For the last few
days a Siberian storm from the north has kept most Greeks inside their houses,
close to the heating. In Athens it snowed, but here on Lesvos the sodden land
finally had time to dry up. At the seaside however the waves sprung over the
streets and quays and where there are fences, you get a pretty good idea for
how we mistreat our earth: the fences were full of plastic blown out of the
You may well
wonder what the fish are eating and how much of that plastic ends up in the
fields where our food is grown. Wherever you look, you see plastic, even deep
in the Lesvorian woods. Although I have to admit that the island gets cleaner
because the regard for nature is increasing by the year.
Thanks to the
really cold weather you may only find plastic on the fields these days.
Wintertime normally does not offer such a big choice in vegetables, but during
the normal Greek generous winters there might at least be salad, spinach and
other green leafy vegetables on the fields. With the cold much of that got lost
and we have to make do with frost resistant plants like cabbages and beet
roots, that is, if you really want to eat products from the open air and not
from glass houses.
mostly associated with countries in the North like Russia, Poland or Germany,
but the Greeks also eat plenty of cabbage in the winter. The most popular
dishes are lachano salata (finely chopped cabbage leaves with olive oil
and some vinegar), lachano vrasto (cooked cabbage leaves
seasoned with olive oil, mostly a simple but surprisingly good dish because of
its nearly sweet taste) and lachanodolmades (cabbage leaves filled with
a mixture of ground beef, seasoned with the lemon sauce avgolemono).
There even is a
Greek myth explaining how cabbages came into the world. Once Dionysos, god of
wine and parties, was wandering through Thrace with his followers, the mainads.
King Lycourgos of Thrace felt threatened and had Dionysos and his party
arrested. Dionysos became so angry that he made the king go mad. Lycourgos became
convinced that his son was a grapevine that had to be cut down. When the king
realised his mistake, he started crying and from his tears grew cabbages. And
because of this story – which is very old - Greeks believe that you should
never plant cabbage near a grapevine, because then there will be no grapes.
They also believe that eating cabbage before you start drinking will give you a
solid stomach for the alcohol or, when you forgot that, eating cabbage might
solve your hangover.
Cabbage was not
only the food of the poor, but also of honesty. One day the Greek philosopher
Diogenes of Sinope was searching for an honest man. He met a man who was known
for his flattery to the rich. Diogenes said to him: “If you would eat cabbages,
you would not have to flatter the rich”, and the man very cleverly answered: “When
you flatter the rich, you don’t have to eat cabbage”.
Cabbage is health
food (it contains vitamin C, iron, calcium and potassium) and the ancient
Greeks and Romans believed strongly in its healing power. Like a certain
Erasistratous, a Greek doctor who lived three centuries before Christ, who gave
his patients cabbage when they had stomach problems and also spewed blood.
According to Pliny the Elder, starting the day with eating raw cabbage seasoned
with oxymel (a syrup of water, honey and vinegar), coriander, rue, mint and cup
plant (Silphium perfoliatum) would be good against headaches, poor vision,
specks in the eyes, spleen and stomach pains and against insomnia.
magistrate and military officer Cato used a paste of chopped cabbage leaves to
heal wounds. And in the 18th century no ship left the harbour
without cabbages. Like the famous Captain Cook: on his first voyage, when he
encountered a heavy storm which resulted in many wounded men, he had his ship's
doctor treat the wounds with a paste of cabbage, as did Cato many centuries
earlier on the battle fields of Rome. It worked and since then ships only
sailed with sauerkraut (fermented cabbage) and raw cabbages.
Pythagoras was a
real vegetarian. When he made offerings to the Gods, it was not meat (he did
not want to kill animals) or cooked food, but raw vegetables and grains,
because he strongly believed that unfired food kept a person with a sharp mind
and a healthy body. He also loved cabbage and had different recipes for it.
Like Nut Stuffed Cabbage Rolls
12 large cabbage
1 loaf barley
bread or Essene bread made from sprouted whole grains
1 cup hazelnuts
1/2 cup diced celery
2 teaspoons mixed
Salt and pepper
Essene bread into a mixing bowl. (NB: Essene bread is moist and friable and
crumbles easily.) Then add the grated onion, the chopped nuts, the diced
celery, the mixed herbs and the spices.
With a sharp
knife, cut out the hard stem from each cabbage leaf. Lay the leaf flat on a
working surface, and spoon the filling onto the edge of the leaf. Coat the edge
evenly, then roll it up tightly. If the cabbage leaves are small in size, take
two leaves and arrange them so that one edge overlaps the other; line the
leading edge with the filling and roll it up. Serve garnished with sprigs
of parsley or mint.
recipe was called Acorn-stuffed Cabbage Rolls. In ancient times acorn was
a popular food, but since we no longer eat them, they are replaced by nuts. How
healthy it may be and even with nuts, this recipe will not be my favourite,
because everything is raw, even the bread (Grind 2 cups sprouted barley and ½
cup of dry figs together and knead. Shape into a loaf, and set aside for 12
hours before serving).
I never was a big
fan of cabbage, but on Lesvos I started to appreciate this vegetable more and
more. It is perfect to stir-fry and in many other ways can be transformed into
a tasty dish. And one cabbage can last you a few days. Last week I saw in the
paper a photograph of a man from Agia Paraskevi who harvested a cabbage of 11
kilo’s. Such a big one will last you a whole winter! Although once a cabbage is
cut, it will rapidly lose its vitamins.
On the Internet I
found a website with tasty looking and more modern recipes with cabbage than
the one of Pyhtagoras (the recipe of the raw salad from Pliny the Elder does
not seem that bad): Greek cabbage
recipes from Yummly. Not all the recipes seem very Greek to me, but they
are all made with Greek ingredients. The coming days I will try them out
because the end of the winter does seem to be very far away and Pythagoras did
forget another property of cabbages: it warms the soul. And a warm soul we are
going to need very badly for the coming cold carnival.