An Old World Easter

By Anusasananan, Linda Lau | Sunset, April 1999 | Go to article overview

An Old World Easter


Anusasananan, Linda Lau, Sunset


For a traditional Russian celebration, there are markets to explore, a bread to bake, and a simple cheese to make

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Smoked Salmon Fresh Salmon or Sturgeon Caviar Pumpernickel Triangles Butter * Sour Cream Chopped Chives Pickled and Marinated Herring Baked Ham Sour Cream Cucumber Salad(*) Pickled Mushrooms(*) Potato-Beet Salad(*) Pickled Beets Cabbage Slaw * Rye Bread Vodka or Beer Kulich (Russian Easter Bread)(*) Paskha (Sweet Cheese)(*) Colored Eggs * Coffee or Tea

* recipe follows

On a balmy spring evening, Tanya Meyer waits with other Russian Orthodox parishioners along the pathway to Holy Virgin Mary Cathedral in Los Angeles. On a bench before her are dozens of loaves of tall, cylindrical kulich - a festive sweet yeast bread - including her own, which her mother taught her to make decades ago.

As the priest, Father Joseph, approaches to bless the loaves on this Russian Easter eve, Meyer hastily lights a candle atop her kulich. Later, her family will break their Lenten fast with a lavish buffet that includes the blessed bread.

The crowd swells to pack the cathedral, and minutes before midnight, a flame is passed to light candles members of the congregation are holding. At the stroke of 12, bells ring in joyful chorus, and the clergy leads worshipers outside, through azalea-filled gardens and around the building. Then the procession reenters the brightly lit church for services that last until about 3 A.M.

On April 11 this year, similar Russian Easter celebrations will take place across the land.

The earliest Russian settlements in Alaska date back to the 18th century, but it is 20th-century immigration that has swelled the number of Russian Orthodox Americans - particularly in the Northwest, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York - who continue to observe the holiday traditions of the old country. Like Meyer's, most families include in their festivities a buffet of many dishes: fish (smoked, pickled, and marinated), warm or cold roasts (ham and turkey), and sausages; salads, pickled vegetables, and dark breads; colored eggs; and, most important, the rich kulich loaves and paskha, a sweet and simple homemade cream cheese spread to slather onto slices of the kulich.

A Russian Easter table is both a gracious and a relaxed way to entertain. In Russian Orthodox homes, the meal is served following midnight services, as a brunch, or as midday dinner. And it's an easy menu for Easter or any other party - composed of make-ahead dishes and presented like a smorgasbord, with little plates to refill at each diner's own pace.

Recipes follow for menu items with asterisks. Purchase remaining dishes from a dell (see Russian shopping information on page 175) or make them from favorite recipes. For each person, allow at least 2 tablespoons of caviar, 1/4 pound total of cooked meat or fish, 1 to 11/2 cups total of salads and/or pickled vegetables, and 1/4 pound of dark bread.

Sour Cream Cucumber Salad

PREP TIME: About 20 minutes, plus at least 30 minutes to chili

NOTES: This recipe is adapted from Leda Voropaeff's Russian-American Feasts. The dressing can be made up to 1 day ahead.

MAKES: About 4 cups; 12 servings

2 English cucumbers (2 lb. total) About 1 teaspoon salt 3 hard-cooked large eggs, shelled 1/3 cup sour cream 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar 1 teaspoon Dijou mustard 1 teaspoon sugar 1/8 teaspoon pepper 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or 1 teaspoon dried dill weed Butter lettuce leaves, rinsed and crisped (optional)

1. Trim and discard cucumber ends. Cut cucumbers in half lengthwise and thinly slice. In a bowl, mix cucumbers with 1 teaspoon salt; cover and chili at least 30 minutes or up to 4 hours. Drain well and pat dry.

2. Separate egg yolks and whites. Cut whites into slivers. Add to cucumber.

3. In a blender or food processor, combine yolks, sour cream, vinegar, mustard, sugar, and pepper; whirl until smooth. …

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