There are a lot of traditions around Greek Easter from red-dyed Easter eggs to the mildly sweet traditional Greek bread called Tsoureki, that would actually have a red Easter egg baked in it. But the Greeks in our family, and just about every other Greek, are ready to break from their fast as soon as midnight hits, so at 12:01 AM its time to get at it. So at a traditional Holy Saturday night mass, on the eve of Greek Easter, at a Greek Orthodox Church get ready for some heavy incense and just before midnight the church goes dark and in dramatic fashion everyone lights their tapers and begin chanting Christos Anesti (Christ has Risen) and others responding Allithos Anesti (truly, he has risen.) Get ready because when this mass ends the parking lot of the church turns into the Greek 500, as everyone races home for a late night meal and to prepare for the next day’s feast.
As in most Greek traditions, everyone has an opinion of what to serve from roasted lamb to dolmades (a stuffed grape leaf.) I like a mix some traditional Greek food but not to overdo it because the traditional foods are labor intensive. It was easy to create a full Greek feast growing up as there would be 8 men out at the grill and their wives inside doing all of the side dishes. It was quite a spectacle to watch the grilling as you would think they were all arguing but in reality just debating on how to best spit-roast the lamb. The women were all very happy to have them occupied outside so they could get to making the baklava, kolokithhokeftedes (fried veggie balls,) Saganaki (fried cheese) and so much more. It was an art form for them and every bite of every dish was delicious.
Without a small army of Greeks ready to get at it, we take a semi-traditional approach to celebrate with our non-Greek guests. OPA!
So here is manageable menu for celebrating Greek Easter:
Grilled Halloumi could not be an easier appetizer and now just about every supermarket stocks this “Greek Grilling Cheese.” It’s a lot safer to grill this cheese than setting Saganaki cheese ablaze at the table. You just grill the Halloumi and drizzle your best aged balsamic on top and serve.
We mix two dishes here, we take the traditional crudités recipe and swap out the green goddess dip with our ultra delicious tzatziki. This is a made in advance, healthy and lite appetizer to greet your guests with.
This is another dish to make in advance and makes for a great start to dinner once you sit down. Since the spread is on the bottom your guests can choose how much of a feta storm they choose to enjoy on this holy Greek holiday. Christos Anesti!
Pastitsio is a greek Lasagna that you can make far in advance and bake and serve. The nutmeg and other spices brings the kitchen alive when it is being baked and really sets the tone for a traditional Greek meal. You can swap out the lamb and use ground chuck if you have some lamb haters coming over. You might think about serving a side dish of grilled peppers, but skip the feta.
To be honest, I just go to a good bakery and buy baklava there. That sticky sweet treat can turn your kitchen in a complete mess if you try to make it yourself. I will also make some mintcookies just to have on hand because a small bite of baklava goes a long way.