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Credit: Joe Lingeman

The Simple Classic Easter Menu I Want to Eat Every Spring

updated May 29, 2019
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Easter is by far my favorite holiday: for its place in the cycle of the year, its meaning to me personally (a distracted Christian, but one with some hunch of my center) and — naturally, since this is what we’re here to talk about — the food.

But you can’t talk about what makes the food of Easter so wonderful without talking a little bit about what happens before the holiday even begins.

Depending on your own religious heritage and practices, Lent can be no more than a passing acknowledgement of Fish Fridays, or a punchline of restriction (like the friend whose on again/off again boyfriend “gave her up for Lent”), or something more closely-knit into your eating. I don’t observe Lent in any meaningful way, but I have friends in Orthodox communities whose spring eating follows a pattern of increasing austerity for months: removing meat, then dairy, turning to the simplest foods, restrained in their daily food choices in a way that not incidentally reflects the realities, in other places and times, of living off the ground without modern comforts. When you are a subsistence farmer, early spring is the leanest time, when the larder is low and even milk is scarce.

And then, Easter happens.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Easter is the continental divide of the year, the day that the turn-around begins; when the austerity of Lent and winter are viscerally banished by a table loaded with eggs, cream, sugared yeasty breads tucked with juicy raisins, roast lamb, the first new vegetables of spring. It’s a lavish, generous moment of relief after feeling scrimped over and hemmed in a season of scarcity.

For most of the past two thousand years, the very presence and taste of Easter food meant something emotional to those that feasted. If you follow Lent as the church did historically, Easter was the first day you tasted butter, cream, or meat in nearly two months. That feast opened a season of better eating and new life.

The Easter moment is one that reminds us that things don’t have to stay the same; seasons change and surprise happens — butter goes away, but it comes back! Your religious tradition may lead you to believe (as I do) God is a lively character, full of surprises, or you may celebrate Easter as a secular devotee of jelly beans and the sacred observation of Reese’s peanut butter eggs. Respect. But either way — Easter is a new start, and a reminder that seasons change; tight times can end.

And that new start is represented in all the classic Easter foods, when winter turns to spring. The table I like to set for Easter brings in foods from the old traditions but it also is one that feels fresh and full of the things you want to eat as winter ends. Just eat them with mindfulness that Easter is about more than bunny tails and helicopter egg drops (bless) — it’s a universal moment of change, if you are willing to embrace it.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

My Classic Easter Menu

Here’s my Easter menu of the things I just really want to eat every year. Every dish on here has a story and a reason that traces back to these new beginnings and also to my own family celebrations.

To start: Who doesn’t want deviled eggs on Easter? (I think most of America is eating them this weekend). Wash them down with a make-ahead strawberry limoncello sangria made with rose.

Other dishes here are classic too — hot cross buns trace back to medieval times and are still one of the most delicious ways to start an Easter morning. Lamb is a tradition shared with (and borrowed from) Passover. And then there are the new vegetables of spring: asparagus, new potatoes.

I wrap up the whole menu with, to me, the fun and easy coconut angel food cake I grew up with — which is also an excuse to open up the bag of jelly beans early.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

The Table

We showed you how to set a beautiful, simple Easter table — on a budget, too!

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

A Few Make-Ahead Notes for Easter

What is Easter without deviled eggs? My favorite way to make deviled eggs ahead is to make the eggs and the filling, then refrigerate the filling in a piping bag. In the morning, fill and garnish.

Sangria is always better made ahead, too. Make this strawberry sangria ahead and refrigerate overnight. (Top it off with extra sparkling wine to refresh the fizz at the last moment.)

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Hot cross buns take some work, but like all rich yeast rolls, you can make them up to the point of shaping, then refrigerate overnight. In the morning, let them proof at room temperature for about an hour then bake.

The rest of the dinner has its make-ahead moments too: you can season the lamb the night before then pop into the oven ahead of dinner. The yogurt potato salad (my favorite of all time!) can be made and dressed the night before, but add the arugula at the last moment to keep it snappy.

Happy Easter to you; I hope it’s joyful and has a new beginning or two in store.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)