Cruising the Greek Islands Part 1 – A day in Mykonos (and a classic Greek salad with spiced lamb loins)

Last week I took you to Italy where our Mediterranean cruise began and ended. After beginning with the end I thought it was timely to wind the clock back to our first excursion.

After thirty-six hours at sea sailing from the south of Italy to the Greek Islands we were looking forward to disembarking for a day in the Greek sunshine.

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This was not my first time to the Greek Islands – it’s a favourite destination for a holiday in the sun. But it was the first time my husband and I had been to Mykonos. For this reason we decided to book ourselves on a tour. Can’t say in general I’m a great fan of guided tours. As mentioned in my previous blog, I like to find my own way and discover a place for myself – even it means getting a little lost along the way.

Confession time – there is no way we would have seen the things we did had we not been on a guided tour.

Our bus took us first to Kalafatis Beach, one of the largest bays on the island. Apparently it’s rather popular with windsurfers when the breeze gets up but on the morning we were there it was quiet and peaceful; a beautiful spot that epitomised the best of the Greek Islands’ beaches.

We then moved on to the small town of Ano Mera, a village more traditional than the tourist hotspots that are full of restaurants and nightlife. On arriving in the village, we first visited the Monastery of Panagia Tourliani. The monastery was originally built in 1542 and then restored in 1767 at which time it took on its present-day name. Stepping into the outer courtyard the outside world immediately faded – a beautiful and tranquil place.

As we stood admiring our surroundings we were lucky enough to briefly meet the sole resident monk along with one of the local women who volunteer to help with the upkeep. There was a lovely sense of community and real village life.

Inside the monastery was surprising. Immediately my eye was drawn to the massive ornate altar screen with its many icons that dates back to the eighteenth century. Very impressive.

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After leaving the monastery we spent a little more time in Ano Mera. Our guide took us on a scheduled stop to a local café where we were served coffee with traditional Greek pastries. Our guide explained that according to Greek tradition if you come into someone’s home and are offered food or drink your host would be offended if you declined. In other words – “not for me, thanks” – was out of the question. But always happy to try something new I had no intention of declining in any case. The coffee was good and the pastries deliciously sweet and dripping with honey.

I consider our time spent at Ano Mera was where we benefited most from being on a tour. Left to our own devices we would never had made it to this charming village. What a shame it would have been to miss it.

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After leaving Ano Mera it was time to head into Mykonos town for a walking tour. The main town is more reminiscent of Greek holidays in the sun – whitewashed buildings, narrow and twisting cobbled streets, shops, restaurants, cafes. It had a great vibe. You could easily while away a few hours exploring, ducking in and out of shops, stopping for delicious Greek cuisine.

Our guide led us through the streets to the Old Harbour, which was once again bustling and lively. Lined with restaurants there was plenty of al fresco eating. He also showed us the area known as Little Venice. The buildings sit directly on the sea’s edge, their balconies overhanging the water. I loved the vibrant colours of the shutters.

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Our last stop was the Church of Panagia Paraportiani. This is apparently the most photographed structure in Mykonos. The church was begun in 1425 but it took almost 300 years before it was finally finished. It’s unique by the fact that it consists of five churches that were built on top of or next to each other. The whitewashed structure is stunning against the backdrop of the Aegean.

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After parting with our guide, who incidentally had been excellent, it was time to do some exploring of our own. I do love the towns and villages of the Greek Islands. They have a beauty and atmosphere that is all their own. And on such a glistening cloudless day it seemed a perfect place to be.

When it was time for a refreshment stop I ordered a glass of the local white – a tradition of mine whenever I’m abroad. Cold and crisp, it was just the ticket as we sat at a small table outside and watched the world go by.

Neither of us were particularly hungry – perhaps it was the heat or perhaps it was those delicious Greek pastries we’d had for morning tea – so we didn’t order but I can tell you that the food being delivered to the tables around us looked fantastic. By the time we returned to the ship I had major regrets about missing out on the local cuisine.

And now that I’ve finally come around to food, it seems only fitting that I should end this blog with a Greek inspired recipe.

Greek salads somehow taste better when you’re in Greece – I suppose it’s the Mediterranean produce and that magic touch they have with it. As for the lamb, this is one of my favourite ways to serve it. I’ll confess I’m cheating a bit in that the spice rub is more Moroccan inspired but there’s nothing wrong with a bit of fusion.

This is a meal that can be put together quickly but is so delicious and has such an array of flavours and textures. Even during the colder months, the spicy lamb transforms a Greek salad into something more interesting and satisfying.

A couple of quick notes. For the tomatoes I like to use the lovely acid-free Roma tomatoes but whatever is your preference. Now the olives – I always buy whole olives and remove the stones myself. I know it seems like a bit of a faff, especially when you can buy them already stoned but they taste so much better if you do it yourself. Try it and you’ll see.

 

Classic Greek Salad with Spiced Lamb Loins

Serves 4

 

3-4 lamb loins

Olive oil

For the spice rub:

4 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons garam masala

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon freshly ground sea salt (less if using regular salt)

 

For the Greek salad:

Mixed salad leaves or leaves of your choice

1 x red onion, sliced thinly into half moons

1 x cucumber, halved and sliced (peeled or unpeeled as you choose)

4 x good-sized tomatoes, sliced

1 x green pepper, seeds removed and sliced

20 x Kalamata olives (I like to stone and halve them)

Handful of fresh mint leaves, sliced thinly

200g feta cheese

Dried oregano

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground sea salt

 

First mix together the spices for the spice rub in a small bowl. Rub this all over your lamb loins, drizzle with a little olive oil either side and then leave to sit while you heat your frying pan. This also gives the meat a chance to lose a bit of its fridge chill before hitting the hot pan.

Make a start on the salad. I know it’s usual to mix everything together in a bowl and then transfer to the plate but I like to make it on the plates and layer everything as I go.

Start with the salad leaves – this isn’t traditional but I do like to have a few crunchy leaves for the salad to rest on. Next layer the red onion, cucumber, tomatoes and green pepper one after the other on top of the lettuce. Sprinkle over the olives and the sliced mint leaves.

Your pan should be hot enough now so carefully place in the lamb loins – immediately you’ll hear them start to sizzle. I’ve found that around four minutes per side reliably gives me a lovely medium finish so that it’s still beautifully pink and tender on the inside. I also give the sides a quick sizzle so that it’s browned all over.

It’s important to watch the time here. The last thing you want to do is overcook the lamb. As soon as it’s done to your liking, transfer the lamb to a plate, cover in tin foil and leave to rest for 10 minutes while you finish the salad.

Crumble the feta over the salad and then a sprinkling of dried oregano.

Whisk together or shake in a jar the extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar. Add salt to taste and drizzle over each salad.

Once the lamb has had its resting time cut into slices and lay on top of the salad.

By this stage all you’ll want to do is get it to the table and start eating.

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10 Comments

  1. Rachael Wilson says:

    What a fabulous blog Tracey, Alex and I love the Greek Islands/Mykonos 😄 Your words reminded me soo much of our great time there. The salad sounds fabulous too!!! Really enjoying your adventures and culinary delights xx

    Liked by 1 person

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