Using a natural dye to create red eggs is an integral part of a traditional Greek Easter. While eggs may be dyed other colors in Greece and commercial dyes are available, this old-fashioned method creates a deep, rich red color and it's incredibly easy.
It may sound counterintuitive, but the Greek secret to red eggs lies in the skins of yellow onions. It's been used for generations, so you can be assured that it works perfectly.
The Greek Tradition of Red Eggs
In Greek, the red eggs are called kokkina avga (κόκκινα αυγά, pronounced KOH-kee-nah ahv-GHAH). They are perhaps the brightest symbol of the Easter season in Greece. They represent the blood of Christ (the red color) and rebirth (the egg).
The process of dyeing the eggs is part of many families' Easter holiday tradition. They are then baked into a traditional Easter bread called tsoureki, used as decoration, and are part of a customary game known as tsourgrisma.
Ingredients and Equipment
This recipe will make one dozen red eggs and will take almost three hours, including two hours for the eggs to cool. Leading up to your egg dyeing project, save onion skins in a plastic bag in the refrigerator until you're ready to use them.
If you need to remove the skins from new onions, store the skinless onions in a glass jar or plastic bag and place it in the refrigerator. The jar is better odor protection so the rest of your food does not soak up the flavor.
The skinless onions will keep for about one week, so you'll want to find meals to cook them into. Homemade onion rings are a great option that will quickly take care of most of them.
- 12 uncooked eggs (at room temperature)
- Skins from 15 yellow (Spanish) onions
- 2 tablespoons white vinegar
- 4 1/2 cups water
You will need just a few common kitchen utensils for your egg dyeing project. Since the ingredients are all-natural, there's no need to worry about using the items you normally cook with. However, you should not use any porous (wood, ceramic, plastic, etc.) materials as the dye will stain them.
If your stainless cookware and utensils do get colored by the dye, wash them with regular detergent and a small amount of chlorine. Rinse very well.
- Carefully remove any material clinging to the surface of the eggs.
- In a stainless saucepan, place the onion skins and white vinegar in 4 1/2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes.
- Strain the dye into a glass bowl and let it cool to room temperature. At this point, the dye will be orange, so don't let it throw you off.
- In a stainless saucepan, add the cooled, strained dye and the eggs. The eggs should be in one layer and completely covered by the dye.
- Bring to a boil over medium heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer.
- The time needed for dyeing time will be affected by the original color of the eggs. Start checking for color at 12 to 15 minutes. Do not simmer longer than 20 minutes (see step 7 if they aren't red enough). When the eggs are the right color, proceed to step 8.
- If the eggs are not red enough after 20 minutes, you need to stop the cooking process but can continue dyeing them. To do so, leave them in the pot and remove it from heat. When the pot has cooled enough, place it in the refrigerator and let it sit until your desired color is reached.
- Remove the eggs with a slotted spoon and cool on racks.
- When the eggs are cool and can be handled, coat them lightly with olive oil and polish each egg with a paper towel. Refrigerate until it's time to use.
Tsougrisma (The Red Egg Easter Game)
Red eggs are the key piece of a fun game called tsougrisma. It tests both the eggs' strength and the players' strategy. The word tsougrisma means "clinking together" or "clashing." In Greek, it is τσούγκρισμα and is pronounced TSOO-grees-mah.
The game requires two players and two red eggs. The goal is to crack the opponent's egg without cracking your own.
To play, each player holds a red egg, and one taps the end of her or his egg lightly against the end of the other player's egg. When one egg's end is cracked, the person with the clean egg uses the same end of the egg to try to crack the other end of the opponent's egg.
The player who successfully cracks both ends of their opponent's egg is declared the winner. It is said that the winner will have good luck during the year.
There are no rules about which end of the egg to tap first, how to hold it, or how to tap the egg against the other. Also, there's never been a method that has been proven to work every time.