For many families, Christmas brings special traditions and special recipes. Whether it is pannetone, fruitcake, plum pudding, or tourtières, what makes these limited edition foods extra meaningful is that they are often only made during the holidays; a time of gatherings, joy and celebration. In our family, the traditional Christmas Eve treat is lalagia; savory, oval shaped rings of fried dough. I know, I know….we had you at fried dough. For our parents, making lalagia brings them back to their own childhoods. On the day before Christmas, the women in the villages where they grew up would gather to prepare this special, highly anticipated treat.
We realize that many of you (even Greeks) will have never heard of lalagia. Or maybe you have had something similar, which goes by a different name. Our parents are both from the Messinia region of the Peloponnese where lalagia are extremely popular and considered a local specialty. Yet, even within this region of Greece, they are not found everywhere. Traditions, customs, and of course recipes, vary from village to village and from family to family.
Although especially common during Christmas, when folklore claims that they ward off evil elves and evil spirits, across Messinia lalagia are available in bakeries year-round. In fact, during the summer in Kalamata there are vendors who sell their freshly made lalagia right on the beach. Sigh. So, if you are unfamiliar with lalagia, this is the year to make their acquaintance. Trust us. You’ll be happy you did.