Dakos, also called koukouvagia or koukouvayia (κουκουβάγια) or, in the east of Crete, kouloukopsomo (κουλουρα ψωμι ) is the true pride of the Cretan culinary art, and one of the most popular mezedhes of the island.
How to prepare dakos?
Dakos consists of a slice of cracked barley bread, called paximadi, that is moistened and garnished with crushed or grated ripe tomato and crumbled feta or mizithra cheese. It is flavored with oregano and garnished with olives as well as a generous dose of extra virgin olive oil, preferably from Crete.
Although it is quite difficult to find paximadi outside Greece, you can now purchase it on many websites or, better yet, prepare it at home.
Meze in Crete
Meze is a very important culinary tradition, that has existed on the Kingdom of Candia, as it was called by the Venetians who have dominated the island for 465 years. It is a collective ritual that no Cretan would ever dare to question.
This tradition brings back to the former splendor of the banquets of the Ottoman era, which offered guests an infinite choice of small dishes, to seduce the eyes well before the palate, because of the diversity, shapes, and colors of the different dishes.
Mezedes are delicacies that are ubiquitous throughout Greece. A meze consists of a series of appetizers, served hot or cold, to toast in good company, while sipping preferably a local brandy, such as an iced raki or the famous ouzo.
In addition to traditional sauces such as tzatziki or ktipiti, the Cretan mezedhes offer some unusual dishes, such as saligaria or hokhlii, which consist in snails stewed with herbs and tomato sauce, that extremely famous in Greece, and boubouristi, also snails that are fried and sprinkled with wine or vinegar.
Among the countless Cretan mezedes, you will find the Greek salad, taramosalata, dolmades (stuffed vine leaves) or all sorts of filo pastries such as spanakopita (spinach), tyropita (cheese), or the kreatopita (meat).
The Cretan diet or Mediterranean diet
Cretan cuisine is the most typical example of the high quality Mediterranean diet and is, according to scientific research, the main reason why Cretans live longer and are healthy. The Cretan diet is undoubtedly one of the most valuable treasures of the island.
In the 1960s, the American researcher, Ancel Keys, undertook a research study in seven countries: Finland, the United States, the Netherlands, Italy, the former Yugoslavia, Japan and Greece. His research was designed to find out in which of these countries had the lower incidence of cardiovascular disease and cancer, and to find the country with the lowest mortality rate.
After 25 years of observation, the researchers concluded that Crete had the lowest percentages of deaths related to these pathologies among these countries.
The population of Crete has not only registered the smallest number of deaths from cancer and coronary heart disease, but also a high percentage of people who have lived for a very long time. The number of deaths from these diseases was so low compared to other countries that researchers immediately wanted to discover the secret of the Cretan population where men could live longer and better than anywhere else. In the following decades, other research studies have yielded the same extraordinary results.
If you analyze the foods of this rich and tasty diet, you will find that there is no lack of nutrients.
After years of research, it has been discovered that Cretans, for 35 centuries or since the Minoan civilization, ate almost the same way. Indeed, the Cretan diet has not changed much over the centuries; historically, Cretans have always only consumed what their land has produced.
The fertile soil of the island allows to find healthy, local and seasonal food, large quantities of fruits and vegetables, cereals such as wheat and barley, legumes such as lentils, beans and chickpeas, fresh herbs, nuts, olives of excellent quality.
The Cretan diet also includes yogurt and cheese made from sheep’s milk and goat’s milk, a wide variety of fish, honey, wine but few meats.
Cretans know how to celebrate their gastronomic culture and local products, cook with passion, follow traditional recipes, then savor dishes without haste and in good company, which is another secret of the Cretan diet.
In summary, the Mediterranean diet is a healthy diet, it is a philosophy of life that unites:
– Daily exercising.
– The consumption of fresh, local and seasonal food with minimal processing.
– Vegetable foods (olives, wild herbs, local vegetables).
– Fresh herbs.
– Fresh fruits for dessert or as a snack.
– Nuts and seeds
– Dairy products (mainly sheep and goat cheese and yogurt)
– Chicken or other poultry.
– A maximum of 4 eggs per week.
– The consumption of red meat once a week.
– Moderate consumption of wine during and outside meals.
– The consumption of desserts containing honey and/or sugar several times a week.
– The consumption of bread.
– The use of extra virgin olive oil as the main source of fat.
