A Taste of Santorini — Domato Keftedes

It wasn’t the spectacular views. Or the smoldering volcano still lurking somewhere below. Or even the donkey ride up the precipitous path to the top of the ancient island that impressed me most.

Crazy as it sounds — it was the intensely flavored tomatoes I tasted on Santorini that really got to me. They were amazing.

On this iconic island in the Aegean sea, where little whitewashed houses cling to the rugged cliffs like pieces of cubist sculpture and wonderous vistas abound — tomatoes were once the basis for a major industry supplying most of Europe with the prized produce.

These were no ordinary tomatoes. Grown in volcanic soil under hash conditions, their taste was the essence of tomato-ness. Tiny and delicious there was no other tomato like them. Anywhere.

There still isn’t. If you don’t believe me, go ahead, Google it.

But since the mid-50s, most of the large tomato farms on the island have vanished. The massive earthquake of 1956 had something to do with it. And so did the fact that many farmers thought that working in the new tourist industry might be a much better idea.

Luckily, the Santorini tomato is still being cultivated and it’s a must have if you ever end up on the island. One of the best ways to enjoy the “tomataki” or little tomatoes, is to have some “domato keftedes” or tomato balls in a taverna over looking the sea.

A glass or two of Asirtiko from Santorini’s Sigalas Vinyards will make the experience even better. It’s a bright, white with just enough minerality and citrus to make things interesting.

If a trip to Santorini isn’t going to happen anytime soon, here’s a recipe for some “killer” domato keftedes that should be the next best thing. Give them a try — they’re great on a hot summer eve.

Domato Keftedes / Tomato-Dill Fritters

Here’s what you’ll need for 24 tasty fritters:

1 1/2 lbs plum tomatoes, halved, seeded, chopped (about 4 cups)
1/2 cup finely-chopped sundried tomatoes
1 cup chopped red onion
2 tbs extra-virgin Greek olive oil
2 tbs chopped fresh dill
1 tsp dried oregano
1 cup all purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper

8 tbs olive oil

The preparation:

Mix the tomatoes, onion, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon dill and the oregano in a large bowl. Let stand for 30 minutes. Then mix in flour, salt and pepper. Let stand until the mixture becomes moist, about 1 hour.

Preheat your oven to 300 Degrees F. Heat 6 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Drop 1 heaping tablespoon batter into oil. Repeat, forming 8 fritters total. Using slotted spatula, flatten each to a 2-inch diameter round. Cook fritters ’til brown, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Transfer to a baking sheet and place in over to keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter for 2 more batches, adding more oil as necessary.

Sprinkle with dill and serve. One bite — takes you to Santorini!

To complete the meal, maybe do a shredded romaine salad with feta and Greek vinaigrette along with some grilled fish. Oh, and don’t forget the Sigalas Asirtiko. Yes, the wine is available here.


Keftedes — An Athenian Recipe


She could actually see the Acropolis from her house. And as a child she played on the breathtaking ruins of the Parthenon, where ancient Greeks gathered to worship the goddess Athena.

That young girl from Athens grew up to become my grandmother. My golden-haired, Greek grandmother. My seriously stoic Yia Yia.

She was an impressive presence. And, still is — you see, I always think of her when I make keftedes, those tempting, pan-fried Greek meatballs, seasoned with mint, cinnamon and allspice.

Have you ever tasted keftedes? Her recipe for them is amazing. Sort of rustic, yet so sophisticated. Like a Greek Rembetiko blues tune. Lots of notes. Tasty, spicy, and maybe mysterious to some.

Keftedes are a favorite appetizer when I do a Greek dinner for friends. Or I make them a casual main course when it’s just Trulee and I at the table. Served with a Greek salad and grilled bread.

To me, they’re more than simply exciting on the palate. They taste of memories. They’re an intimate connection to heritage, history — and that young Athenian girl who played on the Acropolis.


OK, first a little disclaimer: This recipe was “adjusted” by my mother and slightly “modified” by this health-concious grandson who substitutes ground turkey for the original ground beef.

Here’s what you’ll need to make a batch of 25 to 30:

1 lb ground turkey
1/2 28 oz can tomatoes
1 small onion, chopped
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2 tsp allspice
Dash of cinnamon
2 tsp dried mint
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp black pepper
2 tsp chopped Italian parsley

1/2 cup flour for dredging
Olive oil for pan-frying

The preparation:

First squeeze the liquid from the tomatoes. Then in a large bowl mix well all of the ingredients except flour and olive oil, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for four hours or over night.

When you’re ready to cook, form the mix into balls using the palms of your hands (about 1 tablespoon per) and, just before firing up the stove, roll in flour on a large plate to lightly cover.

Pour a 1/2 inch of oil into a large skillet over medium-high heat. When it shimmers add as many meatballs as you can without crowding, cook until lightly browned, about 2 to 3 minutes. Turn them over, cover the skillet, cook 2 to 3 minutes more, browning the other side. (Test one to make sure they are completely cooked.) Transfer to paper towels. Repeat until all are done.

You should know, most Greeks like their keftedes room temperature. I do too when I serve them as an appetizer or meze. But when I have them as a main course, I like them hot from the pan.

So — go ahead, get your Greek on, give this recipe a try. It’s easy. And when you do be sure to give a nod to my very Greek grand mother from Athens, Hariklia Kalimani Chakeres. I always do.

By the way, that’s her engagement photo at the top of the post. Don’t you just love the “old country” feel of it? She’s standing with my grandfather, Demetrios and their proud sponsor-matchmaker.


A Real Taste of Greece


I have to admit that on every trip to Greece, and there have been many, I managed to eat grilled octopus at least once a day for the entire time I was there.  It was that good. The satisfying taste of smoke and sea was addictive. For me it was a dish that had to be on the table, along with a classic horiatiki salad, marides, those fried little white bait, and a whole grilled fish, or, maybe, pan seared red mullet, a fish known and prized since ancient times. 
 But it was the taste of octopus that always haunted me.  Sadly, back in the states, I could never find the object of my desire.  Not in markets.  Not in restaurants.   So, for many years, I resolved myself to a life without those addictive, tasty grilled tentacles on my table.

That all changed, however, when some adventurous grocery stores and markets began carrying what I’d been craving.  To this deprived Greek-American food guy, that was seriously exciting.  The only thing left for me to do was learn to cook the creature.  Like a real Greek.  Which I finally did.  It’s not as difficult as you might think. In fact, it’s easy. I’ll tell you how in another post.

Right now, what’s crazy for me is that octopus seems to be everywhere. It’s become truly ubiquitous. From top New American restaurants in major markets to scores of modest Italian and Greek places across the country. On my last trip to New York, it was on the menu of every restaurant I visited, Esca, Babbo, Gato, Perry Street, and Milos. Of course, I had to try it in each of them. The only disappointment was at Babbo. Too tough. You can even find more than a few decent octopus dishes where I live here in Sarasota, Florida.

May be what some people are saying is true — octopus is the new calamari! Even so, when ever it comes off of my grill at home, it always reminds me of Greek island evenings and Athenian tavernas.