The Greek Easter feast is undoubtedly associated with ovelias, the whole spit-roasted lamb traditionally prepared on Easter Sunday in celebration of the major Christian holiday.
There is one little place in Greece, however, where the traditional Easter meal is cooked very differently than it is across the country.
The island of Andros, on the Cyclades group of islands in the Aegean Sea, has kept its local tradition of the Lampriatis Easter dish alive through the centuries.
Two Andros locals, Maro Danioli and Ioannis Xanthos, president and vice president of the local cultural society Agios Nicolaos, show Greek Reporter how anyone can cook the delicious festive dish -and its lighter variations- at home.
Symbolism of roasting lamb for Greek Easter
The origin of eating lamb on Easter is rooted in the Jewish Passover and is associated with a ritual sacrifice of a lamb during one of the events of the exodus from Egypt.
Later, Christians adopted the sacrificial lamb as John the Baptist likened Jesus Christ to the lamb of God who will take the brunt of the sins of the world with his sacrifice.
Historically speaking, roasting lamb on the spit has been a culinary practice favorited by the Greeks since ancient times, hence the varied traditional recipes for cooking lamb that have survived to this day across the mainland and the islands.
Andros island’s stuffed lamb Easter tradition
Eastertime travelers to the island of Andros might be surprised when they won’t encounter the traditional spit-roasted lamb to feast on. Or, they might actually be visiting the island for this exact reason; to taste the local cuisine’s famed Easter meal alternative.
Residents of Andros celebrate Easter with a variation of the Greek traditional lamb meal. Instead, they cook a stuffed lamb or goat dish known as “Lampriatis”, meaning “[Lamb] of Easter”, derived from “Lampri”, an old Greek name for Easter.
According to the recipe, the meat is stuffed with a mix made of chopped intestines, cheese, greens, herbs and eggs, and baked over the night in a traditional charcoal oven.
Among the types of cheese used for the stuffing of the Lampriatis is the locally produced “petroto”. A white brine cheese, made from fresh, pasteurised goat’s milk from Andros, with few fats and a low salt content.
Traditionally, the preparations for the roasting of the Lampriatis started long before Easter, by gathering vine tendrils during the January pruning and drying them in the meantime.
On Holy Saturday, casseroles with Lampriatis were placed into each charcoal oven, before its door was sealed with a blend of clay, bran and ash, leaving the lambs to slowly cook until Easter Sunday morning.
How to make Lampriatis of Andros at home
As the traditional built ovens of the Greek countryside are nowadays rare to find, and the residents of Andros can’t part with their favorite Easter dish wherever they may live, Lampriatis is often cooked in the electric stove.
Ioannis Xanthos, vice president of the local cultural society Agios Nicolaos in Lamyra, Andros, tells Greek Reporter that he cooks the traditional Easter dish of his home island according to the recipe passed down to him by his mother.
The stuffing requires 20-30 whipped eggs, which comes down to about one egg per portion of the cooked meal.
Four types of local cheese are diced and mixed together; feta, gruyere, ladotyri and petroti, he explains.
The intestines (liver, heart, lungs) are also diced, then sautéed separately with fresh onion, dill and olive oil, before they are added to the whipped eggs and cheese.
Thyme, oregano, fresh and dried spearmint are used to flavor the mix before it is poured into the sewn lamb or goat carcass. Whole pieces of rosemary can be added on top.
Ioannis Xanthos advises that the cooking tray for Lampriatis is set with canes, to allow the air to better circulate and avoid the meat skin from burning.
He starts the cooking at 150 degrees which he reduces to 120 after a bit, to imitate the slow cook in a charcoal oven. A small carcass would need approximately two and a half hours cooking at a temperature of between 150-170 degrees.
Variations of Lampriatis Easter lamb
According to Xanthos, Lampriatis can be cooked in different and healthier variations; with more vegetables or without the carcass.
One variation is to add sautéed spinach, lettuce and rice in the stuffing.
Or, the stuffing can be cooked as on a buttered tray. This dish is known as “chortari”, and can be found as a standalone traditional dish, mainly at Andros’s village of Syneti.
Variations of the Lampriatis also exist in other islands of the Aegean, such as the nearby Naxos. Locals make a dish with goat meat stuffed with rice and fresh herbs of the season from their countryside. Known as “rifi me patouda”, it is also associated with the Easter feast.