One of the foods I associate most with Greek Lent is taramasalata, a cod’s roe dip. Taramasalata traditionally features on the table for “Clean Monday” (Καθαρά Δευτέρα, the Monday before Lent) along with the flat, sesame studded lagana bread. But, it has become one of those mezze (“little nibbles”) that is popular at any time, not just for Lent.
It’s always a treat when I find smoked cod’s roe (tarama), in the market. When made into a dip called taramasalata, it is transformed into a luscious thick pink purée of roe whipped up with olive oil and lemon juice, traditionally thickened with either bread or mashed potato. Taramasalata is not only traditional in Greece, but also in Turkey, other places in the Middle East and I’ve even seen recipes for Bulgarian taramasalata.
I’ve modified a recipe set out in Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, joining in the challenge set by The Cookbook Guru, the blogging book club that is testing recipes from Roden’s book this month. If you want a gluten free version, simply substitute the soaked bread with with an equal amount of floury mashed potato (approximately 1 medium sized potato), preferably put through a potato ricer. The potato version will be slightly thicker and smoother when blended.
In her recipe, Claudia Roden advocates using half sunflower or light vegetable oil in place of half of the olive oil. She claims it allows the fishy flavor to come through. However, this seems almost sacrilegious to me, substituting vegetable oil for olive oil. I would also rather mute the overt fishiness, so I’ve used 100% olive oil. Don’t get me wrong, I like fish, but prefer it as a subtle flavor rather than an overwhelming one. In addition, I’ve halved her recipe, saving some of the roe to produce a gluten free batch with potato.
Makes about 1 to 1-1/2 cups
- 1/4 lb. (4 oz.) smoked cod’s roe
- 1-1/2 slices day-old white bread (from a good country white bread), crusts removed
- Juice from 1/2 lemon (or more to taste)
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
Slice the bread thickly and soak it in either water or milk. Roden, like the traditional purists, uses water.
Meanwhile, skin the cod roe sack and remove the mass of eggs. Squeeze the liquid from the bread. Place the crumbled bread, the roe, and the lemon juice into a food processor. While the blender is turned on, gradually pour in the olive oil in a steady stream as you would do when making a mayonnaise. If you like a strong fishy flavor, use 2 Tablespoons sunflower oil and 2 Tablespoons olive oil in the recipe above in place of the 1/4 cup olive oil. Run the processor on high for a few minutes until the mixture begins to thicken.
It should become a smooth, creamy peachy-pink paste. The color is lighter than the store bought taramasalata because it does not use food coloring to enhance the pink shade. Pour/scrape out, cover and place in the refrigerator. The taramasalata will appear a bit thin initially, but it will become firmer when it chills. It will keep refrigerated for about a week.
Notes & Evaluation:
This is a simple, traditional recipe that is featured in any number of cookbooks on Greek, Turkish or Middle Eastern cuisine – as are many of the other recipes listed in Roden’s chapter on appetisers (mezze). In fact, in the introduction to the book, Roden comments on the commonality of recipes throughout a wide area around the Middle East and the Mediterranean. Differences, she indicates, can be found at the regional scale right down to the household level. So, it follows that among the many taramasalata recipes available, there are variations – in the proportion of bread v.s. roe, the choice of bread or potato or a combination of the two, minor additions to the ingredient list. Some Greek recipes for taramasalata insist that grated onion be added; several Turkish recipes similarly add garlic. Roden’s version follows along the same lines as the basic tried-and-true recipe, except perhaps for her suggestion of using half vegetable oil, half olive oil. I think she has a good balance between the roe and bread – not too much of the latter – and is wise in not adding onion or garlic which compete – and, in my opinion, conflict – with the flavor of the smoked roe. All in all, you can’t go wrong with Roden’s recipe, but follow her sage advice she also sets out in her introduction – trust your own tastes and make adjustments accordingly.