My husband and I love Greek food and culture which leads me to write about Easter dinner traditions in Greece. Although we haven’t made it to Greece yet, we did learn some Greek in preparation for our trip to Tarpon Springs, a Greek American village, a few years back. Today I will discuss the Easter dinner traditions of colored eggs in addition to providing recipes for Spanakopita, Lettuce Salad, Lamb and Potatoes, Easter Bread, and Baklava.
Easter Dinner Tradition: Easter Eggs
The preparation for Easter dinner traditions starts on Holy Thursday, the night of Christ’s Last Supper. On Holy Thursday the eggs are boiled and dyed red to symbolize the blood of Christ sacrificed for us. The egg is also a symbol of new life, fertility, and eternity. Traditionally, the eggs were dyed with the red wood from a tree. I tried to dye my eggs with boiled beet juice and vinegar, but my eggs turned a brownish color once they dried. I recommend using either food coloring or packaged Easter egg dye. Similarly, Greeks would use the leaves of the almond tree to dye the eggs bright yellow. In some parts of Greece people also painted partridges on the eggs to represent the Resurrection. In addition, some added beaks made from dough to the eggs and hung the “birds” around the house.
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After midnight mass on Holy Saturday, people ate the eggs along with mageiritsa soup to break the fast. However, I am not including the recipe for this soup which is traditionally made with a lamb’s head. The main course includes spanakopitta, leg of lamb with roasted potatoes, lettuce salad, Kokkoretsi, and fresh spring cheese. The meal also includes traditional Easter bread and cheese tarts for dessert. Further, I am leaving out the Kokkoretsi, skewered grilled mixed innards. Spring cheeses such as Manouri, a hard cheese from Northern Greece or Anthotiro which is similar to ricotta are served. Traditional cheese tarts vary by region, but they all include dough pastry filled with a mixture of cheese, egg, and spices. Moreover, leftover dough from the Easter bread is used. However, I am skipping this dessert for the more well known baklava.
Easter Dinner Traditions: The Feast
In Greek Easter dinner traditions, people start breaking the fast with the dyed Easter eggs and the lamb’s head soup.
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Pitta means pie in Greek as pizza means pie in Italian. Pitta can have a variety of fillings, but the one associated with Easter dinner traditions is Spanakopitta. Greens are a typical spring harvest consequently leading to this seasonal variety of pitta, symbolizing growth and new life. The Greeks often make their own phyllo dough, but I am using the frozen variety. Likewise, you can find it in the frozen section of the grocery store near the frozen pie crusts. Further, it usually has two individually wrapped packages in one box. Use the second package for the baklava.
- package phyllo dough
- 24 ounces fresh spinach
- 2 ounces extra virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup chopped scallions
- leek coarsely chopped
- 2 bunches fresh dill chopped
- bunch fresh parsley chopped
- egg, slightly beaten
- 12 ounces crumbled feta cheese
- 2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
- teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon pepper
- Let phyllo dough thaw for about 30 minutes until it is pliable.
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375F and lightly oil a glass baking pan
- Wash and dry spinach. Drain well and chop.
- While spinach is draining, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet. Saute scallions and leek approximately 5 minutes over medium heat until onions are soft.
- Then add the spinach and continue cooking for another 5 minutes. When spinach is wilted, drain vegetables in a colander completely and let cool.
- Once the mixture is cooled, combine it with the dill, parsley, egg, cheeses, 2 tablespoons of oil, cinnamon, and salt and pepper. Mix well.
- Place half the phyllo sheets on the bottom of the greased baking dish. Brush with olive oil. Then spread the filling evenly over the dough.
- After that, top the pie carefully with the remaining sheets of phyllo dough, tucking overlapping bits into the sides of the dish. Brush the top with mixture of egg white and milk.
- Then bake on the convection setting for about 30 minutes or on the regular bake setting for 40 minutes. Remove from the oven when the top is a golden brown.
- After cooling, cut into squares or triangles. Serve warm or cold.
Lettuce Salad (Maroulosalata)
This is a simple salad usually made from fresh lettuce, fennel, and dill as these are abundant in springtime in Greece. In this case, I am using a variety of mixed salad greens and leaving out the fennel. I also added additional dill and some Greek oregano in its place.
- 6-8 ounces mixed salad greens
- 5-6 green onion tops, chopped (you can grow these yourself and just keep cutting the tops as needed )
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh Greek oregano
- 3-4 tablespoons olive oil (to make a bottle of dressing use 3/4 cup)
- tablespoon fresh lemon juice (to make a bottle of dressing use 1/4 cup)
- salt and pepper to taste (1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper for bottle of dressing)
- Start by shredding, washing, and draining salad greens. Then toss with dill, oregano, and onions.
