Friday, April 19, 2013

Feasting and Fasting, the Orthodox Way. Celebrating Palm Sunday with Fish Plaki

We are about to begin our 6th and final week of Lent and then brace for Holy Week and all I can reflect on is how amazing Lent and fasting are. Where else can we fast and feast on the same day? It sound’s impossible, I know! But you can do it with a Greek Fish Plaki.
If we’ve been participating in the fast, we are aware that the Orthodox faith instructs fasting by certain levels: first meat (pork, beef and chicken,) then dairy (milk, cheese, butter) and eggs, then fish (but not shellfish as in shrimp and calamari), then wine (all alcohol) and oil and then all food. (My sweet son, who is learning to fast, read this and shouted out, “All food!?! That’s impossible!”)
If we have a Spiritual Father to guide us, he has assigned us a certain level of fasting. Knowing our personal experiences in fasting and health issues he might advise a personal fasting rule based on the levels we follow. For example, if we’ve never fasted a day in our life, he might advise us to refrain from meat Wednesdays and Fridays; Wednesday to remember the day Christ was betrayed and Friday for the day He was crucified. Or, he may want us to fast from meat every day and increase our level by instructing us to refrain from dairy or egg products on Wednesdays and Fridays. If we fast from meat, dairy and eggs on Wednesdays and Fridays all year long, he may guide us to keep fasting from meat, dairy and egg products all during Lent and to fast from fish on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Yet, do not confuse the “personalization” of fasting to mean that we get to fast from what we chose, like “giving up” chocolate or soft drinks for Lent. A spiritual father’s instruction is one of clemency; the church calls it “economia.” It would be better to fast to our limited ability than to fail in fasting, so a spiritual father can offer us a stepping stone till we can participate in the full fast. Why is this important to clarify?
Orthodox Christians fast on various levels. Ideally though, we are fasting for six weeks (seven if you include Holy Week) from meat, dairy, eggs, fish, wine and oil. And we are observing a sober time where we reflect on our past actions, intentions and sins; it’s basically a time for repentance. So when a Great Feast Day falls during Lent, like it did with the Annunciation (March 25) and it will with Palm Sunday (this year it falls on April 28,) the Church sees the importance in celebrating the feast. Clergy dress in bright, colorful vestments (instead of purple,) we are encouraged to decorate the interior of the church and icons with flowers and palms, and we break the fast. Well, we don’t stop fasting, but the Church alleviates the fast by taking it down a notch.
On Palm Sunday we are “permitted” to eat fish to celebrate the holy day. If we’ve been fasting from meat, dairy, eggs, fish, wine and oil for 6 weeks, you can see how fish for dinner is a great treat. If we haven’t been fasting at this level, I imagine we’ll miss the whole point. We might even wonder why we are fasting so strictly on a Feast Day.
What will you cook for Palm Sunday? Here is a recipe for a Fish Plaki with Potatoes. What's Plaki (plah-KEE)? It's a dish that is traditionally baked with olive oil, tomato, and vegetables.
Mom’s Fish Plaki

  • Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  • Peel 5 potatoes and cut in ½’ discs. Place them in greased baking dish and bake for 30 minutes while you prepare the sauce.
Plaki Sauce
  • Slice 2 onions and sauté in olive oil with
  • 4 Celery stalks (chopped) and
  • 3 garlic cloves

When the onions are translucent, add
  • 3T chopped dill
  • 2T chopped fresh mint
  • 1c chopped parsley
  • A splash of white wine
  • 1 large can of crushed tomatoes
  • 3T olive oil… (1/4 c if you’re Greek)
Let sauce simmer until potatoes are ready.
When potatoes are almost finished cooking, remove baking dish from oven, place 4 pieces of grouper over the potatoes and pour sauce over fish. You can use tilapia, whiting, or cod, but I favor grouper for this dish. Place slices of lemon rounds on top of fish. Bake for another 15 minutes until the fish is flaky. Serve.
Sauce should be thicker.  I didn't let it simmer enough. But it still tasted great!
(ONE IMPORTANT NOTE: Lent is a time we focus on Fasting, Prayer and Almsgiving. But since I write on Lenten recipes I focus on fasting for my blog, In Service and Love at . During these 7 weeks, if we only focused on the food we ate or didn't eat, we haven’t engaged in a spiritual exercise but we have merely started a diet.)

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