Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries

20 Aug

Nikki Rose

In 1997, Nikki Rose decided she’d had enough of the damage she saw being done to Crete’s environment and local communities by the enormous hotels, packed coaches, and rumbling cruise ships that brought mass tourism to the island — and that took most of the profits away.

So Rose, a Greek-American chef who trained at the Culinary Institute of America, founded Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries.  Today, she works with more than 40 local archaeologists, organic farmers, wine-makers, cheese makers, botanists, musicians, historians, eco-lodge owners, and many others to offer educational travel programs to Crete that are sustainable and that directly benefit the local economy.  One of these programs, “Historic Food & Wine Routes,” takes travelers along ancient routes that have been used since the time King Minos built his legendary labyrinth; another, “Epicurean Crete,” takes small groups on six-to-eight-day culinary, botanical and cultural tours of the island.

Rose has received several awards for her efforts from National Geographic, the United Nations, and the World Travel and Tourism Council, and she has been featured on National Public Radio,  and in the New York Times, Australian Gourmet Traveler and other media.

I was lucky enough to take a group of university students to Crete for one of Rose’s programs a few years ago.  We stayed in small family-owned lodgings, ate seasonal food in village tavernas, learned to make savory pies from a resident who had just published her first cookbook, and visited a museum of folk music with Ross Daly, an internationally-known musician and collector of rare musical instruments and documenter of disappearing musical traditions.  We had a wonderful time, and Rose and my students still keep in touch.

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Which is how I learned that Rose recently published her own book, Crete: The Roots of the Mediterranean Diet.  In this book, Rose tells the story of Crete’s culinary traditions and practices, and provides a few recipes easily replicated at home.  I ordered a copy and was happy to see that these recipes are accompanied not only by photographs of food, but of Rose’s many local partners and students as well.  I found it to be an inspiring little book for when I’m planning my next meal — and for when I’m planning my next vacation, and imagining the kind of tourist I would like to be.

Nikki’s Recipe for Chick-Pea Salad, a favorite on Crete

We eat a lot of chickpeas on Crete.  They are made into fritters and added to a long list of vegetable or meat dishes.  We also use the flour for rustic breads.  I like them as the star of a salad.  Plan to make this about an hour before serving to let the flavors meld.

  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas
  • 1 small onion, diced (purple onions work great for this)
  • 1/4 cup mild olives, pitted and chopped
  • 1 small sweet pepper, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped fresh parsely
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 small chili pepper, minced, or a pinch of dried pepper flakes
  • 2 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
  • salt and black pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients together and marinate in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes before serving.

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One Response to “Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries”

  1. Kathe Julin August 26, 2012 at 12:53 am #

    This is a great Recipe – thanks for sharing it. Also, I like the story and photos about Crete and Nikki Rose.

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