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Feature Fri Apr 10 2009
Easter isn't necessarily a holiday I associate with food. Since childhood, the thought of Easter has conjured the nausea that would set in after a morning spent eating jelly beans, chocolate bunnies and Peeps. As an adult, I've learned to temper my candy consumption before breakfast. Still, I've never been a fan of lamb (the name alone makes me squeamish), mint jelly or hot cross buns, items usually found at the Easter table. For the past few years, since moving to Chicago, Easter brunch for my family has meant a trek to Dunlays, with my kids' pastel Easter garb covered in layers of wool and down. This year, however, with the recession and a spring-break trip to California gnawing into our brunch budget, I'm planning an Easter meal at home.
Each year ahead of Easter, the food sections of the newspaper and the covers of glossy food magazines offer suggestions for a holiday meal. I never spent much time looking at any of it, with Eggs Benedict so readily available down the street. This year, however, I tuned in. Given that the holiday's two icons, a magical bunny and Jesus, inspire thoughts of peace and charity, the hams, lambs and other meats look really unappealing. I'm not sure Christ abstained from eating meat--he ate loaves and fishes, I do know that much--but it's doubtful he'd have taken part in an Easter ham. Same is true of the Bunny. So, I'm planning a vegetarian Easter, starting with baskets filled with cruelty-free candy--and there's plenty to choose from.
Of course, I want to have some eggs involved. In addition to the sugar overload, a hard-boiled egg overload is part of the Easter tradition. I'm torn between the pretty Chinese tea eggs and vegan deviled eggs. The tea eggs sound tasty, smoky and salty from tea and soy sauce, and they look beautiful. But I'm curious about this recipe that uses tofu for the egg white and potatoes with lemon and mustard for the yolk. So, maybe we'll try a little of both.
In a nod to our traditional Dunlays brunch, we'll also start with steamed artichokes. Dunlays' grilled artichokes are split meticulously by my kids, who want to make sure no one gets a larger share. Preparing artichokes is a little labor intensive, since you have to cut the pointy tips off the leaves before steaming. This is why people have kids. They love jobs involving scissors, especially when the payoff is being able to pick the leaves off the artichoke, dip them in a sauce and then scrape them between the teeth to get the sauce and the pulpy part of the leaf.
For the main course I've decided on a gruyere gratin from Martha Stewart. It looks simple, made of bread, cheese, cream and eggs. With all of the eggs, not to mention the cream and the cheese, we'll also eat a side dish of peas with basil, lemon, salt and pepper. The dish is inspired by the English peas Carla served on Top Chef, but since I couldn't find tarragon at Trader Joe's, basil will have to do.
Among other vegetarian Easter recipes I came across, in case bread and eggs and cream sounds too heavy for your brunch table, are these colorful coconut crepes; an Easter pie made with vegetarian sausage, tofu and parmesan cheese; and a vegan curried fake-ham polenta. Fashion-and-animal-rights site, The Girlie Girl Army has a roundup of vegetarian and vegan recipes for Easter and Passover.
After the double dose of eggs, and the bread and cheese, dessert has to be light--no flour and preferably, little or no cream. My husband and I went through a Bananas Foster phase a few years ago. We once had guests for dinner and we thought they were bringing dessert. When they didn't, we cut up some bananas, through some rum in a skillet and, voila, we had drama and dessert. It's still a family favorite, and a good choice to end our meal, with a little ice cream and perhaps some bits of chocolate bunny.