I come from a long, unrelenting line of country folks that all came to this country before the revolution, so there isn’t much ethnicity in my family except a sort of reverse one. I always tell people that I am just a highly modified redneck. But one thing that was passed on from my mother was the cc gene (culinary curiosity gene). She was an accomplished baker and cook who, as the 1950s and 60s wore on, and with the aid of Sunset Magazine — whose recipes she carefully clipped out and filed — became interested in other cuisines.
One thing I know for sure, on Easter we always ate ham. Pork was king in my family, although we ate a fair amount of beef. Ham studded with cloves and glazed, usually a canned ham, although once in a while we would buy a country ham that had to soak to take some of the salt out and then be boiled. The country hams were the best, although you would wake up in the middle of the night and have to get a drink of water, you had taken in so much salt.
The only time we would eat lamb was when a neighbor would give us some. We lived in an area where a lot of sheep were raised. We had Greek neighbors, but our two cuisines were oblivious to each other. We both proceeded with our Easter celebrations with ham and lamb never meeting, although we knew that they usually served lamb at Easter.
I have always eaten ham myself at Easter, one of those family traditions that you follow because that is what one must have at Easter for a proper celebration.
This year the cc gene got the best of me and I prepared myself a Greek Easter dinner: Greek style roasted leg of lamb and avogolemono (Greek chicken lemon egg soup) recipes will follow. Any Greeks out there, please comment on how you would prepare these dishes. I really found a lot of variation in the soup, especially the amount of eggs to use ranging anywhere from 1 to 8 egg yolks. I followed the middle way and used four. I strongly suspect the 1 egg was a bow to modern notions. This was such a good meal that I may even forsake ham once in a while at Easter.
Greek Leg of Lamb
Leg of lamb, 4 to 5 lbs (bone in if possible)
6 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 lemons, zested and juiced
2 tbs oregano
2 tbs thyme
1 tbs kosher salt
Black pepper to taste
3 tbs of olive oil
Take the lamb and trim off most of the visible fat.
With a paring knife, cut slits about an inch apart all over the leg.
Insert in each slit a slice of garlic and rosemary.
Mix the lemon and the olive oil with the herbs, salt and pepper and massage into the lamb.
Place lamb on a roasting rack, flat side down, and place in a 300-degree oven until meat thermometer reads 150 for medium rare, 140 for medium or 150 for well done. This will be about 2 ½ hours or longer for well done.
Remove from oven and cover with foil.
Turn oven to highest heat and sear lamb for 10 to 15 minutes until well browned.
Remove from oven and let rest for 15 minutes.
2 qts chicken stock (homemade is best; if you don’t have it, use canned.)
3 skinless chicken breasts
3 lemons juiced
Dice chicken and cook in stock until done, then remove and set aside.
Mix the lemon juice and eggs in a bowl with some pepper.
Whisk a cup full of stock into the egg mixture (like making a custard). Pour with one hand, whisk with the other. Add another cup of stock the same way.
Whisk the egg mixture into the pot.
Heat the stock on medium temp, constantly whisking for two minutes.
Do not let bubble.
Add the chicken and serve with a garnish of lemon or parsley.
Both of these dishes would be great anytime of the year. I had never eaten the soup before and it would be great with any number of meals. Rice or orzo is often added, but I wanted to keep it a little lighter. Kalo Pasha, everyone.
Lee Riggs is a Zen priest living in Shasta County who cooked and baked for many years at San Francisco Zen Center. He is a devoted gardener. His simple credo is that butter is better and that you should be able to taste the hops in beer.