Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dining-In: A Culinary Tour of America-Chicago, Illinois

The City: Chicago, Illinois

Christos Anesti! And then you say, Alithos Anesti! For those of you who don't know what I am saying, it means, "Christ is risen!" and "Truly He is risen!". Why am I saying this? Because it's Eastern/Greek Orthodox Easter today, of course! Today we travel to Chicago to celebrate Orthodox Easter in the third-most populous city, with the third-highest Greek American population.

As of the 2010 census, the city's population was 2,695,598. Greek Americans make up 93,624 of that total. The city is made up of about 45% white and 32.9% African Americans. The median(not average) income is $47,408/household, and 22.1% of the city's population lives below the poverty line. This is by far the largest city I have focused on so far with this project.

Chicago is a French derivation of the Miami-Illinois Native American word "shikaakwa", which means "wild onion". The city was founded on August 12, 1833, with an original population of about 200 people. Prior to the European invasion, the region was home to the Potawatomi, Ottawa, and Ojibwe peoples.

Chicago has a very long and illustrious history, far too big to delve into here, so I will keep it focused on the connection to Greek Americans. Greeks began to immigrate to the United States in 1821, mostly by people who had survived the Greek Revolution. By the 1880's and '90's, they were coming in larger numbers. In Chicago, Greeks began moving there in the 1840's. Most of them were men coming to seek their fortunes, or trying to escape being recruited into the Turkish army, a country that was occupying theirs at the time. Greek women began to come over starting in 1885, as "picture brides". A lot of these people returned to Greece, eventually, however. After the Second World War, though, even more came to the United States, as "displaced persons".

Chicago is also the settings for one of my favorite movies, one I just rewatched today: My Big Fat Greek Wedding. In the movie is a scene set during Easter. Easter is a very big deal for Greek Orthodox Christians. I was definitely reminded of this scene when deciding whether or not to feature the holiday in this blog series. Here is the scene:

The Food: Lambropsomo-Greek Easter Bread
I searched long and hard for a food to make for Greek Easter. One of the main foods eaten is lamb, but I don't eat lamb. And I didn't want to just do a side dish with something that didn't really fit it as an entree. Then I found this bread recipe online and remembered that I had a recipe card for it from forever ago and had never tried it yet. This was my chance, finally! It's pretty complicated, for a bread, but it was also a lot of fun.

The first step is to make Easter eggs. Easter eggs?? In bread? Yes! You'll see...I had some drama with the Easter eggs. They were supposed to be blood red, to represent Christ, and I tried pomegranate juice first, trying to be natural. That didn't work at all. So I had to use food coloring, but that also didn't really work and they were very pale pink, even though they'd been in the red water since early Saturday morning. Lame. But they had some color at least...Anyway, I'll write out the recipe card with the alterations I made.

Lambropsomo-Greek Easter Bread
5 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp. salt
2 pkg. active dry yeast
1 cup milk
1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 Tbsp. lemon zest
1/2tsp. anise extract OR 2 tsp. ground anise seed(this is what I used because I was not spending almost $5 for a bottle of extract. To make ground anise, the best way it to use an electric coffee grinder. If you don't have one already, do yourself a favor and buy a cheap one solely for grinding spices. You will not regret it.)
4 eggs
5 hard-boiled eggs, dyed scarlet
1 egg white

Combine 2 cups flour, salt, and yeast in a mixing bowl. Heat milk, butter, and applesauce to about 125 degrees.(Don't let it get too much hotter than this or it'll kill the yeast. If it's too hot, stir it and let it sit until it cools down. Use a thermometer for this step.) Pour over the dry ingredients and beat until smooth. Add zest, anise extract or seed, and eggs, one at a time. Beat well. Gradually add enough remaining flour to make a soft dough. Turn out on a floured board and knead lightly. Place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rise until doubled in size. Punch down. Turn dough out on a floured board and knead lightly. Cut off 1/6th of the dough to use for decoration. Shape remaining dough into a large round loaf, about 10" in diameter. Place on a greased baking sheet.(I found that a pizza pan worked best.)

Place one dyed egg in the center of the dough. Lay the other four eggs around the edge, forming a cross. Roll remaining dough into pencil-thin strips. Place a cross on top of each egg with the strips, pressing the ends of the strips into the bread to secure the eggs. (I placed them with the round end in the bread and the pointy end sticking up. This seemed to be too heavy to maintain as you can see in the picture. Next time I think I'd place them on their sides. I think they'd stay in place better that way.) Cover and let rise until doubled in size. Brush with lightly beaten egg white.

Bake in a 325 degree oven for 50-55 minutes, or until the loaf sounds hollow when thumped. Serve hot or let cool on a wire rack. Makes 1 large loaf.

 They weren't kidding when they said it made one large loaf. You can see how it fills up the entire pizza pan. This shot was taken while standing on the top step of a step-stool in order to properly capture the enormity. The flavor is not unlike a traditional Pan de Muerto bread that is eaten during El Dia de Los Muertos, if you've ever had that before. The texture was perfect. I was highly impressed with this, not only the flavor and texture, but just the look of it is so cool. I wish the eggs had been redder, but the bread turned out and that's the important thing. I will taste test the eggs once they're cooled, but I suspect they will probably end up in the compost. The bread, however, will be taken to work to share with my coworkers!

Christos Anesti, Everybody!



City Pic

Chicago Greek American history

Greek American history

Greek Orthodox Easter


  1. "You don't eat no meat... ahhh I make lamb!" ~G

  2. This was delicious! Thanks for sharing. (: