Here we are, the day after Easter Sunday and another feast under our belts…literally! Easter for Greeks is the most significant religious holiday. With Easter, you get the death and resurrection of Christ…we don’t take death and rebirth lightly. Easter’ parallel with Spring, a new cycle of birth and regeneration all fall together perfectly for this Spring celebration – Easter.
Attending church services outdoors, spending the first full day outdoors with family and friends, breaking bread and toasting to the “new year” with Spring bringing new life. Easter lamb is quite often roasted on an outdoor rotisserie, mezedes (appetizers) are served in waves, drinks (alcohol) are paired with the hosts creations and song and dance ingnite a new round of food and drink.
Last year my familyÂ enjoyed a whole (bone in) leg of lamb on the rotisserie. The previous year we roasted a whole lamb on the spit. This year we opted for the leg of lamb roasted in the oven. We chose the leg of lamb this year for three reasons: concerned about cool weather with Easter appearing so early on the calendar, a request from my dad for the oven-roasted lamb and the simple fact that we didn’t have a large enough crowd to justifying a whole lamb on the spit.
Let me be clear here…nothing beats the whole lamb on the spit but it does not mean that a family can’t celebrate Easter without this centerpiece. There are many ways to cook a lamb and in Greece, there are many regional preferences…all traditional and every bit as delicious as the other.
My point is that there are options for you to do a traditional Greek Easter feast. This year’s feast centered on the leg of lamb in the oven plus many of my family’s favourites at the Easter table. Allow me to share the dishes of yesterday’s Easter celebration.
The Easter menu begins as soon as the family arrives back from a midnight mass at church. The traditional soup of Magheritsa is made earlier in the day. The aromas of Easter permeate through the home and the soup simmers all day. Magheritsa falls in line with Greek cuisines’ frugal and humble ways…nothing gets wasted and everything is turned into a delicious dish.
MagheritsaÂ contains lamb offal and Spring greens and finished off with a hand-beaten Avgolemono mixture. Beyond Magheritsa’s tradition, it also serves as a functional use during Easter. That is to say that Magheritsa serves as a bridge between fast and feast. This soup allows your digestive system to ease into the next day’s onslaught of food.
The next morning, the Tsoureki (Greek Easter bread) is sliced with delight. Fluffy on the inside, aromatic with lots of citrus zest, mastiha and mahlepi and with all the punching and rising this dough takes…it’s no wonder this traditional Easter bread is so light and fluffy to the touch and taste. Smear some butter on a slice of Tsoureki (or without) and enjoy with the morning’s coffee.
After breakfast, prepping for the day’s feast continues. Our family’s afternoon is filled with bits and bites, appetizers and mezedes to keep us at bay until the dinner our arrives, along with the lamb. The first offering for noshing are some Tyropitakia. These phyllo triangles are filled with Feta and ricotta and binded with beaten egg. Light, tasty and easy to make, they satiate my yen for cheese.
After sampling the Tyropitakia, we’re on to some dips, the first one being a “Htipiti” or Tyrokafteri. This dip contains a roasted and mashed mildly hot banana pepper, some crumble Feta and ricotta cheeses. I first had this dip at a taverna in Thessaloniki and it’s been a family fave ever since!
With a leg of lamb in the oven, my gas grill was free to use. I charred some eggplants and then scooped out the smoky flesh and pounded and mixed it with garlic, coarse sea salt and added a gradual stream of extra-virgin olive oil until I reached the creamy consistency that I like. Some chopped fresh parsley is thrown in to balance the garlic and you have one of my favourtite Greek dips, Melitzanosalata.
At this point in the day, it’s time to commence the meat portion of the day. Much like lamb’s presence at the Greek Easter table, Kokkoretsi is another must. Kokkoretsi is an Easter meze that’s made with lamb offal. It’s made as such: lamb organ meat (heart, lung, liver) are cubed and seasoned. They are then skewered and wrapped with caul fat and then wound with the lamb’s intestines. I’m not the biggest fan of liver but when all these components are combined, something magical happens and the Kokkoretsi is crispy on the outside, tender and flavourful meat on the inside. A perfect excuse to open a bottle of Greek wine.
Continuing with the meat theme, I then served a teaser of lamb chops to everyone. Marinated overnight and cooked over mediu heat on the grill, these lamb chops are crisp yet succulent and finger lickin’ good…please….eat with your hands!
Sweetbreads, yum! These morsels are the Thymus glands of a calf. I gently poach them, remove their thin membranes, season them and grill them. As a little twist, I also marinated them in some minced garlic, olive oil and smoked paprika. These simple flavours complemented this rich delicacy. Gawd I love Easter!
Sausages always make an appearance at our Easter table. These Macedonian sausages are homemade and flavours of Boukovo (chilli flakes) and leeks leave a “pop” in your mouth.
The rest of the afternoon is spent digesting, chatting, sipping on some more wine and waiting for the main event…the leg of lamb and all the fixins’. A tradition Spring salad of Romaine lettuce, scallions and chopped fresh dill is a delightful way to help welcome Spring.
I also grilled some in season asparagus. Tossed in olive oil and minced garlic, a light seasoning and on the grill they go. A drizzle of olive oil and some lemon zest are all that’s needed for one of my favourite vegetables.
A family favourite (a Greek favourite) are roasted potatoes. We usually go with this recipe but on the occasion of Easter, we tossed the potatoes in the marinade that was leftover from the lamb. These spuds were fantastic and a perfect complement to the day’s showstopper, the roasted leg of lamb.
Mission accomplished. Everyone enjoyed this whole, bone-in leg of lamb. Selected from Kostas Meat Market, who proudly only serves local, fresh Ontario lamb. The night before, I studded the leg of lamb with slivers of fresh garlic and then rubbed it in a marinade that complemented and brought out lamb’s delicious flavour. The Greek way to cook lamb is well-done yet with a fall-off the bone ending with juicy, flavourful meat that flakes with a poke of the fork.
The evening ended with a fruit platter, some more Tsoureki and a new dessert, Anna Olson’s Banana Caramel Cheesecake.
In my next post, I will include the recipe for the leg of lamb plus any other dishes that I might have missed today. Who’s joining me for Easter next year? Mark your calendars…April 24th, 2011 arrives quickly!
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