Beyond colorful hard-boiled eggs, there are many delicacies that factor into the traditional Easter meals enjoyed around the world. The foods vary by country and region and include sweet breads and pastries, meat and egg dishes, and plenty of cakes and cookies.
The recipes are often quite indulgent, featuring the foods that were forbidden during Lent. You’re sure to find inspiration for your dinner in the dishes that grace Easter tables in Poland, Italy, Lithuania, Greece, and England.
Lamb is the one food that is common in the Easter celebrations of many cultures. The roasted lamb dinner that many eat on Easter Sunday actually predates Easter—it is derived from the first Passover Seder of the Jewish people. You will find recipes featuring different flavorings and spices depending on the dishes’ origin, but this simple version uses somewhat universal ingredients, like garlic, lemon, and herbs, which are rubbed on the lamb before roasting. Plan accordingly as the lamb needs to marinate for at least six hours, preferably overnight.
Polish Żurek (Ryemeal Soup)
The Polish Easter brunch also typically includes a ryemeal soup known as żurek. The base of the soup is żur, fermented rye flour (referred to as ryemeal sour), which is started the week leading up to the holiday. In the soup are biała kiełbasa, or Polish sausage, made from the family’s own recipe, as well as potatoes and hard-cooked eggs. The soup is typically served in heated bowls with half of a hard-cooked egg in the soup and a slice or two of rye bread on the side.
Homemade Chili Powder Recipe
Polish White Borscht Soup
A white borscht soup, called either biały barszcz or żurek wielkanocny, is also a Polish tradition. Recipes for this dish are passed down through generations, so each is unique. Typically, you will find potatoes, garlic, sour cream, kielbasa, eggs, and rye bread as the ingredients. Serve the soup in bowls that have been warmed, putting bite-size pieces of the rye bread in first, and ladling the soup over it.
Polish Braised Red Cabbage
Braised red cabbage may be the easiest food on the Polish dinner table. Known as czerwona kapusta zasmażana, it often accompanies the main dish, which can be almost any meat, including roast leg of lamb, roast suckling pig, baked ham, and roasted turkey. You are likely to find a potato dish and horseradish on the table as well.
If you use a food processor to shred the cabbage, you can put this dish together quite quickly. The cabbage and onion are sauteed until they begin to soften, and then combined with a mixture of water, vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper and cooked down until soft and tender.
Chałka is a braided egg bread that is very popular in Poland. It’s rather fun to make and it is slightly sweet and dotted with raisins. A yeast dough of warm milk, butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and raisins is left to rise and then divided into three pieces to be braided. The loaf rises again and then is baked until golden. This recipe makes one loaf, but you can split the dough in half to make two small loaves. Any leftovers make a great bread pudding the next day.
Polish Lamb Cake
The adorable lamb cake is a part of the Polish Easter table and a European tradition that has also become an American tradition in some homes. You will need a lamb-shaped mold but can use a simple pound cake mix for this recipe to make it quick and easy. Decorate with a cream cheese frosting and use raisins for the eyes and nose. Coconut flakes died green work well as the “grass.”
Polish Babka Wielkanocna
Babka Wielkanocna is a true representation of the celebration of rich foods after the Lenten fast. Similar to the Italian panettone, this is a yeasty cake recipe that uses only three eggs (rather than the typical whopping 15!) and requires only one 90 minute rise instead of two. The cake takes a little under three hours to make from start to finish. While there are many recipes for babka enjoyed throughout Eastern European countries, you cannot go wrong with this traditional Polish recipe, studded with raisins and topped with lemony icing if you prefer.
Polish Mazurek Królewski
Another sweet treat for a Polish Easter dessert is mazurek królewski. This flat pastry is relatively easy to make and it’s very delicious. A beautiful lattice work of art that is often topped with almond paste and apricot, cherry, or raspberry preserves. You can even add dried fruit and nuts if you like. Dust with confectioners’ sugar as a final touch.
