While Greek food is so much about the seasons and homegrown produce, it is also driven by the festival calendar. We recently started one of the most significant fasting periods in the Greek calendar, Great Lent.
This period is called nistia (νηστεία) and traditionally requires you to abstain from meat, eggs, dairy, fish (shellfish are ok), olive oil and alcohol. You are also required to limit the number of meals consumed each day. In recent times, many people do not fast for the whole period of lent (Clean Monday until Easter Sunday) but they do still fast in different ways. For many people, they will not eat meat for the entire period of lent but will still eat dairy. For others, they will not eat meat for the entire period of lent and will also be completely vegan, oil and alcohol free on Wednesdays and Fridays - which are regarded as significant fasting days in the Orthodox calendar year. In addition to this, most people fast strictly during the first and last week of Lent as well as Holy Week, breaking the fast after midnight on Easter Saturday with bowls of mageritsa soup.
In our house, Lenten fasting is not to much of an ordeal, as we don't usually eat meat through the week - preferring vegetable based dishes, lots of salads - both cold and hot, such as horta dressed in lemon and olive oil and served with feta cheese and juicy kalamata olives. Lenten foods and dishes are called nistisima in Greek, and many of them are so delicious - we eat them all year round. This onion pie certainly falls into that category. It tastes just like the delectable aroma that comes from frying onions and leeks. If you are not fasting, you can add a little feta which provides additional flavor and texture, as well as some egg which binds and thickens the onion filling.
The combination of 'allium' vegetables in this pita - onions, scallions and leeks are incredibly potent in terms of their health benefits. This makes sense really when you think of this dish as fasting food. The onions, leek and scallions all have strong antioxidant properties, which may help to protect against heart disease and cancer. They also contain compounds which help to lower blood pressure and may help to reduce cholesterol. Allium vegetables are also believed to help prevent and treat arthritis. The tumeric is not a traditional Greek ingredient, but I like to add it to the fasting version of this pita - just to ramp up the health benefits that little bit more!
Lenten Onion Pie (κρεμμύδoπίτα νηστεία)
1 quantity of rustic pastry
1 kilo of onions, sliced into rings
3 large leeks, sliced into rings
1 bunch of scallions
1 bunch of dill
Salt, pepper and turmeric to taste
Step1. Preheat the oven to 200C. Saute the onions, leeks and scallions in olive oil. Season with salt and cook until tender. Remove from heat, and add the dill, tumeric and plenty of pepper.
Step 2. Spread the first piece of pastry onto the base of a pan, which has been well greased with olive oil. Then spread over the filling and cover with another sheet of pastry. Seal the edges and brush the surface with olive oil, sprinkle with water and bake at 200C until golden brown.
3 & 1/2 cups of semolina flour from durum wheat
1 teaspoon of sea salt
1 & 1/4 cups of water
1/2 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon ouzo
Combine the flour and the salt in a large mixing bowl and make a well in center. Add the water, olive oil, and ouzo. Bring the flour into the liquid with a fork, until a dough begins to form. Then knead the dough for about 10 minutes until silky. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover with clingwrap. Stand at room temperature at least 1 hour before using.