Pay it Back With Food

A diver's flipper becomes a beachside platter
A diver's flipper becomes a beachside platter

If you recall, I go to the beach twice a day, each day for a swim. Our family’s been swimming in Nea Kallikratia, Halkidiki since our family vacation in 1980. Between now and then, we’ve met plenty of people – made some good friends.

One of the benefits of these friendships from beach-folk is sometimes you get a bag-full of fish from the day’s catch. Other times it could be fresh-caught squid or octopus…caught right in the very waters where I swim.

Yiannis (left) and Giorgos (right), sipping Ouzo out of cups made from peppers
Yiannis (left) and Giorgos (right), sipping Ouzo out of cups made from peppers

Another gift from the sea are these venus clams. Yiannis and Giorgos go snorkeling and having heard about my blog, my love of food, we established a quick rapport and in the end, I was a humbled recipient (on many occasions) of squid, octopus and venus clams.

Venus clams on the half-shell
Venus clams on the half-shell

I’ve never been the type to “just take”, I sought to do a little pay-back, in the form I knew best…cook some food. What could be better than eating seafood at the beach, sipping on some Ouzo and putting a smile on peoples’ faces? This was one of the most memorable days of this past summer’s vacation in Greece.IMG_7920

I went into town, bought fresh & local mussels along with some shrimp to make a Shrimp and Mussels Saganaki. A saganaki dish is one made in the two-handles vessel – the saganaki. IMG_7921

This dish was a riff on my very-popular and delicious  Shrimp Saganaki. Garden-rips tomatoes are passed through a box-grater with olive oil, hot banana peppers, mushrooms, Feta cheese, a splash of Ouzo and dried Greek oregano. The mussels and shrimp go in the end and the whole pot vanished in 30 minutes.IMG_1721-1

Later that day, I had a meeting of the blogger-kind. Take one Greek-Canadian on vacation at the family’s summer home and place him with an American gal who married a foreign student studying in the US. The foreign student convinces her to move to Greece and begin a new life in the Thessaloniki area.

Myself dining with Kosta and Cheryl
Myself dining with Kosta and Cheryl

Together, Kosta and Cheryl live in Greece, raise a family in a comfortable home with olive trees, citrus, a garden and the sea at their footsteps. Cheryl’s thoughts and musings can be found at her blog, “Rice, Beans and Pastitchio”.

Despite having spent 40 days on vacation in Greece, I do miss the country, the people, the food and Cheryl and I chat frequently about what we’re eating, how’s the weather over there and just share some good laughs like friends do.

Cheryl, her husband Kosta and I met in the town neat my home and I took them to a fish and seafood tavern that serves up fresh, local and consistant dishes. We ordered the usual grilled octopus, squid, an array of dips, salad, fries and mussels. I never tire of mussels.IMG_1708-1

The psarotaverna serves up these wonderful Mussels Saganaki in a mustard sauce and after tinkering with the recipe a few times, I’m proud to say I have it “bang-on”. I can now enjoy it here in Toronto, be transported to a seaside taverna and kill some time over some mezedes, an Ouzo or two and count-down the days until my next vacation in Greece.

Mussels Saganaki With MustardIMG_1294-1

(1 appetizer serving)

1lb. of mussels (cleaned, scrubbed, de-bearded)

