Tess Mallos
57 recipes
Published by
Hardie Grant Books
Alan Benson

With my parents hailing from the Greek island of Kythera, I have always felt an affinity with the people of Cyprus, as both Kythera and Cyprus, through legend, lay claim to the goddess Aphrodite. Legend has it that Aphrodite rose from the sea and went to Kythera, and then to Cyprus. The Cypriots tell it differently. For the romantic among you, Cyprus is regarded as the Island of Aphrodite, and for an island so endowed with beauty, there could hardly be a more appropriate symbol.

Before I visited Cyprus, I was under the mistaken impression that Cypriot and Greek cooking were much the same. I was proved wrong and pleasantly surprised. One of Cyprus’s most interesting dishes would have to be afelia. The basic food can be either pork, new potatoes, mushrooms or globe artichoke hearts, and it is cooked with crushed coriander seeds and red wine. Irrespective of the food used in the dish, it is still called afelia, so I have numbered the variations later in this chapter and depend on the English translation to distinguish between them.

I was also pleased to find that stuffed vine leaf rolls were not called dolmathakia as they are in Greece. They go by the delightful name of koupepia — meaning little cigars.

Cypriot cooking seems to be a happy mixture of Greek, Lebanese–Syrian and Turkish cuisines, with an unmistakable mark that makes it Cypriot. Naturally with my heritage, Greek cooking is the best known to me and I was happy to be able to add more Greek recipes through the pages of Cyprus, although both Greece and Cyprus have a great variety of dishes, perhaps because of their history and proximity to Europe. Nevertheless, the recipes in this chapter are very much Cypriot in execution, as Cypriots have a great passion for certain ingredients, such as cinnamon and coriander.

Perhaps to really experience the Cypriot cuisine and its adaptation of recipes from other countries, a visit to a taverna best proves the point. One we visited in Nicosia only serves meze (snacks or appetisers, known as mezethakia) — 25 in all. They came in steady procession throughout the course of the evening. Koupepia, koupes, feta and haloumi cheese, olives, tabbouleh, hummus, tahinosalata, talattouri, souvlakia, miala, lounza (cured pork fillet, grilled and topped with melting haloumi), stifatho, tavas, marides (fried small fish), panjaria salata, raw artichoke hearts, celery sticks, cucumber, tomato, octopus in wine ... We were informed that we could have a grilled fillet steak afterwards! You will find recipes for most of these mezethakia in various chapters as well as this in chapter. The description given should suffice for the remainder.

A trip to the local market in Nicosia gave me further insight into the uniqueness of Cypriot food. Our guide, though claiming that she was not a good cook, filled me in on the preparation of vegetables. One that particularly intrigued me was kolokassi (taro).

The Cypriot fondness for pork is evident in their meat markets. They make a ham called hiromeri, very similar to Italian prosciutto, and lounza, cured, smoked pork fillet. My previous description of lounza with haloumi cheese is virtually the recipe itself, and lounza is available at Greek and Cypriot food stores.

In the little village of Kakopetria I was told how to make Cypriot sausages. The village method calls for days of soaking the pork and spices in red wine — at room temperature! With regard to your health, the recipe I have given is one used by Cypriot butchers, which you can prepare with confidence.

The same cook gave me her recipe for making green walnut preserves. The process involved is lengthy, but well worth trying. A friend of ours recalls his boyhood days in Cyprus when he and his friends would be commandeered to peel the walnuts. They thought it great fun to go round for days with blackened hands. It happened to me — but I did not regard it as fun! Rubber gloves are strongly advocated.

Cypriot breads, though similar to Greek breads, have some interesting variations. Haloumopsomi is filled with chunks of haloumi. This cheese can be made in the home; however nowadays, such is its popularity that haloumi is widely available in supermarkets and delicatessens, as well as Greek and Cypriot food stores. The same cheese is combined with cheddar and edam cheeses as well as a few other ingredients and used as a filling for flaounes (Easter cheese pies), the pie crust being a yeast dough. Elioti is another typically Cypriot bread, with onions and black olives baked in it.

