Mountain lamb, Minotaurs and Olive groves
Written by Kieran Creevy | Photography by Claire Burge
“What! The sea is warm?” I can still vividly recall the first time I encountered a sea that didn’t try to cause incipient hypothermia, the sensation of warm water tickling my toes. It was a revelation: no wellies, or warm coats needed on this beach!
I convinced my parent’s to let me spend a good chunk of my pocket money to satisfy my fervent desire to see what was underwater. For anyone brought up in Ireland or the UK, snorkelling usually involves severe ice-cream headaches and an up-close view of rock, sand and seaweed. In the Eastern Mediterranean though, life throngs even in hip-deep water. I recall trying to sneak up on shoals of fish, to no avail. All the while water was churning to foam around my fin-shod feet. I distinctly remember the sense of there always being a tomorrow, another day to get it right, to get as close as possible to the bright coloured gills and fins all around me.
Mornings found the family roaming the mountains, following sheep trails and a parent’s love of books and history.
Two weeks of hillside and underwater rambles left lasting impressions. Fast forward 30 years and I am back in this place of seminal moments. The impressions are as strong upon arrival. I’m armed not only with mask and snorkel, but with plenty of diving experience, and gear to fuel the adventure. No longer are the underwater explorations short solo ventures but longer, more adventurous ones with trusted friends. I’m a boy again, chasing the gills and fins, realising I’ll never reach them but fully appreciating the swim-throughs that throng with Grouper, Rasse, and Bream.
Later, with salt-water-tight-skin we head, twisting upwards, into hills redolent with fig, nuts and olives. Nearing the hilltops, we find restaurants alive with village life, local merchants, owners and shop keepers all touting for custom, teasing each other and discussing the day’s happenings.
Ingredients (serves 2-4)
Lamb and olive meatballs
400g minced lamb
100g black olives in oil, preferably Kalamata, roughly chopped
2 cloves garlic
Small handful flat leaf parsley
Small handful coriander leaves
1 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp poppy seeds
Salt and pepper to taste
Aubergine and Halloumi stacks
1 large aubergine
1 block Halloumi cheese, drained
Salt and pepper
2 tsp smoky paprika
Large handful of wild greens (sorrel, chickweed, dandelion, borage, mustard greens, nettles)
Good olive oil
Dice the garlic finely
Roughly chop the parsley and coriander
Mix all the lamb ingredients, bar the poppy seeds, together in a bowl and season.
Cover with a cloth or cling film and leave overnight to marinate.
Slice the aubergine into thick rounds and the halloumi into thick slices. Season the aubergine well, and lay on a paper towel to drain.
Clean and oil some large flat stones and place close to the fire to heat. Pat the aubergine dry on the kitchen paper and season with the pepper and paprika.
Grill the aubergine and halloumi on the hot stones, turning once (If the fire is too small or there are no stones available, use a small portable grill such as Light My Fire’s Grandpa’s grill). The Halloumi is cooked when it’s softened slightly and is squeaky to the bite – test carefully as it will be scorching.
At the same time heat the oil in a large fry pan. Make the lamb mix into balls and roll in the poppy seeds and cook on medium to high heat for 6-8 minutes, depending on their size and in batches so as not to crowd the pan. Dress the wild greens with olive oil.
Stack the aubergine and Halloumi in alternating layers, spoon the wild greens and olives onto plates and then top with the meatballs. Serve with fresh pitta bread.
For a more Turkish or Lebanese flavour, when cooked, roll the meatballs in Za’atar (nut and seed mix). You could also serve this dish with some Muhammara (red pepper, pomegranate molasses and walnut dip)
In addition to fifteen years work as an international mountain leader and trekking guide on five continents, Kieran has nearly two decades experience of catering for some of the most demanding customers – fellow instructors who want nutritious food with a bit flair, lots of it, now and don’t care that it’s minus 10c and snowing!Twitter: @kierancreevy
Claire has been described as part chaos, part rocket fuel. When she is isn’t racing down mountains on her bicycle, you will find her behind a lens and licking the wooden spoon.Twitter: @claireburge