If you ever get the opportunity to take a Mediterranean Cruise, take it.
Sure, do your homework. Pick the cruise line that fits your criteria. Choose an itinerary that appeals to you. Go at a time of year that may avoid unnecessary tourists. But after everything is said and done, I tell you, it’s worth it. Even if you’ve done the whole Caribbean Cruise thing before, there is absolutely no comparison. This is soooo much better!
Our first time out, we explored the western Mediterranean. Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Florence, Roma, Majorca, and it was breathtaking. Yes, the food, the scenery and water were everything and more. But seeing these centuries old, character-filled cities with all their stories and various personalities was truly memorable. Each city and area is so unique, with the cuisines to go with them.
So when the opportunity to take another cruise came up, we didn’t think twice. This time we would visit the Eastern side of the Mediterranean and the Adriatic as well. There are so many different itineraries to choose one, so you will always find one that will work for the length of time that you can spare. We chose a 12 day this time around. And the ship would leave from Venice. We adore Venice, so we decided to arrive a few days early, just to hang out. While we were there, thanks to Social Media, we found out that old friends were in nearby Verona! They quickly jumped on a train and met up with us at the Doge’s Palace. We hugged, caught up, meandered the winding streets and had the most lovely and unplanned visit. Then it was time to board the ship.
I won’t bore you with details about the ship, the ports of call, or the rest of our vacation (that would entail reading a very long blog post, and I wouldn’t put you through it!) but I will share one foodie highlight that still makes me swoon.
We were in Mykonos. Jim had rented a jeep to explore the island in. When we hit the northern side of the island, we knew we were on the lookout for this fabulous little restaurant called Kiki’s. We eventually found it. Mind you, it meant parking the jeep and traversing a barely there pathway that eventually led down to a walkway that led to a secluded beach. Just before the walkway, we passed a little house with a patio. We were going to walk past it when it suddenly dawned on us that this was Kiki’s! It wasn’t open for the day yet, but there was a good sized crowd starting to camp out on the grass and stones around the patio. So we found a little patch of dirt, and waited along with the rest of them.
It was worth the wait. The patio is where all the tables are set up. There is an overhang to keep out the bright sun. But the breezes off the Adriatic kept us cool. The owners were a friendly couple who knew they had a fabulous thing going. Dish after dish was spectacular. I already knew that I loved Tirokafteri, or spicy feta dip, from the Greek restaurants here in Toronto. But their version was especially memorable. We inhaled it! We had to, who knew when we would ever return, and we didn’t want to waste a morsel. The little house attached to the patio is where all the cooking happens. I wandered in, and after a minute, one of the girls behind the counter, managing the dishes and the ovens, could graciously gave me a quick moment of her time. She managed to give me a rough idea of the recipe, but it was enough to go on. Good Greek feta, Greek yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice and a red chilli pepper. I could do this! So I quickly added her instructions to a note on my phone. And then sadly, forgot all about it!
Last week were were speaking with Albanian friends. Their mom makes a fantastic dip, not unlike Tirokafteri, but with larger pieces of hot pepper, and it has a more firm texture. But it reminded me of the recipe that I had jotted down on my phone. It was time to make it. And as I did make it, the wonderful warm memories of our brief visit to Mykonos came rushing back.
What’s so lovely about this recipe, is that you are in total control of the texture and the heat. It’s really just a blend of good feta, the yogurt and the olive oil. A dash of lemon juice adds brightness to cut through all the salty richness of the cheese and oil. And the heat comes from a long red chilli pepper that you blister on the stove top. It all gets whizzed together in a food processor (if you like it smooth) or by hand for a more rustic texture. And if you don’t have a chilli pepper lying around, why not use some chilli oil you had made up? Or even some hot antipasto paste? It’s really about adding just enough heat to make this dip a party in your mouth. And if you’re not sure about the heat tolerance of your crowd, you can adjust for it by starting out with less and building up.
And now I wish I could just hand you some warm pita fresh out of the oven, so that you could dip in and try this for yourself! It is sooo easy to whip up, and will be the hit of your next meze platter. It’s right up there with tzatziki and taramasalata. Add some olives, other pickles and you’ve got the makings of a glorious evening. Wash it down with ouzo or a crisp white wine, and you’ll practically feel those warm Adriatic breezes for yourself.
Tirokafteri, aka Spicy Feta Dip
A taste of the Greek Isles that is a breeze to whip up. Literally. Whipped feta, yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice and red chilli pepper come together to make the perfect spicy dip.
- 1 long red chilli pepper
- 10 oz 280 grams good Greek feta
- 1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tsp fresh lemon juice
Preheat a small skillet over medium heat.
Add the chilli pepper and slowly blister it until the skin is softened but not charred in spots.
Remove from the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes.
Cut off the stem, and slice lengthwise in half. Remove the seeds. Roughly chop into 1/4 inch pieces.
Add the chilli pepper pieces to a small food chopper or processor.
Add all the other ingredients.
Chop or grind until everything is blended well. There may be small chunks of pepper. Just make sure they aren't too large. Taste to see if you like it. It should be smooth and creamy, but not too loose. If you find it is too stiff, add a bit more yogurt and blend again.
Transfer to a small serving bowl and cover with cling wrap.
Chill. Before serving, remove to warm slightly. If too cold, the pita will have a harder time moving through the dip.
You can also blend by hand with a fork. This will create a more rustic texture. Just make sure to finely mince your pepper before blending with the rest of the ingredients.
Serve with pita, cucumber and radish slices, or even bread sticks or crackers. This works great as part of a small sweet pepper stuffing!
If you don't have a hot chilli pepper handy, you can use hot chilli oil to replace some of the olive oil. You can also use hot pepper antipasto spread- Just spoon out about a tbsp into the feta mixture to begin. Adjust heat from there.