When our parents host a party, they often fill a soup tureen (we know, a bit weird) with this rice. Bejewelled with little bits of vegetables, it is a perfect accompaniment to grilled meats, pitas, and pretty much anything else which might be on the table. If you happen to have some tzatziki on hand, place a dollop of it on your plate, next to the rice. Something truly magical happens when the two combine.
This rice is very simple to make, and you probably already have most of the ingredients in your kitchen. The added beauty is that you can easily substitute the vegetables to accommodate your personal tastes and the produce you have available.
Can you ever have too much of a good thing? We don’t think so. Tsoureki is one of those very good things, and like us, you may find yourself having an abundance of it at this time of year. Although we spent several hours baking loads of loaves which we then offered to family and friends, many of these family and friends presented us with their tsourekia. We broke even! How wonderful!
There are so many ways to enjoy tsoureki. We love to have a plain slice of tsoureki in the morning along with our Greek coffee. We also often enjoy a slice with a warm cup of mountain tea in the evening. It is something that we pick at when trying to decide what to make for supper, something we pack up for school snacks, and something we often turn to when we’re hungry…but not really. And then, often on the weekends which easily lend themselves to decadent breakfasts, we like to start our day with tsoureki French toast.
During Greek Pascha (Easter) the air reverberates with greetings of Χριστός ανέστη (Xristos anesti: Christ is risen) and responses of Αληθώς ανέστη (Alithos anesti: Truly, he is risen). For many followers of the Orthodox faith, Pascha is one of the holiest and most beautiful of holidays, preceded by Holy week which begins with the Saturday of Lazarus, and continues to the celebration of Pascha on the following Sunday. Church services during Holy week remember and mark Christ’s last week before his crucifixion and also his resurrection.
Pascha is also referred to as the Feast of Feasts, and that’s no joke. On Holy Saturday night, church services celebrate the resurrection of Christ. This Divine Liturgy ends in the early hours of Sunday, after which families gather to break their fast and to play a game of tsougrisma with their dyed eggs. Traditionally, the meal served at this time is a soup called magiritsa which is made of lamb offal flavoured with a lemon-egg sauce. As kids, we would declare this lamb offal soup…awful (see what we did there?) To this day, we don’t really like it. Our parents however, still enjoy breaking their fast with this soup, while we typically enjoy a fast-food burger picked up at the 24 hour drive-through. New traditions are fine too.
Have you ever eaten tahini? Even if you think you haven’t…you probably have. Tahini is the paste of ground up sesame seeds and it is traditionally a key ingredient in hummus. Almost like a nut-butter, tahini is creamy, smooth and very nutritious, being pretty high in calcium and iron as well as protein and fiber…and fat. Whatever! Tahini is not perfect.
In any case, when life gets busy and you just don’t have the time or energy to be in the kitchen for too long, you can throw some chopped up vegetables into a bowl, dress them with this tahini salad dressing, and call it a day. During periods of lent, this salad dressing is particularly handy because it is not only vegan, but it also does not contain any additional oil (the sesame seed paste will produce it’s own oil when crushed up however).
When our girls were little and we returned to work after blissfully long (but not long enough!), maternity leaves, we were blessed to have them cared for by our parents. We would drop sleepy children off at their place in the morning and, after settling in to work, we would call our parents to make sure everything was okay. The morning report we received would often go something like this:
Either of our parents: She (grand-daughter # 1, 2, 3 or 4) wasn’t that hungry for breakfast. I hope she is feeling well. I’m quite worried. She only ate half her egg, two pieces of toast, a banana and she only drank one glass of milk.
Either of us: Hmmm…well, that sounds alright. She IS only 4 years old.
Either of our parents: Yes, well she has to eat, otherwise her stomach will close (this sounds much more ominous in Greek). At least she ate 9 koulourakia when she first arrived.
We know, we know, we have probably already told you that some other dish we have previously written about is our absolute favourite…but here we go again! Black-eyed peas and spinach is our true absolute favourite food (until the next favourite comes along that is).
We believe that black-eyed peas (also called cowpeas) are the Queen of Legumes, and apparently we are not alone. They are awesome enough to have a music band named after them, to be the conduit with which to poison an abusive husband named Earl in the Dixie Chicks hit, “Goodbye Earl” (we do not condone murder by the way) and to have a franchise restaurant in Texas and Tennessee named after them. The restaurant, of course, serves black-eyed peas. We don’t think any other legume has received as much popular attention. There must be something to these little gems.
Sweet is the day that you decide to devote some time to making tsoureki, the traditional Greek Easter bread which is often served to break the Lenten fast. On Easter Sunday it is offered to family and friends as a way to express friendship and love. Godparents often include a loaf of tsoureki in the Easter gifts they give their godchildren, tucked into the gift bag next to the shoes and the lambada (Easter candle).
Similar to Jewish challah bread, tsoureki is sweet, soft and fluffy. What sets it apart from other, similar, egg- enriched breads however are the flavourings of mastiha and mahlepi. Although these unique ingredients are key, and present in almost all tsourekia recipes, there are numerous variations, with some families adding additional flavours of orange or brandy or other nice things.