Easter celebrations around the world vary from culture to culture, religion to religion, but there are a few common threads that unite these spring holidays, no matter where you reside: lamb, spring vegetables, and eggs.
The Breaking of the Fast
In Italy, families sit down to an Easter meal after mass on Sunday. For the Greeks, however, the celebration starts the night before. (Only every four years does Greek Orthodox Easter and the western Easter Sunday coincide; this year the dates coincide.) According to Jim Botsacos, the executive chef and partner at New York City’s Molyvos Restaurant, the festivities begin after midnight mass with the breaking of a 40- to 45-day long fast, during which people will have abstained from eating any foods with or derived from animals with a blood line. That means no meat, no dairy, and no fish.
Traditional Red Eggs
Carrying lit candles, people return home or to a restaurant where they sit down to a table of Greek Easter bread and hard-boiled eggs dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ. The eggs are for fun; a game is played where one egg butt is hit against another egg butt (or point to point); if your shell doesn’t crack, you move on to the next egg match. If you’ve exhausted both the head and butt of an egg, you’re out. It is said that whomever has the egg that lasts the longest will have good luck for the year to come.
A Menu Inspired by Spring and Family Favorites
To break the fast, a traditional Easter lamb soup, called magiritsa, is served. A stock made from the lamb’s head forms the soup’s base; sautéed onions and lamb innards, like tripe, sweetbreads, and intestines, each cooked separately, are then added. The whole dish is often served garnished with an avgolemeno sauce, cooked rice, shredded lettuce, spring onions, dill, and lemon.
Following the soup, a main course of roast spring baby lamb and a variety of spring vegetables is served. Botsacos typically starts the meal with shared meze like Hortopsomo, miniature wild green-stuffed pies. Lamb follows, typically a whole roast animal for a large group; smaller cuts like legs, shanks, or racks could also be served. A variety of salads and sides accompany the lamb and are served family-style. While each family has their own traditional favorites, Botsacos' often serves beet salads with yogurt dressing, roast potatoes, rice pilaf, and gigante beans with skordalia. One of his favorites is a very traditional green salad made with fine ribbons of romaine, tossed with scallions and arugula, and lightly dressed with lemon and olive oil. It’s refreshing and light — the perfect palate cleanser.
After the meal was finished, typically around 2 a.m., families would retire for a couple hours of sleep, only to arise again in the morning to get the next lamb roasting for an Easter Sunday meal — a slight variation of the same meal again.
A Traditional Greek Easter Menu
Hortopsomo, to share