Greek Easter and regular Easter fell on the same date this year and I felt just a little bit spoilt to have both Mr K’s family and my parents, gathered together at one table for Easter Sunday lunch. We celebrated at my parent in-law’s house and the sun literally shone on us all this year. I knew that we were going to enjoy a really special day, because the first thing I saw in our own garden at home on Easter Sunday morning was one single, rich, red, velvety bloom from my newly planted Dublin Bay rose. The weather was spectacular, more like spring than autumn and we started the celebrations with a chilled glass of french champagne in my father in law’s lush green garden, underneath the lime and mulberry trees.
As always, the menu for Easter Sunday lunch was truly impressive. My mother in law had slow-cooked a small baby goat with lots of lemon, olive oil and rigani – it simply melted off the bone. There were also tender baby potatoes, cooked in the juices of the goat, along with a marouli (lettuce) salad with a tangy latholemono dressing and strands of punchy rocket, which had just been plucked from the garden. For a crunchy contrast there was also a fresh tomato and cucumber salad. My mother in law has only recently celebrated her 81st birthday and I am in absolute awe of her energy and enthusiasm in the kitchen!
My mum, Madame Zen, also wanted to contribute to the Easter feast and she had dusted off her Greek cookbook and bought along a delicious fresh beetroot salad, with roasted walnuts and a garlicky Greek yoghurt dressing, along with an eggplant, zucchini and tomato yiouvetsi. Mr K had broken out the charcoal and had slowed roasted two plump chickens, with plenty of garlic, lemon and rigani. The chicken, just like the goat, was incredibly tender and juicy after a few hours of slow cooking, while we had attended an Easter morning mass.
For the end of the day, I had made an almond-semolina cake (halvas tis rinas) with lemon syrup (Mr K’s “by request” favourite dessert) and to celebrate Easter a chocolate and almond tsourkei. A twist on the traditional Greek Easter bread. We enjoyed the tsourkei and syrup cake with Greek coffee, which was served in sweet little cups – which were my father in law’s first wedding anniversary gift to his new bride, in 1957.
While we played the traditional game of Tsoungrisma, Mr K had a recording from Nikos Gounaris (Νίκος Γούναρης) playing in the background. We had bought the recording back from our last trip to Greece. Unbeknown to us, it was when Nikos Gounaris visited Australia in 1957 that my parents-in-law had met, at his concert in Wollongong. My father in law told the story, as we listened to the music, that he was at the concert alone and was crossing the room from one side, when my mother in law was crossing from the other. They literally ran into each other in the middle of the room. My father in law described it as one of the best moments in his life. A Nikos Gounaris song called, Τώρα που σε γνώρισα (Now that I have met you) has beautiful lyrics, which tell the story of a first meeting and the future to come. Mr K and I had danced to the song, under the stars on a warm autumn evening in Lefkada, on our last trip to Greece. I couldn’t help but wonder if Nikos Gournaris had been singing this song at the concert in Wollongong in 1957, when Mr K’s parents had met. I also could not help but think, it must have been thanks to Nikos Gournaris – just a little bit in part, that we had all been at the same shared table to celebrate Easter Sunday.
Tsoureki with dark chocolate and almonds
2 cups strong bread flour
1 tablespoon of dried yeast
1/4 teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons of caster / superfine sugar
1 orange, zest only
2 tablespoons of warm water
2 and 1/2 tablespoons of warm milk
1 egg, lightly beaten
4 tablespoons of melted butter
1 egg (for brushing)
1 egg, yolk lightly beaten with a teaspoon of water
1/2 cup blanched almonds, roasted and finely chopped
1 cup dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1. Sift together the flour, yeast and salt into a large bowl.
2. In a separate jug, combine milk, water, sugar, orange zest and egg.
3. Gradually combine the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, kneading to make a soft dough.
4. When the dough has come together, gradually add the melted butter, kneading it into the dough.
5. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot and let it rise over 2 hours.
6. After two hours, punch the dough down and roll it out into a rectangle. Cut the rectangle into three even strips.
7. Brush each strip with beaten egg and top each strip evenly with roasted almonds and chocolate. Press the chocolate and almonds into the strips and roll each strip into a sausage shape.
8. Lay the three ropes, side by side, on a lined baking sheet. Press the ends to seal and then braid the ropes. Let the braid rise until it is double in volume.
9. Preheat the oven to 200C (440F) and brush the plaits with beaten egg yolk. Sprinkle over the slivered almonds. Bake until golden, around 20 mins.