Easter is by far the most important event in the Greek Orthodox Church.

Calculating Easter can be a bit confusing.  Here’s a simple explanation.  “The formula for Easter—‘The first Sunday after the first full moon on or after the vernal equinox’ —is identical for both Western and Orthodox Easters, but the churches base the dates on different calendars: Western churches use the Gregorian calendar, the standard calendar for much of the world, and Orthodox churches use the older, Julian calendar.  That much is straightforward. But actually calculating these dates involves a bewildering array of ecclesiastical moons and paschal full moons, the astronomical equinox, and the fixed equinox— and that’s in addition to the two different calendar systems.  The two churches vary on the definition of the vernal equinox and the full moon. The Eastern Church sets the date of Easter according to the actual, astronomical full moon and the actual equinox as observed along the meridian of Jerusalem, site of the Crucifixion and Resurrection.  The Eastern Orthodox Church also applies the formula so that Easter always falls after Passover, since the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Christ took place after he entered Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. In the Western Church, Easter sometimes precedes Passover by weeks.” (“A Tale of Two Easters” by Borgna Brunner)

This year our Easter is on April 16th which coincides with the Western Easter.  Lent this year begins on February 27th.  Orthodox Christians worldwide celebrate Easter commemorating the day followers believe that Jesus was resurrected more than 2000 years ago.  On Easter Orthodox Christians break the Lenten fast, strictly observed in Greece and other Orthodox lands, seven weeks when meat, even fish, eggs, butter, milk, cheese and any other animal products are forbidden.

Sarakosti – Pre-Easter Lent- is the seven-week period immediately preceding Easter.  The first day of Lent, Monday is called – Kathara Theftera – (Clean Monday).

Taramosalata, fish roe salad, is traditionally served on Clean Monday accompanied by lagana, a flat, oval loaf of unleavened bread.   Our cookbook contains three recipes for this salad submitted by Greg Cook, Becky Skiadas and Alfreda Morris.  It is served with onions and lemon.  Greeks make two versions – one based on soaked bread which is more textured and the other with mashed potatoes which is smoother. It can be served either as a dip or a spread.

Several excellent seafood and shrimp dishes are included in our book. Try Citrus Marinated Shrimp or Valley Girl Cocktail or Marinated Octopus by George Kamilaris. These can be eaten during Lent.  Two of my favorite dishes are Spicy Shrimp Pilaf by Presbytera Debbie Damaskos and Shrimp Pilaf by Presvytera Ann Hadgigeorge. These are excellent for buffet dinners.

If you are looking for vegetable choices try Stuffed Tomatoes and Green Peppers by Ursula Xanthakos and Yanula Stathulis. These can be served steaming hot or great for side dishes.  Also, Spinach and Rice by Pamela Harwood, is an excellent choice to get your children to enjoy vegetables.

Some classical Greeks observe the Good Friday custom of eating lentil soup with vinegar (the vinegar now being added to remind the eater of Christ’s receiving vinegar when He asked for water).   Whether you use red, green or brown lentils for your Faki, the secret is to make it thick, reddened with tomatoes and flavored with herbs and a dash of red wine vinegar. You might even consider doubling the ingredients and making a double batch because the flavor of the soup is even better when frozen and later reheated for another meal. Enjoy Presvytera Toni Paterakis Wozniak’s Barley Lentil Soup in our cookbook. She adds sliced button mushrooms and a tablespoon of worcestershire sauce for extra flavor.  Another delicious use of dry lentils is Tasoula Proestou’s Lenten Pilaf-mixing lentils with rice-very nutritious and great when fasting.

Please try two salads that are simple to prepare and very healthy – the Cabbage Salad by Presvytera Ann Hadgigeorge and the Fresh Cranberry and Pomegrante Salad by Tina Melonakos.

Eggplant is such an underutilized vegetable. You’ll enjoy Eggplant Dip and Meletzana Salata in our book submitted by Jessica Adams and Sophie Spillson.

Now for desserts to complete your Lenten meal – try Angie Tzanakis’ Halva made with farina or cream of wheat.  Dried Fruit Compote by Roula Manton includes orange rind, cinnamon and cloves to make it very flavorful.  And for your sweet tooth bake a batch of Oatmeal Raison Cookies.  These morsels include crushed pineapple and healthy walnuts. This is Maria N. Turoff’s recipe.

Another simple dessert and very healthy is Warm Stewed Fruit by Maria Markakis.  It is quick and easy to prepare with fresh raspberries, blueberries and pineapple. All these fruits are readily available for a delicious dessert.

All these choices will help you and your family observe our Lenten Period. We are providing these ideas to enhance the experience and enjoy flavorful foods in your kitchen and home.