Without Blood

Wandering around the Athens Central Fish Market brought home to me that next week marks the final week of Greek Lent – from Palm Sunday through Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. This is a time when fasting really kicks in. Even those who have been a tiny bit lax until now adopt a Lenten diet during this week. This is particularly true on Good Friday when all recipes using animals that contain blood, animal products such as eggs and dairy, olives and olive oil as well as wine are avoided.

Most fish are also off the menu as they do not meet the “without blood” requirement. Simply put, if it has a backbone, it has blood. So, things like καλαμάρι (squid), Θράψαλα (another kind of squid), σουπιά (inky cuttlefish), μαλάκια (molluscs), χταπόδι (octopus), γαρίδες (shrimp) and many other non-backbone types of seafood are ready to fill the gap. They were prominently on display in the fish stalls – octopus, inky squid, and shrimp.

My selection was made, and the thrapsala (Θράψαλα) was bundled into a paper cone. After some rather frustrating attempts with my phone translate app, which kept insisting that thrapsala was crocodile, I gave up until we got home. I have to admit that translating fiasco might have had something to do with juggling my phone (with its tiny keypad) all the while carrying a number of bags in a crowded space. I knew it was squid, but not exactly what kind. The best source for fish and seafood in this area was on the kitchen shelf – Mediterranean Seafood by Alan Davidson. Thrapsala are “flying” squid or Todarodes sagittatus – longer bodies and a wider fin.

Cleaned of its murky interior and the rigid spines removed, it will feature in a squid tagine which I’ve blogged about before when reviewing Paula Wolfert’s wonderful cookbook, The Food of Morocco. This picture below is my first try at making it three years ago. It has featured on our menu (particularly during Lent) ever since.

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Does it have a backbone?

A number of years ago, when travelling in Crete during Lent, we stopped at a small country taverna for a pre-dinner drink – a raki (the local firewater) which is always accompanied by a small plate of meze. On the plate were slices of cucumber, bread and small pinkish cubes speared with toothpicks. We queried this, but the answer was that it wasn’t meat, it was spam. A very broad interpretation of the definition of meat, but nonetheless, one that they chose to stick to.

Afterwards, we joked that it was true that spam did not have a backbone. Like shrimp and other crustaceans, it had an exoskeleton.

From Wikipedia, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

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10 comments

  1. Thank you! Both for the great tagine recipe of Paula’s which I have not made for years, and just the mention of one of the greatest ladies in American cooking. Some eight years or so ago when I first quite ignorantly stumbled into Facebook, now long left, I was hugely privileged to be part of her exciting on-line Sonoma group. In a year I learned more about cooking from her than any other source before or after. She had just republished her new version of ‘Moroccan Cooking’ and I was hugely privileged to be one of many to tell about it to readers around the world. *smile* Yes, we now have Ottolenghi as well, but Paula’s ‘MC’ and all her other tomes have the most special part in my life. Especially in sadness at her fate . . . life can be so unfair . . . Happy Easter and enjoy the food . . .

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    • Sounds like we are both PW fans! I have most of her books on my kitchen shelf as well as the fantastic biography, Unforgettable which I posted about a while ago. The squid tagine has saved me on many occasions when we needed a “fasting” menu for a dinner party.

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  2. Haha! How funny that Spam, the mystery meat in a can, found its way to Crete. It was a staple in our house when I was growing up. I’m not sure which would have been worse for dinner during lent, Spam or our usual frozen fish sticks. Squid would have sent us running out the back door. LOL. Of course I like squid now, but will pass on the the Spam and fish sticks. Enjoy your squid tagine!

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    • Spam wasn’t a staple for us, except on camping trips. However, we had another Pennsylvania mystery meat called scrapple, called pannhaas in Pennsylvania Dutch. I think it was all sorts of pork scraps compressed together and bound into a loaf shape with a slurry of flour. Sounds appetising? 😜

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  3. oh dear – Spam? Our mum used to feed us corned beef from a tin and some other kind of mashed up pretend-meat called camp pie. Did you ever have that? Funny how it is a huge thing in Hawaii. Spam I mean. cheers S

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    • Hmmm… we used to make fried spam steaks with tinned rounds of pineapple when on camping trips – very popular way of cooking it. I wonder if there is a Hawaiian connection? Never heard of camp pie, but looked it up and it seems to have been an Australian thing (bits of beef and mutton) perhaps borrowed from Britain. It also seems to have been a military food – around prior to WWI. So,it definitely pre-dates Spam (pork and ham), which was also developed as a food for the US military just before WWII. I’d rather eat squid.

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