A Greek Easter Feast

Photo credit: StockFood/Jan Peter Westermann

In the Greek Orthodox Easter tradition, it’s not ham that occupies the center of the table, nor is it rabbit: It’s lamb, often spit-roasted whole in someone’s backyard as the family gathers over the course of the day.

There are other Greek traditions, such as red-painted eggs and the voluptuous bread, tsoureki, but this year, with Greek Orthodox Easter falling on Sunday, the 20th, if you live in a Greek enclave, expect backyards to be full of the scent of lamb roasting.

Greek-American Charles Bililies is the owner of Souvla, a new Greek sandwich shop and wine bar in San Francisco’s Hayes Valley. He has fond memories of his grandfather’s whole lamb Easter feasts when he was a kid. At his restaurant, Bililies serves various spit-roasted sandwiches, but for us he created a roast that has him nostalgic for childhood festivities. (A whole beast isn’t all that pragmatic for most of us.)

The lamb shoulder is rubbed with oregano and rosemary, garlic and lemon juice. A night of marinating gets it good and tender, and it’s popped into the oven right on top of what he calls, at Souvla, “juicy potatoes.” Since they’re in the same pan, they become “essentially sponges for all of the drippings,” he tells us. (And we love how fuss-free the cleanup is.)

Bililies also loves a clean, fresh Greek yogurt panna cotta for dessert, which is enormously popular at his restaurant. Laced with honey and topped with crumbled baklava, it’s light enough that you won’t leave your Easter feast feeling half-asleep.

The menu is an easy, breezy stunner. And even if it’s Greek to you, it might be worth mixing up your routine to give it a whirl this year.


All photos: Courtesy of Souvla

Roasted Lamb Shoulder and Juicy Potatoes
From Charles Bililies, Souvla
Serves 6-8

Note: Must be made one day in advance.

One 5-6 lb. boneless lamb shoulder
2 Tbsp Kosher salt
Coarsely ground black pepper
5 peeled garlic cloves, chopped
3 Tbsp coarsely chopped rosemary
3 Tbsp Greek olive oil
3 Tbsp lemon juice
2 Tbsp coarsely chopped fresh oregano
5 Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into in 1” squares

1. Place lamb in a large roasting pan and season generously with salt and pepper. Add garlic, olive and lemon juice and rub thoroughly on all sides of the shoulder until completely covered. Cover pan tightly with foil and refrigerate overnight.

2. Remove lamb from refrigerator at least one hour prior to roasting. Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees.

3. Keeping the foil intact, roast the lamb for 2 1/2 hours at 325 degrees, adding water by the quarter cup if the bottom of the pan is dry.

4. After 2 1/2 hours, add the diced potatoes to the bottom of the pan, distributing evenly. Roast for another 1 1/2 hours.

5. Remove pan from oven, and remove foil. Pre-heat broiler.

6. Broil lamb, basting occasionally, until the fat is golden brown and crisp (6-8 minutes)

7. Allow shoulder to rest, 10 to 15 minutes. Slice and serve over roasted potatoes with all of the pan’s juices. Garnish with chopped fresh oregano and additional lemon juice and olive oil, as desired.


Greek Yogurt Panna Cotta
From Charles Bililies, Souvla
Serves 6-8
Note: Must be made one day in advance.

5 1⁄4 gelatin sheets
2 cups heavy cream, divided 
3⁄4 cup sugar
1⁄2 vanilla bean (seeds scraped; shell reserved for another use)
3 1⁄2 cups Greek yogurt
2 small pieces baklava

1. Place the gelatin sheets in cold water to allow to “bloom” or soften.

2. In a 5-quart stand mixer, whip 1 cup of the heavy cream on medium speed to very soft peaks.

3. In a small saucepan, warm the remaining cream, sugar and vanilla bean, over low heat, stirring in the bloomed gelatin to incorporate all ingredients. Remove from heat.

4. Place the Greek yogurt into a large mixing bowl. Add the warmed cream mixture and whisk thoroughly to incorporate.

5. Strain the yogurt mixture through a fine mesh sieve or chinois, then fold the mixture into the whipped heavy cream.

6. Pour into desired serving vessels, such as individual ramekins or juice glasses, and allow to set overnight.

7. Roughly chop baklava and sprinkle on top of panna cotta just before serving.