Tuesday 28 February 2017

Clean Monday ... a sort of Greek Ash Wednesday

A Lenten celebration.  

The first day of the 40 day fast (it is actually 49 days from Clean Monday to Easter Sunday) from meat, fish, eggs and dairy.
A public holiday.  Time to eat shellfish and octopus, kalamari, flatbread (lagana), taramasalata (fish roe salad), drink ouzo and finally fly kites.  Well, the kids fly the kites, the adults retrieve them from olive trees and gullies.  

The lagana, I read, is the name of the unleavened bread given by God to the Israelis to feed them while they crossed Egypt to their promised land.  It is two times the price of a normal loaf of bread on this day but I make my own.

When the lagana comes hot out of the oven you break great chunks off, cover them in home made taramasalata and by the time you sit down to eat the lenten meal your stomach is full.  Happens every year.  Our custom is to tear the lagana into pieces and not cut with a knife. 

Homemade lagana.  The ones on the left are made with sourdough and cooked in our woodfired 'pizza' oven

I am preparing dolmathakia yialantzi (without meat), from vine leaves I collected and preserved last spring, and a dried bean salad.  The beans are prepared with lots of fresh parsley, thinly sliced onion, olive oil and lemon juice.  This year it is a legume mix which my daughter brought back from a visit to a mountain village.  There are yellow split peas, red kidney beans, brown and red lentils, white navy beans, chick peas and what looks like green lentils.  It is prepared the same way and served cold as a salad.

These are cut in half and given a squeeze of lemon juice.  They are eaten by scooping those orangey insides out with a piece of lagana.  The taste is sea water.  An acquired taste.

A popular Clean Monday dish.
After googling a little it seems these are the bulbs of the wild blue hyacinth.  I do know that a flat fertile area near us is full of them.  They are a devil to be dug up however as they are found quite deep down.   One of  K's cousins used to make a lot of money at this time of the year digging them up with a heavy pick.  He and his elderly mother then painstakingly cleaned off all the dirty outer layers and washed them before selling,  They are boiled and eaten with a dressing of olive and either lemon juice or vinegar.

K has ordered from his friend two octopuses which will be hung out to dry and then grilled on the BBQ to be sliced and served as an appetiser with a glass of ouzo.

The octopus has to be dried in the sun before being grilled.
Our backyard is in 'winter mode', full of weeds and rubbish.  Clean up time is nigh.  The sun is warming and the temperature perfect for outdoor chores.

The sweet today is 'halvas' made from semolina, sugar, olive oil, almonds, raisins and flavoured with cinnamon, not to be confused with the commercial halvas which is made from sugar, water and tahini and is eaten with bread during the meal.

Making a kite with light weight pieces of bamboo, string and coloured paper

Flying the kite outside with hopefully a little wind to lift it up and over the olives and into the sky. 


  1. There are so many options that don't have meat in them it's not too hard to abstain.
    It is hard here as your usually not with other like minded people so I never really made the kids observe the lent fast
    Even as children we only did it for a week
    Great to see your being very good.
    I'll try and not post pics of contraband food just for you xxx

  2. We usually give up meat for the whole time but do fast for the last week...except for milk in my coffee!!
    Even our kids don't eat meat the whole time. Didn't expect them to do that. But as you say, so much else to choose from. We even get nistisimo cheese now tho I've never tried it.
    Not so hard...even vege souvlaki!! Pitas filled with revithio-keftethes or fries and tzatziki!

  3. I have never seen those bulbs eaten before. Do you add oil and lemon. What do they taste of? are they like water chestnuts?

    Is it from the new or old testament about breaking bread? I was told once by my French penpal this was the reason that they didnt have butter knives on the side plate as her gran got angry if people used the knife to cut the bread.

    1. Oil and lemon or vinegar, nothing else. Tasted them years ago, hated them and now I avoid them lol. Taste? Hmmmmm are you going to make me taste them again???
      Ooooof Old or New Testament, good question. I only just found out their origin. Need to do some more 'digging'.

  4. It is 40 days untill Passover, the time of our holiday,when we remember the exodus of the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt,we eat a bread cold Mattsa for 8 days at that holiday.

    1. What else do you do for the forty days? I must Google Mattsa.

    2. I am not sure because i don't keep much of the tradition, but i think that there is nothing special in those 40 days,i shall ask people here who are more religiuose than me.

  5. I really enjoyed reading this - so many different foods! I think I would have to be quite adventuresome to try some of them like fish roe salad or sea urchin. -Jenn

    1. The fish roe salad is really tasty, specially on fresh bread! You find it in every house and taverna from now till Easter. The sea urchins don't have a strong taste. Theyre not bad but I prefer other sea food.

  6. I've always been reluctant to buy Octopus because they say it has to be boiled for 3 hours. Do you boil yours first, before hanging it out to dry?

    1. It is dried and goes straight on the BBQ. A bit chewy! I prefer it boiled with vinegar or stewed. Much softer.
      It does have to be beaten 100 times or you can put it in the freezer for a couple of days to break down those tough fibres. Otherwise it will be like a rubber shoe.
      If beaten or frozen it should boil quite quickly, 3/4 to 1 hour

  7. When you first moved to Greece from NZ I imagine it must have been a mighty steep learning curve as far as cooking went. Did your mother-in-law pass on lots of tips and advice or did you just have to find your own way through it all?

    Lagana and bean salad would be great for me. Bags i don't have to clean and prepare the volvous, I'll be too busy flying my kite or, more likely, trying to fee it from a tree.

    1. Steep learning curve is right!!! I did eventually learn a lot from ma-in-law and still learning from sis-in-law but after many years of conflict with both.
      I learnt the basics from a good greek friend. When the children were young I cooked a lot of English food, stews and casseroles. Now they've left home it's back to the traditional for my traditional person. He tells me whether I've got it right or not...ie like mama's. Still learning but I make him cook fish and greens and octopus and bulbs...just like mum

    2. I know you like to write; surely there are the makings of a fabulous recipe/autobiography book in there? Greek dishes and your early attempts to make them...the pain and the humour! I'll pre-order four copies now.

    3. If only. No children around anymore just a big person who is heavy-duty.
      I keep on saying I'll give a book a start. I have got a new idea just now....I've get it going!
      Thanks for the support

    4. I would buy it. I find it all fascinating, there is a lot of ritual to the festivals and feast days. I love reading about it. Have you heard of Clara?


      I have her cook book, but really it is stories and the recipes are in the stories. Its very sweetly written about the depression.

  8. That book looks interesting! I shall investigate. There was a greek austerity cookbook written by someone. Off for some googling!!

  9. Clara is gorgeous. Might buy one of her books