Life as a chef means that proper mealtimes are ironically a rare thing. Instead I will graze over the course of the day; as a result of testing dishes and eating from tuppaware containing leftovers often just to free up space in the fridge for more food (and so the cycle goes on..). I’ve really missed the social and cultural aspects of meal times and so when I do get to go out for dinner, I have appreciated this even more than usual. I tend to go for starters or appetisers (often referred to as ‘mezedhes’) as these are mostly vegetarian, whereas there may only be 1 or 2 vegetarian main course options (most often stuffed peppers and tomatoes). This way of ordering works particularly well if eating with fellow vegetarians (or those that don’t mind a meatless meal) where we will order several dishes to share. It helps if you’re not averse to fried and/or cheesy things, as these seem to dominate menus, including fritters of various kinds (tomato, courgettes, chickpea etc), and grilled or fried cheeses in various forms; feta fried in sesame seeds and semolina (this was a winner for me), fried goats cheese, feta balls, feta in filo and honey etc. The other things that the restaurants do well (although, like with anything they can vary in quality) are the various dips, which are referred to as ‘salads’, such as ‘tirokafteri’ (spicy pepper and feta) ‘melazanosalata’ (a Greek version of babaganoush – aubergine dip), ‘fava’ (split peas) and ‘skordalia’ (mashed potatoes with garlic).
The best fritters I have come across were at a restaurant called ‘Sirens’ in Vathy, tucked away in a square behind the harbour. These are described on the menu as ‘zucchini balls’ and are coated in sesame seeds served alongside a very garlicky tzatziki.
The chef, Niko, kindly told me the recipe, which he said contained grated courgette, mint, onion, feta and then rolled in corn flour and sesame seeds. I love the flash of green when you open them up. Since returning to the retreat I have re-created my own version which have gone down a storm – with disappointingly none leftover! Because the batter tends to hold together pretty well, there don’t even tend to be any ‘mistakes’ for me to chomp on! Many of the guests have asked for the recipe and so I decided to share it here. Although they are best served fresh (when the cheese is still oozing a little!), they still taste pretty good when cold. I find that with fritters one needs to over-season, so don’t scrimp on the herbs and salt. You can also play around with the herbs and cheeses, so grated halloumi or crumbled goats cheese works well instead of feta, or you might want to skip out the dill so the mint is stronger (or vice versa!). Here we tend to use more dill than mint, since the latter doesn’t grow so easily (we have a few pots of English mint growing in the garden!). But if you’re in the UK, I would go for more mint, as it seems to be such a good match for courgettes. These are also easy to make gluten free and vegan (see below).
Courgette, feta and sesame fritter recipe
Serves 6 as a starter
4 medium sized courgettes (approx 600g)
Half diced red onion
4 tbsp chopped mint
2 tbsp finely chopped dill
1 tbsp finely chopped parsley
1 minced garlic clove
1 tbsp of lemon juice
2 tbsp of plain flour (replace with gluten free flour for GF version)
4 tbsp corn flour
150g of feta crumbled (optional)
50g of sesame seeds
Sunflower or vegetable oil for frying
Grate the courgettes and place them in a large sieve, sprinkle with salt and leave in the fridge for one hour in order to reduce their water content. Squeeze the courgettes between your hands to remove the excess water. Mix the drained courgettes in a large bowl with the onion, herbs, garlic, lemon juice and flour. Beat the eggs and add them**. Season generously with salt and pepper. Stir through the feta. You want the mixture to be fairly moist but firm enough to shape into fritters. If too watery, add a little more flour. Sprinkle a large plate with cornflour and another plate with sesame seeds. Take approximately one large tablespoon worth of the fritter mix and shape into a round flatish shape , roll it in the flour followed by the sesame seeds. You should end up with approximately 12 fritters. Once you have prepared the fritters, heat the oil in a heavy based saucepan (approximately 1 cm deep). Once it is very hot add one fritter at a time. You should be able to fry a few at once, allowing for space in between the fritters. Squash down each fritter with the back of a spatula. After approximately two minutes, once golden brown and cripsy, turn them over and press down on the otherside. Remove from the pan and place on kitchen paper to drain out the excess oil. Repeat process with the remaining fritters.
You can serve these with tzatziki or greek yogurt combined with honey and tahini.
*For a vegan version replace the eggs with 70ml of aquafaba (the drained water from a can of chickpeas) and the feta with 50g of cooked chickpeas (from the same can as the aquafaba is fine).
**At this stage lightly beat the aquafaba lightly with a fork and add to the batter mix.