In the center of our table at the taverna, a wire basket held squares of sesame seed-crusted flatbread. I figured it was appetizer bread, the typical hunger alleviator restaurants offer before a meal. I was right and wrong.
“It’s called Lagana,” Spyros said as we pushed our seats under the table. “Bakeries and churches make it on Clean Monday. It’s nice with taramosalata.”
It was 2008 and Spyros and I had joined his family at a taverna just outside of Delphi for a Clean Monday lunch. I took a Lagana square and broke off a piece. The sesame seeds crunched under my teeth while the soft bread dissolved on my tongue. It had a neutral but rich flavor, like Italian focaccia. Later when the waiter arrived with a small dish of taramosalata, I spread a thick layer on a second square. As with many foods in Greece, I began to wish Greeks made Lagana year-round.
Stomachs and spirits satisfied, we headed back to Athens. When we arrived at our apartment, I pulled on my shoes for a quick run before sunset. When I returned, I noticed a brown paper bakery bag on the kitchen counter.
“What’s this?” I asked Spyros, who had been fixing our sofa’s warped wood.
“I stopped at the bakery and bought us some Lagana,” he said, stopping his work. “It’s good with coffee, for breakfast. And we won’t get Lagana for another year.”
I smiled–grateful for the surprise. Although the next day would bring the start of another work week, I looked forward to waking up and eating Lagana, thanks to Spyros. He had (and has) a way of making the everyday, less so.
The next morning, I sat at our darkened kitchen bar and munched on Lagana between sips of coffee. I felt warm eating it, whole. It was a feeling that stayed as I tended to the kids at the nursery and, later, during my after-school English classes. This is something I remember when I eat Lagana now.
For this year’s Clean Monday, in addition to the taramosalata I posted about here, I also made Lagana. It’s an easy bread and, apart from the rising time, needs only about 15 minutes of active work. The fun part is making like a naughty child and digging your fingers into the dough before it bakes.
Although Clean Monday took place about two weeks ago, I still think Lagana is a worthy recipe to share and make, regardless of the time of year. As Spyros suggests, it’s a good breakfast bread when toasted or zapped in the microwave. I’ve eaten it at room temperature, in the car on the way to work (which was great). It also tastes nice beside bean salads and dunked in soups. Anywhere you might eat bread, Lagana fits in. I hope you’ll give it a try 🙂
*Adapted from Food From Many Greek Kitchens by Tessa Kirrou
Makes 1 bread
1 package active dried yeast
7 oz. warm water (105-110oF)
¼ teaspoon sugar
2 2/3 cups bread flour
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup olive oil
For the topping:
1 tablespoon flour
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ teaspoon salt
½ tablespoon sesame seeds
2 tablespoons water
- Whisk the yeast, sugar, and water together in a large mixing bowl. Set aside until the yeast has activated and the surface has become covered with bubbles.
- Pour in the flour, salt and olive oil and stir with the dough hook of an electric mixer on low-medium speed until a dough forms and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic, about 6-7 minutes.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with a tea-towel in a warm, draft-free space for about 2 ½ hours or until doubled in size.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Punch the dough down and place in the center of the prepared baking pan. With your hands, pat the dough into a 9 x 13 inch rectangle, about 3/8 inch thick. Press your fingers into the dough to make many small holes over the surface. Cover with tea towels and allow it to rest for 30 minutes.
- Whisk the topping ingredients in a small bowl and brush over the dough’s surface. Bake in a 400oF (200oC) oven for 20 minutes or until golden.