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It’s not only springtime, but Easter as well, and if that word should mean anything to you, it’s that chocolate rabbits and hard-boiled neon eggs are moments away from entering your culinary periphery. The Easter Bunny is the herald of edible Easter goodies; could he actually become one?
Last year, The Arizona Republic ran a story about a special Easter dinner offered at Café Boa, a popular Tempe, AZ restaurant. In a rather ironic move, the chef at Café Boa served up rabbit, inciting the anger of local rabbit lovers and owners. In fact, the uproar was so ferocious that the chef received at least one menu-related death threat.
Traditionally, rabbits walk—er, hop—the fine line between pet and food. And they aren’t alone; we in the West cringe at the idea of dog and cat dishes that are served in Asia. We’re much more comfortable serving our pets Fancy Feasts or seeing them chase one another with comically large weaponry in Saturday morning cartoons than we are with serving them up for dinner. The difference between cuddling up with your pet in Manhattan and chowing down on him in Seol is, to simplify a complicated matter, a difference of culture. But while we might consider it unthinkable to eat dear Lassie, Thumper is another story.
Rabbits have been used for meat as far back as 1500 B.C.E., but it was the Romans (of course) who really established rabbit husbandry, building walled-in gardens for easy capture and encouraging young women, especially, to eat rabbit meat as a means of improving their complexions. In addition to their culinary and cosmetic benefits, rabbits were also a pagan symbol of fertility. And with one of the highest reproductive rates in the animal kingdom, this isn’t a great leap of logic. (It’s said that one pair of rabbits introduced to Australia in the nineteenth century played Adam and Eve to the nearly 20 million there today.)
It’s an easy jump to equate rabbits with springtime—a time of rebirth and renewal. Rabbits, birds, eggs, and flowering plants are the mainstays of springtime symbolism, and appeared in pagan rituals all across Europe. It was only a matter of time before the Christian church adopted these symbols into their own celebrations, easing transitional stress as the Roman Empire assimilated pagan cultures across the European continent. Eventually the symbols of springtime became symbols of Easter—a Christian celebration marking the resurrection of Christ. In many parts of Eastern and Western Europe, Easter remains one of the most important religious holidays of the year.
In fact, the Easter Bunny as we know him today can trace his egg-loving roots back to an Alsace Easter tradition from the sixteenth or seventeenth century. On the night before Easter, the Easter Bunny is said to hide brightly colored eggs for children to find the next morning—reminiscent of the Christmas tradition of St. Nicholas hiding presents for children on Christmas Eve. Many German traditions even include an Easter egg tree, similar to a Christmas tree. By the mid-nineteenth century, the Easter Bunny had stowed away on ships bringing European immigrants over to the New World.
Easter eggs have a more straightforward origin, stretching back to the Medieval age when hard boiled eggs were popular fare. Along with most meat and dairy, eggs were banned during the fast of Lent in the Catholic tradition. By Easter Sunday and the following Monday, there were plenty of eggs ready to be painted with bright colors that reflected the spring flowers and foliage emerging in the countryside. Egg coloring differs slightly across Europe—Eastern Orthodox Christians sometimes paint their eggs bright red to represent Christ’s sacred blood, while many Russians boil their eggs with onions to give them a brownish hue.
While eggs have sustained their popularity in Western cuisine—taking over breakfast and brunch menus on almost every continent and cropping up on Easter Sunday to be consumed with delight by children and adults—rabbit hasn’t fared so well. What was once a popular game meat throughout the United States, Europe, and Australia is now eaten by many with trepidation. Some diners consider the taste and texture to be slightly off-putting. But could our hesitancy toward eating rabbit have to do more with Easter itself?
While rabbit may have started out as a promising food source, it now has deeper roots in our cultural subconscious, representing not only Christ and the coming of spring, but also something cute and fuzzy that our kids cherish. Who’d want to eat that?
Easter has become more than just a religious holiday in the West; it’s Big Business. Companies produce millions of dollars’ worth of Easter paraphernalia—from day-glo plastic eggs to blue and pink stuffed rabbits wearing bonnets and bow ties, not to mention the bushels of green plastic grass in which to nest those Easter goodies. Americans alone spend millions on Easter egg dye and chocolate bunnies for their kids. Ask little Tommy if he’d like to eat roast rabbit in honor of Easter, and you may as well have offered to roast Santa Claus on a candy cane spit.
It’s not too late to rethink the Easter Bunny. Before jumping to conclusions, explore these traditional and non-traditional Easter dishes and rediscover the true value of rabbit meat—you can also get rid of some of those hard-boiled eggs!
