No Need to Be Orthodox to Have a Greek Easter

Spring and Easter are the harbingers of warmth. And, I’ve never been as completely warm (down to my bones) as I was in Greece… in July… where, for the first time, the air I exhaled out my nose was cooler than the air temperature. Some would call it blazing hell fire hot, but I loved being that gorgeously warm.

So, when planning Easter dinner this year, my sister and I decided Greek was the way to go. Now, keep in mind, we are not Greek. So, this is in no way a traditional Greek Orthodox Easter celebration. There was no braided bread with the red egg or other traditions. We just went with our favorite Greek and Greek-inspired dishes.

Appetizers

  • Tzatziki and pita chips: A traditional dip that can also be used as a sauce. My recipe is a simple version that comes straight from the motherland itself.
  • Kalamata olives and pickles
  • Deli meat platter (we have to have a bit of Italian stuff)
  • Crudite

Tzatziki Recipe

  • 2 C plain, whole milk yogurt
  • 2 large cucumbers
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 T white vinegar
  • 2 T olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Put yogurt in a cheesecloth tied over a bowl. (Basically, tie the cheesecloth around the yogurt, place the yogurt in a colander, and set the colander in a bowl.) Drain several hours or overnight. The watery stuff will end up in the bowl and you’ll have thick yogurt.

Peel, seed, and coarsely grate cucumbers. Drain well, add garlic, vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper to cucumbers. Add yogurt and blend. For the best garlic taste, let it sit overnight.

Tzatziki and pita chips

No, I didn't make the pita chips. They came from a bag. I can't be expected to do everything.

Main Course

  • Leg of lamb with Greek-inspired rub

Lamb and Rub Recipe

  • 2 large shallots, minced
  • 6 T fresh mint, chopped
  • 6 T fresh oregano, chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 T sugar

Salt and pepper the lamb leg. Pack the rub on the leg and stick it in a plastic bag. Let it sit for at least 4 hours in the fridge. Before you cook it, bring it out of the fridge and let the leg sit on the countertop for an hour to bring it up to room temperature. For the cooking, I put the leg in a baking dish (no rack) and poured some olive oil and lemon juice over the top. I put it into a 400° oven for 30 minutes and then turned down the heat to 375° and let it cook for another hour. (It was a 6 lb leg.) I took the lamb out when a thermometer in the thickest section registered 140°-145° and then let it sit under tented foil for another 15 minutes.

Side Dishes

  • Dolmades: Dolma is really any stuffed item, but we think of dolmades as stuffed grape leaves. They can be meatitarian (usually minced lamb or beef) or vegetarian (nuts or raisins). Meat versions are typically served warm with sauce while veggie versions are a cold appetizer with or without sauce. I did a veggie version sans sauce
  • Zucchini keftedes
  • Lemon-roasted potatoes
  • Orzo with tomato, basil and feta
  • Steamed asparagus with lemon wedges
  • Sauteed mushrooms

Dolmades Recipe

  • ½ lb grape leaves, drained and rinsed (they come in a jar and usually have a lot of salt… so, let them soak in a bowl of water, change the water a few times and then drain them)
  • 1 large yellow onion, finely diced
  • 2 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 C arborio rice
  • ¼ cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 T fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 T fresh mint, chopped
  • ¼ C currants (you can use raisins, but currants are smaller and fit better in the grape leaves)
  • ¼ C pine nuts
  • ½ t salt
  • ¼ t pepper
  • 4 C chicken or veggie stock, divided
  • C lemon juice, fresh squeezed

In a non-stick skillet, sauté the onion in the olive oil until soft. Add garlic and sauté an additional 2 minutes. Add the rice, parsley, dill, mint, currants, pine nuts, salt, and pepper, and sauté until pine nuts are lightly browned. Add 1 cup of the stock, cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 10 minutes or until the liquid is absorbed. Remove from heat, remove the lid, and set aside to cool.

Now, pick through the grape leaves to find the biggest, least torn ones. Do those first, working your way down to the scrawny bits. Use about 1 T filling for each grape leaf (more or less depending on the size). If you’ve never rolled grape leaves before, I created a handy dandy explanation of how to roll dolmades. Place the rolled grape leaf seam-side down in a large pot. Put them close together so that as they expand, they don’t fall apart.

