The next class at Kea Artisanal was one that featured one of my favorite vegetables- garlic! We made a garlic spread called Skordalia. It’s made by combining mashed potatoes, blanched almonds, garlic and yogurt together with olive oil and lemons. It’s a traditional dip used with fried vegetables or as a spread on breads. It’s smooth, garlicky, lemony, tangy and simply delicious. It may be my new favorite condiment. I could easily see this being used instead of horseradish or tartar sauce on fish or meats.
Using the leftover tomato salad from the previous day’s lunch, Aglaia made a type of flat bread based on the traditional Laganes (flat bread) she normally makes. The salad was pureed in the blender and added to the dough instead of water or other liquids. Then, it was topped with cheese, fresh tomatoes and baked. It was very similar to a Ciabatta or Focaccia but was much more dense and crusty.
We also made three other types of Laganes, one with local sausages and cheese and one that was striped with sesame seeds, poppy seeds and red pepper and mahlep and one that was had Za’atar with red pepper flakes.
We then made a delicate batter to coat pieces of vegetables and stuffed beautiful zucchini blossoms with a piece of feta cheese and a sprig of mint to be gently fried and promptly devoured.
Even with all the breads and fried vegetables, it was surprisingly a light lunch, but quite filling!
Of course, the wine was flowing and a nap was definitely in order for the afternoon! This is a lifestyle I could get used to for certain! Traditionally, Greeks eat their largest meal midday then go home to sleep in the afternoon only to awake and have a light dinner at 10pm. The tavernas don’t fill up until nearly 11pm each night and the kids are just going to clubs at 12 or 1am. It’s a great country for night owls.
In the afternoon, after returning to our hotel for our naps, we were picked up for a hike to the archeological site at Karthaea on the southeast coast of the island. The scenery was absolutely stunning and the mountain we climbed down to the sea was actually rather steep.
Normally I would say that one climbs up first then down, but our hike was in reverse and we ended the hike with a challenging uphill climb. I confess that I am embarrassingly and woefully out of shape and without the good graciousness of our guide, Costas, I would still be on the beach at the bottom of the mountain. He carried my bag back up, gave me a walking stick and motivated me all the way with encouraging words. I huffed and puffed all the way up and remarked that when I told Ari I might not return from Greece, I didn’t think it would be because I had died of a heart attack along the way. At the top, I drank nearly a half liter of water in one swallow while Costas was asking who wanted wine! So glad I made it back up that hill!
Then he presented us with a lovely package of what was to be mezze but was really enough to be a full dinner. Legs shaking and catching my breath, I ate heartily a marinated octopus salad, breads we had made earlier and a delicious salad.
The next morning, we were taken to through the Hora, or main town, of Ioulida. Costas guided us through the Archaeological Museum showing us pieces from excavations from around the island, sites such as ancient Karthaea and the prehistoric settlement of Agia Irini were featured. We then walked up to the ancient “smiling lion” that is resting on a hillside just outside of town. No one seems to know who placed it there or how long it’s actually been there (there are some that say it’s as old as 600 B.C.) and it’s been a source of folklore throughout the island for centuries.
After our excursion, we enjoyed a lunch of mezzes and a flavorful fish soup filled with potatoes, carrots and zucchini at a taverna called Magazes in the main port of Korissia. Aglaia has worked with the owners and chefs at this restaurant to ensure that all the ingredients are fresh and never prepackaged. Everything from stocks to sauces and spreads are made on site and you can tell the quality of the dishes is very high. We really enjoyed our meal there.
We spent a little time afterward shopping in the port town and then making our way back to our hotel. I had some time before being picked up again so I went to a church and excavation site at Ayia Irini. The church was locked, but I was able to see a bit of the site and rooms that were being dug.
In the afternoon, we were picked up from our hotels and brought back to Aglaia’s kitchen to make Amygdalota, the traditional flour-less almond cookie of the Cyclades. This delightful cookie has a slight crunch on the outside and is chewy in the middle with the flavor of a macaroon and the texture of an oatmeal cookie. They are addictive and I would suggest making a double recipe!
Our dinner consisted of breads, salads, and vegetables but the highlight of the evening was an olive oil tasting, a cheese tasting, and a red wine tasting! We tasted some everyday olive oils and some oils flavored with lemons and oranges and then some extra virgin oils. Each one was very distinctive in flavor and I loved the Biolea Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil as well as Aglaia’s and Costas’ own pressing.
Greece produces an incredible variety of cheese types and each part of the country has its own recipes and secrets that make their cheese unique and often times, the cheese is made seasonally in small batches for local consumption only. Surprisingly, Greeks currently have the highest per capita consumption of cheese in the world, estimated at 22 kilos per person annually, edging out even the French.
We were excited to try over 15 different types of cheese beginning with some mild varieties and fetas and moving to heavily flavored cheeses. Some of my favorites included Graviera that was aged only 1 year from Naxos and a Kaseri, a creamy, mild, mostly sheep’s milk, semi-hard cheese not too unlike a sharp cheddar. Another one I enjoyed was a Nigella seed studded cheese also from Naxos that was dry and crumbly but had a very floral flavor. There were ones that I didn’t particularly like such as a Manoura Sifno Gylomeni, a full fat sheep’s milk hard cheese aged in wine sediments (Lees) from the island of Sifnos that really had an overpowering pungent flavor. There was also a Melipasto, a sea-washed cheese made on the island of Limnos that had been soaked in honey. The sweetness of the honey didn’t even tame the peppery flavor of this hard cheese. It was really too hot and spicy for my tastes. Artisanal cheeses aside, one of my favorites was the regular packaged feta cheese that we enjoyed every day, Plataion brand, which can be found in the grocery store. It’s mild, not too salty and perfect for just eating with just about everything.
While we were trying cheeses, the red wine was flowing and some lovely varieties passed through our lips. I especially enjoyed the Paros Moraitis and the Estate Theodorakakos Mavroudi wines. I hope that I will be able to find them here in NYC.
Needless to say, I slept very well that night.