Easter is a festival celebrated all over the world. Its history goes back to pre-Christian times of pagan worship, magical powers and ancient superstitions. In the Northern Hemisphere Easter falls in spring, and so celebrates the renewal of life after winter. For the devout, it follows the abstinence of Lent, so there are many culinary traditions that mark the festival.
However, none is richer than the Greek so this was my choice for a theme this Easter. Greek Orthodox Easter and Christian Easter only sometimes coincide, being calculated using different calendars. This year they are a week apart but the food works well for both!
Make sure you drink some ouzo, a clear anise-flavoured spirit (a by-product of winemaking) over ice which makes it look cloudy. Strong but delicious and a traditional accompaniment to Mezethes (or Mezedes), a sampling of little tastes of food.
Eggs are symbolic of Easter in many cultures. In Greece, they are dyed red on the Thursday before Easter and served after the midnight service on Easter Sunday morning. Traditionally the eggs are clinked together, the first person saying Christós Anésti! (“Christ is risen”) and the second responding Alithós Anésti! (“Truly He has risen”). The person who has the unbroken egg is the winner and will have good luck all year.
To Start – Mezethes/Mezedes
Mezethes are Greek appetisers or starters usually served with drinks. For a big group, you can expand this by buying ready-made taramasalata, tzatziki, dolmades and the like. Don’t forget the pitta bread!
Calamari marinated in lemon
You could use small cuttlefish or octopus for this recipe too. I prefer to buy calamari whole and clean it myself for a more tender result.
Serves 6 as part of a menu
Preparation: 15mins + 2 hours or overnight marinating
4 medium (730g) calamari, cleaned weight 480g
1/4 cup (60ml) olive oil
Grated rind and juice of 1 lemon (60 ml/ ¼ cup)
2 teaspoons rigani or dried oregano leaves
5 cloves garlic, sliced
1 long red chilli, sliced
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley (optional)
- Clean calamari by pulling carefully below the head and removing the insides and the hard spine. Salt your fingers to remove the skin. Cut tentacles off below the head and reserve. Cut open the bodies of the calamari and score with a knife in a diamond pattern. Cut the calamari into quarters (lengthways).
- Combine with olive oil, lemon rind and juice, rigani, garlic and chilli in a bowl. Cover, refrigerate for two hours or overnight.
- Cook undrained cuttlefish on a grill plate (or barbecue) until browned all over and just tender. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper and parsley to taste.
Lyndey’s Notes: If you prefer this milder remove the chilli seeds.
Rigani is dried Greek oregano, available in Middle Eastern shops, some delis and spice stores. You could substitute dried oregano.
Chilli and capsicum dip
This makes a lovely change from the more widely available taramosalata or tzatziki.
Preparation 10 minutes
Cooking 15-20 minutes
3 large red capsicum
1 long red chilli, roughly chopped
2 slices white bread, crusts removed
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Pitta bread to serve
- Preheat a grill, chargrill or barbecue on high. Roast capsicums, turning frequently, for 5-10 mins, until black and blistered. Place in a plastic or brown bag until cool enough to handle, then peel, halve and de-seed.
- Place chilli, bread and salt in food processor to make chilli breadcrumbs. Add capsicum and puree. Add vinegar and then slowly add the oil until it has a smooth, creamy texture. Serve with pitta bread.
Grilled halloumi with mint and lemon
Haloumi, a cheese originally from Cyprus, is transformed by being cooked. You can also cook fetta this way, but it would be better to put foil under it on the BBQ.
Preparation 5 minutes
Cooking 6 minutes
3 tablespoons chopped mint (optional)
lemon wedges, to serve
- Preheat a barbecue or chargrill pan on medium high. Cut haloumi into 1-2cm slices. Cook for 2-3 minutes each side or until golden. The grill part of the barbecue makes lovely markings.
- Sprinkle with mint and serve immediately, with lemon wedges.
Lyndey’s Note: Depending on the brand of halloumi and your BBQ surface you may prefer to lightly brush the halloumi with olive oil to help inhibit sticking.
Flathead in vine leaves with skordalia
Skordalia is a thick garlic sauce or dip which is based on bread or potatoes. I rather like mine with a little of each.
Serves 6 as part of this menu
Preparation 15 minutes
Cooking 20 minutes
12 brined vine leaves
12 (450g) small flathead fillets
1 medium (200g) potato
1 slice white bread
¼ cup (60ml) water
4 cloves garlic, chopped coarsely
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons (40 ml) extra virgin olive oil
- To make the skordalia boil or steam potato until tender; drain. Peel and mash potato until smooth then set aside to cool. Soak bread in cold water
- Place garlic and salt, in a food processor; blend until smooth. Add bread and water, lemon juice and olive oil and blend until thick. Stir into potato. (Do not process potato as it will become gluey.) Set aside.
