24 May 2020
We are much more likely to make an event of breakfast than lunch. Our midday meal is generally eaten without ceremony on board or on the go in between running errands or exploring ruins and the markets and independent shops of the Med’s coastal towns have done us proud for its key ingredients.
Whatever its form, delicious fresh bread is always plentiful. Whether a warm loaf or fluffy flatbread direct from the baker, it has been the backbone of most of our lunches on board. Sardinia’s thin and crispy pane carasau made a delicious lunch when topped with a tomato sauce and an egg.
The options for local cheese to accompany our bread were endless. From the curious tetilla cheese of northern Spain through the creamy blobs of mozzarella of Italy to the smoked cheeses of Montenegro we have tried them all. Perhaps the most memorable cheese purchase came in Greece, on the island of Naxos where the hirsute harbour master had a fine sideline in cheese making and we couldn’t resist buying a rather large wheel of goats cheese. It was the kind of cheese that makes your mouth tingle.
The fields and markets of the Med have provided another lunchtime accompaniment – the olive. Bright green in Spain, deep purple in Greece, they go in salads or with pasta or just straight out of the bowl.
The availability of fresh, local ingredients have seen salad in its many forms become our lunchtime staple. At around 12pm Stefan will often be heard asking “What’s for lunch? Salad?” There has never been a shortage of supply of tomatoes for his favourites – the simple tomato salad or, when we can also buy or scrump a pomegranate, the finely chopped Turkish salad.
But none has had such a regular spot on our lunch menu than the humble Greek salad. Even outside Greece it is almost impossible not to find its core ingredients – lettuce, cucumber, red onion, pepper, tomato, olives, olive oil, lemon juice and feta cheese. The latter has the added bonus of a long shelf life so is perfect for stocking up and keeping on board. In Greece we picked up the dried oregano that, with a generous pinch, gives it that more authentic flavour but it is far from essential. We eat Greek salad so often, sat at anchor, alongside a harbour wall or underway, that it takes a pretty special event to make it a memorable one but if there is one we will always remember it is the one we made with Ella, at anchor off Cefalonia when she came to visit with her mum and Lee. It must have been her expert chopping – it was delicious!
The savoury baked goods of Greece’s bakeries also provided many a takeaway lunch but the humble gyros must win the prize of the cheapest, most filling lunch snack. Essentially a kebab and chips rolled into a flat bread sandwich with salad and tzatziki, it rarely cost more than €2. If you don’t mind the funny looks, you can also ask for a vegetarian version which is, let’s face it, the Greek version of the chip butty!
Probably our favourite lunch stop discovery though was the Turkish gozleme – a folded pancake stuffed variously with vegetables, herbs and cheese and sold from roadside stalls to lakeside cafes everywhere. Simple and delicious.
The Mediterranean is home to all those little dishes – tapas in Spain, meze in Turkey, whatever you call it they make perfect small or big lunches depending on how many you order. Firm favourites for us in Spain became boquerones fritos (fried anchovies) and padron peppers. The bowl of snails ordered for us by Akis in Chania was amongst the most unusual and Albania surprised with its more vegetarian friendly lentil fritters.
But when it comes to deep fried and deeply delicious street food nowhere beats Sicily. Those stuffed rice balls, arancini, became our go to for lunch in the squares and streets of Syracuse, Palermo and Ragusa and were always washed down with Italy’s sweet cola chinotto.
There is one ingredient that dominates our lunchtime menu on board and that is the ubiquitous chickpea. Tinned, jarred or dried, it’s available everywhere.
Which is good because it is a particular favourite of ours, especially for lunch. Chickpeas blitzed with olive oil, tahini, lemon juice and various seasoning – harissa, cumin, coriander – make perfect houmous. Our fridge is rarely without a tub for wraps or crackers or just dipping with carrot sticks.
But an almost as regular feature on our lunch menu, and firm favourite too for the weekly liveaboards’ BBQ over winter, is a dish that is quick and easy to make, can be eaten warm or cold and is too good not to share.
Harissa chickpea salad
Seven totally Mediterranean ingredients.
Chick peas (dried, tinned or jarred), red onion, olive oil, lemon, harissa (paste or powder), parsley and feta cheese.
1. If you are using dried chick peas, you need to prepare them the day before which is frankly a lot of faff and uses a lot of gas but sometimes we just couldn’t find them ready prepared. Soak them in water overnight then boil them for a hour, maybe more, until soft.
2. Finely slice a red onion. Heat a glug of olive oil in a frying pan and gently fry the onions until soft.
3. Add the chick peas to the pan and stir in a couple of teaspoons of harissa. (If you use powder you might need a little extra oil.)
4. Zest and juice a lemon and add to the pan and stir until cooked through. Take pan off the heat.
5. Chop the parsley and feta and add to the chickpeas. Season to taste.
Enjoy it warm or cold, on its own or with a selection of your other favourite salads as a meze plate. It tastes of warm sunshine.