Raise your hand if you love pototoes! You there, in the back, holding a fist-full of french fries, we see you! And we love you! And, we too love potatoes. Whether they are roasted in the oven, bathed in all sorts of beautiful Greek flavours, or boiled and mashed and then transformed into the very distinctive Greek garlic spread called skordalia, we adore them. Potatoes are so versatile, so available, so economical, that it’s no wonder that the rustic cuisine of Greece has taken this commonplace vegetable and made it the star of a stew which we know will find a happy place in your hearts and stomachs.
Much of the beauty of Greek cuisine is that it varies from region to region. In part this is due to agricultural possibilities (think mountainous landscapes versus islands surrounded by the sea), connections with other cultures, and local customs and traditions. Every recipe tells a story, and offers a glimpse into the rich web of history, both cultural and culinary, that makes Greece and Greek food such an important and fascinating area of study. Although many of these unique regional dishes are well known (think kalitsounia from Crete or lalagia from Messinia), others are so local that they are known only to isolated villages. The recipe which we are sharing here is one such example.
Our parents make so many types of koulourakia (Greek for cookies that are great for dunking into coffee or milk) that it is almost hard to keep track of them all. To help differentiate one koulouraki from the other, they often refer to a key ingredient. So here, we present to you koulourakia with orange…because, you guessed it, they contain a fair bit of orange juice. They also often refer to different koulourakia by the person who prefers them over all others. So these, along with being koulourakia with orange, are also affectionately referred to as “Georgia’s favourite”.
Our parents always managed to put filling and delicious food on the table, whether they were rushed, tired, or simply not in the mood to cook (rare, but it did sometimes happen). Youvetsi (sometimes called Giouvesti) was the perfect solution to any of these situations. A baked dish of orzo, tomato sauce and protein, this is a relatively quick, and incredibly easy way to feed a family.
When our parents needed something quicker than quick, and easier than easy, they turned to preparing youvetsi this way. Unlike the more typical versions which include meat, like lamb or chicken, this recipe is made with chickpeas. By turning to legumes, this youvetsi is perfect for meatless Mondays, during lent, or when you simply want a vegetarian (actually, vegan) option.
Today is Clean Monday (Καθαρά Δευτέρα), the first day of great lent in East Orthodoxy. The date, like the date of Easter Sunday, varies from year to year and is the Monday seven weeks prior to Easter Sunday. It is described as “clean” because today is the day we are meant to leave behind sins, sinful attitudes, and non-fasting foods. In actual fact, lent began yesterday evening with the service of Forgiveness Vespers and the Ceremony of Mutual Forgiveness. Forgiveness is a major part of lent, and the faithful are meant to embrace this period with clean consciousness (making confession an integral part of this week), clean hearts and even clean homes, as it is customary to clean the house thoroughly during this week.
The decision to fast, and the degree to which one undertakes the fast is, in our opinion, a deeply personal one. It hinges upon many factors, including one’s health, life circumstances, and previous experience with fasting. People may choose to limit only meat, to cut out all animal products, to allow olive oil or not, or to fast only the week before Easter Sunday. We would never presume to tell you the right way to fast, but would instead suggest that you speak to your priest if you have any questions or concerns about your particular situation and the path you would like to follow. Regardless of your decision, one of the best pieces of advice that our parents gave us growing up in relation to fasting was the following: When you fast, you don’t look at anyone else’s plate (they said this in Greek of course). By this they meant that you should never look beyond your own self when fasting, and you should never judge another based upon what they put into their mouths. They also always maintained that fasting should go hand in hand with prayer, confession and goodness towards your fellow man (and of course, woman).