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Clean Monday table: My Perfect Greek recipes for Octopus and Taramosalata

The Carnival season ended on Sunday evening, Monday morning Greeks sharpen knives and forks for the traditional Clean Monday meal with delicious lenten food. The Clean Monday lunch consists mainly of appetizers full of protein, yet no meat or chicken and no meat products like butter, eggs, cheese or sausages.

Seafood, legumes, vegetables and greens are the shining stars on Clean Monday table with the unleavened flat bread, Lagana, to have the leading role.

Plates are filled with octopus, kalamari, shrimps, crabs and raw clams decorated with lemon slices. Bowls burst with beans salad and taramosalata, the dip made of fish roe eggs. Fresh spring greens like spring onions, spring garlic, lettuce leaves, radishes, cucumbers and tomatoes are placed in a big plate put in the middle of the table for everyone to reach. Small plates are filled with olives and pickles. Stuffed grape leaves are filled just with rice, dill and spring onions to honor the Lent character of the day.

A plate with the traditional Clean Monday sweet made of sesame paste, Halvas, is waiting to be served after the main meal concludes.

Depending on the family budget the table can look opulent or frugal, which would be much more appropriate to the day that marks the beginning of the 40-day Lent until Easter.

The Lagana

Lagana is the unleavened flat bread fully covered with sesame. There are recipes for a home-made lagana from scratch but Greeks prefer to buy it directly from the bakery early Monday morning.

The word deprives from Ancient Greek “λάγανον”, laganon, a flat bread with flour and water. However, in the Greek Lent tradition, Lagana is eaten on Clean Monday most likely in adoption of the Jewish  “exodus form Egypt” tradition. As Jesus Christ blessed the leavened bread, eating unleavened bread during the Lent period is obvious.

Taramosalata

Made of uncolored white or colored pink fish roe eggs.

The recipe is simple and quick, for details check KTG recipe My Perfect Greek Taramosalata.

Octopus

Octopus is traditionally boiled in water and served with olive oil and vinegar. It can also be first boiled and then grilled or baked or even land in tray with small pasta, red wine and bay leaves and baked in the oven.

For me the easiest way to prepare octopus is to place it in a big aluminum foil sheet, add 1-2 teaspoons olive oil and 1 teaspoon dry oregano, tightly close the edges of the foil, place the package in a tray and push it in the oven at 200° Celsius. It is ready in 1 hour and 10-20 minutes, if the octopus is deep frozen. Fresh octopus needs a little longer. If you’re uncertain about cooking time, take the foil package out after the first 60 minutes and give it a try.

When ready cooked, it has to be “soft with a bite,” not too soft,you open the foil – beware of the hot steam!- take the octopus out and cut it in bites. Pour  olive oil and vinegar and sprinkle with dry oregano.

Remember to save the juice and use it for a delicious rice with some octopus chunks, red wine, bay leaf and copped dill.

Calamari and Sepia

When I was a child, boiled calamari used to come from a tin can. Nowadays, we fry them or grill them. Some stuff them with rice and herbs and let them shimmer in a delicious sauce. The same ways are used also for sepia.

The easiest way for grilled calamari is to heat a grill pan, brush a bit of olive oil, throw the whole calamari on. It is ready in maximum 10 minutes. Serve with oil, lemon juice and chopped parsley.

Clams and Mussels

Several kinds of clams are usually eaten raw with a generous dash of lemon.

Modern Greek households have added the black clams, mussels, on Clean Monday table.

The best way to cook them is to steam them for 5 minutes with olive oil, garlic, parsley and white wine.

Shrimps

Boiled or grilled, shrimps are quickly ready and love to be served with a vinaigrette made of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, finely chopped parsley.

I personally love them pure without any vinaigrette.

Beans salad

White beans are boiled in water. After they are drained and cooled, they are served with chopped green onion, tomatoes, capers and parsley and a dressing made of olive oil and lemon juice.

Many households prefer to prepare the salad with black-eyed beans as they cook more quickly and do not need to swell in cold water for at least 12 hours.

Stuffed Grape Leaves

The recipe is too complicated to be posted in a few sentences here.

Halvas

The type of Halvas eaten during Lent is made of sesame paste, tahini, and not with semolina. IT is crumbly and very nutritious.

Except for a healthy appetite and good spirits, the day also requires a sunny weather with a wind blowing above 3 Beaufort, so that children can fly their kites – another Greek tradition of Clean Monday.

Καλή Σαρακοστή! Kali Sarakosti! Have a good Lent period.

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