Tuesday, 16 February 2010

MUSSELS WITH RICE (for Clean Monday)

If it's mussels and rice for dinner, it must be Clean Monday. Why? Because Lent is here! For Greeks, the first day of Lent is called Clean Monday. It's a day of fasting after a long weekend of celebrating Carnival. Clean Monday begins the forty days of fasting and repentance that lead to Easter Sunday. In Greece, it's a public holiday. Clean Monday is a day of personal reflection and a day of forgiveness and of cleansing one's conscience. It ushers in "Clean Week," when it's customary to go to confession and clean the house, sort of a spring cleaning of the soul and its surroundings. Since Clean Monday is a holiday, people plan outdoor excursions. Paper kites are flown as a way of celebrating the coming of spring. Food is of the fasting type. Meat, dairy products and eggs are forbidden. Fish that contain bones are not allowed. Shellfish are consumed, as well as a type of unleavened flatbread called a lagana. A popular dish to have for dinner is mussels and rice. It's really delicious. Mussels and their broth are incorporated into the making of a rice pilaf. Yum! Here's how it's made:


2 ½ pounds of live, fresh, good mussels
½ cup olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 sweet pepper, chopped
½ cup chopped scallions
2 cups long grain rice
salt and pepper
½ cup chopped parsley
Sliced lemons (optional)


  1. Under cold running water wash and scrub the mussels really well. As you are washing them pull off their beards. If you find any mussels that have broken shells or that do not shut when you tap them, discard them.
  2. Place the mussels in a pot and pour water over them to cover. Cover the pot and cook over high heat for about five to eight minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat and drain, reserving the cooking liquid. Discard any mussels that have not opened while cooking. Remove most of the mussels from their shells and discard the shells. Leave some mussels in their shells to use for decorating the dish.
  4. Line a strainer with a coffee filter and carefully strain the cooking liquid into a large measuring cup. When done, add enough water to the cup to make three and a half cups. Discard the coffee filter which should have caught any sand that was still left in the liquid.
  5. Heat the three and a half cups of liquid in the microwave. You want it hot but not boiling. Set it aside while preparing the rice.
  6. Heat about half of the oil in a large pan. Add the onions, sweet pepper and garlic and saute until the onions are translucent.
  7. Add the rice and cook stirring for about two minutes. Pour the liquid and the rest of the oil over the rice and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for 20 minutes until the rice is soft and the liquid has been absorbed.
  8. Stir in the parsley and scallions, then fold in the mussel meat and the mussels in their shells.
  9. Turn off the heat. Cover the pan with two paper towels and place the lid on top of the towels. Leave the pan on the stove for 5 to 10 minutes. This will make the rice fluffier. Discard the towels and serve. Offer lemon slices, as some people might want to squeeze lemon juice on their mussels.