What’s Cooking? Roast Lamb for Orthodox Easter, Sunday, April 8

To ham or lamb? That is the question. For those who celebrated Easter on Sunday, April 1, ham might have been on the menu. Perhaps with traditional scalloped potatoes, mac ‘n cheese  and deviled eggs. Food Network says the most popular Easter dinners always include some variation of ham— honey-glazed, spiral-sliced or brown-sugar crusted.

But what is the typical Easter food for those who celebrate Easter at a different time? Before we look into what’s being served, let’s answer this question—how can there be two Easters? Christians belonging to the Greek (Eastern, Russian, Bulgarian and Serbian) Orthodox religion celebrate the resurrection of Christ on a Sunday that is typically not the same as other Christians. It’s simple—two calendars, two dates and two other requirements. Trip Savvy explains the three reasons why Greek Easter is on a different day (as well as tips for traveling to Greece during the Easter season).

  • It must be based on the Julian calendar, not the Gregorian calendar
  • It must be after the Jewish Passover
  • It must be on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox

Now that we have that settled, let’s discuss food. I was chatting with my friend at the gym today, and we were pondering the role of ham at Easter. She considers ham is a dish enjoyed at many holidays and not necessarily Easter. It’s festive, pretty, economical and very tasty. And I, having grown up in the Orthodox religion with Greek and Lebanese friends, consider lamb to be the best way to break the Lenten fast and celebrate Easter.

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Besides being absolutely delicious, what’s the symbolism of roast lamb at Easter? It comes from the Jewish Passover and is associated with the exodus from Eygpt. Families offered as a sacrifice to God a lamb for the salvation of all people. They ate the roasted lamb, without breaking its bones, together with unleavened bread (matzos) and bitter herbs. With the lamb’s blood, they stained their doors.

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While not every Orthodox Christian will be roasting a whole lamb on a spit this Sunday, many will be enjoying oven-roasted lamb, rack of lamb or even lamb chops on the grill as a way to break the 40-day fast leading up to Easter. During those 40 days, many (though not this writer) fast from meat and dairy products. So on Easter, lamb in any fashion is a welcome treat. Other Greek Easter traditions include red eggs, dolmadakia (rice and lamb-stuffed grape leaves) and tzatziki (yogurt, garlic and cucumber dip).

While I’ve not decided if I’ll cook this Easter Sunday (hoping I’ll get an invitation to a lamb roast), this roast leg of lamb recipe looks mighty yummy. Enjoy it with your favorite spring vegetable like roasted carrots, oven-browned potatoes and a fresh lemon cake for dessert. This sounds so good that I just might have to cook now after all.

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Cynthia Kallile