic. Add 3 eggs and mix well. Add 1 glass of milk and the leaven. Mix very well. Add the remaining flour and knead until you have a soft, elastic dough.

Let it rise.

Mix anthotyros, 2 tbs sugar and 2 tbs honey.

Take small pieces of dough and roll them into 10 cm circles. Place a teaspoon of the filling in the centre of each circle. Fold the two opposite sides in towards the centre of each anevato kalitsouni, to make squares. Put the kalitsounia on baking sheet and let them to rise.

Brush them with beaten egg, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake until slightly golden (15- 20 minutes, moderate oven)

   

 

 

 

 

Rethymno

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Bakery is the best place to research the diversity of Cretan pies and rusks.

If bread is for Greeks so essential that no meal can be conceived without it, Cretan rusk is a way of life.  Made with barley wholemeal flour or wheat or mixture of varying amounts of wheat, barley and oat flour, rusk was an  important element in the Cretan farming diet, when the needs of life did not allow the women to make bread every day. However, the making of rusks was also a labor – intensive process since the total amount should  feed the whole family for many weeks and careful double- baking was necessary.

The traditional rusks are very hard but can be dunked in water or be covered with grated fresh tomato and olive oil, turning into a softer taste sensation. 

Rusks are of various sizes and shapes: the ring  is known  as kouloura  or  koukouvayia (owl), the barley circle which is cut in half  is called dakos or ntakos.  Both are perfect for dipping in fish or meat soup. They are delicious  when wet under the tap for a few seconds, drizzled with olive oil from unripe olives (agourolado) and sprinkled with salt and Cretan oregano or topped with grated summer tomatoes, drizzled with virgin olive oil and topped with goat  myzithra cheese ( the traditional soft cheese from Chania). To give a final touch, black olives and oregano should be added. 

There are also lovely sweet or demi-sweet rusks made from wheat flour and flavored with coriander, anise, cinnamon,  sesame seeds, orange juice, grape juice, wine, almonds, currants etc.  

 

 

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 The Gasparis baker shop is in the centre of medieval town of Rethymno,  behind the Rimondi fountain. The baker keeps his door open and you can see how he makes rusks.

 

 

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A popular  spoon sweet, a liqueur and a refreshing soft drink is made from sour cherries.  

 

 

Chania

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The white meat of dusky grouper makes great soups, grilled dishes and stews.

Its head  is used in soups and stews as well. Baking it with okra is a great idea for a traditional Cretan meal .  

 

Dusky grouper’s head and okra

 For 1 kilo fish- head (cut in pieces) you need 1kilo okra, ½ cup olive oil, 2 cups grated fresh tomatoes, ½ cup chopped onions, ½ cup vinegar.

Wash the okra, cut off the stems, put them in a bowl and sprinkle them with vinegar. Leave them in the sun for 3 hours.

Salt the fish- head and place it in the middle of a baking pan. Mix the onion, tomatoes, salt and pepper with the okra. Place them around the fish-head. Add a little water and bake in moderate oven.

 

 

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  Sea urchin roe is the ultimate treat of sea.  It is eaten raw, as well as being added to pasta  and risotto. Sea urchins in  plasticyoghurt” pots are often available in  fish markets.

 

  

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Snails is a common dish in Crete since Minoan times. Cretan snails are very tasty because their food is based on the aromatic herbs of the island.
 
 

Sympetherio

½ k. snails

¾ k. aubergines, cut in small pieces

1 cup chondros (ground wheat) or xinochondros*

½ cup finely chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1 ½ cups ripe tomatoes, finely chopped

salt and pepper

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan and saute the aubergines, onions and garlic for 1-2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and snails, season with salt and cook for 5 minutes. Pour in ½ cup of water and cook for 5 minutes. Add 2 – 2 ½ cups of water and bring to the boil. Add the chondros, season with salt and pepper and cook in low fire, stirring, until chondros cooked.

 

 

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One of the typical products of Lesvos is salted fish. Here you see the famous salt cured anchovies of Kalloni (Lesvos) .

 

 

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Typical products of Chania: olives, cheese, honey, rusks, raisin cakes. 

 

 

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One should never miss having coffee at the old Venetian harbour after arriving at Chania by boat early in the morning.

Then, one should never miss trying the famous Chaniotiki bougatsa. The feeling is awesome.

