Dakos (or ntakos), also known as koukouvagia (which means owl!) is a traditional Cretan meze consisting of a thick slice of soaked barley rusk (paximadi), topped with olive oil, chopped, fresh tomato and mizithra or xinomizithra, a kind of traditional Cretan cheese. The recipe I’m sharing today is very similar to our traditional Cretan dakos apart from that I substituted the traditional cheese with a homemade vegan mizithra cheese. Traditional vegan cheese varieties such as the Cretan xinomizithra are always very interesting and I am really happy I made vegan the kind of cheese with which I grew up!
Cretan dakos, is one of the things that brings to my mind sweet memories from my grandmother. The reason for that is that she used to make three or four times each year a huge (really huge) batch of barley bread with her own sourdough and she used to bake it in her wood oven twice, in order to make barley rusks (paximadia). These would serve as our bread for the next two or three months, till the next time she would bake (as in many other Cretan households). Barley rusks are between the most common foods found in every Cretan home and the basis to the traditional dish that is called “dakos” ( some tourists by mistake call it “tacos” but it has nothing to do with that!). As a child, when I was hungry, sometimes my grandma would make me a dakos, by soaking a barley rusk for a few seconds in water (the traditional Cretan rusks are so hard that they cannot be eaten unless they dampen!) and then she would drizzle it with olive oil, a little salt and a little chopped tomato and oregano.
This vegan version of the Cretan dakos is an delicious idea when our time is scarce and we need a quick, delicious and tasty lunch or when we are looking for a stunning appetizer.
For the fermented raw, almond, soft cheese (vegan mizithra or xinomizithra)
- 2 cups almonds, raw
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp apple-cider vinegar or other white vinegar
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp soy yogurt (optional) or a probiotic capsule
- Soak the almonds for eight hours in filtered water. Usually I let them soak overnight. The next day drain and peel them. To remove the peels more easily, soak for 5 minutes in boiling water and peel while they are stil hot.
- Put the almonds in the blender along with the rest of the ingredients and blend until creamy. To make things easier, stop the blender every few seconds and with a wooden or silicone spatula, clean the walls of the bowl and mix slightly.
- To obtain the salty, sharp taste similar to the xinomyzithra, mix in the soy yoghurt and let the almond cheese sit in a warm place for 8-10 hours to ferment.
Almond xinomizithra can be kept in the refrigerator for 5-6 days or more and from day to day its taste will become sharper.
Ingredients for 2 dakos:
- 2 barley rusks
- 2 medium ripe tomatoes grated or chopped
- 2 tsp of olive oil (or more)
- 4 tbsp vegan mizithra cheese
If your rusks are too hard -like the traditional- just soak them in a bowl of filtered water for 2 seconds (not more) before consuming. Pour one teaspoon of olive oil over each rusk and with a spoon top with a pretty large layer of tomato. Salt the tomato and add 2 tbsp of xinomyzithra in every dakos. Garnish with ground oregano and perhaps a few olives and serve immediately.
Note: Feel free to use the almond pulp left from making almond milk in order to make your own vegan mizithra. In that case, I would suggest mixing in one tablespoon of olive oil after fermentation, for a really rich flavor.
The appetizers -or “mezedes” as they are called here- are a characteristic and basic element of the Greek table. I can’t imagine of a Greek person who would say “no” to a meal with friends, composed of many -hot or cold- small appetizers accompanied with ouzo or raki, instead of a main course.
However, eating a variety of appetizers as a meal, apart from being a Greek custom, is more or less a common way of spending time with friends as well as eating out, in other Mediterranean countries too. For example the Spanish “tapas” are correspondingly small appetizers and in Spain people often order many different tapas and combine them to make a full meal. I guess there must be a reason for that. Maybe it’s that the appetizers we share with our fellow diners may bring us a little closer: firstly we learn how to share our food, we approach each other to take a few bites from each saucer, we experience the same tastes and we eat, drink, talk and relax together with our friends or our family.
