Citizens, the gorgeous and ancient island of Crete is the largest and most populous of the Greek islands, and the fifth-largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, after Sicily, Sardinia, Cyprus, and Corsica.
Crete and a number of surrounding islands and islets constitute the region of Crete (Greek: Περιφέρεια Κρήτης), one of the 13 top-level administrative units of Greece. The capital and the largest city is Heraklion and the region has a population of about 635,000. Crete is one of the most popular holiday destinations in Greece – more than two million tourists typically visit Crete in a year!
Crete forms a significant part of the economy and cultural heritage of Greece, while retaining its own local cultural traits (such as its own poetry and music). It was once the center of the Minoan civilization (c. 2700–1420 BC), which is currently regarded as the earliest recorded civilization in Europe.
Crete was the center of Europe’s first advanced civilization, the Minoan (c. 2700–1420 BC). This civilization wrote in the undeciphered script known as Linear A. Early Cretan history is replete with legends such as those of King Minos, Theseus and the Minotaur, passed on orally via poets such as Homer. The volcanic eruption of Thera may have been the cause of the downfall of the Minoan civilization.
Crete had a highly developed, literate civilization. It has been ruled by various ancient Greek entities, the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Emirate of Crete, the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire. After a brief period of autonomy (1897–1913) under a provisional Cretan government, it joined the Kingdom of Greece. It was occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War.
Today, Cretans are fiercely proud of their island and customs, and men often don elements of traditional dress in everyday life: knee-high black riding boots (stivania), vráka breeches tucked into the boots at the knee, black shirt and black headdress consisting of a fishnet-weave kerchief worn wrapped around the head or draped on the shoulders (the sariki). Men often grow large mustaches as a mark of masculinity.
Cretan society is well known for notorious family and clan vendettas which persist on the island to date. Crete is also famous for its traditional cuisine. The nutritional value of the Cretan cuisine was discovered by the American epidemiologist Ancel Keys in the 1960, being later often mentioned by epidemiologists as one of the best examples of the Mediterranean diet.
Dakos or ntakos (Greek: ντάκος) is a perfect example of this! It is a Cretan meze consisting of a slice of soaked dried bread or most authentically, a hard dried barley rusk (paximadi) which is then topped with chopped or grated tomatoes and crumbled feta or mizithra cheese, and flavored with herbs such as dried oregano. Olives can also be added and it is also drizzled with olive oil.
Yes, it is very similar to Italian bruschetta!
The dish is also known as koukouvagia (κουκουβάγια, “owl”) – it takes this name from its resemblance to the eye of an owl when viewed from above. This owl-eye effect is even more pronounced when two Dakos are placed side by side on a plate.
In eastern Crete it is called kouloukopsomo (from koulouki + psomi, pup + bread, allegedly the bread given to puppies).
Dried barley rusk comes in all forms and shapes but probably the most commonly used one for koukouvaya is the round one. The secret is to soak the rusk either with water or tomato juice so that it is not too tough on your teeth when biting down into the dakos. One can also break the rusk into pieces and let the diced tomatoes do the work of soaking the dried bread.
Citizens, this is a delicious and simple dish that is great for your health – I urge you to try it forthwith! I have added a few optional capers as it is done on the nearby island of Sardinia plus a bit of fresh mint to the classic Cretan recipe.
Battle on – The Generalissimo
Cretan barley rusks, cut in half – buy them here
4 large tomatoes (the freshest you can find! TFD prefers heirlooms for this)
½ cup crumbled fresh Mizithra cheese (substitute with Feta mixed with ricotta in equal parts if unavailable – but *not* with dry/aged Mizithra)
1 tablespoon dried wild Greek oregano – Daphnis and Chloe brand preferred
1 tablespoon fresh mint, chopped
1 tablespoon capers (optional)
Several Kalamata olives
2-3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, Cretan strongly preferred – buy it here
Lightly dampen the rusks under a running tap on both cut sides to soften them just a little. Do not overdo this as they will absorb some of the tomato and oil too and may become too soggy.
Lightly drizzle some oil over the rusks.
Cut the tomatoes in half and grate them on a coarse grater – the skin should remain in your hand, discard it. If you prefer, you can deseed the tomato first although this is not necessary. If your tomatoes are not super fresh, mix the puree with a pinch of sugar or a few drops of balsamic vinegar to help draw out their natural sweetness.
Spread the tomato ‘puree’ on top of the rusks and add a little salt and pepper. Cover with the crumbled cheese.
Sprinkle with the oregano and mint, plus the optional capers if using and drizzle with a generous amount of olive oil to taste. Top with olives and allow the dakos to sit for at least 5 minutes, to allow the juices to soak into the bread and soften it.