‘Waste not, want not’, the old proverb goes, but Paximadia — the hard Cretan rusk now enjoyed all over Greece — takes thrift and turns it into a delicious and healthy snack.
Named after two small, uninhabited islands off Crete’s southern coast, Paximadia’s history is almost a long as that of Greece itself. The dry, savory biscuits are also known as dipyros, that is, twice-baked.
Popular for centuries due to its long shelf-life, resistance to mould and ease of transport, it has been a foodstuff to the various cultures which have come and gone in Greece.
These little staples can be made from a variety of grains, including wheat, rye, barley, corn, carob and chickpea flour. They can even be fashioned from a combination of these, meaning nothing in the kitchen or from the field goes to waste.
The traditional hard and dark Paximadia was often was heavy in barley, ubiquitous on Crete but now something of a health-food rarity in modern Western cooking. It is no coincidence that the health benefits of this rough bread play a big part in Cretans’ legendary longevity.
A Seven Countries Study was the first to evaluate the links between diet, lifestyle and the risk of heart attack and found Crete had a diet of 40 percent healthy fats.
For the uninitiated, the rock-hard Paximadia can be daunting, until you realize they must be treated with a little TLC.
First lay half-a-dozen flat in a tray and pour over good-quality olive oil. Skin a tomato and grate over the top, and sprinkle with feta cheese and whole olives. Another dash of olive oil combined with a pinch of oregano are the final touches.
Once the tomato and olive oil work their magic, the Paximadia soften a little but retain their shape and crunch — and provide a filling and healthy snack.