Monday, April 25, 2011

Greek Feaster

Stealing the name of one of my favorite blogs for the title of this post!

Christos Anesti!

That’s Christ is Risen/Happy Easter in the language of the people who throw the best Easter parties of all time, the Greeks. Of which I am lucky enough to be (partially) one.

The key to a good Easter?

LAMB BABY LAMB!

Let the record state, this post is probably not one for the vegetarians.

We began at Lebanese Butcher, my favorite favorite place in the land that does a bustling trade in halal and organic meat. They were hoppin’ with people coming in to get Easter goodies.

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Whoooooooole lotta huuuuuuuge cuts of meat. Though they are super helpful (even fatherly) about cutting things up into manageable pieces for you.

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And when you get a lamb, you get… a lamb! For the record, you all know I rarely eat meat (and had none at all during Lent) but I do eat it. If you’re gonna eat it, you oughta be able to look at it!

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Graphic!

Incidentally, Lebanese Butcher is also just a really awesome grocery store. Great to stock up on spices, sauces like harissa and tahini, awesome yogurts and cheeses and labneh type stuff, the best dried apricots in the land, OLIVES!

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This most recent trip to Lebanese Butcher was with my aunt Dena, who was hosting Easter and whom I’d told all about its awesomeness and she’d decided to get her lamb there. She spent her early childhood living in Greece and was totally delighted to see these:

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Those are FRESH ALMONDS! They taste absolutely nothing like the usual almonds you eat. That green outside (which is soft, sour, and totally edible when fresh) becomes the shell, and on the inside there’s this little clearish jellylike layer, which becomes the nut.

Anywho, back to the lamb! We made, not for the first time, Emeril Lagasse’s recipe for Olive Stuffed Leg of Lamb.

One of the keys to its deliciousness is fresh mint. We got some at the farmer’s market and look who I found!

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Tragically, I think a few hours in the fridge had already offed little Herman the Worm. Anyway, I tossed that leaf out into the yard. Maybe the sun revived him; at the least, his decomposition will benefit future life.

Into the luscious marinade goes pain yogurt, the mint, garlic, marjoram (I just used dried), lemon juice and zest, and scads of salt and pepper.

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Mixed up, it immediately smelled awesome.

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Spread out my big butterflied leg of lamb (it’s so nice going to a proper butcher because then they do it for you and it’s nicely trimmed and there aren’t weird thingies hanging off of it, etc. etc.)

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Spread on the yogurt, and gave it a lovely bath. Left in the fridge to marinade.

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The next day my mom pulled it out, rinsed it, dried it… (doesn’t it totally look like a giant BRAIN?!)

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Splayed it…

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Stuffed it…

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And, together, we rolled it and twined it. It’s a bit time consuming and definitely a two person job.

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Aided by this lovely twine from Williams Sonoma. It is more difficult than you’d think to find proper kitchen twine (do you think using colored yard would really result in Bridget Jones-esque blue soup?)

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So you give the lamb a nice long bakesie, basting it with olive oil and other deliciousness

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My grandmother always said that lamb was done when it “smelled so good you couldn’t stand it anymore.” My cousin Rachel maintains that that is the rule for most foods. Anyway, got it out the second the internal temp reached 140. Medium rare, baby!

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The hilarious thing? OUR LAMB DIDN’T EVEN GET SERVED TODAY. Since when Dena went with me, she bought three legs of her own… and actually had to freeze one of them because she realized how much meat it was!

I also made the same rockin’ carrot salad I made last year.

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The secret to beautiful sliceys is using a mandoline. This year, I managed to NOT cut my hand! How nice when you (occaaaaaaaaaasionally) learn from… previous mistakes.

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The mandoline gets the carrots into uniformy skinnnnnnnnnnny slices.

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(why yes, I did get an Easter manicure!)

Then you cook them, along with a few whole cloves of garlic, in either a pressure cooker or a MICROWAVE. Apparently that kind of heating actually makes the beta-carotene in carrots more available for absorption. But, as last year, I skipped the pureeing. I like the salad with a little crunch, and I think the carrot slices (especially the Pacman ones with the little section cut out) are beautiful.

