The Cretan cuisine is one of the oldest and healthiest culinary traditions in the world. It has been influenced and shaped by the island`s geographical location, its history, as well as by the local ingredients.
Cretan cuisine is characterized by its simplicity, fresh ingredients, and the use of olive oil. It has a mix of ancient Greek, Turkish, Venetian, and Arab influences. Traditional Cretan dishes use fresh and locally sourced ingredients such as herbs, vegetables, fruits, legumes, and seafood. The use of meat is limited, and when it is used, it is usually in small quantities. The staple food of Cretan cuisine is bread made out of barley and wheat.
One of the most important ingredients in Cretan cuisine is olive oil. The island is known for producing some of the best olive oil in the world. The Cretan diet is high in monounsaturated fats, which are found in olive oil. The use of olive oil in cooking is widespread in Cretan cuisine, and it is often used as a dressing for salads and vegetables.
A famous meat dish of the Cretan cuisine is Paidakia – these are grilled lamb chops that are marinated in olive oil, lemon juice, and herbs. They are typically served with a side of roasted potatoes and a fresh salad. Tsigariasto is another dish you will find in most tavernas. It is a beef dish that is cooked slowly in a tomato sauce with onions, garlic, and herbs. The beef is typically cut into small pieces and is cooked until it is tender and falling apart. It is often served with potatoes or rice. Also very popular is Apaki, which is a smoked pork dish that is marinated in a mixture of salt, pepper, and herbs before it is smoked over an open fire. It has a smoky and savory flavor and is often served as a meze.
The island of Crete is also famous for its seafood dishes. The most popular one is grilled octopus, which is marinated in olive oil and lemon juice before it is grilled over charcoal. Other seafood dishes include fried calamari, seafood risotto, and seafood pasta.
Cretan cuisine offers a wide variety of vegetarian and even vegan dishes that are bursting with flavor and are a true celebration of the island's local produce.
When you hear the above examples or think of Greek cuisine as you often find it in Greek restaurants in other countries than Greece itself, you might immediately think of dishes full of meat. However, We show you eight traditional Cretan vegetarian or vegan dishes that are sure to tantalize your taste buds:
Dakos – a simple but very delicious dish that is made with a barley rusk topped with chopped tomatoes, onions, sometimes capers, and feta cheese (can be excluded for vegan version). It is drizzled with olive oil and often served as a light meal or appetizer.
Fava – a dip made of yellow split peas, olive oil, lemon juice and sometimes garlic. Fava is often served as a meze or side dish and is naturally vegan.
Gemista – stuffed vegetables, typically tomatoes, peppers, eggplants or zucchini. The vegetables are hollowed out and then filled with a mix of rice, herbs, and spices. They are then baked in the oven until the vegetables are tender and the filling is cooked through.
Spanakopita – a savory pie made with phyllo pastry and filled with spinach, feta cheese (can be excluded for vegan version), herbs, and spices. Spanakopita is typically served as a snack or appetizer.
Revithia – a chickpea stew that is made with olive oil, onions, garlic, and tomatoes. Revithia is flavored with a variety of herbs and spices and cooked slowly in the oven until the chickpeas are tender and creamy. The dish is typically served with bread or barley rusks.
Melitzanes Papoutsakia – stuffed eggplants which are filled with a mix of onions, garlic, tomatoes, and herbs. They are then topped with a good sprinkling of cheese (can be excluded for vegan version) and baked in the oven until the eggplants are tender and the filling is cooked through.
Kolokithokeftedes – crispy zucchini fritters that are made with grated zucchini, onion, herbs, and flour. Kolokithokeftedes are fried until they are golden brown and crispy and are often served as a meze or appetizer. Delicious and an absolute must-try!
Gigantes Plaki – a dish made from giant beans that are cooked in a tomato sauce with onions, garlic, and herbs. Gigantes Plaki is typically served as a main course or side dish and is often accompanied by bread or barley rusks.
You see, if you are a vegetarian or vegan, you can be sure that Cretan cuisine has an abundance of delicious dishes to offer you. With its emphasis on fresh, seasonal produce and simple, flavourful ingredients, it is a delight for anyone looking to explore the world of plant-based cooking.
In conclusion, Cretan cuisine is a unique culinary tradition that has been shaped by the island’s history, geography, and local ingredients. The use of fresh and locally sourced ingredients, olive oil, and the limited use of meat makes traditional Cretan cuisine one of the healthiest and most delicious cuisines in the world. If you ever visit the island of Crete, make sure to try some of its traditional dishes and experience the flavours and aromas of this ancient cuisine.