Picture this: the sun-kissed sweetness of plump tomatoes combined with the rustic crunch of iconic Cretan rusks, golden olive oil, tangy feta cheese, and olives. Elegant in its simplicity, this dakos salad is a culinary masterpiece that captures the essence of the season. As you taste this delightful traditional Cretan salad, let the memories of precious Greek summers unfold on your plate …
WHAT IS DAKOS SALAD?
To make the traditional dakos salad we use rusks and more specifically the Cretan rusks: either thick slices of rusk that the Cretan call “dakos” (it is more than obvious that the salad’s name comes from these rusks) or round barley rusks (read more below). These two types of rusk are the base of the salad that is topped with diced ripped tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, or a local Cretan cheese called xynomyzithra (it has a soft and creamy mouthfeel. Its taste is sour and sweet. It's a cheese paradise), extra virgin olive oil, olives, and dried oregano. This is the traditional version but as always, there are multiple exquisite versions all over Crete and Greece.
Nowadays, dakos salad is very popular not only in Crete but all over Greece. Even though “dakos” is the name for thick slices of Cretan rusk, when we say “let’s make a dako”, we mean the dako salad made either with dakos rusk (the thick slices I was talking about) or with round barley rusk. Yeah, I know, crazy Greek people.
The traditional dakos salad may seem too simple but if it is made with quality products like Cretan barley rusks, sweet ripe tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, authentic Greek feta cheese (or even better Cretan xynomyzithra), kalamata olives, Greek oregano, it is an exquisite dish that can impress the more delicate and demanding taste buds.
WHAT ARE GREEK RUSKS?
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For the rest, keep on reading …
The rusks have been for centuries the base of the Greek and Mediterranean diet, and the perfect sidekick to a bunch of dishes.
In Greece, rusk, “paximadi” in Greek, is essentially a very dehydrated bread. To achieve the bread’s dehydration it should be baked twice. That’s why the ancient Greeks called it “διπυρίτης άρτος” (= twice-baked bread). It acquired its current name “paximadi” from the Roman baker Paxyamus in the 1st century AD.
Well-known since antiquity, the twice-baked bread, served as a replacement for the bread of shepherds, sailors, travelers, soldiers, and generally for people who didn't have easy access to fresh bread or should preserve bread for a long time.
Today, you'll hardly come across a Greek home that doesn't have some kind of rusks in the pantry. There are various flavors and sizes to choose from. The big difference comes down to their basic ingredients, whether they've got different kinds of flour, olive oil, or herbs to enhance the taste, and, of course, the method to make them.
As always there are regions that produce the best rusks and we distinguish them for their special flavor like: “krikhines kouloures”, rusks from the island of Kalymnos that are kneaded with anise, mastic, and fennel. It sounds weird but it is exquisite!
“Ladopaximada”, olive oil rusks from the island of Kythira. Another kind of rusk with olive oil as the distinguishing ingredient.
We should not forget the most famous rusk. The Cretan rusk! But this product is a whole new chapter that you will find below.
THE CRETAN RUSK
Rusk instead of bread
Cretan rusk, “kritiko paximadi” as we call it, is as old as the Cretan civilization itself.
It is tightly related to the morphology of the Cretan landscape and the way of life of its inhabitants. Let me explain. The predominantly mountainous terrain of Crete provides fertile ground for barley production, which thrives better in the mountains. Additionally, the majority of Cretans were farmers, shepherds, or fishermen who often had to be away from their homes for days. For these two significant reasons, the production and consumption of rusks flourished on the island of Crete.
The preparation of bread and rusks was a really important moment in the Cretan household because rusks served as the daily substitute for bread until very recently. Making bread was a laborious and time-consuming process and the extremely busy Cretan women didn’t have the time to prepare. So rusks provided the solution to this problem.
Consequently, Cretans would consume them from breakfast along with their morning beverages, for snacks all the way through to the day, and along with their meal. Sometimes, rusks used to be their dinner, paired with a piece of cheese and a generous drizzle of olive oil.
Types of Cretan rusk
Cretan rusks are distinguished:
By their shape, whether it's the round barley rusks (named “Kritharokouloura”) with or without the hole in the center, or the "dakos", which are the thick slices from the long loaf bread.
By their texture which is particularly hard, sharp, and irregular.
Their color varies according to the ingredients, mostly the flour: traditional (rustic) rusk, barley rusk, wheat rusk, rye rusk, and the seven-dough (eptazimos) rusk including all kinds of mixed flour.
All the above rusks are certified as Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) products. Yes, they are so unique!
