Region: Monastic Community of Mount Athos.
This is a Greek Orthodox Lent classic: easy to make, a tasty, hearty, one-pot recipe full of good things for one’s own body, mind and health. Enjoy!
Cooking time: approx. 45 to 60 min
You need: a bigger pot and a smaller pot
- 2 to 3 small or baby octopuses, about 1Kg (2Lbs) more or less.
- Water for the pots – approx. 3 Lt in all.
- 1 bunch of green onion, diced.
- 3 potatoes cut in cubes.
- 3 carrots, cut in rings and then into wedges/cubes.
- 1 bunch dill, diced.
- 1 bunch parsley, diced.
- 1 bunch leaf celery, diced.
- 250g (9 oz) orzo.
- 1 Kg (2 Lbs) tomatoes, diced.
- 3 Tbsp tomato paste, diluted in a little water.
- 3 Tbsp cider or wine vinegar – whatever you have in the pantry.
- 200ml (2/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil.
- Juice of 3 lemons.
- Red pepper to taste.
- Black pepper to taste.
- A pinch or two of cumin.
- Salt: optional.
- Pour approx. 1 Lt of water in the smaller pot, put it on the stove, turn the fire on to high and bring it to a boil.
- Put the baby octopuses in a strainer or colander, immerse it in the hot water and blanch the octopuses in the hot water.
- Take the octopuses out of the water but do not discard the water. Keep it for later.
- Cut the octopuses in small cubes.
- Time for the bigger pot: pour 2 Lt of water in the bigger pot and add the potatoes, the carrots, the green onions, the leaf celery and the olive oil.
- Bring the pot to a boil, lower the fire to medium or medium low and simmer for 20 minutes.
- Add the orzo and the octopus cubes.
- Wait a little until simmering resumes and then add the octopus-water (the one you did not discard earlier) and the tomatoes.
- Simmer for another 10 to 15 minutes.
- Then, add the tomato paste, the dill, the parsley, the vinegar and the spices.
- Stir well and taste the sauce. If you think it needs salt, now is the time to add it.
- Simmer for another 10 minutes and stir as needed to prevent the orzo from getting stuck to the bottom of the pot – should that be the case.
- Take the pot off the fire, wait for a few beats until the boiling juice clams down and pour in the lemon juice.
- That’s all.
Notes on the Octopus Soup
- If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, a tin of canned tomatoes will do. Just pay attention to the ingredients – the only preservative should be ascorbic acid (Vitamin C, that is.) The same goes for the tomato paste.
- White vinegar does not do such a great job for this recipe, so, do prefer dark colour cider vinegar or wine vinegar.
- We add salt towards the end of the process because salt has a way of stiffening the octopus meat (which is stiff and rubbery by nature) so adding salt at the beginning of the process will not help us much.
- If you feel like thickening the soup, keep on simmering (and stirring) in low fire and the viscosity of the liquid is you want it to be.
- One may be tempted to substitute the prescribed 2-3 baby/small octopuses with a single bigger one. Well, this is a BAD idea, unless you blanch and simmer the aforementioned bigger single octopus separately until it’s very tender.
A few words about Mount Athos
Mount Athos, also known as the Holy Mountain, is the epicentre of Eastern Orthodox monasticism and home to 20 monasteries with a strong monastic community since the 12th Century A.D. The monks of Mount Athos do observe their fasts and lents for about, or more than, 200 days per year. As you may discover yourself, “fast”, “lent” and “monasticism” are not necessarily synonyms to tasteless, unimaginative or sloppy food. 🙂