In Greece, a country where vegetable recipes rule supreme, you rarely hear food described as ‘vegetarian’. The naming of someone as a hortofágos (vegetarian) is a relatively modern phenomenon, despite the fact that traditionally Greeks, especially in villages and islands, ate very little meat. Regular meat-eating came with growing urbanisation and relative affluence. But explaining that someone is a vegetarian can still receive disbelief . To quote the character Aunt Voula from ‘My Big Fat Greek Wedding’, ‘What do you mean, he don’t eat no meat ?!!’ It’s a response that’s not entirely the caricature you might think. Classing food as vegetarian has the connotation of it being just a little bit strange and probably not from the usual Greek repertoire. The funny thing is that a huge amount of daily Greek fare is not only vegetarian, it is in fact vegan . It’s just that it all goes under the very Greek classification of ‘Laderá’ –literally ‘oily food’; a term that can get a little lost in translation. For English sensibilities saying that you’re serving oily food would be received with a level of incredulity worthy of Aunt Voula. ‘What do you mean, it’s oily ?!’
‘Ladéra’ are traditional vegetable stews or bakes – these are not cranky concoctions but the perfect vehicles for top class produce, in season and in prime condition. Whether it’s green beans, artichokes, aubergines, okra, courgettes or any number of dried pulses, they can all be served as an ‘oily dish’ – the crucial point is that they are always meat free. The sauce can be tomato-based or just oil and lemon juice – the key ingredient is good quality olive oil and plenty of it. Having said that, these dishes shouldn’t seem oily – instead the sauce should be reduced enough, so that the food ‘is left with it’s own oil’. As the phrase ‘happy ever after’ is to fairy tales, ‘na meínei mé to ládi tou ‘ is the classic line that ends all recipes for ‘Laderá’.
So seeing fresh local peas in the greengrocers this time I cooked araká mé patátes – delightfully fragrant sweet peas, new season ‘spunta’ potatoes from Cyprus, fresh tomato, copious amounts of dill and a good glug of virgin olive oil. Who needs meat !? And who needs to be a vegetarian?! Just eat like a Greek !
500 gm freshly podded peas
1 small onion, finely chopped
1 bunch spring onions (including the leaves), chopped
2-3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2-3 medium sized tomatoes, grated
3 new potatoes, peeled and chopped into 8ths
150ml – 200 ml olive oil
A handful of chopped dill
Heat half the olive in a a low casserole and sautée the onions until it is soft. Don’t allow it to go too brown.
And the carrots and cook for a further minute or so.
Add the grated tomato, the peas,potatoes, half a cup of water and the rest of the oil.
Season, reduce the heat and simmer for about 35 minutes.
Once the potatoes and peas are almost cooked, add the chopped dill and check the seasoning. Simmer uncovered for a further 10-15 minutes, ‘until the food remains in its own oil’.
Serve with bread and slices of salty feta.