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Make up a dressing of some of the reserved cooking liquid, cider vinegar, olive oil, caraway seeds, what was supposed to be harissa but we were apparently out of it so I used hot sauce, and the garlic cloves, minced.

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You garnish with feta and olives. SO BEAUTIFUL!

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Once again, it got entirely picked clean :D 2 pounds of carrots, GONE.

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And then we arrived at Dena’s. Oh, the bounty!

Manestra, which is orzo and tomatoes all fatty and deliciousified from lamb drippings. I really don’t care for orzo most of the time (too slimy for me) but dang it’s good this way!

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Dena made the best stuffed tomatoes in the entire world (from Flavors of Greece, one of the greatest cookbooks in the entire world). My mom made them once for a dinner party. They take like 9 hours to make between one thing and another but man they are good.

In the background there is Kathy’s beet greens and some hummus and pita bread.

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Also from Kathy, spanikopita (spinach pie with feta). It’s funny in our family; we tend to specialize. Kathy always makes the spinach pie now. It’s mad delicious.

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Homemade stuffed grape leaves (I got too spoiled in Greece and now I can’t stand the canned stuff, but man the homemade stuff is great). Dena had them cold and also warm with avgolemono (egg and lemon) sauce like my grandma used to make them. Mmm.

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Tiropitas: hot cheese pies. Can you go wrong, ever, with hot cheese pies? No. You cannot.

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My aunt Nan’s yummy herby couscous salad.

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Kathy’s magnificent BEETS!

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And my one (of MANY plates). In the beautiful sunshine outside. Obviously the weather was perfect.

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And, lest we forget, dessert.

We brought kourambiedes, buttery buttery buttery (did I mention they contain a pound of butter?) powdered-sugar drenched cookies. I feel like a lot of cultures have these.

My mom made the butter dough, given a little zing with brandy, put them out into little doughy mounds, stuck a clove in each (baking with a clove inside infuses the whole cookie with flavor), and baked. Then you immediately put them on top of a powdered-sugar drenched sheet of waxed paper to coat the bottom, then dust them with powdered sugar up top.

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Also made our specialty, baklava. There’s a tutorial on my Favorite Recipes page! All my family secrets!

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Annnnnnd then there was a whole mega dessert section.

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Among my favorites were koulourakia, awesome doughy sweet cookies of… awesome. And how can you not love the peeps garnish?

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My aunt Nan, who may in fact, despite her modesty, be the best baker I know, made (in the Virginia humidity, no less), absolutely PERFECT chocolate meringues. Sooooooooooo fluff in the middle! Mm mm mm!

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Other noteworthy tastes were kalidopita, the one on the cupcake holder that is sort of a spongey spicy cakey; melamokarona, which is actually made with olive oil… also honey syrupy soaked, with ground walnuts. And then there were cookies ‘n creme chocolate eggs, which were obviously diabolical.

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Basically, I ate at least five time that amount of dessert. You get your second eating wind!

Easter was an awesome mix of new people. My aunt and uncle always have cool people around. But, fun as that was, the day concluded with just our immediate family (my mom, her siblings, and their kids) hanging out and admiring the awesomely gruesome pictures my uncle Andrew manages to capture.

Dena, the actual photographer, did a cool series of empty/picked over bowls (and holy crap, the grazing that goes on in my family. PICKERS! We are PICKERS!). Here was what remained of my carrots:

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Then we just had a silly photoshoot.

Me and my baby sis.

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So glad my leetle seester is home. Easter concluded with a long, chatty talk that turned into a rainy talk. I was wearing a dry-clean-only sweater, so I shoved it up under my dress.

4 comments:

Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday said...

Christos Anesthi!
I'm seriously jealous of your Easter spread.
Incidentally Easter is my favourite time of year for Lebanese food. Unfortunately, none of my Lebanese family was around for Easter this year so I missed out on everything. I tried to make some of the dishes myself, but it just wasn't the same.

lesley lifting life said...

Wow, that's an awesome easter spread!!! I want to try it all!

Natalie @ cinnamonbums said...

wow, i am sooo impressed, all that food looks amazing! that is definitely the best easter spread ive ever seen. you make me wanna be greek!!!

(..and now i will be craving greek food for the rest of the week..)

Jess said...

I LOVE greek food, so this post was totally making me HUNGRY!!