I spent 3 weeks traveling in Greece at exactly this time of the year 10 years ago during a very hot summer. I took a boat from southern Italy to the northern Greek island of Corfu. It was a half-day trip but the Adriatic Sea was beautiful and very pleasant.
Corfu is a pretty Island, with the smell of orange in the air and the sound of swallows flying all night. It was a very romantic and exotic place, as if I had landed on an island in Homer’s Odyssey, but with lots of European tourists. From Corfu I took another beautiful boat trip to Patra, a port town on Greece’s Peloponnesian peninsula. From there, via bus and my folding bike, I traveled to Kalamata, Sparta, Mystras and Monenmvasia.
At Mystras, I stayed in a campground for almost a week (the very friendly young wife and husband managers rented me a tent for free). The local village was very cute and the campground had a nice swimming pool, and a café with great, cheap food, where I met many fun visitors from all over Europe. After drinking, cooking, eating, biking, swimming and dancing every day and night, it was very difficult to leave.
After Mystras, I went to Monenmvasia and saw the Aegean Sea for the first time in my life. I fell in love instantly. The water was so mysteriously beautiful, and I thought, I can die here. Then it was off to Crete for a week of fun with nice local people, great food and beaches. After Crete I hopped a boat back to Athens (no fun) then took a train to the northern city of Thessaloniki (I saw Mt. Olympus from the train window and got emotional seeing the gods’ residence).
From Thessaloniki it was a long train ride (4 days) to Sofia, Bucharest, Budapest then Prague, and my trip continued. However, I really loved Greece – the sea, islands, very friendly and generous people... and the FOOD! They use simple ingredients and cooking techniques, but everything is so fresh and tasty. I made many friends and must go back soon.
Souvlaki (soo-vlah-kee) is the term used to describe “little skewers” of meat (lamb, pork and chicken) that are marinated in wine, lemon juice, vinegar, dried oregano, mint, bay leaf and olive oil and then grilled.
Souvlakia are traditionally wrapped in pita bread (called gyros) and served with a variety of condiments - tomato, onion, and Tzatziki sauce. They are also quite delicious as kebabs without the pita bread, and may be served with rice.
Make sure to plan ahead and allow at least 2-3 hours (preferably over night) for the meat to absorb the flavors of the marinade. Omit the wine and vinegar for chicken Souvlaki.
This marinade recipe is for about 1 ½ pounds of pork shoulder and will yield about 6 (9 inch) skewers. The meat can be cut into smaller pieces for small skewers. You may also add some vegetables (pepper, onion, cherry tomatoes) to make colorful skewers.
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup red wine
2 tablespoons red-wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon dried mint (optional)
4 cloves of garlic, smashed and minced
1 bay leaf, crumbled into tiny pieces
1 ½ lb. pork or lamb shoulder or chicken thigh, trimmed of fat and cut into 1 inch cubes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a large non-reactive bowl, whisk all the marinade ingredients together. Add the pork cubes, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2-3 hours (preferably over night).
If using wooden skewers, soak these in a shallow pan filled with water while the meat marinates.
Heat the grill to medium-high. Thread the meat onto the skewers (about 6-7 pieces per skewer). Season the pork with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Grill over medium-high heat for about 7-8 minutes, turning occasionally until they are cooked through. - Squeeze fresh lemon juice on the skewers before serving.
Tangy cool and creamy yogurt cucumber dip flavored with garlic and onion is the perfect accompaniment to grilled meats and vegetables. It's served on the side with warm pita bread for dipping, and is also used as a condiment for Souvlaki.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice or white wine vinegar
2 cloves garlic, minced finely
½ small onion, chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grounded white pepper
1 cup Greek yogurt, strained
½ cup sour cream (optional)
1 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and diced
2 tablespoons, chopped fresh dill
Mix the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, onion, salt, and pepper in a bowl until well combined.
Add the yogurt and the sour cream to the olive oil mixture and mix well.
Finally, add the cucumber and chopped fresh dill. Chill for at least two hours before serving.
Feta Cheese and Roaster Red Bell Pepper Dip; this is another quick and easy dip that combines the sweetness of red peppers and the saltiness of Feta cheese. You may give it more heat by increasing the amount of the red pepper; also you could add some fresh minced garlic.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
2 large red peppers, roasted, peeled, and seeded
1/2 lb. Feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup cream Cheese
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon ground hot red pepper flakes
Roast the red peppers in the oven or on the grill or over gas burner until the skin is blackened and blistered on all sides. Place in a bowl and cover. I allow them to cool for 7-8 minutes, then peel the blackened skin off completely, remove the seeds and chop.
In the bowl of a food processor, add the feta cheese, cream cheese and the chopped peppers. Add the olive oil and lemon juice and process until smooth. Add the paprika and red hot chili and mix until light and creamy.
Eggplant Dip; the tip for a great tasting result is a well-charred eggplant. If possible, cook it over a wood-burning fire or charcoal grill. If you do not have a grill, you may peel the skins and dice the eggplant and sauté in olive oil until brown.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
1 large eggplant or 4-5 Japanese or Italian eggplants
1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil
4 teaspoons of wine vinegar
3 cloves of garlic, minced
freshly ground pepper
Pierce the eggplant with a fork and cut in half length wise. Char on the grill, or over an open flame (alternatively, broil for 10 minutes) until the eggplant turns very soft. Set aside to cool.
As soon as it can be handled, peel by hand (the skin will come off easily), and transfer to a bowl. Chop the pulp into small pieces with a knife, and mash with a fork. Stir in the vinegar and the olive oil slowly until well blended. Stir in garlic, salt, and pepper.
Serve chilled or at room temperature, with pita wedges, slices of crusty bread, and/or fresh vegetables. Garnish with black olives and a sprig of parsley. This goes well with salty cheeses, grilled fish and meat as a side dish.
Lamb Souvlaki Gyro
Friends from Spain
Best Lamb Gyror in Rethimono, Crete.