The olives. Koroneiki, or small, Cretan green olives… It’s been almost five years since my trip to Santorini and Evvia on the Aegean Sea and I still find myself thinking about those olives. I have tried, unsuccessfully, to find them here in the States, so it looks like I will have to make my way back to Greece to taste them again. In Greece, they are only used for sharing at the table and oil making. The rich flavor from these olives will enhance any dish.
Our first stop on our Grecian tour was the island of Santorini. My wife and I stayed in a boutique hotel called Athermi Suites in the town of Megalachori. While Oia and Fira are also beautiful, Megalachori is on the southern side of the island and a welcome escape from the neighboring towns in the north. The room was decorated in traditional Greek style; bright, airy and I remember a magnificent railing made from a white washed wood. The owners were a warm, welcoming couple, Maria and Kosmas. If you stay there, you must ask Maria to cook for you. From what I remember, you just have to give her one day’s notice. What you will get is a meal you will not quickly forget. She made us her piping hot moussaka, gyros with homemade pita, fried potatoes, and a large square of fresh feta cheese sitting atop of a salad that must have just been picked from the garden. The cherry on top was the breathtaking view of the caldera.
A short walk from the hotel, we dined at Athermi restaurant. Here we tried the fried Santorini tomato balls with whipped feta. Incredible. These special tomatoes only grow in Santorini and are blended with onions and fried in a tempura-like batter. The octopus with honey and braised artichokes with feta cream were also outstanding. I don’t think you can go wrong with any dish on the island. Everything we tried was so fresh and bursting with flavor, yet simple at its core and made with love.
We rented an ATV for the few days we were there and ventured into the bustling alleyways of Fira, getting lost on the way in fields of poppies and endless views of the sea. Fira and Oia are great places to buy gifts, spices and just to take in the extraordinary views. Of course, we couldn’t leave without dining at one of the fully packed restaurants and, yet again, the flavors and fresh-from-the-sea taste of the fish I ordered hit the spot.
We didn’t want to leave, but assumed from what we had just experienced, that the next island we were off to would be just as extraordinary… and, boy, were we right. After a short plane ride, a ferry ride, and an SUV ride through what felt like the middle of nowhere, we finally made it to a the secluded villa of Delenia on the island of Evvia.
While all of the amenities and architectural details were out-of-this-world, what I loved most about the villa was the communal dining space. A long table seating over twenty people, with a view of the Aegean Sea, along with the kitchen sitting just adjacent, was where I spent most of my days. Life felt so simple here. Food, good conversation and walks through nature were the highlight of our days. Picking fresh rosemary, diving for sea urchins, experimenting with the rich flavors of the land, it doesn’t get much better.
Upon arriving, I joked to my wife that we had made it to Westeros. I don’t even know how to go about describing it. It was like being in another world. The villa itself was hand built by the father of the current owner, Chryssa. The attention to detail was impeccable. There were closets that were actually secret passageways into neighboring rooms, bookshelves that opened up to reveal more rooms, four different ways to get upstairs, including a rope, a fire pole, a ladder and stairs built directly into the wall. There was a Turkish steam room, salt water pool overlooking the sea and a one-winged parrot named Tardu that followed us around, talked to us and occasionally tried to attack us—I guess we were frenemies.
We were here celebrating the marriage of our very good friends, Alexis and Peter, and as a gift to their guests they brought over a couple who owned a Greek restaurant in Paris, Dominique and Niko to give us a cooking lesson. Early in the day everyone was excited for a culinary experience, both the learning and the eating. An hour later, the excitement about the actual cooking of the meal had faded. All the better for me as I basically got to enjoy a private cooking lesson from seasoned Greek and French chefs. Like most of my experiences in Greece this too was unforgettable.
We started with two legs of lamb that were picked up from a butcher near the port. He was piercing the flesh and stuffing it with fresh garlic and salt. We peeled and cut up about 10 lbs of potatoes then started slicing lemons super thin. After rubbing the leg down with salt and pepper, we placed it in a roasting pan directly on top of the potatoes which were now mixed with the lemon and great olive oil. You can imagine the robust flavor of those potatoes after they absorbed the fat and juices from the slowly roasted leg of lamb. Did I mention that they also brought sausage that was produced from that same lamb? Talk about fresh! I cooked that later in the week.
After we put the lamb in the oven, we started on tomato-braised kabobs. Similar in flavor to the Italian meatball, but instead of bread and parmesan, he used lots of diced red onion and garlic. The result was a little zesty, but after the slow braising process, they were perfect.
Now, time to braise the octopus. I was wondering why Niko had brought a pressure cooker with him. Using just a splash of red wine vinegar and olive oil— a method I’ve never seen before— it came out remarkable, with amazing color, flavor and tenderness. We sliced it up and tossed it with lots of parsley, more olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh lemon.
With the excitement of preparing the food completely gone, Dominique also had my undivided attention as she demonstrated how to make her traditional tzatziki sauce. While I have not been able to find a yogurt with the exact flavor, I still use her recipe and technique today.
Right before we devoured our meal, I also learned about Ouzo, the Greek’s version of white Sambuca doused in a hot pan and flambéed shrimp to kick off the meal. I had cooked shell-on shrimp with brandy before, but never would have thought to utilize the anise flavor of the Ouzo. THIS is how you learn and one of the many reasons my love for travel continues to grow.
If you ever have the chance to visit Delania, don’t pass it up. More information on this magical villa can be found here: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/84236?guests=1&adults=1