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Mykonos > > Aegean island cooking June 20, 2006

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Recipes, Greece Islands Aegean.

   Mykonos > The town and the harbor

I fell in love with Mykonos, the tiny Greek island set like a sparkling jewel in the sun-dappled Aegean sea. Approaching from the sea, Mykonos, bathed in brilliant sunshine is fairy tale enchantment.

The year round population is 6,600 and in season the numbers swell to over 100,000. But the island is refreshingly unspoiled. Tiny storefronts leading into bakeries, confectioners, artisan jewelers and art galleries are tucked into narrow alleyways winding steeply uphill. Don’t be surprised if you get lost in the maze. Half a dozen windmills tower over the village — the islander’s landmark. During 19th century Turkish occupation, 28 windmills were in operation making Mykonos an essential stop for passing ships to load up on bread and rusks. Today, the remaining mills have been converted into private homes. Flat-roofed houses, rise tier upon tier up the mountainside resembling a haphazard pile of dazzling snow white sugar cubes. From Mykonos you can see the sacred islet of Delos, one of the religious centers of ancient Greece and the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis. Once there was a large Jewish population in Delos and the islet was a stopover for Jewish sailors on trading routes. Today, you can still see the remnants of one of the synagogues.

But it was the food, simple, fresh and rustic, that makes me yearn to return. Mykonians are warm and hospitable and fiercely dedicated to preserving the traditions of previous generations. Recipes have been handed down from grandmother to mother to daughter so whatever is served is authentic and has stood the test of time. The voluptuous combination of robust olive oils, salty cheeses, crusty breads, cakes dripping with honey, fresh caught sardines fried to a delicate crisp. Vegetarians will delight in the abundance and variety of cheese dishes.

Our friends, Roz Apostolou who with her husband Mikale, own the Hotel Adonis, laughingly explained “Mykonians love to eat — we’ll sit at the table for hours….when one dish is taken from the table, it’s immediately replaced with another.” And so it was as we basked in the sunshine at the Ruvera Café savoring the many courses of a memorable meal. Each dish, based on the enormous variety of dairy products, fresh produce and fruity olive oil was sensational. Olive oil is an essential ingredient. Roz informed us that “at the Adonis (hotel), we buy olive oil by the gallon. It’s used for everything — cooking, baking and “au natural” on salads, sandwiches and such.”

Mostra, the thick barley rusks slathered with spicy kopanisti cheese, heaped high with slices of juicy red tomatoes and large basil leaves was drenched with a robust olive oil. Besides being Mikale’s favorite breakfast, mostra is the traditional accompaniment for ouzo drinking. Wild greens, “horta”, grow in the fields and are used for simple, refreshing salads. “Frikanos” wild chicory which grows on a thorny bush in Delos is a rare delicacy. Boiled and refrigerated, Mykonian housewives keep it on hand to cure stomach ailments and to “clean the liver.”

We tasted peppery arugula, roka, topped with shavings of a hard, sharp, parmesan like cheese glistening under an olive oil sheen. Louvia, fresh tender string beans were steamed and bathed in scordalia, an olive oil and garlic sauce similar to the aioli of Southern France. Pies are baked with sweet and savory fillings. The dough of our Onion Pie was homemade and filled with egg, fresh dill and soft tirovolia, a Mykonos specialty cheese. Baby zucchini stuffed with smooth cottage cheese, seasoned with fresh basil and scallions baked in a cream sauce was irresistible. Tiganites (soft pancakes that even toothless old ladies could enjoy ). Little honey pies (tsibita) and almond cookies soaked in rosewater which left a dusting of confectioners sugar on shoulders and lips.

Urged on by Roz and an enthusiastic waiter, we tasted it all. The finale, strong Greek coffee and small glasses of mastic, a clear, sweet liqueur produced from the gum mastic which oozes out of the lentisk tree. What a magnificent way to begin to understand the age old Myconian culture.

The following Myconian recipes will bring an exciting element to any dinner table. To make it easy and user friendly, some American supermarket convenience items are used. Eg. prepared frozen pastries make short work of pies, ground nuts for cookies, toasted slices of grainy artisan breads provide the base for mostra. Ricotta and cream cheeses are acceptable substitutions for cheeses if these are not available.  

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