Friday, April 22, 2011

The aromata of Greek Easter & a Recipe

It's no hyperbole to say there is no celebration more joyful, more optimistic, more heart-wrenching, in its way, in all of the Greek calendar (and it is already full of those) than Orthodox Easter. The awakening of spring, which sheds its pagan archetypes shining upon everything, is walking hand in hand with the tradition of a pious Christianity that is nevertheless smiling, instead of morose, and lenient, instead of boasting a stern Biblical face.

In the processions of the Holy Week, especially in the sunny, picturesque countryside and on the numerous islands, I can still witness the joie de vivre that can exist only in cultures that have been deprived for long; it is only then that people can appreciate the smalleest pleasures, the generosity of nature itself, the simple human contact that needs no social agenda whatsoever. Man is enjoying life, much like he did in the classical era, because he's not entirely convinced there will be a better one, even though the prospect of one delights his soul through the promise of spring's and Christ's resurgence. In Greece where the National Revolution also symbolically sprang along with the first throes of spring, resurgence takes on a loaded nuance: the soul fills with renewed courage for every hardship ahead.

The spring air is aromatized with fragrant effluvia from trees and plants, an intoxicating bouquet that is hard to forget: bigaradiers with orange blossoms in full bloom, bushes of lilacs (called Πασχαλιά/Pashalia in Greek because they bloom exactly during the month of April, when Pasha is celebrated), violets in deep shades but also stocks (Mathiola longipetala) with their spicy, skatole-rich, intense aroma. Dill, thyme, spearmint and humble chamomille are beginning to make the countryside smell like a giant pasture or one enormous kitchen herbs cabinet.
And of course food, glorious food: from red Easter eggs, which make households smell of vinegar and onion peel (traditionally used to "anchor" the dye on the hand-painted egg) as they're prepared on the eve of Good Friday, to the succulent, sweet, cardamom-laced Eastern bread which whets the appetite for the feast of Sunday.

Greek Easter is a Dionysian celebration...

The following recipe, characteristic of spring herbs and traditions in Greece, is of Tzeeyerosarmades/Τζιγεροσαρμάδες: Tzeeyeri means internal organs and is a Turkish word, metaphorically used as an affectionate term for children, as those come indeed from a mother's insides. Sarmas (pl. sarmades) is anything closed up in a small handful "pocket" container, a cook term that is quite usual in other recipes of the Mediterranean region as well.
The dish is cholesterol ahoy, full as it is with lamb organs and animal fat, but its aromatic bouquet of the herbs of Greek spring, dill, spearmint and fresh green onions, is mouthwatering. I suggest you accompany it with a good dry red. As it is a mainstay in our family's Eastern table, our usual coupling is with a tannin-rich full-bodied Xinomauro variety from where the recipe originates from: the northern extremeties of Greek soil, the plains of southern, Greek Macedonia.

Tzigerosarmades (Tzee-ye-ro-saMA-des) from Greek Macedonia

You will need for 6-8 persons:

the internal organs of 2 lambs (offal, but essentially liver, spleen, heart, lungs, kidneys and throughly cleansed~with a knitting needle~ intenstines; you might skip the intestines if it makes you uncomfrotable)
the peritonium of 2 lambs, removed by a skilled butcher with much care (you want it to be as uniformand unbroken as possible)
3 whole eggs, preferably free-range
1 egg yolk for smearing at the finish
1 dry onion, chopped in small pieces
3-4 bunches of "fresh green onions"/shallots with their stems
3/4 cup of Karolina rice (a variety used in "gemista" or substitute with parlboiled rice)
1 small bunch of fresh dill
1 small bunch of fresh spearmint
salt and pepper to taste
a couple of spoonfuls of extra virgin olive oil

Optional, to accompany the dish: a few potatoes for roasting and dry oregano, chopped garlic and lemon juice for the potatoes

1. Put the carefully cleansed intenstines, liver, spleen, lungs and kidneys of the lamb into boiling water and let them boil for a few minutes, until relatively firm.
2. Drain and chop finely (not bigger than a small hazelnut) all of it. Put aside.
3. Take a large, deep pan and put a couple of spoonfuls of extra virgin oil in it, over low fire. Put the two kinds of onions/shallots finely chopped in it. Put the finely chopped dill and spearmint as well. Stir for a little while until they become transparent.
4. Put the chopped livers etc., the rice, salt and pepper and let the mix cook on low stove until the rice is cooked thoroughly.
5. In the meantime, put the peritonium membrane in warm weather so it expands and softens and becomes pliable like an elastic membrane (which it is essentially). When ready, drain and open up on a clean surface. You want to cut pieces of it, as large as your palm or a small hankerchief.
6. Return to the pan and break the 3 eggs and stir gently. Leave it on the stove for a minute more, then withdraw.
7. You are now ready to fill the little "pieces" of the membrane. Put about a spoonful of the mix in each and gently close them with ends tucked on the underside. They should resemble round patties of about 8-10 cm circumference. Put one by one in a big ovenproof pan and very gently brush them with egg yolk diluted in a few drops of water (this will give a fine glaze!).
Optional step
: If you want you might put some chopped potatoes around or in the middle, salted & peppered and sprinkled with chopped garlic, dried oregano and lemon juice; they accompany the dish just fine. They don't need any cooking oil, because the fat from the meat will nicely get into their flesh and make them "honied".
8. Roast the dish slowly in the oven at no more than 150C mark until the membrane has become golden and lightly crisp. If you have put potatoes in, the potatoes might need a bit more time to get done, so put a piece of aluminum foil over the tzeeyerosarmades in case they dry up too much in the process.

Serve hot with sprinkled lemon juice or accompany with strained Greek yoghurt, which provides the essential backdrop of something cool and tangy. Accompany with a good, dry red wine rich in tannins to cut the "fat" and possibly a fresh strawberry dessert that will cleanse the palate, toasting to the gods of Greek hospitality. And resist the urge to lick your fingers!

Photo of Spring in ancient Olympia in the Peloponnese, Greece by azbeen, via Photo of sarmades via


  1. How delicious !!!!

    Many blessings to you and yours this inspiring season, my Hellenic sister.

  2. oh Elena, how wonderful!! I will attempt to make these recipes.

    Happy Spring/Easter to you and yours

  3. Alexandra10:50

    Thank you so much for the lovely, mesmerising post! I am also from Northern Greece (Giannitsa), living in London!
    Have a lovely Easter Elena!
    Kind regards,
    PS. I will follow you more fondly now I know we're from the same motherland!

  4. BARBARA O02:26


  5. Thank you, as always whenever you share a recipe. :)

  6. Ida,

    darling! Hope your Passover was joyful and full of the pleasures of your lovely kids.
    It is a passage from one season to the next which brings this age-old hope to the heart and we wonder how such a small thing has pertained to our cultural genes for so long. I know you feel it too.

  7. C,

    please do try it and tell me how it went. It's not something for very often (it's rather time-consuming, demands a good butcher to give you extra-fresh things and it's not very good for your arteries) but it's truly delicious. ;-)

    Hope your spring day was glorious indeed.

  8. Alex,

    oh how joyful to know all this! You come from a beautiful spot indeed.
    Thanks for following, it means a lot to me.

  9. Barbara,

    thanks so much, hope your day was special as well.

  10. S,

    you're welcome. I try to provide things that are outside the well-known, so that each reader enriches their repertoire. I know this is what I seek when I read myself.


Type your comment in the box, choose the Profile option you prefer from the drop down menu below the text box (Anonymous is fine if you don't want the other options!) and hit Publish!
And you're set!

Blog Widget by LinkWithin