Thursday, January 10, 2013

Recipes from Cyprus

Yeah, I took a week off. OK a little more than a week. I spent the holidays over-committing myself, starting with National Novel Writing Month, then hosting Thanksgiving, then catching up on all of the holiday shopping I should have done when I was doing National Novel Writing Month, then hosting Christmas and finally making way too many New Year's Eve appetizers, and when I was finished first thing on New Year's Day I came down with a cold. Not just any cold, one of those migraine-headache-slash-cold-slash-upset-stomach-from-taking-all-that-migraine-medication types of colds. Plus the kids were at home. And so was Martin. So I figured I could get away with skipping a week because I did post my Top 10 Favorite Recipes of 2012 list last week, and that counts for something doesn't it?

Anyway this week we're in Cyprus, which you may remember from our brief visit to Akrotiri the year before last (Akrotiri is basically just an RAF base on Cyprus). Cyprus is another one of those island nations, only it's not tropical or anywhere near the Caribbean. This island nation is located in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, east of Greece, west of Syria, north of Egypt and south of Turkey.

The island is mostly Greek in character, with about 77 percent of the population identifying as Greek Cypriot, 18 percent calling themselves Turkish Cypriot and the remaining five percent in that world-unifying category known as "other." Although today it is a pretty peaceful place with a high human development index, Cyprus was a scene of violence as recently as 1974, when Greece decided that it wanted to "unite" with the island. The Greeks carried out a coup, then Turkey invaded under the auspices of stopping Greece, and then Turkey decided that it actually just wanted to take over the country for itself. As you can imagine, this move was unpopular with most of the western world, and international sanctions against Turkey eventually led to a cease-fire, but not before Turkey occupied 37% of the country and 180,000 Greek Cypriots had been ousted from their homes. Even after the end of fighting, Turkey stubbornly clung to its claim and even today calls the northeastern corner of the island The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a sovereignty that is only recognized by one nation in the entire world: you guessed it, Turkey.

Cape Greco, Cyprus. Photo Credit: TeryKats via Compfight cc

Which brings me to the food. Well, not really, because you can't really get from there to food. But I had to at least fake a segue.

Cypriot cuisine is very similar to Greek food and shares a lot of common dishes and favorite ingredients. It does also have Turkish influences (hmm, wonder why), as well as influences from other middle-eastern nations and from Italy. Cyprus is famous for Haloumi cheese (which I fried back in Akrotiri), preserved meats and barbecued snails (yum, no not really).

Anyway if you recall the snails I did for Burgundy, France you already know I did not barbecue any snails for this meal. Instead I chose some simple, hearty stuff. Here's my menu:

For the appetizer:

Avgolemoni (Egg and Lemon Soup)
From: Flavours of Cyprus

  • 1 whole chicken or 5 cups chicken stock
  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • Juice of 1 or 2 fresh lemons, to taste
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
And for the main course:

Tavva (Baked Lamb and Potatoes with Tomatoes and Onions)
Also from Flavours of Cyprus

  • 2 lbs lamb
  • 2 lbs potatoes
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 lb fresh tomatoes, quatered
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 2-4 bay leaves.
  • I tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 cup olive oil
And some bread:

Houloumopsomi (Cheese Bread)
This recipe came from an Australian TV show called "Secret Recipes"

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp active yeast
  • 4 tbsp warm water
  • 1 to 2 cups warm water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • olive oil
  • 9 oz Haloumi cheese, cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1-2 tablespoons dried mint (or to taste)
Put everything in your bread machine, unless you want to do it the old fashioned way:

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let stand until frothy.

Now sift the flour into a bowl and add 1 cup of water and salt. Make a well in the center of the mixture and add the yeast. Stir to incorporate, adding more water if needed.

Now add the diced cheese and the mint.

Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. It should not be sticky. Add about a tablespoon of olive oil and a little extra flour to help get the dough completely out of the bowl.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in a floured bowl, covering lightly. Let rise in a warm place for an hour or so or until doubled in size.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450 degrees (Yes! That hot.)

Now put the dough on a baking sheet and put in the oven. Bake for 5-10 minutes, then reduce heat to about 425 degrees and keep baking for 25 to 35 minutes. Keep an eye on your bread because this is still pretty hot, and you don't want it burning.

When done, the bread should have a nice hard crust and be soft inside.

Now for the lamb:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

Put the meat in a large bowl with the potatoes, onions, tomatoes and bay leaves. Top with the cinnamon, salt and pepper, then pour the oil over everything.

Now mix the tomato paste with the water and pour that over everything. Toss until the meat and vegetables are coated with oil, tomato paste and spices, then transfer to a roasting pan.

Cover loosely with foil and bake until an internal thermometer registers 140 degrees for rare, 150 for medium and 160 for well-done, turning the meat and potatoes occasionally.

Finally, the appetizer, which cooks up quickly.

If you want to do this the hard way, you will need to boil a whole chicken in water, then reserve the stock to use as the base for the soup. It was nearly Christmas when I made this, so I was way too tired to do anything the hard way. I used a prepared chicken stock instead. Either way you should have about 5 cups of stock.

Add the rice to the stock and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until the rice is tender. Remove from heat and let cool a little.

Pour some of the stock into a bowl and add a little bit of cold water. Whisk in the eggs and lemon juice. Now add the egg and lemon mixture to the pot. Heat the soup slowly but don't boil, since you don't want the egg to scramble. If you'd like your soup to be a little thicker, dissolve the cornstarch in a little bit of water and add that to the pot, continuing to heat until thick. Serve immediately. If you're serving this as a main course you can include the boiled chicken on the side.

OK, here's the verdict:

We liked the soup although it did seem pretty basic. Despite the unusual cooking technique, it really was just rice, chicken stock and lemon—tasty but not really that original in flavor.

As I'm sure you already guessed, Martin disliked the lamb because it is next to impossible to get all the fat out of a roast. So although it was delicious Martin's fat-phobia prevented him from really enjoying it. I liked it more than he did, and the kids did too—at first. We don't eat a lot of lamb so as soon as they had a few bites they kind of burned out on that strong lamb flavor and didn't finish their meals. That's just them, though.

The bread was perfect in every way except one, the part that made it inedible. It had a wonderful crust and a great texture, but the mint was really overpowering. I'm sure it is an acquired taste. If I made this again (and I actually probably will) I would just cut out the mint altogether. Of course this again is an opinion—if you like mint or herby bread in general you would probably enjoy this recipe. But frankly, I think it's a crime to overpower cheese with mint. I couldn't taste the cheese at all, which is 9/10ths of the reason I chose that recipe in the first place.

So there you go, Cyprus. Kind of a blah experience overall. Good, but not terribly interesting.

Next week: The Czech Republic.

For printable versions of this week's recipes:

1 comment:

  1. Great information of Recipes and Flavours of Cyprus

    Thank You, travelbystove


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