There’s a tradition in Rohit Cheyaden’s family: On Easter weekend, after midnight mass at the church on Saturday, they head straight home, not even stopping to greet people. For meat cutlets, fish curries and mutton ishtew await.
Cheyaden, a Syrian Christian and a foodie, lives in Kalyan, on the outskirts of Mumbai. They are a large family of about 30 and Easter means a grand get-together and feasting after Lent, the 40-day abstinence period when meats, sweets and alcohol are avoided.
Not surprisingly then, non-vegetarian dishes and desserts are the mainstay of Easter menus. Tables heave with meat roasts, fried fish and tipsy desserts. The festive menu is shaped by regional specialities, like Kuttanadan duck roast in Kerala, and seasonal ingredients, such as mangoes in Maharashtra.
Mumbai-based Ankita Francis Fernandes, who is the co-owner of the Fresh Catch restaurant in Bandra, pickles raw baby mangoes and tops up her desserts with Alphonso. Fernandes comes from the north Karnataka coastal region bordering Goa and their cuisine is defined by curries redolent with coconut milk and souring ingredients like kokum or tree sorrel. They have dishes like xacuti and vindalho, so the cuisine is often confused with Goa’s. Despite the commonalities in names and ingredients, though, the texture of their dishes is slightly runny and the spices are finely ground for a smoother mouthfeel. The difference lies in the pairing. In north Karnataka, xacuti and vindalho are served with rice, instead of the pao intrinsic to Goa.
Fresh Catch, which specialises in coastal cuisine, has a special Easter menu with a stuffed crepe-like sweet, alle belle, roast chicken—and, of course, Easter eggs.
Naga chef Karen Yepthomi’s Easter Sunday is invariably marked by an Easter egg hunt, organised by parents or schools, after the special church service. “The joy of finding Easter eggs is so special,” she says. The special menu at Yepthomi’s Delhi-based restaurant, Dzukou Tribal Kitchen, has ingredients sourced from Nagaland. It features devilled eggs in Naga king chilli sauce,rosella cocktail and grilled pork chops. Fresh rosella flowers and leaves are abundantly available during springtime in Nagaland.
In Mizoram, Easter eggs are distributed among churchgoers on Sunday. After the morning service, there’s a tea party in the church premises, with cakes, puffs and cutlets. While a church in the state capital Aizawl serves contemporary snacks or samosas, smaller towns and villages serve local dishes like chhangban, a snack made with sticky rice flour, steamed in banana leaves and served with jaggery. Even the rice has a mild sweetness that pairs well with tea.
On Maundy Thursday, ahead of Easter, Kerala-based chef and blogger Maria Jose Martins, who is from the Marthoma Christian community, prepares a steamed bread called pesaha or inri appam. The batter contains roasted rice flour, urad dal paste, coconut and spices like garlic and cumin, poured into a cake pan. A cross made with palm leaves is placed on top and the whole thing is steamed. It’s served with a paal (syrup) containing coconut milk sweetened with jaggery.
For the Sunday feast, her menu has an array of meat preparations. There’s the lightly spiced fish molee, a prawn or meat biryani speckled with strings of fried onion, and duck roast cooked in coconut milk and flavoured with curry leaves. “The ducks are brought from Kuttanadan in the backwaters of Kerala. The meat of that particular variety is really tasty and people tend to use it for special occasions,” she says. The meal ends on a sweet note, with a caramel custard or bread pudding.
Author and food consultant Bridget White-Kumar, who has written several books on Anglo-Indian cooking, explains: “Easter menus don’t have rich sweets like a rum-soaked plum cake. Foods like that are warming and perfect for winter. In spring, we have lighter desserts, like a sponge cake with butter icing, custards and puddings.”
This year, she plans to make roast pork served with mashed potatoes and roast vegetables. There will be a duck vindaloo, paired with coconut rice. For dessert, she will bake a tipsy bread pudding with a dash of brandy.
BRIDGET WHITE-KUMAR’S TIPSY BREAD PUDDING
8 slices of bread
1 litre milk
2 tbsp sugar
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 tbsp custard powder
Chopped cashew nuts or walnuts and some raisins
3 eggs, beaten well
Quarter cup brandy or rum
Remove the crusts from the bread slices and cut into small pieces or triangles. Grease a baking dish. Beat the eggs and sugar together well. Add the vanilla essence and the brandy/rum. Heat the milk till warm. Add the custard powder and mix well. Add the butter and mix well till the butter melts. Now add the milk mixture to the bowl with the beaten eggs, sugar, vanilla essence and brandy/rum. Add the pieces of bread to this mixture, soaking them completely. Pour into the buttered dish. Sprinkle with nuts and raisins. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius, then bake at 180 degrees Celsius for 30 minutes, or till nice and brown on top. Serve hot or cold. You can steam the pudding for 15-20 minutes instead of baking.