Irakleia


This Liliputian island of the Small Cyclades group south of Naxos features rolling hils that host tidily-arranged settlements. Salt cedars and blooming oleanders shade the handkerchief-sized beaches, while cedars and scrub shade the hillsides. Spring rains and wells in fertile stretches provide water for cultivating cereals, pulses, and fava peas. Back when the island belonged to Amorgos’s Hozoviotissa Monaster, the monks raised goats and sheep on the island and used their milk to make cheeses. They would also knead small barley rusks and make thick soups with “goat’s eyes”, the local mollusk Lepas oblonga. Touring the island, we come across white-washed stone houses, walled gardens accented by jasmine and prickly pears, small yards overflowing with garden vetch. Scents waft through the air, the smell of barns mingling with the aromas of thyme, oregano, and warm red soil. Local women proudly preserve the island’s culinary traditions in home-made thin noodles (hilopites), pitaridia (small pies), trahanas (dried cracked wheat mixed with fermented milk), aranista, mizithra and kopanisti cheeses. During the full moon, female sea urchins—distinguished by their short, dense reddish spines—are gathered and their coral-colored hearts drizzled with olive oil, lemon juice, and black pepper for flavorful sea urchin salad. The tasty meat from locally-raised goats is slow-roasted in the oven with rice, spring onions, fennel, dill, and rosemary for a dish known as katsikaki gemisto (stuffed kid). Mizithra cheese, eggs, and sugar are combined with love into small sweet treats known as melitinia.

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