Laganes. In case you don’t know this is the name of the unleavened bread sprinkled with sesame seeds that starts off the Lenten season along with kalamari, tarama, and that wicked orange fish roe you think would taste like cream cheese but is more like salty fish whipped cream. As our culture thrives on its strict maintenance of tradition with a capital T, there’s a reason we eat those on Kathari Deutera or Clean Monday.
The tradition harkens back to the ancient Israelites who in their haste to escape the slavery of Egypt did not have time to wait around to make the prozymi or the yeast filled first dough then knead it into the rest and wait for it to rise. They were in a hurry to get outta Egypt before Pharaoh’s armies got them. So they made bread without yeast that was unleavened and therefore pretty flat. (Think matzoh bread.)
Laganes, similarly, is a type of flatbread made without yeast (or at least very little) and the time to rise. Laganes are eaten once and only once a year, on this day, and are kind of synonymous with Clean Monday. People line up at bakeries early in the morning to buy them, hangover or no hangover left over from “Cheese” Sunday. By mid-afternoon the bakery shelves are empty, the laganes are sold out.
In the beginning bakers moulded it in the shape of a lady named Kira Sarakosti or Mrs Lent. She had seven legs that represented each of the weeks in Great Lent and instead of a mouth had a cross because she was careful of what came out and what went into her mouth. She stood as an symbolic bread puppet for the season. Eventually the figure died out but the oblong shape remained.
The Church places theological significance on the journey of Great Lent as it is supposed to be a time when the faithful turn from earthly things to spiritual. It encapsulates the entire history of humanity from the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden, the act that heralds in the season on Forgiveness Sunday, through all the heightened events of the Passion, terminating in the pinnacle of Christian worship, the Ressurection. The taking of unleavened bread at the start of Lent culminates in the terminal act of bread giving with Christ breaking and blessing the leavened bread and exhorting His disciples to “Take eat this is my body which is shed for you for the remission of sins.” The act of breaking leavened bread during the Mystical Supper, the Passover meal in the Jewish tradition, marked the act that Christ was breaking with the old tradition and instituting a new one by giving of Himself. He literally became the sacrificial Lamb, His blood wine and his flesh, bread. That bread had to be leavened as He provided the mystical yeast, that miraculous energy that causes plain earthy bread to rise in spirit. Hence, leavened bread became His holy body, that godly flesh that transcends the physical. Christ infused holiness into a once flat bread and with the power of the Holy Spirit made it rise in the same way He would three days after His burial.
The Church uses only leavened bread as offering for Holy Communion in commemoration of Christ’s breaking flesh as sacrifice for sinful humanity. In the same way, we start off Kathari Deutera as exiles of Eden and refugee Israelis by eating the unleavened bread, the lagana, and through the course of crucifying our passions and weaknesses, we are made worthy to partake of Christ’s own flesh, the leavened bread of Holy Communion. The bread so sacramentally significant, both physically and spiritually, is the way God becomes flesh in us. Like the leavened bread infused with the spirit of Christ, we too will rise.
Meditate on this as you dip your lagana into the tarama. You will rise and your flesh will become holy if you take the same spiritual journey. Happy fasting.
In case you needed a recipe for Laganes, try this one compliments of Anna, from www.sweetalmondtree.blogspot.com
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1 tablespoon yeast
1 cup warm water 4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more flour for dusting 1/2 cup of canola oil 2 teaspoons sugar plus a pinch of sugar 1 teaspoon of salt 3 tablespoons sesame seeds
canola oil and olive oil for brushing the loaves
- Sprinkle the yeast into the warm water, and add the pinch of sugar. Leave it for about 20 to 30 minutes until the yeast comes alive and begins to foam.
- Shift the flour with the salt and sugar into a large bowl.
After the dough is mixed, place it on a floured surface to begin kneading it
- Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the oil plus the water with the yeast. Mix with your hands to incorporate, and start creating the dough. If it’s too dry you will need to add a little more water.
- Move the dough to a floured surface in order to begin kneading it. When it’s soft and no longer sticky it’s ready to be formed into loaves.
- The loaves can be round or oblong in shape, but they have to be flat, about ½ an inch high. Place them on baking sheets and cover them with clean kitchen towels. In about an hour they should double in size. If not, let them sit a while longer. The leavening process depends a lot on the temperature of the room.
- Decorate the loaves by pressing the tips of your fingers into them so that dots are formed. Push hard so as to make deep indentations that won’t disappear as the laganes bake. Brush the tops of the loaves with oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds. For brushing the tops I used a combination of canola and olive oil.
- Bake them in a preheated 375º F oven for about 35 minutes, until they are golden. Half way through baking rotate the pans, and if you like, brush a little more oil on the tops of the loaves. I did this, and I used just olive oil this time.
- The laganes will have that unbelievable freshly baked bread scent. It’s irresistible! Eat them the same day, while they are fresh. They won’t taste as good the next day. If you have some left over, what you can do is freeze them. They will last in the freezer for a good two months.