A Good Easter Dinner Could Be Greek To You With the Eastern Orthodox and Protestant/Catholic Easters occurring on the same date this year, what better way to celebrate than with the flavors of Greece? Roast lamb and a traditional sweet bread star in a holiday spread welcoming spring and rebirth.

A Good Easter Dinner Could Be Greek To You

Kevin D. Weeks for NPR
Roast leg of lamb on a wood cutting board
Kevin D. Weeks for NPR

Get recipes for Tsoureki Paschalino (Easter Bread), Kotosoupa Avgolemono (Chicken And Rice Soup With Egg And Lemon), Arni Psiti (Roast Lamb), and Asparagus With Garlic-Dill Mayonnaise.

The perennial question facing me each spring is what to fix for Easter dinner. Although I'm not a religious person, any excuse for a feast works for me, particularly one celebrating the end of winter.

I grew up in a largely Protestant society, so I generally celebrate spring on the Protestant/Catholic Easter Sunday. Over the years, however, I've made traditional spring feasts from Russia, Spain, Ireland, England and even India.

This year, the Eastern Orthodox and Protestant/Catholic Easters happen to fall on the same date — April 4. So it seemed a perfect occasion to celebrate the turning of the season with a Greek Easter meal.

Additionally, the Christian Easter is most likely derived from the ancient Greek festival of Dionysia and the Roman festival of Liberalia. As the Christian faith spread north, it found spring festivals in the native faiths of the Gaels, Celts and Goths, and absorbed them as well. In fact, these festivals share a place with Holi, a Hindu spring festival, the Sikh harvest festival of Baisakhi, May Day and the various celebrations of the spring equinox. And almost all of these festivals share a tradition of holiday feasting.

About The Author

After working as editor of various computer magazines, Kevin D. Weeks is now a personal chef in Knoxville, Tenn. Weeks also teaches cooking classes, is the guide to Cooking for Two at About.com, and blogs at Seriously Good.

After the long dark winter, at last food starts to become plentiful again. Asparagus sprouts (the Greeks and Romans adored asparagus), and further north, rhubarb appears. Wild mushrooms are in season, the first baby greens arrive, and herbs send out fresh shoots. Furthermore, it's the birthing season, with many species' gestation periods timed to take advantage of the warming weather — including sheep. In Greece, this means spring lamb.

Spring lambs typically weigh 10 to 15 pounds when prepared for cooking, and in Greece they are often spit-roasted whole. Eggs also are an Easter tradition, as many cultures regard eggs as a symbol of rebirth and renewal. For example, the egg is a symbol of Christ's resurrection. While in the West we have Easter egg hunts, in the Eastern Orthodox tradition, eggs are often religiously linked to the Easter feast, frequently in conjunction with bread, another symbol of rebirth. The Greeks are also fond of lemons, a late winter/early spring fruit.

So I incorporate some of these into my Greek Easter meal. I begin with tsoureki, a sweet Greek bread that not only makes a wonderful breakfast bread but also a nice dessert when paired with cheese and fruit. Next comes chicken soup thickened with avgolemono, a mixture of egg and lemon juice. Lamb goes without saying, and without access to genuine spring lamb or the equipment for spit-roasting, a leg is the obvious choice. The asparagus topped with dilled garlic mayonnaise may not be traditional, but it is decidedly Greek at heart.

Whether you celebrate Christ's rebirth or the spirit of Dionysia, both ancient traditions provide a good answer to what to put on the Easter table.