Not An Island But A Continent: Cretan Cuisine

Despite Being An Island, Crete, The Mediterranean’s Fifth Largest, Unlike It Counterparts Is Known Worldwide For Its Cuisine.

In the last thirty years especially, when eating right for good health has become a slogan, Cretan cuisine has come in for even more attention. It is a cuisine in which the island’s natural nutrients undoubtedly play a key role.  Extremely conservative when it comes to food, the islanders’ diet is firmly based on local and seasonal produce and that sine qua non, olive oil. In fact, as much as the food consumed, the way it is consumed compounds its health benefits.  Unlike westerners, Cretans do not eat their food in the order of appetizer, main dish and dessert. With the exception of desserts, all dishes hot and cold are placed on the table at once and shared by everyone alike. A traditional Cretan consumes three times as much olive oil as his American counterparts, and one and a half times as much as his fellow Mediterraneans. He consumes no animal fats or oilseeds whatsoever and uses nothing but pure olive oil. Not only that, most of that olive oil is consumed not in cooked dishes but on salads or as an accompaniment to the island’s famous breadsticks.  Seafood too is prepared simply in Crete. It absolutely never drowned in tomato sauce, for example. Sun-dried octopus merely grazes the grill, and shrimp are never cooked any other way…. Ditto for fish. Grown in season in the beneficent Aegean climate without the touch of human hands, herbs and vegetables are consumed only in season in Crete. In the past Cretans ate very little meat although the same cannot be said of people living in Crete today since they do love lamb. But meat is served only at celebrations and on special days. You can find out all about the cultural dimensions of Cretan cuisine and its connections with Izmir cuisine in the book, Izmir Cuisine From Past to Present, by the distinguished food writer, Nedim Atilla. I would like to thank him and the Food Arts Center for their contributions.


3 bunches marsh samphire, juice of one and a half lemons, 4 cloves of garlic, 1/4 cup virgin olive oil.

Soak the marsh samphire in vinegar water for two hours without removing the stems. Then wash well and toss into boiling water. About 20 minutes later when the green parts begin to separate from the roots, drain and let cool. While still warm add the olive oil and crushed garlic. To keep green, add lemon juice just before serving.


500 gr broad beans,
50 gr green onions,
1 carrot,
30 gr olive oil, 1 tsp sugar, 2 close of garlic, 1 tsp salt, 1 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill, 1 tbsp flour.

Shell the broad beans. Cut the carrot in julienne strips and saute in a pot with the garlic. In a separate bowl mix the flour with the lemon juice and 2 cups of water and pour over the sauteed mixture. Add the shelled broad beans, green onions, salt and sugar and bring to a boil. Cook until tender, then cool. Add the chopped fresh dill and serve.


2 red bell peppers, 4 tbsp yoghurt, 2 cloves of garlic, olive oil.

Roast and skin the peppers. Cut in strips. Crush the garlic and mix well with the yoghurt. Spread the garlic yoghurt over the roasted peppers and drizzle with olive oil.


20 squash blossoms,
2 cups rice, 1 cup liquid oil,
7 onions, 1 tbsp pine nuts,
2 tbsp currants, 1/2 bunch flat leaf parsley, 1 tbsp dried mint, salt to taste,
1 tsp each cinnamon, allspice, black pepper and sugar, juice of 1 lemon.

Pick the squash blossoms early, remove the stamen and pistils and wash. Grate the onions and saute with the pine nuts until they begin to color. Add the cleaned and rinsed rice and stir a few times. To this mixture add 2 cups hot water and cook over medium heat until the water is absorbed. Let steep for 10-15 minutes. Add the finely chopped parsley, dried mint, cleaned currants, cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, salt, sugar and lemon juice and mix well. Stuff the squash blossoms with the rice mixture and close by folding over the petals. Arrange in a pot with water as needed and cook 5-10 minutes. Drizzle with 1/8 cup olive oil and remove to a serving platter.