Chickpeas (in Greek “revithia“) are legumes (which are always gluten free) with amazing health benefits widely consumed all year round in Crete and other southern Greek islands. Cretans prepare chickpeas in the form of a delicious and filling vegan soup that is exemplary of the Cretan vegan diet. Unlike most Cretan dishes that are based on tomato juice, adding a sweetness to their taste, chickpea soup is based on lemon juice giving it some acidity which brings out the great starchy taste of chickpeas. This slight acidity could be masterfully balanced out to some extent with the addition of a tiny bit of flour which also thickens the soup (this is optional as it takes away the gluten free character of the dish). When I try to motivate people to include legumes in their diet, I always use this great dish as an example!
Taverna Zisis (in Greek “Ταβέρνα Ζήσης”) is an all time classic eatery in Rethymno where one can enjoy all facets of Cretan cuisine. The taverna is the biggest in size and also one of the oldest eateries in Rethymno. It offers a great multitude of Cretan dishes including traditional vegan Cretan cuisine, snails, pies, meat, Cretan barbecue and seafood. These can be ordered as mains or meze dishes to share (as most Cretans do). If you wish to quickly gain an understanding of Cretan food, this should be your fist stop! The taverna has a fixed a la carte menu and a large range of daily specials. Customers have the option to choose what to eat from the purpose-made food showcase of the taverna. As the taverna offers a great range of dishes, you need to visit it at least a few times to get a good impression of its cuisine. As regulars of the place, we usually start our meal with seasonal bitter greens which are nicely boiled and accompany well most Cretan dishes. As starters, we usually order some of the classic highlights of Taverna Zisis. We choose the juicy and soft stuffed vine leaves (“dolmadakia“), which are tender vine leaves stuffed with rice and herbs, accompanied with Cretan yoghurt. We also order the signature dish of pan fried and oven baked aubergine in tomato sauce (“melitzanes imam“), topped with grated cheese; easily one of the best executions of this really balanced dish. As mains various meat cuts and Cretan hamburgers on the barbecue are highly recommended. Same applies to meat or vegetable stews and casseroles. As dessert, the taverna brings delicious (although usually cold) doughnuts (“loukoumades“) topped with sesame and honey.
Green beans (in Greek “fasolakia prasina“) are the pods of unripe beans which are considered vegetables although technically are legumes. The pods of green beans are tender and the beans contained are tiny, so the pods prevail in quantity and taste. Green beans cooked in fresh tomato juice (what else!) together with potatoes is the most typical Cretan summery dish. Of course the dish contains generous amounts of extra virgin olive oil. There is no summer in Crete that does not involve regular (almost on a weekly basis!) eating of green beans. Green beans is a casual dish that is ideal for the high temperatures of the Cretan summer, as it is light and refreshing. This dish is one of the cornerstones of the extremely rich Cretan vegan cuisine.
The health benefits of Cretan green beans and recipe are found here!
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.