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A Greek gastronomic tour through my novel Aphrodite’s Tears

A Greek gastronomic tour through my novel Aphrodite’s Tears

A Greek gastronomic tour through my novel Aphrodite’s Tears

Food collage

Cooking and dining are great passions of mine, and when I am writing a new novel, I take great pleasure in exploring the cuisine of the country in which the story is set. For Aphrodite’s Tears, that meant indulging my love of Greek cuisine.

Because my novel is set on a little Greek island, I was especially interested in learning about very traditional Greek dishes. My hero, Damian, explains:

‘The land is hard on Helios. Men live close to the earth, and even today they exist very much as they did in ancient times. Our milk, cheese and meat come from our black goats. Our fishermen provide the fish, and the land gives us plenty of olives, figs and grapes. The islanders trap birds in nets and still look for wild honey but they are mostly vegetarians, like our ancestors who only ate meat when a sacrifice of an animal was made to the gods. Some would say that Helios is a very primitive island.’

In some ways, then, Helios is the land that time forgot (remember, the story is set in the 1970s). That traditionalism can be problematic, such as when it comes to building the island’s economy and embracing modern cultural changes like women’s rights. But when it comes to honouring time-old traditions, like making Greek dishes as they have been made for decades – centuries, even – then Helios is a truly wonderful place to be.

Today, I’m taking you on a little gastronomic tour of Helios, through meals that the main characters of the novel, Damian and Oriel, enjoy together. I hope it may inspire you to try some of these Greek dishes, whether in an authentic restaurant or in your own kitchen – you can taste that beautiful Greek sunshine in every bite!

Taramasalata

 Taramasalata_600

From Aphrodite’s Tears:

Knowing that the conversation needed deflecting as soon as possible, Oriel grasped wildly at the first thing she could think of. ‘Is that taramasalata?’ she asked, pointing to a dish in front of Damian.

‘Here, taste it,’ he said, tearing a piece from the large oval of flatbread and spreading it with a dollop of the dark pink paste. ‘It is carp roe, but what you’re likely to have tasted is a poor substitute. This dip is the real thing, the way Greek families eat it in their home. It’s made with roe, potato, olive oil and lemon.’

‘Thanks.’ Oriel took the canapé from him and popped it in her mouth. ‘Delicious! You’re right, quite different from what I’ve had before. This seems to have bits in it,’ she said after a pause.

‘Yes, it is our family’s own method of preparing it, borrowed from the Turkish recipe where the roe must remain substantially intact.’

Kleftiko

 Kleftiko 600

From Aphrodite’s Tears:

Vassilis explained kleftiko was cooked ‘bandit-style’. ‘The lamb is first marinated in lemon juice and garlic, and then slow-baked on the bone in a pit oven. The story goes that the Klephts, who were bandits in the hills and didn’t have flocks of their own, used to steal the lambs in the valley and cook the meat in a sealed pit to avoid the smoke being noticed.’

Imam Bayildi

 Imam bayildi 600

From Aphrodite’s Tears:

As she sat down, Oriel noticed a dish with cold baby eggplant cut in half and filled with a tomato mixture.

Damian followed her eyes. ‘I can see you’re intrigued.’

‘I’ve had many Greek dishes but I don’t think I’ve ever come across this one.’

His eyes crinkled into a smile. ‘You wouldn’t have because it is essentially a Turkish dish, but some Greeks have adopted it. It’s called imam bayildi, which in Turkish means “the priest fainted”.’

Oriel laughed. ‘Strange name.’

‘The story goes that the imam fainted with pleasure when he was served them by his wife.’

‘What are they stuffed with?’

‘Onions, garlic, skinned tomatoes, parsley, raisins and a pinch of sugar. Cooked in olive oil. Shall I serve you one to taste?’

‘Thank you, yes. I love the story, it’s so quaint.’

Souvlakia

 Souvlakia 600

From Aphrodite’s Tears:

The waiter hurried to take her order and was surprised when she responded in Greek, asking for a glass of ouzo and a dakos salad: tomatoes, red onion and feta served on a slice of dried bread drizzled with olive oil. The waiter apologized, telling her that they didn’t have any feta, but they used a fresh goat’s cheese made from milk and whey called mizithra. Much superior, he noted with a wink. He also recommended their souvlakia: apparently the spitroasted lamb – marinated in lemon juice and skewered with tomatoes, onions and green peppers – came from the Tchakos farm, which was the finest on the island.

Karydopita

Karydopita 600

From Aphrodite’s Tears:

Hassan came in again, this time bearing a beautiful golden cake. He took away the earthenware crock of goat stew, changed the plates, and placed the cake in the middle of the table.

‘Karydopita, our national walnut cake,’ Damian told her. ‘Quite delicious. It is made with breadcrumbs, crusted walnuts, cinnamon and cloves, and then drenched in syrup. We have our own recipe, of course,’ he smiled. He placed a slice of the gooey cake on a plate and passed it to Oriel, then proceeded to open another bottle of wine. 

Medjool dactulos

dates 600

From Aphrodite’s Tears:

‘You should try one of these,’ he told her as he took a sweetmeat from the plate on the table. He unwrapped the paper foil around it and held out his hand. ‘Medjool dactulos, what some on the island call mikres fantasioseis, small fantasies. Have you ever had one?’

Now why did she feel this was a loaded question? She shook her head.

‘Dates dipped in rich milk chocolate are a powerful aphrodisiac, given to young brides on their wedding night to arouse and intensify their sexual desire.’ Damian moved nearer to her, almost closing the gap between them. ‘Here, take a bite,’ he said, his voice suddenly low, his eyes turning into piercing beams of intensity.

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TREKnRay
TREKnRay
3 years ago

These are all dishes I haven’t tried. One thing I noticed in nearly every place I’ve been in the Mediterranean is that all fruits and vegetables taste better than those made with hothouse vegetables served in the United States. The first time I has a salad in Athens it was ambrosia. I have never had cucumbers that tasted so good. The ones grown in the US, even home grown taste like cardboard compared to the delicious Greek cucumbers. Oranges, olives, tomatoes, everything is better in the Mediterranean. One thing I ate nearly every day in Crete was spanakopida. There was… Read more »

hannahfielding
hannahfielding
3 years ago
Reply to  TREKnRay

I agree – the fruits and vegetables of the Med taste amazing. I always miss them in the winter when we return to Ireland or England. I make pickles, chutneys and jams to try to take the flavour with me! I love spanakopida too – the combination of feta, spinach and filo pastry. Divine!