Greek vegetarian food. Is it actually possible? Does such a phenomenon really exist in a cuisine that is mostly about meat? Well, the “mostly about meat” bit is mostly a misconception.
“Whether you’re considering a meat-free diet for ethical, health or financial reasons, going vegetarian is one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.”
The fact of the matter, insists the spoon and pen behind the Greek Vegetarian blog, is that almost half of what you’ll find in any Greek cookbook, or even restaurant menu, is actually vegetarian.
And anything that isn’t vegetarian can be made meatless, which works to our benefit for the Lent period leading to Easter celebrations.
Lisa Stanton is a Greek Australian vegetarian based in Melbourne who loves Greek food and decided to create a place where readers and vegetarians can discover the many facets of Greek vegetarian food.
“The Greek Vegetarian blog was created in January of 2013, after my job as graphic designer and photographer at a university became redundant, leaving me at home to consider life as a freelancer,” Lisa says.
“I know, I know. It’s such a cliche but despite the millions of bloggers out there, I still think there’s a tiny spot left for a blog about Greek vegetarian food.”
The food blog not only provided a creative outlet for Lisa at the time, but has also become a source of inspiration to other vegetarians and part-time lovers of vegetarian food who want to explore the many possibilities of delicious Greek cuisine.
“I also love turning Greek meat-based dishes into yummy vegetarian ones, as well as coming up with my own variations of existing Greek vegetarian recipes,” she enthuses.
“There are many reasons people choose to be vegetarian. My reason is simply because I love animals and I don’t want to eat them. I don’t give anyone who isn’t a vegetarian a hard time, but one of the reasons I started this blog is to inspire those who are considering giving up meat to go all the way.”
Lisa’s dietary choices have helped her re-create many traditional Hellenic dishes in a healthy, animal-loving and tasty way, proving that someone’s Lenten abstinence shouldn’t necessarily be about eating boring and flavourless food.
Even though Lisa’s work as a graphic designer and photographer has recommenced, you can still find her vegetarian recipes at www.greekvegetarian.blogspot.com.au
Ingredients (serves 8-10):
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, finely chopped
3 cups of finely chopped broccoli (or any other vegetable/s)
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 bay leaves
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 cans peeled, chopped tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
salt and pepper to taste
1 packet (500g) Misko pastitsio pasta or bucatini pasta (thick spaghetti-like tube pasta)
For the béchamel sauce:
60g margarine butter
60g plain flour
1 litre of soy milk
2 eggs (lightly beaten) – you can use flaxseed instead if you wish
1/2 cup grated soy cheese
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup sharp cheese to cover béchamel
1. Heat oil and fry onions in a large pot over low heat for 15 minutes. Add broccoli and continue to fry for another 15 minutes, until the vegetables are softened and lightly browned.
2. Add wine and turn heat up to medium. Cook, stirring for around a minute, until most of the wine has evaporated.
3. Add bay leaves, cinnamon, oregano, sugar, tomatoes, tomato paste and salt and pepper to taste and stir. Bring to the boil then turn heat down to low and allow to simmer, uncovered, for at least 45 minutes, stirring occasionally.
5. Meanwhile, prepare the béchamel. Melt butter in a medium saucepan. Add the flour and mix well, stirring quickly. Cook while stirring for around 1 minute until the mixture is beginning to froth a little, then remove from heat.
6. Add around a quarter of a cup of milk, stirring quickly to incorporate. The mixture will thicken and lumpify a little but trust me, it will smooth out. Immediately add a little more milk, stirring quickly and constantly, ensuring the mixture is combined properly before adding more milk. Keep adding milk and stirring until all the milk is incorporated.
7. Put the saucepan back on medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens, around 10 minutes. Remove from heat. Using a whisk, quickly stir in the vegan cheese, flaxseed, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Cover until ready to use.
8. Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add pasta. Cook for 10 minutes only – it should only be partially cooked. Drain and rinse under cold water so that the pasta is cool enough to handle. Lay half the cooked pasta in the bottom of a deep baking dish (around 35cm x 25cm and 6-7cm deep). If using pastitsio pasta, it is traditional to lay the noodles side by side so they are parallel to one another. This way when the pastitsio is cut, the pasta ‘holes’ are all facing the same way.
9. Spread a few tablespoons of béchamel sauce over the pasta then pour the tomato sauce evenly over the pasta. Lay the rest of the pasta over the tomato sauce, then the rest of the béchamel, and top with grated sharp cheese.
10. Bake in a preheated oven set to 180°C for around 45 minutes, or until the top is lightly golden.
Lentil Stuffed Cabbage Leaves (Lahanodolmathes Orfanoi)
The word ‘orfano’ is used at the end of a Greek dish title to indicate that it’s a vegetarian version of a dish that would normally contain meat. The dish is considered ‘orphaned’ without its meat component.
Ingredients (Serves 4-5):
1 large cabbage
2 cups cooked lentils
1/4 cup uncooked long-grain rice
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large onions, finely diced
For the tomato sauce:
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
2 400g cans chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons honey or 1 teaspoon sugar
1. Place whole cabbage in a large pot, cover with water, bring to the boil and let simmer for 5 or 6 minutes.
2. While the cabbage is cooking, fry the garlic for one minute until fragrant, then add chopped tomatoes, oregano, cinnamon, honey (or sugar) and salt and pepper to taste. Bring the tomato mixture to the boil and allow to simmer until you finish preparing the cabbage leaves (around 20 minutes).
3. Heat remaining oil in a separate pot and set the onions to fry over low heat for around 20 minutes, or until golden, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, remove cooked cabbage from pot, drain and rinse under cold water.
4. Carefully remove 8 to 10 large leaves from the cabbage, blot dry with a paper towel and trim thick parts of the stem using a paring knife, being careful not to slice through the cabbage leaf. The idea is to make the leaf as uniformly thin as possible, to enable easy rolling.
5. Roughly chop up the remaining cabbage and use about two cups of this to cover the bottom of a heavy-based saute pan. You will need a pan that is around 25cm diameter with 6cm-high vertical sides and a lid. Drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive oil and set aside.
6. Place cooked lentils, cooked onions and tomato paste in a large bowl, mix with your hands and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then add the uncooked rice and continue to mix with your hands until well combined. The mixture will be quite sloppy but will firm up when cooked.
7. Remove tomato sauce from heat, cover and set aside. It should have been cooking for at least 15 minutes, but no longer than 30 minutes.
8. Place about three teaspoons of the lentil filling onto a cabbage leaf and carefully roll up, folding in the sides before completing the roll, and place seam-side down on the bed of chopped cabbage in the saute pan.
9. Repeat with remaining mixture and arrange all cabbage rolls in one layer in the saute pan.
10. Pour tomato sauce over cabbage rolls until completely covered. If the sauce doesn’t completely cover the rolls, add water. Place lid over pan and simmer on very low heat for 2 hours.
This dish is hearty and healthy and freezes really well. Just defrost and reheat in a saucepan over low heat with the lid on. You can add a small amount of water if necessary.