The Greek pasta
Dora Kitinas-Gogos pays homage to the three Greek carbs - hilopites, trahanas and pligouri
There is a misconception that the Italians are the pasta masters. What they have been very clever to do is to market and create many different pasta shapes, but once you have tasted Greek hilopites you will never go back. There is pligouri, which is the Greek word for bulgur traditionally thought to be Middle Eastern. But we shouldn't quibble over who found it first and who called it what; pligouri is Greek for Greeks. Now we come to the humble trahanas that was forgotten and has now come back with vengeance to take its place in the Greek culinary culture that it deserves to be in.
We will look at these three Greek pastas one-by-one and consider their history, culture and see the recipes that make up these staple wheat products. Never forget that Greeks have been making pasta since ancient times and the word lasagne is not Italian but Greek from the Greek word laganon (λάγανον), which was a flat sheet of pasta dough cut into strips. Today in Greece we still call flat bread lagana (λαγάνα).
For the Greeks, pasta was a way to preserve eggs and milk throughout the year and a way to utilize these two animal products that were not eaten during religious fasting times as hilopites always have eggs or both eggs and milk, making them highly nutritional. Hilopites come in long strips like lasagne and in smaller sizes, but always flat. They have been made for generations by Greek women at home and kept in the pantry all the year round. Once you have eaten hilopites you are hooked as my Antigone and Elektra are, my two granddaughters, six and four years old. They love pasta but will only have hilopites with kefalograviera and pronounce the latter word precisely.
Trahanas used to be the poor man's food, often had for breakfast in the cold winter mornings. The Vlachohoria (βλαχοχώρια) were famous for their trahanas. As the Vlachs were semi-nomadic tribes, trahanas was in days of old a wonderful food to carry with you while away from home herding the animals as were the pita. Today these people, who predominately have settled in northern Greece, still make the best pita and are famous for their trahanas.
The history of trahanas though goes back further to the ancient Greeks and Romans who ate a gruel made from trahanas and chefs used it to thicken sauces.
Trahanas is also made form eggs and milk and when made into gruel or a soup always served with feta cheese. I have seen a Cypriot recipe where it is served with haloumi cheese. It is made from durum wheat traditionally, but these days from any commercial varieties. There are two types the "sweet" and the "sour". The sweet is made with sheep's milk and the sour with sheep's yoghurt, although Greeks claim it their own, trahanas is known and eaten all over the Middle East and Turkey.
Pligouri is a par boiled wheat (traditionally durum wheat) and dried out in the sun and is used in baked goods, soups, stuffing, but mostly as an alternative to a pilaf. In the Middle East it often replaces couscous. So in reality it is not pasta, only wheat, but is often used in the same way as trahanas and that is why I chose to include it.
These three products, forgotten for a while now, have been embraced by the young generation of chefs, fresh out of training. They are reintroducing them to the wider population and to the urban society who for many years had turned up their noses to their own traditions.
Of course the products are easier to come by toady as one can buy them in the supermarkets and not have to make them, or rely on a relative in the village.
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