The Traditional Fare on Clean Monday

As I write this we are in the middle of carnival weekend. It’s big weekend here in Greece leading into Lent and is a time for a good deal of celebration. Following the main carnival weekend we have Kathari Deftera or ‘Clean Monday’ which is the official start of lent. On this day there are specific foods that it is traditional to eat and most Greeks head out to a local taverna and order a table load. In fact, for the devout, it will pretty much form their diet until Easter in 40 days time. Lets run through the staples of a Clean Monday menu and find out how to prepare some of these simple, tasty dishes.

All food served today will be accompanied by a special bread called Lagana. This was once unleavened but over the years the recipe has started to include a little yeast. It comes in the form of a large rectangle covered in sesame seeds and is most wonderful but very expensive to buy (bakers make a killing on Clean Monday!).

The types of foods eaten on clean Monday are generally vegetable or seafood based. Even the normally ubiquitous feta cheese is absent. Here is a list of what you would typically find on the menu:

Taramasalata (a dip made with cod’s roe), Skordalia (a dip made with garlic and potatoes), marinated octopus, calamari (squid), fava dip, bean salad, and lettuce salad.

There are other dishes, like whitebait, prawns and cuttlefish for example, that may show up here and there as well. But here we will concentrate on the staple dishes.

  1. Taramasalata. You will need 100g red salted cod roe, 300g boiled potatoes, 1 cup of olive oil, 1 small onion finely grated and the juice of 2 lemons. Simply mash the fish roe, onion and the potato together and drizzle in the olive oil and lemon juice gradually. Don’t worry if you can’t find the fish roe where you live, you will no doubt find that there are commercially made versions of this salad available to buy.
  2. Skordalia. You will need: a head of garlic, 200g boiled potatoes, half a cup of olive oil, a couple of teaspoons of vinegar and a pinch of salt. Mash the garlic first then add the potato and vinegar. Continue mashing to a purée whilst dribbling in the olive oil a bit at a time.
  3. Fava Dip. For this you will need 500g fava beans (split red peas), 2 medium onions (1 quartered and 1 finely chopped), half a cup of olive oil, the juice of a lemon and salt & pepper. Wash & boil the fava beans, skimming off any scum that forms on the top. Add the quartered onion, salt & pepper and half of the oil. Continue to simmer until the fava had broken down to a porridge-like consistency. Put the mixture through a food mill of processor to form puree. Sir in the rest of the lemon juice and serve topped with the raw finely chopped onion.
  4. Lettuce Salad. Quick & simple. Just finely shred a couple of lettuces and toss with an olive oil and lemon juice dressing (two-thirds oil, one third juice)
  5. Bean Salad Another simple one. 500g of dried white beans, soaked and boiled or – better still – 2 cans of white beans drained, 1 medium onion finely chopped, oil & lemon dressing as described in the lettuce salad, a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped flat-leaf parsley and salt. Simply mix the ingredients together in a bowl and add the dressing.
  6. Calamari. Cut the squid into rings (use the tentacles too) and dip into milk. Squeeze of excess milk and toss in flour. Shake off excess flour in a sieve and deep fry until golden. Throw on some salt and serve immediately while piping hot with wedges of lemon.
  7. Marinated Octopus. Not as difficult as it may seem, this one. Firstly, a word about octopi. Don’t fret about trying to find a fresh one in February. 99.99999% of Greeks will use a frozen one. Octopus does not lose any quality through freezing. In fact, many would say that the freezing process helps to tenderise the flesh. Anyway, find a frozen one and, if you can, find one from Morocco as they are the best. Here’s what you will need: A 1.5 kilo octopus (thawed), 3 cloves of garlic mashed or v. finely chopped, a teaspoon of dried oregano, a cup of olive oil and half a cup of red wine vinegar, a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper. Wash the octopus inside and out (it will already be prepared if you buy a frozen one) and put into a large stockpot or saucepan. Many people say do not add water, but I put a just little in the bottom just to protect the pan in the early stages of cooking. You could put a little white wine in if you wish…not much, a couple glugs, that’s all. Then cook the octopus in its own juice over a low heat until it is tender to the point of a knife. Remove the octopus from the water and, when it has cooled, chop it into small pieces. Take all of the other ingredients and put into a jar, put the lid on (do remember this) and shake vigorously. Use this dressing to pour over the octopus. This will keep well for several days in the fridge and tastes much nicer the day after it has been made, once all of the flavours have got to know one another.

Other vegetable dishes would include a shredded white cabbage and carrot salad dressed with oil & lemon, vine leaves stuffed with a rice mixture and horta (boiled mixed wild greens)

For a dessert, Greeks would favour ‘Halva’ a sweet made with semolina and nuts which is available in many different varieties.

Traditional Food From Scotland

When travelling to different countries it is always important to bring home some traditional souvenirs. Traditional haggis is a souvenir that you can bring home in two different ways. Haggis is a commonly known dish that is made out of what is considered “sheep’s pluck”. That is the sheep’s liver, lungs, and the heart. It is then minced with many different ingredients that include oatmeal, spices, salt, suet, onion, and stock. They then simmer the meat inside of the animal’s stomach for a few hours. It sounds unappealing but it is a popular due to its unique taste and references in regards to Scottish culture on American television shows such as the Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson for example. Learning how to make this haggis would be a fantastic way to bring home as a souvenir. Despite how unappealing it sounds it is said that it has a nutty texture and tastes wonderful.

