When your cities can trace their histories back 4,000 years and they’re located in fabled Macedonia – land of Alexander the Great, Aristotle and Mount Olympus – “legendary” is not an inflated superlative.
Divided into three sections, Central Macedonia is the location for not only Thessaloniki and Halkidiki, but to the more northerly cities of Serres and Kilkis both steeped in history, natural beauty, wine and fine dining.
Read more in my travel column for the April edition of the Hellenic News of America…
The whole idea of Food Paths Tinos, Giorgos says, was “to keep the chain of knowledge alive from one generation to another.”
Soft spoken, young, relaxed, model handsome Giorgos Amoiralis quietly explains how an idea morphs into a phenomenon. We’re at lunch at Bourou Restaurant in Chora on Tinos Island in the northern Cyclades. The brilliant October sun gleams off the Aegean illuminating both the fine cuisine and the mesmerizing conversation.
More than once, I admit, my eyes misted over during lunch. Food Paths’ mission is not saving lives; it’s saving a heritage. Over the past six years as I’ve traveled Greece during its on-going economic problems and, yes, the brain drain of highly educated young people, I’ve experienced a resilience from the first visit. Today many Greek youth are looking back to what made their great grandparents thrive and survive.
They are looking at the 5,000-year-old heritage of Greece and bringing it into the 21st century, from learning the age-old skill of marble crafts, vineyards reviving thought-to-be extinct grape varieties to actively seeking new commercial opportunities for the unique agricultural products of the varied regions that comprise Greece.
Food Paths Tinos is a gastronomic event to get producers, farmers and restaurants to communicate and create “a huge table where all food traditions are brought together to make things better.” They don’t come to sell, but to become friends. (Old Greek saying: “Food is an excuse to get together with friends.”)
Started in 2014, it already attracts bloggers, food critics and chefs from around Greece. It has grown from a small gathering of food professionals to an island event. Food tastings, cooking demonstrations and the chance for the community to interact with professionals committed to Food Paths Tinos has helped increase demand for local products encouraging more young entrepreneurs to look at the land and what it provides for their future. Held in the second week of May, Food Paths Tinos has grown since 2014 from a volunteer staff of 50 to 150 to manage what has virtually become a festival.
Yet it was Giorgos’ understated passion for what he and a few friends set in motion that he recognizes transcends the original intention. What has held Greece together for millenniums has been the power of family and community. The violence, disruptions and social changes of the 20th century did much to undermine that foundation. Even on islands where everyone knows about everyone, isolation develops; knowing about everyone isn’t the same as knowing everyone.
Tinos Island farmers, cheese makers, cured meat producers and preserved local foods in shops have all experienced increasing demand. Yet Food Paths, Giorgos (owner of EXO Catering) and the other lunch guests said, has energized the community of Tinos. Not only have professionals in the field become friends, rather than simply associates, but the commonality of food has created new friendships and an understanding of the importance of maintaining local Greek food traditions among islanders.
During my four days on Tinos I experienced the islander’s pride in their local foods, especially among the restaurants. Tasoula Kouli and Antonis Zotali of Bourou Restaurant hosted lunch in Hora and it was a virtual menu of Tinos Island.
Malathouni with sun-dried tomatoes and capers: Malathouni is a cow’s milk cheese. The curds are separated from the whey before packing into cloth-lined baskets for a day. The cheese is then removed and hung in cloth to dry for 20 days.
Louza sausage with the wild green kitrena: Louza sausage is a specialty of the northern Cyclades. It’s cured with salt and then red wine. After curing it’s sprinkled with pepper, allspice, fennel, cloves and savory and finally pressed into wide intestine and hung to dry in the air 20 to 25 days. It’s served cut into very thin slices.
Bourou Restaurant’s Tinian Earth salad: Aged Malathouni (more than 20 days) tomatoes, white and black-eyed beans, lettuce, rocket, chickpeas and lentils.
Stuffed Eggplant salad: Bourou has taken a traditional eggplant spread, where the ingredients would have been pureed, and deconstructed it as a salad. Per salad, half an eggplant with skin is pan fried until soft. The eggplant is scooped out reserving the skin “cup.” Chopped tomatoes, onion, dill, mint, parsley, salt, pepper, sugar, garlic, olives and olive oil are tossed with the cooked eggplant and served in the eggplant skin cup.
Braised Lamb with pureed artichokes and roast potatoes: The lamb is marinated overnight in orange and lemon juice, thyme, mustard, garlic and olive oil. It’s then braised and slow roasted in a ceramic pot with the potatoes at low heat.
