Lori’s Spanokopita made in Crete


Tastes better than it looks!

When my friend Dan was here with us in Chania, I said that I was going to make vegan spanikopita without the cheese and adding mushrooms and sesame seeds to the mix for a flavor burst (as I learned from my family member Lori and her Mom, Carole, some years back).

He challenged me to concoct a feta replacement. And I did. It came out pretty well that first time. Sophie requested it as a birthday meal, but we went out both meals yesterday so today I set to work.


For the “vegan feta”, crumble about 8 ounces of firm tofu and add tahini, pesto, roasted or sautéed garlic, paprika (sweet or smoked), crushed red pepper (optional) and salt. This latter is important as one of the main flavors contributed by cheese to recipes is salt.

Oyster mushrooms, red onion and fresh mint

For the filling: cook red onion and sliced mushrooms together until they are softened then add spinach (I used a combo of fresh and frozen–doesn’t matter, you just need a large quantity) and cook until it is all wilted. Here the most plentiful and reasonably priced mushrooms are oyster mushrooms, but any type will do the trick. Flavor the mixture with black pepper, salt or soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and fresh chopped or or dried mint.



For the filling: cook red onion and sliced mushrooms together until they are softened then add spinach (I used a combo of fresh and frozen–doesn’t matter, you just need a large quantity) and cook until it is all wilted. Here the most plentiful and reasonably priced mushrooms are oyster mushrooms, but any type will do the trick. Flavor the mixture with black pepper, salt or soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and fresh chopped or or dried mint.

Bottom layers of filo prepared and filling added
Completed, topped and baked

Cretan Spanikopita 
Makes 8 portions

Vegan feta filling
8 ounces (or half of a large package) of firm tofu
1 heaping Tablespoon of tahini (sesame seed paste)
1 Tablespoon of pesto (if you have some; if not, minced fresh basil or 1 teaspoon dried oregano will work)
1 Tablespoon of minced sauteed or smashed roasted garlic
1 teaspoon of sweet or smoked paprika
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of crushed red pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

Spinach filling
1 small red onion, finely chopped
1 to 2 cups sliced oyster or other mushrooms (if the mushrooms are large chop them into bite-sized pieces)
1/2 cup red or white wine OR 1 T balsamic vinegar +3 T water
2 large bags or bunches of fresh spinach or on large bag of frozen spinach (or some combination of the two)
1/4 cup o chopped fresh mint leaves
black pepper
soy sauce

Assembly ingredients
1 package of frozen filo dough (check to make sure it is free from animal products; many are, but some are not)
sesame seeds
olive oil, for brushing the filo sheets
paprika, sweet or hot, depending on your tastes

Allow filo to thaw according to package directions. Crumble the tofu and put it into a bowl. Add the tahini, pesto, roasted or sautéed garlic, paprika (sweet or smoked), crushed red pepper (optional) and salt. Stir to mix and set aside.

To make the spinach filling, cook red onion and sliced mushrooms together with the wine or vinegar+water until they are softened and most of the liquid has dried up.  Add spinach and cook until it is all wilted and well mixed together.  Flavor the mixture with black pepper, salt or soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and fresh chopped or or dried mint.

To assembly and complete the spanikopita. Grease a 9×12 inch pan or a large baking sheet and Place filo on it two layers at a time, brushing lightly with olive oil between each pair of sheets. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and salt or paprika if desired between the sheet pairs. Continue in this manner until you have 6 to 8 sheets on the pan. Then add spinach filling and vegan feta and spread evenly over an 8×10-12 inch area. Then fold the extra dough from around the edges over the filling and top the “pie” with the remaining dough sheets (2 at a time, brushing with olive oil between sheets and sprinkling with sesame seeds, paprika and salt between each set of sheets. Tuck the sheet edges around the filling or into the sides of the pan. See picture above. Sprinkle top with sesame seeds and paprika.

Bake at 350 degrees F or about 180 degrees C in a fan-assisted oven for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown. Best served hot as the filo sheets are crunchy. It may be refrigerated and reheated as well, or eaten cold.

Sunday Brunch for Two in Chania

Sunday Brunch on Father’s Day

This morning we made an impromptu brunch after sitting on the balcony drinking tea and playing on our computers. Toasted pita, fresh nectarine, pear, cherry tomatoes, and baby avocado were from yesterday’s outdoor market visit. We dry sautéed sliced, giant, white mushrooms with scallions both also from the market and served it all with toasted pita-style flat breads. We had made hummus, pickled onions, and lemonade earlier in the week. Sophie is a huge fan of both hummus and pickled onions. Our recipes are below. Lemons fall from the trees along the streets so some days Sophie comes home from school with a lemon from Demeter. I love lemon anything so both the lemonade and the hummus have a big dose of fresh lemon.

