What do you think of when I say Greek food? Maybe some favourites like moussaka or hummus and pita, perhaps baklava. Although Charlotte does have a Greek festival held at the Greek orthodox church every year, there is not an abundance of Greek restaurants to experience or exposure to Greek food where I grew up. I never really ate or thought about Greek food. Now that I do, I am surprised by one thing in particular: the spices.
It might be better to say the extremes in flavours because the secret of Greek food is not the spices used but the good, wholesome flavours. Certain cuisines have a certain spice or combination of spices to give it a distinctive taste and aroma- Indian, Mexican and even Italian dishes. Greek dishes have very strong flavours (lemon, tahini in hummus, feta cheese) or very mild spices (cinnamon, mint). As the most usual smell and starting point in my house for many a dish was garlic and onions, the lack of strong spices or even very many spices in cooking took some time to get used to.
Food without heavy spices is wholesome, honest and flavourful in a way that makes you appreciate each component of the meal. It takes you back to the basics of cooking in many ways and it feels more traditional, as if you and your great-great-great-great-grandparents could have the same meal without either feeling out of place. In many ways, this is real reflection of the Greek culture: keeping in touch with your background and traditions, communing with family, and in some cases continuing the religion, all through the simple acts of preparing and eating a meal.
This brings me to the Lenten meal I prepared called fagi. (I have no idea what fagi means and I don't even think that is the real name, just a Cypriot slang for the dish.) Fagi can be eaten during a fast and is a simple mixture of green lentils, rice and fried onions. That's it.
Boil some green lentils for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, dice two onions and fry them in oil so that they go from this:
Magic! (and chemistry)
Throw the rice in with the lentils and cook until rice is done. You actually don't want to overcook the lentils because they will get mushy, so timing is more important in this dish than others.
When the rice is done and all the water has been absorbed, add the fried onions and any remaining oil to the lentil/rice mixture and stir.
You can serve with yogurt (or in my case, tzatziki because I had some), bread and meat if you would like, or keep it without for those who are fasting/vegan.
The sardines are just for effect.
All in all, a very filling meal and while not spiced at all, tasty.
In case you were wondering, as I am sure you were, any Greek dishes that I cook will come from this fantastic book:
My fiancee's auntie suggested it, so it must be good.