Lathera, also spelled ladera, is a classic Greek dish that grew out of simple peasant-style cooking. The Greek word for oil is lathi and these dishes are oil-based, thus the name which translates loosely to "with oil" or "oily." It goes without saying in Greece that the oil is olive oil.
Lathera dishes are almost always vegetarian, made up of one or more vegetables cooked in an olive oil-based sauce that often includes tomatoes, garlic, herbs, and spices. The earliest versions of lathera were tomato-less because tomatoes weren't introduced in Greece until the 17th century and they didn't really catch on until the 19th century. They're nonetheless a staple of the cuisine in modern times.
Lathera dishes are favorites any day of the week, but they're especially appreciated during Lent and other times of fasting when meat and dairy products are restricted in Greek Orthodox tradition.
Simple to Cook
Most lathera recipes follow a basic process:
- Aromatics are sautéed in olive oil.
- Tomatoes are added and left to simmer.
- Add your vegetable of choice -- green beans, spinach, okra, eggplant or almost anything you prefer -- and cook until it becomes tender.
With few exceptions, that's about it. Cooking times can vary depending on the vegetable you use. Spinach wilts and cooks much more quickly than eggplant or beans. Favorite Greek lathera dishes include Potato Ragout and Green Bean Casserole.
Experts recommend consuming between five and nine servings of fruits and vegetables a day. That's a lot, particularly if you're one of those individuals who shudders a bit at the sight of a heaping mound of plain old vegetables on your dinner plate. Greek lathera recipes simplify that dietary requirement and make it much more palatable. Depending on the exact recipe, many lathera dishes meet the daily requirement for vegetables on their own, and often without a lot of excess carbohydrates. You'll probably come close to meeting your daily fiber requirements with one of these dishes as well. As for the olive oil, it's a prime source of antioxidants. You'll get all these health benefits from relatively minimal calories.
Tips and Variations
If you're not following a strictly vegetarian diet, you can add a little beef stock to many lathera dishes for added richness.
Lathera dishes are often served sprinkled with feta cheese or with chunks of feta or manouri cheese, but this option also takes away from their appeal to vegetarians and vegans. Crusty bread is always a great accompaniment to help sop up the delicious juices.
A lot of the success of these dishes depends on good quality tomatoes. Resist the urge to used canned or processed products. It's simple enough to grate your own tomato pulp. Remember, these are peasant-style dishes that rely heavily on wholesome and fresh ingredients.
Authentic Greek cuisine tends to use a lot of olive oil in these dishes, but you can cut back to meet your own personal tastes if you prefer less.
In Greek: λαδερά
Alternate Spellings: Lathera, ladera