Aprokries or Carnival is a time for merriment and meat-eating before the start of Great Lent. The celebrations vary from region to region in Greece, but in general, fanciful costumes and masquerade balls or costume parties are the rule. The ancient origins of Apokries, literally saying goodbye to meat, are often cited by scholars as the Dionysian festivals celebrating the end of winter and the beginning of spring. The advent of Christianity transformed the pagan festival into the celebration before the strict fasting period of Great Lent. Roast beef and other grilled meats are consumed, especially on Tsiknopempti, the Thursday during Apokries named for the grilled meat smoke (tsikno) that fills the air. Pranks are often played, men dress up as women, and costumes and masks are worn by all those participating in the revelry. In Patras, the celebration lasts for days with concerts, a huge parade, masquerade balls, a treasure hunt, and other activities for children. The large parade takes place on Tyrine or Cheesefare Sunday, the last day before the start of Lent, and features fancifully costumed troupes and colorful floats making their way to Patras harbor where the effigy of King Carnival is burned to end the festivities. Rethymnon in Crete also hosts a large and growing celebration for Apokries. Enjoy the following meaty recipe for Apokries.
Greek-Style Roast Beef and Potatoes
1 large lemon
2 tablespoons dried oregano
4 tablespoons Greek extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons dry mustard
3-4 large garlic cloves, crushed
Greek sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
5-6 medium potatoes, cubed
1 large red onion, cut in quarters
2 celery stalks
1 eye round roast beef
In a large mixing bowl whisk together the freshly squeezed juice of the lemon, the oregano, olive oil, dry mustard, garlic cloves, salt and pepper to taste. Add the potatoes, toss, and place in a large roasting pan along with the onion, carrots, and celery. Place the beef in the marinade and turn to coat all sides. Place in the roasting pan along with the vegetables and roast uncovered in a 375 degree F oven until the potatoes are done and the roast beef is to the desired doneness, turning the roast about halfway through the cooking process. For rare roast beef, roast for 20 minutes per pound. For medium, roast for 25 minutes per pound. For well done, roast 30 minutes per pound. Add a little water to the pan if it dries out. Allow the beef to rest for 10-15 minutes, tented with foil, before carving. To make a quick gravy, remove the roast beef and vegetables to a serving platter, deglaze the pan with water or wine, skim off some of the fat, if preferred, and reduce the beef juices over medium heat on the stovetop. When the liquid has reduced by about half, add a tablespoon or so of unbleached, all purpose flour to thicken, stirring constantly with a wire whisk until the gravy reaches the desired consistency and the flour no longer tastes uncooked. Adjust the flavor with additional lemon juice and seasoning with salt and pepper as needed. Serve in a gravy boat to pass around the table with the roast beef and potatoes.