On holiday in Crete last month, I developed an obsession for a local dish called ‘dakos’. It is made of Cretan barley rusk, fresh tomatoes, Cretan mitzithra cheese, black olives and capers. Topped with the best Cretan extra virgin olive oil, of course. Dakos is a simple dish, but it’s addictive and full of flavours. I promised my husband I would make dakos back at home in London and they were so good, that I decided to share the recipe here.
The word ‘dakos’ refers to both the dish and the rusk: a hard, dry biscuit or a twice-baked bread made of whole grain barley flour, water and salt. The barley rusk can last for a long time, so it was not a problem carrying them back to London. We found the dakos in a bakery in Agios Nikolaos, Crete. If you don’t have a trip to Crete planned, don’t worry: you can easily buy them online (I recommend using Sous Chef).
I found a recipe by Yotam Ottolenghi in his cookbook Plenty More which was (almost) perfect, so I have created it here with a few minor adjustments. Ottolenghi filmed a TV series in Crete so he spent a long time on the island learning about the local cuisine and re-creating dishes for his restaurants and books.
These oven-dried crispbreads are made with barley, which makes them sweeter, nuttier and more crunchy than their wheat-only counterparts. Spread out on a plate and covered with the finest, ripest chopped tomatoes, good olive oil, some crumbled white cheese and black olives, they are seriously addictive. [Ottolenghi]
Dakos reminds me of the Italian ‘panzanella’ because the idea is to let the tomato juice soak the bread and make it juicy and soft (and delicious!). The main difference is that in Italy we use stale white bread instead of barley rusk, and we don’t use cheese (just tomatoes, onions and basil). The idea is similar though, so you can mix the recipes and create a Cretan style panzanella or an Italian style dakos! ;)
When we were in Crete, we ate dakos every single day, sometimes for lunch and for dinner. We found our favourite at Taverna Paliria in Plaka, Elounda. The rusk was soft, the tomatoes were juicy and full of flavours, scattered with olives and capers. Dakos is considered a starter, but it’s more of a complete meal. We struggled to finish our fish main course afterwards!
[Dakos] is a healthy meal for several reasons: It is a rich source of fiber, it fills you up, it provides antioxidants and vitamins, it contains good carbs, good fats and protein. [Olive Tomato]
*you could also use mitzithra cheese of course, or ricotta salata.
Grate two tomatoes and drain all the liquids. Chop the remaining tomato to 1cm dices. Place them in a medium bowl. Add the onion, olives, capers, and olive oil. Season with oregano, salt and pepper. Gently mix the ingredients together.
Spread out the dakos on a large platter and spoon the tomato mixture on top. Sprinkle over the feta, topped with a couple of whole olives for decoration.
Leave to sit for at least 15 minutes before serving. The dakos should be easily breakable, but still have a bit of crunch.