Greek Easter Bread
This is a traditional Greek sweet bread adorned with colored eggs.
2½ cups all-purpose flour, divided
¼ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 (.25-ounce) package active dry yeast
2⁄3 cup milk
2 tablespoons butter
2 whole raw eggs
5 whole raw eggs, dyed if desired
2 tablespoons butter, melted
In a large bowl, combine 1 cup flour, sugar, salt and yeast; stir well. Combine milk and butter in a small saucepan; heat until milk is warm and butter is softened but not melted.
Gradually add the milk and butter to the flour mixture; stirring constantly. Add two eggs and ½ cup flour; beat well. Add the remaining flour, ½ cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. When the dough has pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.
Lightly oil a large bowl, place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat with oil. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into two equal size rounds; cover and let rest for 10 minutes. Roll each round into a long roll about 36 inches long and 1½ inches thick. Using the two long pieces of dough, form a loosely braided ring, leaving spaces for the five colored eggs. Seal the ends of the ring together and use your fingers to slide the eggs between the braids of dough.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place loaf on a buttered baking sheet and cover loosely with a damp towel. Place loaf in a warm place and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. Brush risen loaf with melted butter.
Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 55 minutes, or until golden.
Makes one bread ring
Heat Scale: None
El Diablo Eggs
The addition of the jalapeño juice will surprise you. It is savory without being hot. Use a pastry bag and pipe in the filling for a fancy presentation.
1⁄3 cup mayonnaise
1 to 2 teaspoons of juice from a jar of sliced Nacho jalapeños
1 heaping teaspoon chopped cilantro
8 whole hard-boiled eggs
2 ounces diced green chile
½ teaspoon oregano or chervil
1 teaspoon paprika
Nacho jalapeño slices for garnish
Mix the mayonnaise with jalapeño juice to the desired heat level. Add the cilantro and oregano (or chervil).
Cut the eggs in half lengthwise and remove the yolks. In a bowl, mash the yolks and add the mayonnaise/ jalapeño juice mixture and green chile. Allow the flavors to blend. Adjust the seasonings before filling the eggs.
Mound about 1 tablespoon of the yolk mixture into the cavity of each egg-white half. Add one slice of Nacho jalapeño to the top of each egg half if more heat is desired. Cover and chill for up to 2 hours.
Yield: 16 halves
Heat Scale: Mild to Medium
Andalusian Gazpacho with Red Jalapeños
Here’s a cold soup that sparkles with spicy heat and flavor. It is originally from Córdoba, Spain, where it is served bland, but we have taken the liberty to spice it up a bit. It is interesting because it is made without cooking and without water. Note: this recipe requires advance preparation.
¼ pound white bread, 2 days old, crusts removed (about ½ pound before crusts are removed)
3⁄4 cup cold water
2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled and seeded
2 red jalapeño chiles, seeds and stems removed
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 egg yolks
1½ tablespoons red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon white pepper
1⁄3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Chopped hard-cooked eggs
In a bowl, soak the bread in the cold water for a minute or two. With your hands, squeeze the excess water from the bread and place it in a food processor. Add the tomatoes, chile, and garlic and puree. While pureeing, add the egg yolks, vinegar, salt, and pepper. Continue pureeing and slowly add the olive oil until the mixture is smooth.
Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for 4 hours. Serve in chilled bowls garnished with the eggs and cilantro.
Serves: 4 to 6
Heat Scale: Mild
Caribbean Crab-Stuffed Deviled Eggs
Stuffed eggs are the most obvious ways to use up left-over Easter eggs. There are any number of variations of the old standard, and these are special enough for an hors d’oeuvre party table. Since older eggs are easier to peel, be sure to use them when you need a smooth, clean egg. Use a pastry bag and pipe in the filling for a fancy presentation.
8 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
2 teaspoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon habanero hot sauce
¼ teaspoon Dijon-type mustard
6 ounces flaked crabmeat
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Garnish: Finely chopped fresh parsley
Cut the eggs in half lengthwise and remove the yolks. Put the yolks from 5 of the eggs in a bowl and mash with a fork. Sprinkle the vinegar over the yolks and toss the yolks so that the vinegar is distributed.
Add the mayonnaise, thyme, hot sauce, and mustard and mix until blended. Mix in the crab and season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow the filling to sit for 15 minutes for the flavors to blend. Adjust the seasonings before filling the eggs.
