I ordered my first Greek salad on my first day in Delphi only to be shocked that there was no lettuce in the colorful combination of fresh ingredients. "No lettuce?" I asked completely shaken up. "Shouldn't there be lettuce in a Greek salad?"
"No," said our hostess, Sania Papa, "We do not use lettuce here. Lettuce is an anti-aphrodisiac. We don't even grow it here."
"Lettuce is a what?" I shot back to her. "Tell me how that's possible."
"You know the myth of Adonis, the beautiful boy who turned the heads of all the goddesses? He was so beautiful that he thought he could steal Hera away from Zeus. Then one fine day when the nymphs were looking for him they found his body in the lettuce patch. He had become a wilting head of lettuce due to the anger of the gods for trying to break up the relationships between the gods and goddesses. Since then lettuce has become for us a symbol of sexual impotence. Therefore no lettuce on your salad."
"Americans always put lettuce in their Greek salads," I said.
"We Greeks prefer thinly cut fresh green cabbage if we're going to have anything big and leafy. But of course fresh tomatoes and cucumbers are the base of this type of salad. We call it a dinner salad. Each of the ingredients is fresh except the Kalamata olives and the Feta cheese. I see you are not eating the Feta."
"I don't eat any product from an animal."
"Ah," she said, "You are a neo-Pythagorean. His ancient followers ate only vegetables. They also sacrificed plants to the gods in place of animals."
"I never heard of sacrificing vegetables to the gods," I replied curiously.
"Oh yes, definitely. Pythagoras put his sacrifices in the same temples as the rest of the Greeks. He made his own clean altars, altars without blood on them. The gods must have smiled on him, because he is still known and studied to this day. In fact he has his own chapter in Ovid's 'Metamorphosis' explaining the theory of sacred vegetarianism."
"But Ovid was a Roman."
"The Romans were fascinated by the Greek Golden Age, when the gods existed on Nectar and Ambrosia alone. We don't know exactly what they were, but we do know that these two foods had no animal flesh in them at all. From what we have of their writings, the ancient Greeks made most animal sacrifices so they could share food on festival days. The Pythagoreans rebelled against this practice and thus against the state religion, which was also the state government. Re-bellion was not tolerated. However, there was a temple dedicated to Apollo Genetor on Delos where no blood sacrifices were permitted. When Pythagoras himself made plant and incense sacrifices there, the Greek kings declared sacred vegetarianism another cult of the Greek religion. They looked for a way to fit everyone into the state's life back then," she said with a smile.
Next came an order of baby okras in a thin tomato and onion sauce. The okras were crisp, tasting somewhat like a grilled vegetable. "Yes, we sometimes grill our vegetables before we sauté them. It gives them a distinct flavor that isn't dominated or overwhelmed by the sauces."
"Is there any symbolism for the okra?" I asked.
"Of course," Sania replied, "Okra is a member of the mallow family. Along with asphodel (a variety of lily similar to an arum), mallow was the most sacred plant sacrifice in the temple of Apollo Genetor."
"It seems like everything in this meal has a history," I observed as I enjoyed the okras followed by a glass of Attican Retsina wine.
"When one is an historian," Sania continued, "Everything has a story and everything takes on many additional meanings. Greece is a land of history, both of humans and gods. Studying sacred vegetarianism history here perhaps will compensate for the fact that so little of our food is truly vegan, as you prefer. But now, let me give you some authentic Greek homestyle meatless, dairyless, and eggless recipes that you can easily make in your own kitchen," Sania said as we ate and talked the night away about the foods of Ancient Greece.
Traditionally this dish would contain Feta cheese. Enjoy this vegan version!
Mix all the ingredients together in a salad bowl and serve.
|Total Calories Per Serving: 71|
|Fat: 5 grams|
This dish is well worth the effort to prepare.
|Total Calories Per Serving: 303|
|Fat: 11 grams|
Enjoy this delicious salad!
|Total Calories Per Serving: 227|
|Fat: 10 grams|
This dish is best served slightly warm, not overheated.
|Total Calories Per Serving: 118|
|Fat: 7 grams|
Here's a terrific way to enjoy summer's bounty.
|Total Calories Per Serving: 357|
|Fat: 6 grams|
Larry Litt is a freelance writer from New York City.
This article originally appeared in the July/August, 1995 issue of The Vegetarian Journal, published by:
The Vegetarian Resource Group
P.O. Box 1463
Baltimore, MD 21203