Cretan rusk and the tradition
In a Cretan household, the preparation of rusks was a sacred moment and was accomplished along with rituals and ceremonies. I hear you asking: “Interesting but why all these rituals for rusks?”
It was believed that those rituals ensured the success of the bread and, consequently, the rusks. Don’t forget that the rusk is basically a twice-baked bread. A failed bread means no rusks or tasteless rusks for a really long time and that was a disaster for the majority of poor peasants. They didn’t have the means to buy or make new ingredients and they were facing the serious possibility of famine or malnutrition. That was definitely not a joke, guys!
An interesting Cretan ritual for eptazymos rusk
An example. The rituals of making eptazimos rusk, are definitely worth mentioning because it was quite difficult to make, especially the starter. You see, no yeast was used for its preparation. Instead, its rising is harnessed from chickpea flour soaked in water. When it starts fermenting and bubbling, the foam is collected and used to craft the bread. Amazing? Yes, but the yeast failure rates were quite high!
That’s why making the eptazimos bread/rusk was mostly intertwined with mysteries and rituals. The most important tradition dictates that this bread/rusk should be kneaded in absolute secrecy. No one should know and you should hide from everyone, even from your husband (inconceivable back in time)! If asked, you should lie.
The reason? If anyone knew that you make eptazymos bread/rusk, the starter would have failed. That’s why, in old times, housewives resorted to extreme measures following the tradition to keep making eptazymos rusk secret: they burned herbs, church incense, and other materials to mask the scent of the starter made from chickpeas (which has a strong and unpleasant odor). Crazy, right?
Today, those rituals may seem funny or odd but they are a vital part of Greece's cultural identity, playing a role in shaping its character, values, and social structure.
In our days, as you can imagine, the traditions related to the rusks are almost forgotten. It is so much easier to buy rusks in bakeries. Truth be told, making rusks at home is time-consuming and their taste cannot compare to those made in a traditional wood-fired oven. Plus, there are quite a few artisanal producers that honor the traditional Cretan rusk in so many delicious ways.
HOW DO I PURCHASE BARLEY RUSKS FOR DAKOS SALAD?
There are several options.
Search for a local Mediterranean or Greek specialty store in your area, they are likely to carry Cretan barley rusks. Alternatively, some grocery delivery services specialize in international and Mediterranean foods. You can order Cretan barley rusks online.
Of course, there are a few online retailers that specialize in Mediterranean and Greek foods. You can search for Cretan barley rusks on websites such as Amazon, Greek Food Shop, or Greek Market. Make sure to read product descriptions and reviews to ensure you're getting an authentic product.
Finally, in some cases, local Greek or Mediterranean restaurants may sell Cretan barley rusks to customers. You can inquire if they offer this option.
When purchasing Cretan barley rusks, be sure to check the product's description and origin to ensure you're getting the authentic Cretan product. It is usually indicated like this:
“Cretan barley rusk” or “Kritiko paximadi”.
It’s best to search for the P.G.I. certification to be sure you get the 100% authentic product. No preservatives, or funny additions. Just whole meal barley flour, wheat flour, even better with wheat sourdough starter and olive oil.
WHAT CAN I MAKE WITH A GREEK/CRETAN RUSK?
So glad you asked because you can make insane meals/breakfasts/appetizers/salads/snacks in zero time!
Breakfast: Do it like Cretans! Crumble rusks in a bowl and top with yogurt, fruit, nuts, and seeds. Additionally, instead of bread, serve Cretan rusk and top it with your cheese, jam, ham, peanut butter, etc. Even better, top it with scrambled eggs or an omelet.
Apart from dakos salad, top these crunchy goodies with almost anything you get from your pantry and your fridge. Cheese, charcuterie, dips, vegetables. Serve them as a totally healthier option of croutons in soups and salads.
Use them in a mezze platter instead of highly processed crackers. Serve them alongside dips like tzatziki, spiced feta dip, melitzanosalata (eggplant salad), cucumber salad, Greek salad. Dip rusks in Greek salad to absorb the delicious tomato/cucumber/bell pepper/onion/olive oil/feta cheese/oregano juices).
ARE BARLEY RUSKS HEALTHY?
Barley rusks, particularly the traditional Cretan barley rusks, can offer several health benefits due to their unique composition and preparation process. Here are some reasons why they can be considered healthy:
Whole grain: Barley rusks are often made from whole barley flour, which is a good source of dietary fiber, vitamins, and minerals.
