The beach at Chryssi island, off the coast of Ierapetra, southern Crete.
You have spent a good 30' minutes swimming in the clearest and bluest waters. You feel alive, refreshed and... ravished! You cover up with a sarong, reapply your 5th layer of sun lotion (you better!) and head to the nearby tavern. If you are on the magical island of Crete, birthplace of Zeus and home of the densely nutritious wholegrain paximadia, i.e., rusks, chances are you will pick Dakos as your lunch of choice.
Dakos is the ultimate summertime salad: a perfectly simple and self sufficient triad of ripe tomatoes, wholegrain rusk and soft white cheese that is complemented by best quality EVOO, olives, capers, and a few more additions if you're feeling imaginative.
Our son Elliot, on his first trip to Crete, trying to figure out a way to dig into this yummy concoction.
You want to start with your base: Cretan style paximadokouloura (a round roll rusk), or any type of wholegrain paximadia, that you first have to soak with some water. Many try wholegrain rusks straight out of the bag and experience a hard, dry bite that is quite tough to chew and enjoy. It's a rookie mistake. Wholegrain rusks, as they contain so much fiber and usually very little oil, are extremely dense and need to be dampened with a little water. You don't have to overdo it or you'll end up with a wet mush.
Take a couple of the ripest and reddest tomatoes at hand, cut them in half and starting with the cut half grate them on the coarse side of a grater over a bowl. Discard the skin of the tomatoes and add some salt, pepper, EVOO and a little red vinegar to your freshly grated tomato.
Spoon the tomato mixture on top of the paximadi, be it a larger round rusk, a handful of smaller rusks - or any configuration thereof and let the seasoned tomatoey juices permeate and soak up the rusk even more.
Then, help yourself to another ripe tomato, dice it and lay it over the tomato paste, for some variety of texture. It's now time for your cheese. In Crete you would traditionally have Dakos with xynomyzithra: a fresh, soft, white cheese with a mild, pleasantly sour taste. Xynomyzithra is not easy to find, so crumbled feta will do just fine - more than fine, to be honest. Don't be stingy though! If you're not a lover of feta cheese, then pick a soft white cheese of your liking, but keep it on the more intense side, i.e. don't go for a ricotta type.
As you can see on the photo, the purists may very well stop here and no one would blame them. This dish is about the simplicity and quality of your ingredients. But if you like a bit of color and intensity in your dakos (and if your tomatoes are not the fragrant, summer tomatoes one finds in Greece) the way to go is olives and capers. A sprinkle of oregano and a generous drizzle of extra virgin olive oil are definitely required. Some quick-pickled diced onion might also add a nice touch, if you're feeling fancy.
Your dakos is ready to eat now. I usually go in fork first and give a few good stabs to the paximadi. It should be much softer now, having absorbed all the goodness of your tomatoes and EVOO, but still give some resistance. Tearing it up with your fork will help the soaking even more effectively and will create perfectly bite sized pieces of tasty wholegrain crunchiness, fresh tomato and tangy cheese. You don't need anything else on a summertime afternoon; only another dip in that clear blue sea perhaps!
Serves 2-4 if sharing, or 1 as a light lunch
- 1 large round wholegrain rusk, or 2-3 mini round (or any type) wholegrain rusks
- 3 large (or 4 smaller) ripe tomatoes,
- 50g white cheese (xinomyzithra, feta, or other soft, white salty cheese)
- 2-3 tablespoons (plus more to drizzle) extra virgin olive oil
- Red vinegar, to taste
- Oregano, dried
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Handful of black olives, preferably Kalamata, coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon capers (optional)
- Wet the rusks to slightly soften them, by pouring them under running, cold water or dipping them in a bowl of water for a few seconds. Put on the plate you will serve or eat the dakos and set aside.
- Cut two of the tomatoes in half and starting with the cut half grate them on the coarse side of a grater over a bowl. Discard the skin of the tomatoes and add salt, pepper, olive oil and a little red wine vinegar to the grated tomato. Spoon the tomato mixture over the rusk.
- Dice the remaining tomato on top and crumble the cheese on top. Finish with the olives, oregano, or any other addition. Taste for seasoning and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil.
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