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Spring spells the end of the slow-simmered casseroles, the dried beans, chickpeas and hearty meat stews. The kitchen literally acquires a lighter character as the sun gets warmer and the days get longer.
The first trees to flower are the almonds, around the end of February or the beginning of March, and by then spring is well on the way.
At the local street markets and greengrocers, the first globe artichokes begin to appear.
Shiny spring onions (scallions) will be set beside them, and there will also be bunches of feathery dill, all indispensable for spring dishes such as artichokes with potatoes.
As the season proceeds, the first tender broad beans appear, to be followed in late April by tender, sweet peas. These are cooked with artichokes in countless combinations in the weeks that follow, and are so much a part of Greek tradition that I can smell spring whenever I cook artichokes, even in the middle of winter.
Spring is the season that includes the longest fasting period in the Christian Church — particularly the Greek Orthodox Church.
This is Lent, when worshippers abstain from eating meat and dairy products, and salt cod enters the spring menu.
Traditionally, this dried fish is always eaten on 25 March, the day of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. It is soaked, then dipped in batter and fried before being served with skorthalia, the fiery garlic sauce that can revive the most faded palate.
Salt cod is also baked with potatoes and garlic, and it is often served this way on Fridays during Lent.
Salt cod is not the only Lenten ingredient. Fish of all kinds is served in place of meat, and seafood such as squid, cuttlefish and octopus are combined with rice, pasta, potatoes, spinach or wild greens and made into substantial family dishes.
On Palm Sunday, fish is eaten in every Greek household, either baked, grilled or as fish soup.
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