By: Eleni Saltas
Of all the different regional foods I’ve tried along my travels in Greece, Cretan cuisine is by far my favorite. From the most rural villages to cities like Chania, you’ll find dishes layered with fresh herbs, cheese, vegetables, and plenty of olive oil—these key ingredients create simple but flavorful dishes. One of the best representations of the Cretan cuisine is dakos, a traditional meze (appetizer) that I could eat daily and never get tired of.
Similar to Italian bruschetta, dakos is made with a twice-baked bread rusk that is hard as nails, meaning before serving you must reconstitute with water or olive oil to soften it. In Crete, rusks are most often barley based, but wheat or rye based is also common. It’s the toppings that make the dish so memorable.
For Cretan dakos, the rusks are topped with juicy tomatoes (preferably fresh from the vine), plenty of cheese (Cretan mizithra, feta or other soft cheese) and garnished with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and oregano. Complete the dakos with a Kalamata olive on top. Once assembled, if you look straight down, you might notice the dakos resembles the eye of an owl, which is why in Crete the dish is also referred to as Koukouvagia (owl).
If you’re new to Cretan cuisine, dakos is the perfect place to start your journey. You don’t need to travel all the way to Crete to make dakos as it’s a simple enough recipe that can be easily made from home. But fair warning, just one bite of dakos and you’ll be searching for the next flight to Crete to get your hands on an authentic dakos and explore other varieties of Cretan dishes. Just be sure to take me with you, the dakos will be on me.
- 3-4 medium tomatoes, grated
- 2 tablespoons oregano
- Pinch of salt
- 4 Cretan barley rusks*
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 6 ounces homemade soft mizithra cheese (If you don’t make your own, you can use soft mizithra, ricotta or feta alone or combine them)
- Pitted olives (optional)
Step by Step Instructions
Grate or puree tomatoes into a bowl and reserve juice. Mix in oregano and a pinch of salt with the tomatoes. Set aside.
Run the rusks under water to lightly moisten the rusks. Plate the rusks and drizzle a generous amount of olive oil over each one. Spread the tomato mixture thickly over each rusk. Top with the soft cheese.
Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with additional oregano. Top each with an olive if desired and serve.
*You can find barley, wheat and rye rusks in Greek or Middle Eastern markets. If not, simply use slices of toasted baguettes.