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This Cretan dakos recipe is for a traditional salad from the island of Crete. Super simple to make it consists of a Cretan barley rusk topped with juicy tomatoes, cheese and olive oil. A guaranteed crowd pleaser, all you need is a few great quality ingredients for delicious Greek Mediterranean flavors.
What Are Cretan Dakos or Ntakos?
Cretan dakos, also known as ntakos, is a much loved traditional Greek Cretan salad. It is often served as a salad, light meal or in bite-sized appetizers called meze.
The base of this dakos salad is a dry barley rusk known as paximadia in Greek. The rusk is topped with the freshest ingredients.
Starting with juicy local tomatoes, high-quality extra virgin olive oil, and Greek mizithra cheese. A sprinkling in dried oregano and Kalamata olives bring out the bright and delightful flavors.
What is Barley Rusk or Cretan Rusk?
Barley rusk is the same as a Cretan rusk and it literally means twice-baked-bread made of barley flour.
With no refrigeration or preservatives, making rusk was a way of keeping bread for as long as possible.
The bread is typically baked twice until all the moisture has been absorbed. In Crete, barley flour is the traditional flour used for Cretan dakos.
The dry barley rusks used to prepare Cretan dakos are as hard as nails. You have to be careful not to break your teeth.
Before eating them, the ntakos need to be softened up. This is typically done by wetting the rusk with water.
Barley flour is rich in fiber, packed with vitamins and nutrients. It helps with better intestinal and liver function and contains less gluten than wheat.
Where to Buy Barley Rusk
In Crete, barley rusk or paximedia is available at every bakery, grocery store or supermarket.
To bring a taste of the Mediterranean and Crete home, you can buy barley rusk on Amazon and have them delivered to your home.
Alternatively, if there is a specialty food store near your area, you may be able to find barley rusk.
Keep in mind Cretan rusk are dark in color and made entirely with barley. For authentic flavors, choose the rusk made with 100% barley flour.
Discovering Dakos in Crete
Of all the different foods we tried in Crete, one we loved and kept coming back to was the Cretan salad or dakos.
What we loved the most about it was the simplicity, fresh ingredients and incredible flavors.
Cretans are known for their friendliness and hospitality and our Airbnb host was no exception. When we arrived in Chania, the first thing we were welcomed with was a plate of delicious Cretan dakos.
Almost every restaurant menu has Cretan dakos listed amongst their appetizers. We also enjoyed a few dakos salads from restaurants as well as when gathering with locals.
Each time we had a Cretan salad we were continually amazed by its simplicity and juicy flavors.
READ MORE: How To Make the Best Authentic Boureki From Chania, Crete
History of Cretan Dakos
Rusk, also known as paximadia in Greek have been around since antiquity. They can be found in all parts of Greece.
What makes the Cretan rusk unique is the fact that they are made with whole-grain barley flour. And, in Crete, the dakos salad is topped with the traditional local cheese known as mizithra.
Cretan dakos are also referred to as Koukouvagia or owl in Greek. They take the name from the resemblance of an owl when looked at from above.
The black olive in the center of the dakos resembles the eye of an owl. And, it is even more pronounced when two dakos are placed side by side.
The name “Koukouvagia” is linked to many local tales. One story attributes it to the name of a bar owner near the town of Rethymno in the 1950s.
This tavern allowed men the forbidden pleasures of tobacco, gambling and women.
To keep the customers happy, the owner, Koukouvagia, served dakos and the name remained associated with him.
Others link the name to the many owls that were seen around the tavern every night.
Tips to Make a Cretan Salad At Home
Cretan dakos is one of the simplest and easiest things to make. They can be fantastically delicious if you use fresh high quality ingredients.
The secret behind perfect nkatos is to use fresh and juicy tomatoes, as they are key to bringing this dish to life.
To garnish the dakos salad use high quality extra virgin olive oil, Cretan or Greek recommended.
Ever since we discovered extra virgin olive oil from Terra Creta, Crete’s largest olive oil producer, it’s become our preferred oil.
The olive oil brings the perfect touch to the traditional Cretan rusks with tomatoes and mizithra cheese.