Mound about 1 tablespoon crab mixture into the cavity of each egg-white half. At this point, the eggs can be covered and refrigerated for future use. To serve, arrange the filled eggs on a platter and garnish with the parsley.
Yield: 16 halves
Heat Scale: Mild to Medium
Mrs. Paletta’s Angry Rabbit
This dish sounds like a belligerent and problematic pet but, in actual fact, it’s a traditional, delicious and spicy Italian dish from the Umbrian countryside.
1 young rabbit (or substitute half a chicken)
2 medium onions, peeled, chopped
½ cup chopped mint
2 medium carrots, peeled, and chopped
2 tablespoons minced rosemary
2 peperoncinos, seeds and stems removed, minced (or substitute serrano chiles)
2 cups white wine
1 cup tomato sauce, and more if necessary
Cooked pasta of choice
Coat a roasting pan with olive oil. Add the rabbit and all the other ingredients except the tomato sauce and the pasta. Make sure that the rabbit is covered by the liquid, adding more wine if necessary.
Roast at 275 degrees F. for 30 minutes, until browned. Add the tomato sauce and continue cooking for 1 hour.
Remove the meat from the bones, return to the sauce, and heat the mixture in a pan. Serve over the pasta with lots of hand-torn peasant bread.
Yield: 3 to 4 servings
Heat Scale: Medium
Enchiladas Stuffed with Eggs
This dish is very unique to the Mayan cuisine of the Yucatán. These enchiladas are filled with hard-boiled eggs and are topped with a subtly flavored green sauce made from pumpkin seeds. Traditionally they would be garnished with a green oil that is squeezed from the toasted seeds, but we’ve omitted that from the recipe, as they taste just as good without that complicated step.
This is a very old recipe, reputed to have been served by the Maya to the Spaniards when they arrived in the New World. The title comes from the words papak, “to anoint,” and sul, “to soak or drench.”
Usually served as an appetizer, they make a wonderful lunch or dinner entrée, smooth in texture and rich in flavor. If your tortillas have become stiff, heat some vegetable oil in a hot skillet and dip the tortillas in the oil for a couple of seconds to soften. Remove and drain on paper towels.
2 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
3 serrano chiles, stems removed, chopped
2 sprigs fresh epazote, or 2 teaspoons dried (available in Latin markets, optional)
2 cups vegetable broth
2 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
½ cup chopped white onion
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds, finely ground
8 corn tortillas
6 hard-boiled eggs, peeled and chopped
Combine the tomatoes, chiles, epazote, and broth in a saucepan. Bring to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and strain, saving both the tomatoes and the broth.
Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, add 1 tablespoon of the oil; when hot, add the onion and garlic and sauté until soft. Add the onions and tomato mixture to a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.
Add the remaining oil to the saucepan and heat. Add the sauce and sauté for 5 minutes.
Heat a saucepan over medium heat, add the tomato broth, and slowly stir in the seeds. Reduce the heat and simmer until the mixture thickens to the consistency of thick cream, stirring constantly. Be careful the sauce does not boil, or it may curdle.
Dip the tortillas in the warm pumpkin-seed sauce to coat and soften. Place some of the chopped eggs in the center, roll up, and place on a platter. Pour the remaining pumpkin-seed sauce over the top, then the tomato sauce, and serve.
Yield: 4 servings
Heat scale: Medium
Rabbit in Venezuelan Spicy Sauce
(Conejo en Mole Picante)
Rabbit is readily available in many U.S. markets. It is a mild, tasty white meat–and no, it doesn’t taste exactly like chicken! Rabbit is extremely versatile; it can be fried, deep fried, sautéed, and sauced. This spicy sauce can also be used with pork, veal, and poultry.
1 Four-pound rabbit, washed, dried, and cut into 6 to 8 pieces
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger root
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 cup chopped onions
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon habanero powder or 3/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 small green apple, peeled and grated
½ teaspoon dried tarragon
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme
2 tablespoons chopped Italian parsley
½ cup milk
3⁄4 cup chicken stock
Season the rabbit with the salt, pepper, and the ginger.
Heat the oil in a large, heavy skillet and add the rabbit pieces and sauté them until they are browned, turning, about 10 minutes. Remove the rabbit to a heated platter.
Reheat the oil and add the onion and sauté it until it browns. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds. Then add the chile powder, grated apple, tarragon, bay leaves, thyme, and parsley and stir to mix.
Return the browned rabbit to the skillet, add the milk and the stock, cover and simmer for 45 to 60 minutes or until tender. Remove the bay leaves before serving.
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Heat Scale: Medium
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