For the artichoke puree: cook the artichokes and then cut away the leaves until there is only the heart. Boil three times as much weight potatoes and carrots as artichokes. Drain the vegetables reserving a ½ cup cooking liquid. Puree all three with olive oil and a little cooking liquid if necessary. The combination of savory lamb and potatoes with sweet artichokes was a tasty match.
Dessert was rich, creamy homemade French vanilla ice cream with sour cherry sauce. The contrasting sweet/sour flavors were terrific.
Lunch at Bourou Restaurant coupled by inspiring conversation with Giorgos Amoiralis boosts my optimism even more that the future of Greece is in encouraging its youth to plow their roots back into the economy. In 2014 Food Paths Tinos started as a way for farmers and restaurant owners to get together. In four short years it energized Tinos Island community pride. Just imagine how such passion could stimulate a nation.
When you go: Tinos Island is easily reached by ferries from the nearby Athens ports of Piraeus and Rafina.
Gianakis Bay gleamed in the afternoon sun as my guide from the Municipality of Tinos Island, Adriana Flores Bórquez, and I entered the bay front Ο Ντίνος Restaurant. As so often in Greece you may find the spelling in the Latinized Greek alphabet, O Ntinos, or in English, The Dinos. No matter the spelling, Ο Ντίνος could not be in a more advantageous location for one of Tinos Island’s leading seafood and fish tavernas.
Chef/Owner Antonis Bambakaris had prepared a special menu for Adriana and I on this weekday afternoon since this was off-season when most restaurants are closed, although Ο Ντίνος was open on weekends. The attractive stone and wood building with a wide open terrace hugs the bay.
Kavavia is a traditional Tinos fish soup with an aromatic broth and lots of gavors – small fish – and a variety of other fish, rice, tomatoes, potatoes and carrots. The fish and vegetables are removed and arranged on a hot platter. The broth is served separately with the platter of fish and vegetables shared by the table.
Regosalatais a herring spread made from pureed potatoes, grilled herring, carrots, onion and a touch of tarama. Grilling the herring imparts a subtle smoky flavor to the spread.
A salad of louza, cheese, sundried tomatoes, lettuce, balsamic and cashew nuts was a study in flavors and textures: aged louza, a prosciutto-like cured ham that’s native of the neighboring island of Mykonos, concentrated tomato being sun dried and chruchy, rich chashew’s made this a luxury salad.
For an additional texture, the sun dried tomatoes can be dipped in a batter (consistency of pancake batter) made with ouzo, tsipouro or raki, water, salt and flour then fry in oil until coating is crispy. These can also be served as their own meze.
Gavors are small fish similar to herring, sardines or anchovies. They are high in Omega fatty acids and often added to soups, such as the Kavavia, fried or sautéed as in Chef Bambakaris dish topping red onion, cherry tomatoes and capers on Greek fava bean spread.
A dish of chickpeas was slowly cooked with zucchini, onions, parsley and cherry tomatoes. It was reminiscent of Middle Eastern dishes, which is not surprising considering the millenniums old trade routes between the Middle East and Greece.
Like most chefs, several of his dishes are his own recipes, and Antonis Bambakaris shared the basic preparation – although not the actual measurements for the ingredients. An imaginative cook should be able to recreate these three dishes:
Artichoke hearts with capers:
Trim fresh artichokes until you have the cup of the heart.
Place in a bowl or zip-lock bag the hearts, sunflower seed oil, white wine vinegar, juice of at least one large lemon and a generous teaspoon of sea salt. Marinate for at least 3 hours.
Bring a pot with 1 quart of water to a boil and add the hearts and marinade and boil for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool in the broth. The artichoke hearts can be kept covered and refrigerated for up to one year in the broth.
To serve, remove from the broth and arrange on plates. Drizzle with olive oil, capers and parsley.
Caramalized Octopus with honey garnished with cherry tomatoes and carrot puree:
Simmer the octopus using a ratio of 1 pound octopus (cut in serving pieces) in a boiling stock of 1/3rd cup white vinegar, 2 quarts water, a couple bay leaves and ½ a cinnamon stick. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes.
In a large pan sauté onions until translucent along with slivered green peppers and sliced carrots. Then add seedless golden raisins and a clove of garlic. Sauté for several minutes more. Add some honey (preferably Greek thyme honey) and white wine, and reduce to a glaze consistency.
