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Laying the Feast: Dishes that can crank up the celebration, this Easter

By Madhulika Dash
Easter is a celebration of many legends, and most,fascinatingly, are around rebirth. Be the reappearance of Jesus after being publicly crucified; the resurrection of Sumerian goddess Inanna after she was hanged on the stake; the annual re-coming of Cybele's lover Attis, who was born of a virgin, died and is said to take birth every year; or the ancient Pagan festival celebrating the great northern goddess, Eostre. In fact, it is the latter that gives Easter its association with Bunny and Egg, although the earlier celebration had the Simnel cake.

The Easter Egg, many believe, was a more plausible way to explain the concept of rebirth – and since stands as a synonym to the same. But there is one another reason for Easter to be so popular these days: it marks the end of the period of Lent – which is a period of penance, where every Christian gives up one thing of his/her interest, which incidentally is mostly a favourite food. No wonder, Easter, even in its ancient form, spoke of tables laid with the best of ale, lamb and other meats. Sweets and the like came later, but cakes were always a part of it. And if past foodlores are anything to give a preview of what Easter – the original community table – was a Feast. Sumptuous one at that.

If you are pondering what should be on your Easter table, this season. We get Chef Lokesh Jarodia of The Deltin, Daman, Chef Ranjan Rajani of Hotel Sahara and Chef Akshay Nayyarof Anglow to throw in some ideas:

CLASSIC SCOTCH EGG BY CHEF RANJAN RAJANI
Agreed, eggs, especially Scotch Eggs were a rather later entry into the gourmet scene in the 19th century. Although if food lores are believed then the beginning of scotch eggs was as a luxury dish – made with fish paste and not the sausage meat mince, which was later replaced with that of a lamb. This Enid Blyton’s favourite became a favourite once again with breadcrumbs emerging as a better coating ingredient – and just like that this savoury version of the real Easter Egg became a part of the table. Today, it is rather easy to spot it – not as a main dish but as a happy appetiser, loved by all.”

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WINE POACHED PEARS, BEET & CANDIED WALNUT BY CHEF LOKESH JARODIA
“Poaching fruits is an old culinary tradition of creating something sweet and heady. The Romans enjoyed it and so did the Sumerians. As a matter of fact, it was one of the luxurious dishes that oftenfound its way into celebratory tables thanks to the use of exotic spices like pepper. And that is its connection with Easter too. With this dish, I have just managed to create an fresh salad that is less guilty and yet sweet.”

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MUTTON RAILWAY CURRY BY CHEF AKSHAY NAYYAR
“I will admit: the famous Mutton railway Curry has nothing to do with Easter, but the arrival of the Indian Railways and was discovered during the journey between Calcutta to Bombay and back. And yet, when it comes to celebration of flavours and a new addiction, nothing comes close to the Mutton Railway Curry. That explains why the dish travelled from the pantry to the kitchens of the Club and Gymkhanas and even to the celebratory tables of the British. It was one curry that united them all.”

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MUSHROOM LEEKS & PARMESAN TART BY CHEF LOKESH JARODIA
“When it comes to history of tarts, there are two schools of thoughts: one, that makes it prehistoric given our tendency to pile on things or layer; the other one, insist tarts were the evolution of the ancient tradition of pie making. But what everyone agrees on is the earlier usage of pie – both by the commoners and the royals. This ensured pie, which started as a ruse to use up the leftovers soon became a part of feast with interesting ingredients as the main filling. In fact, it was one of the first dish to adopt to cheese when it came out of Italy in the 15th century. This is an ode to the age-old ingenuity and of course Easter.”

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VANILLA PANNACOTTA BY CHEF RANJAN RAJANI
“It is true that the credit to popularising Vanilla as a flavour goes to the Cortez who discovered it when they invaded Mexico; and to Queen Elizabeth -I who patronised the chocolate free, all-vanilla sweetmeats. She called it the “scent of a good sugar treat”. But Vanilla was used much before the Spaniards discovered it. While the Aztec used it to flavour their bitter chocolate, ancient civilisation used it as a ‘treat’ on their feast tale. Thus, making this sweet-smelling spice, one of the festive dishes. And this dish is an ode to that love, albeit with an Indian twist.”

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BLACKBERRY CHOCOLATE CAKE BY CHEF LOKESH JARODIA
“No one really knows how chocolate became a part of the Easter celebration, it is believed to begin in France in 1875 thanks to a local confectioner named John Cadbury. Such was the fame of this edible egg that by the end of the 19th century the entire Europe began making it – and gifting it. But before eggs became the symbols of rebirth or the start of life afresh, Simnel cake, a fruitcake eaten in prehistoric England, were the real treat to this celebration. This Blackberry Chocolate Cake is an ode to both the treat and brings them together in a delicious slice.”

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