Hello there! Happy Easter to all those who celebrate it!
The last few days have been really really busy (yes, busy to the point of only getting 5 hours of sleep per night) but that’s okay because Easter (and Sham el Nessim – which I’ll tell you a little bit about in this post) are my favorite holidays out of the year! Spring is a beautiful season – full of hope and new beginnings. It just feels good to be alive in the spring …
Anyway, so for Easter I put together a pretty traditional menu. I wanted to get creative but I had no time to feel uninhibited in the kitchen. I spent an hour looking carefully (and drooling) over all the exquisitely photographed dishes in my Mediterranean cookbook. I wanted to make duck, but Whole Foods didn’t have any organic duck. I also thought about stuffed artichokes, liver pâté or other seafood options but I was too worried about making my guests have to endure any failed culinary experiments. So I stuck with chicken and marinated lamb for main courses with vegetable sides, meat pies (goullash), cracked wheat (fireek) as a starch and a fun spring salad. If it hadn’t taken me forever to decide on the main course, I would have attempted to be innovative with dessert … I actually had a recipe for om ali that I’ve been dying to try … but silly Heba forgot to buy extra filo dough. Bah. I chopped up a simple tropical fruit salad and whipped up some raw chocolate mousse balls instead because they were oh-so-easy to prepare!
I also meant to take pictures of all the recipes, but the battery on my camera died – and even if it hadn’t … I had like 3 hours to cook everything. Craziness, I know. I sorta have a love-hate relationship with the thrill of cooking under pressure …
Anyway, here’s the menu:
- Organic sharp white cheddar cheese with sesame crackers
- Kalamata olives in olive oil and red wine vinegar
- Homemade guacamole with organic nacho chips
- Baby carrots
- Australian lamb leg marinated overnight – Sherif made this marinade and it was really great (basically: juice from 1.5 limes, 1/2 cup of olive oil, 2 tablespoons of dry red wine, 4 cloves of crushed garlic, fresh rosemary, sea salt, black pepper) I cooked it for 45 minutes then added crimini mushrooms and pearl onions around it and cooked it with those vegetables for an additional hour and half. It was delicious. Simply used my original recipe for lamb - which was really tasty to begin with, but even better with Sherif’s marinade and the onion-mushroom gravy drizzled on top. My man is great with mixing awesome concoctions in the kitchen
- Organic whole chicken with Russet potatoes and green peppers – seasoned with lime, olive oil and savory
- Peas and carrots in chicken broth with ground beef
- Meat pies (goullash) – ah, I think I ate 5 pieces between yesterday and today (that good)
- Crushed wheat (fireek) cooked in chicken broth and spiced with allspice and cinnamon
- Spring salad – consisting of (all organic) green leaf lettuce, red leaf lettuce, arugula, fennel, heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, radishes, parsley, and cilantro. Topped with roasted sunflower seeds and walnuts and seasoned with olive oil, plum vinegar, fresh lime juice, salt and pepper.
- Tropical fruit salad – made with anjou pear, red apple, green apple, banana, papaya, mango, strawberries, and pineapple. Seasoned with just a few drops of maple syrup, a handful of raw walnuts, a generous amount of cinnamon, and a few drops of lime juice.
- Raw chocolate mousse balls – I’m addicted.
I wish I had taken pictures, but you’ll have to just use your imagination for these I will try to make them again at some point and post the detailed recipes!
So to tell you a bit about Sham el Nessim: It’s an ancient Egyptian holiday that is still observed today (it’s a national holiday). It marks the beginning of spring (even though it’s usually much warmer in Egypt in April … almost summer!) and always falls on the Monday after Easter Sunday. The name of this holiday is actually from the ancient Egyptian name of the harvest season – Shemu – literally meaning “day of creation.”
On this day long ago (as in: thousands of years ago), ancient Egyptians used to offer salted fish (called fesikh), lettuce, and green onions to their deities. Obviously, Egyptians don’t do this anymore because the majority are of Muslim and Christian traditions … but the tradition of eating fesikh and green onions stuck
And Egyptians of all faith backgrounds spend the day off by celebrating spring’s arrival outdoors – whether by picnicking, boating or simply taking a leisurely stroll by the Nile River.
As an Egyptian-American, I haven’t kept this tradition alive because, well … we don’t have the day after Easter off and I don’t even know where to buy this salted fish (making it myself involves copious amounts of sun, which isn’t exactly plenteous in Chicago…)
But you know what? Starting next year, I am planning to take this day off and celebrate Shem el Nessim ancient-Egyptian style!
Yes, it’s just another effort on my part to connect with my roots and to boycott the commercialized consumerist culture that has surrounded religious holidays for the past couple of decades …
And on that note, I’ll leave you with this (this, by the way, is how I feel about mainstream mass-produced chocolate Easter eggs, lol):
What is your favorite springtime tradition?