I grew up Roman Catholic, but was lucky enough to have had a diverse life and learn about many other religions. When my mom married a Greek man, I was blessed to learn all about their delicious foods. One of my favorite holidays soon became Greek Orthodox Easter.
It was one of the most important holidays for the family, we’d all come together at my step-uncle’s house in Pennsylvania. The celebration would start on Thursday, sure we were supposed to be fasting, but let’s get real…there was none of that going on. Sure the family was supposed to abstain from meat, chicken and in general all meats and sweets but our family did not practice any of this.
Potatoes, pasta and carbohydrates reigned supreme during these days. We ate tons of eggs, specially hard boiled ones sprinkled with salt and pepper and dyed red. During my first Greek Easter is when I learned to peel an egg: smack it on the table, roll it to crush the shell, take the top off and grab the membrane…peel from there (it’s cake).
We’d head to church on Saturday night (we were supposed to go on Thursday when the saints would be dressed in purple and then on Friday for the washing of the feet…but we were very persuasive kids), normally church would not be packed, but it seems that everyone came out for Easter. It was so packed, that most of the time we’d end up standing outside in the cold and listening to the sermon (in Greek, which I never learned). After four hours of standing, we’d end up sitting on the sidewalk and think of all the goodies we’d soon be eating.
The only person that was excused from church was Tia Zoe. She was busy at home making Mageiritza. It’s a traditional easter soup that is a an acquired taste. First time I tasted it, I hated it…now I kinda long for it. The soup is based on offal (tripe, heart, liver, kidney) all the parts of the lamb most people leave aside. The soup is more than just soup; it is a compendium of traditions made with the “sacrificial” lamb. The soup is served after church services are over at around 1 or 2 am on Sunday. It is a symbol of the end of fasting and the resurrection of Christ.
Zoe would also make Arni me Patates (lamb with potatoes), Arni Youvetsi (Lamb with orzo in red sauce), Tsoureki (a sweet braided bread with a red egg baked into it) and of course Greek Salad.
If you are feeling adventurous and want to try the recipe, here goes:
3-4 types of lettuce (Romaine, iceberg, whatever you like) – chopped
1 whole lamb (almost whole – no head)
Large yellow onion
2-3 lamb hearts (chopped)
2 lamb kidneys (chopped)
3-4 lamb tongues (chopped – remove the outside membrane before cooking)
Lamb meat (chopped)
1 Tablespoon of flour
1/2 cup of dry white wine
1 lamb liver (chopped up)
Herbs (to taste) – parsley, cilantro, dill
Salt and pepper (to taste)
1 cup white rice
Lemon and Egg Sauce
3 eggs (at room temperature)
1/2 cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
Chopped parsley for garnish
For the Stock
In a very large pot (and I mean very large) heat the olive oil. Fry the onion, parsley, add the heart, kidneys, tongue with the meat of the lamb. Sautee for 15 minutes. While you stir it, add the flour and keep stirring. Add the white wine and the lamb stock while stirring constantly until it thickens. Cover and cook for 2 to 3 hours until the meats are tender, but keep watch over it and add warm water so it does not dry out.
When the meats are tender add the liver, salt, pepper and rice. Cover it and let it boil until the rice is soft (15 minutes). Bring to a boil again.
On the side, mix the eggs with the lemon juice and mix with a cup of broth. Add this mixture to the pot and wait until it thickens a bit.
Garnish with chopped parsley and dill and serve. It will be better the next day. Serve with Feta cheese and bread.