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Intriguing title huh? Read on…
Tomorrow is the beginning of Lent for the Greek Orthodox Church. As you may or may not know, Easter is the biggest celebration in Greece, even bigger than Christmas (well, apart from in my house…) and during the run up to this holiday quite a significant number of people fast. They usually just cut out meat for the 40 days, and then during Holy Week they observe other traditions as well, such as no products originating from animals with blood (meaning shellfish are in) and on Good Friday no olive oil either. The more religious people will go vegan for the whole 40 days. Yikes. I can’t do that. I love my milk and my cheese too much. To be honest, I don’t fast on any of the days. But then I don’t like the lamb or goat eaten on Easter Sunday either, in fact I usually make do with the eggs and salad on that day, so I figure I’m allowed. Sometimes I feel I’d like to be more traditional, but my willpower leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to food. Also, if I tried feeding the Mister a meatless diet for a month and a half, he would end up ordering in souvlaki and pizza every day, and I’d be stuck eating up the beans and pasta while drooling over his dinner.

However, in honour of “Clean Monday” tomorrow (this is what it’s called here) I’m posting a vegan recipe for the classic Greek dish Spanakoryzo (spinach risotto). It’s a very easy recipe, very quick if you use pre-cut pre-washed and bagged spinach, and very healthy too. The outcome is sloppy, gooey, sometimes a bit mushy, but very tasty! Its appearance doesn’t do it justice, and has resulted in it being –unfairly- called prison food by a friend. Curious? Check out the photo below! A good photo of Spanakoryzo is a true challenge!

Important note: This is not traditionally eaten on Clean Monday, it’s a year round dish but it can be eaten during Lent. It’s also the back-up recipe I had in case I didn’t cook this weekend. I’m not cooking, so this is what you get 😉

Prison Food (aka Spanakoryzo)
Serves 2

What you’ll need:
3 Tbs olive oil
1 small onion, minced or chopped – or use 2 spring onions (these are nicer)
350g spinach (full grown, save baby spinach for a nice salad!) washed and roughly chopped
100g rice (about ½ a cup)
1 medium tomato, chopped with juice reserved, or whizzed in a food processor
½ bunch of fresh dill (about a large handful), chopped, thicker stalks removed
Salt and pepper
A good squeeze of lemon juice

What you do:

  1. Heat 2 of the 3 tablespoons of oil in a large pan, on medium heat. Add the onion and cook gently for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. If you want you can add a pinch of sugar which mellows the taste a bit.
  2. When the onion is soft, add the spinach and stir well, coating it with the oil. Cook until wilted, stirring frequently, about another 5 minutes.
  3. When the spinach is wilted and reduced in volume, add the rice and stir again to coat that.
  4. Add the tomato with its juice and one cup of water. You may need to add more water later but at this stage you want to wait and see how much liquid the spinach will release. So, boil some water in a kettle and have it on standby.
  5. When the mixture starts bubbling, add the dill, some salt and pepper and give it another stir.
  6. Turn the heat to low and cover leaving a small gap. I find that if I have tomato in the pan it tends to boil quite wildly, so I turn the heat to the lowest possible setting of my hotplate. Basically you want it to simmer slowly, and keep an eye on it in case it starts sticking to the pan.
  7. After about 10 minutes see how it’s doing liquid wise. If the rice has absorbed most of the water, add a ¼ cup more. Later on check again and repeat if necessary. I had to do this twice, so I used about 1 ½ cups of water in total. Continue to simmer, half covered.
  8. After about 25 minutes add the 3rd tablespoon of oil. I don’t know why you do it now, it helps with something. Also add the squeeze of lemon.
  9. 5 minutes later you should have a soft, gooey, green risotto. Taste it to see if the rice is cooked. If it is, then you can either take it off the heat, or leave it a little longer to get a firmer, stodgier consistency (remember it will thicken a bit more after it rests off the heat for a while). I prefer it to be fairly sloppy so I can use bread to help scoop it up! Luckily, this is not considered impolite in Greece J

This goes fantastically well with feta cheese (in fact I don’t even make it if I don’t have feta – I told you, I can’t do vegan) and crusty bread. I also squeeze about half a lemon on my portion as well (extra to the juice during cooking). Yup, I like things lemony.

Some people don’t add tomato. If you want to leave it out just add 1 ½ cups of water, or half water half veggie stock, at the beginning, instead of one.