Thursday, July 16, 2015

Tzatziki recipe & a trip to Greece!

I just graduated from university for the second time! Yay! This time with a bachelor's degree in Food Science & Nutrition! It has been a very challenging journey to study in a language I've just learnt (Swedish) and in a country where I am still a bit of a stranger. So my husband decided to treat me with a trip to Greece, a country I have always wanted to visit.

We found a direct flight to Santorini. We knew we wanted to see another island and chanced upon Ios because it was only a 40 minute's ferry from Santorini. It's notorious for being a party island but we learned that it had a lot to offer us, especially as we were there mid-season. While we had booked all our accommodation beforehand, we had no clue where we would reside in Ios! It was very much living on the edge for us! So we went directly to the tourist information as soon as we set foot onto Ios and the lady recommended a really expensive hotel. We decided to explore a little instead and as we were walking, a lady in a van slowed down, seeing our luggage in toe, asked if we needed a place to stay as she had two options to show us on the other side of town. I was skeptical and worried but hey, what's life without risks? We told her we wanted to be by the beach since that's what we saw when we hopped off the ferry. She promised that she would take us to an even better beach and she didn't disappoint. Her studio was a minute away from Mylopotas beach and as soon as she opened the door to the balcony, we were sold. It was a stunning view of the turquoise beach and the mountains surrounding it. What a serendipitous event! We will always return to Ios Memories and the owner suggested May, June and September as the best times to visit. She was even kind enough to drop us back to the ferry at the end of our trip.

The first thing we did was head to the beach. Now I am not a beach person at all, I don't like seaweed or animals brushing past my feet while swimming and I like to see the water. My goodness has Mylopotas beach spoiled me rotten! The sand was smooth, soft and white, the water was crystal clear, to the point that you could see tiny fish swimming around. It was shallow and the waves were gentle, the water warm. Swimming in a beach will never be the same again! ! ! I think I found heaven.

The wild greens called horta, eggplant bake, tomato fritters and Dakos
After our swim, we walked back to our studio (a 2 minute walk!) to shower and then ate our first meze. I had read about horta, wild greens harvested from the mountains, and called "boiled greens" on the menus -- it tastes a bit like spinach but slightly bitter, best enjoyed with lots of lemon juice. It was lusciously verdant and wholesome, I really relished it! The Greeks really know how to treat eggplant, so we ordered a baked version, and stuffed tomatoes and tzatziki and dakos, a type of bruschetta with barley rusk (you could also make it with my rye rusks!), feta, olive oil, tomatoes and herbs, delicious! There wasn't a meal in Greece that we didn't enjoy, and if you're into meze, you won't have a problem finding food as a vegetarian.

Grape leaves with rice, local chickpea fritters, fava puree with local capers & stuffed tomatoes with a side of giant beans. Plus DharmaCo Tara sunglasses!  
Having heard so much about Ios as a party town, we were surprised that our June-end visit was greeted by such a laid-back crowd. We walked up to Chora, the main town in Ios (just a 20 minute walk from our studio) and found that there weren't many tourists at all and the entire village was utterly photogenic. We ooohhed and ahhed and gasped and sighed at every corner. We walked all the way up to the main blue-topped domed church and saw such extraordinary views without having anyone else sneak into our photos. It was really perfect.

Another meze that everyone must try is fava - it's a local dried lentil grown around Greece and more popular than hummus in Santorini and Ios. (In fact, we didn't eat hummus even once as we relished fava so much.) It's usually garnished with tomatoes, onion and locally grown capers. I enjoyed mine with lemon or vinegar. Tip: If you're a vegetarian, eat iron-rich meals like fava and falafel with some raw vegetables, so that their vitamin C helps with iron absorption. In addition, limit foods with calcium (like cheese, spinach and broccoli) as calcium inhibits iron absorption. Of course you don't have to worry about it so much when you're on vacation, but it's important to keep in mind.

I've been enamored by bougainvillea ever since I left India, where it grew in my grandparents' garden. I've seen it in many warm places like Bombay, California, Florida, Tuscany, but oh my, in Greece, I think they've really embraced it. The trajectory of magenta bougainvillea by the white washed houses and the turquoise sea is just breathtakingly beautiful and admirable in every way.

Oia, Greece

Ios was a beach vacation, a calm island with stunning beauty, and Santorini, while also extraordinary, was filled with tourists and was a lot more pricey and commercial. I thought I wouldn't mind all that but after visiting Ios, I marked the difference. Must-see in Santorini is Oia, where the famous windmill and blue churches are photographed by the turquoise sea. Fira is the main busy village, a bit too touristy for us but definitely a must-see anyway! We lived in Imerovigli, a smaller, calmer village overlooking the caldera (the sea surrounding mountains where a volcano had erupted a few thousand years ago). The hotel Remezzo had the best 3-course breakfast I've ever had. Their menu changed daily. Day 1, we ate a poached egg salad with feta, spinach pie, bread & pastries, orange juice and coffee. Day 2 it was mushroom pie, boiled egg, Greek yogurt, bread & pastries, orange juice and coffee. Their luxurious rooms had stunning views and there was even a small swimming pool overlooking the view.

The last two days in Santorini were spent in Kamari Beach, famous for its black volanic pebbles. The waves were much stronger and you needed special shoes to swim because the pebbles were a bit sharp to walk on. It was all very beautiful anyway as it was juxtaposed by a large mountain containing a bit of Ancient Thira. We stayed at Hotel Zeus where the staff were so friendly and informative. It was a family-owned hotel and the daughter gave us her father's homegrown tomatoes to take back with us. Such generosity is rare! Our hotel also had a large pool and was literally a minute away from the beach.

Santorini is a volcanic island so the soil is special and vegetables grown there reflect this difference. The tomatoes are grown without pesticides and without much water and are luscious and sweet. The white eggplant, which can also be eaten raw, are mild, sweet and without many seeds. The capers are just lovely. Horta is basically now my favorite leafy green, and to hear that they forage for them around the mountains makes it that more romantic. The white wine using Santorini grapes were a pleasure to drink. I hope Greece's politics settle down in a happy way because it's a stunning country that I want to go back to over and over again.

Mylopotas Beach, Ios
A friend asked me to bring tzatziki to our midsummer festivities. I wanted it to taste like a celebration of a garden, so if you have access to fresh herbs and flowers, use them! I used organic rose petals that are sold as tea, which were just perfect in the tzatziki as well!
Serves 4-6 

2 cups / 4 dl Turkish yogurt
1 small clove of garlic, finely minced
1 tsp / tsk sumac
1/2 tsp / tsk dried mint
1 tbs / msk fresh dill, finely chopped
1 tbs / msk chives, finely chopped
1 scallion (both the white and green part), finely sliced
1/2 cup of romaine or iceberg lettuce (you could also use cucumber!)
Himalayan salt to taste
A squeeze of lemon
1 tsp / tsk rose water
Chive flowers for garnish
Dried rose petals for garnish
A dash of rose water
Your best extra virgin olive oil for garnishing

1. In your prettiest bowl, mix the yogurt, garlic, sumac, mint, dill, chives, scallions, lettuce, salt, lemon juice and rose water together. Taste and adjust salt and acidity. When everything tastes perfect, garnish as you like with chives, rose petals and olive oil.

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