Pinto beans (in Greek “barbounofasoula” or “chantres”), falling into the category of legumes, are the most popular beans in the USA and parts of Mexico. They are also popular in South America, Spain and Portugal. There is, however, one important difference between the pinto beans consumed in the places mentioned before and the Cretan pinto beans; the former are first dried up, whereas Cretans eat their pinto beans fresh after they have been harvested from vegetable gardens across the island. It is therefore a very summery dish, as this is the season when pinto beans are collected. As the pintos in Crete are eaten fresh, Cretans cook them together with the tender parts of their pods and leaves (they are sold on their pod and sometimes with some of their foliage!); this greatly contributes to the taste and pleasure of the dish. As with almost every dish, Cretans cook fresh pinto beans with fresh tomato juice and extra virgin olive oil. Cretan pinto beans with their accompanying greens is a starchy and rather light dish that is perfectly comforting after a “tiresome” day full of summer activities. This is one of the first dishes we crave for when summer time arrives. This dish is one of the basic ones of the Cretan vegan cuisine.
Taverna Alekos (in Greek “Ταβέρνα Αλέκος”) is a unique village taverna in the area of Rethymno, offering authentic meat-based Cretan cuisine with a creative touch. The taverna always offers a set menu, meaning that you do not order; the food comes to you, which is quite rare for Crete. The food is of exceptional quality and the offered food quantity (number of dishes and portions) is huge. The set menu always comprises salads, appetizers, casserole dishes and stews (served as starters) which vary depending on the day. A complete Cretan barbecue comprising hamburgers (some of the best you can have in Crete!) and steaks is always served as main accompanied with housemade French fries. The indoor area of the taverna is cozy, dominated by stone walls which gives it a rustic and friendly ambience. Taverna Alekos is highly recommended for tasting rustic Cretan cuisine with creative touches. It also offers great value for money. Please make sure though that you are really hungry before going to this taverna, as the offered food quantity is huge!
Okra (“bamies”) is one of Crete’s favourite vegetable full of health benefits. Okra has a lot of devoted fans in Crete although in the rest of Greece less so. Okra is mainly found around the Mediterranean and is rare in other places. Cretans usually eat okra as a vegan dish cooked with tomato juice, although it can be also combined with chicken or fish. Okra has a sticky texture and fairly sweet taste which becomes delicious with tomato sauce. It is a very summery dish, light and refreshing. It evokes childhood memories of long and hot summers when we went for swimming in the turquoise Cretan seas. The usual question when we returned home was ‘what’s on for lunch’? When our mother’s or grandmother’s answer was’okra’ we always exclaimed with pleasure; what a perfect end to a Cretan summer experience!
Ouzeri Lola (in Greek “Ουζερί Λόλα”) is really authentic seafood restaurant in Thessaloniki, Greece, where one can enjoy traditional seafood meze dishes, such as mussels, smoked fish, squid and various dips as well as fresh fish, either grilled or pan fried. As a typical “ouzeri” restaurant, Lola features a great selection of ouzo or tsipouro to match the seafood and meet every expectation. We tried the really succulent and delicious grilled octopus tentacles (“chtapodi sti schara”) in olive oil and vinegar sauce. Also the grilled fresh squid (“kalamari sti schara”) was very good. Further highlights were Thessalonian mussels “saganaki” (pan cooked mussels in mustard sauce with peppers and feta cheese), a very balanced taste, and the grilled smoked mackerel (“skoumpri kapnisto”) with the delicious and strong characteristic taste. We also tried the rich “Lola salad”, made of red cabbage, rocket, tomato and Greek hard cheese topped with seeds and a special salad sauce. Last but not least, the “taramosalata” dip, a dip made of salted and cured roe, was exceptional. A treat of a very nice homemade chocolate and cream dessert came at the end of our very fulfilling meal.
There is nothing more basic in a diet than bread. Therefore a healthy diet begins with healthy bread and Cretans eat a lot of it with every meal. The most traditional Cretan bread is the barley rusk (“dakos”) which is very difficult and time consuming to prepare at home. Apart from “dakos”, Cretans eat a great deal of whole grain bread. Our personal favourite whole grain bread is a combination of three kinds of wholemeal flour (“aleuri olikis”), namely spelt (“aleuri zeas”), rye(“aleuri sikalis”) and wheat flour (“starenio aleuri”). We provide a generic recipe for making bread with the use of bread maker that can be executed with any kind of flour suitable for baking. Note that the provided flour types and quantities used correspond to our own favourite flour and seed combination.
Taverna Galera (in Greek “Ταβέρνα Γαλέρα”) is an upscale taverna situated in one of the nicest seafront locations of the city of Rethymno. The taverna enjoys fabulous views of the city and the coast and is very pleasant both in winter and summer. We almost feel compelled to enjoy seafood at such great seafront location. The signature dish of Taverna Galera is the shrimp “kritharoto” (risoni pasta cooked in shrimp broth). The shrimp pasta (“garidomakaronada”) is also great. Cuttlefish with greens (“soupies me maratha”) is also a must try when available. Worth trying are also the smaller meze style dishes, such as wild green pies (“xortopites”) and the spicy feta dip (“tirokauteri”), which is a great accompaniment to seafood. In summary, this taverna is a great place to relax while enjoying a seafood or meat based Cretan style meal also offering wonderful views.
Fish has always been regarded as a truly healthy and nutritious food. It is a fantastic source of protein, vitamin D (important when you live in less sunny places!), as well as the best source of omega-3 fatty acids that lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Add to that the amazing properties of vegetables, such as carrots, onions, celery and tomatoes (full of fiber, vitamins and folate) and you get the ultimate health booster; the Cretan “Psarosoupa”, i.e., the Cretan fish and vegetable soup, prepared with egg-lemon broth (“avgokoma”). The open seas surrounding the island of Crete (especially the ones to the south!) are some of the best sources for clean and amazingly tasty fish. The Cretan soil is also heavenly for vegetable gardens. There could not be any greater and more balanced combination of what land and sea offers on this magical island.
White kidney beans (in Greek “fasolia xera”) are the most widely eaten legumes in Greece and of course on the island of Crete. They are usually eaten in the form of a vegan bean soup, what Greeks call “fasolada”. White kidney beans are gluten free (as all legumes) and are full of health benefits. They are rich in fiber and low in calories, therefore qualifying as a diet friendly food. Furthermore, they are a great source of protein and magnesium, while they maintain a low glycemic index (good for your blood sugar level). “Fasolada” is a delicious detox starchy dish full of antioxidants. There are various ways to prepare it, depending on where you are. Cretans make their “fasolada” using tomato juice from freshly squeezed tomatoes, carrots, celery and of course extra virgin olive oil.
Taverna Kompos is one of the all time classic tavernas in the greater Rethymno area in Crete; a heaven for meat lovers. Speciality are the various cuts of lamb on the barbecue, what I would call a “Cretan barbecue”. Beware that if you do not like meat there are two chances when you go to this taverna, you either change your mind (meat there is so great!) or you barely find anything substantial to eat. Truth to be said, meat is not the healthiest nutrition, however this taverna is worth for having a break from your healthy routine.
Lentils (in Greek “Fakes”) are gluten free legumes whose health benefits are well recognized. First of all, they are low in calories and, therefore, diet friendly. Furthermore, they are full of fiber, iron, folate and protein and as such they are a great detoxicating alternative to meat. Find the full article and recipe here.