Tuesday, 3 February 2009


The talk is often negative: “The house smelled of long cooked cabbage”, a saying that mostly means that it is a house of the poor that have nothing else to eat than cabbage. Cabbage does not have a good name and if it should be on a menu in a restaurant in Holland, I would never order it.

Anyhow, I do not know where they got the idea that cabbage should be boiled endless. You just need to cook it for some minutes, then there will be no bad smell and cabbage is very healthy to eat. It contains large amounts of calcium and vitamin C.

Cabbage in Greek is ‘lachano’ and when you order here on Lesvos ‘lachano’ it seems that you order quite another thing than cabbage. Because the white cabbage that they serve you here is nearly a delicacy, although it is just cooked for some minutes and aroused with a little olive oil.

But they do more with cabbage than only a dish with cabbage. For example in the winter you do not eat the famous Greek salad choriatiki, because there are no tomatoes. Some people may think that here on the island fresh tomatoes are growing during the whole year (well, yes in green houses...). A few weeks ago an old Greek who always works in his garden growing vegetables and flowers met a group of tourists who were passing by. They asked him if he had some fresh tomatoes left and were very disappointed when he gave a negative answer. The Greek wondered from which planet these ladies were, asking him for tomatoes in the middle of the winter...

In the winter you eat green salad, in Greece known as marouli. I personally prefer the anamichti, a mixed salad of marouli teared in small strokes, grated carrot and grated cabbage with spices and some hot green preserved peppers.

The most tasteful cabbage dish is the lachanodolmades, stuffed cabbage leaves that in some restaurants are served as excellent dishes. Off course you can get as well still the normal dolmades. Each good Greek housewife in spring picks new wines leaves and keeps piles of them in the freezer, in order that she can make dolmades the whole year through.

Although I prefer stuffed cabbage leaves and last week I got the best I ever had (and I did taste already quite a lot of different ones). Normally the leaves are stuffed with rice and spices or rice, spices and minced meat, but in restaurant Meltemi (just outside the harbor of Skamnioudi, a little harbor place under Lisvori) the owner stuffed the cabbage leaves with a mixture of rice and octopus. A real sensation!

Greeks are good in cooking rice with fish. They do not make paella, this royal Spanish dish where different sorts of fish and or meat and vegetables are all cooked together, the Greeks make a side dish of rice cooked in the broth where mussels (midopilafo), shrimps (garidopilafo) or other shells (thalassinopilafo) are cooked in.

Mussels are not that popular on the island. Tons of them are fished out of the Bays of Gera and Kaloni, but most of them get exported. Mussels are mostly used to make a rice dish or cooked with tomatoes and feta (midosaganaki). When you order just plain mussels, do not be surprised when they serve you a little dish with raw mussels and half a lemon. That is the way the Greeks eat all shellfishes. But you can always ask the cook to cook them for you in a little water or white wine.

Last week when I got bags full of mussels and oysters from a friend who is a fisherman, I invited a Greek friend to come and eat mussels the way we in Holland (and in Belgium) usually eat mussels: a big pan full of cooked mussels, served with some dip sauces. Our Michaelis could not believe his eyes and together with the oysters we ate as kings.

The nice thing of going out for dinner in the winter to the small restaurants that depend on only local customers and no tourists, are that you eat what the ‘mother’ cooks, what means that you will often have surprising dishes, cooked according to recipes that are generations old like stuffed calamaris, smoked fish, rice with spinach, rabbit and so on. With the green cabbage and other vegetables of the season like cauliflower, broccoli and sellery as very tasty side dishes.

It may sound silly to some people but here in Lesvos you can feast upon a dish simple cooked cabbage, just like many Greeks know how to transform a dish of beans into a five-star dish. They do not use cream, alcohol or whatever special ingredient, maybe just their own olive oil, and their dishes can compete with the products of a star-cook. The Lesvorian food can be simple, but thanks to the fresh products they use, it remains top food.

Copyright © Smitaki 2009

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