- After that, mix dressing ingredients in a shaker bottle. Subsequently, I often reuse old mustard bottles. Mix needed amount with salad when ready to serve
Easter Dinner Traditions: Leg of Lamb with Roasted Potatoes
Lamb is the traditional Easter meat because it symbolizes the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1/3 cup olive oil
- 2 tablespoons crushed dried rosemary
- 4 lemons juiced
- cup dry red wine
- leg of lamb (about 5-6 pounds)
- 24 ounces small potato medley (we used Green Giant)
- salt and pepper to taste
- teaspoon dried, crushed oregano
- Mix together 2 crushed garlic cloves, 1 tablespoon olive oil, 1 tablespoon dried rosemary, juice from two lemons, and red wine to make a marinade. Then marinate lamb in mixture for 6-12 hours in covered container in the refrigerator. Turn the lamb every few hours.
- Once lamb is done marinating, remove to a lightly greased baking pan, reserving the juices. Preheat the oven to 450F.
- After that, mix together the remaining crushed garlic cloves and rosemary. Make slits in lamb with a knife and stuff slits with the herb mixture. Then rub lamb with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
- When oven is heated, reduce heat to 350F. Place lamb in oven uncovered for 1 hour.
- Meanwhile, toss potatoes with oregano, juice from remaining lemons, any remaining olive oil and 1/4 cup water. Season with salt and pepper. Add potatoes with liquid around lamb at the 1 hour mark.
- Continue cooking for 1 1/2 hours more, basting every 15 minutes until potatoes are done and lamb is medium rare.
Easter Dinner Tradition: Easter Bread
The 3 long ropes braided together in this bread symbolize the Holy Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Likewise the colored eggs placed inside symbolize new life through Christ’s sacrifice. The bread is often sprinkled with slivered almonds as I have done here. Similarly, variations include sprinkling the bread with sesame seeds or making designs with leftover dough.
- cup milk
- 21/2 teaspoons yeast
- 4-5 cups bread flour
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- grated rind of one lemon
- 2 tablespoons butter cut up
- 3 eggs, 1 separated to use the yolk later
- teaspoon vanilla
- teaspoon cinnamon
- slivered almonds
- Heat milk in microwave until it is about 110F
- Mix yeast, milk, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1 cup of flour in a bowl. Once it is mixed, cover the bowl and let it stand in a warm place for about an hour.
- Then in a large bowl mix together 3 cups of flour, salt, and remaining sugar.
- Add lemon rind and cinnamon. Then add butter by mashing it in with a fork.
- Make a well in the center. Add yeast mixture, vanilla, 2 beaten eggs with the egg white of the third egg.
- Once it is mixed well, turn onto a lightly floured surface, adding as much remaining flour as needed to make a soft dough. Make sure to knead the dough for about 10 minutes. After that place the dough in a greased bowl and cover. Let the dough rise for about 1-2 hours until doubled.
- When dough has doubled, punch down and divide into 3 equal sections. Then roll each section into a 15 inch rope. Lie ropes side by side and press together at top end. Continue braiding the rest of the ropes and seal the bottom ends together.
- After that, form the braid into a ring, pressing the ends together. Tuck 3 died eggs into the braid. Cover and let rise again for 2 hours.
- Once it has doubled, mix the remaining egg yolk with a little milk and brush over the top of the dough. Sprinkle slivered almonds.
- Preheat oven to 375F and bake 30-40 minutes until golden brown.
- package of phyllo dough
- stick of butter
- 4 cups chopped walnuts
- cup crushed graham cracker crumbs
- teaspoon cinnamon
- cup sugar
- cup water
- 3/4 cup honey
- tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- Melt butter in microwave, and then spray baking pan with cooking spray.
- After that, combine walnuts, cinnamon, and cracker crumbs in a large bowl.
- Add 1/4 cup melted butter to mixture to moisten it.
- Place 6 phyllo sheets in the baking dish. Then brush lightly with butter.
- Top with 1/3 of the walnut mixture and cover with another 6 pastry sheets. Brush with butter. Likewise repeat layers two more times. Then tuck the ends of the top layer of phyllo into the sides of the pan.
- Preheat the oven and bake for 15-20 minutes until the top is golden brown.
- While the baklava is baking, prepare the syrup. Heat water, sugar, and honey over medium heat until the sugar is dissolved and a syrup forms. Once syrup forms stir in lemon juice.
- Pour syrup over baklava. Return to warm oven with temperature shut off for 30 minutes.
I used The Food and Wine of Greece by Diane Kochilas to gather information on Easter dinner traditions and inspiration for recipes. If you are planning to travel to Greece a great way to get the insider scoop is by hiring a tour guide. Click here to connect with one of Rick Steve’s tour guides in Greece.