Nearly 10 years ago now, our Aunty Angie took Hayley and I to the Greek Island of Thassos. We had a wonderful week of sun, sea and of course, food. The island was so beautiful and unspoiled with crystal blue waters and white sands, a real gem hidden within the Greek Islands. Right next to the apartment where we were staying was a family run restaurant where we ate every night. It was nothing showy, a cream painted building with wooden tables and chairs inside and a view of some ice-cream coloured terraced houses, but boy the food was so good and we couldn’t dream of eating anywhere else. I looked forward to our lunch and evening meal every day.
When we first arrived and never having been to Greece before, we were all slightly nervous and didn’t quite know what to order or how much. Angie recognised one dish on the menu, ‘saganaki’ as the coach guide that had bought us from the airport to the ferry to get to Thassos told everyone that it was a dish that the island was famous for. Another thing we recognised was vine leaves so typically British of us, we ordered three plates of vine leaves and three bowls of saganaki! After getting a very strange look but not questioning it, the waiter then brought it us out. It was only later in the evening and having watched other Greek families come in and order lots of plates of food and sharing them between themselves, we realised that our ordering technique was perhaps a little flawed. We quickly learnt though and from that evening onwards, we ordered lots of other exciting things, choosing different things between us. We always ordered fish though as it was especially good and changed everyday as it was freshly caught. However, we still did order our saganaki everyday as it was so yummy; a fruity and garlicky tomato sauce with a hint of ouzo, mixed together with salty feta cheese and fresh mussels. Now that to me is the taste of Thassos. We became part of the restaurant family by the end and they liked to always give us a shot or two of ouzo on arrival!
I have since learnt that saganaki actually means ‘little frying pan’. I have tried to recreate the dish a few times since coming back from Thassos but it has never quite tasted the same, I am not sure these things ever do. However the recipe below is a pretty close match. Serve it as part of a mezze lunch or on its own with some olive bread dipped in the sauce.
1 kg fresh mussels, cleaned
1 tbsp tomato paste/puree
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
1 tsp paprika
2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
3 finely chopped spring onions
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
Handful finely chopped parsley
Half a handful finely chopped dill
100g Greek feta, crumbled
salt and pepper
- Bring 250 ml water to the boil in a large pan over high heat. Add the mussels, cover and cook for about 5 minutes, giving the pan a shake a few times, until all the mussels open. Discard any unopened ones.
- Place a large frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the oil, spring onions and garlic and cook for 1–2 minutes until the spring onion softens and the garlic turns golden. Pour in the ouzo and cook until most of the liquid has evaporated, for about 1 minute.
- Add in the paprika and stir for 1 minute. Add in the tomato puree and can of chopped tomatoes and mix to combine. Bring to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes. Add the mussels and toss to combine and simmer for a further minute.
- Remove from the heat, add the herbs and mix though. Season to taste. Garnish with the feta. Gently mix the feta through just before serving.