The beach at Kato Zakros - paradise!

The beach at Kato Zakros – paradise!

Nearly a month ago, we concluded our first ever Exploring Crete – Archaeology, Nature and Food tour.

In the course of 12 days, we travelled the length and breadth of that beautiful Greek island, offering our guests a comprehensive panorama of its extraordinary wealth in archaeological and historical sites, beautiful and diverse landscapes and rich culinary tradition. Long days were spent most enjoyably, exploring fascinating ruins, ancient structures, old town centres or traditional villages, walking throuh some of the island’s many famous limestone gorges or on the flower-strewn flanks of hills and mountains, and of course enjoying Crete’s produce in in a seemingly endless string of tavernas and restaurants, as well as three wineries.

And did it go well? We think so. One of our guests wrote to tell us that it was “the best [tour] either of us have done with any company“.

So, to celebrate this year’s “Exploring Crete”, but also to arouse your interest in next year’s trip (April 29-May 10, 2014), here’s a little gallery of impressions taken during our travels on Crete. Below, you will find a recipe for one of the most celebrated traditional Cretan dishes, gamopilafo.

Gamopilafo – Goat meat and turkey/rooster with rice

(Recipe by Nota Karamaouna)

Gamopilafo, which means “rice of the wedding”, describes a traditional Cretan dish traditionally offered in many regions of that great island as the primary dish of the wedding feas, consisting of meat and poultry accompanied by rice cooked in the meat broth.

The origins of Gamopilafo are unclear. According to a Greek version, it could be a survival from the time when the “Serenissima”, the Republic of Venice, controlled much of the Aegean, including Crete from the 13th century onwards. However, the island’s risotto-like dishes appear to be related to both occidental (risotto) and anatolian (pilav) cuisine. Thus, Gamopilafo might well be an amalgamation of Venetian and Eastern traditions, incorporating influences from the era of Turkish rule (17th to 19th centuries). In any case, the end result is neither occidental nor oriental, but distinctively Cretan. Thus, gamopilafo is a perfect culinary representation of the long and complex history, but also the strong local character of the island.

Nowadays, the Cretans, using local products – goats and lambs are abundant in the mountains of the island – have adopted their own way of preparation with many different local variations. It is a key feature at traditional weddings – as it emphasizes the hosting family’s fertility and wealth by using rice, meat and poultry at the same time. Gamopilafo also makes an appearance at village feasts and many family celebrations.

The meat used in Gamopilafo is traditionally goat and rooster, but lamb and turkey or chicken can also be used as substitutes. The preparation we suggest takes about 3 hours in terms of cooking time. It is a simple and minimal recipe, avoiding the use of too many or overly complicated ingredients. Its flavor and taste relies especially on the high quality of the meat (fresh and local) and on the aroma of the butter used (traditionally home-made goat-milk butter).

Ingredients (serves: 8)

1 kilo goat meat or lamb

1 turkey or chicken (1 ½ kilo)

2 big cups of rice (as used for risotto – preferably the Arborio type)

2 tbsp of goat butter (if unavailable, use the best butter you can find)

½ cup of lemon juice

Salt and pepper

Preparation

Wash the meats well and boil them together for about 2 hours on low heat in a large pot or casserole dish with sufficient water to cover the meat throughout. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and pepper as well as some oil at the beginning*.

Once cooked, remove the meat, add some more salt and pepper, and put it on a serving dish.

Strain the broth.

Plan ahead to have about three times as much liquid as rice.

Reduce the heat to medium; put the drained broth (6 cups) in the pot again. Pour in the rice (2 cups) and stir, to prevent the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Stir constantly for about 15-20 minutes until the mixture has become even. Add ½ cup of lemon juice not long before the rice is cooked.

Next, brown the butter in a small pan. Remove the pot of rice from the heat and pour the hot butter over it. Cover the pot with a towel and let it rest for 5-8 minutes.

Put the rice in the serving dish along with the meat.

Your gamopilafo is ready. Enjoy!

*According to another version, popular in some Aegean islands, you can add chopped green and red peppers and 1 tablespoon of tomato paste diluted with some water.

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