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Greek Easter: a glimpse at the essence of olive oil in popular culture


Easter in spring, arrives with the message of hope and it inspires people to follow the process of regeneration in body and spirit. A promise of rebirth, a time we reach out to family and friends, renew our ties and celebrate hope and health.
 
Nature comes alive. The majestic Mediterranean sea and the countries that engulf it, share as part of their beauty, the silver-green olive trees that sway in the fragnant breeze, amidst fields of wild flowers. The olive tree, an inseparable part of their peoples lives, becomes even more prevalent at this time. 
 

Traditions leading to Easter

In Greece, the spiritual tradition of olive oil is omnipresent and culminates at Easter.
During Holy week, on Wednesday or as it is called "Megali Tetarti", olive oil is used to bless and anoint everyone, especially people who put their faith in its healing power. It is called "Efhelaio" blessed oil.
The next day, Thursday, it is tradition that all Greek households dye the red eggs and as a finishing touch make them shiny with olive oil. It is also customary to use vinegar and olive oil to create a marbled multicolored effect.
The same day, the Easter olive oil cookies are baked and the delectable Easter sweet bread made with olive oil, scented with spices like mastic and mahlepi which is a kind of wild cherry kernel. This is the "tsureki", baked at home or store bought to be given traditionally from the godparents to their godchildren.
 
On Saturday, which has followed 40 days of fasting even from oil, for the people who are more strict with tradition, every household kitchen is busy preparing the "magiritsa".
It is  a thick egg lemon soup with green vegetables, olive oil and finely chopped liver, kidney and intestines of lamb or goat that simmers on the stove until the family comes from midnight mass, the "Anastasi" with their candles carrying the holy light to bless their homes. Another version of this dish is done with just lamb and vegetables called "fricassee"; see recipe below.
 
The next day, is a glorious morning on Easter Sunday and the aroma of lamb roasting on a spit fills the air, together with happiness and Greek music.
The lamb or goat has been marinated overnight  in olive oil, salt pepper and fragnant oregano and while it cooks, it is carefully brushed with olive oil to savour the juices and the flavour.
It is quite an incredible experience to be in Greece at Easter.
After a mystical week, full of exciting preparations and colorful traditions, Easter Sunday opens the door to spring and its message of renewal of life, triumph and joy.

Lamb fricassee

Preparation time: 15 min. Cooking time: 90 min. Serves: 4-5
 
Ingredients
1 Kg lamb cut into big cubes
5 tablespoons  olive oil
1 romaine lettuce
2 tablespoons dill
3 large spring onions
Salt, pepper to taste
 
For the egg lemon sauce
Half a glass of fresh squeezed lemon juice
1 egg
A pinch of salt and pepper
Zest of lemon for serving

Preparation
In a wide pot put the olive oil and gently sauté the meat on all sides.
Add water until the meat cooked.
Wash all the vegetables and chop the dill very finely, slice all the onions including the green sprout and cut the lettuce in 5 pieces each leaf.
Add the vegetables to the meat and stir to mix well.
Season with salt and pepper, cook for another 10 min and cover.
 
Prepare the egg lemon sauce
Beat the egg in a bowl and slowly while still beating add the lemon juice.
With a ladle take juice from the meat and slowly add it to the egg and lemon sauce continuously whisking.
A pinch of salt and pepper.
Add to the meat and move the pot around so the sauce mixes with the meat.
Serve hot and sprinkle with the lemon zest and a drizzle of olive oil.
Perfect with fresh baked bread.