Several years ago, I spent the night before «Clean Monday», as Greeks call the first day of Lent, baking the traditional Lenten flatbread lagana with a local Athenian baker. Even though he went about his business methodically and professionally, turning out more than a thousand or so loaves, he didn’t fail to observe all the traditions of th fast. Indeed, he was a part of those traditions, for lagana, which traces its roots to the flat grilled porridges of the ancient Greeks, is the lenten bread par excellence.
Byzantine hymns wailed softly in the background as his assistant cut off quarter-kilo rounds of dough. The baker took each piece, slapped it onto his floured work table and proceeded to roll it into perfect ovals with a special studded rolling pin. Every half hour or so he walked over to a counter at the back of the bakedry where he had his evening meal laid out: a container with taramosalata, the Greek fish roe spread, which he ate with fresh tender stalks of young garlic; small pickled green peppers; a small plate of mixed pickled vegetables and olives; a few pieces of rice-stuffed squid and some octopus preserved in vinegar brine. A wedge of halva lay on its side, waiting for the baker to sprinkle some lemon juice over it and wash it down with some retsina. In that small array of dishes, I realized, the whole philosophy of the Greek Lenten table was apparent.
Thinking of Lent as a period of culinary significance might seem ironic–after all the Fast is meant as a period of spiritual and physical cleansing. Yet, some of the best fare in all of Greek cooking are the dishes culled from the tradition of abstention, from the 40 day period before Easter when one shuns all animal products. Until just a few decades ago, the majority of Greeks abided by the dictates of the religious calendar, fasting not only before Easter but before many other major holidays, so that they actually kept off meat and dairy products for nearly half the year. As a result, a whole culinary repertory evolved that is a mirror of the ingenuity of home cooks who relied on the bounty of the season to provide filling, nutritious meals. Greek Lenten recipes are delicious!
SOURCE/READ MORE: http://dianekochilas.com/2298/the-greek-lenten-table