Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Greek for beginners: Dakos salad

Greek salads do not come any easier or simpler than this one. And to be honest this is a Cretan salad, and you do know that the people of Crete are among the healthiest on the planet. Their secret is lots and lots of extra virgin olive oil.

This is my version of dakos and I only diverted from the original because I had run out of feta cheese. So I used greek yogurt -full fat, unflavoured, no sugar, of course- and a sprinkle of parmesan for texture.

It is a bit like a bruschetta but it is much bigger and a meal in itself. Some people add onion but I think it detracts from the freshness of the salad. You can also add some cucumber. Do not put lots of different vegetables though. The idea is to taste the olive oil and the tomato.

For 2 servings if it is a salad or 1 serving as a main meal

  • A barley rusk
  • Some water
  • One tomato
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1 cup crumbled feta cheese (or in this case 2 spoonfuls of greek yogurt and a sprinkle of parmesan)
  • A sprinkle of oregano (optional)

Take a barley rusk. Wet it a bit. Just a bit, maybe 3-4 tablespoons of water.
You don’t need to skin off the tomato as the skin is going to come off when you grate it. So, yes, grate the tomato. Do not put it into a food processor, it will turn to water and we don’t want it to be runny.
Place the tomato on top of the rusk. Pour 2 spoons of olive oil on the tomato. Chop the bell pepper and arrange it on the tomato. Put some crumbled feta cheese or as I have done here –and this is just my version, real dakos is with feta or mizithra cheese- two spoonfuls of greek yogurt and a sprinkle of cheese. If you do my version with the yogurt skip the water in the beginning.
Sprinkle with oregano or some olives if you have them and serve.

A watermelon sun

"Watermelon -- it's a good fruit. You eat, you drink, you wash your face."
Enrico Caruso

The gypsies would drive from neighbourhood to neighbourhood in their open trucks and sell watermelons, just a few years ago in Athens. I think they still do it in rural areas. And in the early afternoon, you’d hear their voices through the loudspeakers in their cars, shouting “karpouziaaaaaaa”, because karpouzi is what we call a watermelon in Greece. If you wanted to, they would carve it open for you so you could testify to the freshness of the fruit.
Today I buy my watermelons from the supermarket, or the open market, every Wednesday in my area. But I still miss the gypsies.
I found this recipe in Veggie Life , the printed version. I adapted a bit and here it is. I have never found the magazine in Greece, but my good friend Gina, sent it to me from the US. So this recipe is for her. I wish we could have some of it together Gina.

For 6 servings

  • 5 cups watermelon chunks (try to seed the chunks as much as you can)
  • 6 tablespoons non fat milk
  • 1-1 ½ tablespoon sugar

In a food processor combine ingredients and liquefy.
Place a sieve over a bowl and strain out remaining seeds. Press with a spoon so as to get as much pulp through the sieve as possible.
Discard seeds and excess pulp.
Put liquid into ice cube trays and freeze.
When ready, whirl cubes in a blender or food processor, to make it look like a sherbet. Serve in glasses. You are a happy person.

Just eat it, don't make me repeat it

I can live on salads, fruit and juices for the whole duration of summer. In Greece, that’s about 5 months. Sometimes, I consider myself lucky that as a vegetarian, I live in a Mediterranean country where there are lots of vegetables and fruit, but when I am in a bad mood, I just miss the variety I could find at british supermarkets. Being a vegetarian is so much easier in Britain. There is no convenience food for vegetarians in Greece. Veggie burgers are really difficult to find, and I haven’t even mentioned the lack of soya milk or tofu. I am not vegan, but if I were, I don’t know how I’d manage. You can’t always rely on health food shops to buy basic things like tofu. Not only are they sparse, they are ridiculously expensive too.
So I am constantly trying to find tasty things that can be made quickly. This salad is one of them because couscous is so versatile and you just need to boil some water to make it. And then, you just chop the vegetables. You could sauté them, I prefer to roast them when I have time.

Couscous, cherry tomatoes and roast vegetables salad
For 6 servings

* 1 medium sized onion, finely chopped
* 15 cherry tomatoes
* 2 courgettes, sliced in 3
* 1 aubergine, sliced in 3
* 1 red bell pepper, in strips
* 5-6 garlic cloves (don’t peel them)
* 4 tablespoons olive oil plus some more (about ¼ cup)
* 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
* 6 tablespoons herbs:

-2 tablespoons thyme, chopped
-2 tablespoons rosemary, chopped
-2 tablespoons oregano, chopped

* 2 ½ cups water
* 1 teaspoon salt
* 300 gr. couscous
* 1 cup pitted olives, cut in two
* 4 tablespoons caper
* 6 tablespoons lemon juice
* 4 tablespoons chopped basil

Preheat grill or oven at 200 C.
Prepare vegetables, except tomatoes and onion. Place them on a baking tin and drizzle them with 4 tablespoons olive oil, herbs, garlic, salt, pepper. They should become tender but not too much. Make sure they are evenly roasted from both sides. Remove garlic cloves and we leave vegetables to cool.
Boil the water. Place the couscous in a big bowl and pour boiling water over it. Let it absorb the water for about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, chop the roasted vegetables to pieces that should be the size of a mouthful. When the couscous is ready, add the vegetables, the tomatoes, the onion. Add the olives and caper. Next come the olive oil, vinegar, lemon juice and basil. Toss the salad and serve.
If you want the salad to be served cold, refrigerate it for a while, but in that case you should add the tomatoes at the last minute before serving. They really don’t behave well in the fridge.