At the beginning of my adult life, I spent a lot of time exploring the Greek Islands. I did pretty much all of them from Paxos and Corfu to the North to Santorini and Rhodes in the South. I was drawn to the azure sea, the oregano-covered mountains, the tiny beaches, the glamorously bearded Greek academics dressed in blue and, most of all, the tiny family-run tavernas that in those innocent times were untouched by mass tourism. Here, we sampled the beautiful simplicity of Greek cuisine always seasonal and always healthy. Grilled fish marinated in thick green olive oil, garlic and fresh herbs. Tiny Symi shrimps quickly fried and served up with crusty artisan bread and a vibrant Greek salad. The freshest white bean and tomato soup proudly brought to our table by a beautiful eight-year old girl. I remember pretty much every dish and still treasure the recipes proudly given to me by their owners. Every time I recreate them, I am transported back in time to the conversations, the sounds of everyday life, the warmth of the sun and the chill of a local beer. But there is one particular mezze dish that resides in a special place in my heart. A small group of us were on the island of Santorini and decided to hire a jeep in order to explore the quiet nooks and crannies; there was no plan, we just drove. Eventually, we arrived on the other side of the island, lost and apparently far from any sign of life. The sun was high and we were hungry. We decided to scramble down to the beach where, much to our amazement, we found a sun-bleached sign that pointed towards a cave on the beach guarded by a severe looking elderly woman dressed entirely in black with only her clawed hands and sunburnt face visible. She smiled a toothless greeting and beckoned us in. There we sat on makeshift benches in the cool darkness in front of a wood fire and a tiny basic worktop upon which was a huge wooden bowl of freshly prepared tzatziki and another of a tomato-based paste alongside a pile of fresh country bread and some bottles of icy retsina. Our host fried up small dollops of the paste in olive oil and served them alongside everything else that she had in that day. I will never forget that lunch. Years later I learned that we had unwittingly sampled Santorini’s infamous tomato keftedes made by a lady who would have certainly inherited the recipe from her mother and the generations that preceded her. This is my interpretation of it which I was inspired to make last week after purchasing a brown paper bag of perfectly ripe and wonky home-grown tomatoes.
6 large tomatoes, finely chopped
100g Greek feta, crumbled
1 large red onion, finely chopped
20g fresh mint, picked and finely chopped
20g flat parsley, picked and finely chopped
1-2 tsp dried wild oregano
70-100g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, to your taste
Extra-virgin olive oil, for frying
How I make it
The raw mixture is best made the day before and kept in the fridge.
Place the chopped tomatoes in a large sieve over a medium-sized bowl. Sprinkle with salt and allow the excess water to drain off for about an hour.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix all the other ingredients together and add the drained tomatoes – you want achieve a sticky paste like consistency so start by adding just 70g of the flour, adding more if you need to. Season to your taste and place in the fridge to chill.
When you’re ready to make the fritters, add a generous glug of olive oil, just enough to cover the surface of a large hot non-stick frying pan. When the oil has come up to temperature, quickly add four desert spoonfuls of the paste making sure that you leave enough space between each one to enable you to flip the fritters. Cook on both sides until light and golden (a couple of minutes on either side).
Remove from pan and place the fritters on a cooling rack covered with kitchen roll to draw out any excess oil.