The Beginning of Great Lent

by Sava

Lent is that period of time before Easter during which Christians fast. Only two days of fasting (Friday and Saturday) were designated prior to Easter in the earliest days of Christianity. By the fourth century the period of fasting had been extended an additional forty days. Fasting disciplines have changed over the centuries. In early days, strict fasting meant eating nothing all day or sparingly of vegetables , grains or dry foods. Today, Orthodox Christians typically choose and commit to a fasting discipline that suits their circumstances, which can mean no meat or dairy products throughout Lent, or fast from meat, fish and dairy products only on Wednesdays and Fridays, or fasting only during Holy Week. As in so many things, the key here is for moderation and simplicity of meals. This year Great Lent, a solemn period of reflection and prayer starts March 7th through to Easter on April 24th.

When we were growing up our grandfather, Papou, lived with us and we kept the fast during Lent, although not quite as strictly as he did. For the children, the question was “What are you giving up for Lent?” It was understood that each of us would give up one of our favorite foods during this period of time. Of course, candy (food to us) was the ultimate sacrifice for us kids and usually what we gave up, feeling “holier than thou” while doing it. My mother planned our meals around vegetables, rice, pasta, beans, shellfish and fruits.

One of our favorite dishes was spanakorizo, a spinach and rice pilaf. This is the vegetarian version. There are 2 non vegetarian versions as well, which will be in our cookbook.

Serves 4 to 6

1 cup chopped onions                                                 3 2/3 cups water or vegetable broth

2 cloves garlic, chopped                                            1 cup Uncle Ben’s rice or regular long grn rice

1/4 cup olive oil                                                             1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach chopped and                                                                                              stemmed or 2 10 oz. pkgs frozen,chopped                                                                                                 spinach, thawed and well-drained

2 tblsp butter                                                                    salt & pepper to taste

1 cup fresh parsley                                                         juice of 1/2 fresh lemon

1/2 cup fresh dill

1 bay leaf

1 can (14.5 oz) diced tomatoes with liquid

1/2 cup dry white wine

In a dutch oven, saute the onion and garlic in the oil and butter over medium heat until soft. Season with salt & pepper. Add the parsley, dill, bay leaf, tomatoes & wine. Simmer for about 5 minutes over medium heat. Add the broth. When it starts to bubble add the rice. Cover & cook for 15 minutes. Check for doneness. If tender, add the spinach. If not tender, continue to cook, covered, for another 5 minutes. If the liquid has been absorbed add 1/2 cup more of liquid.  When the rice is tender add the spinach. Cook, partially covered, for about 5  minutes, until the spinach is cooked. Gently stir the spinach into the pilaf. Remove from the heat and let rest, covered, for 10 minutes. Taste for seasoning and adjust if needed.  At the last minute before serving, add the lemon juice and stir. Serve hot or at room temperature. We always put a dolop of plain yogurt on top, which is very good. Enjoy!

Here is a video of my sister Georgia being interviewed about this very dish.
What are YOU giving up for Lent?

See you next time. Yassou!

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Martha Bucknam Brogan March 9, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Just got the link to your website from my sister, Anne, who probably got it from Penny. It brought back memories of the wonderful smells from your house on Berkeley St and of your grandfather. how great that you are keeping it all alive with a cookbook. When will it be available?


Sava March 9, 2011 at 11:53 pm

How wonderful to hear from you, Martha! Glad you found our website. Georgia and I are doing the final corrections when she arrives here in California 3/21 with her husband. We are considering self-publishing right now, but not sure when it will be done, but we will definitely let you know …maybe through “the grapevine”, so to speak! Fitting for a cookbook! Thanks for the comment. Come back soon. Stay tuned …


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