We got an invitation to a dinner on the Eve of the New Year. The highlight of the evening should have been dishes of the modern Cypriot cuisine based on time-tested traditional recipes.
It was at dusk of that cold winter day when we arrived to the house which bright windows covered the wet pavement with soft warm light.
Our host was famous media personality: a moderator of a culinary show on Mega TV, an acknowledged “guru” of Cypriot and Mediterranean cuisine, a researcher and an author of the idea and co-creator of “Cyprus: A culinary journey” book (it was published both in English and German).
So we spent the evening having the sumptuous dinner and the most pleasant conversation about the important concepts. You might say what you will, but the second most essential thing after the family values for true Cypriots is a good quality food. Kali oreksi!
A vegetarian beetroot soup with spring onion, celery and lemon waited for us on the neatly served table. It is supposed to be eaten with cottage cheese and bread with a very pleasant crunch — a galleno sesame seed bread, a homemade one (it’s recipe origins from Pafos).
Our hostess, Marilena, well aware of our interest to the secrets of Cypriot cuisine, shared few of her own:
“This soup…its recipe I’ve learned in a village. It’s very easy to make but the main secret of it is in combination and balance between the ingredients (and as you might know, each hostess makes it on her own way). I also have found mine after few experiments with the proportions…and you know what? I decided it lacks on the last “final touch” for the full flavour. So, here it is — a small spoon of soft cheese very similar to Tylliria feta that I always add to the dish!
I made exactly this one at my culinary TV show on Mega TV once — it was a special for all the vegetarians in Cyprus!”
I have noted the perfect marriage of tastes and mentioned of course that the beetroot soup — “borschtsch” is in favour in our midst as well (and in numerous other places, I presume). So, Marilena and I shared some nuances of making this well-known dish. One notably difference she was intrigued by was that some bold experimentalists, me among them, dare to prepare this meal without any meat or meat stock, what is certainly not along the traditional line.
That is what women do, we take a step off the beaten path and add a personal touch to everything we create.
If you wish to learn more about soups of Cypriot cuisine, here is the page to visit.
We were offered a glass of wine as a necessary complement to the main course. No perfect dinner is complete without one!
Marilena invited us to select between red and white wines, both made in Cyprus — originated from Lemona village (a place in Pafos district, famous for its vineyards manufacturing organic wines). An indispensable pitcher with water, what is a widespread traditional tribute, accompanied the wine on the table together with various soda drinks for anyone wishing to limit themselves to non-alcoholic beverages. So feel free to ask for these kinds of drinks at the any party you will be invited to.
I would like to add as a side note that different soda drinks are all time party favourites in Cyprus, equally loved both by young and old. This is also a common cultural peculiarity along with clinking glasses and saying “ees-eeheia!” before starting a meal together. As a rule plenty of wine and other drinks are served at feasts and parties what means there’s always a good occasion to propose a toast, and we all know that.
Marilena served us the main course; the table layout for it resembles the “smorgasbord” (or buffet) but in a Cypriot way. Traditionally the main dish consists of a complex garnish and an obligatory feature of every Cyprus meal of course — green salads for any season and any time of the day (you can read more about traditional Cypriot salads and appetizers here). However it is very rare when the islanders treat themselves with a rose petals salad Marilena offered us that night.
“Well, this dish is also a common winter meal that is served on Christmas Eve (read more here). Its main ingredients are pork, pourgouri (another kind of bulgur or couscous — grain wheat porridge) and almond. The one I made for you is a variation that includes also chicken and turkey breasts — it’s a kind of a roll-up as you might see. Another new thing I included in this recipe is commandaria (here is our article about commandaria and Cyprus Wine Museum in Erimi).
You should definitely try this dish — it’s stifado (a stew) but mine version of it is not a rabbit one, like it is by the rules, but pork with quince [author’s note: this fruit is mostly used for making jams in Cyprus]. I also added epsima as a final touch — a concentrated grape juice that looks like honey.”
It’s a well known fact that the guests of Cyprus are often surprised by bold and exotic combinations of tastes that exist due to accustomed for the islanders all-year-round wealth of various fruits, vegetables and berries. The flavours that will bring a fine aftertaste with them right after the “first fork” and broaden your horizons by making you put aside your habits and prejudices.
The objects of my keen interest were the sauces: all of them were remarkable for their amazing fragrance and extraordinary taste. Obviously Marilena makes the sauces herself…but maybe she buys (very rarely, only to save some time on a weekday) ready-made sauces or some semi-finished products as well?
M.: “Of course not! Never! Only “here and now”, homemade and balanced as I like it. I always create and cook all the vegetable sauces myself. That soup you’ve already tasted, there is also a sauce I made this morning in it.”
The two desserts both were fantastic: almond shamali with semolina (specific kind of a wheat grain; visit this page for the traditional recipe) and “Agrosonais” — a cream pudding with jelly layer of unexpectedly bright pink colour.
Marilena explained that it is a very special kind of treat made with rose water from Agros. The important ingredient of its cream is a mastic (organic resin of a mastic tree growing in Pafos region; it also widely used in culinary, as a component of liquors and there is even a mastic chewing gum that makes no harm to the teeth).
The hostess told us a story about a man called Nearchos Clerides (1892-1969) — he was a well-known Cyprus noble man who contributed to the development of tourism and education in the village. About hundred years ago he brought a cutting of a garden rose and let his gardeners propagate and plant it. That is how the flourishing (and it is in the truest sense) of the village began: Agros village is a famous “rose village” now.
Marilena also added: "I put some beetroot juice to the rose water to create this bright colour!"
The music chosen by Marilena added much to the whole atmosphere of the evening: light instrumental melodies (the harp performed a solo in them), calming with notes of classics. Carefully selected discreet music creates a “background” that is as essential to the successful event as the meal. Our hostess paid attention to all the nuances.
— Marilena, could you tell us, please, what kind of music inspires you for creating new recipes?
М.: “Hm. Usually I prefer silence. Working in the kitchen is a kind of meditation to me: at this time the less people and distracting noises the better! Today, for example, when I was adding the last touches to the dinner before your arriving, I set my sights on these melodies; they have that relaxing and calming mood in them, perfect for the Friday evening. But maybe next time I will settle for jazz or something else, who knows!”
We don’t even noticed how fast the time passed. While we were leaving this warm welcoming house, we thanked our hostess for the amazing dinner, new experience, emotions and the awakening of the interest to the Cyprus cuisine we will for sure continue to discover together with our readers.
You could also be introduced to winter Cyprus meals, if you decide to come here on one of the cold month. So don’t miss the great opportunity to add the gastronomic experience to the traditional excursions and souvenir shopping on the island.
See you next time!