In a bowl, stir together the remaining vegetable stock and lemon juice. Pour over the top of the rolls. Place a plate or shallow bowl over the rolls to weigh them down. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 40-45 minutes or until rolls have plumped and are tender when pierced with a fork. Let cool in the cooking liquid. Serve at room temperature.

Dolmades

Zucchini Keftedes Recipe

The original is from epicurious.com.

  • 1 lbs medium zucchini, trimmed (about 3 zucchini)
  • 1 t coarse kosher salt
  • ½ C thinly sliced green onions
  • 3 T fresh dill, chopped
  • 3 T fresh mint, chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 t finely grated lemon peel
  • 1 C panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 C coarsely crumbled feta cheese
  • Oil (for frying)
  • Plain whole-milk or reduced-fat Greek-style yogurt (for garnish)
  • Additional chopped fresh dill (for garnish)

Grate zucchini on large holes of box grater. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt; let stand at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour. (I put it in a large sieve over the sink so it drained more easily.)

Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment. Wrap zucchini in towel; squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Place zucchini in medium bowl. Mix in green onions, dill, mint, garlic, lemon peel, and ½ teaspoon black pepper. Gently stir in panko and egg, then feta. Using 2 tablespoons zucchini mixture for each, shape mixture into 1 3/4- to 2-inch-diameter patty; place on baking sheet. Chill at least 1 hour.

Pour enough oil into heavy large skillet to reach depth of 1/4 inch; heat over medium-high heat. Working in batches, add patties to skillet. Cook until golden and cooked through, adjusting heat if browning too quickly, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Using slotted metal spoon, transfer to paper towels.

Arrange keftedes on platter. Top each with dollop of yogurt. Sprinkle each with dill. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Zucchini Keftedes

Lemon-Roasted Potatoes

Again, I got this recipe from epicurious.com and modified it. The one listed below is my modified version, but the link above will take you to the actual recipe (which has a few more steps and a touch more oil).

  • 4 lbs unpeeled new potatoes in assorted colors (red, white, and purple), rinsed and quartered
  • 1 C extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ C fresh lemon juice
  • 6 T chopped fresh dill
  • 4 t finely grated lemon peel
  • 24 garlic cloves, sliced

Preheat to 375°. Spray large rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Sprinkle potatoes generously with salt and black pepper. Whisk olive oil, lemon juice, dill, and lemon peel. Take 2 T dressing and toss with garlic. Set aside in small bowl.

Take the remaining dressing and toss with potatoes. Spread potatoes in single layer on baking sheets. Roast 30 minutes. Add garlic evenly to potatoes. Stir and roast another 15-20 minutes longer.

Lemon-Roasted Potatoes

Salads

  • Greek salad: Contrary to popular belief (at least amongst native Detroiters who frequent Coney Islands), a Greek salad does not contain lettuce nor does it contain beets.
  • Chickpea salad

Greek Salad Recipe

  • 2 large cucumbers, sliced thickly into discs and then cut in half
  • 2 large tomatoes, cut into wedges
  • 1 green bell pepper, sliced into strips
  • 1 sweet purple onion (I used shallots this time)
  • Kalamata olives, quartered lengthwise (amount depends upon how much you like olives)
  • 1 block feta cheese (It’s good luck to put the feta on top and let your guests break it rather than serving it crumbled)

Greek Salad Dressing

  • 10 T extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4½ T white wine vinegar
  • 1 T dried oregano
  • 2 t grated lemon peel

Toss veggies with dressing. Serve. How simple is that?

Greek Salad

Chickpea Salad Recipe

Another epicurious.com find. This was so simple; I’ll make it again for dinner. I doubled the original recipe. The doubled version is below.

  • 2 15-ounce can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed, drained
  • 4 T fresh basil, chopped
  • 4 T fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • 4 T fresh lemon juice
  • 8 t extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 small garlic clove, pressed
  • 2/3 C (packed) Parmesan cheese, grated

Combine all ingredients. Salt and pepper as necessary. Serve at room temperature.

Chickpea Salad

Desserts

My mom and my aunt did the desserts, hence they were a bit off theme (but still tasty)

  • Chocolate cake
  • Apple cake

That about sums up Easter dinner for us. I thought it was a wonderful success. At least, everyone seemed to be full. Oh, we served Malbec with dinner and coffee with dessert. I’ll leave you with a picture of the orzo. I didn’t share the recipe because it’s pretty self-explanatory. Make orzo, add stuff in title, put in bowl.

Orzo

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