One thing that can be said about most holidays in Greece, is that they’re as much about the food as anything else. And on the 25th of March, Greek Independence Day, the traditional thing to eat is batter-fried cod and garlic dip (bakaliaros skordalia). Pretty much everyone honors that, even if they don’t know where the tradition came from.
Why Greeks Eat Cod on March 25
This national holiday is actually a double holiday, celebrating both a historic event (March 25th 1821, the date of the official declaration in the Peloponnese of the revolution against the Turks) and a religious one (the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary, i.e. the day the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the son of God).
The eating of cod on this day probably predates the Greek revolution, and stems from the day’s religious significance. Coming normally in the middle of the Lent fast, Annunciation was a day when the church would allow some exceptions to the period’s normally strict dietary proscriptions. Specifically fish could be consumed, as well as wine.
Why salted cod in particular came to be favored is likely because, while mainly imported, it was the only fish widely accessible to Greeks, particularly those living in areas far from the sea. Cheap and with a long shelf life, it was a true fish of the people. As the country began to observe Greek Independence Day on March 25th, the cod-eating tradition came to be associated with that holiday.
While it is traditional to use humble salted cod, you could make a version using fresh fillets if you prefer to avoid the lengthy soaking period. The garlic dip (skordalia) is traditionally made with potato. This recipe is an updated version with carrot and ginger for added flavor.
For the garlic dip, you need:
- 500 g carrots (or use potatoes, for a more traditional version), peeled and roughly chopped
- 2 cloves of garlic, crushed (or to taste)
- 1 tbsp fresh ginger (optional), peeled and sliced
- 1 pinch cayenne pepper
- 70 ml olive oil
- 50 ml lemon juice
- 50 ml soy sauce, preferably organic Japanese
- 2 thick slices of bread, crust removed
- Freshly ground pepper
For the fish, you need:
- 800 g – 1 kg salted cod fish, soaked for 48 hours (change the water several times), to remove the saltiness
- 100 g all purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 100 ml cold water
- Olive or vegetable oil, for frying
How to Make it
The garlic dip
Soak the bread in water, and then squeeze to remove all liquid.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a sauté pan or small pot over medium heat. Sauté the carrots and one of the garlic cloves for about 1-2 minutes, until slightly softened.
Add 100 ml of water, lower the heat, and cover with a lid. Let simmer for about 15 minutes, until the carrots are soft.
Pour the carrots into a food processor, and add the second garlic clove, the ginger and the pepper. Pulse until combined. Then, while the food processor is still working, add the bread, and mix for another minute.
With the food processor still working, start adding the olive oil, lemon and soy sauce, a little of each at a time, until you have a smooth and thick dip.
Transfer the dip to a bowl and store it covered with cling film in the fridge until it’s time to serve.
Pull the skin off the cod, and cut the fish into thick strips.
Stir together the flour, baking powder, pepper, salt, 1 tablespoon of olive oil, and the cold water, to make a smooth, thick batter.
Soak the fish strips in the batter, making sure they get completely covered.
Pour oil into a sauté pan (the oil should be 4 cm deep – about 2 inches), and heat it over medium to high heat. Fry the pieces of fish for about 3-4 minutes, turning them if needed, until they’re golden.
With a slotted spoon, transfer the fish to some kitchen towels, to soak up excess oil.
Serve the fried cod with the garlic dip.
This recipe, by Nena Ismirnoglou, was originally published in Greek at gastronomos.gr.