Zambolis apartments

Zambolis apartments
For your holidays in Chania

Saturday 31 December 2016

Askeletoura (Ασκελετούρα)

It's askeletoura time in Greece! In the same way, as the pomegranate, this bulbous plant is smashed jut before the new year on the ground before your front door, for good luck!

AskeletetouraDrimia maritima, is also known by the name of 'skilokromido', which literally means 'dog-onion'. This perennial plant grows up to 50-150cm when in flower, and has a very large bulb diameter of up to 18cm. The large leaves appear after flowering. Inflorescence is large with many white flowers with green or purple veins. It flowers from August to October; now, all we see of it is the leaves. It grows all over the place, especially in undisturbed plots of land which aren't normally cultivated. It's common all over Crete, and in the Mediterranean.

Some of my colleagues at the Mediterranean Agronomic Institute of Chania run a Mediterranean Plant Conservation Unit. They have collected the following information on the traditional uses and folklore surrounding the askeletoura:

Protective properties were attributed to the askeletoura by the ancient Greeks. The askeletoura has served as a good luck charm since ancient timesand it was hung over the doors of houses. A ring dating back to the Minoan period, which was found in Mochlos, Sitia, Crete, clearly shows the bulb of the askeletouras hung above the stern of a ship, and  above the gate which is shown in front of the ship. Even Dioscorides praises this onion hanging over the door, and the great Pythagoras also followed this custom. This giant onion, which survives the summer drought to flower in autumn with its tall floral ears, symbolizes the power that people wanted to pass onto their lands and their homes. For the followers of Hippocrates, the askeletoura was one of the oldest medicinal plants. Athianios mentions it as 'myofonon' (meaning 'mouse poison'). Theophrastus wrote about it in "On Plant Histories". He mentions that it blooms three times a year, it has a high rate of germination in uncultivated fields, it grows and stays ageless, and it transmits its germination rate onto other plants that are growing closely to it. The ease with which it germinates and its agelessness were gifts endowed by Kallo, the fairy of beauty, who had sprinkled holy water over it as she came across it during her strolls in the moutnains and the valleys. This tradition also exists in Crete, which gives rise tot he saying that "the askeletoura never dies and will never disappear from the fields." In older times, people hung the askeletoura on the first of May on the doors of their homes to bring them luck, and on New Year's Day, they hung one in the doorway, for good luck. This New Year's custom continues to this day, but we also smash a the askeletoura (like the pomegranate) at the entrance of the house for good luck.

Cretan folk healing does not use the plant as an internal medicine. It uses it externally, in bandages of mashed bulbs, as a drug for the treatment of arthritis and rheumatism. The mashed bulbs were also used with flour as a poison against rodents. In September, the askeletoura blooms, bringing forth a long stick full of flowers. When watered, the askeletoura does not bloom; Greece can be very dry in September. Farmers carefully observed the flowering of the askeletoura. When the floral stem of the askeletouras was looking very bright and full of flowers, the barley yield would be good. In the year when it did produce a stem, farmers believed that the crop would be destroyed. In the area of ​​Rethymno, Crete, when the 'lantzouni' (as they called the stem) was full of flowers, they would understand that the winter would be heavy, while when it was half full, the winter would not be so cold. Children used the dried stems as a toy, making various objects with them. The askeletoura is also a very good bee plant, as it contains a lot of nectar. 

In this world full of prophecies of doom and gloom, it's reassuring to see the askeletoura continuing to grow undisturbed, despite the calamities that have befallen Earth, our only home. Its constant presence is a sign of great hope. 

Happy New Year!

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Thursday 22 December 2016

Hosafi (Χοσάφι)

Here's an article I wrote last year for The Greek Vegan's Nisteia magazine

The Hellenic people, from which modern Greeks descend, were found throughout the ancient world, where they set up colonies due to their trading interests. The Hellenes settled in various regions east of modern-day Greece known as Asia Minor, areas which are now part of modern-day Turkey. But these places continue to be strongly linked to the spread and influence of Greek language and culture. Cappadocia in central Turkey is still known by its ancient name where many Greeks settled after Alexander the Great conquered the region, which had extended its borders by the time of the birth of Christ to include the coastal area of the Black Sea, named by the Greeks as Pontus Euxeinos ("the Hospitable Sea").


In 1922, the Exchange of Populations between Greece and Turkey forcibly repatriated approximately 1,000,000 Christian, Turkish-speaking Greeks from Asia Minor, their ancestors' homelands for many generations, to Greece. Greece was understandably unable to cope with such an increase in population and many of the refugees eventually left Greece for the New World. A great many made their permanent home in America and brought with them their language and proverbs, their myths and legends, their songs and music, and of course their foods, like this recipe for hosafi, offered as hospitality to guests.

Refugees form Asia Minor being houses in Athens at the National Theatre

Hosafi is a fruit compote still made in many parts of Greece and the Greek diaspora with significant numbers of descendants of refugees originating from the population exchange. The food customs of the Greek Pontian migrants were different from those of Greek people living in Greece. Apart from the use of what were then regarded as exotic spices in cooking, like cinnamon, cumin and nutmeg, the Asia Minor Greeks also brought urban culinary traditions to Greece, at a time when Greece was still very rural-based, and in these ways the population exchange instantly expanded and enriched Greek cuisine. 


Many of the recipes of the Asia Minor Greeks are of course based on the availability of ingredients in their former homelands. Hosafi, also known as housafi, cleverly embodies all these territorial and climatic limitations. It is made with fruits that are gathered in warm weather, dried during cool weather, and eaten in cold weather. Drying fresh products is one of the oldest methods of preserving known to man. Reconstituted with a little moisture, these products retain all their flavor and make nutritious meals. 

