‘One bean, one mouthful’: Chef Marianna Leivaditaki on the beauty of gigantes and her Greek island home
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“You have really high mountains and you have really beautiful beaches, and you can be from one to the other in half an hour,” says Leivaditaki. “Within this distinction and this division is the fact that it’s like two different worlds. It’s like looking at the south and the north of a country.”
By the seaside, the pace is more relaxed. People typically socialize until very late and eat lightly: Her interpretations include whole charcoal-grilled fish with lemon, oil and parsley; sea urchins with olive oil, lemon and fresh bread; sun-dried octopus; and mussel saganaki with feta, fennel and ouzo.
In the mountains, hunters and herders wake up at the crack of dawn. They eat heartier fare: slow-cooked meat dishes such as her rabbit with whole baby onions, and hazelnut and parsley sauce; pork in apple juice with malotira (Cretan mountain tea), chickpea purée, and leek and parsley sauce; leg of lamb with orzo; and oxtail with peppers and olive oil fries (the recipes for all of which are in the book).
Between the sea and the mountains, on the land grow the fruit and vegetables forming the basis of main meals grow, including fava beans, squash, artichokes, watermelons, figs and pomegranates. When she goes back to Crete now, Leivaditaki says, it’s as “an explorer.” Talking to vendors at the market, asking if she can join them foraging, if they’ll show her their cooking methods or if she can visit their wineries.
“The most important thing for me is to look around and see what magic the place you live in has to give, and what is special. So talking about things like wild oregano, Cretan mountain tea and the cheeses that are made in Crete and are specific to the area is crucial,” says Leivaditaki. “I never used to be like that. But I love the fact that it has made that change in me. I explore and every time I go, I find out new things.”