I have been lucky enough to have snuck off to Crete again for a week of sunshine, friendship, good food, fun and many a Raki. We went back to our favourite tiny village in the south-west of the island, Agia Galini. A place that stole my heart 21 years ago and just didn’t give it back.
This time we met even more great people including Nikos Karatarakis who has Taverna Avli in the village. A fellow foodie we had many a heated discussion on ingredients and techniques, my idea of good conversation any day of the week.
Nikos and his team created many great dishes for us over the week. Their Kleftiko was to die for, but this simple but super tasty Avli Salad (a green salad with pomegranate and smoked pork) really rocked my boat and I’m recreating it here to share all that goodness and a little bit of Cretan sunshine.
First of course I have to share a few snaps with you and remind myself that less than a week ago I was in this heavenly place. A place where time stands still, every nook and cranny, street corner and delicate flower is like a postcard. You want to parcel the whole place up in your mind and never let it go.
Long days spent walking in the mountains, basking on the beaches, driving to ancient towns and always and forever gasping at every view both large and small.
Evenings spent drinking retsina and eating, oh yes always eating.
Taverna Avli became another of our favourite places along with Georgo’s New Alexander Cafe and Manos’s Incognito Bar. Here at Avli (which means courtyard in Greek) we dined under the stars with only the verdant vines and tendrils of ivy forming a roof above us.
The menu featured many Cretan specialities like Dakos (the Cretan version of crostini) and all those wonderful Greek dishes like stefado, kleftiko and stuffed vine leaves to mention a few. But the dish that really tickled our taste buds was the amazingly tasty Avli Salad, a gorgeous green salad with pomegranate and smoked pork (called apaki in Greek) along with toasted pine nuts, sesame seeds, tiny toasted crutons with the most amazing dressing I have ever tasted – a blend of three balsamic vinegars and the finest quality olive oil. There was no need for any seasoning this salad just sang with flavour and had us eating huge bowlfuls almost every night.
Below you will find my version of this amazing salad using ingredients that are available here in the UK. Where Nikos uses smoked pork I substituted smoked pancetta cubes and my three balsamic vinegars were a delicate Cretan Thyme and honey balsamic, a zesty orange balsamic and the basic balsamic vinegar of Modena.
I used mixed salad leaves including rocket, lambs lettuce, frisee and radicchio. You want a mix of leaves with lots of flavour. Make sure to use a really fresh pomegranate as those that are past their best have nasty gritty little seed pods and you really want these to be plump and firm like bright red rubies and packed with juice.
As I type this I’m listening to one of my favourite singers of all time, Yannis Parios and I have to thank Nikos for giving me a great CD to bring home. All I can do now is sing along, look at photos and try to go Greek as much as possible in my kitchen and wait somewhat impatiently for our next visit in the Spring.
Maybe I should start a separate little blog just to share my Greek recipes, stories and photos. Something to ponder next week when I’ll be layed up after yet another foot surgery……
Thanks again to all our lovely friends in Agia Galini, as always it is you who make a place special.
PS Here is a snap of Pod the little cat we all fell in love with back in June who has now had her gorgeous kittens and has got her figure back.
Green Salad With Pomegranate And Smoked Pork (Avli Salad)
- 1 tbsp pine nuts
- 1 tbsp sesame seeds
- 100 g/3 1/2 oz smoked pork I used pancetta
- 1/2 pomegranate seeds and juice
- 2 tbsp toasted crutons make your own by chopping bread into cubes, drizzle with oil and bake at 180C for 10 mins
- 200 g/7oz salad leaves frisee, radicchio, lambs lettuce and rocket etc
- 2 tbsp good quality extra virgin olive oil
- 1 tsp orange balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp thyme and honey balsamic vinegar
- 1 tsp standard balsamic vinegar
- Gently toast the pine nuts in a dry pan for approx 2 minutes until just golden and releasing their aroma, set aside.
- Toast the sesame seeds in the same way but for only about 30-60 seconds, you don't want them to burn, set aside
- Use the same pan to fry the smoked pork/pancetta until golden and well cooked
- Make the dressing by mixing and juice from the pomegranate with the balsamic vinegars and olive oil
- Arrance leaves in a large bowl and add the other ingredients then drizzle over the dressing