Monday, April 25, 2011
Easter on the Spit
Happy was the hunting.
-Euripides ("The Bacchae")
Yesterday I had my very first Greek Easter; the day was full of roasted lamb, folk music, and a language I don't quite understand. But it was fun, strange, confusing, slightly terrifying (imagine being told that when Greeks try to have their annual festivities, the cops sometimes appear....because passersby think that they just might be torturing and roasting dogs) amusing and bemusing and just all of those other things that come with your first "anything." Truth be told, until yesterday I had had no idea that, in Greek culture, Easter constituted the biggest and most important holiday of the year. But there you have it...which is exactly how 40+ Greek people, some other random non-Greeks and I ended up in Stanford under an improvised pavilion (i.e. a very loose tarp) on a very windy day debating whether the lamb was ready to be removed from the spit....well, umm, I didn't really have an opinion about that, but it did amaze me that, while one lamb was ready after about 4 hours of roasting, the other took about 7. Even more surprising than that was that 50 people and little old me could go through two whole lambs. The Greek explained it in simple terms: Easter is to Greeks what Thanksgiving is to Americans. Believe me when I say that that's the kind of logic I can easily buy into; I love food-oriented holidays. This holiday did not disappoint.
But before giving you the details of my trip to a mini Greek-"isle" in the heart of Palo Alto, I should add that, although there were no Easter baskets full of chocolate and other goodies, the morning did start off firmly grounded in American/Californian culture with a vegan cinnamon roll (courtesy of Cinnaholic; I had mentioned it to the Greek and it was my Easter surprise) and a fruit salad. The American side of things, however, was just a preamble to the real feast.
What would a Greek feast be like without Ouzo, the licorice-flavored aperitif? Despite my newfound love of fennel, I can't quite say that I really like the flavor of Ouzo. But perhaps it will grow on me; I have the feeling that, on a hot balmy day, this could be quite refreshing.
Clearly, if you're going to go to the trouble of roasting two lambs on a spit, you're going to make the most of the occasion and roast the internal organs too! And here, my friends, we have kokoretsi, i.e. lamb intestines wrapped around some other organs that Greeks consider to be delicacies--the liver, stomach, etc. I was very against trying this and even had to laugh when one of the Greeks proudly and glibly commented to me on the "barbaric" nature of their Easter, but, like a true food champion, I did try it and I'll confess that I really liked the crunchy crispy texture of the intestines. If this is barbarianism, then let it have a long and happy life!
It wasn't all about the animal flesh, however! There was salad and bread with the yummy cucumber dip, tzatziki. There were two different tzatzikis there and I'm proud to report that the one the Greek and I took was by far superior. One ought not to fear garlic; that's a rule worth living by.
The skill and technique I witnessed yesterday was truly amazing; Greeks clearly take both their meat-eating and their lamb-roasting very seriously--seriously enough, in some cases, to blow on the charcoal with a hair dryer to keep the flames going! And it was a true communal event. Nearly everybody took a turn at the spit, your errant blogger included. That's how we earned our right to stand in the lamb-line and partake in the feast.
I can't say that I've ever really cared for lamb, but this experience has changed my mind. It was maybe one of the most succulent (I just love this word and I rarely get to use it) pieces of meat I've ever had in my life. If only every lamb could be cooked on a spit in the backyard....
However, Thanksgiving or no Thanksgiving, there's a limit to how much meat one petite girl can eat. And, unlike the majority of the Greeks, when this delicious cake made an appearance, I couldn't help but cut myself (to be shared with the Greek, of course, though I can't honestly say how much he got) an extra large slice. Did I have any idea what it was? No. But it didn't matter. My meat meter was hitting its peak. And the obvious antidote was what I discovered to be a Walnut Spice Cake (karithopita), which, like most Greek pastries, was covered in the kind of sweet syrup that makes my heart sing. Don't worry; this has risen to the top of my list of things that must be baked soon. When the time comes, the recipe will be shared!
And then I had to walk it all off. I was excited to see a blue bird!
All before sampling--just the tiniest of bites--the marinated pork. And then, as happens with any holiday resembling Thanksgiving, I never wanted to eat again.