Childhood Memories and a Meal to Tie You Over

Preparing the lentils for the stew

I am a spiritual person. I have my beliefs. And you’re probably wondering, “what the hell does religion have to do with food?” Well, a lot actually.

In the Greek Orthodox religion, Wednesdays and Fridays are days of fast, meaning avoid meat if you can.

On days of fast, we usually cook pasta with a simple tomato sauce, kokinista (green beans, zucchini, and potatoes boiled in a tomato sauce), or vrasta (plain boiled zucchini, potatoes, and green beans, garnished with olive oil). Today we made fahkhes (pronounced fah-kes), a simple lentil soup-stew.

Lentils are high in iron, and protein. Noted as an excellent staple in the vegan diet, a lentil is a small, flat, pea. I sit at the kitchen table, our family headquarters, as my mother sorts through lentils on a dinner plate. I ask her how she learned how to make the dish.

“I used to watch Yiayia sort the lentils. It would take some time. You have to separate the lentils from small pebbles and pieces of wheat that have ended up in the mix. You don’t want to crunch down on a rock. If you have friends over at your house or whatever, and you make it, and you hear one of them break a tooth, you didn’t sort them thoroughly.”

Lentils are inexpensive, and several servings can be cooked from one bag. We buy our Niki brand lentils (product of Canada) from Food Basics for $1.99. I haven’t researched it yet, but I wonder if lentils are a genetically modified crop like soybeans. In Volos, Greece, the northern city where my dad grew up, markets only carried seasonal produce. But, they always carried lentils. They are the rice of the Mediterranean. I’ll be honest: I didn’t always like them.

When I was a child, I tried almost everything to avoid Wednesday nights at my house. Okay that sounds a little melodramatic, I didn’t dread Wednesdays, and it’s not like we cooked them every Wednesday, but still. I was just happy that there was always a horiatiki salata on the table.

At the time, they seemed boring. These sad pea like vegetables in a sad tomato sauce; I had asked my mother why we couldn’t make wraps. No meat. Fine, how about a vegetable stir-fry? Why fahkhes? I know I should have just been thankful for even having any food. Fortunately, as I grew up, I acquired a taste for lentils. They weren’t so bad. And with a fully packed schedule (between piano, soccer, school, and a social life) a bowl of fahkhes always hushed the monster within…the hunger monster of course. You know that little thing that growls the moment the teacher stops talking to drink some water, or right when the auditorium, during an exam, reaches that morgue-like silence.

Random digression. Do you like pasta? Maybe it’s any carb, but I notice our house smells like pasta when the lentils are boiling. 

Anyways, after that trip down memory lane, Fahkhes and I mended our relationship, and those few, “Lentil Wednesdays” are more than welcome. On a final note, small portions are ideal, with a slice of bread on the side, because naturally the meal is filling. Tonight we settled for a sourdough-baguette from Longos, because let’s be real here, we don’t have the time during the week to make bread.

So, give lentils a try. When prepared correctly, who knows, maybe you will have a different experience with the UFO-peas from the beginning. Maybe you will hit it off from the first meal, and not have to play hard to get for ten years. And obviously, it’s a great meal for those who want to attempt vegan-ism, or incorporate a simple Mediterranean dish to an otherwise boring weekday evening. 

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