Food & Drink

Lamb stars on the Easter table

Lamb is one of the most symbolic dishes you can place on the table at Easter.

The lamb is closely identified with Jesus, whose resurrection is celebrated on Easter by believers. On one hand, Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” leading the flock to safety. He also is the “lamb of God” whose death takes away “the sins of the world.”

“At Easter, the reference is to the self-sacrifice of Jesus,” says Katerina Katsarka Whitley, author of “Around a Greek Table: Recipes & Stories Arranged According to the Liturgical Seasons of the Eastern Church” (Globe Pequot, $19.95). A resident of Vilas, N.C., she has written five books with religious or biblical themes.

So strong is that symbolism at Easter, the lamb can appear in many other edible forms besides meat. There’s the butter shaped like the Easter lamb in Poland. In France, there’s the agneau pascal, a lamb cake dusted with powdered sugar, while the Czechs bake a lamb-shaped cake called a baranek, and decorate it with frosting or glazes.

The lamb symbolizes innocence, intelligence and obedience for the Rev. Leo Patalinghug, who is starring in a new 13-week cooking series called “Savoring Our Faith” on the EWTN Global Catholic Network.

Yet, lambs are still slaughtered for food. That makes us feel sad because the lamb is “such a cute little thing,” says Patalinghug, a professor of pastoral theology at Mount St. Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, Md. That’s why the lamb is a symbol for Jesus, to underscore the depth of the sacrifice.

“There’s a tenderness to the lamb, it is the type of relationship God has with his people,” adds Patalinghug.

Tenderness, of course, has a culinary meaning, too. The Easter lamb of Greece is very young, fed with milk and wild herbs that delicately flavor the meat, says Whitley, who was born in Thessaloniki.

“The shepherds bring them into the villages and towns just before Easter,” she writes. “According to Greek Orthodox tradition, no meat is eaten during the forty days of Lent by the observant. So the lambs are ready, and the people are ready for them.”