Drain the octopus but reserve the broth. Add the octopus to the vegetables and cook for an additional 5 to 10 minutes adding a little broth to maintain a glaze that will coat the octopus.
For the carrot puree: While the above vegetables are being sautéed, bring a pot of cold water to a boil. In proportion to the weight of peeled and sliced carrots, add 1/3rd as much cubed potatoes, 1/3rd as much chopped onions and clove of garlic chopped. Reduce heat to a simmer for 30 minutes or until tender.
While vegetables are steaming, in a small sauté pan add balsamic vinegar and grated orange and lemon zest. Reduce the balsamic by half. Add some Tabasco sauce to taste. Keep the sauce warm.
Reserve a cup of cooking liquid. Drain the vegetables and mash until a smooth consistency adding just enough cooking liquid to achieve that texture.
Have some chopped pistachio nuts and grape tomatoes in reserve.
Assemble by dividing the octopus pieces on serving plates and surround with the carrot puree. Top with a portion of the vegetable glaze, drizzle with reduced balsamic and garnish with pistachio nuts. Arrange a few grape tomatoes around the plate and serve.
Calamari: (whole baby the best, tentacles separated).
Sauté the Calamari in oil, garlic, onions, bay leaf and green pepper until the natural liquids evaporate.
Remove the bay leaf.
Add some white wine, dijon mustard, and a bit of sugar to make a nice sauce. Don’t overcook octopus or calamari. Test to see when fork tender.
Serve over steamed wild and/or brown rice.
Of course, dessert cannot be forgotten. A fresh homemade banana ice cream topped the lunch. Chef Bambakaris’ wife made the ice cream.
A nine course mid-afternoon lunch is not unusual for Greece, especially when enjoying leisure time in the Cyclades Islands. Tinos Island, one of the most northerly of the Cyclades, excels in high quality restaurants, cultural sites and fascinating geology. Come for the beauty and serenity of Tinos; be sustained by fine cuisine at Ο Ντίνος while being mesmerized by the sun illuminating the Aegean Sea.
When you go: Tinos Island is easily reached by ferries from the nearby Athens ports of Piraeus and Rafina.
A few people told me earlier that half a day was enough to appreciate Tinos. I’m not sure what they meant by “appreciate.” After four days I felt I’d barely skimmed the surface of the cultural and gastronomic delights of this northern Greek Cyclades Island.
My guide, Adriana Flores Bórquez, had planned an ambitious itinerary that could easily have stretched over a week, but we did manage to accomplish all and a bit more. Yet it’s impossible to write about everything this island has to offer in one article. Since gastronomy is such an essential part of Greek life, the island’s wines, beer, spirits, cheeses and sausages are part of what gives Tinos its unique character.
It’s appropriate that an ancient fruit should have a close relationship with an ancient town. Both the pomegranate and Ermioni have been part of recorded history for millennium. Situated in the southeast Peloponnese, the Kranidi region of the Peloponnese is an agriculture powerhouse for Greece especially olives & pomegranate.
The annual Pomegranate Festival in Ermioni held the end of October featured delicious juices, liquors, the seeds, pomegranate inspired art and of course the fruit itself. But the whole town was involved especially the restaurants featuring pomegranate inspired dishes. In Greek mythology the pomegranate was known as the “fruit of the dead,” but it seemed very much alive in Ermioni.
Maria’s on the waterfront this weekend offered a tasty bowl of Greek yogurt topped with apples, thyme honey and pomegranate seeds for breakfast.
One of the more fascinating parts of the Festival were the cooking demonstrations by chef’s from the local area. One dish in particular caught everyone’s attention, and was his original. I would call it a “buckwheat risotto.”
Buckwheat Risotto – approximately 4 servings
1 & 1/2 cups buckwheat
2 & ¼ cups water
(Note: that’s the end of measurements for this dish. Simply increase buckwheat and water if you want more than four servings and play with ratios of honey and pomegranate.)
Cook the buckwheat: Add water to the buckwheat, bring to a boil, then simmer for 20 minutes; Amount after cooking: 4 cups.
thyme honey (at least ¼ a cup)
generous handful of washed, dried and chopped cilantro
juice of one lime
olive oil (at least ½ cup)
salt and pepper to taste
1 pound slivered pork loin in the honey mixture until buckwheat is cooked.
1 pound of sweet onions sliced
Heat a large skillet
Thinly coat with olive oil and then add the onions and caramelize for 10 minutes.
Then add the pork and marinade.
