Tuesday, March 19, 2013

My Big, Fat, Greek, Clean Monday

This week, we're revisiting one of our very first blogs -- Clean Monday! The spring season is about to bust wide open, and that means we get to share some of the insights we learned at this time, last year. We've changed a few bits here and there to keep things interesting, but the heart of things is basically unchanged. And, heart is really what Clean Monday is all about!

For this particular celebration, Ed and I decided to have a bit of a staycation to commemorate the Greek Eastern Orthodox Christian holiday that marks the first day of Lent, Clean Monday or Kathari Deftera. While other Christian denominations started their Lent seasons on Ash Wednesday, many Greeks have been busy cleaning house, planning picnics, and packing their kites in preparation for the beginning of the Easter season and the coming of spring.

The reason we decided not to venture out wasn't because we just HAD to show you our cozy attic kitchen; but, rather, we wanted to try our hand at baking Lagana, a traditional Greek bread only served on Clean Monday.

There are some hard and fast rules to what observers may eat on Kathari Deftera. For starters, any animal that bleeds is out. Dairy is out (this, sadly, means butter). Fish is out, though shellfish is fine (and quite popular). As for the Lagana, it is traditionally supposed to be unleavened, but I wasn't able to find any recipe that didn't include a little yeast.

This is the recipe that I ended up cobbling together from all of the top contenders out there in the foodiverse:
  • 3 envelopes active dry yeast
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 7 cups bread flour
  • 2 1/3 cups warm water
  • 1 tbsp. salt
  • 5 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • Sesame seeds for sprinkling
And these are the ingredients I added to my (separate) focaccia-style Lagana:
  • Sub out evoo, for 5 tbsp. butter
  • 25 Kalamata olives, pitted
  • 1 1/2 tsp. rosemary
  • 3/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1 tsp. oregano
  • 1 tsp. thyme
  • 1 tsp. sea salt + 1 tsp. sea salt sprinkled on top

  1. First, I combined the flour and salt. Then, I made a well for the evoo.
  2. Once the yeast started bubbling up (from the sugar/water mixture) and looking strangely like a cappuccino, I mixed it into the flour mixture.
  3. Next, I kneaded the dough for 5-10 minutes, rolled it into a ball, rubbed it with evoo and set it aside for 2 hours, under a tea towel, to double.
Of course, all of this was executed with one glass of Greek wine tied behind my back!

After the dough doubled and we'd had our fill of wine, it became clear that further bread making antics would have to wait until the morning. This included rolling both doughs out, as thin as possible. A little bit of a squishy affair when working with the olive-filled focaccia.

Now, watch and be amazed as the master bread maker perfectly executes her Lagana:

Once the bread was finished, we needed to prep the table for our Clean Monday feast. This meant setting out our favorite Greek spreads, olives, grilled octopus, and stuffed grape leaves.

Ain't no party like an octopodi...
Not sure how to tell your taramosalata from your melitzanosalata? Not to worry, Ed has all the answers!

Finally came the magical moment when I got to sample the Lagana. It truly was a labor of love and really drove the idea of Lent and family effort home for me.

Happy Kathari Deftera, everybody! (May you have great breezes for kite flying!)

And, here's to the beginning of a lovely spring,


The “Packing List”

This week, we were rocking the following...or close to it:

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