Italian Wedding Soup
Italian wedding soup (minestra maritata which translates to “married soup”) is commonly served at the holiday meal. This soup has become a popular fixture in Italian restaurants in the U.S. Sweet Italian sausage and tender greens give it a satisfying texture and delicious flavor. Simmered for an hour, the soup is served with freshly grated cheese sprinkled on top and a side of crusty bread. This soup is the perfect complement for lamb, which is almost always the main dish.
Neapolitan Grain Pie
A popular Italian dessert is the Neapolitan grain pie (Pastiera Napoletana). This ricotta cake is flavored with orange-flower water (recipes will vary on the amount used) and a sweet pastry cream. The cake requires presoaked grain, which you may be able to find canned at some Italian delicatessens. You can make your own, but it will take about two weeks. Save yourself some time and omit soaking the seeds yourself, as preparing the cake takes 16 hours to make.
These beautiful Italian pizzelle cookies are delicately adorned and crisp. Made with a special waffle iron, the batter for this recipe is flavored with anise, while variations include vanilla, almond, citrus zest, or chocolate. You can even shape them into bowls or rolls while warm, then fill them with custard, fruit, or ice cream for an extra special treat.
Lithuanian Vedarai (Potato Sausage)
Vedarai or Lithuanian potato sausage can be meatless or with bacon. This recipe uses a bacon-sour cream gravy, but you can serve the dish with sour cream on the side instead. Consisting of potatoes, onions, bacon, eggs, and spices, the mixture is stuffed into hog casings and cooked for an hour. Make it vegetarian by omitting the bacon.
Lithuanian Cepelinai (Potato Dumplings)
An Easter dinner in Lithuania will also often include cepelinai. These potato meat dumplings are the national dish of Lithuania and are also known as zeppelins due to their shape. These delicious dumplings consist of finely grated potatoes mixed with onions and seasonings and shaped into a football-type shape. The potato dumplings are very hearty and often filled with meat or cheese. This recipe features a pork filling and creamy bacon gravy.
Potatoes are a big part of the Lithuanian diet and make another appearance in kugelis. This is a savory potato pudding that is a very traditional side dish and popular on the Easter dinner table. Grated potatoes are mixed with sautéed bacon and onion, eggs, milk, and farina and baked until golden brown. You’ll also find several salads and many dishes that include mushrooms alongside a kugelis. Typically served with applesauce, sour cream, and bacon bits.
Lithuanian Velykos Pyragas
With dinner, Lithuanians also serve a semi-sweet yeast bread with white raisins called velykos pyragas. This may be one of the best fruit cakes you’ll ever try; it includes a variety of glazed fruit, walnuts, and a delicious cinnamon-sugar filling. The bread is baked for 50 minutes and dusted with confectioners’ sugar or a glaze.
Eastern European Molded Cheese Easter Dessert (Paska)
Desserts abound at an Easter European Easter celebration. You will likely see paska, a molded cheese delicacy—it’s no ordinary cheese, either. The dry curd is sweetened, includes heavy cream and almonds, and is adorned with fruits and candies. This dessert has a taste that is similar to a cheesecake without the crust and is often spread on slices of kulich.
The word paska literally means “Easter” so you will hear it often in Eastern Europe. A number of treats take on the name as well, and in Ukraine, it refers to a lovely sweet bread.
Lithuanian Aguonu Sausainiukai
Another time-honored sweet in Lithuania is the traditional poppy seed cookie called aguonu sausainiukai. This recipe is as easy as any other drop cookie and includes poppy seed filling and sour cream, and they are baked for 25 minutes until a nice golden brown. They’re often dusted with confectioners’ sugar.
A deliciously rich yeast bread called Tsoureki, the traditional Greek Easter bread is similar to brioche. This unique bread is braided and has a red-colored egg placed in the center of the bread’s top before baking. Many versions of this recipe have been passed down through families, and this is just one of them. Leftovers of this bread make fabulous French toast.
Tiropitas are delicious treats of flaky phyllo triangles filled with different types of cheese. They may take a little time to make, but are wonderful snacks, perfect to tide you over while waiting for dinner, and are great for breakfast too. This recipe uses feta, cream cheese, blue cheese, ricotta, and Parmesan for the filling. Get a step ahead of all the cooking and baking, as these can be made ahead of time, and put in the freezer to bake later.