Cretan olive oil
Olive trees are one of the main features of the island of Crete since ancient times and they have been producing fruits for centuries. Cretan olive oil is the most refined in the world and is an important part of the Cretan diet.
The history of olive oil
It is also called green gold. Since the dawn of time, the man and the olive tree have had very close ties. Many testimonies are found in very old manuscripts.
The origin of the olive tree can be traced in the Eastern Mediterranean region. The earliest traces have been found in Israel, specifically Haifa, dating back to the fifth millennium BC.
The olive tree then traveled to Egypt, Crete, Attica (Greece) and the entire Mediterranean basin thanks to the Phoenicians, Greeks and Romans. In fact, it was the Greeks who introduced it in Italy around 1000 BC. It was the Etruscans who cultivated it and gave its name to its most precious fruit: eleiva (oil).
The first techniques of production and conservation of olive oil, strictly extra virgin, are on the other hand, the work of the Greeks and Romans, techniques that have not changed for centuries.
We owe the popularity of the olive tree mainly to these two peoples who, during the expansion of their empire, exported this much loved plant. Thus, the olive tree has come first in many European countries, and especially in France and Spain.
In regions with a Mediterranean climate, the plant has found a fertile soil, so much so that it has become an integral part of the landscape and the typical production of many territories, as for example, until today in Italy.
Also in the eighteenth century, Franciscan missionaries brought the first olive trees to the New World, but it is only 100 years later that olive oil was also marketed in America, thanks to Italian and Greek immigrants.
In the second half of the twentieth century, due to the economic boom, olive oil began to be considered as a poor ingredient and for several years was replaced by richer animal fats.
Olive oils are classified according to the production method, the acidity level and the taste that are indicated on the packaging.
– Extra virgin olive oil is by far the best olive oil, with a wonderful aroma and taste. Its acidity can not exceed 1%.
– Virgin olive oil has a pleasant taste and smell and its acidity must be equal to or less than 2%.
– Olive oil is a blend of virgin and refined olive oil. It has a pleasant taste and aroma, a pale yellow color and an acidity of more than 2%.
Today, on the shelves of all supermarkets, there are dozens of olive oils claiming extra-virgin, of different brands and from many mills.
What is extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)?
First, we should emphasize that an oil is “virgin” when it comes from a single crushing of the olive and the extraction of the oil by a mechanical action, and this, so not to alter the product.
Extra virgin olive oil which, for its part, has other very technical and specific characteristics, in particular a degree of acidity (expressed as oleic acid) of less than 0.8 to 1 gram per 100 grams, must especially be cold pressed. Any other pressing technique modifies the oil values.
Know that artisanal olive oil should absolutely be preserved! Compared to industrial products, which are often less “pure”, artisanal oil retains all its properties and benefits.
What are the benefits of olive oil?
Theories about the benefits of olive oil for health have been known since antiquity, but it is only in the last century that science has confirmed all of these.
First, it is rich in unsaturated fats, which promote the elimination of cholesterol, reducing the risk of stroke and heart attack. Numerous studies have demonstrated the anti-inflammatory effects of olive oil.
In addition, thanks to the high amount of vitamin E, vitamin C, polyphenols, chlorophylls and carotenoids, the oil is able to slow the action of free radicals, making it a true elixir of eternal youth.
Recent research has even shown that frequent consumption of olive oil prevents the formation of cancers of the colon and breast. Widely acclaimed by the Cretan diet, you will understand that olive oil has undeniable advantages.
Although it is better to diversify our oils daily, olive oil is still the healthiest and most interesting from a health point of view.
Like the famous bruschetta, the typical antipasto of Italian cuisine or pa amb tomaquet of regional Spanish cuisines, dakos is a delicious recipe, full of sunshine.
- 8 slices of paximadi (or country bread crackers)
- 4 tomatoes , peeled, seeded and crushed
- 8 tablespoons crumbled feta (or fresh crumbled Crete goat cheese mizithra)
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- Extra virgin olive oil (fruity)
- Juice of a lemon
- Black olives
- Black pepper , freshly ground
Wet each paximadi on all sides by passing them very quickly under cold tap water.
Place in a dish with the crumb side on top.
Sprinkle with a little lemon juice and a generous amount of olive oil.
On each paximadi, place the tomato and season with salt.
Place the crumbled feta (or crumbled mizithra) on top.
Season with black pepper.
Sprinkle with oregano and with olive oil again.
Sprinkle with black olives.
Wait 30 minutes before eating so that the bread is well soaked.