Throughout the Christian world, Easter is considered the most solemn holiday of the year. On Sunday, Christians will mark the day with prayer and reverence and family gatherings.
The Easter holiday is also marked by feasting throughout Christianity, when offerings of special foods are prepared for the celebration of this singular holiday. Here in the melting pot of our country, those who continue to celebrate with the ethnic foods of their ancestors bless us.
Naples has attracted a large colony of Greek residents who have brought their ethnic foods and culture to the community. Florida itself is blessed with a large Greek population. In Tarpon Springs, about 170 miles up the west coast, Greek immigrants settled here to gather sponges in the early 1920s. The present generation of Greeks continues in the traditional feasts of Easter. As their forbearers did before them, they celebrate in the great outdoors with lavish picnics.
At Easter, thousands of visitors converge on Tarpon Springs for a sample of Greek traditions as well as to partake of the delicious cuisine. Only one other holiday is more revered by the Greeks and that is the Epiphany on Jan. 6 commemorating the baptism of Christ.
Residents and visitors to Tarpon Springs look forward to those outdoor feasts much as the Greeks celebrate while surrounded by the glories of springtime. However, these picnics are no casual affairs. For several days before the big event the entire family joins in to prepare such traditional foods as koulouri, the braided Easter bread with a dyed egg in the center. Hors d’oeuvres include dolmadakia (stuffed grape leaves), taramosalata (fish roe with bread, oil and onion), melitzanosalata (cooked and mashed eggplant with onions, green peppers, oil and vinegar) and sajiki (yogurt, cucumbers and olive oil).
The meat served at these traditional Greek feasts is lamb. In Greece, a whole lamb is cooked over an open spit, but most American Greeks cook a leg of lamb, either roasted in a conventional oven or over an outdoor grill.
If your magic carpet is currently out of commission and you can’t make the journey up to Tarpon Springs, don’t despair. There are several fine Greek restaurants here in Naples, and if you’re really ambitious, here is a recipe for lamb, which may be roasted in the oven or barbecued in our great outdoors.
LEG OF LAMB
Makes about 1- to 12 servings.
1 leg of lamb (6 to 7 pounds) butterflied, if desired
4 cloves of garlic or to taste
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons dried oregano
½ cup lemon juice
4 tablespoons olive oil
Garnish: fresh rosemary sprigs, lemon, oregano
1 Trim any extra fat from the meat.
2 Peel garlic and sliver it. Insert several garlic slivers in the natural seams of the meat and make additional incisions and insert more garlic.
3 Mix the salt, pepper and oregano and poke half the mixture into the slits.
4 Place meat in a shallow roasting pan.
5 Mix remaining salt mixture with lemon juice and oil and spoon over, turning to coat thoroughly.
6 Cover and refrigerate overnight, basting occasionally.
7 To oven roast, insert meat thermometer in the thickest part of the roast and place on a rack in a roasting pan. Place in a preheated 425-degree oven and roast for 30 minutes, or until well browned.
8 Reduce temperature to 325 degrees and roast 1 to 1½ hours longer or until the thermometer registers 160 degrees for medium-rare meat, or until desired doneness. Remove from the oven and squeeze the juice on one lemon over the meat.
9 Cover pan and let stand at least 10 minutes.
TO BARBECUE BUTTERFLIED LEG OF LAMB
1 Lay meat on a grill over medium-hot coals. Barbecue allowing about 20 minutes to brown one side; turn to brown other side, cooking about 20 minutes longer for medium-rare lamb, basting with marinade.
2 Garnish platter with a wreath of rosemary and lemons cut ziz-zag style and sprinkled with oregano.
Doris Reynolds is the author of “Let’s Talk Food” and “Peacocks Were Roasted and Mullet Was Fried.” They are available for sale in the lobby of the Naples Daily News. Also available is a four-part DVD “A Walk Down Memory Lane with Doris Reynolds. Contact Doris Reynolds at firstname.lastname@example.org.