This is the sort of delicious treat that awaits travellers in Crete at the end of a day…This plate was brought to us by our lovely host, Tula, when we stayed with her in Kissamo, in north west Crete recently.
When these vegetables are in season in your garden, this is how to enjoy this Cretan culinary treat with friends and family.
1. Select your vegetables – tomatoes, eggplants, onions, capsicums, zucchini (you can see here we had both stuffed zucchini flowers and zucchinis, as well as vine leaves filled with the same mixture.
2. Neatly cut the tops off the vegetables and scoop out the pulp from tomatoes, zucchinis and eggplants.
3. Blend pulp well with uncooked white rice (approx 1 dessertspoon rice for every medium vegetable being stuffed), olive oil (approx 1/2 tablespoon for every vegetable being stuffed), some chopped onion, garlic, parsley and mint (or spearmint) and salt and pepper to flavour the mix. Add some strongly flavoured dried thyme and oregano to pretend you’re in Crete. Adding Pine nuts and currants makes another variation.
4. Stuff the vegetables with the mix and replace the tops on the vegetables that have them. Stuff the zucchini flowers and gently close them. Roll some mix in some grape leaves (that you may have purchased, or prepare your own beforehand by blanching them in hot water briefly to soften them). Using vine leaves and zucchini flowers is all very fiddly and difficult, much harder than learning to roll sushi, so don’t be disappointed if they look a bit odd, as mine usually do!
5. Place stuffed vegetables into a baking dish, add a small amount of water (just around the base of the vegetables) and drizzle olive oil over them and some more salt if you’re not afraid for your arteries.
6. To protect the tops of the vegetables (and perhaps flowers and leaves), you can sprinkle them with breadcrumbs, or in my case, some bread-free breadcrumbs. Or cover the whole dish with foil for the first part of the baking and remove it near the end.
7. Bake in the oven at 180-200 Celcius for 1 – 1.5 hours, depending upon how big your vegetables are.
8. Serve hot or cold with a dish of sheep or goat yoghurt for the full Cretan experience.
9. Finish with a plate of fresh watermelon and a shot or two of Raki and you can save yourself the airfare to Crete (you may have to turn your house heating up to high to help with the experience).