The flavour of Cypriot foods

While olive oil is almost as widely used as in Greece, the Cypriot cook prefers corn oil for the preparation of many dishes. Butter is considered something of a luxury and is used only in the making of Greek pastries and cakes. Typical Cypriot cakes and cookies often use lard or corn oil, for example lokoumia parayemista, similar to the ma’amoul of Lebanon, which are made in huge quantities, especially for pre-wedding festivities. In Cyprus these are made with lard, but expatriate Cypriots prefer to use butter, and so do I.

While cassia bark is widely used in Greece instead of cinnamon, in Cyprus the more delicately flavoured cinnamon bark is preferred. This is sold in sticks or quills, the kind generally used in Western cooking. A good Cypriot cook prefers to pound the bark to a powder rather than buy it already ground.

Coriander, native to southern Europe, is a most popular flavouring ingredient. Both the leaves and the dried seeds are used extensively.

The Cypriots take pride in being self-sufficient and in rural areas they prepare their own pourgouri (burghul), haloumi and anari cheese, ham and a pasta called trahana. The latter is made with soured milk and ground wheat. It is a lengthy process and ends up as small, square noodles. Trahana forms the basis of winter soups, cooked in chicken broth with perhaps a little tomato to flavour it, and with cubes of haloumi cheese stirred in just before it is removed from the fire. Trahana is also made in Greece, with semolina (farina) instead of the ground wheat. Trahana is readily available at Greek and Cypriot stores.

Eating Cypriot style

With such a history, it is natural for the Cypriots to take their meals in a Western manner, though it is not served in separate courses. A meat, fish or poultry dish will form the basis of the meal, perhaps preceded by a soup. When fasting, a vegetable dish such as polypikilo, louvana or louvia mavromatika me lahana could replace the meat or poultry. A salad — either a cooked green vegetable with an oil and lemon dressing, or a combination of raw vegetables — would be served as an accompaniment. Olives, cheese, pickles, bread, fresh fruit and wine complete the meal.

The Cypriot lifestyle is very similar to that of Greece and Turkey. One delightful custom practised in both Cyprus and Greece is the serving of glyko (spoon sweets). These delightful fruit preserves are lovingly prepared by Greek and Cypriot women, using fruits in season. When a visitor calls, the glyko is served in small glass or silver dishes with a spoon. It is accompanied by a glass of iced water — certainly necessary as they are very sweet — and after this formality, coffee is served, perhaps with a selection of sweet pastries.

Cooking methods

For Cypriot cooking, a Western kitchen needs little extra in the way of equipment, as any pot, pan or casserole dish can be used. In Cyprus the kitchen can be as up to date as your own, or a farm-style kitchen with an open hearth where sausages and hams can be smoked in the chimney, with large pots for preparing zalatina and haloumi cheese, and talaria, woven baskets for draining the curds. In rural areas where they make their own pickles, breads, trahana, sweet preserves and cured olives, every kitchen would be equipped with large utensils and large storage jars, usually of glazed or unglazed pottery, depending on their use.

The tapsi, a round baking dish, is used for roasting meats and baking sweets; a tava, an unglazed terracotta casserole dish, is used for preparing a dish by the same name; a saganaki, a two-handled frying pan for cooking mezes, can be taken directly to the table. Any baking dish, casserole or frying pan can be used instead.

For rolling pastry, a long length of dowel is a definite advantage, as the Cypriot cook prepares pastries in great quantities, and dowel makes the process so much simpler.

Ingredients for Cypriot cooking

The recipes are self-explanatory, and ingredients readily available. Burghul (bulgur), rice, pulses, pasta, semolina, cinnamon, coriander leaves and seeds, and haloumi are necessary ingredients. You can see it would not be difficult to prepare Cypriot food in your kitchen.

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

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