Mridu and Marga from Serendipity Athens share a recipe: Ladera – and talk about traditional Greek cuisine.
Decades ago traditional Greek food was mainly vegetarian due to religious fasting and for economical reasons. Although today the Greeks have moved away from their traditional food and are eating more Westernized meals, surprisingly they still consume plenty of vegetables. Here’s how it works:
‘Ladera’ – cooked vegetables as a main course?
This is probably the best way to increase the intake of vegetables without really noticing! I always found Western diets ineffective. They ask you to increase vegetable intake by either persuading you to eat boiled or steamed vegetables with butter or loaded with melted cheese. That is not the way to go, for the simple reason that the butter and cheese required to make these boring vegetables tasty, defeats the purpose.
Instead, as the Greeks do, it makes much more sense to cook vegetables such as green beans, peas, eggplant, zucchini, okra, cauliflower together with olive oil, onion, tomatoes and herbs in a pot or in the oven. These vegetable casserole are often called ladera, from the Greek word for oil, ‘ladi’. They taste marvellous; especially along with some feta cheese and a slice of bread. An average serving of this vegetable dish corresponds to ½ pound of vegetables, which means about four servings of vegetables in one meal. Here is the recipe we have received from Apostolos, the chef who comes and cooks for our workshops:
1 kilo fresh green beans
1 cup olive oil
1/2 cup red wine
1-2 clove garlic, chopped
2 onions, sliced thin
½ kilo tomatoes, chopped
1 cup parsley, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper (or more, to taste)
1/3 teaspoon cinnamon
Clean the beans by cutting the stringy edges all around with a sharp knife.
Heat the oil in a large skillet and sauté first the onions and the garlic and after a while add the parsley. Stir until the onions become soft and translucent.
Add to the skillet the green beans and stir.
Burn the ingredients out with the wine.
Add the rest of the ingredients.
Cover and simmer over moderate heat for about 1/2 hour.
If you like you can add some potatoes and carrots. In this case, put them in the skillet at same time with the green beans.
Just keep in mind that this is the traditional version of the recipe and that more creative versions are possible.
Salad – in the centre of the table at each meal
For us Greeks we do not only eat vegetables as a main course but we always also have a salad in the centre of the table, regardless of what the main course is. However, it is important that the salads are made from seasonal vegetables. So, in the summer months there’s the famous Greek salad and a large variety of lesser known salads made with a combination of seasonal ingredients and spices, during the rest of the year. The taste of tomatoes and vegetables, grown in a field in summer behind your house, is unforgettable.
‘Horta’ – weeds and wild greens
Yes, weeds; they are also known as horta. You have probably heard stories or seen this if you have Greek neighbours: grandmothers picking dandelions in the backyard or in the fields. This dietary habit is the secret of the famous Greek-Mediterranean Diet. While in the USA the wonder of leafy greens has only just been discovered, in Greece they have always been the basis of our meals. For once because they are accessible to all and, secondly, because they are free – anybody can go and pick them. They have very few calories, are rich in antioxidants and are filling. We lightly boil them and eat them with olive oil, lemon and cheese. In Crete, they have over 150 varieties of greens and edible plants! All you need to do is wash them, boil and serve with lemon and virgin olive oil.
Tomato is a vegetable (although strictly speaking it is a fruit); and tomato sauce and even canned chopped tomatoes, for us, count as vegetables. In Greek recipes tomato is added everywhere, even to meat dishes. In the vegetable ladera mentioned above, tomato is added to make the sauce, so there’s an additional serving of vegetables for you.
Ever heard of Greek spinach pie?
The most famous Greek vegetable pie is known as spanakopita. We call them pites (not to be confused with pita bread). A pita basically means ‘something wrapped in phyllo’ (aka filo pastry). Phyllo can be thin, like the one found frozen in supermarkets, but there’s also thick, homemade phyllo, made with olive oil.
Pites are made with a variety of vegetables and greens such as spinach, leeks, greens, zucchini, peppers, mushrooms, artichokes – and the list goes on. Basically, anything in season. These pies are usually vegan, especially during the fasting periods, so they consist of vegetables, herbs and olive oil. During non-fasting days, cheese and eggs may be added. This is the original Greek fasting food, because it is easy to carry along and doesn’t require refrigeration.
Nowadays pites can be found at every corner and make a quick, filling lunch and – it is another easy way to eat more vegetables. It is our fast food instead of chips!
Zorba the Greek
We asked our chef who always comes and cooks for our workshops to let go of some of his secret recipes and share them with us and our friends. So we thought of creating a culinary experience which includes also Osho’s meditations, dance celebration, theatre, play and time for hanging out on the beach. We called it ‘Experiencing the Mediterranean Passion for Life’.*
Bodhi Mridu and Atmo Marga are running the Osho Serendipity Institute near Athens, Greece.
* ‘Experiencing the Mediterranean Passion for Life’ with chef Apostolos Takoulas will take place 19-25 July 2014 at Osho Serendipity Institute in Athens. serendipitygreece.com
Read the presentation of their centre: Serendipity in Greece