Living, cooking and feasting in sunny Crete

A fertile land combined with the joy of living is always a winning combination. Such is the case of Crete. Published by Kedros, Diana Farr Louis’s «Feasting & Fasting in Crete – Delicious Mediterranean Recipes» offers numerous ideas on cooking, while at the same time presenting an overall view of the culinary traditions of the island’s different regions. This includes a short gastronomic history of Crete, going back to the Minoan civilization, through to the Byzantines and Arabs and then on to the Venetians and the Turks, as well as useful information on the island’s highly acclaimed goods, such as olive oil, cheese, olives, herbs, raki and wine. From pies to pasta, poultry and preserves, Farr Louis sheds light on local ways, but also shares personal anecdotes and stories of what she experienced during her stay in Crete. Furthermore, she brings along the recipes’ owners, offering them the opportunity to share some of their secrets. An American in Athens Farr Louis has lived in Greece for the last 30 years, after leaving her native New York City. In Greece, she began by putting to use her special interest in food and travel, by writing chapters for guidebooks. In 1995, together with June Marinos, she was the co-author of «Prospero’s Kitchen,» an edition dedicated to Ionian cooking. Fascinated by regional cooking, Farr Louis decided to turn this venture into a series. Even before the Cretan diet began making local and global headlines as part of the larger healthy Mediterranean diet, Farr Louis began working on the book. She started out reading in various libraries and then decided to head to the island and spend a few days there in order to find out if the book was worth pursuing. «It took me two days to realize that this was a gold mine,» said the author to Kathimerini English Edition. «I discovered so many different kinds of things that you don’t come across on the mainland, for instance, dozens of sorts of pies. Also, this great knack of mixing unexpected ingredients together, such as fish with artichokes, octopus with green olives and fennel as well, not to mention the incredible things they do with pumpkins.» And so the author began building on a rich material of starters, main courses and desserts, including local bruschetta, sea-urchin salad, traditional kallitsounia pastries and their basic filling, Sfakian fried rabbit, snails with bulgur, as well as pancakes, pumpkin baklava, cherry pudding and lemonade. Simple but delicious «In Crete they say, ‘Vale oti vreis,’ in other works, put in whatever you have,» said Farr Louis. «What is essential here is that their cooking is absolutely good, the vegetables are superb, the cheese is great and the olive oil is fantastic. The recipes are relatively simple and you really need these good ingredients for it to work.» «Feasting & Fasting in Crete,» however, is as much about the recipes as it is about the island’s people. Following an introduction in Athens, Farr Louis went on to meet many Cretans who, in turn, introduced her to friends and relatives. «On the way I discovered all these life stories, these very interesting and wonderful people,» she said. «And I decided that I could not do the definitive book of Cretan recipes, but a tribute to all these people I met and bring the island alive through its people as well as the recipes.» On sale at major bookstores such as Compendium and Eleftheroudakis, the book’s Greek version is expected to join the original English edition later on this month. Raisin cake Siteia, the largest town in eastern Crete, must be the raisin capital of Greece. Whether white or black, its raisins are large and juicy and have inspired dozens of original and delectable cakes and sweets. The following recipe comes from a woman lucky enough to use her own raisins when she bakes this. The cake has a toffee-like crunchiness on the outside, while the inside reminds one of old-fashioned wedding cake, though moister and even more succulent. Ingredients 300 grams (2 cups) golden raisins 60 ml (1/4 cup) raki or brandy about 420 grams (3 cups) flour 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon 240 ml (1 cup) olive oil 200 grams (1 cup) sugar 120 ml (1/2 cup) fresh orange juice 1 tablespoon baking soda, dissolved in the orange juice grated peel of 1 orange 120 ml (1/2 cup) soda water 150 grams (1 cup) chopped walnuts (optional) Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Soak the raisins in the brandy for about 10 minutes and then chop them in the food processor. Sift the flour and spices together into a bowl. In a separate, larger bowl, using an electric mixer if you have one, beat together the olive oil and sugar until creamy and slowly add the orange juice along with the grated peel, soda water, brandy-soaked raisins and chopped walnuts. Stir in the flour, a little at a time, until you have a thick batter. Slide it into a lightly oiled springform cake pan (24cm/9.5-inch diameter) and bake for about one hour. Serves 10.

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