Lately I have moved from rengosalata –smoked herring or kipper spread— our family’s traditional Kathari Deftera spread, back to the common taramostalata –carp or cod roe spread.
Fortunately, we can now get good quality carp roe, a far cry from the salty and tasteless, red-dyed one, that was the basic ingredient for the iconic meze. I guess my mother had chosen to make the more time-consuming smoked herring spread because she couldn’t stand the pink, salty, yet flavorless taramosalata that the majority of taverns and homes served.
She prepared rengosalata using the roe of smoked herring (kipper) carefully choosing a herring with swollen belly to make sure it had enough roe for the spread. In the turn of the 20th century wealthy Athenians used Russian caviar, or avgotarraho for the iconic, elegant Kathari Deftera meze.
The smoky-pungent rengosalata, with herring eggs, if you get them, or just with mashed smoked herring fillets is a guaranteed delicious spread. But I am very pleased with my late version of taramosalata, that I prepare with first quality, sandy-colored carp roe. It is imported from Iceland and I can get it from our island deli. My spread is not pink, but light green, because I use almost the entire juicy scallions from the garden, both the white and the green part. The recipe evolved from my mother’s rengosalata, and it is extremely simple: besides the roe and the scallions, has just fresh lemon juice, mashed potato, and olive oil.
An official holiday, Clean Monday marks the end of the Carnival and the beginning of spring. It is probably the continuation of the ancient pagan fertility feasts that have been incorporated to the Christian tradition. People eat outdoors in the parks and fields, and fly kites, even if the moving feast happens on a cold February day, or on a rainy, chilly mid-March day, like this year. A lot of wine and/or ouzo is consumed, and Greeks dance until sunset. Salads with beans and other pulses, meat-less dolmades –grape leaves stuffed with rice and herbs– pickled octopus, cuttlefish and/or calamari, cheese-less spinach pie, radishes and arugula, and of course taramosalata with crusty lagana (flat bread) are part of the day’s traditional spread.
SEE also a previous post about some of the food I had prepared in the past, and if you like, read a more extensive account about the customs and roots of this unusual Greek feast, and also about the lunch I had organized at the Oxford Symposium inspired by Kathari Deftera.