- Greek Mizithra cheese
- 4 Barley Rusk
- 2 Large Tomatoes
- High quality extra virgin olive oil
- Dried Oregano
- Black Kalamata Greek olives
- Salt to taste
- Optional – fresh oregano
READ MORE: Cooking with Olive Oil – Cretan Olive Oil with Terra Creta
Cretan Mizithra Cheese and Substitutes
Mizithra cheese is one of the most prominent traditional Cretan cheeses. It is a soft white cheese with a pleasant slightly sour taste.
For this traditional Cretan dakos recipe, we recommend using mizithra cheese.
You can find mizithra cheese at the cheese section of a specialty store near you, or have it delivered to your home from Amazon.
Otherwise, you can also use authentic Greek Feta cheese instead.
Grating Tomatoes For Your Cretan Salad
To make the tomato sauce as they do in Crete, you want to grate the tomatoes. Slice your fresh juicy tomatoes in half and grate them using the medium holes to release the bright and fresh flavors.
Scrape each sliced tomato back and forth until the skin flattens. Set the grater onto a plate or large bowl to catch the juices that inevitably run onto the counter.
Cretan Dakos Recipe
- 4.4 oz Greek Mizithra cheese
- 4 Barley Rusk round slices
- 3 Tomatoes large
- Dried Oregano
- Black Kalamata Greek olives
- Salt to taste
- Optional – chopped up pieces of fresh oregano
- Slice the tomatoes in half and grate them using the medium size holes of your gratebox.
- Grate down as close to the skin as possible. Do not grate the skin. Place your coarsely grated tomato juice in a bowl or plate.
- Wet each rusk under cold running water and shake off any excess water and place on a plate. Cretan rusks are very hard but you do not want to soften them too much as you do not want soggy dakos. The dakos should still be crunchy but easily breakable.
- Repeat the process for all the pieces of barley rusk
- Pour one tablespoon of high-quality extra virgin olive oil on each piece of rusk, spreading it around with a spoon
- Next, take a spoonful of tomato juice and spread it all around each piece of rusk
- Sprinkle a little salt and dried oregano on each rusk
- Using your hands, break up the mizithra cheese and sprinkle it on top of each rusk
- Sprinkle a little bit of oregano on the rusk
- Drizzle a little bit of extra virgin olive oil on the rusk and decorate with black kalamata olives
- Serve immediately
- Feel free to add as much or as little extra virgin olive oil as you like
- If you have fresh oregano available, chop up a little for even more delightful flavors
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Rosemary is the editor-in-chief and strategist at Authentic Food Quest.
Traveling slow since 2015 with her partner, Claire, she has explored the cuisine in 45 countries and more than 240+ culinary cities.
Her writing about local food specialties has been featured in Lonely Planet, Business Insider, Honest Cooking, Food Insider, and Huffington Post.
As a food and travel writer, Rosemary has co-authored three books, including one in collaboration with Costa Brava Tourism.
Rosemary is an avid runner when she’s not eating and exploring new destinations. She has run ten marathons and counting.
Before Authentic Food Quest, Rosemary held senior-level strategy positions in advertising.
Find out more about Authentic Food Quest
59 Comments on “Cretan Dakos Recipe: The Best Authentic Cretan Salad You Want To Make”
I love these round shape barley bread snack with cheese that I never hear before…but I can find it, I will make it for sure! Looks delicios!
Wonderful to hear, Alina. Please do let us know how the dakos turn out. Cheers.
Oh how wonderful! I love that texture of the rusk paired with the cheese and other toppings. So much flavor!
So true, Tara. What makes dakos so delicious besides the flavors are the different texture profiles. Yum!! Glad you enjoyed the recipe. Cheers.
I am very intrigued by this recipe. I love all the Greek flavors and can’t wait to try this.
Great to hear, Andrea. Please do let us know how it turns out. Cheers.
You do such a beautiful job explaining the origin of this recipe – thank you! I’ve got this on my must-make list for our next Mediterranean night!
Wonderful to hear, Heather. And, please #tag authenticfoodquest so we can see how your dakos turn out. Cheers.
This was everything a gourmet salad should be, and then some! Loved all the balance of flavors!
Many thanks, Jacque for your kind words. A truly unique Cretan salad. Thanks
I don’t think I’ve ever had Cretan food before, so this is an exciting one! That cheese looks delicious and I’m super intrigued about the barley rusk as well. Can’t wait to try it out!
Wonderful to hear Nathan that this salad piqued your interest. It’s well worth making, hope you try it soon. Cheers.