Nutrient-dense: Barley contains various vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, iron, magnesium, and selenium, which contribute to overall health.
Low in fat: Barley rusks are typically low in fat thus it is a healthier option compared to some other types of bread.
Fiber content: The whole grains used in barley rusks provide dietary fiber, which can promote healthy digestion and help regulate blood sugar levels.
Low glycemic index: Barley rusks tend to have a lower glycemic index compared to some other types of bread, which means they have a slower impact on blood sugar levels.
Satiety: The fiber content and chewy texture of barley rusks can help you feel fuller for longer.
However, it's important to keep in mind that the overall healthiness of any food depends on how it fits into your overall diet and lifestyle. While barley rusks offer potential health benefits, like any food, moderation is key. Additionally, be mindful of the toppings and ingredients you use when preparing dishes using this ingredient, as they can affect the overall nutritional profile of the meal.
DAKOS SALAD: THE RECIPE
Now that you have in hand a Cretan barley rusk, let’s make it right!
The only secret to a successful dakos salad is how to moisten the rusk. If you use the traditional Cretan barley rusks, use a plate or bowl with water and just deep quickly the rusk in water. Only a couple of seconds.
Then shake it lightly to remove excess water. That’s how the rusk won't get soggy and the flavor will come from the tomatoes and olive oil, not the water.
Add salt and drizzle some olive oil. Let aside and wait for the rusks to absorb the olive oil.
I would recommend dicing the tomato and keeping the juices. I don’t like grated tomatoes on my dakos because the grated tomatoes release too much moisture and make my dakos soggy. It’s a “no” from me.
For dicing the tomatoes, I usually use a plate instead of a cutting board. I cut the tomatoes in half, remove the stem and roughly dice them. I don’t like to use and then rinse a cutting board just to dice a couple of tomatoes.
This is old school dicing/chopping method used by traditional Greek cooks. What? Do you think that there were fancy cutting boards and different knives for every ingredient back in time? Definitely not! Even today my mother chops or dices the vegetables aerially. It is a skill that you can conquer with practice so just to be on the safe side here, better use a cutting board.
Assemble. Top with the diced tomato, and season with some sea salt. Then top with the crumbled feta or xynomyzithra (Cretan cheese. If you are lucky to find it, you should definitely try it), olives, drizzle with a generous amount of extra virgin olive oil, and add the dried oregano.
Set aside for about 10 minutes to let the barley rusks absorb the juices. Serve it the Greek way meaning place it in the middle of the table to share it with everyone. A piece of advice. Eat fast. This is usually the first clean dish on the table.
SUBSTITUTIONS & VARIATIONS
If you're unable to purchase barley rusks or you simply prefer an alternative, you can use sourdough bread, thickly sliced whole wheat bread, or any other type of bread that suits your preference. Nevertheless, I would recommend making the traditional Cretan version at least once, especially if you need healthier and more nutritional food.
It is so difficult to recommend variations because you can combine barley rusks with anything. In essence, this is a healthier bread substitution. So, the sky is the limit.
MAKE AHEAD AND STORAGE TIPS
If you want to save time, you can dice the tomato and keep it in an airtight container in the fridge until you’re ready to put the dakos salad together. Assemble 10 minutes before serving.
I don’t recommend storing this salad because the longer it sits, the softer the rusks will get. Remember soggy rusks are a big “no”!
If you have already made my dakos salad, I would be super grateful to leave a comment and/or give this recipe a rating or take a photo and tag me on Instagram with #30daysofgreekfood and Facebook with @30daysofgreekfood! Above all, I absolutely love your feedback. This is a huge motivation for me and it keeps 30daysofgreekfood’s kitchen alive. Thank you so much!!!
Make Dakos salad like a Greek
- 3 Cretan barley rusks *1
- 2 ripe tomatoes, cut into 1 cm dice
- ⅔ cup (150g) crumbled feta cheese or xynomyzithra *2
- 8 olives, whole or pitted cut into smaller pieces
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- ½ teaspoon dried oregano
- Sea salt & freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon capers (optional)
- Dip each rusk in a plate or bowl with water for no more than 2-3 seconds. Shake well to remove excessive water.
- Place the moistened rusks on a plate or platter. Drizzle 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the rusks, sea salt, and pepper to taste.
- Top with the diced tomato. Season with some sea salt. Then sprinkle evenly the feta cheese crumbles.
- Garnish with the olives and capers (optional). Drizzle with the rest of the olive oil and add some more if you like. Top with the dried oregano.
- Let it rest for 5-10 max minutes and serve.