Best meals 2011: Boutari winery Crete

I’ll never forget this June night in Crete, the eve of the first Greek austerity vote and one of the defining moments of the European debt crisis. In Athens, that same evening, protesters fire-bombed one of the luxury hotels in Syntagma Square. But in Crete, just outside the village of Skalani, the air was still and the food was delicious…

Many great meals were thoroughly relished by a wine blogger last week in Greece but the one that he cannot stop thinking and dreaming about was a dinner prepared by Maria Constandakis, who — together with her husband and agronomist Yannis — oversees the Boutari winery in Crete.

The meal began with a Cretan dakos, a wholewheat rusk, a bit larger but similar to the frisa of Apulia, where they top it with diced mozzarella, tomatoes, and tuna. Here, tradition calls for fresh tomato purée and crumbled feta. And while the Apulians gently soak their frisa before dressing it, the Cretans use the water naturally purged by the tomato when it is tossed with the salty cheese.

Next came the classic Greek zucchini “meatballs,” the kolokithokeftedes. The wine blogger had experienced this dish before but in his own words, “to have Maria’s, made from zucchini she grew herself in the winery’s garden, is a game-changer.”

The next morning, said wine blogger photographed Maria’s zucchini.

When you travel in Greece during summer, horiatiki — the classic village or summer salad — is served at nearly every meal. But there was something different about Maria’s. Upon further inquiry, the blogger discovered that Maria included freshly torn glistrida or purlane in her salad, also grown in her garden.

Still used as an effective folk remedy for certain ailments of the mouth, purlane grows wild in Greece (the blogger even found it along the sidewalks of one of the small towns he visited in Northern Greece). Like nettles, it slightly stings the tongue and according to legend, those who consume it are prone to loquaciousness. (Said blogger has never been accused of being long-winded! But true to legend, he stayed up late into the night discussing philosophy and politics with his companions over many glasses of raki.)

The pièce de résistance, however, was Maria’s slow-roasted lamb. Even though, technically, the meat had not been smoked, the effect was the same: the bones were so tender that that crumbled gently in the blogger’s mouth, rewarding him with their sweet marrow.

Said blogger is rarely said to eat dessert but there was no way for him to resist Maria’s yogurt topped with cherries she had stewed herself.

Said blogger enjoyed many great meals in Greece but none came close to that prepared by Maria.

In other news…

In the days that followed, said blogger, an accomplished linguist, learned that he had been incorrectly pronouncing the name of the most noble red grape variety in Greece, Xinomavro.

Click here to listen to the correct pronunciation.

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