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Cretan Recipes for Vegan Enthusiasts

The Cretan cuisine is diverse and anchored in its age-long traditions, local crops, and the seasonality of its produce. It’s rare to see something not locally grown on a taverna’s menu. High-end restaurants may feature imported goods on rare occasions. But although most restaurants and tavernas on the island have seafood and fish specific or specialize in meats of all sorts, you will find vegan dishes. What do you do when you cannot enjoy these vegan dishes in a Cretan restaurant? You could easily prepare them at home.

Cretan Gigantes Beans

Gigantes are large white beans known elsewhere as Lima Beans or Giant Butter Beans. This easy recipe will show you how to cook them on the stove with a few simple ingredients available in every Cretan household.

  • 250 grams dry Gigantes Beans;
  • 2 medium carrots, cleaned and sliced;
  • 1 tsp. tomato paste;
  • 1 large onion, julienne;
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced;
  • Cretan herbs (oregano, rosemary, marjoram, thyme);
  • salt and pepper to taste;
  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil;

Soak the Gigantes overnight in plenty of water. They will double or even triple in size.

When you are ready to cook, drain the water, rinse well, and place them in a pot of fresh water that covers them entirely together with all your ingredients minus the salt.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and let the dish simmer for one hour or longer until beans are tender but not mushy.

Season with salt to taste and drizzle with olive oil. Cretans use a lot. This recipe recommends only two tablespoons, but you can add one more if you feel like it.

Grilled Pleurotus Mushrooms

Every time you see “grilled mushrooms” on a taverna’s menu, expect them to be Pleurotus mushrooms (you may know them as oyster mushrooms). They are easy to prepare, and the seasonings are Cretan staples: olive oil, lemons, and sea salt. Of course, you will need a ridged grill pan for this, or if you don’t have one, a non-stick skillet, a perforated grill sheet for the traditional charcoal or gas grill.

  • 250 grams Pleurotus;
  • 4-5 tsp. Cretan extra virgin olive oil;
  • freshly squeezed lemon juice – 1 tsp. should suffice;
  • fresh parsley or fresh dill (optional);
  • salt to taste.

Rinse the mushrooms very well in plenty of water. Put them in a colander to drain and wait or pat them dry with a kitchen towel. Be gentle, as they break easily.

Mix the olive oil and lemon juice well in a large bowl to make a dressing. Toss the mushrooms with the dressing and let them marinate for 10 to 15 minutes. Then, remove them from the marinade, and do not discard the leftover liquid.

Lightly oil a ridged grill pan and set it over medium heat. Wait until it is heated enough and grill your mushrooms in batches, frequently turning, for about five minutes for each batch. They should look crispy golden-brown around the edges.

Remove from the pan and drizzle with the lemon-olive oil dressing. Season with salt and add fresh parsley or dill if you want. When you don’t have fresh herbs, you could use dry oregano, for example, or a combination of dried Cretan herbs.

Cretan Fava Recipe

Cretan Fava is not made with Fava Beans but with Yellow Split Peas. It is a staple food in every Cretan home, especially during Lenten. What’s best is that it is an all-seasons food. The recipes vary in every household. Some yiayiades (Greek grandmas) may enhance it with carrots, and that’s also what many prestigious chefs recommend.

  • 250 grams yellow split peas;
  • 1 carrot (cleaned and chopped);
  • 1 onion (chopped);
  • 1 garlic clove (chopped);
  • 1 bay leaf;
  • 1 sprig of fresh rosemary;
  • 1 l. vegetable stock;
  • 6 tsp. extra virgin Cretan olive oil + a drizzle to serve;
  • zest and juice from one lemon;
  • salt and pepper to taste.

Wash the yellow split peas in plenty of water several times until the water is clear.

In a non-stick skillet, sauté the carrot, onion, and garlic, with a pinch of salt, some black pepper, and the bay leaf, in two tablespoons of olive oil over high heat until the onion is translucent. Stir often, as the high heat may cook some of the ingredients unevenly.

Add the split peas, the vegetable stock, and a sprig of fresh rosemary. Then, simmer everything for 15 minutes, constantly stirring, until the water evaporates.

Remove the rosemary and bay leaf, transfer everything to a food processor, and add four teaspoons of olive oil and the zest and juice of one lemon.

Purée until smooth and creamy. Choose a topping: caramelized onion, capers, roasted cherry tomatoes, or other. Drizzle some olive oil and serve. Fava is good warm or cold, as you prefer.

There are many other Cretan vegan recipes, but some like dolmades and gemista are complex in time and execution. However, in a future post, we will share other easy-to-make-at-home Cretan recipes for vegans.

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