An easy, healthy, traditional Cretan recipe
This is the kind of dinner my grandma ate when she was a little girl. It’s low in fat, rich in fiber and very nutritious! After all, that’s why Cretan people have a long life expectancy; Mediterranean/Cretan cuisine is proven to be one of the healthiest cuisines of the world! 🙂 In addition, the olive oil and lemon juice drizzled on top – a Cretan habit – add not only a great fruity flavor and freshness to this dish, but a lot of healthy antioxidants too!
So… my grandma was born around 1935 (sorry grandma!) which means that during World War II she was a little girl. During that time Crete suffered a lot and many of its people were starving due to the luck of food, caused by war. Sometimes, my grandma tells me stories about those years. People were poor and exhausted from the constant struggles, commodities were sparse and living conditions really harsh. My grandma, her sister and their parents, lived in a small stone house, in a little village in the center of Crete. It had just 2 rooms and a little toilet, was no bigger than 400 ft2 (40 m2) total, but somehow it was enough for the family of four. The lack of food was so intense, that there were days when their mother – my great grandma – would call them inside the house and in a voice echoing frustration, guilt but also courage – always courage – she would say: “Now girls, listen to me; Take this piece of bread and this onion and head to the nearest field to find some greens. Split the bread and onion in two and eat it with the greens. This will be your lunch for today”
Crete, from autumn to spring is covered by a gorgeous, green veil consisting of a plethora of herbs, plants and flowers. A green plant called “vrouves” in Greek, which I recently found out that is actually a white mustard variety, grows in abundance on the Cretan soil, and happens to be the favorite edible wild plant of the Cretan people (my grandma included!). These white mustard greens are used in today’s recipe, but feel free to substitute them with greens of your choice. Though, since mustard greens can be found worldwide, if you happen to stumble upon them, don’t miss the chance to harvest some, they’re great! Just make sure to collect the fresh tender sprouts, usually grown during winter.
This recipe is really simple and easy. For me, the most time consuming thing is when I have to trim the big leaves from the white mustard greens and give them a rinse. Then I boil the potatoes until tender, boil the greens until the stems feel soft when pinched, and open my favorite can of red kidney beans. For the boiled egg I use a timer! I like the white fully set and the yolk a little runny and creamy. In order to achieve that, I take an extra large egg (60 grams), cold from the fridge, and with a metal spoon I deep it in a pot with boiling water. I leave the egg resting on the spoon throughout boiling, because I found that it helps the egg not to break from the sudden change in temperature. After 8 minutes I remove from the heat and fill the pot with cold water. Leave the egg for 5 minutes to cool and then peel it.
After boiling the eggs, I like to crack the egg shells and then fill the pot with cold water. I’ve found this helps when peeling them!
If you have the time, you can make some chili peppers infused olive oil by heating the oil and chilies together, but this is totally optional and a little off the traditional way…
- 1.5 – 2 pounds potatoes, peeled and cut in large cubes
- 1 can red beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 pound white mustard greens
- 4 extra large eggs
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 8-12 anchovies (optional)
- 2-3 lemons, the juice
- ½ cup olive oil
- 3-4 chili dried peppers (optional)
- Put the potatoes in a pot with cold, salted water, open the heat and boil until tender (about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the cubes). Drain and mix with the beans. Mash the potatoes a little while mixing, but don’t puree them.
- Bring to a boil a large pot half filled with salted water, add the greens and boil until the large stems feel soft when pinched (about 15-20 minutes). Drain.
- Boil the eggs according to preference and cut in half.
- Heat the oil with the chili peppers in gentle heat for 10 minutes to infuse the oil (optional)
- Serve in bowls or on plates and drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil.
- Sprinkle some extra salt if needed and freshly grated pepper.
White mustard greens really love lemon juice and olive oil, so be generous!
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