While Easter started out as a Pagan festival, it is now traditionally observed as a Christian holiday. In South Africa, everyone enjoys the benefits of this long weekend with an opportunity to get away and spend time with friends and family.
I always look forward to this time as I cling to the last of the warmer days before we head into winter.
Dishes that are typical at Easter time and are considered “traditional Easter fare” have been made so through religious beliefs. These include lamb, fish, traditional breads, cakes and hot cross buns. I tend to style my menu around some of these ideas, with bunnies, eggs, nests and carrots as part of the theme.
I enjoy cooking and planning for Easter in the same way that I do for Christmas – it’s yet another opportunity to cook, eat and be merry!
I love to host gatherings for friends and family over Easter. We usually have a big family celebration on Easter Sunday, starting with the Easter Egg Hunt for the kids in the morning followed by a Sunday lunch roast.
A favourite activity for my kids at Easter is decorating real eggs or cookies that we have baked. The real egg thing gets messy, what with having to extract the insides, so I’m definitely a bigger fan of the cookie decorating! Cookie decorating will keep them busy while you get on with preparing your meal and will give them something sweet to snack on afterwards.
For a fun easter egg hunt, lay a trail of speckled eggs down a path to lead them to treats or clues, perhaps even in teams like in “The Amazing Race”. Give thought to treats that you can hide, other than chocolate. Chocolate melts quickly under our sunny south African skies and I’ve always enjoyed the different products that some clever retailers offer over Easter, like mugs, egg cups, soft toys and even egg and spoon race packs. It helps with the sugar over-load!
The same fun can be had even if you live in a small space. When holidaying in an apartment one year, friends of mine introduced us to a clue system that had the kids running between the inside of the washing machine, dryer, fridge, and of course the highest kitchen cupboard! They worked hard for their treats that Easter and had the best time!
Serves 10 to 12
Youvetsi is a Greek stew, traditionally made for Sunday lunches. This would have you up really early on a Sunday morning, so I recommend you rather serve it for dinner, or get it going the day before because of its lengthy cooking time. The upside is that this is a dish that you can leave to cook in the background while you get on with your day. The simplicity of it is deliciously rewarding and it’s a dish that certainly goes a long way – perfect for large Easter family gatherings.
Here’s what goes in:
1 large leg of lamb, bone in (about 2kg to 2.5kg)
Salt for seasoning
2 cups of Orzo (pasta rice)
2 medium-sized onions, quartered
2 cloves of garlic, whole but peeled
1 teaspoon of Greek origanum
2 cups of red wine
1 cup of chicken stock
2 cups of water
2 tins of chopped and peeled tomato (410g each)
How to do it:
Preheat the oven to 200°C. In a large roasting pan, coat the leg of lamb in a few good lugs of olive oil and add the meat seasoning and salt. Place it in the oven to brown and crisp up a little. After about fifteen minutes, remove the pan from the oven, and add the onions, garlic, red wine, chicken stock, water, tomatoes and origanum. Immediately turn the oven down to 150°C and cover the dish with a large piece of tinfoil – shiny side facing down. You can now leave this to cook on a low temperature for approximately 6 hours, but you should check the liquid level to make sure it isn’t drying out and turn the meat 2 or 3 times over this period.
Once the meat is tender and easily falls off the bone, you can get the Orzo ready. Using a sieve, thoroughly rinse the pasta rice under cold, running water to remove the starch. Remove the pan from the oven and roughly shred the lamb, discarding the bone. Now add the pasta rice and distribute this with the meat evenly throughout the pan, making sure that the Orzo is submerged in liquid. Top up with stock or water if there isn’t enough. The idea here is that the pasta rice will cook in the liquid. Turn the oven up to 170°C and return the pan to the oven with the foil now completely removed. After about half an hour, the pasta should be cooked and most of the liquid absorbed, without being dried out. Give it a good stir, taste test your seasoning and serve it straight out of the pan!