Stir-fry for a couple minutes and then add at least one cup of white wine
Allow the liquid to reduce by 1/3rd then add one Tablespoons dijon mustard.
And add 1/3rd cup pomegranate liqueur
Then add ½ to 1/3rd cup cream.
Stir for a few minutes more add salt and pepper to taste as well as additional pomegranate juice or liqueur until sauce is creamy to taste.
Serve over buckwheat garnished with a good handful of fresh pomegranate seeds and, if desired a sprinkle of feta can be added.
The 2017 Pomegranate Festival coincided with the Greek national patriotic commemoration of Ohi Day celebrated throughout Greece, and the Greek diaspora on 28 October each year. Ohi Day commemorates the rejection by Greek Prime Minister Ioannis Metaxas of the ultimatum for surrender made by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini on 28 October 1940.
Ohi Day is celebrated by honoring the youth of Greece, both in the thousands of young lives sacrificed during the bloody 20th century, but in the respect shown by the generations for each other. School after school band march in precision watched by all while towns honor with certificates those high school graduates granted admission in this ancient nation’s universities. The pomegranate may have been the “fruit of the dead,” but it nourished many. Greece understands that youth is not the future; it’s the present.
When you go: Ermionia is easily reached by high speed ferry from Piraeus. Or it’s approximately a 2 hour drive from Athens on excellent roads with some stunning views.
“Thankfully, we’re starting to pull away from the idea that all Mexican food means burritos as big as your head.” Chef Rick Bayless 1
American Chef Rick Bayless has built his celebrity status on both introducing Mexican regional cuisine to the United States as well as creatively reinterpreting its concepts to a 21st century palate. Naturally the word fusion comes to many people’s mind. Yet fused from where and with what – other ingredients from the Americas?
If you accept that concept – other ingredients from the Americas – than it’s not a fusion (a joining of unknowns) it’s creativity with native sources that form a cuisine of the Americas. It’s estimated that over 50% of commonly eaten foods by North American descendants of European immigrants were unknown to their ancestors prior to 1492 including vanilla, tomatoes, bell peppers, catfish and ducks.
So if we can get beyond the self-imposed value judgment of authentic cuisine – aka a real Italian pizza is only made with (American) tomatoes…? – than perhaps we can revel in our human culinary diversity and sit down to an enjoyable meal full of terrific flavors.
When covering the recent 22nd Festival Gourmet International in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, more than one first time visitor to both Puerto Vallarta and the festival commented how they had “no idea” cuisine in Mexico was so varied? The names of several popular American corporate chains of Tex-Mex food were often cited. The festival’s hallmark was highlighting Mexico’s ever-evolving New World cuisine.
Chef Luis Noriega’s illustrious international career has taken him from Acapulco to European capitals and Chef/Professor at leading Mexican culinary collages. He is chef/owner of Restaurant La Gula in the south central Mexican Pacific coast city of Zihuatanejo. At the November festival Chef Noriega conducted an in-depth daytime cooking workshop and lunch at Puerto Vallarta’s Coco Tropical on the beautiful beachfront Malecon.
Grilled sesame crusted tuna steak on a bed of mint scented vermicelli may not sound Mexican, but more than half the ingredients are indigenous to the Western Hemisphere and the remainder were introduced through European domination more than 500 years ago. So the recipe is as “American as apple pie” – apples are indigenous of central Asia.
Chef Luis Noriega’s Grilled Tuna topping Mint Scented Vermicelli
Ingredients for 4 servings:
500 gr. (16 oz) fresh tuna steaks
to taste fresh ground sea salt & black pepper
100 gr. (3 oz) sesame seeds
50 ml. (3½ tablespoons) olive oil
100 gr. (3 oz) rice vermicelli
50 gr. (1½ tablespoons) unsalted butter
10 each finely chopped leaves of fresh mint
2 each small ripe avocados
2 each green chili piquin – very small HOT chilis – finely minced – or substitute ½ to 1 teaspoon (hot) hot sauce
50 ml. (3½ tablespoons) sour cream
Cook the rice vermicelli according to package directions
Mash the avocados and blend in the chili and sour cream to make either a chunky or a creamy guacamole.
Place the sesame seeds in a bowl, season tuna with salt & pepper and coat the tuna steaks.
Heat (preferably) a cast iron pan, add the olive oil and sear the tuna steaks for a minute or 2 per side until browned but pink in the middle. Transfer to a cutting board.
Drain the rice vermicelli and toss with butter and the mint.
Divide the vermicelli among 4 plates, top with slices of tuna steak and decoratively add a generous garnish of guacamole.
