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Lamb souvla, traditional recipe for Greek Orthodox Easter

BY RANIA HATZIOANNOU

This year, the Greek Orthodox Easter is celebrated on Sunday, May 5th.

If you have never witnessed the service, take a walk down to St. Nicholas and Dimitrios Greek Orthodox Church on Boundary and East 29th in Vancouver on Friday, May 3rd or Saturday 4th to see for yourself the ritual that is two thousand years in the making.

The highlight of the Epitaphios (lamentation icon) services on Good Friday is the Lament of the Tomb. It is carried outside the church as the congregation follows the procession and the chanting is hauntingly melodic. This service begins shortly after 7:00 pm, is outdoors, and lasts just over an hour.

On Saturday night, the services are also primarily outside to accommodate the mass crowd that attends. It begins late in the evening. As the service approaches its climax (midnight), the congregation arrives with new candles. The priest calls for the congregation to take light, and one by one they go to the priest for the lighting of the candles. This spreading of light across the darkness is a spectacular sight.

If you wish to witness this, arrive around 11:00 pm. At midnight, the Resurrection hymn can be heard, all of this is outdoors. In Greece and Cyprus, the hymn is barely heard as fireworks explode and church bells ring. The celebration begins and everyone cries out, “Χριστός ανέστη!” (Christ is risen!)

Easter Sunday is a full day of feasting following the 40-day Lent.

Greeks gather with their families and feast. Cypriots also gather with their families and extended families and a day of feasting begins.

The process of cooking is as important as the meal itself.

The main dish is usually souvla.

How to make lamb souvla

This is a lamb dish slow-grilled on a spit.

The fire is started hours before the meat is prepared. It is best to use charcoal or ash/twigs from grapevine branches.

The recipe itself is simple:

Use prime tender lamb. Cut it into chunks about the size of a rubik’s cube. Season the meat with oregano, salt and pepper. Skewer the meat, brush with olive oil, and slow-heat it over several hours on a souvla spit.

Cypriots enjoy souvla as the main course on Easter Sunday, as well as at most other holidays throughout the year.

Souvla is a simple, yet delicious main dish. Traditionally the men sit around the spit to monitor the heat levels. The women prepare the side dishes such as horiatiki salad*, and lemon potatoes. When the souvla is ready, it is served with lemon wedges, salad, potatoes and yogurt.

*Horiatiki salad

Horiatiki salad is a traditional Cypriot recipe for a classic salad made from a blend of tomatoes, onion, cucumber, with feta cheese in a dressing made of olive oil, coriander and flat-leaf parsley. Add olives just before serving.

Copyright (c) 2013 Renfrew-Collingwood Community News


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How to make Eliopitta traditional Greek Easter vegan recipe

Any meal can be a feast … just ask any Greek

BY RANIA HATZIOANNOU

How to make eliopitta, a traditional Greek vegan recipe

Watch the video 1 min. How to make eliopitta, a traditional Greek vegan recipe for Easter

Easter is the biggest holiday of the year for Greeks and others of the Christian Orthodox faith. As with all holidays, many of the celebrations and observations revolve around food.

During the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter, many Greek Orthodox worshipers follow a strictly vegan diet, and have done so for centuries. Greek Orthodox Easter Sunday is on May 5th this year. Lent officially began on March 18th with “Clean Monday” (a day to cleanse out the indulgences of the Carnival weekend).

When the trend toward vegan dieting really took off in North America in recent years, many who tried it and abandoned it complained of the bland selection of meals and the endless tofu. Perhaps they should have looked at what the Greeks were eating.

Growing up, I have wonderful memories of Mom making delicious vegan foods for Lent. Part of what made these meals so wonderful is their limited time. By making them especially for Easter, they held a sense of anticipation. They were treats, much the way a birthday cake or Christmas turkey would be for others.

One of my favourite recipes is the simple yet extremely tasty ELIOPITTA. It literally translates as “Olive Pie,” though I would consider it more of an olive log. If you are not a fan of olives, do not dismiss this recipe. I know of several people who really dislike olives, but love ελιοπιττα. This recipe is not as common in Greece as it is on the island country of Cyprus where I was born.

ΕΛΙΟΠΙΤΤΑ – ELIOPITTA

INGREDIENTS:

Dough:

  • 4 cups flour
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice*

* This is about 4 or 5 oranges. Do not use any bottled juice; squeeze your own. It makes a difference.

Filling:

  • 150 grams pitted black olives (stronger-tasting wrinkly ones are best)**
  • 2 finely chopped white onions
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried mint

** You will not find the wrinkly olives pitted, so do it yourself the old fashioned way: manually.

DIRECTIONS:

  • Mix the flour, baking powder and oil in a bowl. Add the orange juice. If mixture is not doughy enough add a tablespoon of water. Keep adding one tablespoon of water at a time until you get the consistency of dough.
  • Divide the dough into two or four portions (depending on how big you want to make each “pita.”
  • In a separate bowl, mix the olives with the oregano and mint. Add the onion. Divide the filling the same way.
  • Roll out each one several times until it is roughly an oblong shape — stretched out circle.
  • Spread the filling out as if you were creating a pizza — leaving a half-inch area free around the edges.
  • Roll the dough manually into one log and pinch the edges.
  • Repeat with the other portions. Place the logs onto a greased or parchment paper lined cookie sheet.
  • Place into a preheated oven at 400 degrees F for approximately 45 minutes. This really depends on the size — whether you made two large ones or four small ones. You’ll know they are ready by the golden colour of the dough.
  • Allow them to cool on a rack before slicing and enjoying.

Tip: when Mom made these outside of Lent (and skipping the vegan rule), she would brush egg whites on the top before putting them in the oven. This gave the ελιοπιττα a glossy appearance.