A vegetarian Greek feast straight from the Aegean Sea

A vegetarian menu straight from the Aegean Sea – Lean Timms

The moment I stepped off the plane on my first visit to Ikaria, I felt the magic of the Greek summer, and the promise of long relaxing days to come. This beautiful Greek island in the Aegean Sea is named after Icarus, the mythological figure who fell into the sea when his wax wings melted in the sun. It is a nature-lover’s paradise, surrounded by crystal-blue water with lush hiking trails leading to villages nestled along the mountainous coast.

Ikaria is a textbook example of the Mediterranean diet in its holistic sense: pure and honest food enjoyed with a community. Most Ikarians grow their own food, giving them nourishment and a deep sense of satisfaction. Eating foods in season, as nature planned, produces mouth-watering, nutritious dishes. I think this is the way we all want to eat.

These recipes are ones that I was fortunate enough to cook alongside some gorgeous Ikarian women, or that I ate in their homes or cafés. I love the way they talk about their recipes: ‘a pinch’ of this, ‘a handful’ of that, or ‘This is how my mother made it.’ ‘How long in the oven?’ I would ask. ‘As long as it needs,’ would be the reply.

This for me is the essence of Greek cuisine: cooking intuitively, with knowledge passed from one generation to the next. Notebooks filled with recipes jotted down in beautiful handwriting, with notes scribbled beside them, or simply cooking the way we remember from conversations in the kitchens… these are the things that are good for the soul. While I come to Ikaria to mainly learn about food, I learn so much more about joy.

‘Ikaria’ by Meni Valle is published by Hardie Grant (£22). Order a copy from books.telegraph.co.uk

Meni Valle's vegetarian Greek menu
Meni Valle’s vegetarian Greek menu

Horiatiki salata (village salad)

This classic Greek salad is always on the dinner table. You can add some greens to this if you like, such as rocket or purslane.

Prep time: 10 minutes

SERVES

Four to six

INGREDIENTS

  • 6 small tomatoes, quartered

  • 1 cucumber, sliced

  • 1 small red onion, chopped

  • 2 green bell peppers, sliced

  • 95g pitted Kalamata olives

  • 125g block of feta

  • Large pinch of dried oregano

  • 60ml olive oil

  • 1 tbsp red-wine vinegar (optional)

METHOD

  1. Place the tomatoes, cucumber, onion, green peppers and olives in a serving bowl and season with some salt and pepper. Put the block of feta on top and sprinkle with the oregano. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar, if using.

  2. Serve straightaway.

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