|Fish for sale, fresh from the boat in Argostoli Harbour|
This month, I have been lucky enough to use a variety of kitchens, while traveling through the Ionian Islands, a group of seven islands in Greece. I feel incredibly lucky to be able to share with you, this month, some of the tastes and flavours of the Ionian Islands. Mr K and I have spent our time mainly in Zakynthos, Kefalonia and Lefkada. These three islands are off the west coast of Greece, in the Ionian Sea, sitting between Greece and Italy.
Fish and seafood is incredibly abundant in the islands, and it is enjoyed in the main towns and in all the coastal villages. In the highlands and mountain villages, fish and seafood is bought fresh from the coast in little trucks, where the sellers shout through a loudspeaker, "φρέσκο ψάρι" (fresh fish). In days past, itinerant fishermen made their way up to the villages to sell their daily catch.
|Lavraki, grey mullet and rigani for sale in Argostoli Harbour|
The quayside was also dotted with colourful fruit and vegetable sellers. To accompany the fish we also bought a huge bunch of fragrant rigani. Rigani is an important culinary herb in Greece, more flavourful when dried than fresh. It has an aromatic, warm and slightly bitter taste. It has a unique, herby scent and you will find that most Greek kitchens have a soft, lingering aroma of rigani. A few years ago, when Mr K and I visited the Pelopennese in spring time, Mr K's paternal uncle had huge bunches, with the delicate papery flowers, freshly gathered and hanging upside down in his cellar for use later in the year. I always use rigani when making a simple Greek salad, or in the case of the beautiful fish we had bought, I add it to a lemon-olive oil sauce to pour over the grilled fish.
|Kefalonia is abundant with citrus fruits; local garlic and lemons for sale in Argostoli|
Latholemono (Oil and lemon sauce)
1 part fresh lemon juice (1/3 cup)
2 parts extra-virgin olive oil (2/3 cup)
1 tsp. sea salt
1 heaped tsp. of rigani
Add all the ingredients into a jar and secure the lid tight. Emulsify the sauce by shaking the jar vigarously. Adjust the seasoning and pour over grilled fish or seafood.
|Fishmongers in Lefkas Town|
In Lefkas Town, the main town of Lefkada, we bought seafood from the open window, small fishmongers found in the maze of cobbled passageways. I love the realness of these little stores. There are no bleached floors and neat little fillets here, like back at home. Here you are ushered close to inspect the whole fish, by the seller, who often has a cigarette in one hand. The little stores also usually have a chorus line of elderly men, komboloi in hand, cigarette in the other, keeping a close eye on the fish from the safety of a row of plastic garden chairs or outdoor bench. If you need advice on a particular type of fish or how it is best cooked - these gentlemen are a font of time honored wisdom.
At one particular fishmonger, we saw what was quite possibly the freshest kalamari I had ever seen. The eyes of the kalamari were luminously clear, rather eerily staring at us. The fishmonger kept prodding the kalamari with a fork, and the pricked skin turned a blushing rose-purple and then faded back to clear, whiteish skin. Later grilled, the kalamari was deliciously sweet and tender, almost like eating a juicy piece of lobster.
For small Islands, Zakynthos, Kefalonia and Lefkada offer some incredible dairy products using sheep and goat's milk. In Kefalonia, from a local dairy seller we purchased a little clay pot of "Prentza". This cheese is not sold widely and the recipe is a very well kept secret among both Kefalonians and Zakynthians. A sort of cheese dip, prentza is made from creamy, salty ladotyri. Ladotyri means "oil cheese". In Zakynthos in particular, feta is steeped in brine to ripen for a couple of weeks, before being drained, dried, and placed in a barrel of olive oil. It is very pungent, similar to a very aged French chevre but more peppery. For the prentza, the ladotyri is mixed with sheep yogurt, thyme, olive oil and lemon juice. Served on slices of thick, brown wood fired bread, it made a wonderful accompaniment to our aperitif - a locally made, light fresh rose wine.
|Little tubs of krema or rizogalo were €1 each|
In Lefkas Town the were two, "γαλακτοκομείο" (galaktokomeío / dairy). They sold tangy sheep and goats yoghurt in little terracotta pots, rizogalo (rice pudding) heaped with cinnamon and scented with orange zest, as well as Mr K's childhood favourite, "krema". A light milk pudding made with a little cornflour. The dairies also sold nuts, handmade phyllo pastry, locally made spoon sweets and honey, as well as a Lefkan nougat, sandwiched between rice paper and filled with toasted almonds and a strong mastic flavour. The little wooden dairy store, which had been first set up in 1948 also sold icons of the saints for the home, candles and incense.
|Lovely Lefkas nougat was only €2 euros for a round|
|Delicious fig spoon sweets, with a rich honey syrup - perfect with tangy goats yoghurt for a luxurious breakfast|
The delicatessen style stores in the islands were also filled with treasures. A particular favourite was the small bottles of pickled rock samphire (kritamo). Ancient Greek philosophers recommended eating kritamo for its detoxifying and antioxidant properties. The samphire we bought from the deli had been balanched and steeped in wine vinegar. It is delicious by itself with a small glass of ouzo, mezedes style, or even served alongside grilled fish. I like to add it to a Greek salad for an extra zesty flavour, a good option if you want a break from feta, but still want a tangy, salty addition to your salad.
|Rock samphire and vine leaves|
Horiatiki Salata with rock samphire
1 large cucumber, peeled and cut into small half rounds
1 medium red onion, halved and cut into slices
A handful of Kalamata olives in brine, rinsed and drained
2 Tbsp extra-virgin Greek olive oil
1 Tbsp of Greek rose wine vinegar
1 Tbsp pickled rock samphire
2 tsp rigani
1. Cut tomatoes into 3 or 4 wedges, depending on its size. Place in a serving bowl.
2. Add onion, cucumber, olives, vingar and olive oil and gently toss.
3. Place rock samphire on top and sprinkle the salad with oregano.
For a little vegetarian feast, we combined the horitaki Salata with a large bowl of Horta - using a variety of radikia, called italika. Boiled and eaten with a dressing of olive oil and lemon, it was surprisingly good. I also gently blanched the preserved vine leaves and wrapped little slices of haloumi and tomato in them, before grilling on the barbecue.
Our journey in Greece will continue onto the mainland for a few days, before we move onto a few weeks in southern Italy, where I hope to share with you a visit into some Italian kitchens next month. As always, big thanks go to Celia at Fig Jam and Lime Cordial for hosting this great monthly feature. Until next month, have a wonderful November whichever side of the world you live on and be sure to drop by Celia's wonderful blog!!
Ps. We have listened to some great vintage Greek music, in our Greek kitchens this month, for a glimpse of some vintage tracks see this link.