1/4 cup of olive oil

2 Tbsp. chopped red onion

1 large clove of garlic, smashed

2 heaping Tbsp. of mustard

1/4 cup of dry white wine

1/3 cup banana pepper, sliced in rings

1 tsp of flour

1/3 cup crumbled Feta cheese

1 tsp. dried Greek oregano

1 tsp. chopped fresh dill

1Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley

wedge of fresh lemon

  1. Scrub your mussels and de-beard them. Tap any of the opened mussels and if they do not close, discard. Rinse your mussels and place in the fridge (for up to one day) or until you are ready to cook them. Thirty minutes before cooking, fill the bowl of mussels with water and sprinkle some flour over them. The mussels are alive and will continue to breath, spitting out any remaining dirt (which will stick to the flour and sink to the bottom of the bowl). Rinse the mussels under cold water in a colander and reserve.
  2. Take a medium-sized skillet and place it over high on your stove. Add some olive oil and when it just smokes, add your mussels and the wine and place the cover on. Cook over high for about 3-5 minutes or until the shells have opened. Take from the heat and place the mussels in a strainer with a bowl underneath to catch the liqueur. You may leave the mussels in their shells or shuck them (your choice).
  3. In the same skillet, add the olive oil over medium heat and add the onions and garlic and saute for 2-3 minutes. Now add the flour and stir with a wooden spoon for 1 minute. Now add the mustard and stir in for another minute.
  4. Now add the mussel liqueur and turn the heat up to high. You may now add the sliced hot banana peppers and as soon as the liquid comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer for 3-5 minutes (or until desired consistency is achieved).
  5. Add the mussels back into the skillet, along with the crumbled Feta, the dried Greek oregano and chopped dill. Cover with the lid, take off the heat and gently shake back and forth to warm through the mussels and ensure the sauce has amalgamated.
  6. Slide the mussels and sauce into a serving bowl, garnish with chopped fresh parsley and a wedge of lemon and serve with some good, crusty bread. Ouzo or Tsipouro is a perfect accompaniment to this tangy, zesty and sweet (from the mussels) meze.

If you are not reading this post in a feed reader or at then the site you are reading is illegally publishing copyrighted material. Contact me at truenorth67 AT gmail DOT COM. All recipes, text and photographs in this post are the original creations & property of the author.

© 2007-2009 Peter Minakis

© 2009 – 2010,
Peter Minakis

. All rights reserved.

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40 Comments for “Pay it Back With Food”


What fabulous food and wonderful adventures you had in Greece. Those kinds of experiences are hard to beat. With the way you cook,I can see why people gravitate to you.


It is wonderful to receive,but as you’ve so rightfully said, that giving is just so much better. You treated your friends well, Peter. The Saganaki looks awesome!!!


I am seriously starting to wonder how much weight you put on during your trip… :-)

The mussels look fantastic. I can’t think of a good place in Athens that serves them. Tried some in “Athiri” which were good, but slightly standard. The pepper-cups are an ingenious idea for a picnic and so environmental friendly!


Yet another great post – very interesting.
Your Mussels Saganaki looks delish and I’m loving the mustard you added.


Hah, that reminds me of my most recent beach excursion- it was a private beach where alcohol was not allowed! Ha ha ha. Love the mussels- a flavorful low-calorie alternative.


Aaaaaah Petah…I’d love a pay time time so deliicous. I find the idea of cooking on the beach entirely charming. Glad you had such a great vacation!!


Peter, I think next year we’re definitely coming over to your beach! Everything looks fantastic!
We’re so glad to have met you & become friends; we did truly enjoy your company. There are many summers ahead! Oh, and yes… we do have a good laugh or two don’t we?


My mouth was watering with the first picture of the venus clams and it just got progressively worse as I continued reading. My stomach is making weird noises — it’s only 9:50 a.m. and I could so eat a giant, heaping, plateful of your mussels right now.


I can only say that the pictures are amazing! I miss the coast so much I think I will move to Greece and forget about the world. That sounds like a good plna, right?


Nice touch with the mustard! I’ve never cooked mussels but you make it seem so easy. Also, I love the resourceful piperia ouzo glasses!


Delicious dish but even more delicious is the sentiment of paying it back with food and the photos of your life in Greece. I’m sure Yiannis and Giorgios didn’t know what to make of the Greek Canadian serving ouzo in pepper cups and photographing all the food.


Gosh, Peter — you make the beach look fantastic! Love all those photos… and stories.

Ouzo in pepper cups… bet that’s amazing! I’m thinking we need to try that with our next round of absinthe :)


Really a fantastic trip and I can see that you’ll be living it for months to come. Or until you go back. It all sounds heavenly. And the seafood looks fabulous! I could eat that every day!