A gastronomic trip to Karpathos island

While reading a very interesting book about Greek pies, named Handmade pies by Kostis Kostakis, published by Psichogios Publications, we found a special recipe from Karpathos island which we absolutely wanted to try. So, we decided to take one of our mental, sweet trips, with our rolling pins as a vehicle, to this remote island. In our new, sweet article we will study the gastronomy of Karpathos, its traditional savory and sweet recipes, and we will make Karpathos pies with mizithra cheese, honey and cinnamon… Get on board, the ship is sailing!

We made Karpathos pies with a recipe from the book Pites apo cheri (Handmade pies) by Kostis Kostakis, published by Psichogios Publications.
Our traditional Karpathos pies with a sweet mizithra cheese filling.

Karpathos is a remote island in the Dodecanese, the second largest after Rhodes. According to the website of the Municipality of Karpathos, the island has been inhabited since the Neolithic era. In ancient times, Karpathos had a Minoan character and took part in the Trojan war. During the Classical and Hellenistic period it flourished economically and culturally, mainly thanks to its trade and cultural relations with the cities of Rhodes.

Οlympos village in Karpathos island, Greece
The early Christian basilica of Agia Fotini in Pigadia, Karpathos (5th-6th century)
 

In Roman times, the island was of strategic importance, as it was one of Rome’s three largest naval bases in the Mediterranean. However, from the 7th to the 10th century, the island was devastated attacks of pirates from North Africa and Asia. Later, Karpathos became a place of competition between the Byzantines, Genoese, the Order of the Knights of St John and Venetians, the latter prevailing until the 16th century. Then, the island passed into the Turks’ hands.

Karpathians of the Turkish occupation period (source)

In 1821 the Carpathians revolted, but remained under Turkish occupation until 1912, when it passed into Italian hands. In 1944, the Carpathians uprised and called on the British allies, who in turn occupied the island. In 1948, Karpathos was finally incorporated into the Greek state together with the rest of the Dodecanese islands.

The news about the occupation of Karpathos by the British, from a foreign newspaper of the time (source)

This long-suffering history definitely influenced the island’s gastronomy, being part of its culture. The cuisine of Karpathos was based on the ingredients of its fertile land, grapes, citrus fruits, oil and honey. Let’s see some of its typical dishes, to see how they incorporate the island’s tradition and history.

Mesochori village in Karpathos island

As we read on the website of the Municipality of Karpathos, women still keep traditions today. They knead and bake bread in traditional wood ovens, grind wheat and barley in mills and make local pasta named makarounes. Only with flour and water they create long cords, cut them into pieces and skillfully shape them with their fingers to get their characteristic, indented shape. They are traditionally served with “tsikomeno”, which is onion roasted in butter and sitaka, the local cheese of the island.

A Karpathian woman baking in a traditional outdoor wood oven in Olympos village (source)
Traditional Karpathian pasta, makarounes, kneaded in hand (source)
Makarounes with “tsikomeno” onion and sitaka, the local cheese of Karpathian island (source)

The island has scattered stone-built wood ovens in its villages. At Christmas in Karpathos, women bake the traditional Christmas bread, Christopsomo in Greek, while at Easter they bake the Easter vyzanti, goat or lamb stuffed mainly with rice, on Holy Saturday to be ready on Sunday, since it takes a long time to cook.

Easter vyzanti, stuffed lamb from Karpathos (source)

A description we found says that the lamb is marinated with a mixture of tomato paste, olive oil, salt and spices (pepper, cumin, very little cinnamon) and rubbed with half a lemon. The filling includes finely chopped sauté onion, liver with pepper, cumin, very little cinnamon, finely chopped dill, fennel, two mint leaves, celery, a couple of tablespoons of tomato paste and fresh tomatoes. All this simmers and a while later they add the rice. The lamb gets stuffed and baked for many hours in a clay pot in the neighborhood’s wood oven.

Karpathos has many pies to treat us… Onion pies, gra ie a pie with greens in a thick phyllo dough, kopeles (which means girls and is used in Olympos village while the rest of the island calls those pies lachanopitia), pies with spinach and leeks in winter, and greens and zucchini in summer. Here we see how wisely traditional cuisine uses local ingredients depending on the season and availability.

Our Karpathian pies have a sweet mizithra filling.

In the same way, traditional zibilia, sweets with raisin filling, are made from grapes that abound on the island and have been left over since they haven’t been consumed fresh or turned into wine. Another traditional zero waste practice, as we like saying! Zibilia are crescent-shaped pies stuffed with raisins and nutmeg, sprinkled with white and black sesame seeds, and of course baked in wood ovens.

Karpathian zibilia with raisin filling (source)

Οther very impressive pastries of Karpathos are the wedding psilokouloura. They are made in a special way that gives them a stunning appearance: vertical and horizontal dough strings are placed onto a large, ring-shaped bun, to form a grid. Before getting baked in the wood oven, they are sprinkled with sesame seeds.