- Preheat a chargrill, grill or barbecue on medium high. Rinse vine leaves, drain and pat dry. Wrap each fish fillet in a vine leaf, leaving the ends poking out.
- Lightly oil grill plate or barbecue or brush the fish parcels and cook fish until browned on both sides, only a couple of minutes, and just cooked through. Serve with skordalia.
Lyndey’s Notes: If you can’t get very small flathead fillets, slightly larger ones come in a ‘Y’ shape, so simply cut into two small fingers.
Brined vine leaves are available from Middle Eastern shops. You could substitute with blanched silverbeet leaves and wrap the fish in foil as well.
Barbequed lamb shoulder
Serves 6 as part of the menu
Preparation: 10 minutes + 30 minutes marinating
Cooking: 55 minutes
1.5kg boned lamb shoulder
juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons rigani
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- Rub lamb with black pepper and then marinate with lemon, rigani and 1 ½ tablespoons (30 ml) oil for say half an hour.
- Pre-heat BBQ on high. Wrap lamb in two layers of foil and cook for 5 mins or so on each side to seal. Reduce heat on BBQ to low – put hood down if you have one (temp should be around 150 – 160’C) To maintain this low heat turn off all burners except one to the side of the lamb – ie not underneath so the heat circulates and close the lid. Cook for 20 mins.
- Turn over and cook another 20 mins. Remove foil, brush lamb with remaining oil and return lamb to BBQ to brown. Add halved lemons onto the grill at this time too and serve a char-grilled lemon half per person.
Lyndey’s Note: The meat will be well-cooked but moist and tender. You can also cook it on the bone in the oven in which case the cooking time will be much longer.
Preparation: 15 minutes
Cooking: 20 minutes
2 tablespoons (40 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 kg Desiree potatoes, peeled, cut into wedges
juice of 1/2 lemon
- Heat oil in a very large frying pan on medium. Add potato and cook, tossing pan occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until pale golden.
- Combine lemon with 3/4 cup water and add to potatoes. Season to taste. Cover and simmer for 5-10 minutes, until tender. Transfer to a bowl and serve with lamb.
Cos lettuce & dill salad (marouli)
While Greek salad may be the most well-known, this one is simple and delicious and perfect with the rich flavours of the lamb.
Serves 6 – 8
Preparation 10 minutes
1 cos lettuce, shredded finely
4 spring onions, sliced thinly
3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup (60ml) extra virgin olive oil
1½ tablespoons (30 ml) red wine vinegar
- Combine the lettuce, onions and dill in a large serving bowl.
- Combine the oil and vinegar and mix well. Toss through the salad and serve immediately.
Shortbread crescents (kourambiedes)
Strictly speaking, these national biscuits are made for Christmas and new years’ day but I prefer them to the more traditional Koulourakia which are not so crumbly and sweet. In Greece, they are often made entirely with self-raising flour which makes them very light.
Makes about 40
Preparation: 35 minutes
Cooking 15 minutes
250g unsalted butter, softened
100g icing sugar
1 egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1 tablespoon (20 ml) ouzo or brandy
100g ground almonds
2 1/2 cups (375g) self-raising flour
1 cup (160g) icing sugar, extra
- Preheat oven to 180C or 160C fan.
- Beat butter and sifted icing sugar in a medium bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk, vanilla bean paste and ouzo or brandy and beat until well combined. Add almonds and flour and mix on low speed to form a soft dough.
- Roll level tablespoons of mixture balls and curve into crescents. Place 3cm apart on baking paper-lined baking trays.
- Bake for 12-15 minutes or until browned lightly. Cool slightly then sift over half of the extra icing sugar. Turn biscuits and sift over remaining icing sugar to coat completely. Cool. Store shortbread in an airtight container for up to a week.
Greek coffee is strong and thick and can be an acquired taste. I have a briki, a small pot with a wide bottom, narrow top and a long handle, otherwise, a small saucepan will do. Combine a teaspoon of ground coffee and a teaspoon of sugar (depending on how strong and sweet you like it) in a briki with an espresso cup of water. Place on the stove and stir continuously until it begins to froth. Pour immediately into an espresso or demitasse cup and allow the grounds to settle before drinking.
Note: all measurements are Australian
PHOTOGRAPHY – Louise Lister