Originally published on SBS.
Since I was four years old, I’ve made traditional Greek cheese pies in my grandmother’s kitchen. She recently passed away, but it wouldn’t be Greek Easter without them.
My Yiayia Katerina was a home economics teacher back in Greece. While methods comprise a lot of this subject, she was often outrageously instinctive when she cooked. Documenting recipes was challenging (but hilarious).
After migrating to Australia, she kept particular traditions and recipes close to her heart. One of them was making cheese pies with a recipe native to Kos, part of the Dodecanese islands in southeastern Greece where she was born. We made these together every Greek Orthodox Easter for more than 20 years. Every year, we followed the same ritual and she gave me the same wise tips. She didn’t write down the recipe, but she passed it on regardless.
Greece has nationwide Easter recipes, but many regions and islands have their own specific recipes too. In Kos, one of these is lambropites – ‘lambri’ refers to Easter and ‘pites’ means pies.
Lambropites are a simple pleasure and an absolute crowd-pleaser. The base is similar to a pizza dough, which is rolled out into circles with a diameter of 12 to 15 centimetres. Spooned on top of the dough is a savoury cheese mixture of ricotta, fetta and egg – making them a moreish and slightly tart treat. The lambropites are baked until golden and best served hot with honey spread on top. They are great for breakfast or afternoon tea.
In Kos, making lambropites has been passed down from generation to generation. Traditionally, people of the Greek Orthodox faith fast for 40 days in the lead up to Orthodox Easter (the Holy Feast of Pascha), which falls on 24 April this year. The people of Kos made cheese pies in the week before Pascha and ate them, as well as lamb and sweets, on this day to break the fast.
Although we only made lambropites for Easter, yiayia was an absolute natural. It’s fair to say that she was always in charge. She guided us every step of the way yet wasn’t overbearing. Yiayia would put us to shame when she used her muscle power to knead the dough and show it who was boss. The consistency of the cheese had to be perfect – not too thick, not too runny. She also kept an eye on the oven to ensure we didn’t overcook them; she didn’t want the bread to become too hard.
She was unwaveringly encouraging every time we made lambropites. As the years passed, she told us that we’d become more skilled at making lambropites than her. I still don’t believe her; hers always looked perfect to me.
When the first batch of lambropites came out of the oven, she admired them and stacked them in a corner of her kitchen. The best part of baking day was sitting down with a cup of tea and a lambropita, enjoying our hard work. My grandfather would lurk cheekily when he noticed that the first batch was out of the oven so he could score a fresh one.
Most years, we would make about 80 lambropites. It was a mammoth effort, especially for an elderly woman. We’d give out the lambropites to family members and receive rave reviews.
I’ve shared Yiayia Katerina’s recipe below. If you’re a cheese aficionado like me, they’re well worth it. I’ll be making them in my kitchen this year.
- 2 kg plain flour
- 1 litre lukewarm water (for the actual dough)
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 sachets of yeast
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 cup lukewarm water (for the yeast)
- 1 kg Greek feta
- 500 g Danish feta
- 500 g ricotta
- 8 eggs
- Ground black pepper
- Start off by making the dough. Combine the yeast, sugar and lukewarm water to activate. Set aside for 5 minutes so it expands and becomes frothy.
- Sift the flour into a large bowl. When the yeast has activated, add it to the flour and combine. Gradually add lukewarm water to the dough mixture and knead for 5–7 minutes. Set the dough aside to rest for at least 30 minutes.
- To make the cheese mixture, crumble the feta and ricotta in a large bowl. Ensure the cheese is broken down into small pieces. Whisk the eggs and add them to the cheese; mix with a spoon until combined. The consistency should be thick and creamy.
- Preheat your oven to 180°C.
- Flour your bench and start rolling out dough bases that are 12–15 centimetres in diameter. They should be half a centimetre thick. Using your fingers, pinch the edges of the dough to create little raised walls, so that the pies can hold the cheese. You can get creative and pinch the dough walls to replicate star-like shapes. You can also place the dough into tart tins if you’d like to make this process easier.
- Add a few drops of milk to the tops of the dough bases and spread out before spooning about 1½ tablespoons of the cheese mixture on top of each. The milk allows the cheese to be spread easily and evenly.
- Now for the finishing touch. Place some milk in a bowl and some ground pepper on a separate plate. To decorate, dip a fingertip in the milk then the pepper and dot this in the centre of the lambropites.
- Place the lambropites onto trays and bake for 30–35 minutes. They can be enjoyed sweet or savoury – as is or with honey spread on top.