Dakos – Cretan Bread Salad with Tomatoes, Olives & Feta

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Many countries have a form of bread salad. The Italians have panzanella; in Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries you will find fattoush; while many salads, like Caesar Salad, contain croutons – fried bread cubes. I was introduced to Dakos by Liquid Gold Cave when I did an olive oil tasting course last year; it was one of the dishes in the lunch prepared for participants. Then, in Crete last September it was a dish I enjoyed for lunch one day in a taverna by the edge of the sea in the beautiful fishing village of Mohlos.

Dakos in Ta Kochilia taverna, Mohlos, Crete
Dakos in Ta Kochilia taverna, Mohlos, Crete

Dakos isn’t strictly a ‘bread’ salad; it’s a ‘rusk’ salad. While in Liquid Gold Cave a couple of weeks ago, I saw a packet of paximadi – the rusks used in Dakos – and couldn’t resist buying some. They’re quite hard to come by here in UK.

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The rusks are traditionally made from whole meal barley flour, water and salt, but the ones I bought from Stavia in the Cave had lovely additions of olive oil, sugar, honey, sesame and cinnamon, so offered a sweeter – and tastier – version. I wanted to make the salad as authentic as I could, like the ones I’d enjoyed in Crete. Stavia told me to dampen the rusks quickly under running water and add grated tomato, oregano, feta, olives and olive oil (and this is pretty much what I did in the end). I also looked in books and on the internet though to see what else I could find. An Ottolenghi recipe sounded good but was far more complicated than the ones I’d eaten in Crete; a few recipes called the dish Cretan bruschetta, which really isn’t correct. Some recipes used grated tomato and others chopped tomato, and in the end I went for a mix so that I had some chunks but got plenty of tomato juice to soak into the rusks.

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Of course a tomato salad needs some good tomatoes, so I bought some organic vine ones that I hoped would be tasty. They weren’t very large but definitely not cherry tomatoes; perhaps ‘medium-sized’. I had 8 and grated 4, just as I would for a Spanish tostada, then chopped the remaining 4 into small cubes.

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I put them together in a bowl and added about half a teaspoon of sugar to bring out the sweetness of the tomatoes and seasoned well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Then I mixed it all together.

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Next I prepared the rusks. I turned the cold water tap on quite gently and then held the rusks under very briefly so they didn’t soak but got just a little water. I put them in the bottom of a dish and broke them up a bit.

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I poured the tomato mixture on top and then crumbled over about half a pack (100g) feta.

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Next I drizzled over a generous quantity of extra virgin olive oil.

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I sprinkled over some dried oregano (some that I actually bought in Crete last September!). If you have fresh use that if you like, but the Greeks use dried herbs a lot. And finally, added some black Kalamata olives. I made the salad fairly last minute. I don’t think you’d want to make it hours in advance or the rusks would get too soggy.

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I served it as part of a Greek meal. I’d been expecting my brother and his family for lunch, which with Nicola, Jonathan and Lyndsey would have made 8 of us. Unfortunately my brother was ill so in the end we were 4. So perhaps today’s meal could be seen as a practice run!

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The Dakos tasted wonderful: the rusks had softened – but retained some bite – and taken up all the gorgeous tomato juice. The salty feta contrasted with the sweetness and it was a fabulous mix of flavours. I’d also made Moussaka and Labneh; there were roasted red peppers drizzled with olive oil and some fresh chopped herbs scattered over the top. We had fougasse bread from Paul bakery and a big green salad too. It was lovely to be together as a family and Baby Gale moved around the table, having cuddles with us all in turn, so he joined in too!

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A lifelong lover of good food and travel; writer and book editor

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