Cultural Feasts: Cooking up a storm for Greek Easter!

I love this time of the year!

What is your most favourite feast throughout the year?

Growing up in a Greek home where Greek Easter was celebrated in a bigger way than any other feast, I knew I wanted to hold onto this meaningful tradition and I knew I wanted to share the love for this feast with my husband and children.

I loved the buzz of this time of the year – Greek mamas cooking away in the kitchen – the smell of freshly baked Tsoureki (Greek Sweet Bread), the stains of red dye on hands and the twisting of Koulouria (Greek biscuits) we were allowed to participate in.

Carrying on with traditions

When my parents migrated to Australia, they may have only had one small suitcase filled with all their belongings, but they carried in their hearts a lifetime of traditions and family memories they would carry on within this new country they now called home.

I was born in Australia but lived in a Greek home – this took a lot of energy working out how to be Greek at home and how to be Australian at school. It really was like living in two different worlds.

And like all young children, I was keen to assimilate; be like everyone else – except my olive skin, dark brown eyes and curly hair gave it away!

But when it came to Greek Easter, there was no hiding we were Greek! My father used to rise in the early hours of the morning and begin the wonderful ritual of preparing the wood fire to roast our beloved lamb on the spit.

In those days, my dad would create a makeshift rotisserie made out of a steel rod with a timber handle to painstakingly turn the lamb for hours. He would set up iron sheets on the side to protect the fire from wind and to keep the heat in. It really was a homemade job but it worked wonders.

Ah those were the days!

Hello to a new day – the motorized spit!

When my husband and I were married, we both agreed we wanted to keep this tradition but one thing we both didn’t want to do is sit on the end of a spit turning it for hours.

I think all my generation of Greek kids thought the same – alas, a Greek guy had created the modern motorized spit and they were available through Barbecues Galore!

A feast for all

What I love about the Greek culture is they have an attitude of including everyone – and I mean everyone! You could be a stranger walking down the road, get talking to the Greek family and before you know it, you are coming to their annual Greek feast.

Truly, it’s part of our DNA! I have to work hard at not inviting every person I talk to leading up to Easter – my girls would have heart failure if they knew how many people were possibly coming to our Easter feast except I did put self-control into gear.

What’s it all about?

Everything about the feast points to new life – Christ gave His life so we can have a life. The lamb on the spit represents Christ on the Cross; the eggs dyed red represents the blood of Christ; the egg being cracked open represents new life. The three strands for the sweet bread represents God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. These traditions are rich in meaning – I love that!

Hungry now?

Tsoureki, as I mentioned earlier, is a sweet bread which is absolutely delicious and can be toasted also for breakfast. The wonderful spice and natural chewing gum, Mastiha is found on the Greek island of Chios and adds a wonderful flavour to breads and sweets. Not only that, it has been scientifically proven that it protects against stomach ulcers, as well as promoting good oral health when used as a gum.

Don’t you love the Mediterranean cuisine? There’s always a healthy and therapeutic edge to it!

Today I baked my very own loaves of Tsoureki and they turned out beautifully! We tested one at dinner time – just in case…hmmm...so soft and delicious.

So I’d love to share the recipe with you – why not bake it ahead of time and invite some friends around and enjoying this bread together.

Hristos Anesti (Christ is Risen) everyone!

TSOUREKI (GREEK EASTER BREAD)

Ingredients

2 x 7g dry yeast

600ml buttermilk, lukewarm

1 cup of flour

½ cup sugar

125g butter

1 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon ouzo

5 eggs

1 teaspoon ground mastiha

zest of one orange

zest of one lemon

5 cups plain flour, sifted

1 egg

1 tablespoon water

almond flakes for sprinkling

Method

In a large bowl dissolve yeast in milk.  Stir in flour and sugar.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for one hour.

In a saucepan, melt the butter and sugar, stirring until butter melted and sugar dissolved. Add ouzo.

In a large bowl, pour butter mixture in and whisk together eggs. Mix through mastiha and zest. Add flour and yeast mixture and bring together and not sticking on edges anymore. Dough will be soft and a little sticky. Don’t be tempted to add more flour as dough needs to stay soft.

Leave dough in bowl and cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm, draught-free spot for at least 2 hours.

Divide the risen dough into three lots of three strands. Roll into ropes of about 20-25cm long. Braid three ropes together. Repeat until all strands used up.

Place braided bread on a lined baking tray and leave to rise for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 180*C, brushing bread with egg wash and sprinkle with almond flakes. Bake for about 30 minutes or until golden.

**Egg Wash: lightly beat egg and water with fork.