Green beans casserole

Ladera are the dishes that the Greeks eat during periods of fasting when all meat and dairy products are not eaten. Of course, that is not to say that they are not eaten at other times.

They are always vegetarian dishes cooked with olive oil and usually tomatoes, garlic and herbs. The word ladera comes from the word ‘ladi’ meaning oil…so oil-based, comforting dishes.

Some of my favourite ladera dishes are those prepared in the summer: the delicate green beans, eggplants, zucchini and okra which are cooked with tomatoes, bursting with flavour and  perfect served with fresh crusty bread and some cheese, usually feta. In winter dried beans are included as part of the ladera menu.

Ladera are best served at room temperature but I also think that they are even more delicious the next day.

I love the simplicity of these one-pot dishes and here is my favourite ladera dish…green beans with tomato.

Green beans casserole

1 kilo green beans
4 or 5 fresh tomatoes roughly chopped
4 carrots peeled and sliced
4 small zucchini cut into chunks
salt and pepper
olive oil
1 onion finely diced

Wash beans and cut into half. Prepare carrots and zucchini and put aside.

In a casserole dish sauté the onion in a little olive oil until soft, then add tomatoes, beans, carrots and zucchini, season with salt, pepper and oregano. Add 1 cup of water, enough to just cover the vegetables. Cover and simmer for approximately 45 minutes or under tender.

You can also add potatoes into this casserole if you like or simply serve with mashed potatoes and roasted meat or lamb chops. This is also delicious with fresh crusty bread and lots of fetta cheese.

Greek Orthodox Easter

Greek Orthodox Easter is not far now, only three weeks away. It is a time of fasting, and the Lenten begins on Clean Monday, which is seven weeks before Easter. The purpose of fasting is to cleanse the body and spirit. During this fasting, you abstain from foods that contain red blood, meat, poultry, milk, cheese and eggs, for example.

I am looking forward to all the Easter preparations, which begin on Holy Thursday when the eggs are dyed red and all the baking begins. It is a time to bake tsourekia and koulouria, a time when the house is filled with aromas of mahlepi and warm tsoureki straight out of the oven.

My kitchen becomes a hive of conversation and laughter.

Good Friday is the holiest day of the Easter calendar, the most significant religious celebration in the Greek Orthodox faith. It is a day of mourning. Traditional foods such as lentil soup are eaten. There is a church service in the afternoon and families attend at this time and help decorate the Epitaphio (the tomb of Christ) with fresh flowers, later to return for the evening service when the priest and choir chant Byzantine hymns.

On Holy Saturday, the Mayeritsa (Easter soup) is being cooked and the house prepared for the coming feast.

Families attend church for the Resurrection service. Just before midnight the church is darkened and everyone is silent. The flickering light of the ‘Eternal Flame’ (a candle inside the altar) is the only light. At midnight, the priest lights his candle from the Eternal Flame and sings ‘Christos Anesti’ …everyone joins in and chants ‘Christos Anesti’. Families enjoy the late dinner of Mayeritsa once back home breaking the fast.

Easter Sunday is a day to be spent with family and friends and every soul feasts on lamb, usually cooked on a spit or, at times, oven roasted. Always a great day spent with loved ones.

Here is my Mayeritsa recipe… Hope you like it!

Mayeritsa (Greek Easter Soup)

3 litres of water
olive oil
½ cup finely chopped dill
½ cup chopped spring onions
½ iceberg lettuce finely chopped
½ cup medium grain rice (optional)
salt and pepper

250 grams lamb intestines
500 grams (in total) lamb heart, liver and kidney

egg and lemon sauce

Wash the intestines well. It is easier cut into smaller lengths then with the help of a knitting needle or skewer turn them inside out and wash well under running cold water. Soak in a bowl with water and lemon juice for 10 minutes, drain and wash with cold water. Blanch in some salted water for 5-6 minutes, drain and cut into small pieces.

Wash the meats well and cut into bite sized pieces. Place in a saucepan with water and bring to boil. Simmer for about 15 minutes, drain and let cool.

In a large saucepan pour a little olive oil, heat and place in the dill, spring onions and lettuce a sauté a litte. Add the meats and seasonings, water, bring to the boil and simmer for about 20 minutes, then add rice (if you are adding rice) and cook until both the meat and rice are cooked.

Make the egg and lemon sauce and add to the soup.

Serve hot.

Spinach and Risoni

It is already April and I can hardly believe it.   Summer is over and autumn is well and truly here…crisp mornings, glorious day and time to bring out the cardi.    The autumn kitchen also begins to change from barbeques and salads to bowls of soup, slow cooked meats and casseroles.

Autumn in Melbourne is my favourite time of the year, but maybe I say that at the beginning of each season.

My vegie garden is not very big but I am still excited about clearing the summer crops and planting some beetroot, cabbage, carrots, leeks, spinach, silverbeet, cauliflower  (if there is any room left) and possibly rocket…some of my favourites.

Here is my spinach and risoni…simple, delicious comfort food

  • 1 bunch of spinach
  • olive oil
  • 1 small onion finely diced
  • 1 cup tomato passata
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 x 500g packet of large risoni (kritheraki)

In a large casserole dish sauté the finely chopped onion in a little olive oil. Add the tomato passata to the onions, season with salt and pepper and add about 2 cups of water. When it starts to simmer add the risoni and simmer until it is almost cooked adding the spinach and continue cooking for a further 5 minutes, until all cooked. Add more water at any time if it looks too dry.

Serve while hot and accompany with fetta cheese and olives.

This will make 4 generous serves or 6 smaller ones.