It’s Tsiknopempti today for the Greek Orthodox Christians & it’s our traditional meat feast right before the Great Lent. Tsiknopempti literally translates to “burnt, charred, smoky meat Thursday”. Its basically the Eastern Orthodox version of Fat Tuesday.
Apokries (abstaining from meat), our carnival season is made up of three themed weeks. Prophoni (preannouncement of the three week celebration before lent), Kreatini (week of eating meat), Tirini (week of eating cheese). The last day is Kathari Deutera (Clean Monday), which is the first day of lent. In Greece it is a national holiday and Greeks travel to the country side to picnic and traditionally fly kites. The following forty days are for fasting and abstaining from meat and other animal products, in preparation for Easter. If you have never been to a Greek Easter celebration, you must get yourself invited to one! Or book your Greek vacation during that time and visit the villages. Villagers have always been hospitable to visitors!
The fable my husband tells me is that the tradition behind Tsiknopempti states that one year at a village celebration, there was a passerby, and the cooks left their meat on the grill unattended, and the meat burned, and heavy smoke was in the air for quite a while. And so the story spread, it became traditional all over Greece that on this day before the fasting begins we all celebrate by charring the meat. So if there are burnt bits, we prefer it that way!
And of course Greece is famous for their big Karnavali parade in Patras, as it is also celebrated locally all over Greece and the diaspora. We dress up in various costumes and celebrate with dancing, drinking and poking fun at each other.
In New York, there are a great many Greeks from Kefalonia, where my family comes from. I grew up going to my local community group created by the immigrants that come from there, called Kefalos. My grandfather was one of the founding members of the society. He was their first dance teacher, and year after year, I remember going to the rehearsals with him, where he would teach the traditional regional dances from Kefalonia, including the ones we dance at the Karnavali, called kantrilies.
Then at the big celebration, they would perform. Later in my teenage years, I was performing this dance as well with the dance group that I was a part of at the very same annual celebration. And every year, my pappou would read a satirical poem that he had written for the members that year, poking fun at everyone. Such wonderful memories indeed!
The celebration truly dates back to the Bacchanalian feasts and was incorporated into the Christian traditions. So we have been doing this since antiquity!
For this Tsiknopempti’s at home feast, I decided on souvlakia made with a combination of beef liver & heart. This is most delicious. I marinated the meat in 1/2 cup of heavy cream. The lactose in milk is full of enzymes that will tenderize your meat. Marinate for at least an hour to overnight, depending on how much time you have.
You then want to rinse the meat well with some running water. Drain and pat dry. Then toss the liver and beef hearts with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, savory, red pepper flakes, garlic and onion powders. Skewer them and heat up your grill.
I have a grill pan for my stove top. Even better on a barbecue!
1 1/2 lbs. cubed beef liver & heart
1/2 cup heavy cream, half & half or milk
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
1 tsp savory
1 tbsp onion powder
1 tsp garlic powder (or freshly crushed garlic)
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbso extra virgin olive oil
Cube the liver and heart into bite size pieces. 1 1/2 lbs of meat gave me 6 souvlakia. Marinate in the cream or milk for at least an hour. Rinse well under running water, drain and dry. Toss with the remainig ingredients. Skewer them on wooden skewers. I suggest soaking the wooden skewers in water for at least thiry minutes so that they don’t burn.
Turn on the grill to medium high and start cooking till they are done. I estimate 6-7 minutes on each side.
Garnish with a squeeze of lemon and a sprinkle of dry oregano. Perfect to serve with a horiatiki salata!