This is such a yummy lunch and very tasty! My hubby and I are definitely making this a lot more! A big hit here and was gone so quick!
Thanks a lot for posting this authentic Greek salad recipe. I always try to make authentic dishes if it comes to try international cuisine. Being in love with the Italian one, it is a chance to discover the Greek one. Your recipe sounds delicious, and I cannot wait to give it a try!
Awesome to hear, Irina. Excited for you to make it too. Do let us know how it turns out. Cheers.
Such a unique and unexpected recipe! Loved how easily this comes together; loved every bite!
Simple and tasty. Glad you like it, Sara!
I love how authentic this recipe is! I love Greek cuisine and can’t wait to buy the ingredients to make this salad!
Great to hear. It is actually quite simple to make. Can’t wait for you to try it as I know you’ll love it. Cheers.
This looks so good! I’m excited to try it because I already have a few of the ingredients!
Great to hear, Chenee, excited for you to try dakos. Cheers.
I’ve got to make this recipe ASAP – it is something I’ve been craving for such a long time now!
Wonderful, Dionne, and you will enjoy every bite. Cheers.
In always up for a good meze platter and this is my new addition! Thank you for great recipe, delish!
Great to hear, Julia. Indeed, dakos are a popular meze in Greece. Cheers.
Thanks for sharing — loved learning about the dish and can’t wait to try it soon!
These Greek flavors sound mouthwatering. I appreciate the steps and explanations!
This looks so yummy! I have to save this to try it.
This sounds like an awesome combination of flavors. I love olives and that cheese would be amazing too.
Thank you. It is quite easy and tasty. Give it a try when you can. 🙂 Cheers
Oh wow! That grated tomato looks great, and I really want to try that greek cheese!
Whoa! This Cretan dakos salad looks so healthy and yummy ???? My husband loves eating salads, so gotta make this salad for him soon!
Great to hear. Please do let us know what he thinks of it. Cheers.
These Cretan Salad looks yummy nutty base with cheese and olive oil so yumm .
I love a good salad for lunch. That looks delish and it’s making me hungry. 🙂
These look really tasty! I would love to try this salad out.
This is such a yummy dish. I do love this type of food, especially over the summer.
You are right Melanie, whenever you can get your hands on fresh tomatoes, definitely make the dakos 🙂 Cheers
I love the ingredients you used here. I’m sure it’s tasty.
I love the ingredients you used here. I’m sure it’s tasty.
This looks really yummy. I can’t wait to give this a try.
This look delicious! and Barley rusk sounds so much better for my stomach. I need to go search for some at the international grocery stores near me.
Thank, Monica. Yes, barley rusk is also healthier than bread. Let us know if you find some at your local grocery store. Cheers.
This is a new dish to me, but it looks amazing! I’ll have to look for the ingredients at my store.
This sandwich looks so yummy. I will be making this one soon.
I have to admit I’ve not heard of these foods, these sound absolutely amazing! Definitely something I would love to try.
Great to hear Sarah. So simple to make and with fresh tasty flavors. Can’t wait for you to make it soon. Cheers.
This looks amazing, but I’d have to take off the olives. I am not a fan of olives. Everything else looks delish!
Lol…absolutely Amber, you can remove the olives and still enjoy the tasty flavors. Cheers.
The salad looks incredibly delicious and healthy! I’d love to give it a shot! Thanks for sharing the recipe with us!
You are most welcome, Ana. Can’t wait for you to try it soon. Cheers.
One recipe that I haven’t made at home yet. But I definitely should – it looks amazing and I bet extra yum, too 🙂
Great to hear, Mahy. Excited for you to try this simple and delicious recipe. Cheers.
Yum! This looks so delicious and very tasty! I can’t wait to give this a try! So excited to give this a try!
Great to hear Beth. And, do let us know what you think after you make it. Cheers.
I love when food transports you somewhere else and I can imagine being in Crete when eating this.
Indeed, Michelle, the “transformative” power of food. Can’t wait for you to make this recipe 🙂 Cheers.
This looks lovely and I’m betting I can find barley rusk and the international market very close to my house. This will be so perfect this summer when the tomatoes ripen!
The best ingredients matter, and juicy tomatoes in season are worth waiting for. Can’t wait for you to try dakos soon. Cheers.