When Dean Themy was a child, he couldn't wait for Easter Sunday to arrive. Most kids counted off the days until Christmas or a birthday; not Themy. Easter was his favorite holiday.
But not for the predictable reasons like baskets full of chocolate bunnies or egg hunts.Themy knew that Easter Sunday marked the day he could eat real food again, after fasting for Lent.
Themy's mom, Rula, explained her son's holiday predicament.
"During Lent, the 40 days prior to Easter, we give up meat. Forty days is a long time for children so they fast only during Holy Week. During that time we didn't eat dairy products either. For a boy to give up his milk and his meat . . . you can understand why Dean thought he was starving."
Not many growing kids tire of peanut butter, but Themy was raised with a Greek heritage where a tender slice of lamb constituted an important part of every meal.
"I remember thinking Sunday was a hundred years away, and how could I eat another peanut butter sandwich," he recalled.
But the long wait paid off.
Greek Easter Sunday dawned with ceremony and celebration, the highlight of the Orthodox religious holidays.
"After the recognition of the death of Jesus, his resurrection is a time of rejoicing," Rula added. "This is all part of the worship service, but we continue the celebration after church."
Children dance, sing and play games; one game involves red-colored eggs. The colored eggs, symbolic of Christ's death, are cracked during the recitation of a rhyme.
"`It sounds likes a simple game," Themy recounted, "but it was always lots of fun."
And lamb was (and still is) the mainstay of the Greek Easter Sunday dinner. When it was time for the roast lamb to come off the spit, Themy was quick to leave the games and jockey for a position near the front of the food line.
Weather permitting, the traditional lamb is still cooked outdoors.
"In California and sometimes in Colorado they can do it, but we plan to cook indoors here," Rula added.
Traditional Greek Easter dinners rely on roasted lamb as the main course, but parts of the lamb are used for other meals, according to Lisa Themy, Dean's wife.
"Tripe Soup plays an important part in the Easter menu," Lisa added. "It's an unusual dish, and one you have to get used to, but it's good."
If Themy is haunted by childhood pangs of hunger today, he doesn't have to look far to find a well-stocked pantry or two.
Dean runs the Hungry i restaurants, a pair of Salt Lake eateries that bulge with tasty entrees and touches of Greek influence.
"We use some Greek ingredients, but you know what happens to ethnic foods here - they're all Americanized," said the chef. "We make pizza, but we use feta cheese and Greek sausage, or we use Greek herbs and spices to season chicken dishes. We start with a unique idea, but it has to go with the flow of American tastes to be successful."
Themy didn't plan a career in the restaurant business. He was student at the University of Utah when his father inherited a burger shop on South State street.
"A friend owed us money and settled the debt with the property," Rula explained. "We didn't know how to run a restaurant, but we could cook hamburgers. The rest we learned on the job."
Themy who grew up eating his way around San Francisco, understood a variety of ethnic eating patterns. When he discovered the gyro sandwich during aChicago business trip, he recognized an innovation that would prove popular locally.
"When I brought the gyro to the Hungry i, we had an instant hit. People would line up before opening to try it; the sandwich took over 75 percent of our business in a matter of days."
Now the gyro is a standard in town, and the Hungry i menus reflect the lighter eating trends with the use of olive oil, lots of fish and touches of adventure like calamari.
Lamb continues as a staple, an offering Themy admits is a consistent bestseller.
And gratefully so.
Dean never has to wait in line for a slice of lamb, holiday or not.
Utah Leg of Lamb
Fresh leg of lamb, with bone
2 cups chicken stock
6 fresh celery stocks, sliced
2 cloves fresh garlic
Sprinkle 1/2 cup of chicken stock over lamb to moisten and rub salt over entire leg of lamb. Slice cloves of garlic into thirds. Use paring knife to make six stabs in leg of lamb, about 1-inch deep. Place one sliver of garlic in each slot.
Rub Greek oregano over entire lamb. Sprinkle with pepper. Place remaining chicken broth and celery in roasting pan. Add lamb and meat thermometer and cover pan with aluminum foil. Roast at 350 degrees for one hour. Remove foil and roast an additional 30 minutes or until meat thermometer reaches 165 degrees for medium or 185 degrees for medium-well done.
Avgolemono Sauce (Lemon Sauce)
4 cups chicken stock
3 large eggs
2 fresh lemons
Roux of 1/4 pound butter and 1 cup flour Bring chicken stock to boil. Add juice from lemons and reduce heat to simmer.
To prepare roux, melt butter; slowly add flour, stirring constantly until mixture thickens to the consistency of peanut butter.
Whip eggs in a separate bowl until frothy. Slowly add eggs to simmering chicken stock, stirring constantly. While continually whipping egg/stock mixture, slowly add roux mixture until the sauce has a smooth texture. Serve over sliced lamb.
Greek Rice Pilaf
2 cups long-grain rice
6 cups chicken stock
1/2 pound salted butter
Salt to taste
Melt butter in heavy pan; add rice, stirring to coat. Add chicken stock and juice from lemons. Bring to a boil without stirring, let mixture boil for 15 minutes. Cover rice and simmer 15 minutes more.
1/2 pound butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
6 eggs, beaten
1/2 pint whipping cream
6 teaspoons baking powder
8 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup sesame seeds
Cream butter, add sugar and blend; add whole beaten eggs and whipping cream. Combine 8 cups flour with baking powder and gradually sift into batter; add vanilla. Knead dough, adding more flour as necessary to form a smooth, firm dough. Pinch off portions of dough about the size of a walnut and roll on a lightly floured board into strands about 1/2-inch thick and 5 inches long. Fold in half and twist twice, forming a twisted finger, or form into a wreath by bringing the ends together. Brush with egg yolks and dip in sesame seeds. Place on greased cookie sheets; bake at 350 degrees for 15-25 minutes or until lightly browned.
Tsoureki Easter Bread
4 tablespoons yeast
1 cup warm water
5 pounds flour
2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon powdered mahlep
1 pound butter, melted and cooled
1 cup warm milk
1/8 teaspoon powdered mastika
1 teaspoon anise extract
10 eggs, slightly beaten
2 egg yolks, beaten
1/4 cup sesame seeds
Mix yeast with water; set aside. Place flour in a large bowl and make a well. Add yeast mixture and all other ingredients. Mix well with hands; knead until smooth. Add more flour if needed. Brush dough with oil. Place back in same bowl. Cover and let rise in warm place. When doubled in size, knead again. Shape into desired form. It can be braided lengthwise or in a ring or formed into plain loaves. Allow to rise again, then place colored eggs in the folds of the braids. Brush bread with egg yolks and sprinkle generously with egg yolks. Bake at 350 degrees for 45-60 minutes or until evenly browned.
- Note: Mahlep is a peppery-type Greek spice; mastika has a licorice flavor. Both are available at the Broadway Shopping Center, 242 E. 300 South or Granato's, 1391 S. 300 West, Salt Lake City.