Traditional Greek Easter dishes
There is one Greek dish that can easily claim the prize of the most controversial of all dishes as far as Greek cooking is concerned. It’s a soup, it has plenty of greens, we enjoy it during Easter and it has a secret ingredient that could make you squeamish. For those in the know, you have already guessed the dish: mayiritsa! For those new to the dish, just name five animal organs you have never seen on a plate: Bingo!
Head straight to the mayiritsa recipe
Mayiritsa is a soup served on the evening of Greek Orthodox Easter. After the Midnight Mass, everyone returns for a late supper and the centrepiece of the table is mayiritsa, a soup made with lamb innards, plenty of chopped greens and herbs. Even though the innards are so finely chopped, you can hardly distinguish their shape in the broth, this dish causes quite a stir on the table. Half the dinners love it and cherish this annual treat, the other half try to forget it is this time of the year again, treating it very much like the soup that must not named – Harry Potter style.
For those observing lent before Easter, mayiritsa is the first meat dish they will enjoy after a long period of fasting. What an absurd way to break the lent, though. Whilst a soup is a very good introduction to richer dishes after weeks of meat free meals, mayiritsa is a rich and very filling soup that can be quite heavy to digest, even if you have it earlier in the day. Time related practicalities aside, you guessed it, I am a fan!
My personal take on mayiritsa soup is to enjoy just a small bowl. Then I tack in in all the other nibbles on the Easter table: bright red eggs, hard-boiled and ceremoniously cracked over the exchange of Easter wishes; peeled, halved and sprinkled with a touch of salt and freshly ground pepper; savoury pies and refreshing salads fill the table to the brim. What I love most about the Greek Easters food traditions is the culinary practices these evoke.
Easter meals are prepared with all the celebratory magnitude one could master: gathering people to prepare and enjoy the meal with outmost respect for the food consumed. The eggs will be boiled and dyed bright red a couple of days earlier; tsoureki, Easter bread will be baked on the same day and there is a whole lamb to prepare! Greek Easter is not just about eating; it’s about eating everything in the most literal sense of the word. The young lamb will go on the spit for Easter Sunday but all the innards: lungs, heart, liver, kidneys, sweetbreads and intestines are also going to be used, either in mayiritsa or other ‘exotic’ grilled preparations such as kokoretsi or garthoumpaki. We use the Whole Beast, nothing ever goes to waste.
Of course this is nothing new; people have been preparing and consuming food this way for centuries, using the animals they’ve raised from head to toe. From tradition to modern table, culinary practices has evolved and habits have been ditched along the way to accommodate modern life. We no longer raise our animals to nourish us or grow our own veg; we are often drifting away from simpler processes such as preserving fruit and vegetables. I admit there is little space I could find on my own balcony to raise a rabbit, let alone a lamb. As an admirer more than a pious follower of slow food movement I keep a few pots of herbs and rely on honest suppliers to do the rest for me: resource good, clean and fair food, the triptych of the Slow food movement. Shouldn’t this be more of the norm in our cooking and eating habits? Shouldn’t we respect the whole beast we consume and integrate these ‘weird’ bits in our cooking more often?
Alas, my personal ruminations on wiser food practices normally stay in my head, at best find their way on the blog, too. On the table, especially the Easter table, there is often a smirk on my face: half dinners will relish mayiritsa, the other half will look at them in politely disguised horror. I might jokingly add a few remarks about (over) processed meat eating habits. What do you think was in this sausage you had the other day? A joke not entirely in good taste, but at least it’s a start on making people think a bit more about their food. When I see even the most profound omnivores bent below the thought of offals, my solace is in Fergus Henderson’s work at St John’s restaurant and his Whole Beast, cooked from nose to tail.
“There were all these wonderful, splendid bits of the animal being wasted, thrown out, while we were eating nothing but the filet. It seemed positively insulting to the animal that one had raised to treat it with such contempt. So many wonders there. Spleen! Spleen is very fine, perfectly framed organ. In fact your spleen swells when you’re in love! How can you resist an organ that does that??”
For devout foodies, Henderson’s work has become the Ulysses of the whole food-Slow Food movement a plea for the fullness of life that begins with a man eating innards. Since 1994, St John Bar and Restaurant at Smithfields, London has been serving roast bone marrow, rolled pig’s spleen and bacon, duck’s hearts and ox tongue. The menu would adjust daily, according to the supplies received from farmers and producers. As for the ingredients, Henderson recovered these from out-of-print 1950s cookbooks and placed them at the centre of London’s fine-dining scene. It’s a tribute to peasant traditions without unnecessary nostalgia. In my mind, British cunningness incorporated on a plate.
“If you kill an animal, you should eat all of it. It’s only polite.”
If you are a fan, you probably already own a copy of his book and tried your hand at a couple of recipes. Below you will find the Greek tribute: mayiritsa and garthoubaki. Greek Easter wholesomeness celebrating the fullness of life.
- 1 lamb or kid offal approx 700gr (liver, lungs, heart, sweetbreads)
- 300 gr intestines
- 3 romaine lettuces, chopped
- 3-4 spring onions
- a generous bunch of dill, chopped
- salt and pepper
- 1 large lemon
- 2 eggs
- olive oil
Preparation of offal
Be thorough about cleaning offal and intestines. Offal should be rinsed well and let aside to drain. Intestines need more rigorous treatment: plenty of running water and a bath of water and vinegar. Each intestine should be turned inside out. For this you should use a skewer. Gently insert the flat end of the skewer in the intestine for a small stretch of 4-5 cm. Hold it securely and roll the top of the tube it inside out. Wash under plenty of running water. Once each intestine is rinsed, leave them in a bowl of water and plenty of vinegar to soak for a couple of hours.
How to make it
- Bring a large pot full of salted water to the boil and plunge the kid offal in. Boil for about 10 minutes.
- Drain and let it cool. Once at room temperature, chop the offal finely.
- In a clean pot, add a bit of olive oil and sauté the spring onions. Once softened, salt them and add the chopped offal with enough lukewarm water cover (about a glass). Let them simmer for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile chop the lettuce and dill finely. Add them in the pot, season with salt and pepper. The lettuce will soften in about 10-15 minutes.
Egg and lemon sauce, aka avgolemono
- Beat 2 egg yolks with salt and a couple of spoonfuls of broth from the soup.
- Add the lemon juice slowly, in a fine drip. Alternate with half the broth of your soup.
- Return the avgolemono in the pot and cook in very low heat for a few minutes
You are ready to serve!
Proudly made by me, under the wise guidance of mum and in the hope that will inspire you for more adventurous tastes and cooking
From Athens with love,