In our house this week, we celebrated Greek National Independence Day. In Greece, 25 March is a public holiday, but people of Greek heritage all over the world celebrate the origin in of the modern Greek state, which had its beginnings on 25 March 1821.
Importantly, 25 March is also the Annunciation (or Evangelismos in Greek) to the Theotokos - one of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church. It holds an extra special significance for us, as we were married in the Cathedral of the Annunciation of our Lady Theotokos, in Sydney. Many Greek men and women are named for this event, Evangelos or Evangelia and celebrate their name day on this date as well.
On this day in Greece, there are parades in every town of Greece and the streets are peppered with people waving the Greek flag. There is dancing, with people dressed in intricately embroidered national consumes and there is also plenty of singing and the odd brass band - but what of the feasting?
Greek Independence Day falls during lent and presents a little problem in terms of the religious food calendar, which sees abstinence from dairy, eggs, meat and fish. However, the Greek Orthodox Church allows a little break on this day, which is one of only two days during Lent, the other being Palm Sunday, when fish is permitted.
By far the favourite choice of fish in Greece for 25 March is salt cod (μπακαλιάρος - bakaliaros). In the past, while those living on the coast had access to some fresh fish, those who lived in mountain villages did not - but they did have access to salt cod, which allowed them to celebrate 25 March.
The favourite way to enjoy salt cod in Greece, once it has been desalinated, is to cut it up into small pieces and dip it in seasoned flour and batter- to be shallow fried in olive oil. It is pretty much always eaten with skordalia and a little beetroot salad, or some boiled wild greens. This also just happens to be one of Mr K's favourite Greek dishes - certainly the one that he will always pick from the taverna menu when we are travelling in Greece. The only twist on tradition in this classic dish is a little touch of basil infused olive oil in the skordalia - a welcome twist, which gives the potato an extra aromatic hint.
"Fix Hellas" beer battered salt cod - bakaliaros (μπακαλιάρος)
1 large piece of dried salt cod
1 cup rice flour
1 & 1/2 cups of self raising flour
1 & 1/2 cups of beer (I used the Greek beer, "Fix")
1 egg, beaten
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil for frying
Rinse the fish under cold water and remove any bones. Soak in cold water, in a covered bowl in the fridge, for at least 24-36 hours changing out the water 4 times per day.
Cut the fish into pieces and press between paper towels to remove any of the excess water. This step is important because if the fish is not completely dry it's going to become a soggy mess in the frying pan. Set aside on a plate and keep in the fridge to remain chilled.
Make the batter:
Add the flour to a large bowl, using a whisk, slowly whisk in the beer and egg until a thick batter forms. Season the batter with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Place in the fridge for around 30 minutes to become very chilled.
Fry the fish:
In a large frying pan, heat the oil over medium high heat (175C). Dredge the fish first in the rice flour, shaking of the excess and then dip in the batter and carefully place it in the hot oil.
Fry the fish until golden brown on each side then remove and drain on paper towels. You can place the fish on a baking rack over a tray in very low, warm oven to keep it warm and crisp until ready to serve. Serve with the Skordalia and beetroot to salad or horta.
Basil infused skordalia (σκορδαλιά)
500gr mashing potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks
1/2 cup basil infused olive oil
8 garlic cloves peeled and mashed
2 lemons, juiced
Salt to taste
Step 1: Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender.
Step 2: While the potatoes are boiling, add the garlic cloves to a mortar and pestle, along with a little salt and make into a smooth garlic paste. Set aside.
Step 3: Drain the potatoes and pass them through a food mill into a bowl.
Step 4: Mix the mashed potatoes with the garlic paste and a little basil infused olive oil and lemon juice, alternately and bit by bit to combine until creamy, but also still light and fluffy.