Posted: March 10, 2014 - 0 comment(s) [ Comment ] - 0 trackback(s) [ Trackback ]
Category: Food Court

 A Spartan Meal

Nick Roumel, Nacht Law

When you think of Spartans, do you picture the courageous and austere Greek race of yore, or green-clad athletes prancing around on hardwood or Astroturf? These days it could be either, with the release of the movie sequel to 300 or the spirited competitiveness of Big Ten basketball. But todays column isnt about the MSU training table its what the ancient Spartans ate to survive.

In romantic hindsight, the Spartans purposely ate vile crap like black gruel in order to build bravery and steely resolve. Alexander the Great, victorious in battle, blamed the Persians defeat on their opulent diet. In the same spirit, the Spartan general Pausanias sarcastically observed that the Persians, having so much, came to rob the Greeks of their miserable living.

Yet because of their battle prowess, all Greeks wanted to eat like Spartans. Dionysius, king of a Greek colony, once imported a Spartan cook to prepare the infamous black gruel, which consisted of pork, blood, and vinegar. When the cook presented the dish, Dionysius spat it out and reprimanded the chef. But the clever cook advised the king that the two main ingredients were missing the very ones that made the concoction taste so good to the Spartans. What were they? asked the king.

Hunger and thirst, the cook replied. (Ba-da-boom!) Yes, desperation drove the Spartans to consume black gruel; but they were a race of such valor, that they fooled the entire nation into believing this repugnant concoction was a magic elixir. (Much like the oat bran craze of the 80s.)

But outsiders werent fooled one observed that the cuisine was so disgusting, that it was no wonder the Spartans prefer to die, 10,000 times. 

Nonetheless, the black gruel has survived today in one form: the Greek predilection for mixing meats with sharp flavorings. In fact, salami actually gets its name from the Greek island Salamis, famous for its salt mine. Returning the favor, the word for Greek sausage, Loukanika, derives from the Lugano region of Italy.

You can make your own tame version of Greek sausage at home in one of two ways. One attorney friend, special education advocate Laura Athens (hows that for a Greek name?) sprinkles slices of Polish sausage with cumin and fennel seeds, and broils them 5-7 minutes per side until crisp; then squeezes lemon on them before serving. Its delicious, and whos to say its not Greek?

The variation below comes from The Olive and the Caper (a source for some of the history recited above). I will omit their recipe for homemade pork and veal sausage. As Laura does, you can make this with any good store-bought sausage (and as we lawyers know, you shouldnt watch sausage being made, anyhow).


Grilled Greek sausage 

with olive tapenade



For the tapenade:

3/16 cup pitted Kalamata olives 

    (a bit less than 1/4)

3/16 cup capers

1 clove garlic

1 anchovy fillet

6 basil leaves

1 1/2 oz. olive oil

1/2 TBS lemon juice

1 lb. good sausage

several thick slices of good Greek bread



1. Make the tapenade: place the first 7 ingredients in a food processor and puree as fine as possible. 

2. Grill the sausage over medium high heat until done, turning occasionally until browned on all sides and done, 12-20 minutes depending on the size and thickness of the sausage. (You can also slice the sausage before grilling for faster cooking.)

3. Arrange the sausage slices on a serving platter. Spread 1/2 tsp. of the tapenade on each slice, and spear each with a toothpick. Cut the bread into bite-sized pieces and arrange around the sausage.

You may not be eating exactly like a Spartan, but then again, you shouldnt have to fight like one, either. 

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for Current magazine in Ann Arbor. He has a blog at which badly needs updating!

Delicious Digg Facebook Twitter MySpace