The secret of the Cretan diet or what does not kill you makes you stronger

The people of the legendary island of Crete live  a lot, it is a fact. There are many reasons that contribute to this longevity, eating habits are one of them.

The Cretan diet is rich in olive oil. But Cretans are not the only people eating a lot of olive oil. So what is their secret? Well the secret is found in what Cretans eat the olive oil with and the answer is “whatever is green”.

During the years of the Ottoman occupation, the Turcs have treated the inhabitants of the island quite roughly. They forced them to starvation because they confiscated all of the available grain of the island. Like in many other parts of the world, the amazing descendants of Zeus (the God of Gods was raised on the beautiful island where the European civilisation was founded) the Cretans, decided to face the challenge and  started eating whatever grew on the island.

The island of Crete is rich in wild herbs. The Ottoman greediness was the reason of the invention of an extremely nourishing diet and the origin of the Cretan longevity. So this historical event is the literal representation of “what does not kill you makes you stronger”.

Cretans eat plenty of leafy greens. I have been living all around the globe, from Vietnam to USA and I have always bought and boiled whatever green I found in local markets. In green I trust.

At this time of my life I am in Bangkok, here I can find a variety of local greens. One that I favour a lot is the Chinese spinach. It is very close to the taste of a summer green vegetable that is called “vlita” in Greek.

My father’s mother, unlike other housewives, used to boil her greens with tomatoes. The tomatoes give a sweet flavour to the otherwise bitter greens and bring balance to the dish.

We eat this dish for lunch or dinner as a salad. It is super easy to prepare and you will do your body a favour to try it.

If you wish to enjoy this dish follow the instructions below.

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Ingredients:

  • 500 gr of cleaned Chinese spinach
  • 200 gr tomatoes
  • salt
  • extra virgin Greek olive oil from Crete

Instructions:

  • clean the Chinese spinach and cut off the rough edges, if any
  • Put the Chinese spinach and the tomatoes in a large pan and boil in medium heat for 30-40 minutes.
  • Your dish is ready. Serve with lots of extra virgin Greek olive oil from Crete, salt and lemon juice.

Enjoy 🙂

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An olive oil that compliments the taste of the green leaves without masking their taste is GAEA from Sitia. If not available where you live, any Greek extra virgin olive oil with acidity of less than 0.08% will be appropriate.

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Green beans

I love the taste of green beans. I always did, even when I was a child. In Greece green beans are enjoyed slow cooked because they release a sweet nutty taste when they are cooked in low heat for 40-45 minutes.

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Ingredients for 4 portions:

  • 400 gr green beans
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • a large onion chopped in slices
  • salt
  • sesame seeds
  • extra virgin Greek olive oil

Instructions:

  • Clean and wash your beans
  • Put a heavy bottom large pan on high heat and let it burn. Do not add any oil.
  • In a large bowl mix the beans with 2 tablespoons of oil, salt, the chopped onion and the whole cloves of garlic.
  • When your pan is very hot add the mixture and saute until the beans change colour.
  • Turn the fire to low. Add half a cup of water.
  • Let your beans simmer for 40-45 minutes.
  • When cooked thoroughly turn the fire off and add the sesame seeds and the extra virgin Greek olive oil.

This dish can be enjoyed on its own

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It can also be enjoyed as a side dish or a salad.

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Protein and fibre: pork and celery Cretan-Thai style

Pork and celery is a traditional dish in Crete. It is an autumn favorite and I have great memories of the delightful smell of this dish from my childhood. It is also a great dish for people following the Atkins diet since it is composed by protein and vegetables.

Ingredients for 4 portions:

  • 1 pork tenderloin (it can be replaced by an equivalent part of veal)
  • 150 gr of pork meat on the bone (it can be replaced by an equivalent part of veal)
  • 500 gr celery
  • a large onion chopped in big chunks
  • 5-7 kaffir leaves
  • 2 stocks of lemongrass
  • 5cm of galangal
  • lemon and/or lime juice
  • extra virgin Greek olive oil
  • salt

Instructions:

  • Put the meat in a large bowl with water and let it rest for 30 minutes to an 1 hour in the fridge. In this way the impurities of the meat will disappear.
  • Boil the celery for 40 minutes. Keep the juice.
  • Take the meat out of the fridge and dry it. Leave the tenderloin in one piece in order to permit the meat to keep all of its juices during the cooking.
  • In a large heavy bottom pan put some oil and saute the meat in high heat with the onion.
  • When the meat is cooked in all sides add the celery juice.
  • Keep the fire high for 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the boiled celery sticks.
  • With the back of a heavy knife bit the lemongrass in order to release its aroma.
  • Add the tom yam spices (lemongrass, galangal, kaffir leaves) in  disposable tea bags that you can discard easily from your pan.
  • Turn the hit to low. Discard the tea bags after 20 minutes, otherwise the herbs will give an unpleasant bitterness to the dish.
  • Cook in total for 1h-1h30 until the celery is soft.

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Serve with a generous amount of lemon or lime juice and extra virgin Greek olive oil.

