Easter fast, to some Ea(s)ter torture, will meet an end at midnight. Those who went through the forty day fasting game - cheating or not- can't wait to use their forks, and experience the primitive taste of red meat, as well as feeling complete by charging their low battery spirit with overdoses of lamb protein. Am I one of them? Hmm, I don't think so. Although I love meat, fasting dishes are much more amazing for me, because of their creatively simple character.
Easter is my favourite celebration, leaving Xmas second, even third in my holiday list; it's just impossible for any Xmas tree, or New Year's city lights to overcome the epic beauty of Nature's rebirth, as I was so lucky to witness hundred of times in my village, Mani. Not to mention the divine dishes, men and women of the family used to cook and treat during the Easter fast: lobster with spaghetti, grilled shrimps, sea urchins with vinegar and olive oil, mussel risotto, octopus stew, boiled or grilled craps and the blood free food list goes on almost forever...
Days like these, after eating spaghetti with shrimps with the aunties, I used to meet with my friends at the yard of Saint-Nicholas church and join the ceremonial in a very active way: me, reading prayers - it was fun to perform in front of many people - brothers and cousins in the sacred room, around the holy table, throwing small pieces of candles to each other and sneakily eating the Easter breads while the priest was reading the Gospel; and I could watch all these happening from the slightly open deep purple curtain that was separating the sacred from the common space of the church's interior. The most exciting part of those religious nights was for me to remain calm and serious in my performance, ignore the funny faces of the guys, and win against my impulse to laugh while the crowd was crying in front of the crucified Jesus.
I never feel away from home for the rest days of the year; it is because of Easter that I recall all these incredibly seducing memories and the only way to soften their nostalgic nature is to cook for friends. As my purpose was to revive a dinner from the fasting menu, I chose one of my favorite dishes ever, shrimps with spaghetti, quite spicy and perfumed with anise. All you need is jumbo shrimps, or whatever you like, as long as they are big. I get upset when such kind of spaghetti is served with tiny shrimps; shrimp's flesh is so delicate and shy, that if it is too small, it doesn't give you the time to chew and decode its flavor. You also need diced onions, grated garlic - I am married to both onion and garlic, so you decide about the amount - a lot of organic diced tomatoes for the sauce, a sheaf of fresh dill, two-three shots of ouzo, salt and black pepper, very few drops of tabasco. First of all, clean the shrimps but keep their heads; put them in a pot and boil them; our shrimp stock is ready. Heat a deep pan and saute the onions with olive oil; add the tomatoes, the garlic and the ouzo shots. When it gets thicker, add the cleaned shrimps and cook for ten minutes. Fill a pot with salty water - not crazy salty - and the rest of the shrimp stock; boil and add the spaghetti. Remove just before they become al dente, unite them with the shrimp sauce and cook for two more minutes. Serve immediately, but sprinkle some chopped dill first. Anise, garlic, shrimps; nobody ever flew over this gastronomical triangle without getting drowned in the spicy sauce.
Before shrimps, I cooked two different flavored mussel stew. I wanted them in their shells but it was impossible to find uncleaned mussels; fishermen at Karaköy fish market told me that I could have them whole only under request; it was quite heartbreaking as I cannot enjoy them in their coats spontaneously. Anyway...For the first dish, you need the juice of one or two lemons, one big onion , a glass of white wine, a sprinkle of salt, black pepper, olive oil, and a tablespoon of cold butter. In a comfortable pan, saute the onion with olive oil and add the sensual mussels. Now, pour the wine into the pan, cook for a few minutes, then add the lemon juice and a few plump drops of olive oil; taste and season if necessary. You're not looking for a dish without sauce, so remove the pan from heat before starts losing its water and complete with the butter, making cool, round movements as you hold it; that way you will make the sauce appear extremely confident. Do it in front of your friends, mussels will seem more glamorous than you thought. Serve in a soup plate and don't forget to sprinkle some finely chopped parsley.
For the next dish, which I prefer as a garlic person, you need no less than four cloves - don't panic, use less if you want - two ouzo shots, one diced tomato, olive oil and fresh, chopped dill, also in generous amount, a tablespoon of butter, salt and black pepper. The first step is to grate the cloves and mix it with 30-50 ml - it's up to you - extra virgin olive oil. Heat a pan again, pour the garlicky mix and add the mussels. Go for the tomato and the ouzo shots. Cook for a few minutes in strong heat, taste and season if needed. Remove from the heat, add the butter and perform. Serve with chopped dill and fresh bread. Now, watch your friends losing themselves; trust me, it is kinky and special!
The religious welcome party to Spring is about to finish with Christ's resurrection. Today at midnight, we will kiss and wish a long and beautiful life to each other and possibly make some thoughts about the way we spent our lives and the people we share with ...The answer though is very simple: Do you love cooking for them?
PS. All the photos were taken by the super cool cell-phones of Boğaç, Angelis and Önder. The last one caused a civil war among the friends, because the first dish with the lemon mussel stew disappeared while he was taking pictures and he didn't have the chance to taste it. We are terribly sorry.
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