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The Greeks Have a Sauce for It

Island Epicure

“You don’t go to Greece for the cooking,” someone told us. We believed them and prepared to rent a house with a stove and do our own cooking that long ago sabbatical winter. We’d looked on the map and observed that Crete is on the same latitude as San Diego, so we left our woolies at home. Those were the days when it snowed on Vashon Island and one winter it had got down to 15 degrees in January. Having been in San Diego one January, we thought we’d be eating homegrown oranges in some Cretan back yard in our shorts. Were we ever surprised!

Back then, retired USAF families could fly almost free on planes traveling empty overseas. We caught a flight from McChord to Dover, Delaware, thence to Madrid, and Madrid  to Athens, and from there to Iraklion Air Station, Crete. On arrival, we rented a two-bedroom house on the Mediterranean shore at Chersonissos Limen and bought a small car from Canadians returning home . That winter Crete’s temperature got down to 50 F degrees. In our unheated concrete block, tile floored house, it was no warmer. We went to the market in Iraklion and lugged home two space heaters, one for the living room and one for the kitchen.

We’d brought along our two sons, John M. and Steve. Young John M., then a college sophomore, did a correspondence course and Steve brought a suitcase of textbooks and a promise to his fifth grade teacher that he’d send a letter back to the class every week describing his adventures. I taught him all subjects except Math and P.E., and let him go at his own pace. He faithfully sent letters back to Mrs. Delano’s fifth grade describing Minos’s palace at Knossos, the olive harvest at Chersonnisos, how Cretan people lived, etc. Fortunately we had access to the library at Iraklion Air Station., because Steve soon outran his fifth grade textbooks.

Steve and I had spent two weeks in a library at Dover AFB, Delaware cramming on the Greek language while John L, recently retired from the US Airforce, and son John M. haunted the flight line at Dover AFB waiting for a Space Available flight to Europe with room for a family of four. By the time we lucked onto a flight across the Atlantic Ocean, Steve and I knew enough Greek to read the signs on the Greek buses and the restaurant menus, and even dicker for reduced hotel room rates when we got there. From Athens, we lucked onto a free flight to Iraklion Air Station on Crete.

To our pleased surprise, we found the cooking excellent. Some of our favorite recipes even yet are for dishes we enjoyed in restaurants on Crete. Back home on Vashon, I still cook the Kotopoulo me Domathes  (Chicken with Tomatoes) and occasionally make Mayoneza (Mayonnaise) which Greeks claim they invented. On Crete, oregano, marjoram, and thyme grow wild. I had only to walk up the mountain until I came to the herb plants and pluck some   leaves.

Here is an easy, quick sauce just as good on a baked potato, or to perk up a bland poached piece of cod, as on Dolmathakia, the stuffed grape leaves, and with lamb.

   Avgolemono Saltza
   Egg & Lemon Sauce         
   Makes about 2 cups

3 eggs at room temperature
1/3 to ½ cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup hot chicken or beef broth or bouillon
1 Tablespoon cornstarch

Beat eggs until thick and foamy. Gradually while beating, drizzle in the lemon juice. When it’s all emulsified into the eggs, continuing to beat, slowly add the hot (but not boiling) broth. If the sauce is not thick enough for you, place it in a double boiler and cook it over hot, simmering water until it thickens enough to coat a spoon. You can keep this sauce hot in the double boiler up to 1 hour. If the sauce becomes too thick, just add a little more broth.

Avgolemono Saltza brightens the flavor of poached fish or steamed vegetables or baked potatoes. It’s quick and easy to make and extends a small piece of white fish to serve at least one more person.