IMG_3906 3
Beaming over my avocado and red bean salad
Sophie with her soya kebab with tumeric rice

Yesterday we went back, for the 3rd Saturday in a row, to Old House Restaurant in Melame, Crete, on our way to explore a couple of new to us towns, Kissamos and Falasarnas. It is one of the three completely vegetarian restaurants that I have located in Western Crete. It is open for breakfast and lunch until 5. We love it there. They have a handsome and cool dining room, but nearly everyone opts to dine behind the restaurant by the pool. The two women who run the place are lovely as is the location. Last weekend we took a bus from Chania and had great fun enjoying a late lunch with wine and vegan banana cake as we were not driving. Here are some other pictures of dishes we have enjoyed over the last 3 meals there.

Pictured here is the Greek salad with avocado subbed for the feta, an appetizer of garlic mushrooms, sweet potato fries (served with tzatziki, not vegan nor shown), the tahini salad and the felafel plate. We have enjoyed several other delicious items on their new and expanded menu including garlicky pesto pasta made with walnuts, veggie burger plate with fries (which was 3 patties of homemade veggie burgers, freshly made fries with herbs and salad, but was not served with a bun), banana cake with chocolate ganache (yeah vegan dessert!), and samosas (which is the only dish I have tried there that I wouldn’t order again…tasty, but Just too greasy or my taste.)

A couple of shots of the beautiful poolside setting at Old House.

Some images from our trip to Kissamos and Falasarnos yesterday. We even went in search of an found the site of an ancient ruin. Last picture below. We were unable to explore it though as it is only open for a few hours a day on Tuesday through Friday. The intense sky in the pictures is in part due to the squalls that rolled through yesterday. It was windy and in the 80’s, with a couple of dumping down showers for short periods during the day. The soil must be especially fertile in this area as the landscape was covered with olive and other fruit trees as well as massive expanses of green houses.

If you find your way to the Western end of Crete, I highly recommend making a trip to Old House Restaurant for the food and hospitality and to Falasarnas for the gorgeous craggy beaches and vistas. You will not be disappointed.


Sophie’s Hummus in Crete
About 6 servings

1 can chickpeas, drained
1 tablespoon tahini (sesame paste)
2 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/4 teaspoon salt

Place chickpeas and tahini in a mini-food processor. Heat garlic in a small skillet over medium heat with olive oil until it just begins to soften. Allow mixture to cool slightly and then add to the processor with the chickpeas and tahini. Process until mostly smooth. Add parsley, paprika and salt and a tablespoon or two of water and process until smooth. Add additional water a tablespoon at time to achieve a spreadable consistency. Serve with cut up fresh vegetables as a snack or spread on pita or other bread as a sandwich filling.

If desired, top with quick pickled onions for an added bite.

Quick Pickled Onions
About a cup

1 small red onion
1/2 to 1 cup cider or malt vinegar
1 teaspoon balsamic creme or thick balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sugar, optional

Peel and cut the red onion in half and then thinly slice it longwise, to make little onion smiles. Separate the layers and put the sliced onions in a small, sealable container. Cover the onion slivers with vinegar. Add balsamic creme and sugar, if using and stir or shake container. Allow to sit at room temperature for about an hour, then use as garnish or salad topping or in a sandwich or wrap. Will keep in refrigerator for a couple of weeks.


Dining on Vegan Deliciousness in Nicaragua

I wrote this post as I was flying home to Asheville from a week-long adventure in Nicaragua with 4 of my fun-loving family members in early April.

4 mojitos and a margarita by Lake Cocibolca
IMG_3303 2
Vegetable and fruit market on the road between Managua and Granada

I ate remarkably well on this journey and I will be happy to take a few days off from eating rice and beans (especially rice as it featured at nearly every meal.)

I’ll start with my two favorite meals, one was at a little restaurant called, Cafe El Imperio in Merida where we stopped for a late lunch on a sightseeing drive around Ometepe. Whenever possible, Lori and I sat in the back of the truck as we traversed rough terrain in the sunshine. Much better sightseeing from there and we discovered a new kind of pilates (using core muscles to keep body parts from bouncing/crashing into metal truck parts. On this journey, we had visited a Finca (farm) that was access for a well-attended place on the base of an extinct volcano called Madera. The trails here allowed visitors to view some petroglyphs (example above) which were made thousands of years previously. Apparently, the island was thought to have been first inhabited 10,000 years ago.

The restaurant was in a well-tended front garden of a house. We were not only treated to a tasty meal, but we also enjoyed playing with puppies, watching a small child and chickens, and wondering at the way each fruit on one of the trees was wrapped with a small plastic bag.

I had grilled eggplant and tomatoes (Berenja y tomate a la plancha) and shared a very tasty empanada made with a coarse corn dough and stuffed with vegetables and olives. It’s smell, texture and tastes were remarkable. The smell was predominantly a combination of fire grilled smokiness and recently ground corn.

IMG_3299 2
Causa Limeña at El Marlin, Granada, Nicaragua

My other favorite dish was at Bosco and Carla’s restaurant, El Marlin in Granada.  It was a dish that they “stole from Peru” called Causa Limeña. It was mashed potato puree, stacked with grilled vegetables and avocado. The people who own the restaurant are friends of Randy and Lori from their many Rotary service trips to Granada and surrounds.