Kalitsounia is a sweeter cheese pastry that is enjoyed most often during the holidays on the Greek island of Crete. The rolled dough made with yogurt and brandy is filled with soft mizithra cheese, cinnamon, and grated orange peel. You can sprinkle them with confectioner’s sugar or drizzle with honey if you so desire. No matter if you choose to bake or fry them, these pastries are beyond delicious.
Along with the pastries, Greeks enjoy several savory mezethes (appetizers). These often include olives, feta dip, and tzatziki. Tzatziki is a staple in Greece and one of the country’s most famous condiments. It is a cucumber dip made with sour cream and yogurt with a hint of garlic. Not only does it make a great dip for warm pita triangles, but it can also adorn grilled meats and vegetables on the Easter table. Our recipe is made simply by using store-bought Greek yogurt and vinegar.
Greek Dolmathakia me Kima (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
Dolmathakia me kima is another famous meze of Greece. These stuffed grape leaves are irresistible. The filling combines rice, dill, mint, and either beef or lamb. Plan ahead as these are a bit labor-intensive to make. The good news is that they freeze well for later use. It’s hard to find a Greek celebration any time of year that doesn’t include them on the holiday table.
In Greece, the main course can begin with avgolemono, a quintessential Greek chicken soup that you’ll also often find at restaurants. It is made with orzo and a lemon-egg mixture that is quite unique. Perfect for the beginning of a holiday celebration meal or eaten on its own with some bread. It can also be served as a sauce for the stuffed grape leaves.
Greek Patates sto Fourno
Roasted potatoes just seem like a natural accompaniment to roasted lamb and a popular side dish to lamb in Greece is patates sto fourno. Potatoes are tossed with a mixture of olive oil, oregano, garlic, lemon juice, and chicken broth, and then roasted until nice and crispy. Throw a bit of rosemary in the potatoes when serving with lamb.
Possibly the most iconic dish from Greece is spanakopita, which can be found on nearly every dinner table across the country, especially at Easter. It can be in the form of a pie or individual triangles. Chopped spinach is mixed with feta cheese and layered between flaky sheets of phyllo dough. This dish can be served as an appetizer, light lunch, or add a Greek salad and make it a meal on its own. One taste, and you’ll discover why this spinach pie is so popular.
The Greek Easter has no shortage of dessert options, either, and galaktoboureko is a favorite addition. This delicious custard pie is made with flaky phyllo and then drenched in a citrus-flavored syrup. Make this recipe the same day you plan to enjoy it, as it does not keep well, so make sure you plan accordingly.
Koulourakia are butter cookies with sesame seeds that are quite fun to make. You can either twist, braid, or shape them into an “S,” or make a combination of all three. You will often find them served with other desserts and strong Greek coffee as well as one of the famous Greek wines such as raki. These traditional Greek Easter cookies are great dunked in coffee or milk, too.
British Hot Cross Buns
It seems that almost every country celebrating Easter has its own special Easter bread or cake, and yet, hot cross buns are a favorite in many areas, especially in Britain. Taking a little over two hours to make between the mixing, rising, and baking time, these individual spiced yeast buns are filled with dried fruit and drizzled with lemon icing in the form of a cross along the top.
The tradition supposedly derived from ancient Anglo-Saxons who baked small wheat cakes in honor of the springtime goddess, Eostre. After converting to Christianity, the church substituted those with sweetbreads blessed by the church.
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British Leg of Lamb
An Easter lunch is the traditional meal in Britain and the main course typically features a delicious leg of lamb, perhaps seasoned simply with garlic and rosemary. It will often be served with a gravy as well as a fresh mint sauce.
In this recipe, the meat comes out so juicy and tender, it’s well worth the wait of seven hours while it’s cooking. The fact that the Dutch oven is filled with all kinds of wonderful veggies, is a huge plus. Just add mashed potatoes.