An Easter feast as tribute to the best of spring
In Southern California, where there’s a nearly imperceptible shift in weather between the seasons, I more and more find myself embracing holidays to mark the passing of time. In this regard, Easter warrants special consideration as it heralds the beginning of spring.
The holiday lands with the arrival of the season’s best ingredients, and I love paying tribute to them in a feast befitting this rejuvenatory time. Lamb? An absolute must. New potatoes? Of course! And mint? The more, the better. If my food doesn’t bring to mind visions of running through a lush field while flowers burst forth and songbirds alight on a branch, I’m not doing it right.
First, the lamb. Associating it with spring is cliché at this point, but why fight it? Although I eat lamb year-round, I often abstain from it in February and March so that it will feel new again when the season and holiday arrive. Because the meat can stand up to strong flavors, I like to pile them into a braise that bridges the end of winter and the beginning of spring. I cook a mountain of sliced onions in the lamb’s drippings until they’re reduced down and French onion soup-sweet. Then, a handful of garlic, a few sprigs of rosemary and some apple cider vinegar marry with the onions during a three-hour braise that gives the lamb a delicate, sweet sourness. It may look like a lot of brown when it comes out of the oven, but the meat and onions have such an intensely aromatic flavor that you won’t care about the aesthetics.
Up next: the green things. I love mint in any form, especially the predictable jelly, but that hasn’t aged well in our fresh-is-better era of cooking. Instead, I use the herb as the base for a slick sauce studded with chopped fresh lemon flesh for pops of acidity. I also add fresh marjoram to ground the bracingly cool mint.
Instead of using the sauce as a condiment for the lamb, though, I use it for my other spring staple: new potatoes. After boiling the smallest ones I can find in a sea of salt water, I coat the potatoes judiciously in the sauce. The finished dish looks like potatoes covered in freshly mowed grass, so it works as a verdant metaphor just as much as a flavorful side dish for the hearty lamb. I usually serve a simple salad of Little Gem lettuce and a dish of buttered peas to round out the table; some things you do want to keep pretty uncomplicated.
Finally, when it comes to dessert, while most people would expect carrot cake or a bowlful of pastel candy eggs, I bust out the coconut. Its fine shreds are Easter canon, often colored green to mimic blades of grass for decorating candies or for a model lawn to display dyed eggs. If you pass by any Eastern European bakery or pastry shop window this time of year, you’re guaranteed to spot some lamb-shaped cakes covered in shredded coconut “wool.”
My association, however, comes from eating four-tiered coconut cake as a child growing up in the South. It was a staple on our Easter table, the cake layers covered in meringue coated in fluffy fresh gratings of coconut — it looked like a giant Snoball but without the pink coloring. And while that cake is delicious, it’s also a pain to make.
To fit my smaller gathering — and my smaller reserve of patience this year — I’m opting for a much simpler coconut dessert: my spin on a Mounds candy bar, but in cake form. Essentially a giant coconut macaroon, the batter is teeming with toasted coconut and has the delightfully chewy texture you expect from both treats. A milk chocolate glaze completes the transformation in taste, but the relaxed form allows you to skip the tedious individual servings and dole it out in satisfying dessert-size wedges.
These ingredients and dishes — full of the promise of spring — commemorate everything bright and new about this time of year. And in a world where it has often seemed as if time has been standing still, I hope you’ll join me in celebrating the feelings of change and renewal that the season’s bounty brings with it.
Eat your way across L.A.
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