If you happen to travel to Greece during the period leading up to Easter, you will see menus and food posters that are slightly different than usual. This is the period of the Great Lent, which is very important for the Orthodox Church. In Greece it is called “sarakosti”, meaning “of forty days”.
Exactly forty days before Easter, no animal products or derivatives of them can be consumed by those who practice the fast properly.
That is why on the streets all over Greece you will find signs of taverns and restaurants displaying their “νηστισιμο” (nistìsimo) menu, which means suitable for the dietary restrictions of Lent.
The rule is quite simple
No animals containing blood can be eaten, in fact, the only animal protein sources are derived from shellfish and crustaceans, which do not contain blood. In addition, eggs, milk and cheese are prohibited.
Oil is also disallowed, on Wednesdays and Fridays, although this is a rule followed only by the most faithful. Still, the most faithful and traditionalists also follow these restrictions throughout the year, on Wednesdays and Fridays, while Easter Lent is followed by many more people.
Why oil is forbidden during the Great Lent, but olives are not
Behind this detail also lies the entire explanation of nistìa (lent).
According to the explanations of the Orthodox church fathers, oil is not banned because of its essence, its objective nature. Rather, it is a rule that is imposed to make our meals during Lent simpler, poorer. The use of oil provides for our meals to be richer, more articulate, and characterized by culinary preparations.
In the Greek language, the term “λαδερά” (laderà: oily), denotes cooked foods, rich in flavors released through cooking.
In fact, the essence of the food prohibitions in the 40 days leading up to Easter is to make man as simple as possible, and his habits poorer.
Moreover, not everyone knows that the word “νηστεια” comes from two words “νη” + “εστια”: that is, “no” (νη) + “cooking” (εστια). This means that in addition to abstaining from what contains blood and animal by-products, the goal of Lent is to deprive ourselves of those little sins of gluttony found on tables every day.
As a private chef and consultant who also works with the Greek market, I have to be prepared and creative during Lent as well. The preparation and production of dishes for nistia is a very rewarding challenge for everyone in the business.
So today I bring you one of my recipes, perfect for this period of limitations, but not backing down in terms of material quality and final flavors.
Sautéed octopus and savoy cabbage roulade with seasoned creamed potatoes and beer sauce
A simple and tasty recipe that may seem difficult but is very easy to create. A dish that also leaves a lot of room for your own interpretations on seasonings and accompaniments.
- 1 medium frozen octopus
- 1 white onion
- ½ cup blond beer
- 4 large potatoes
- 1 tablespoon of tomato paste
- 1 small cabbage
- 10 green olives
- bay leaves, thyme, rosemary, sage
- extra virgin olive oil
Let’s start with cooking the octopus. I prefer the frozen one, because the process of blasting the matter makes it softer after cooking, without that unpleasant “rubbery” effect.
Fill a pot with cold water and set to heat on the stove.
In the water add:
- the white onion cut in half
- 2 bay leaves
- a small sprig of rosemary
- 1 tablespoon of coarse table salt
- 2 tablespoons vinegar/ or lemon juice
Let the liquid come to a boil, then add in octopus, close the lid and let it cook for 45 minutes per pound of octopus (or 35 ounces), on low heat.
When the time is up I recommend letting the octopus cool in its water; although it will take longer, it will tend to stay softer.
Meanwhile, let’s prepare the rolls
Flake the savoy cabbage and rinse the leaves under cold running water to wash them properly. Once washed and dried, cook them in boiling water for 4-5 minutes. We don’t want them soft and overcooked; we want to feel the texture of the vegetable. Once blanched, drain and dry them well.
Separately, boil the potatoes, peeled and diced, in plenty of salted water until soft. Drain them well and put them in a container where we are going to prepare the filling for the rolls.
Mash the potatoes until you create a puree, and add:
- the roughly chopped olives
- 2 teaspoons fine salt
- ½ teaspoon ground pepper
- a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
- chopped thyme, rosemary and sage
- 1 tablespoon of octopus cooking water
Taste and adjust salt and pepper to your liking.
Once we have the stuffing, let’s go create rolls with the blanched cabbage. Use the burrito method (I’ll explain it now). Spread the stuffing in the center of the leaf, fold the right and left sides in and squish the stuffing in. Finally roll up starting from the bottom, making sure to keep everything compact. Then set aside to rest.
Finally, we prepare an accompanying sauce
This will accentuate the sea flavor in the dish. We will use octopus water, which is rich in flavor and natural collagen, as a base.
Place in a small saucepan:
- 3 cups of octopus cooking water
- ½ cup of beer
- 1 teaspoon of tomato paste
Let it reduce over a very low flame until half the initial amount is left. You can also reduce the liquid more, resulting in a thicker sauce, be careful with the intensity of the flavor though!!! Now we will have an octopus reduction with a very intense flavor.
Adjust salt, pepper and add chili pepper to suit your taste. This step will have to be done at the end of cooking to avoid the flavors becoming too accentuated during the liquid reduction.
My advice is to let the sauce cool completely and let it rest overnight in the refrigerator. In fact you can cook it all the day before at leisure, and serve this delicious dish the next day.
Serving the dish
Sauté the octopus in a pan with a drizzle of oil so that the outer skin becomes crispy, creating a better texture.
Do the same process with the rolls. This time, however, I recommend that you apply a tiny bit of pressure so that the cabbage seals well and keeps the inside warm and creamy for a long time.
Finally, heat the sauce in a saucepan or microwave and serve it to your diners
Enjoy your meal!