One of the many bonuses of having two cultural backgrounds, is that you have the chance to have ‘double dips’ when it comes to celebrations. So, in our house at Christmas, we have mince pies and melomakárona, and when it comes to stuffing the seasonal fowl, sage and onion gives way to the traditional rice and pine kernel stuffing from the Dodecanese. We have a coin in the Christmas pudding and another one in the Vasilopíta – so an opportunity for a wish and good fortune for the coming year.
This last week is a case in point – last Tuesday we had pancakes to signify the beginning of Lent. Then the following Monday, we started Lent all over again with the festival of ‘Kathará Deftéra’ or ‘Clean Monday’. The name ‘Clean Monday’ comes from the tradition housewives had of scouring their pans on that day – during the Lenten fast they would not be much use. I’m perfectly happy with all this – as long as I don’t have to double the fast of course!
Greek Lent – ‘Sarakostí’ is preceded by Carnival or ‘Apókries’. Carnival runs for three weeks and is, on the whole, a furore of fancy dress, street celebrations, general craziness and a fair amount of meat-eating; only to slip into the rather gentle, simplicity of ‘Clean Monday’. This first day of Lent is mainly celebrated with picnic lunches and kite-flying.
It is probably my favourite of the festivals when it comes to food. Traditionally the forbidden foods during Lent are eggs, meat and dairy products, with fish only allowed occasionally. However, on Kathará Deftéra, just as a gentle adjustment, you can feast on any amount of shellfish, taramasaláta, squid, pulses and vegetables. This is the only day in the year that you eat the special oval-shaped flatbread, lagána,. Traditionally this was an unleavened bread, though these days it is usually made with yeast.
Obviously, so early in the spring it was not the right weather for a picnic, though the day was bright and sunny. So we ate indoors and I probably got a bit carried away – there were mussels baked in the oven, marinaded prawns, black eye bean salad, taramasaláta and my version of the wonderful salad served at Dourambeis fish taverna in Piraeus.
The pièce de resistance this year though, had to be stuffed kalamarákia. I had not made it for quite some time but when I saw the perfect, small baby squid in our local fishmonger, Mann’s of Sheffield, there was no question of what to cook.
So, in our sunny kitchen, we shared our Kathará Deftéra table with friends – definitely the most important ingredient of all.
Stuffed Kalamarákia – Kalamarákia Yemistá
8 – 10 small squid – the ‘pouches’ should be around 6-8cm long. Heads and tentacles removed and the pouches intact. They need washing very well to remove any sand.
A corresponding number of toothpicks
3 tabs olive oil
1 medium sized leek, finely chopped
200gm ‘Easy Cook’ long grain rice
1 small bunch of parsley, finely chopped
1 small bunch of dill, finely chopped
1 tomato – skinned and grated
3 tabs olive oil
Ground black pepper
2 tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped
1 small glass of white wine
100ml olive oil
Ground black pepper
Have the squid ‘pouches’ washed and prepared and ready to stuff.
Put the 3 tablespoonfuls of olive into a sauté pan and heat, add the finely chopped leek. Cook gently until it starts to caramelise.
Add the rice and toss it with the leeks for a couple of minutes.
Add the parsley and dill and mix well. Now add the grated tomato and add about 200ml of water and season with salt and pepper.
Cook the rice and herb mixture for about 10-15 minutes over a moderate heat until the water has been absorbed and the rice is half cooked.
Put to one side to cool.
When it has cooled sufficiently, take each of the squid ‘pouches’ and fill with rice mixture. It is important not to over fill the squid, as they may split as the rice expands.
Close each of the pouches with a toothpick. Keep any extra stuffing and put back to finish until the rice is properly cooked. This you can use when serving up the stuffed squid.
Heat the remaining oil in a casserole pan and add one of the chopped tomatoes and the wine and about 150ml of water. Allow this to cook for about 5 minutes, add the seasoning.
Now carefully put the stuffed squid into the pan – you may need to add a bit more water, it should not cover the squid.
Cook over a moderate heat, turning the said over occasionally, for about 20 minutes or until tender and the rice has cooked.
Serve on a warmed dish, with any remaining rice stuffing and scatter over the second chopped tomato.