Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Greek Easter Feast

Smoky Slow Cooked Lamb and Traditional Greek Salad

My most memorable Easter was spent on the island of Crete in Greece. Dustin and I were there in 2006  just after getting engaged, upsetting our lives to spend some time in Europe and figure out if marriage was right for us.

We'd rented a tiny studio apartment overlooking the ocean with two wooden twin beds, a hot plate, and a cold water shower. All the other tenants were Greek, including the friend we'd made at the car rental agency who'd found the apartment for us. We spent lazy days cruising the coastline by scooter discovering vibrant red poppy fields, tasting homemade moonshine and wine in the dark back-rooms of grocery stores, and purchasing our daily supply of perfect, sun-warmed tomatoes.

It was spring so the weather was still cool and the tourists were at a minimum. The Easter buzz began two weeks or so before the holiday. Everywhere we went, locals warned us that all businesses would be closed for several days around the holiday and tried to prep us on all the upcoming events. Coming from a background of fuzzy bunnies and egg hunts, we had no context for the festivities that were to come.

Traditional Greek Salad

I don't know the ins and outs of the Catholic religion/Greek orthodoxy, so forgive me if I explain this incorrectly. During the days leading up to Easter, the people will fast. On the eve of the holiday, people gather in the evening, in our case the town center was a small lake, and start to set off fireworks. It was quite pretty to see the reflection of the sparklers in the water as thousands of people gathered around in their Sunday best. As the excitement builds toward midnight, the fireworks become more intense. We were constantly dodging roman candles and M80s at this point, the devilish grins of teenaged boys illuminated by a constant spark.

A religious procession made its way to the lake, led by robed priests and what appeared to be a life-sized figure nailed to a cross. There were prayers and songs and candles held high by all in a moment of silent reflection. And in one fantastic finale, the figure on the cross was floated upright in the middle of the lake and set ablaze. Cheers rang out and firecrackers exploded everywhere. I swear someone threw dynamite into the lake at one point.

It turns out the figure on the cross was Judas, the apostle who betrayed Jesus, whom everyone was happy to burn. We were some of the last people hanging out by the lake after midnight as the local people went to their homes to share a meal and break their fast. The next morning we were invited to our neighbor's apartment for dinner and ate some of the best food of our lives including grilled lamb and fresh bread.

This year, we'd tried to relive some of those memories by hosting a Greek style barbecue on our very different island home. Below you will find recipes for slow-cooked lamb and traditional Greek salad. We also enjoyed spanakopita, tzatziki, and grilled asparagus fresh from our garden as my nephews hunted for eggs in the sand.

Beach egg hunt

I hope you have a delicious, memorable, and special Easter.

Smoky Slow-Cooked Leg of Lamb
serves 10-15

5 lb boneless leg of lamb
5 cloves garlic
1/2 cup fresh rosemary
1/2 cup fresh oregano
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup water
olive oil
salt & pepper

In a food processor blend garlic, herbs, and some salt & pepper to form a paste. Cut lamb into large sections about 1 pound each. Rub the lamb with the paste, drizzle with olive oil and allow to marinate for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

In a slow cooker, add lemon juice and 1/2 cup water. Stack lamb in the slow cooker, sprinkle with more salt & pepper and olive oil and cook on low for just shy of 8 hours. You want the meat to easily pull apart, but not so loose the it fall apart when picked up.

Prepared a charcoal grill with wood chips. Grill the pieces of lamb, drizzled with more oil, for no more than 5 minutes each side so as to impart smoky flavor and form an outer crust, but avoid drying out the meat. If the meat is falling apart (that's ok!) then simply grill it on a piece of foil so it won't fall through the grate.

Serve with tzatziki, on pita bread or make a gravy from the drippings in the slow cooker. Enjoy!

Traditional Greek Salad
serves 10-12

3 cucumbers
5-6 tomatoes
1/2 red onion
1 cup kalamata olives (or other Greek olives if you can find them)
5-6 oz feta cheese (be sure to get the block style and check that it is made with sheep's milk)
fresh oregano or a dried mediterranean herb blend
fresh lemon juice or your favorite vinegar
olive oil
salt & pepper

Cut cucumbers in half lengthwise and chop into 1/2 inch slices. Slice tomatoes so they are a similar thickness to cucumbers. Please in a bowl and sprinkle with salt & pepper.

Layer thinly sliced red onion and olives on top. Slice cheese into 1/4 inch slices and layer on top, sprinkle with herbs and salt & pepper. Drizzle with lemon juice and olive oil when ready to serve. Enjoy!

1 comment:

  1. Daaaang, I wish I'd had Easter at your house instead of mine now.


Aloha Saturdays with Maggy reader! Thank you for your comments, I love hearing your thoughts and feedback.


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