Thursday, 1 April 2010


“More die in the United States of too much food than of too little.” - John Kenneth Galbraith

As it is Good Friday today, I thought I’d blog about fasting, which is a traditional way of eating in many of the Southern Mediterranean countries, like Greece, Italy and Spain.  The fasting is cyclical and reflects the traditions and proscriptions of the religious calendar, closely associated with seasonal cycles and the availability of certain produce. It is also closely tied to the life of the countryside, where farming activities often dictate what food is available when. With fasting of course, comes feasting to celebrate various holy days and feast days.

In the Orthodox faith, there are there are four major fasts during the year:

1) The Great Lent, which begins on a Monday, seven weeks before Easter. This Monday, called Katharí Dheftéra (Καθαρή Δευτέρα), translates as Clean Monday. Fasting restrictions are eased on weekends (not abandoned), and Lazarus Saturday and Palm Sunday (the weekend before Easter).
2) Fast of the Apostles, which lasts from one to six weeks, begins on a Monday, eight days after Pentecost, and ends on June 28th, the day before the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul. 

3) Fast of the Dormition of the Virgin Mary, from August 1st to 14th. 

4) Christmas Fast (Little Lent), from November 15th to December 24th.

Individual Fast Days
•    January 5th - eve of the Epiphany,
•    August 29th - the Beheading of St. John the Baptist,
•    September 14th - the feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, and
•    Wednesdays and Fridays.

Similarly, there are certain days when fasting is not permitted:

•    between Christmas (25th December) and the Epiphany (January 6th),
•    the 10th week before Easter,
•    the week after Easter, and,
•    the week after Pentecost (50 days after Easter).

The fasting that is necessitated by Greek Orthodox Church tradition is essentially one of vegan fare and the permissible dishes do not include any dairy products, meats, and fish. This may sound very Spartan, but there are many wonderful traditional dishes that are both nutritious and delicious. For example:

•    Artichoke hearts with vegetables in a light lemon-dill sauce that is a Greek classic.
•    Beans with capers, which is an easy dish that uses black-eyed peas with the tastes of onions, capers, and dill. Because it is often served chilled or at room temperature, it is called a salad, but it makes a good warm main dish too.
•    Broad beans and artichoke hearts are a delightful taste combination and a favorite main dish during the Lenten season. It can also be served as a side dish.
•    Lentils and rice is a vegan recipe for lentils cooked with rice, herbs, and spices and meets the most stringent Greek Orthodox guidelines for periods of fasting and the Great Lent. It also happens to be frugal, healthy, and delicious as a main dish.
•    Tomato and pasta soup is made with fresh tomatoes, vegetables, and pasta, which is a hearty soup and a cold-weather delight.
•    Legumes are an important part of the Greek diet, and lentil soup is a perennial favorite as well as a Lenten dish consumed during fasting periods in the Greek Orthodox faith.
•    Fresh French beans with tomato stew is a simple recipe but tastes delicious. Fresh green beans, tomatoes, herbs and spices are simmered together long enough for the tastes to meld. Served in larger portions, it is a main dish.
•    The national food dish of Greece is Fassoladha, is a hearty bean soup. It is a delicious dish that represents the best of Greek cooking: vegetables, herbs, and olive oil. There are many variations of this wonderful dish, and this recipe can be made with tomatoes or with lemon.
•    Chickpea soup is a warming and filling thick soup that isn't as appealing to the eye as it is to the tastebuds. It's easy to make, vegetarian- and vegan-friendly, with only a few ingredients.
•    “Spanakorizo” or spinach risotto is made with fresh spinach, and is a quick dish that is a meal both delicious and healthy.
•    Stuffed cabbage leaves is a very nice dish where blanched cabbage is stuffed with a mixture of rice and herbs. They are made into small rolls and make for an elegant Lenten dish.
•    Stuffed vine leaves with a filling of rice, dill, parlsey, spring onion, tomato, with a light sauce of lemon juice.
•    Stuffed vegetables (tomato, capsicum, zucchini, eggplant, potato – as illustrated above) can be made into a vegetarian version where the minced meat is omitted. Οne may also stuff zucchini flowers, when they are in season.
•    Salads are a very common fasting dish and a great variety of them exist in Greece. The term “Greek Salad” is perhaps misleading as there are an almost infinite variety of fresh, healthy, zesty Greek salads!

Remember, we eat to live, not live to eat!
Have a Happy Easter!


  1. My (Italian) Catholic family followed the Lent fasting periods, although I don't recall them ever being so strict, Nicholas. At the time I remember I was always grumbling, but now I recall those times as special. Fasting makes the feasting ever so much more celebratory.
    Have a Happy Easter, Nicholas!