In Greece, the period leading up to Easter is a time of celebration tied to both religious custom and culinary tradition. On the Saturday night before Easter, many Greeks attend a church service to observe the resurrection of Christ. Just after midnight, they return home for a light meal, which is usually a soup. The following day, a feast is prepared culminating with a whole roasted lamb or goat being served. Goat is more commonly found on the Aegean Islands where goats are more plentiful than lambs.
Preparing the Pit
The process of roasting a whole goat takes several hours, so it usually starts around breakfast time on Easter morning. While a goat can be roasted on an electric or battery-operated spit, it is more traditional to do it outside over a fire pit. The pit is made from charcoal or wood, and often has fragrant branches or herbs added, which will imbue the goat with flavor. The goat, meanwhile, is tied to a rod over the pit. It must be fastened securely to the rod so it moves with the rod as it rotates, and cooks evenly.
Tending the Roast
As the goat roasts, it is marinated in a blend of olive oil, lemon juice and herbs such as dill, oregano and thyme. Some people will stuff the goat too, filling the cavity with rice or a combination of almonds, cinnamon, pine nuts and raisins. The goat is cumbersome and heavy to turn, so this is a job traditionally reserved for the men in the family, who will often take turns as they chat by the fire.
Celebrating the Day
The rest of the family gathers near the fire pit to listen to music, dance and drink wine and ouzo, a traditional Greek liquor. Invited family members are not expected to bring anything to the dinner. If you happen to pass by an Easter celebration, you will likely be invited over for a drink and appetizers, called meze. Long tables will be set to hold all the food. Throughout the day, people will snack on the cracklings of the skin from the roasting goat.
Serving the Goat
Nothing ever goes to waste on a Greek table, including offal, or the innards and organ meat from the goat. The offal is sometimes made into a sausage or added to a stew, to accompany the whole roasted goat. Other side dishes may include roasted potatoes, salads and cheeses. Fresh whey cheeses are a seasonal spring delicacy in certain parts of the Aegean, so they can be found in both sweet and savory recipes. Koulourakia are braided dessert cookies that will be served at the end of the meal.
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