Today is Good Friday. In between church, which Orthodox Christians attend three times on this solemn day, a lot of preparation needs to be done for the Easter celebration. And that involves mostly food, as you can tell from my posts this week.
The Greeks are people seeped in tradition, and our recipes are handed down from generation to generation. All week I’ve seen posts of the most beautiful tsourekia, and koulourakia—each person putting their own artistic spin on the designs.
I lost my mother almost four years ago and Easter was her favorite holiday. She would prepare for weeks, cooking and baking. Having her entire family around, gave her so much pleasure. I just had a phone conversation with my sister and she said that since our mother died, it is hard for her to feel anything for the holidays and she simply goes through the motions. I told her that she needs to try to look at it a different way. Our mother passed down these traditions, which were passed to her by her parents. Nothing would make her happier than to know that we carried on her legacy through her food and her customs. We should rejoice in all that she gave us and make sure our children pass it on to their children.
These emotions that I carry in my heart and the love for my heritage and my parents customs and traditions carried though in my novel, Evanthia’s Gift. Here is an excerpt:
On Holy Thursday, Sophia spent the day dyeing red Easter eggs and making dough for the tsourekia, a traditional braided bread similar to challah, but sweeter. The baton was being passed, so to speak, as she was instructing Evanthia on the proper way to braid the bread.
“Now we will cover them with towels and keep them in a warm place. When they rise, we can bake them.”
“I’ll get the towels, Mom.”
“While we are waiting, we can dye the eggs.”
“Are we taking these to Yiayiá’s house?”
“Yes. I told her we would bring them.”
Making the bread was a long process, and took the bulk of the day. After the bread rose, they placed a red egg at the end of each braid, washed the surface with egg whites and sprinkled them with sesame seeds, once again letting them rise before baking the breads in the oven. The Church service of the Passion was at seven o’clock, and she needed to time the entire procedure perfectly or she would be late.
“While the bread is in the oven I will show you how to make tiropita.” Sophia instructed her daughter on forming perfect triangles of phyllo dough stuffed with a feta cheese mixture.
“Can I do the next one by myself?”
“Sure.” Sophia watched her daughter as she placed a dollop of cheese mixture onto a strip of phyllo and folded it just as she showed her. “That’s it. I couldn’t have done it better myself. My yiayiá in Greece taught Yiayiá how to cook. Yiayiá taught me and now I am teaching you. Someday you will teach your children to cook these foods and pass on the traditions of our family.”
2 pounds Feta
2 egg yolks
Parsley or dill (optional)
1 cup unsalted butter, melted
Cut the phyllo into 2 – 3 inch wide strips.
Mix feta, egg yolks, nutmeg and herbs in a bowl until smooth. Using 3 sheets of filo strips, place 2 tablespoons of the cheese mixture at one end and fold into triangles. Brush the triangles with butter using a pastry brush and place on a parchment-lined baking dish. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
* To freeze for future use, store before brushing with butter. There is no need to thaw, simply place them in the oven as directed.