Celebrating Greek Easter


009bMy dad is Greek. My mom is, well, a little bit of everything. That makes me half Greek and half mutt. (And that’s the extent of the math I’m willing to do.) As a kid, my family would celebrate Easter, and many years we’d also celebrate Greek Easter which, going by the Greek Orthodox calendar, usually falls on a different day. Sometimes we went to my aunt Vasiliki’s home to celebrate, sometimes we went to a restaurant, and oftentimes we celebrated at home. My favorite Greek Easter tradition is tsougrisma, cracking red eggs. The eggs symbolize new life and the color red symbolizes Christ’s blood shed for us. Each person chooses an egg (hard boiled and dyed red). They hold their egg upright while another person lightly taps their egg against it. The person whose egg cracks then turns it around and uses the other end. When both ends are cracked, that player is out. We take turns going around the table cracking the eggs. The person with at least one end intact at the end wins and will have good luck throughout the year.

One year, when we were little kids, my sister won this game. I swear I remember her keeping the winning egg and saving it in her closet at home until her room began to stink and my mom found it there. She insists that never happened, but will admit to saving some chicken bones wrapped in paper towels for her stuffed dog, Blooper. I guess we’ll never know for sure (I’m right), but the point is that I have some fond memories from celebrating Greek Easter with my family. And I hope my own kids will look back one day and recall some fun memories from celebrating this little part of our heritage as well.

Having no relatives around didn’t stop us from celebrating this year. Traditionally, a soup made from icky lamb parts is made. Since my kids and I aren’t into lamb livers, hears, and intestines, we decided to cook some of our favorite Greek foods(spanakopita, pistichio, tsoureki, kourabiethes, and melamakarona). Well, we cooked the few things we could get ingredients for, that is. Central Florida isn’t exactly like Chicago in that you can’t always find what you’re looking for in terms of international foods. I’ll share my recipe for spanakopita here. I make spanakopita as a snack or appetizer, folding spinach and feta cheese into small triangles of phyllo like this –

  • Filling 1 of 16
    Start with a 10 oz. package of frozen spinach. Add about 1/2 c. of chopped onion and 2-3 cloves of crushed garlic and cook until onions are tender. Remove from heat and press moisture out with the back of a spoon. Add 6 ozs. of feta cheese and 1/2 t. dried oregano and set aside.
  • Phyllo Dough 2 of 16
    Phyllo Dough
    Phyllo dough is about as thin as tissue paper but even more delicate. Place one sheet on your table or cookie tray and brush with melted butter.
  • Keep Covered 3 of 16
    Keep Covered
    With phyllo dough, you have to work quickly and carefully to prevent it from drying out and tearing. Keep the remaining dough covered with a damp towel while you work.
  • Repeat 4 of 16
    Place a second sheet down and brush with melted butter. Repeat one more time with a third sheet of dough and butter.
  • Cut into Strips 5 of 16
    Cut into Strips
    Place about three tablespoons of filling, equally spaced at one end of the dough. Then, with a sharp knife, cut the dough into three long strips.
  • Fold 6 of 16
    Fold the phyllo dough layers over the filling making a triangle. Continue folding as if you were folding a flag. Fold each triangle neatly and tightly, making sure no filling is squishing out of the corners.
  • Bake 7 of 16
    Brush the triangles with a little more melted butter, place on a baking sheet, and bake at 350 for about 20 minutes or until golden brown. De-lish!
  • Tsoureki (sort of) 8 of 16
    Tsoureki (sort of)
    Tsoureki is a traditional Greek Easter bread. It's really not supposed to look like this before going into the oven. I had to take my son to the hospital so I asked my other kids to finish the bread while I was gone, but I failed to leave them good instructions. Although it looked odd, it still tasted good!
  • Pastichio 9 of 16
    This is a traditional, homestyle casserole from Greece and one of my favorite meals. The flavors of oregano, tomato, red wine and cinnamon are SO good together. I can conjure the smell of pastichio cooking simply by thinking about it!
  • Kourabiethes 10 of 16
    These delicate butter cookies are traditionally made with almonds (although my aunt's recipe calls for pecans). It you aren't careful when you pick them up, they'll "poof" in your hand. These cookies remind me of Christmas.
  • Melamakarona 11 of 16
    These are traditionally made at Christmas, but in my world, ANY cookie can be made (and eaten) at ANY time because cookies are my favorite food group. These are flavored with orange juice/zest, brandy, cinnamon, clove, and then soaked in honey. Yum!
  • Eggs 12 of 16
    The red-dyed Easter eggs used for tapping. I hope that making these creates fond memories for my kids like they did when I was a kid.
  • Tap 13 of 16
    We go around the table tapping our eggs together . . .
  • Crack 14 of 16
    . . . until we're almost out of uncracked ends . . .
  • Win 15 of 16
    . . . and we have one winner with an intact egg. Brooklyn will be the one with the good luck this year! :)
  • Christ is Risen 16 of 16
    Christ is Risen
    Before Easter, Kalo Pascha is used to say "Happy Easter". After midnight on Saturday, Christos Anesti (Christ is risen) is said. The response to this is Alithos Anesti (Truly He is risen). image: Morguefile

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