Time-honored dishes fit for Easter, Passover celebrations

Celebrating Easter or Passover this week? Plan your meal with these family-favorite recipes

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This Sunday, Christians around the world will celebrate Easter, while Jews will be marking the second day of Passover. There are many food traditions that coincide with Easter — hot cross buns, butter lambs and baked ham readily come to mind. Among the traditional Passover foods are matzo ball soup, matzo-brei (a matzo and egg dish) and tsimmes, a sweet stew typically made from carrots and dried fruits, such as prunes or raisins, often combined with other root vegetables (including yam).

Many Easter or Passover meals feature special dishes — recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation. Here are a few holiday-inspired recipes with deep ethnic roots in case you are looking for a little last-minute meal inspiration.

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EASTER LAMB

When I was a young boy, I used to spend my summers helping my old-country relatives farming in the tiny southern Greek village of Agios Nikolaos (St. Nicholas). My great-grandmother, Katerina, was alive at the time, and as the family matriarch at 108 years old when she passed away, her recipes were a treasure trove for my mother, Catherine, who is still with us today.

Mom was named for Yiayia K, and transcribed a good number of her recipes, many written in the 19th century. Greek Orthodox Christians typically have a huge feast Easter Day, centered around roasting a lamb on the spit, but since we were not going that far with a freshly slaughtered lamb, Mom always had Yiayia K's basic recipe for roast lamb on hand every Easter.

About 30 years ago, during a visit home, I further translated Yiayia K's roasted lamb recipe to English and into English weights and measures from the metric system used in the originals. It's a really simple recipe that you can tweak with many variations, but for my money, the classic with roast potatoes is always the best.

— Telly Halkias, Eagle Correspondent

YIAYIA KATERINA'S EASTER LAMB

By Katerina Sotiropoulos (1865-1973), transcribed and amended by Catherine Halkias (b. 1925),

translated and converted by Telly Halkias (b. 1960)

Feeds up to 8

INGREDIENTS:

1 leg of lamb, 3.5 to 4 pounds

3 to 4 pounds potatoes (type to suit)

3 lemons

1 cup olive oil

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste

Cloves of garlic to taste

Dill weed to taste

EQUIPMENT:

Meat thermometer

Large and deep roasting pan

Mixing bowl

DIRECTIONS:

Peel and wash potatoes and cut into long slices in desired thickness in mixing bowl. Squeeze all the lemons and mix salt and pepper and dill weed to taste with the juice. Pour the lemon juice into the potato bowl, and mix everything well. Dump everything into the roasting pan and evenly spread out.

Take 2 cups of water, add in olive oil, then add all of that to the pan (add more water, depending on pan size).

Cut several deep gashes in the leg of lamb and shove the garlic cloves in to the hilt. Place the leg of lamb on top of ingredients in roasting pan and roast everything "in a hot oven" (Note: Mom used 400 to 425 degrees F for the starting oven heat, according to notes). Roast until brown on top, then flip lamb over and reduce the heat as needed to not dry out the meat exterior (Note: Mom says down to 350 to 375 degrees F and let meat thermometer tell you lamb is done). Total cooking time should be 65 to 75 minutes

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EASTER PIE

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Although we tried to get a family recipe from some of our Italian friends for the Easter specialty Easter Pizza — also known as Easter pie, pizza rustica, pizza gian, and pizza chiena — the recipes appear to be tightly guarded and no one wanted to divulge the secret. This recipe comes from "Heavenly Delights Cookbook" compiled by St. Anthony of Padua Church (now St. Elizabeth of Hungary Church) in North Adams. It was submitted by Beverly DeMarsico.

EASTER PIZZA

Makes 2 pizzas

INGREDIENTS:

2 1/2 pounds ham

1 1/2 pounds pepperoni

1 1/2 pounds farmer's cheese

1 1/2 pounds mozzarella

1/2 cup parsley

9 raw eggs

9 hard-boiled eggs (whites only)

2 pounds bread dough of your choosing

DIRECTIONS:

Grind everything all of the meat ingredients. Cut the cheese and eggs whites into small cubes. Mix the ground meat, cut cheeses and egg whites and the raw eggs all together in a large bowl. Cut each pound of dough in two. Roll out half for the bottom and place on cookie sheet. Place half of the meat and cheese mixture in mound on top of crust. Roll other half of dough and put over the mixture. Seal the edges well. Cut slits in the top crust to let out steam. Repeat with other pound of dough and remaining meat mixture. Bake in a 350 F oven for 1 hour. Eat cold.

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PASSOVER TREAT

During Passover season, you can walk into any grocery store and find a display of matzo crackers. This basic recipe for chocolate covered matzo crackers, or matzo bark, can be adapted to fit your specific tastes. Toffee lovers may want to add toffee and some sprinkled sea salt, or swap out the hazelnuts for walnuts.

PASSOVER CHOCOLATE COVERED MATZO WITH HAZELNUTS, CRANBERRIES AND GINGER

Recipe provided by "Joan Nathan's Jewish Holiday Cookbook"

INGREDIENTS:

9 matzo crackers

24 ounces semi-sweet chocolate chips

2 tablespoons butter

3 cups roasted hazelnuts, chopped

2 cups dried cranberries, chopped

1 cup candied ginger, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 3 baking sheets with aluminum foil and arrange matzo evenly among the sheets. You might need to break a few crackers in half.

Toast matzo in the oven for 10 minutes.

Place chocolate in a large microwave-safe bowl and melt in the microwave at 30-second intervals, stirring in between with a spatula. Once melted, stir in butter

Spread chocolate evenly over matzo crackers and sprinkle with hazelnuts, cranberries and candied ginger, lightly pressing the toppings into the chocolate.

Set the matzo crackers at room temperature or refrigerator before breaking into individual pieces to serve.


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