Vegetarian Dishes From a Greek Holiday

In Greece, Clean Monday is a public holiday that marks the first day of Lent on the Greek Orthodox calendar. At Molyvos in New York on that day — which this year fell on Feb. 15 — the chef, James Botsacos, collaborating with the cookbook author Diane Kochilas, prepared a plant-based feast as a fund-raiser for the Gennadius Library in Athens, which houses a collection of Greek arts and letters that was invaluable to Ms. Kochilas when she was researching her prize-winning cookbook, “The Glorious Foods of Greece.”

“Lenten feast” may sound like an oxymoron, but the Greeks have been fasting in accordance with the Greek Orthodox calendar for hundreds of years, and they have developed an extraordinary repertory of vegetarian dishes. For a little less than half the year (48 days before Easter, 40 days before Christmas, and various lesser fasting periods), observant Greeks abstain from all animal products except certain shellfish and mollusks. This means no meat, cheese, butter, yogurt or eggs, all foods the Greeks love but can do without, thanks to the delicious dishes that replace them.

The range of bean and vegetable main dishes in the Greek repertory is striking; every region has its specialties. Extremely healthy, these dishes contain no saturated fat whatsoever and lots of fiber. Many of the traditional dishes are called “olive oil dishes” (or ladera), because they are cooked with copious amounts of extra virgin olive oil. I tone down the amounts in my kitchen. But I still use enough to ensure that the broth accompanying vegetables or beans is alchemized to a velvety sauce, often enhanced with a splash of fresh lemon juice or vinegar just before serving.

Black-Eyed Peas With Vegetables and Small Pasta

Since black-eyed peas require no soaking, you can cook this after work so long as you have some vegetables around the house. It is an utterly simple dish that I’ve adapted from a recipe in Ms. Kochilas’s cookbook.

half pound dried black-eyed peas, picked over and rinsed

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 large carrots, finely chopped

1 large red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

quater cup tomato paste dissolved in half cup water

2 to 4 garlic cloves (to taste), minced

1 bay leaf

1 dried hot pepper, or quater to half teaspoon hot pepper flakes

quater to 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

half cup small pasta, such as elbow macaroni or tubettini, or small square Greek egg noodles

half to 1 cup chopped cooked spinach or greens (optional)

1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar, to taste

1. Cover the black-eyed peas with water, bring to a boil and then drain.

2. Combine the drained black-eyed peas, onion, carrots, red bell pepper, dissolved tomato paste, garlic, bay leaf, hot pepper and quater cup olive oil in a large soup pot or Dutch oven. Cover with water by 2 inches, and bring to a gentle boil. Cover the pot, reduce the heat to low and simmer 20 minutes. Add salt to taste, and continue to simmer until the beans and vegetables are tender, about 30 minutes more. Taste and adjust seasoning. Add the pasta, increase the heat to medium-high, and simmer five to 10 minutes, until the pasta is cooked and much of the liquid has been absorbed. Stir in the greens, another 2 tablespoons olive oil if desired and the vinegar. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes before serving.

Yield: Serves four.

Advance preparation: This tastes even better the day after it’s made (though you may want to wait to add the pasta until you reheat). It will keep in the refrigerator for three or four days.

Martha Rose Shulman can be reached at martha-rose-shulman.com.


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