Red, Ripe and True

by Jennifer Gay

VISIT any street market in Crete and you will be greeted by shining heaps of fragrant tomatoes. Pop into a taverna and you will find huge beef tomatoes crammed full of raisin-studded rice, crimson chunks glistening with olive oil and crowned with a slice of creamy feta in the traditional horiatiki, and softly scented pulp scattered liberally over crusty rusks. Tomatoes play a key role in the Mediterranean - and thus Cretan - diet. Indeed, it is believed that the large amounts of tomato consumed daily in Mediterrean countries has helped to keep prostate cancer and asthma rates relatively low.

Try the following classic Cretan recipes that show how delicious nutritious can be.

Mediterranean 'salsa'
Mesogeiaki saltsa


large ripe tomato

1/2 onion

1 leek, green part only, finely chopped

1 red and 1 green pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1 tablespoon black olive paste

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped parsley


Peel and seed the tomato and then dice it. Finely chop the onion and mix it with the diced tomato. Add the leek and peppers, olive paste, pepper and seasonings and toss gently with olive oil. Just before serving sprinkle with finely chopped parsley.

Cretan bruschetta
Dakos, Koukouvayia

Found on taverna menus all over the island, this is one of a number of instances of a traditional peasant snack being elevated to a delicacy. If you have no access to rusks, thickly slice a loaf of your favorite wholegrain bread and bake it for an hour or more in a very low oven until hard on both sides and you'll have a reasonable alternative. For 1-2 people


1 large barley or whole wheat rusk

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 large tomato (or 2 smaller ones), chopped

1 tablespoon myzithra, anthotyro or soft, mild feta

1 teaspoon oregano or marjoram

1 clove garlic, crushed (optional)


Sprinkle the rusk on both sides with water from the tap to soften it a bit. Pour 1 tablespoon of the oil over it, then add the chopped tomato and the other tablespoon of oil, the cheese crumbled on top, the herbs and some salt and pepper.

If you like garlic, mix it in with the tomato (though most Cretans would not do this). This is a wonderful snack, filling and satisfying, crunchy, piquant and creamy at the same time.

You can also crumble a rusk into your Greek salad: small chunks of ripe but firm tomatoes, thinly sliced green pepper, a little cubed cucumber, plenty of sliced onion, a sprinkling of capers, a few black olives, a few sprigs of lemony purslane if you have it, shredded arugula or basil for bite, some parsley perhaps and either mild creamy feta or myzithra cheese. Douse with as much olive oil as you choose with some vinegar if you like it and sprinkle with a little oregano if you're not using basil. This combination is very similar to Andalucian gazpacho and the bread salads of Puglia and Tuscany.

When the ingredients are garden fresh, it's impossible to tire of this salad, but if you encounter the ordinary run-of-the-mill taverna variety where the vegetables have been sliced in the morning and all the little extras are missing, you might as well forget it.

Parrotfish with tomatoes and onion
Skaros me domates kai kremmydi

The parrotfish, so-called because of its beakish mouth and flamboyant coloring - the male being a deep reddish-purple with yellow trim - is plentiful in the warm waters around Crete. If your fishmonger doesn't stock parrotfish, substitute a large bream, red snapper or monkfish tail in this recipe.


1 whole parrotfish, about 1 kg (2 lbs), gall bladder removed

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

1-2 cloves garlic, sliced

half a bunch parsley, finely chopped

4 medium tomatoes, grated, skins discarded or 1 tablespoon tomato paste diluted in 240 ml (1 cup) hot water

salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1 tablespoon cumin


In a nonstick saucepan large enough to hold the fish, heat the olive oil and fry the fish whole, 5 minutes on each side. Remove the fish and drain on paper towels. In the same oil sauté the onion, garlic and parsley, until the onion is soft but not browned. Add the tomatoes or tomato paste, salt and pepper and boil gently, covered, for 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the cumin.

Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Place the fish in a nonstick roasting pan, cover it with the sauce, bring it to the boil on top of the stove and put it in the oven to bake for another 20 minutes or so or until the flesh flakes easily when tested with a fork. Serves 3-4.

(Posting Date 22 May 2007)

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