The first day of Lent is known as Clean Monday. It is called "clean" because it marks the start of the lenten period during which our bodies and spirits are "cleansed" to prepare for accepting the Resurrection.
Clean Monday is a public holiday in Greece, a day of great celebration and traditions. Families take to the beach or countryside for picnics and kite-flying. Children make "Kyra Sarakosti," (Lady Lent), a paper doll with seven legs to represent the seven weeks of Lent. Every week, a leg is cut off to show how many weeks remain until Easter.
Clean Monday Menu
Foods during the seven weeks of Lent are fixed according to lenten restrictions. This generally (there are a few exceptions) means no meat or fish (nothing with red blood) and nothing derived from animals with red blood (no milk, cheese, yogurt, eggs, etc.).
Clean Monday has its own traditions, and all over Greece, tables will be laid (and restaurants stocked) with dishes that have been customary for generations.
Note: Recipes below include oil which, in Greece, is often excluded on Clean Monday.
Here's a suggested menu for 4 to 6:
- Lagana: A lightly leavened bread eaten only Clean Monday.
- Taramosalata: Fish Roe Dip: Tarama (cod or carp roe) is sometimes called "the common man's caviar." Combined with olive oil and bread, it makes one of the tastiest and most famous of all Greek dips.
- Fresh Shelled Fava (Broad) Beans: No recipe for this one; the fresh beans are shelled and eaten like nuts, or soaked in water until they expand and soften.
- Maroulosalata: Cos (Romaine) Lettuce Salad: Fresh, crisp greens with a light vinegar and oil dressing.
- Yigandes Plaki: Baked Bean Casserole: Yigandes are similar to giant dried lima beans, and this oven-to-table casserole combines them with tomatoes, onions, herbs, and spices to create a fabulous dish.
- Htapothi sti Skhara: Grilled Octopus: Octopus grilled over an open flame is a classic Greek meze to serve with ouzo and wine, and a favorite on Clean Monday. (For the less adventurous, fried calamari is a delicious alternative.)
- Garides: Greek-Style Boiled Shrimp: Boiled shrimp with a delicious oil and lemon sauce.
- Halvas: Semolina Pudding: Halvas can be made in many different ways, and this version is made with honey, nuts, raisins, and the tastes of cinnamon and cloves, for a wonderful dessert.
- Olives and Fresh Fruit: Complete the table with Greek olives and fresh fruit.