Today is Clean Monday (Καθαρά Δευτέρα), the start of Great Lent in the Greek Orthodox Church. Clean Monday is similar to Ash Wednesday, in that no meat is cooked on this day and it marks the start of a period of fasting, where the devoted abstain from all meat, eggs and dairy products.As you can probably tell from the recipes on my blog, we are not huge carnivores! A really spectacular meat dish is usually saved for special occasions, with friends and family. During the week we probably tend more to fall in the category of an unintended Lenten diet, with the exception of dairy products (cheese and yoghurt are always my downfall).
Heading into sharing my third Greek Easter period with Mr K and his family, I was really delighted to learn more about "clean Monday" and the wider traditions associated with this day.In Greece, Clean Monday is a public holiday which celebrates the coming of springtime. There is a flurry of "spring cleaning" and everyone heads to the beach or the country for picnics. Little children make "Lady Lent" (Kyra Sarakosti), a paper doll with seven legs to represent the seven weeks of Lent. Every week, a leg is taken off to show how many weeks remain until Easter. Lady Lent is also missing her mouth, which reminds children that this is a special period of fasting.While meat, dairy and eggs are an out and out no-no, fish is also restricted and can only be eaten only on major feast days. However, in the European tradition, shellfish, molluscus and fish roe etc are all ok. Together with the springtime vibe, this has lead to the tradition of eating elaborate seafood dishes on Clean Monday.
For a traditional Clean Monday celebration your table might include Lagana, a lightly leavened bread showered with sesames (Yanni's bakery in Kogarah, Sydney make a divine Lagana). There would also be some taramasalata (see Peter Minakis' excellent blog, Kalofagas, for a beautiful taramasalata recipe using white cod roe - the only type of roe to use according to Ma). You may also want to add another dip to have with your lagana and a big bowl of creamy, toasty fava might be just the thing!Lovely slow cooked, tomato flavored gigantes plaki, giant baked beans, would also be perfect and you can find a great recipe on Peter G's inspiring blog, Souvlaki for the Soul, which I have included the link too.Grilled octopus would be another tasty item for your spring time table, and I think Mr K's recipe really can't be beaten! There might also be some halvas for dessert - and guess what, with the sprit of springtime you can match your lovely feast with wine. Friends who live in Greece tell me that enjoying a glass of wine (or two) on clean Monday is all part of the festivities. A chilled glass of retsina would be the traditional choice.Unfortunatley, it's not a public holiday in Sydney today and after a long day in the office, my little tribute to Clean Monday had to be quick and easy - a Greek garlicky version of spaghetti vongole, with little shellfish, lots of colourful tomatoes and some retsina for a Hellenic twist. That is not my only Lenten addition. Lady Lent will also be taking pride of place on the fridge for the next 7 weeks - a good reminder to stay away from the cheese.
Clean Monday Pasta
500 g clams / vongole200 g dried Spaghetti5 Cloves finely chopped Garlichandful of chopped cherry tomatoes½ teaspoon Chilli Flake1 cup retsina1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley1. Clean the clams by quickly soaking them in a bowl of water and then rinse.2. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan (that comes with a tight-fitting lid) and add the garlic.3. Add the chilli flakes and white wine, bring to the boil.4. Add clams and cover tightly with the lid. Shake the pan and allow the clam shells to steam open.5. In the meantime, cook your pasta in salted boiling water.6. Add the chopped tomatoes and parsley to the clams and toss through. Then add the pasta.7. Check the seasoning and add pepper, and some salt, if required. The pasta may already been salty enough from the clams. Serve in a large platter and allow everyone to help themselves.