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The first Monday of Lent which is called “Kathara Deftera” and means Clean Monday,  is a Public Holiday in Greece and Cyprus and marks the beginning of Lent.  It  is celebrated all over Greece and Cyprus with a picnic at the fields and mountains (or parks or nearby hills in the big cities). Events and activities take place in all towns and villages which feature plenty of music, dancing and delicious vegetarian food at the start of this Orthodox festival of fasting and contemplation.  

Kathara Deftera

Saracosti, which is the great period of Lent before the Orthodox Easter takes its name from  Tessaracoste  (Quadragesimal), which comes from the word forty, which is the forty day period until Palm Sunday and then one more week until Easter day makes a total of 49 days of “fasting”. During this period we fast so that our bodies and spirits are “cleansed” to prepare for accepting the Resurrection.

During Saracosti, no meat or dairy food are eaten.  Lenten food, usually consists of vegetables, dried legumes and seafood, such as kalamari, octopus, shrimps, oysters, cuttlefish, mussels, lobsters etc.  Fish is not allowed with the exception on two occasions:  on the 25th of March (Annunciation of the Virgin Mary) and on Palm Sunday. 

Lagana is a flat bread with sesame seeds and it is made only on Clean Monday.

Macedonian Halvas, is one of the main Lenten sweets, especially the variety made with tahini and sold in block or brick form. This type of halva is sold by weight and comes plain, flavoured with chocolate, or studded with nuts and we love eating it for breakfast or sprinkled with lemon juice and cinnamon on top, as a dessert.


Another tradition on Clean Monday is kite-flying. Wherever you look up in the sky you will see thousands of kites.

People flying kites

The kites were know in ancient Greece and we know that Archytas, who was a well known mechanic (4th century B.C.) used a kite in his aerodynamics. We also know this from ancient pottery and there is a scene on one depicting a young woman holding a kite.   Of course paper was not known at the time but instead of paper they used cloth with which they made their sails.



Each part of Greece has its own traditions and some of the most unusual ones are that of Tyrnavos where all the inhabitants of the town of Tyrnavos gather in the region of the small church of Prophitis Elias to make the “bourani” soup. Bourani is a vegetarian soup with spinach, stinging nettles, and vinegar, which are boiled for lots of hours. During the preparation of bourani, people tease each other with phallic models and indecent language is used and provocative movements are made. It is said that this tradition has ancient roots and this custom has been strongly influenced by Bacchic rituals.  In the past women were not allowed to attend but today there is no such problem and in fact many edible things such as ice creams, lollipops or even bread have the shape of a phallus.  Large phallus feature all over the town and they even wear them on their heads as hats, on their nose with funny eye glasses etc.


Another custom is alevromoutzouromata. At Galaxidi fires are lit almost every night and the local carnival events culminate in the festivities of Clean Monday. After the end of the float parade, people have lunch together at home or in the countryside. Then, they go to the marketplace where they carry ashes and flour in bags and throw them not only at each other but also at unsuspecting passers-by. The coast is transformed into a battlefield very quickly.

I shall not post any recipe today but during these fifty days of Lent I shall be posting some of the recipes I prepared today as well as other ones. Today I baked a Lagana (flatbread), prepared Dolmades Yialantzi, meaning fake dolmades as they are without the ground meat and are therefore vegetarian, Taramosalata, is a dip made with fish roe,  Htapodi Salata (an Octopus and Potato Salad ) and Eliopitakia (small olive pies). For dessert, I made Halvas, a semolina dessert cooked in a pot.

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You can find many Lenten recipes here.

Kopiaste and Kali Orexi,

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20 Comments on Kathara Deftera or Clean Monday and Lenten Recipes

  1. Peter G says:

    When I was younger I used t hate the foods of “nisteia”. You make them look really appetising Ivy. Will you be fasting the whole 50 days?

  2. Ivy says:

    Peter, it depends on what you were eating every day but imagine all those wonderful vegetarian dishes. I wish I could fast for all the lent period, not for religious reasons but it’s healthier once in a while to detoxicate from what we usually eat.

  3. JennDZ - The Leftover Queen says:

    Hi Ivy! Happy lenten season to you! These dishes sound wonderful! :)

  4. Rosie says:

    Come on Ivy lets go fly kites together and have some Macedonian Halvas which look delicious!! I really enjoy reading your posts Ivy it takes me into your part of the world – wonderful 😀

    Rosie x

  5. Ivy says:

    Thanks Jenn, but I am not sure if it’s appropriate to wish the same to you.

  6. Ivy says:

    How fun that would be Rosie. Unfortunately the kids have grown up and we have stopped flying a kite.

  7. Núria says:

    Wow Ivy, love to know about your traditions and this is a funny one!!!!

  8. Maria V says:

    beg your pardon ivy, but the only true dolmades are the ones without meat – they’re not at all fake, and that’s what we ate today! http://organicallycooked.blogs.....ce_09.html

  9. Ivy says:

    Ι wrote that Maria, because that’s what the word gialantzi means. I have not made this up.

  10. Cynthia says:

    Dearest Ivy, I hope that you have a blessed Lenten season.

  11. Ivy says:

    Thank you so much Cynthia and I hope the same for you.

  12. 'Chef' says:

    What a wonderful celebration, Ivy! I’m looking forward to your Lenten dishes!

  13. Ben says:

    Ivy, that is really a feast! I could do with the 50 days of delicious food 😀

  14. Peter M says:

    Kali Sarakosti Hvi!

    I also saw the roundup of closing Carnivali festivities and I had a good laugh with the Tirnavou pranks.

  15. Cakelaw says:

    Seafood and veges – now it sounds like I could actually make it through Lent. I’m looking forward to your posts on these dishes.

  16. Bellini Valli says:

    I’ll look forward to your recipes during Lent Ivy. Being in Greece during Greek Orthodox Easter is something I would love to do sometime 😀

  17. A scientist in the kitchen says:

    This reminds me that while Lent is all about fasting and abstinence, there are so many traditional foods to look forward to :)


  18. Ivy says:

    Thank everybody for commenting. I’am sorry for not replying to each one of you or visiting your sites but I have some guests at home and do not have a lot of time to sit at the computer.

  19. […] the beginning of Greek Orthodox Lent, Kathara Deftera or Clean Monday, I prepared several dishes and told you that I was going to post them during this period of […]

  20. […] this day in parks and along the countryside, flying kites and having picnics. The food served on Kathara Deutera is simple and traditional as it is an important day that symbolizes the start of the Lenten period […]

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