The start of Lent in Greece is – a bit ironically – defined by a large feast. On Clean Monday, Kathara Deftera in Greek, the whole country enjoys a traditional meal consisting of all the delicious dishes one is still allowed to eat during the forty-day fast.
Meat, eggs, fish, and dairy are out, so it’s a great time to focus on all the other delicacies of the sea. “Bloodless” seafood, like octopus, squid, mussels, shellfish, and fish roe are enjoyed along with beans, wild greens, and pickled goods in all shapes and forms.
Below are recipes for 4 absolute musts on your Clean Monday table.
Taramosalata (fish roe dip)
Tarama, which is needed for this recipe, is white or pink fish roe, usually from cod, carp, or mullet. Outside of Greece you can usually find it in jars at Middle-Eastern markets.
1. Soak the bread in a bowl of cold water for 2-3 minutes, then squeeze to remove all liquid.
2. Place your tarama in a food processor along with 2 tablespoons of cold water, and mix on medium speed.
3. Without turning the mixer off, start adding the other ingredients, starting with the onion.
4. Once the onion is incorporated, slowly pour in half of the olive oil.
5. Little by little, add the bread, 50 ml of water, the lemon juice, and finally, the rest of the olive oil. It should make a smooth and thick paste.
6. Serve immediately, or store in a glass jar or a bowl with a tight lid in the fridge.
By Nena Ismyrnoglou
For 500 g of taramosalata, you need:
- 400 g day-old country-style bread, minus the crust
- 150 g tarama (white or pink fish roe)
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 200 ml olive oil
- Juice from 2 lemons (or more to taste)
- About 80 ml water
For two loaves, you need:
- 2 cups lukewarm water
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 25 g fresh yeast
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (you may need slightly more)
- 3 tbsp tahini
- 1 tsp salt
- sugar water (3 tbsp water + 1 tbsp Sugar), for brushing
- 40-50 g sesame seeds
On Clean Monday, Greeks eat all their food with lagana, a flat bread made with olive oil and tahini, that’s also delicious on its own. (Traditionally it was unleavened although now many recipes, such as the one below, include yeast).
1. Stir together sugar water, yeast, and one cup of the water until the yeast has dispersed. Add 2-3 tablespoons of the flour. Stir, and let rest for about 20 minutes.
2. Add the remaining flour to a bowl and make a well in the middle. Add the tahini, the yeast mixture, and the remaining water, and start mixing the dough with your hands. Add the salt, and knead the dough for at least 15 minutes, or until it’s elastic and no longer sticks to your hands.
3. Roll the dough into a ball, cover it with plastic wrap, and leave to raise for at least 1 hour – until it’s doubled in size.
4. Split the dough in two, and use your hands or a rolling pin to make two 10-15 mm thick oval shapes.
5. Place the dough on a baking tray lined with parchment paper (or shape them directly on the parchment paper for easier transfer), and leave to raise for 30 minutes.
6. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to 200° C.
7. Brush the lagana loaves with sugar water and poke them with your fingertips to create little indents over the surface. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
8. Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until golden.
Octopus Braised in White Wine
This octopus is cooked with dry white wine and white dessert wine, adding amazing aromas and lip-smacking flavor to the dish.
1. Sauté the onion and the garlic in the olive oil for about 2-3 minutes in a pot over medium heat. Add the octopus and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Pour in the wine.
2. Add all ingredients except for the thyme and the salt.
3. Place a round piece of parchment paper, the size of your pot, over the food, and then put the lid on. This will ensure that all the flavor and liquid gets locked in the pot. Let simmer for 50 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the octopus.
4. When the octopus has softened, remove the lid and the parchment paper, and turn the heat up to high. Cook until the sauce is thickened and reduced. This may not be necessary, if the sauce is already thick. If on the other hand, there is too much sauce (the octopus releases some liquid when it simmers), you can set some aside to use another time.
5. Cut the octopus into smaller pieces. Add salt to taste, and sprinkle with the thyme.
6. Serve with country-style bread.
- 1 (1.5-2 kilo) octopus, cleaned and cut into pieces
- 2 medium sized onions, grated
- 3 cloves of garlic (or to taste), minced
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 bay leaves
- The leaves from 3-4 sprigs of thyme, chopped (or 1 tbsp dried)
- 120 g olive oil
- 5 allspice berries, dried
- 150 ml dry white wine
- 100 ml white dessert wine
- salt and pepper
By Antonis Rentoulas
Halva is a traditional dessert that Greeks make all year round. You’ll be offered it at tavernas, and by grandmothers all over the country. It is a classic on Clean Monday, when a special type of halva with tahini is often enjoyed, but for your homemade meal it’s easier to stick to the classic. They are both completely vegan.
Easy to remember, it is made with a 1-2-3-4 measuring technique, so you’ll only need to read this recipe once.
1. Add the water, sugar, cinnamon sticks, and vanilla bean to a small pot, and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let simmer for about 7 minutes. Discard the cinnamon sticks and the vanilla bean.
2. In another pot, heat the olive oil, then add the semolina. Cook, while stirring, until toasty and fragrant.
3. Add the raisins and the walnuts, and then slowly pour in the syrup.
4. Pour the mixture into a mold (or several small molds) and let cool.
5. Serve with a dusting of powdered cinnamon.
- 1 cup olive oil
- 2 cups coarse semolina
- 3 cups sugar
- 4 cups water
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 vanilla bean
- 100 g golden raisins
- 100 g walnuts, finely chopped
- grated cinnamon, for dusting