Monday, April 21, 2014

Happy Easter Tradtions

I know that Easter is not celebrated by everyone. At this time in my life, I wouldn't really say that I "celebrate" Easter except for being with family who do celebrate. Still, some foods are associated with a holiday since earliest childhood and those foods continue to bring happiness. Beets with horseradish was my paternal Grandma's accompaniment for the Easter Ham and Kielbasa. Other accompaniments to Easter meals are Pascha Bread (a rich bread similar to the Jewish Challah), and something she called "Sirets" (or Cirets or Hrudka - the spelling varies). 
Sirets, sliced

This last, Sirets, is a sort of "egg cheese". It was never one of my favorite foods, but my Dad just loved it, and the last time I recall seeing my Grandma, and knowing how Dad love it, I asked Grandma how she made Sirets. My Grandma had a very strong accent and spoke broken English all her life. Grandma really had no written recipes, so when she gave a recipe, she may or not have left things out. My Mom swore she did. I feel that a large part of the true difficulty was that Grandma assumed that you would somehow just "know". True to Grandma's way, when I asked her to tell me how she made Sirets, she replied, "Oh, you know; just take a quart of milk in a pan and add in a dozen eggs and a little salt and sugar and cook until it separates and then pour into a cheesecloth. Hang the cheesecloth from a faucet until it stops dripping." 

Grandma's directions were okay. She used her hands to help explain what she was describing. She gave no amounts for the salt and sugar. I know for sure that I made this at least twice for my Dad, long after Grandma was gone from our lives. The first time, Dad felt it needed to have just a little bit more salt and sugar than what I had used, though it was perfect otherwise. After consulting together on what I had used and what we felt the sugar and salt measurements should be, the second time I made Sirets Dad pronounced it perfect. I have a hard time distinguishing what is perfect in this case, as after all these many years I still do not care for this particular food. I do trust my Dad's word, so my  measurements are based on what he liked best.
Making Sirets: Milk, eggs, salt & sugar in pan; whisk. Cook, stirring until the mass separates into large curds.

I have had the recipe for Sirets on my website for a long time, but had no photos of my own, so I really wanted to make this again, despite not caring for it. Ever since Grandma gave me her "recipe" I have made only half the given recipe since Dad was the only one who ate it. I would use 1 pint of milk and 6 eggs and add in 1 teaspoon each of salt and sugar. This Easter, as it would be only me to eat this Easter food, I further cut the recipe in half, using only 1 cup of milk, three eggs and 1/2 teaspoon each of salt and sugar. I will place the whole recipe here, in case there be any of Yugoslav / Serbian descent (or anyone) who want to try their hand. I will place the amounts for 1/2 and then 1/4 the recipe in parentheses. The method does not change. If this sounds interesting, make the tiny amount as I did this time and you can at least see what it's like.

Making Sirets: Pour hot mixture into cheesecloth lined colander, let drain, gather and hang to finish dripping.

Sirets or Cirets ("Egg Cheese")

1 quart milk (or 2 cups or 1 cup)
12 eggs (or 6 eggs or 3 eggs)
2 teaspoons salt (or 1 teaspoon, or 1/2 teaspoon)
2 teaspoons sugar (or 1 teaspoon or 1/2 teaspoon)

In a saucepan large enough to accommodate the amount you are making, place all the ingredients and whisk the eggs into the milk. Set the pan on medium heat and switch to a silicone spatula or wooden spoon and stir constantly until the mixture has separated into large scrambled egg-like curds, leaving a pale liquid. For the smallest amount, this process took 7 minutes. It will take longer if you are using the full amount. 

Set a large piece of cheesecloth or a kitchen towel (not terrycloth) over a colander and pour in all the mixture in the pan. Allow it to drain. Begin gathering the cheesecloth with the intent to squeeze any extra liquid from the mass. Tie the cheesecloth with kitchen twine, and then hang the cheesecloth bundle from the faucet over the sink or anything that will allow drainage. Once the mass stops dripping, squeeze tightly, twisting the top of the cheesecloth to compact the mass into a nice firm ball. Set the ball into the refrigerator to chill completely. To serve, slice the unwrapped ball as desired.

On plate, clockwise from left: Croissant, ham, Beets with Horseradish, fried eggs, Sirets
I still celebrate these food traditions as often as possible. I automatically make the Beets with Horseradish whenever ham is in the house. I have been making Mom and maternal Grandma's bread (traditionally made for Easter, Christmas or Thanksgiving) as a matter of course for so long now; it is just always in the house. While I do have some of the bread made, I found out some years back that using large croissants to sandwich the ham and beets with horseradish is magnificent for Easter breakfast. I have not made hard boiled eggs for Easter for many years, and did not this year, so I made fried eggs. My breakfast yesterday was most excellent, whether completely traditional or not.

I hope everyone had a most wonderful Sunday, whether celebrated as Easter or not. We spent the day with family in a small town here and it was very convivial as always, the food was excellent and plentiful, and the children were happy. What better day could one desire?

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.