There is a lot of folklore surrounding this traditional Scottish meal. The best (and cutest) story surrounding haggis is that the animal that is used to make this dish is actually a small animal that has a set of legs that is shorter than the other set of legs. This is to prevent the Haggis can be on the highlands without falling off of the ledges. In fact, many Americans believe that haggis is actually a real animal while it is really often made out of sheep.

There are many variations of haggis in Scotland such as “haggis supper” that includes chips (French fries), a “haggis burger” that is served on a bun, and a “haggis bhaji” which is served in Indian restaurants around the area of Glasgow. There are even vegetarian alternatives for those that don’t eat meat. With so many variations there are a lot of options for those that want to take part in this traditional Scottish meal.

For those that are uninterested in eating any variation of haggis, there are stuffed animals that can be brought home as a traditional souvenir. Bring home a cute stuffed haggis to keep as a memory of when visiting Scotland. In fact, haggis is known to be banned in America. So, if you are a rebel without a cause it would be fantastic to learn how to make it. Or if you are in line with the law, it would be best to just purchase a stuffed haggis.

Eat Healthy Chinese Food

Some people will write Chinese food off as fatty and full of MSG (Mono Sodium Glutamate). Saturated fats and excess salts are considered bad for the heart and so it follows that Chinese food is unhealthy, right?

Wrong Some Chinese dishes, corrupted to become popular to western palates, fit this bill. Authentic Chinese food is not fatty, and MSG, if used at all, is used sparingly. In fact Chinese food has a long history of being directed towards promoting health; a much longer one than any local ‘fad’ in the west.

Some history

Although united 2000 years ago, China never developed a state system for healthcare until recently. Citizens had to take their own measures when sick, and since these were often too expensive, that meant avoiding sickness in the first place if at all possible.

The first principles of food therapy were established nearly 4000 years ago, though it was only during the Tang Dynasty (608-906 AD) that this form of knowledge became really popular. Four ‘pillars’ were identified as crucial to staying healthy: lifestyle, diet, exercise and mind. Of these diet was considered the most important, probably as it was the one over which people had the most control.

Food plays a central role in Chinese culture. Cooking healthy food for the family is a lifelong profession for most women. Children are brought up with some knowledge of the health properties of their food and dietary restrictions are commonly understood and observed. Eating healthily is almost an obsession and forms an unspoken bond between family members.

Using modern terminology we can identify Grains as equivalent to carbohydrates, vegetables as roughage, fruits as vitamins and minerals and meats as protein.

A balance of 40:40:10:10 is considered ideal, with perhaps some variation in the balance between vegetables and meats.

Note that dairy products do not feature here. Most Chinese do not eat any dairy foods after childhood and, in fact, become intolerant to them as young adults.

It all comes down to what you choose

Bearing just this little bit of knowledge in mind it is possible to order better and more healthy Chinese food. By definition that will also be more authentic Chinese food.

Traditional Arabic Food

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A great many people would list travelling as one of their interests or hobbies when asked to list favourite things. When travelling to a foreign country tourists love to take in the sights of that specific country and best of all try out all the different  foods which originate from the country or area.

Travelling to the Middle East would be no different and is the perfect destination to sample all types of Gulf and Middle Eastern cuisine. A suggestion would be to try out the buffet spreads where you could sample a little bit of every kind of dish. The following are popular to the Middle East.

Hummus is a dip made from chick peas and sesame seeds,tabouleh is chopped parsley, mint and crunched wheat. Ghuzi is a whole roast lamb on a bed of rice, mixed with nuts.Wara enab is vine leaves stuffed with rice and stuffed courgettes is known as Koussa mahshi. Local dishes include koussa mahshi which is spiced lamb with rice and hareis is a rich delicacy of slow cooked wheat and tender lamb. For pudding a type of bread pudding is known as Umm Ali and a sweet type of cheesecake with cream on top is called Esh asaraya.

Seafood is very popular in the Middle East and you can expect some specialties involving lobster,crab,shrimp,tuna,kingfish and red snapper. Many hotels serve seafood buffets and the different dishes can be sampled at your leisure.

Restaurant For Enjoying Food

It is extremely crucial that you find an authentic Indian restaurant in your locality if you intend to enjoy genuine Indian food with family or friends. Excellent services and the right ambiance, as well as hygienic cooking habits, are also the hallmark of such restaurants. You should consider other such steps to ensure such eating places.

Many restaurants are known for providing an Indian ambiance. But do not be fooled by them as such a traditional decoration inside of them may be to cover up for the shortcomings in food quality and even in services. So, while the right ambiance is always preferable and depicts the right intentions toward the customers, do not take it as a guarantee of quality food.

It is always better to have a thorough knowledge about the authentic Indian restaurant of your choice in your locality. Go to it’s websites and see if the site is well laid out with lots of information about the food and services. Often, the seriousness of the restaurant towards authentic food and services can be gauged by having a deep look at the site. a non-serious restaurant is unlikely to have a great and professional website.

Get all the food details and the menu. A genuine site takes all the pains in telling you about its preparations that go in cooking the authentic Indian food. It will tell you in detail about the origin of the food in Indian and the ingredients that go into it as well as the cooking methods used by the chefs.

Talk about the authentic Indian restaurant to your friends who have visited it. If most of them recommend it, go enjoy the food. Get the details about the special Indian food UK served in the restaurants so that you can order for it right away.

Do not enter a restaurant that does not pay attention to your needs at the table. If your online order or queries are not promptly met by the reception counter, then avoid it as the place is not seriously interested in you. Excellent services inside the restaurants as well as the right décor and ambiance are the factors that you should pay attention to while selecting one such place for enjoying the food. Find out one such authentic Indian restaurant in your vicinity for genuine cuisines that are traditionally served in the subcontinent.