Enjoy 🙂

Cabbage and rice -dolmades

This is a wonderful dish for the last days of autumn. The cabbage is an excellent vegetable for the cold days. This dish is quite time consuming, so I recommend it to people that enjoy spending time in their kitchen. I usually prepare dolmades during the weekend, the leftovers are highly appreciated during busy week days in a bento.

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Ingredients: 3-4 portions

  • 1 small cabbage
  • 200 gr cooked short grain rice (sushi rice is suitable it can be replaced by brown rice)
  • 100 gr cherry tomatoes blended into a food processor
  • a small jicama 9 it can be replaced by a green apple)
  • 150 gr ground meat (pork, beef. chicken whatever you wish)
  • 300 ml water
  • 70-100 ml extra virgin Greek olive oil
  • 3 tbs fresh thinly chopped dill
  • 3 tbs fresh thinly chopped parsley
  • salt, peeper

Instructions:

The day before, prepare the rice following the instructions below:

  • Wash the rice thoroughly and gently until the water comes out transparent
  • Strain the rice for an hour or more until it is almost dry
  • Cover the rice in a pocket of paper and let it rest for a whole night in the fridge

The day of cooking :

  • Put the cabbage in a steamer and steam it for around 45 minutes, depending on its size
  • Once the cabbage is ready let it cool down
  • Cut the central surface of the nerve of the cabbage leaves without cutting the cabbage leaves
  • In a large bowl mix the drained rice, the tomatoes, the jicama (or green apple), the ground meat, the dill and add salt and pepper to your liking
  • Add 3-4 tbs of extra virgin Greek olive oil and mix well
  • Add a layer of cabbage leaves in a heavy bottom pan in order to prevent your rolls form burning
  • Stuff the cabbage leaves one by one with the rice mixture and place them in the pan in a circular pattern
  • Place a dish on the top of your pan, it will maintain the shape of your dolmades
  • Add the water and the extra virgin olive oil
  • Cover and cook in low heat for 1h30 -2 hours depending on the quality of rice and cabbage you used

Your dish in ready. Enjoy 🙂

Vegan day: Chickpeas soup

This soup contains a large quantity of Greek extra virgin olive oil. It is an essential ingredient, that gives to this dish its distinctive taste.

If you also enjoy olive oil try this soup 🙂

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Ingredients for 4 portions:

  • 25o gr  dried chickpeas
  • 2 l water
  • 2 laurier leaves
  • 2 small onions thinly sliced
  • 1 carrot chopped in stripes
  • 4 cloves of garlic
  • 150 ml extra virgin Greek olive oil
  • 1 ts baking soda
  • wedges of lemon for tasting (optional)
  • chili for tasting (optional)

Instructions:

  • Soak the chickpeas in cold water overnight with 1 tablespoon of baking soda
  • The following day drain the chickpeas, put them in a pan, cover with water and boil for 30-40 minutes.
  • Drain the chickpeas and discard the boiling water.
  • Put the chickpeas in a clean pan with 2 litres of water and add the laurier leaves, the small onions, the carrot in stripes and the cloves of garlic.
  • Boil in low fire of 1 hour and a half. Add the olive oil and continue boiling for 30 extra minutes.

It is ready. In Greece this dish is often enjoyed with accompaniments such as pickled fish olive oils and feta cheese.

Since I live in the tropics I may choose more exotic side dishes such as durian.

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Enjoy 🙂

Spinach and dough

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The Greeks love spinach and dough. You will find this combination in pies called “spanakopita”  as well as in deep fried raviolis called “kalitsouni”.

You can find here my recipe for a wonderful spanakopita:dsc_2691

Ingredients for 15-20 portions

for the dough (phyllo):

  • 300g all-purpose flour
  • 5 tbsps olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 130-150g water (1/2- 3/4 of a cup)

for the filling:

  • 5 spring onions, finely chopped
  • 500g spinach, washed and roughly chopped
  • 200g feta cheese, crumbled
  • 1-2 tbsps fresh dill, chopped (optional)
  • butter
  • extra virgin Greek olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions:

  • Make the phyllo dough first, by mixing all the ingredients. Once the dough reaches the desired consistency cut it in balls (slightly larger than a table tennis ball), coat lightly with olive oil, wrap with some plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 45-60 minutes. This is essential, so that the dough softens and you can roll it easily.
  • Place one ball of dough on a floured surface and coat your rolling pin with some flour. Make a circle of dough with your hands. Use the rolling pin to roll out the dough, until it becomes a very thin round sheet.
  • When the dough is ready , heat the oven to 200 C.
  • Prepare the filling for this spanakopita recipe by mixing the spring onions, the spinach, the feta cheese and the dill in a large bowl.
  • Fill in the sheets of dough with the spinach mixture and roll them into long sausage forms.
  • Sprinkle a 30 cm round pan with olive oil and put the sausage formed sheets of dough into the pan in a snail pattern. Keep going with the rest of the sheets.
  • Brush the top of the spanakopita with olive oil and butter.
  • Bake in preheated oven for about 60 minutes until the phyllo is crisp and golden.
  • Leave the spanakopita cool down for 10-15 minutes before cutting into pieces.

You can use the same ingredients in order to prepare “kalitsouni”, little deep fried ravioli that are much appreciated in the island of Crete.

Enjoy!