A Journey to Greek Easter: Beyond the Traditional Roast Lamb, with Recipes!

tsourekia

This article dives deeper than your typical Easter recipe list. It takes you on a personal journey through the traditions and flavours of a Greek Easter feast, highlighting the cultural significance behind each dish.

The focus isn't just on the final product but on the entire experience—from pre-Easter customs like Tsiknopempti (Smoky Thursday) and Tyrini (Cheesefare Week) to the excitement of Easter Saturday's midnight candle lighting and the joy of feasting with loved ones.

We then delve into 6 delectable dishes that grace the Greek Easter table, complete with recipes for you to try!

1. Magiritsa (Greek Easter Soup)

This rich and flavorful soup traditionally breaks the Easter fast. While lamb offal is the classic choice, this recipe uses lamb shank for a more approachable version.

This rich and flavorful soup traditionally breaks the Easter fast. While lamb offal is the classic choice, this recipe uses lamb shank for a more approachable version.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb lamb shank, cut into pieces
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 1 head lettuce, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • 3 large eggs, yolks separated
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add lamb shank and cook for a further 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Pour in chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 1 hour or until lamb is tender.
  4. Add the lettuce and rice, return to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for another 15 minutes or until the rice is cooked through.
  5. In a small bowl, whisk together egg yolks and lemon juice. Slowly whisk this mixture into the hot soup, taking care not to curdle the eggs.
  6. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Stir in chopped dill and serve hot.

2. Flaounes (Cheese Pastries)

These unique, savoury-sweet pastries are a staple of the Greek Cypriot Easter table. The filling is a delightful combination of cheese, herbs, and sultanas encased in a sesame-topped dough.

Flaounes (Cheese Pastries) Recipe

Please note: This recipe involves multiple steps and can be time-consuming. To save time, you may want to consider purchasing pre-made pastry dough.

Ingredients:

For the Dough:

  • 1 lb all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup icing sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup milk (plus extra for brushing)
  • Sesame seeds for sprinkling

For the Filling:

  • 1 lb ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup crumbled halloumi cheese (or feta cheese)
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup sultanas
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Make the Dough: Sift flour and salt into a large bowl. Using a pastry cutter or your fingertips, work the butter into the flour mixture until it resembles coarse crumbs.
  2. Stir in icing sugar and eggs. Gradually add milk, a tablespoon at a time, until a soft dough forms. Knead for a few minutes until smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  3. Make the Filling: In a large bowl, combine ricotta cheese, halloumi cheese, mint, dill, parsley, sultanas, egg yolk, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Mix well and set aside.
  4. Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Line baking sheets with parchment paper.
  5. Divide dough into walnut-sized balls. On a lightly floured surface, roll each ball out into a thin circle, about 4-5 inches in diameter.
  6. Place a generous spoonful of filling in the center of each dough circle.
  7. Shaping: There are two traditional ways to shape flaounes:
    • Half-moon shape: Fold the dough circle in half over the filling, forming a crescent moon shape. Crimp the edges with a fork to seal.
    • Crumpled shape: Alternatively, instead of folding completely, gather the edges of the dough circle up towards the center, loosely encasing the filling without completely sealing it. This creates a more rustic, crumpled look.
  8. Brush the tops of the flaounes with a little milk and sprinkle generously with sesame seeds.
  9. Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.
  10. Let cool slightly before serving.

Tips:

  • If the dough becomes too sticky while rolling out, dust it with a little more flour.
  • You can use a cookie cutter to create uniform circles for the dough.
  • Feel free to experiment with different cheese combinations in the filling.
  • Leftover flaounes can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days or frozen for longer storage.

3. Tsoureki (Sweet Easter Bread)

This sweet, braided bread with a hint of mastic and mahlepi, often adorned with a red egg, is a traditional Easter gift. While there are many variations, here's a basic recipe to get you started:

There are many variations of Tsoureki recipes, some requiring specific ingredients that might be harder to find. Here are two options, depending on your preference and accessibility of ingredients:

Option 1: Traditional Tsoureki with Mastic and Mahlepi (for experienced bakers)

This recipe uses the traditional flavorings of mastic and mahlepi, but be aware these can be harder to find in some supermarkets.

Option 2: Simplified Tsoureki with Orange Zest (easier to find ingredients)

This recipe offers a simplified version that uses more readily available ingredients, achieving a delicious Tsoureki with a hint of citrus.

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb (4 cups) all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm milk (105°F/41°C)
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 tablespoon milk, for egg wash

Instructions:

  1. In a large bowl, whisk together 2 cups of flour and the yeast.
  2. In a separate bowl, whisk together warm milk, sugar, and softened butter. Let sit for 5 minutes, or until slightly foamy.
  3. Add the wet ingredients and orange zest to the dry ingredients. Beat with an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook attachment, or by hand, until a shaggy dough forms. Gradually add the remaining 2 cups of flour, one at a time, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. This may take about 5 minutes.
  4. Add the vanilla extract and salt and continue kneading for another 5 minutes, or until the dough is no longer sticky and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  5. Lightly grease a large bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size.
  6. Punch down the dough and transfer it to a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long rope, about 20 inches long. Braid the 3 ropes together loosely.
  7. Transfer the braided dough to a greased baking sheet. Tuck the ends underneath to form a circle. Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap and let rise again for 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size.
  8. Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C). Brush the top of the dough with the egg wash and sprinkle with a little extra sugar, if desired.
  9. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown.
  10. Let cool slightly on a wire rack before slicing and serving.

Tips:

  • If you don't have orange zest, you can substitute 1 teaspoon of almond extract.
  • To make the dough by hand, knead on a lightly floured surface for 10-15 minutes or until smooth and elastic.
  • You can shape the Tsoureki into a different form besides a braid. Try shaping it into a loaf or a ring.
  • Leftover Tsoureki can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for up to 2 days or frozen for longer storage.

5. Kleftiko (Slow-Cooked Lamb)

The traditional centrepiece of many Greek Easter feasts is a whole lamb slow-cooked on a spit. This recipe offers a more manageable home version using the leg or shoulder of lamb.

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 lb bone-in leg of lamb or shoulder of lamb
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 tbsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 1 cup chopped tomatoes
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 head garlic, whole
  • 1 cup chicken broth (optional)

Instructions:

  1. Preheat oven to 325°F (165°C).
  2. In a large bowl, combine olive oil, oregano, cinnamon, salt, and pepper. Rub the mixture all over the lamb.
  3. Place lamb in a roasting pan. Scatter tomatoes, onion, and garlic around the lamb.
  4. Pour in white wine and chicken broth (if using). Cover the pan tightly with foil.
  5. Roast for 3-4 hours, or until the lamb is tender and falling off the bone. Baste the lamb occasionally with the pan juices.
  6. Remove foil for the last 30 minutes of cooking to allow the lamb to brown.
  7. Let rest for 15 minutes before carving and serving.

6. Fakes (Lentil Soup)

This simple lentil soup is a comforting and hearty staple for Good Friday, a day of strict fasting. Variations abound, but here's a basic recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 cup brown lentils, rinsed
  • 4 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Instructions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic, cook until softened, about 5 minutes.
  2. Add lentils and vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 30-35 minutes or until lentils are tender.
  3. Stir in parsley and lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Serve hot with crusty bread.

Variations:

  • In Greece, the lentils are often simply cooked with onions.
  • In Cyprus, you might find it cooked with tomato, rice, spinach, or even orzo for a creamier texture.
  • Feel free to experiment with additional vegetables or herbs to your liking.

This spread of dishes offers a taste of the rich flavours and traditions that come together on

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