One of the most famous delicacies of northern Greece is tyrokafteri (spicy and creamy white cheese spread). As my partner is a huge fan of anything “cheesy”, we often make the raw vegan version of the original recipe. The basic ingredients that we use are various soaked raw nuts blended with olive oil, salt and fresh spicy and sweet peppers for a delicious raw vegan snack.
- 1 ½ cups raw mixed nuts, soaked for 4-6 hours and drained (I usually use: ½ cup cashew nuts, ½ cup blanched almonds and ½ cup Brazil nuts)
- 1 fresh red hot chilli pepper
- 1 red sweet pepper
- 1 garlic clove (optional)
- 1 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 3 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
- 2-3 tbsp water (only if necessary for blending)
- Wash the chilli and the sweet pepper and half them lengthways. Remove the seeds and the stalks and discard them. Chop them coarsely.
- In a blender put all the ingredients and blend at medium speed for several minutes until a relatively smooth and creamy mixture is formed.
- Keep in a glass container in the refrigerator for several days.
Note: This vegan spicy cheese dip can be also made with soaked blanched almonds only, in case no other nuts are available.
If your skin is sensitive you’d better prepare the chilli wearing rubber gloves, as chillies contain a substance that burns sensitive skin. Of course, never rub your eyes or lips after handling chillies and wash the knife, board and your hands with hot soapy water.
Since I am passionate with Italy and everything that is Italian (including the Italian kitchen) I have collected several Italian cookbooks (oh yes I’ve learned Italian!), I’ve enjoyed all the Italian vegan food I could when I travelled there and I cook Italian dishes very often. One of my favorites is my veganized version of the traditional side dish “melanzane alla parmigiana” (aubergine parmigiana), which may not contain cheese, but it is just as good.
Use gluten-free bread and gluten-free flour such as rice or corn flour, for the gluten-free and vegan version of “Melanzane alla parmigiana”
(for a small baking dish, 4-6 servings)
3 large aubergines
For the tomato sauce
- 2 medium ripe tomatoes, grated
- 1 medium sized onion peeled and finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- ½ cup red wine
- ½ cup concentrated tomato juice (or one more grated tomato)
- ¼ cup fresh basil leaves (or parsley if basil not available)
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- ¼ tsp chilli flakes
- salt and freshly ground pepper
For the béchamel sauce
- 2 cups vegan milk (I used soy this time)
- 4 tbsp flour
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast (optional)
- ½ tsp curry powder
- salt and freshly ground pepper
For the bread crust
- 2 slices of bread
- 2-3 tbsp olive oil
- 3-4 tbsp of parsley chopped
- 2 tbsp nutritional yeast
- salt and freshly ground pepper
- Remove the stalks from the aubergines, slice them up into 1cm thick slices, put them into a strainer, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and let them in one side for half an hour. By this way their bitterness will be reduced.
- Preheat the oven to 200 oC, and lay the eggplants on a baking sheet lined with greaseproof paper. Brush them with olive oil and bake for 30 minutes until soft.
- Prepare the tomato sauce: Add the olive oil in a pan and fry the onion and the garlic for 1-2 minutes. Add the wine and the remaining ingredients and simmer for 15 minutes, until the sauce thickens. Taste and set aside.
- Prepare the béchamel sauce: Pour 1 cup milk into a saucepan to boil and in the other cup of milk, dissolve the flour, the nutritional yeast and the spices. When the milk’s comes to boil, add the milk-flour mixture into the pan and stir constantly for a few minutes until it thickens.
- Prepare the bread crust: crumble the bread in a bowl with your hands, add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
- Assemble: Brush a bake dish with olive oil, lay on the bottom a layer of eggplant slices and spread over half of the tomato sauce. With a spoon pour half the béchamel over the tomato sauce and repeat the process for one more time. Over the last layer of aubergines – tomato – bechamel spread the bread crumbs. Bake for half an hour in a preheated oven at 200 °C. Wait for another half an hour to cool slightly before serve.