By Cheryl Kollin, Full Plate Ventures

I met Nikki Rose recently at Yamas Mediterranean Grill with owner Tony Alexis. The three of us sat down to discuss Nikki’s new book and Tony’s Greek traditions as we munched on stuffed grape-leaves, olives, and tzatziki.

“Many people around the world are striving to ‘return to the land,’ while many people in rural Crete have never left the land,” chef and author, Nikki Rose describes of her homeland. This Greek American author has demonstrated for more than 15 years that the nutritional benefits of the cuisine of Crete can be applied wherever we live. In her new book, Crete: The Roots of the Mediterranean Diet, Nikki draws many parallels with her family home of Crete to the growing interest of eating a healthier diet based on non-commercially processed, fresh, seasonal, and sustainably-grown food in the U.S.

Nikki organizes seminars and study abroad programs in Crete through her program, Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries (CCS). She has received numerous awards from National Geographic, the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity and many other organizations for her success in creating sustainable travel, community-based tourism and culinary seminars that bring focus to the expanding inquiry into sustainability. Her book is a culmination of her experience and work on the island.

Located in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, Crete is the largest island in Greece and the southernmost island in Europe.

Serving Aspasia cheese

With its snow-capped mountains, mild and rainy winters, and summer temperatures averaging 85 degrees Fahrenheit, the island’s climate supports over 4,000 years of agricultural practices. Olive oil, whole grains and beans, and a variety of vegetables, fruits, and herbs grown in Crete form the basis of the classic Mediterranean diet—widely touted as a much healthier cuisine than the heavily processed, industrially-raised meat, and fast food that many Americans have embraced for more than half a century.

Nikki promotes dining the Cretan way centered on Meze, or small plates of a variety of foods, much of which is served raw or cooked simply, which is ideal for busy people. She also sees Meze as a perfect way to introduce children to a variety of foods. “Serve produce first and children will eat more of it before they get distracted or load up on meat and starch and nothing else,” Nikki writes.

The author invites us to experience the rhythm of the seasons through narrative and beautiful photos, and introduces us to how food is traditionally prepared. Nikki describes the wonderful flavor of zucchini blossoms, fava beans eaten raw as a snack, and mizithra, a fresh cheese. Seasonal favorites include figs, lemons, oranges, apricots, pomegranate, walnuts and almonds. Fisherman pull octopi out of their hiding places and bedazzle observers by tenderizing their catch on the rocky coast.

Chef Dimitris cooking with Horta

When the annual rains return in autumn and winter, horta or wild greens burst forth, olives are harvested and pressed for oil, and grapes are distilled into a spirit called raki—a symbol of hospitality that is also used in natural medicine.

Tony Alexis related his own boyhood horta experience as new immigrants from Greece in the 1970’s. “On weekends my parents, their friends and I would drive out to Tyson’s Corner area to pick horta along the roadside. Passersby would look on with curiosity at our wild greens forging, which we considered a seasonal delicacy!”

Nikki and Tony will bring the flavors of Crete to Bethesda on December 11th. Nikki will share her knowledge about the culture and cuisine of Crete at Bethesda Green. Autographed copies of her book will be available for sale at the event or can be ordered online at Proceeds benefit ongoing CCS initiatives. Afterwards, Tony will cook up a special Greek brunch from his native country. Join us for this fascinating and delicious celebration of the cuisine of Crete. Reservations required for both events. Register here; for more details call (301) 312-8384.

This event is co-hosted by Yamas Mediterranean Grill, Bethesda Green, and Full Plate Ventures.

Yamas Mediterranean Grill Yamas means, “to your health”. Owner Tony Alexis celebrates his Greek heritage by serving this healthy, delicious cuisine in downtown Bethesda.

Bethesda Green, incubates, educates, and initiates by connecting business, government and community through programs and services to promote a healthy economy and sustainable living practices in order to reduce our collective impact on the environment.

Full Plate Ventures provides business consulting to social enterprises to enhance their profitability while serving their social mission.

Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries Eco-Agritourism Network  is an award-winning educational travel programs celebrating Crete’s cultural and natural heritage.

Event Announcement:

Crete: The Roots of the Mediterranean Diet
enjoying the benefits of one of the world’s healthiest cuisines wherever you live

Sunday, December 11, 2011
Join us for an intriguing glimpse into Crete’s culinary heritage. Enjoy a unique brunch
featuring dishes celebrating the flavors of Crete.

12:30-1:30 pm — Presentation by Chef-Author Nikki Rose (free)

Bethesda Green
4825 Cordell Ave. Suite 200
Bethesda, MD  20814

1:30-3:30 pm — Celebrating the Flavors of Crete Brunch

$30 (includes a complimentary glass of wine)

Yamas Mediterranean Grill
4806 Rugby Ave.
Bethesda, MD 20814

Register here for both events; for more details call (301) 312-8384.