Naperville Eats: Couple shares Greek Easter traditions
By Judy Buchenot For The Sun March 20, 2013 4:34PM
Debbie and Tom Archakis display some items from Tom's Greek Heritage including decorative candles given to children by their godparents on Easter, a Halva, a bottle of Ouzo made by Tom's family and a poster of the family business logo.
2 cups coarse semolina (can use Farina or Cream of Wheat)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup olive oil or butter
1/4 cup skinless almonds, sliced thin
1 tablespoon cinnamon
4-1/2 cups water
2-1/2 cups sugar
1/2 cup honey
3 pieces of cinnamon stick
3 to 4 whole cloves
2-inch piece orange peel
Cinnamon for dusting
Additional almonds for decorating
To make a syrup, combine water, sugar, honey, cinnamon sticks, cloves and orange peel in a medium saucepan. Boil for five minutes then lower heat and simmer. In a larger saucepan, add oil and heat over medium heat until shimmering. Add semolina and cook, stirring frequently until mixtures turns a golden color. Add almonds and brown lightly. Strain syrup and pour over the semolina. Be careful since the semolina will sizzle and bubble. Add 1 tablespoon of cinnamon and continue to cook until all the liquid is absorbed. Cover the pot and allow to cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Dust a large mold with cinnamon. Sprinkle a layer of almonds into mold and spoon mixture on top. Cool to room temperature, unmold and serve. Sprinkle with additional cinnamon and almonds if desired.
Arni me Patates sto Fourno (Roast Lamb With Potatoes)
4 pounds boned leg of lamb
4 pounds small roasting potatoes
Juice of one lemon
1/3 cup olive oil
1 to 2 tablespoons fresh oregano or 2 teaspoons dried Greek oregano
4 to 6 cloves garlic
1/2 cup water
Rinse meat with cold water and pat dry. Mix salt and pepper in a bowl. Make small cuts into the meat. Coat garlic cloves with salt and pepper and insert into the cuts. Using hands, coat meat with part of the lemon juice and olive oil. Season to taste. Place in roasting pan. Peel and clean potatoes and slice lengthwise. Salt and place around lamb. Pour remaining olive oil and lemon juice over potatoes. Sprinkle with oregano. Pour water into the bottom of the pan. Roast at 350 degrees for one hour. Add water if needed. Cover with foil if meat is browning too quickly. Check temperature and cook until desired doneness is reached. Lamb should reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees for medium rare or 160 degrees for medium.
Updated: April 23, 2013 1:29PM
Many holidays have traditional foods connected to them, and Easter is no exception. For many, ham is an Easter favorite, but for Greek families like Naperville’s Tom and Debbie Archakis, lamb is the Easter main dish.
Tom was born in Greece and lived there until attending college in Ohio. He met Debbie and stayed in the United States but still cherishes his Greek heritage. His family is still in Greece, and this year the couple will travel there for Easter, which does not occur until May 5 in the Greek Orthodox Church.
Tom points out that “Easter is one of the most important, if not the most important holiday in Greece.”
Many people observe strict diets during Lent. Holy week is the week before Easter.
“Holy Thursday is a busy day because it is when the Easter bread is baked,” Tom explains. “It is called Tsoureki and is a sweet bread that is often baked with a red egg placed on the bread to symbolize victory over life.”
A period of mourning begins during evening services and continues on Friday.
“The church bells ring very mournfully. On Friday night, the women and children decorate the bier of Christ,” he continues, referring to a stand to carry a casket. A candlelit procession from the church to a cemetery also takes place.
“On Holy Saturday, the preparations begin for the Easter feast,” Tom says.
At midnight, there is a service of resurrection.
“The priest calls out ‘Christos Anesti, which means Christ is Risen’ and passes a flame,” he says. “The whole church is lit with candles; the church bells go crazy with ringing; and the night is filled with chanting. Ships in port sound horns, fireworks go off. We break the fast by eating a soup called Magiritsa.”
The celebration continues on Easter with many families preparing a whole lamb, which is only available in spring there.
“It is a milk-fed young lamb and is only about 20 to 50 pounds. Lamb that young is very tender and the flavor is milder,” Tom says. “When you buy leg of lamb, look at the bone. The thicker the bone, the older the lamb.”
He has found that although lamb is more readily available in the United States, some of the lamb is older.
“The age of the lamb is definitely a factor. You want young lamb. Older lamb is called mutton and is not the same.”
Although families in Greece often cook a whole lamb outdoors over charcoal, it is possible to prepare a delicious lamb dish in the oven. Tom shares his recipe for roast lamb with potatoes. Tom uses red or yellow small potatoes that are readily available in the United States but notes that these small potatoes are not found as easily in Greece. Therefore, Greek women will often use a special scoop to create small potato balls from larger potatoes to cook with the lamb.
Tom and Debbie also like to make Halva and also share this recipe.
“This is a great dessert because it is light and not too sweet. It is very easy and is cooked on top of the stove,” Debbie says.
It is also ideal for the fasting period since the recipe has no eggs or dairy in it. Halva is just one of the many dishes Debbie has learned to make. She also has found many recipes in their church cookbook titled “The Dish On Your Mediterranean Table.” The cookbook is a collection of recipes from families at St. Athanasios Greek Orthodox Church in Aurora. Copies of the cookbook are available for sale each spring in the weeks before Easter.