Greek Lent and Lentil soup
If you've read my last couple of blog posts you'll know that this week marks the start of Sarakosti or Lent in Greece. Fasting Greeks cut out meat, then dairy, then go full fast on what they call Kathara Deftera or clean Monday. I'm sure we've all had good intentions and numerous clean Mondays, but 40 days...
I'm not about depriving myself any further at a time when most of the great joys in life are already restricted, but I for one could definitely do with cutting down on meat and dairy (I don't know what it is about lockdown but I'm finding myself craving roast lamb all the time!)
The good thing about nistisimo (the food that you're allowed to eat while fasting) is that it doesn't actually feel restrictive at all. Not that I've ever seriously committed to it. While studying in Greece back in the day, I went to stay with my family in Corfu for the bank holiday without realising that it was the start of fasting. Imagine my joy when I realised that fasting means feasting!
To celebrate Clean Monday we went to a restaurant with all the family, extended family and friends, where about 5 tables were laid out with grilled octopus, fresh calamari, taramasalata, aubergine dip, tzatziki...and wine. Basically all my favourite things! (who needs lamb?) Once we were full the singing and dancing started, arms linked, and tripping over my feet as we pranced around in circles.
Also while studying in Greece I learned one of my favourite (and easiest!) Greek recipes. On my campus in Thessaloniki, the university cafeteria used to serve free meals to students (please, tell me again which country is in crisis) and this is where I was introduced to fakes.
The thick black stew that was slopped onto my plate didn't look like the most appetising thing I'd seen (it actually looked like something that had been dredged from a pond) but on a winters day in northern Greece it was the warming comfort food I didn't know I needed. I helped myself from the boxes of big crusty bread, and copied the Greek students who were pouring olive oil and red wine vinegar over their lentils. And I never looked back.
Black beluga lentils (or green lentils)
1 red onion
3 cloves of garlic
3 bay leaves
salt, pepper & oregano
This recipe is really easy to make, but what really makes it is finding the right lentils. While you can make this with green lentils, I find black belugia lentils to be much richer.
Chop your onions and garlic quite roughly and fry them in olive oil. I know I always say don't be shy with the olive oil, but this is even more important with this dish (and is also added cold to serve) If you think you've used too much oil, add a bit more. The surface of the stew should glisten like a polluted sea.
Once the onions are soft, add the washed lentils with enough boiling water to cover them. You can soak your lentils or use cooked ones to make this a quick meal. Add the bayleaves, salt and pepper and allow to boil. You will probably need to add more water as the lentils absorb it, and they also absorb a lot of salt so you'll need to add more than you think to make the meal tasty. Once the lentils are soft you can serve with a splash of olive oil and red wine vinegar. I like to add raw chopped red onions for a crunch, and it also goes really well with feta cheese.
As always, please let me know how you get on! And if you don't fancy cooking, this will also be on the menu this weekend...