Monday, 2 September 2013

Kritamos - Rock samphire (Κρίταμος)

Right along the Cretan coastline, kritamos - known as rock samphire in English - continues to flourish, together with caper bushes.


Kritamos in flower

Kritamos - Critmum maritimum - is pickled in the same way as capers; all parts of the plant - stems, leaves and seed pods, except the flower - can be prepared in this way for later use as a flavouring in salads.

The leaves and the most tender stalks are the best for pickling. 

It is used in pretty much the same way as pickled peppers, pickled capers and pickled purslane. In its fresh form, it has an appealing smell, something like a mixture of fennel and peppermint. No surprise that it is also known as sea fennel. When pickled in vinegar, its aroma and taste change, but it still adds an interesting dimension to a potato or tomato salad.

Peppers, purslane, capers and kritamos in the small jar.

As with all foraged greens, you need to be a little picky about where you pick them, by ensuring that the area where you forage is not polluted or contaminated in any way. I picked the kritamos from my local beach, so I don't intend to use it in my cooking. It makes a nice addition to my other more usable pickles - it is very pretty to look at.

The chef at MAICh often uses kritamos to flavour his potato-based salads.

Kritamos is linked to ancient Greece in many ways, in the myths surrounding Prometheus, as well as in Hippocratic medicine. It is also known in Britain and has been mentioned by Shakespeare. Although the Greek islands were once the culinary province of kritamos, it is now becoming more and more well known by restauranteurs all over the world, notably urban centres running top-end Greek restaurants, whose owners get it shipped into their kitchens. No wonder foraged herbs are now in serious decline.

Bonus photo:

The rocky coastline in this photo is full of kritamos. It generally feels unpolluted, but it's probably been contaminated by animals and suntan oil. Such pollution is less visible than car fumes, but at the same time, it's very real.

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