Despite being a day of fasting, Green Monday – the first day of the Great Lent – is perhaps one of the favourite feasts for young and old alike. The menu starts off with traditional Greek flatbread (lagana), taramosalata and tahini dips, followed up with seafood and various vegetables, and always topped off with Macedonian Halva; the sweet with a special flavour and texture, which is never absent from the first feast of the Great Lent.
The tradition of consuming sesame-based halva during the Great Lent began in the years following the Asia Minor Disaster, when refugees brought the art of creating it to Greece. Because of its great popularity at first mainly in Macedonia, it became widely known as “Macedonian Halva”. According to folklore, it all began in 1924, when three brothers set up a small business on Athonos Square in Thessalonica, where they would grind sesame seeds in millstones to produce tahini, which is the raw material of halva. Nowadays, of course, there are different versions of halva. You can find it in different flavours, such as biscuit or cocoa, with almonds, walnuts or pistachios, either Macedonian or Lebanese.
The greatest value of sesame-based halva, of course, is not in its taste, nor its appearance; it is hidden within its ingredients. The sesame seed provides a necessary energy boost during long fasting periods, such as the Great Lent, while it also has a number of other beneficial qualities. It has been proven that Macedonian halva helps boost the immune system, can lower cholesterol levels, reduce hypertension and prevent ageing.
Sesame contains high-quality protein and is rich in nutritional minerals, such as copper, manganese, calcium and magnesium. It is rich in vitamin E and has antioxidant, anti-ageing qualities, thanks to the sesame seed’s two main ingredients: sesamin and sesaminol. Furthermore, the majority of halva fat is monounsaturated and rich in Omega-9.
Next time you feel unsure about enjoying the epitome of the Green Monday feast, just keep in mind that sesame-based halva has a lot more to offer than just sugar. Well worth the calories!