World Platter | Food and Culture | Santorini Meze / by Kristy Wenz

Kristy Wenz is a writer, entrepreneur, wine lover, experimental home cook and avid traveler. She blogs regularly at Eat Play Love, where she and her family explore cuisines and cultures around the globe.

Opa!

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While I’ve yet to travel to Greece, as a Midwesterner I often find myself dreaming of whitewashed buildings, windswept coasts and turquoise waters this wintery time of year. The island of Santorini, Greece would certainly fit the bill. Not only is Santorini a renowned travel destination in the Greek Cyclades, it is also rich with history, wine and food. So let’s explore!

Rising from the Ashes

Santorini, also known as Thera, was the site of one of the world’s largest volcanic eruptions approximately 3,500 years ago. The eruption caused the center of the volcano to sink creating a caldera, which left high cliffs sloping down into the Aegean Sea and ash deposits running deep into the soil. The cataclysmic event destroyed the Minoan civilization on Santorini and is theorized to have contributed to the demise of the Minoans elsewhere in the region due to an ensuing tsunami. These discoveries have led many to speculate that the island, prior to the eruption, was part of the mythical lost city of Atlantis.

Post-eruption, Santorini was occupied by a number of inhabitants from the Phoenicians and Dorians, to the Athenians and Romans. When the Roman Empire was divided, Santorini became part of the Byzantine Empire, before being annexed by the Latin Empire during the Crusades. It was during this time, that the city was named Santorini for Saint Irene, a church in the village of Perissa on the island. This, however, was not the end of Santorini’s changing of hands. In the late 1500’s the city came under Ottoman rule where it remained until it was reunited with Greece following the Greek War of Independence in 1830.

Quintessentially Greek

Today Santorini is regarded as one of the most beautiful islands in the Aegean Sea and one of the most visited by tourists from around the world. It’s known for its vernacular architecture with whitewashed buildings and cubist designs that stand in stark contrast to the intense blue of the sea and sky. While tourism is the primary economic driver, local wine production has also gained significant ground with grape cultivation dating back thousands of years. Today the island is known for several indigenous white grape varieties the Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani, which produce both sweet and dry wines. And if there’s one thing I know about Greek culture, where there’s wine, there’s food!

Food, wine and community are integral to the people of Greece and often go hand-in-hand. The mezedes, in particular, are synonymous with drink and community. Mezedes are Greek appetizers, or small plates. Similar to Spanish tapas, they are small bites of local specialties designed to serve before or with a meal. They are also often served to accompany wine or ouzo, as the Greeks rarely drink without food. Common mezedes include olives, cheeses, dolmades, tzatziki, keftedakia, spreads and dips, and seafood. The menu varies and can even be tailored to whether you’re serving ouzo (ouzomezedes) or wine (krasomezedes).

Santorini Meze

We could easily fill the archives (and our bellies) with delicious Greek mezedes, but since we’re talking Santorini, let’s go local! Santorini in addition to its grape cultivation is also known for its beautiful, juicy and flavorful tomatoes, which like grapes, benefit from the mineral-rich soil. A meze often found at the cliffside restaurants, cafes and canavas throughout Santorini is the tomato fritter, otherwise known as domatokeftedes. Keftedes, a common Greek meze, are fried meat balls comprised of meat, onions and herbs. Similarly, domatokeftedes are fritters made with tomatoes, onions and herbs.

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The preparation is easy. Simply combine peeled and chopped tomatoes with diced green onions, minced garlic, fresh herbs (most commonly parsley, mint and oregano) and flour. In our recipe we also used cinnamon, thyme and a touch of baking powder. The baking powder serves two purposes: first, it acts as a leavener and second, it neutralizes some of the acid from the tomatoes and onions. Baking powder activates in liquid, but by using a double-acting baking powder, it will only partially react immediately, and finish its reaction once heated. The double-action is important because our batter will chill in the fridge for at least 30 minutes to help it hold together when it goes into the oil as well as cook more evenly.

To cook, heat a layer of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-heat. Place ladle-full scoops of the batter into the heated oil and fry for about three to five minutes per side, or until golden brown. Drain the fritters on paper towel-lined plates while you finish the remainder of the batter. Once the fritters are fried and drained, serve them immediately. The domatokeftedes are at their best served hot with a spritz of lemon juice and a side of plain Greek yogurt for dipping.

A Meze Table

As for the wine, the domatokeftedes are an absolute delight served with a dry white wine to cut through the acidity and cleanse the palate. They are primarily savory due to the blend of herbs, but present hints of sweetness from the tomatoes. When served with a spritz of lemon and yogurt, the citrus brings out the fresh flavors and the yogurt adds a creamy sour contrast to the crunchy fritter. Serve these as an appetizer, side dish, or as part of a Greek-style meze table – a traditional and causal gathering place laden with a variety of savory mezedes. A meze table is a place for family and friends to gather over small bites and wine (as well as ouzo). So call some friends and grab some pita chips, hummus, olives, cheeses and dips, prepare your domatokeftedes, pour some Santorini wines and raise a glass to the New Year. Perhaps you can even debate the theories of Atlantis, or simply imagine the sun kissing your face on a coast somewhere warm!

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Kalí sas órexi!

Santorini-Style Domatokeftedes (Tomato Fritters)

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Ingredients:

  • 5-6 roma (or plum) tomatoes, skinned and diced
  • 1/2 c green onions, both whites and greens, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 T fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 t dried oregano
  • 1/4 t cinnamon
  • 6-10 fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 1 t dried thyme
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 t double-acting baking powder
  • 1/2 c olive oil
  • Lemon, cut into wedges
  • 1/2 c plain Greek yogurt

Instructions:

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients from the tomatoes to the salt and pepper. In a smaller bowl, sift together the baking powder and flour. Add the flour to the tomato mixture and stir to combine. Ingredients should be well mixed and have the consistency of a pancake or cake batter. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Pour ladle-size scoops of the refrigerated tomato batter into the skillet. Fry the first side 3-5 minutes (or until golden brown), flip and fry the next side another 3-5 minutes (or until golden brown). Remove the fritters and let drain on a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat until batter is gone. 
  3. Serve hot with lemon wedges and Greek yogurt.