The kitchen is open-
The foodie gods are at work as we close out summer with kitchen travels to Greece's coastal tavernas and households. Our journey begins in Ikaria, belonging to the Sporades, or "scattered," group of islands centered in the northeastern Aegean Sea. I admit to being drawn to its "blue zone" status and the attention the unassuming island has received for a designation bestowed upon only five places in the world. It's been reported that the average Ikarian is 10 times more likely to become a centenarian, and ironically, a troubled history is partly to blame. Or thank. Treacherous weather, caused by what Homer refers to in The Illiad as the most turbulent waters of the Aegean, alienated Ikaria from shipping routes and development. Isolation proved fruitful to a people who had no choice but to sustain themselves from their environment, which they continue today with a largely plant-based diet procured naturally. One dish, Soufico, captures the essence of the season with a layering of colorful vegetables, herbs, and olive oil, immense flavor, and aromas that linger for days.
Moving on to the southern Aegean and the Cyclades, or center, islands, we explore the cuisine of Santorini, among those that surround the sacred island of Delos. Coming to be by way of an erupted volcano circa 1630 B.C., Santorini produces soil composed of lava, volcanic ash, and pumice, and as a result, legumes, cherry tomatoes, and wild capers unique to the area. The Santorini fava bean is recognized by the European Union as a Protected Designation of Origin (P.D.O.), and has, for thousands of years, grown only here, where it is ground with stone mills and matured in volcanic caves. Santorini Fava also refers to a dish and technique of slow cooking the yellow split peas into simple creamy heaven. To showcase the island's exclusive variety of cherry tomato, we chose to prepare another signature dish, Domatokeftedes, because, well, we never met a fritter we didn't like.
Kalamari tis Skaras
Soufico KT Favorite
1 medium eggplant, cut into large dice
1 large green bell pepper, seeds and white capsaicin removed, cut into 1-inch strips
1 large yellow bell pepper, seeds and white capsaicin removed, cut into 1-inch strips
2 medium zucchini, sliced into ¼-inch rounds
1 large yellow onion, chopped
6 small red potatoes, scrubbed and sliced into ½-inch rounds
2 large, ripe yet firm tomatoes, seeded and cut into 1-ince pieces
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Leaves from 3 fresh oregano sprigs
¼ cup Greek extra virgin olive oil and more as needed
Coarse and flake salt
Pour half of the olive oil into a large Dutch oven. Layer in the eggplant, potatoes, onion, garlic, bell peppers, zucchini, and tomatoes. Sprinkle with coarse salt, half of the oregano, and remaining olive oil. Heat stovetop over medium heat until vegetables begin to sizzle. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and cook for 15 minutes. Stir, add more olive oil and coarse salt, and simmer covered an additional 30 minutes. Ladle into bowls, and drizzle with olive oil and remaining oregano.
Domatokeftedes KT Favorite
10 ounces cherry tomatoes, seeded and diced
¼ teaspoon coarse salt
½ small white onion, grated
2 green onions, minced
½ cup minced flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
¾ cup all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
Light olive oil and Greek extra virgin olive oil for frying
Flake salt to taste
Place diced tomatoes in a colander. Sprinkle with coarse salt and let drain for 30 minutes. In a mixing bowl, combine tomatoes with both onions, parsley, and oregano. In a separate bowl, whisk flour and baking soda. Add this to the tomato and herb mixture and mix with a spatula until dry ingredients are fully incorporated. Refrigerate batter for 30 minutes.
Heat 2 inches of equal parts light and extra virgin olive oil in a deep fryer or frying pan over medium-high heat. Drop in tablespoons of batter, and cook until golden brown, approximately 2-3 minutes per side, turning and adjusting heat to prevent over browning. Remove and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with flake salt and serve hot with tzatziki.
Yield: about a dozen fritters
Tzatziki KT Favorite
1 large cucumber, peeled, seeds removed
2 cups whole milk Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon Greek extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon minced flatleaf parsley
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon coarse kosher salt
¼ teaspoon Himalayan pink salt
¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
Grate cucumber with a box grater. Place in a colander set on top of a bowl. Sprinkle grated cucumber with the coarse kosher salt, and let sit to allow moisture to drain, approximately 10 minutes. Wrap drained grated cucumber in a piece of cheesecloth and squeeze out any remaining moisture.
In a medium bowl, combine all other ingredients. Stir in cucumber and refrigerate at least 30 minutes before serving.
1 ½ pounds boneless lamb leg, fat trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
4 tablespoons Greek extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons dry Greek red wine
2 teaspoons dried whole Greek oregano
½ teaspoon whole cumin seed
2 cloves garlic, minced
Zest and juice of one lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Grind cumin seed in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle. Combine ground cumin, olive oil, wine, whole oregano, minced garlic, lemon zest and juice in a large bowl or sturdy plastic bag. Add lamb cubes and toss until meat is fully covered with the marinade. Cover, or seal, and refrigerate, turning occasionally, for several hours.
Remove meat from the marinade and thread onto 3 skewers (metal, or wooden that have been soaked in water). Allow to come to room temperature. If using a grill pan, lightly oil it before cooking. Season skewered meat with salt and pepper, and grill, turning, to desired doneness, approximately 6-7 minutes.
Remove cooked lamb from the skewers and serve with tzatziki sauce, sliced onion, tomato, and fresh, warm pita bread.
1 cup P.D.O. Santorini fava beans (available online)
4 cups water
1 red onion, peeled and left whole
1 clove garlic, chopped
Juice of ½ lemon
¼ cup Greek extra virgin olive oil plus more for drizzling
Capers and diced red onion
Rinse fava beans and add to a large saucepan with the water, red onion, and some salt. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, skim any foam off the top. Reduce heat to low to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes, until the beans reach a creamy texture. Transfer bean mixture and onion to a food processer. Add chopped garlic and blend until smooth. Stir in olive oil and lemon juice.
To serve, drizzle with additional extra virgin olive oil and top with capers and diced red onion.
Horiatiki KT Favorite
4 very ripe Campari tomatoes, quartered
1/3 medium red onion, thinly sliced
½-1 small cucumber, sliced into ½-inch rounds and halved
½-1 green bell pepper, cut into strips
¼ pound block feta
Greek extra virgin olive oil
Red wine vinegar
Dried Greek oregano
Arrange tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, and green bell pepper in a serving bowl. Add black olives and sliced pepperoncini as desired. Drizzle the salad with olive oil and red wine vinegar, and then top the center with the block of feta. Add a sprinkling of dried oregano and salt to taste.
Kalamari tis Skaras
1 pound fresh calamari, half tubes, half tentacles
2 small cloves garlic, thinly sliced
¼ cup Greek extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon fresh chopped oregano
1 tablespoon minced flat leaf parsley
Juice of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon salt
Slice calamari tubes into 1-inch rings. In a bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, oregano, and parsley. Stir in the calamari tentacles and tube slices. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes and up to a few hours.
Heat an indoor grill pan over high heat. Drain the calamari well, blotting with paper towels to remove as much moisture as possible. Grill quickly in two batches, turning frequently until cooked, 2-3 minutes.
Serve immediately with a squeeze of lemon.
Food and travel enthusiasts Michele and Doug McMurry journey to global destinations by way of their home kitchen in San Antonio, Texas.