The simplicity of the dish - boiling together various dried fruits, sweetening them with sugar or honey and adding spices and/or wine for flavour - allowed it to be made any time of the year. The recipe’s ingredients are both meat and dairy free; hence hosafi was and still is made during lenten periods in the Greek Orthodox calendar, such as before Easter. But the different colors of the various fruit added to hosafi give it a rich appearance; it is this aspect that gives hosafi a place at the Christmas table, as a dessert served after the main meal. The leftover syrup from the making of hosafi is also very tasty as a between-meals palate cleanser; Greek Orthodox priests would imbibe it as a 'power drink', particularly useful when fasting rigorously for long periods. This is presumably where hosafi gets its name from: in Turkish, 'hoşaf', means 'stewed fruit', which comes from the Old Persian 'hoş ab', meaning 'pleasant water'. 

Image result for cappadocia clay pots
Clay pots used in traditional cooking, Cappadocia   

Cappadocia is a very mountainous area, which should make one wonder why early settlers chose to live there, rather than on lower ground which gives better access to food, water and transportation. In early civilizations, people felt safer in the mountains, as they were better protected against invaders. Hence, once the Hellenes converted to Christianity, they built their churches and monasteries safely within the confines of the rocky tops of the lunar-like landscape that makes up Cappadocia, while the people lived in the underground city of Anakou (known in modern Turkey as Derinkuyu), where they also kept their livestock and food stores. The region’s remoteness created a strong sense of spirituality within the community, which provides a great source of shared wealth for the Greeks with origins from the area. This idea gives a better understanding of why the Sumela Monastery, built within the cliffs of the Pontic Alps, still holds great significance for the Greeks whose ancestors lived in Asia Minor. The monastery is no longer in operation, but annual pilgrimages still take place.

Soumela Monastery

The Cappadocian Greeks in particular undoubtedly had to be very well prepared for food shortages during the colder months of the year, when fresh food would be harder to find at high altitudes where summers would be hot, winters cold and snowy, and rainfall sparse in this semi-arid region. A cellar full of supplies would be vital in such places during the winter, as access to more temperate zones would be difficult during snowfall, and a dish like hosafi, bringing the sunshine of summer days, would be a most welcome treat. 

Hosafi, by Kalofagas

The variety of the colours of the fruits in hosafi reminds me of the shiny balls on a Christmas tree, so having hosafi on the table would have once been seen as a comforting sight at this dark and climatically difficult period. We're all still searching for that sliver of light to get us through these darker times. May we all find it soon.

Season's Greetings!

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Thursday 8 December 2016


Just another day in the life of a Mediterranean cabbie.

Last weekend, while I (ie my husband) was first at the Agious Apostolous taxi rank, I picked up a fare at Hrisi Akti, just a few metres away from the stand. Dusk was beginning to fall and there weren't many people at the beach. On seeing the taxi, the woman waved out to me. She sat in the back of the cab. I asked her where she was going to. She looked a little lost. She was tall and well groomed, Her clothing choices made her stand out as very well dressed. 

"Well, I don't really know where I am," she said, "but I walked out here from the lighthouse, where I'm staying, at a hotel close by there." 

"You walked out all the way from there?" I was very surprised to hear this. She said she wanted to get a bit of fresh air, and had lost track of the time. She would have walked along the coast, which is quite empty now that the tourist season is over. 

I asked her for the hotel name, which she seemed to remember. She was from (another Greek town) and she was staying in a high-end hotel in Hania for a week, on business. She said she liked the town very much, telling me about the how the Venetian port had made an impression on her. She was in a chatty mood, laughing a lot as she talked in a carefree sort of way. We talked so much about the town in that short ride to the hotel, that I didn't have any time to ask her about her line of business. When we arrived at the hotel, I gave her my business card, should she need another ride. That's how I picked up another fare from her, when she phoned me yesterday, to take her to the airport. 

When I arrived at the hotel, she was waiting at the lobby with her suitcases. She seemed to have a lot of luggage. I helped her with the cases and she sat in the front passenger seat. She was immaculately dressed, perfectly coiffed, and well made up. She had a decolletage you could dive into (husband's choice of words) and get lost in (again, not my wording). 

"So how did business go?" I asked her. She said Hania was good for trade, but not as good as Iraklio, where she was based last week. "My phone rang every half an hour here," she said, "but in Iraklio it rang every ten minutes. I made enough money to cover my expenses. Hania is more beautiful than Iraklio, but it doesn't bring in profits."

"It's a bigger town," I reminded her. And then I realised that I had not asked her what line of business she is in. "So what do you trade in?" 

"I trade in myself!" she exclaimed, with a ring of laughter in her voice, as she swept her hand in the air from head to toe. I suppose I could have guessed, but I don't see why I should have guessed. No one can really guess what anyone is doing these days because we are all doing so much. Our appearance as Greeks is very global, so the traditional way of regarding people by their appearance is pretty much gone. 

She explained that she conducts all her business online these days, and she is well connected with other people in the same trade. So through the internet, people will know where she is available and when. This is how the locals who needed her services would know where she was coming to Crete. She also said she never flies Ryanair because of their baggage restrictions, preferring Aegean Airlines. "I need to carry my makeup bag, laptop, day bag and travel documents. Ryanair would leave me in the cold if I tried to get all that through." I noticed how well dressed she was: everything she wore was a brand label, including her accessories. 

Our arrival at the airport signaled the end of a very interesting conversation, like many I have with strangers who introduce me to details of their life that are often very different from my own. I wished her a safe journey and expressed my hope that I will see her again. "Don't worry," she said, "I have your card." She didn't have a card, but she gave me details of her escort agency, including the website which listed all her services. She was a real professional. 

©All Rights Reserved/Organically cooked. No part of this blog may be reproduced and/or copied by any means without prior consent from Maria Verivaki.