There are bougatses (plural of bougatsa) with several different fillings made all over Greece but contrary to Turkish poğaça which is a savory pastry made out of dough, Greek bougatsa is a sweet or savory pie made with a phyllo pastry, similar to börek. What exactly is a Chaniotiki bougatsa? Put it simply, it is a baked savory -sweet pie, a filling of local fresh cheese sandwiched between thin sheets of dough. It is served cut in small square pieces and is eaten with sugar and (optional) cinnamon.
Noumerous bougatsa shops  were located throughout the island until the large scale population exchange between Greece and Turkey. Most of them were held by Turkish or Moslem Cretans. On 1924 a Moslem Chaniotis sold his bougatsatsidiko (bougatsa shop) to Iordanis’ father in law. The seller also taught the buyer the art of making bougatsa. Soon Iordanis became a symbol of Chaniotiki gastronomy. Today, bougatsa Iordanis has three branches in Chania while Chaniotiki bougatsa is another well known brand name. The bougatsa shops sell bougatsa and nothing else, apart from greek coffee, nescafé, french coffee and soft drinks.

  

 Let us take a look at how chaniotiki bougatsa is made:

Anthony Bourdain visits Bougatsa Chanion

 

 

*Xinochondros: It is made with ground wheat (chondros) and sour sheep’s or goat’s milk. It is eaten fresh or dried in the sun or in the shade.

 

The next few posts will be automatically published to the site as I am going to take a short break from blogging. In the meantime I will not be able to visit your blogs or answer your comments.Thanks for your patience!

See you in a couple of weeks….

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

CRETAN FOOD & CELEBRATIONS

Compare those three different Name Day- celebration menus of Cretan upper- middle class:

1) A dinner of 1970 served in the dining room, with coffee, brandy, liqueurs and smoke in the living room. 

Fried myzithrokalitsouna ( Cretan small pies stuffed with myzithra, a local ricotta -style cheese, and mint)

boiled chicken with  pilaf rice

rabbit stifado

beef pot roast with fried potatoes 

baked lamb

tzatziki

tomato, cucumber salad

lettuce salad with roquefort/ olive oil dressing

seasonal fruits

mixed fresh fruits in banana jelly

home made praline ice cream

 

2) A buffet -style party of 1988. The food was served in the dining room with the guests switching room to room, eating, drinking and dancing.

Bâton sale

baked myzithrokalitsouna

avocado, yogurt, garlic, tabasco dip served with fresh carrot strips

eggs ala Russe

potato salad

Russian salad

canned tuna, potato, chopped lettuce, mayonnaise salad  

salmon quiche

pasta, bacon, cheese, double cream soufflé

Indian chicken curry

baked lamb with garlic and rosemary

choux à la crème

pavé au chocolat

 

3) A summer buffet of 2010. The food was served in the kitchen/dining area but the 60 guests enjoyed their dinner on  the veranda of the house.

choriatiki salad

lettuce, walnut salad

red & white cabbage salad

russian salad

tuna, potato, mayonnaise salad 

okra with tomato sauce

kalitsounia stuffed with amaranth and cheese

mushroom pie

ham and cheese pie

zucchini pie

minced meat crepes

moussaka

pasta, cheese, double cream souffle

pilaf rice cooked in chicken broth

boiled lamb

barbecued pork chops, beef kebabs, meat balls, sausages

vegetable- stuffed minced meat roll

spiced meat roll

rabbit stifado

lamb cooked with artichokes and dill

tsigariasto kid

baked lamb with potatoes 

fruit salad

galaktoboureko

chocolate cream cake 

 

 

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Buffet of 2010

 

 All menus recognize the  importance and personal meaning of the occasion: they  honor the name day of host or hostess and show  concern for the welfare of the guests. Plenty and tasty food  is  the top concern. Despite  the great variety of frozen and canned foods, dishes served on name-day’s feast demonstrate  care on the part of the hosts.  Some dishes on 1988 and 2010 menus can  be made in advance, but all of them are hand prepared and require effort.

The three menus also imply consumption of energy, time and money.  The Cretan feast-menus could be viewed as a reflection of the house owners’ social status, if in Cretan homes the preparation of festive food was not of utmost importance as expression of hospitality and friendship.  Though time and energy consuming, the preparation of cooked and baked dishes usually falls on  female members of family while barbecuing and grilling are  considered a man’s job.  

The dinner of 1970 is a combination of international trends and Cretan specialties. The  food of the buffet- style party (1988) is a mixture of  French, Indian, Russian and Italian cuisines. Avocado dip was a new trend, even if the tree was cultivated in Crete since 1960. Here, the growing interest in ethnic foods  was associated with a major requirement: surprise your guests! 

The number of the meat dishes on the menu of 1970 (4) is not comparable to the number of meat dishes on the menu of 2010 (13),  both menus are meat based though. The large number of meat dishes on the menu of 2010 reflects, too, the eating habits of modern Cretans.