Overall, I was impressed here, too, by the number of restaurants that had a vegetarian section on their menu or were very willing to make a vegetarian plate. In the area where we were, the main dairy used in restaurant dishes was cheese (especially a salty, feta-like local cheese called cuajada). This was easy to remove from my plate and give away to my traveling companions.

Gallo pinto, a dish that is a staple is nearly always made vegetarian. Mostly rice and red beans it is also sometimes flavored with onion or other tiny bits of vegetables and mild spices. I also enjoyed, several variations on pasta, steamed or lightly sautéed vegetables, platters of tropical fruit and juices made from the fruit of nearby trees. Like Granada, Matagalpa had a great selection of restaurants with flavors from around the world. At an Italian Restaurant known for its pizza, I had a delicious spinach ravioli dish topped with Pomodoro sauce. At a world fusion restaurant, I tried the yellow curry with vegetables at Lunaflor.

We visited La Finca Esperanza Verde, an organic and fair trade coffee plantation that does ecotourism as well. Their gorgeous land is set up with marked hiking trails and their grounds are covered with flower gardens and a large, well-tended vegetable garden. I had two great green salads at La Finca Esperanza Verde, one topped with avocados and onions, the other with grated pickled beets, dried cranberries, and cucumbers. Both were served with a creamy balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Here they have clean spring water and the salad ingredients are almost exclusively harvested from the garden.

This was my fifth trip to Nica over 10 years and it won’t be my last. I have very much enjoyed seeing how the restaurant food offerings have shifted over the last decade to be more inclusive of a variety of palates while most of the time staying true to their traditional food ways.

Juicy Orange Breakfast


Last weekend Sophie and I returned to the Saturday market and purchased ten kilos of fresh oranges for $2.50 Euros. Since then we have switched our breakfasts to a glass of fresh squeezed juice and our respective hot beverages, tea with soya for me and Greek coffee metrio (medium sweet) for her.

The large washtub did not fit all the oranges.

It takes 6 or 7 oranges to make 2 full glasses. It has been fun to switch up our breakfast routine. I send Sophie off to Greek language school with some fruit for mid morning and often snack myself on some leftovers at 10 or 11ish. Then lunch is latish…between 1:30 and 3:00.

When the family was here first it was a quest to find the “right” cereal and the “right” milks. Then when the family of four arrived it was a quest to get enough cereals. We had fun hunting for both. There is a bio grocery (organic, that has products from all over Europe) not too far away from where we are staying so we found a great selection of non-dairy milks and organic cow’s milks there, and a few cereal options. The bigger groceries carry lots of cereals. S and I are not big cereal eaters, so we mostly joined in the shopping fun. Here are partial cereal remains from their visits. Notice that the chocolate cookie crisps, corn flakes, and the “right” granola-like cereals are gone.

Remains from the morning cereal feasts.


Birthday Basil in Chania, Crete

The whole crew at my birthday dinner 2018.

How did 2 months go by since I last posted? I have been in North Carolina, Nicaragua, London (again) and Crete since I last posted in March. I plan to do some historical posts alternating with some Cretan food adventures over the next few weeks. My birthday was at the end of May and I had a fun family celebratory day with my Mom and her spouse and sweetie Bob from Asheville AND with our two fairy god children, Will and Aidan and their kind and adventurous parents, Fiona and Dan.

Our first outing for the day was to the Saturday market on Minos street just a short walk from the flat we are staying in while we are here. Since I was planning to be here for 4 more weeks, I said that if we could find one, I’d like a basil plant for my birthday. The market is long and very busy so the contingent spread out in time and space and reconvened eventually back at the flat. The result? Five birthday basil plants!

IMG_3884 2
Four of the five basil plantlings after trimming

The trimmings from the five plants and the pesto fixings in the mini-processor. We found deliciously smoky paprika made in Chania in a specialty wine store. Medenagan (which means “nothing in excess” in ancient Greek) on Dasgalianni Street. So good.

On this day with the pesto we made pita pizzas. Very happy making. The wood fired bakery just a few door from us makes delicious pita. On other occasions we have had pesto pasta and boiled potatoes with pesto. It is a flavor I never tire of…good thing, too, with my 5 birthday plants!

Pita pizzas, before broiling. Eaten to quickly to be photographed when the emerged steaming hot from the oven.

Cretan Pesto Recipe–enough for 1 lb of pasta or 4 pita pizzas

4 to 6 cloves of fresh garlic, roughly chopped
2 T extra virgin Cretan olive oil
1- 2 cups fresh basil leaves, cleaned of stems, packed
1/2 cup of roasted hazelnuts
1/2 t smoked Cretan paprika
1/2 t salt

Chop garlic and cook stirring over medium heat in olive oil until just starting to soften. Put basil leaves in a food processor or mini chopper and add remaining ingredients. Process until a paste if formed. If the mixture is too stiff to spread, add water or a little balsamic vinegar or water to achieve a spreadable consistency. Adjust seasonings as needed,