In less than two weeks, I’ll be back in Greece again for my vacation. This will be my 20th time and I still get excited about going.
I still have some experiences to share from last year’s trip. One of the most cherished memories has to be when I attended a traditional Greek wedding on the island of Naxos.
Naxos is located in the Cyclades cluster of islands in the Aegean Sea. I was cordially invited my a reader of my blog, Maria Degaitas. I would like to also thank the Fragoulopoulos family for their endless hospitality during my brief stay.
Regardless if you’ve attended a Greek wedding or not, attending one in a remote village on a Greek island is as fairy-tale as they get. I’ve attended numerous Greek weddings in my lifetime and the memory of the day (and long night) will be etched in my mind forever.
For those that haven’t attended a Greek wedding, I urge you toÂ happily accept the invite and DO attend the church service and the ensuing reception. The wedding service is moving with it’s rituals, the ceremony ancient, historical, spiritual – always reminds me of how special it is to be Greek.
There are many, many details to relate about the Greek wedding. I share with you the “recipe for a Greek Wedding”, as the day unfolded in Naxos, last summer.
The first thing you need is family.
The Fragoulopoulos clan in Naxos is from Komiaki, a village clear on the opposite side of the island’s port town. Komiaki is the village of the groom. This old village is 700 metres above sea level and it was built barely in view of the sea, so as to not be a target of pirates.
The bride comes from the neigboring village of Koronos, for years dependant on emery mining. Today, agriculture, wine production and tourism are the main economic concerns of Koronos. It is written that Dionysus indulged and enjoyed the wine of Naxos most.
The next ingredient for a Greek wedding is tradition. Family and friends related to the groom met in Komiaki where Raki (Tsipouro), sweets and other offerings were laid out for guests. Like in any wedding of today, many photos are taken, video footage is shot, the old folks sit and wait and the sounds of young children can be heard.
The groom-to-be started shooting off his rifle – something I had previously only heard of happening in Greece’s southernmost island, Crete. This was a Kodak moment and I lost count of how many shells were strewn on the ground.
It was early evening and we had to get a move-on. Many of the men of the village bear the name, Agapitos. When it was time to get going, I heard alot of “Agapitos” being be called.
The next ingredient needed for a Greek wedding is music.
The bride-to-be was waiting in the Koronos. A procession was led by a traditional duo of lute and violin players. These guys played on our way to our vehicles, during the procession from the bride’s home to the church, then on to the reception and the band played on….to the wee hours of the morning.
The lute and violin duo took breaks only between travel to and from the villages, during the wedding ceremony and only stopping when the “glenti” or wedding reception ended.
An important ingredient to any wedding, is a beautiful bride.
At Koronos, friends and family of the bride gathered and soon they were met with the groom’s side of the family. Together we walked towards the church (also in Koronos) and although a small church (and overcrowded), most of us squeezed into the outdoor amphitheatre-style courtyard. The wedding ceremony took place just outside of the front entrance of the church and the couple-to-be were surrounded by all their family and friends.
For anyone that’s been to Greece, you know the evenings can still be hot and I’m sure this amphitheatre built just outside the church was Greek logic and its reply to the long hot summers.
After the wedding ceremony, the many, many photos that were taken and the long procession of well-wishers that had passed the newly-wedded couple, we were off to Komiaki where the wedding reception was to take place.
Every Greek wedding needs guests…lots of family and friends.
After finding roadside parking, we walked to the reception hall, kind of. In attendance for this wedding were some 1200 people! The reception was held outdoors in the courtyard of the town’s school.
The stage for the band was in the center, bride and groom seated up front with the “Koumbaro” and “Koumbara” and long tables were squeezed into the courtyard with immediate family nearby and other relations seated further and further back.
At a Greek Wedding, you know that you will be fed…fed well!
I was lucky enough to be seated with immediate family and each table had a table cloth, bottles of water, bottles of homemade village wine, the tastiest crusty bread I had in years, plates of Myzithra and Feta cheeses (some of Greece’s best cheeses are made in Naxos), olives and Greek salads.
The main course would be a what Mrs. Elisavet Degaitas-Fraboulopoulou would call a Goat Kokkinisto. In Greek cuisine, there are many variations on a Kokkinisto, which is a dish simmered in tomatoes and other aromatics.
When I first arrived at the village, I had passed two large, simmering cauldrons that were cooking over burning embers and under the watchful eye of village elders. FIVE HUNDRED KILOS of goat meat were being cooked up for the 1200 guests. The main ingredients of the dish were goat meat, onions, garlic, tomatoes and famous potatoes from Naxos.
The meat fell off the bone, it was succulent, it was delicious and it had a slight smoky finish. I was sure some smoked paprika was added into the mix but on second thought, cooking over burning embers will give such flavour.
The band played on and on. I cut-out around 3am and slept with the sounds of wedding guests parting until sunrise.
I want to leave you with my rendition, my ode to this Goat Kokkinisto that was such a delight to eat on the occasion of this marvelous Greek Island wedding. I’ve substituted goat with lamb shanks, I’m braising and then roasting the dish to best emulate the flavours I experienced that evening.
I’ve added some smoked paprika, browned some lamb shanks, deglazed with wine and placed them covered in the oven to braise for about an hour. After that, the potatoes are added into the mix and everything gets baked (uncovered) for another 45 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked and the meat flakes off the bone.
Braised Lamb Shanks with Potatoes
4 large lamb shanks
1/4 cup olive oil
2 large onions
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, sliced
1 tsp. smoked paprika
3 bay leaves
1 cup of dry red wine
2 Tbsp. of tomato paste
2 cups of vegetable stock
6 large potatoes, peeled and cut into wedges
salt and pepper to taste
Pre-heated 350F oven
- Season your lamb shanks with salt and pepper. Place your olive oil in a large skillet and over medium-high heat, brown your shanks on all sides. Reserve in a baking vessel/Dutch oven.
- Deglaze the brown bits skillet by adding your stock and red wine and bring to a boil while scraping/lifting with a wooden spoon. Reduce to medium, add your onions, garlic, peppers and bay leaves and simmer for for 5-7 minutes.
- Transfer the liquid to the vessel where your lamb shanks lay and pour it in (should just cover your lamb shanks). Put the cover on and place in your pre-heated oven for an hour.
- Take the cover off, take out your lamb shanks and place the potato wedges in the sauce. Gently toss the potatoes to coat and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper. Place the lamb shanks on top of the potatoes.
- Place back in the oven and bake uncovered for another 30-40 minutes. The lamb shanks will turn a deep-brown, your potatoes will cook through and your sauce will thicken.
- Remove the bay leafs and taste to see if any adjustments in seasoning are needed. Serve each plate with some potatoes and a lamb shank and spoon some sauce over.
- Serve with a dry red wine, like a Paros Moraiti.
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