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!
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!