Today is a day of celebration for Greeks…today is Clean Monday – ‘Kathara Deftera’.
I was born on a Clean Monday back in February in the 70’s. My mama told me that my grandad…. instead of flowers, brought to the maternity hospital ‘lagana’ – a special bread we eat only on Clean Monday. Greeks believe that life is to be celebrated – and it should be celebrated with food! So, who needs flowers when you have fresh ‘lagana’?
Picturing that moment in my head…it’s no surprise I was always destined to do something with food.
So why is Clean Monday such a special day for us Greeks and what has got to do with food?
Well, because Clean Monday marks the start of Lent and symbolises a period during which our bodies and spirits are ‘cleansed’ to prepare us for accepting the Resurrection.
It is a public holiday and a day filled with great customs and traditions.
Everyone heads out for a day at the beach or in the country, or to their ancestral villages. In villages around Greece, tables are set and stocked with the traditional foods of the day to welcome visiting friends and family.
I remember as a child we would always be at our village in central Greece. We would fly kites (some Greek families still do to this day) with our cousins. Then it was back in the kitchen with my giagia (grandmother) and my mama making what can only be described as most delicious traditional dishes.
Clean Monday is the start of Lent, so no meat is eaten. We rather feast on lagana, taramosalata, dolmades (with no meat), grilled octopus, pickled peppers, salad, boiled greens and my mother’s halva. Oh, and I forgot to mention our own wine!
So here goes: we will start with taramosalata which is very easy and quick, and you can find various recipes on the internet, but this how we make it in my family.
Taramosalata with potato
- 350 g potatoes, boiled
- 175 g cod roe (tarama in Greek)
- 200 ml olive oil
- juice of 1-2 lemons (I like it quite lemony so depending on how juicy the lemons are I would go for 2 but add the juice of a lemon to start with and adjust to your taste)
Peel and boil the potatoes. Once cooked, put them in the blender and mix for 1 minute.
Add the tarama and blend for 3 more minutes. Stir a little using a spoon and mix again by adding slowly the olive oil and lemon. Make sure you alternate between them until you have used everything up.
It should be ready in 3 minutes.
This is once in a year flat bread, but if you love it you can make it all year round. It’s delicious!
- 14g fresh yeast or 2 teaspoons of dried yeast
- Pinch of sugar
- 400g of strong bread flour
- ½ teaspoon of salt
- 200ml of lukewarm water
- 4 tablespoons of olive oil
For the topping
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1 tablespoon of water
- 1 ½ tablespoons sesame seeds
Crumble the fresh yeast or sprinkle the dried yeast into a large bowl. Add the sugar and the water and leave the mixture until it starts to activate and bubble. After 10 minutes, you should see little bubbles forming, if you cannot see any bubbles then your yeast maybe too old. Remember…you should only use if your yeast has proved.
Now add the flour, salt and olive oil and mix with a wooden spoon until a loose dough forms. If it seems too dry, then simply add a few more drops of water. Knead for about 7 to 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface until the dough is smooth and spongy. Now place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and a tea towel and leave in a warm place for at least 2 ½ hours.
The dough should be puffed and double in size and to test it just gently poke the dough with your finger. If the dough rises just halfway after you remove your finger, then its ready!
Now turn the dough onto a baking tray lined with baking paper. Don’t roll but just simply stretch the dough and shape into a rough rectangular shape. Using the tips of your fingers to press small grooves all over the dough. Cover with a clean tea towel and let it rest in a warm place for 30 minutes so it rises again a little.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees (400 Fahrenheit/ gas mark 6), mix together the olive oil and water, brush all over at the top of the bread and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake for 20 minutes until golden brown and enjoy!