Times are changing and the content of the menus  may change but the message remains the same:  You honor me with your presence, you are my guest, you are  important, I will take care of you, I will surprise you and make my best for you.

SUMMER SALAD

 

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Salad.

A summer without it would be very dull.

Tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers straight from the garden, olives -that came from our olive trees- preserved in bitter orange juice. Onion juice and bitter orange juice marinated fresh tuna. Boiled potatoes. Sea salt and ground pepper. Olive oil. Small barley rusks wet  with fresh tomato juice and olive oil. Basil leaves.

Heaven…

Greek Salad on Foodista

 

 

ΓΙΑ ΕΛΛΗΝΙΚΑ ΕΔΩ

KARANOU…

 This place has stolen my heart.

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Karanou is the village where my father was born and lived until his twelfth birthday, and where my sister and I spent a part of our childhood’s and teenagehood’s summers….

When we were free spirits playing in the olive groves…..

 finding paths in the oak forest and sharing secrets with our friends.

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In this land nature amalgamates with the dream and memories and makes the village the sort of place that a child remembers for the rest of its life.

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Moreover this magic land is highly fertile: olive groves, chestnut trees, fruit trees, grapevines, wild herbs, wild greens, vegetables, legumes grow in great abundance. In past wheat and barley were cultivated as well. Thus wild green, vegetables, legumes, cereals, olive oil, snails, black and semi- black bread, rusks, goat milk and goat cheese and lots of fruits had been the central part of the daily diet of the inhabitants until the early 1990s. A little fish (often dried), meat on days of religious celebration, weddings and baptisms as well as on every Sunday, one or two glasses of wine with the food, were also included.

Unfortunately, this diet has been changed in the two last decades. Younger people eat frequently and in large amounts animal base products, they seem to have replace the moderate use of wine with lots of tsikoudia and beer and they get less and less exercice. The change has already affected their general state of health. Overweight, heart attacks, cancers are not uncommon among them, while the older people live up 100 years.

The photo here is of my grandparents’s house.

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Four are the characteristics of it: its age (it was built in 1876), its position (it sits on the top of a rocky hill and yes, the view is amazing), its ovens and the wine cellar.
Wine production for home consumption is a traditional activity in this area. This is the reason why wine cellars are a must-have for the houses. The wine is stored and aged in wooden barrels.

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Directly fired wood –ovens (made with bricks or clay) are very common in the mountainous and semi-mountainous villages of Chania. However, the house has one of the largest in the area: its diameter is about 2,10 m. The entrance is above a double fire – place which is used as a source of heat, for roasting or for cooking in special occasions.

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Both cooking fires are used simultaneously for the most ambitious of meals.

The second wood –oven is under the exterior ladder and has been built poorly, just in one day.

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Its baking capacity is for one 40 cm baking pan. Its construction is simple: flat bricks were used for the floor and an igloo -shaped basket (gr. kofini) was covered with 3 different mixtures of clay (a:clay, lime and straws, b: broken bricks and clay, c: mixed clay with lime). Three- four days later, a large fire was built in the oven to dry it and burn the basket. After that, it was ready to cook for the first time. None-the-less, it lasts a good 30 years.

The third oven is an electric one.

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It cooks fast and is also necessary when the weather is windy and there is danger of fire. I think it’s an italian patent. It allows for some pleasures like small pies, stuffed vegetables, baked poultry or meatballs on a bed of sliced potatoes and zucchinis.
For the meatballs I used 800 gr minced meat (200 gr lamb, 300 gr pork, 300 gr beef), 250 gr stale bread, soaked in water and perfectly squeezed, 1 large onion finely chopped, ½ cup chopped tomato, 1 tbs red vinegar, salt and pepper.
The nature really offers a wide array of perfect options for flavoring: thymbre, thyme, oregano, fennel.
I chose to add leaves and flowers of fresh thyme.

wild-thyme

making-biftekia

 I dipped one of my hands in red wine while shaping the meatballs.

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baking-bifteks

The aroma was fantastic!

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And this is my shelter next to the front yard, made from the branches of two tall and strong turpentine trees (Pistacia Terebinthus). Under these trees I played many of my childhood’s games.

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Their shade is perfect for morning coffee, writing and reading or spending relaxed time with family and friends.
By the way, the nuts of turpentines are almost ready for harvest.

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If they are roasted, they can be used in village bread.

Wild blackberies are almost ripen…

wild-grapes

 oregano is almost dried…

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 but we patiently wait to have walnuts,

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 chestnuts…

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 and quinces….

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 in late September.