Karpathian wedding psilokouloura (source)

In traditional Carpathian weddings, they served chondros, a cooked wheat with meat and tomato. It can also be prepared with milk as a custard. One will also find it at the traditional festivals of the island. A sweet that decorates wedding tables is sousamomelo (meaning sesame honey), which, as we learned, symbolizes fertility and sweetness.

Traditional wedding sousamomelo (source)

As mentioned on the website of the Municipality of Karpathos, the Karpathian baklava is also a sweet of joy. It is a simple phyllo dough rolled into a sheet, fried and then moistened in syrup -resembling Cretan diples more than traditional baklava. However, they also have the foreign baklava with almonds, walnuts and many phyllo sheets that make it very tall.

Traditional Karpathian baklava (source)
Cretan diples (source) and traditional Greek baklava

Another dessert that seemed delicious and one found in all the Dodecanese are moschopougia. They are crescents of dough filled with walnuts, almonds and sesame seeds, sprinkled with powder sugar, like Greek Christmas kourabiedes. One will find them on the islands in many variations.

Traditional moschopougia from Rhodes island (source)
Traditional Christmas kourabiedes (source)

We therefore saw that the various types of dough are one of the island’s favorite treats. We found the Karpathian recipe that we decided to try in the excellent book by Cretan Kostis Kostakis entitled Handmade pies (2017) by Psychogios Publications. The book includes recipes for handmade pies from all over Greece, made with fresh and homemade ingredients, from simple, pure local materials, in a lighter version adapted to the new manners and to our intense lifestyle.

As Kostis Kostakis writes in his book, the pies we will make “come from the remote Karpathos island and specifically from the mountain village of Elympos. They are simple and frugal pies, with greens or mizithra of their production, which are baked in the wood oven. Very tasty, amazing in their simplicity “.

Karpathian pies

We chose the sweet mizithra cheese filling for our Karpathian pies.

**We are translating the original recipe, as it is published in the book.

Ingredients for the Karpathian pies

DOUGH
500 gr bread flour
500 yellow flour (type M in Greece)
2 eggs
18 gr instant dry yeast or 30 gr fresh yeast
200 gr olive oil
200 gr milk
water as much as it needs
20 gr salt
EGG WASH
2 yolks
some milk
sesame seeds
GREENS FILLING
1 kilo various greens for pies (spinach, chard, dock, fennel, wild greens for pies in general)
1 onion
1 bunch of spring onions
100 gr olive oil
200 gr grated dry mizithra cheese (optional)
salt, pepper, cumin (optional)
MIZITHRA CHEESE FILLING
1 kilo fresh mizithra cheese (anthotyro cheese)
150 gr sugar
150 gr honey
2 eggs
2 pinches vanilla powder
1 tsp cinnamon
Our ingredients for the dough and filling of Karpathian pies

Preparation: 1 hour / Baking: 30 minutes

Method

1. Pour all the ingredients into a bowl.

2. Knead until you make a pliable, soft dough. If you see that the dough is stiff, add water, little by little, until it becomes as soft as you want.

3. Let it rest and double in volume.

4. Wash and chop the greens and onions, and rub them with salt to remove their liquids.

5. Then add the olive oil, spices and mizithra cheese and mix well. (If you choose to fill the pies with cheese, mix all the ingredients very well -mizithra, sugar, honey, eggs, vanilla and cinnamon – to homogenize.)

6. Divide the dough into 80 gram portions and roll into round sheets.

7. Fill them with the mixture you have prepared, fold them into a crescent and turn the edges upwards to close them.

8. Whisk the milk with the eggs, spread onto the pies and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

9. Bake in a preheated oven at 180° on the fan mode for about half an hour until golden brown.

A little secret!

We firstly mixed our ingredients with a fork, since in our experience this helps incorporating the ingredients better and prevents the dough from sticking to the walls of the bowl. In the same way you can mix the crumbly, buttery dough for tarts or pasta frollas.

We let our dough rise for an hour, until it doubled in volume.
We divided the dough into 80-90 gr portions.
We rolled our doughs into round sheets.
And started filling them.
We placed two tablespoons of filling into each round sheet.
We sealed some pies horizontally…
And others we sealed vertically with a wavy dough cord, as we saw in the book Handmade pies.
And on others we used a corkskrew to make embossed designs.
We spread whipped yolks and milk on our pies.
We sprinkled some of them with sunflower seeds, since we didn’t have sesame seeds at home.
Ready for the oven!
With the quantities of the recipe we made eighteen pies, which fit in two pans.
We baked them at 180°C for half an hour.

We warmly than Psychogios Publications for the books –Handmade pies and Sweet & Healthy– that they sent us so that we can try their recipes! Read also our article for the book Sweet & Healthy by Athina Panou!

Handmade pies (2017) by Psichogios Publications, a wonderful book!

Have a nice kneading everyone and enjoy!

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7 Comments Add yours

  1. Lovely information about Karpathos island and a super recipe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much!! Greetings from Greece!

      Like

  2. Tanya Sheik says:

    Mouth watering pictures!!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Tanya Sheik says:

        You’re most welcome.

        Like

  3. You really make me want to travel to Karpathos! Really nice post.

    Like

  4. Looks SOOOO delicious! Thank You! 🙂

    Like

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