For twenty-two years Puerto Vallarta – a food tourism powerhouse – has hosted the Festival Gourmet International attracting an eclectic and enthusiastic mix of international and Mexican chefs eager to turn the nation’s premium food products into culinary art works. Among many highlights of the 2016 festival were cooking demonstrations, tastings and special festival menus created by guest chefs at A-list Puerto Vallarta restaurants.
Since I have a passion for oysters, two dishes created by Mexican chef Luis Noriega and Japanese-American chef Hiroshi Kawahito were particular favorites. Mexico’s northwest Pacific coast – particularly Puerto Vallarta’s Bay of Banderas and the Gulf of California – produce both excellent oysters and sea urchins.
Chef Heinz Reize has owned the beautiful oceanfront Coco Tropical on the Malecon for years and is a co-founder of Puerto Vallarta’s Festival Gourmet International. Coco Tropical’s guest chef Luis Noriega’s international career has taken him from Acapulco, Europe to owner of Restaurant La Gula in Zihuatanejo. His inspired festival menu for Coco Tropical included grilled oysters over wilted spinach with chipotle hollandaise sauce.
Oysters au gratin with Chipotle Hollandaise Sauce
Ingredients for the oysters:
12 each fresh oysters on the half shell
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves
5 tablespoons dry white wine
1 each shallot, finely chopped
1 each clove garlic, finely chopped
several drops Worchester sauce
pinch black pepper
Ingredients for the Hollandaise Sauce:
4 each egg yolks
10 ounces clarified butter
3 ounces white wine
1 each chipotle chili liquefied in a blender with a small amount of white wine
for the oysters
Shuck oysters but reserve bottom shell. Wash and dry the shells.
Sauté spinach, onion and garlic with 4 tablespoons of butter, salt, pepper and Worchester sauce.
Saute oysters in a seperate pan with the remaining 1 tablespoon butter for 1 minute. Add the white wine and reduce for 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove both pans from the heat but keep warm.
for the Hollandaise Sauce
In a stainless steel bowl set over another pan with hot water beat the egg yolks, white wine and salt with a wire whisk until slightly thickened and creamy.
Slowly add the clarified butter in a thin stream whisking constantly until the sauce is smooth.
Blend in the chili puree.
Divide the spinach among the 12 reserved shells on a baking dish.
Top each with an oyster.
Cover with Hollandaise Sauce.
If you have a gas torch, gently brown the top or place the oysters under the broiler until lightly browned.
Serve immediately with a crisp, dry white wine such as Monte Xanic Sauvignon Blanc from Mexico’s Guadalupe Valley.
Chef Hiroshi Kawahito of Restaurant Zoku in Mexico City epitomizes the international trend that’s creating Mexican New World Cuisine. Born in Japan, grew up in Los Angeles, Chef Kawahito returned to his home country after university studies in architecture. Drawn to Japanese cooking he honed his skills over a decade and a half before returning to Los Angeles.
Despite a successful Los Angeles restaurant experience, Mexico attracted Hiroshi, and Zoku offered a venue for his imaginative Japanese inspired cuisine. During the 22nd annual Festival Gourmet International held in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, he was quest chef at Casa Magna Marriott’s Japanese/pan-Pacific Rim restaurant Mikado.
Chef Kawahito’s recipe for raw oysters with sea urchin and quail eggs is not for the faint of heart. Yet for a true lover of raw food, I enjoyed ever morsel. It’s imperative that the ingredients are as fresh as possible and purchased from shops selling the highest quality ingredients.
Fresh sea urchin is available at Japanese or other specialty seafood markets. If you can’t find fresh sea urchin but want to sample this dish simply double the quantity of salmon caviar, or substitute two tablespoons of golden caviar. Gently wash the quail eggs with warm water and dry before cracking them open.
Raw oysters with sea urchin & quail eggs
12 each fresh oysters on the half shell
2 each sea urchin tongues thinly slivered
2 tablespoons salmon caviar
12 each quail eggs
Shuck the oysters and discard the top shell.
Top each oyster with some sea urchin and ½ teaspoon caviar.
Carefully break a quail egg over each oyster being careful not to break the yolks.
I often don’t think of sake as a dinner wine, but Chef Kawahito dispelled that myth pairing the oysters with a glass of chilled Sawanotsuru Itsuraku Premium Grade Sake. It’s mild umami notes and dry finish were perfect.
When you go:
Puerto Vallarta is served by many international airlines.