The Small Plates of Cyprus


Magic Carpet Journals visits Cyprus with Jacqueline Swartz who tells you about the food that will tempt your palate while there

- with recipes


MFood is purchased fresh in Cypruseze, a variety of small plates of food, is what people want these days at Greek restaurants. But at the Greek and Turkish table, meze is only foreplay. In Cyprus it's the main event, the culinary consummation. Many tavernas serve only meze, starting with dips of eggplant salad and tsaziki (yogurt and garlic). The palate is cleansed with a salad of rocket (like arugula). There are also salads of beets with parsley, pickled cauliflower, and carrots with lemony vinaigrette. With meze, it's not "or" but "and".

The meal progresses with a little of this and a little of that, with no commitment to a big plate of anything ­ and everything for one low price (starting at about $50 Canandian for two with a bottle of wine). After the salads come the casseroles: pork cooked in wine and flavoured with coriander seed or first marinated and then cooked with tahini and couscous, a spicy lamb and onion stew called stifado. You might get a mixture of greens cooked with black-eyed beans or tender green flageolets dressed in olive oil and lemon juice, vine leaves leaves filled with rice and meat, baked eggplant, rice and tomatoes. And the cheeses - tasty haloumi, the island's signature cheese, and a feta more delicate than I have found in Greece..

If you have chosen meat meze, you'll get kebabs, Kleftico ( lamb baked in a clay oven), and other morsels straight from the grill.

If you have ordered fish meze, grilled octopus will arrive along with barbouni (red mullet), sardines and marida, tiny fish eaten whole. Other fish include grouper, red snapper and sea bream.

The food of CyprusHow do you deal with such a feast? "Don't eat too much bread," warns George Pemetriader, owner of Seven St. George's Tavern in Yeroskitpos. At his restaurant abstinence is not easy: the bread is fresh from a nearby bakery, and on the wooden platter are rustic whole wheat loaves, some studded with olives.

 

 

If there is a special Cypriot will power, it must have something to do with centuries of conquest, most recently the l974 Turkish invasion and continued occupation of 37% of the island. Zeno (332-265 B.C.), the Cypriot-born inventor of the Stoic school of philosophy, set the tone for the islanders' eternal patience and tolerance. The country has been conquered and captured, bought and sold, literally. In 1192, Richard the Lionhearted sold the island to the crusader Knights Templars; a year later they changed their mind and resold it for the same price to Guy de Lusignan, the deposed King of Jerusalem. Then came the Venetian period, followed by the conquest by the Ottomans. Cyprus became a crown colony of Britain in 1925 until its independence in l960. From a culinary point of view, this could well be the only negative influence - nescafe is said to have come with the Brits.

But that's far outweighed by other influences: pasta from Italy, stuffed vegetables from Turkey, couscous from North Africa; and from the Middle East, syrupy deserts and a cornucopia of vegetables, a prominent part of the largely peasant repertoire. On this green island, everything on the table is grown locally - asparagus and artichokes, garlic and fennel, greens, eggplant and peppers, cauliflower, zucchini. At the market, there are mounds of herbs: not just basil, rosemary and oregano, but the coriander and cumin used in Middle-East cooking. Mustard and lavender grow wild. There is enough olive oil to export. And, like Greek olive oil, it is not mixed with the oil of any other country.

At the Hotel Annabelle, in the historic port of Paphos where the cult of Aphrodite once flourished, Chef Polycarpos Demetriou gets his pumpkins, zucchini, and other vegetables from the hotel's farm. He says that despite the apparent similarities to Greek cuisine, Cypriot cooking is different. "Even when Cypriot and Greek dishes have the same name, they are different - here they are more alive, more healthy". He points to the use of fresh tomatoes, not tomato paste for sauces, fresh vine leaves, less oil than in Greek cooking and no butter or cream. The vegetable-laden Cypriot cuisine, he adds, fits in with current trends. "People want food to be more natural, with less meat." That doesn't mean they're not epicurean dessert eaters. In Cyprus, meals end with a lot more than baklava. Cypriot cheese cake uses the ricotta-like anari cheese and a crust of filo. Pastries are stuffed with red pumpkin, raisins and cracked wheat; tarts are filled with figs or dates. There is a huge repertoire of fruits: grapes, figs, peaches, cherries, strawberries, oranges, and tropical fruits like mango. They announce the finale to what seems like an endless feast.

Chef Demetriou has written a cookbook, Food from The Village.

Salad with Rocket, Baby Squash and Kefalotyri Cheese

100 g (3.5oz) rocket leaves

150 g (5.5oz) blanched, skinned and finely sliced baby squash

85 g (3 oz)Kefalotyri cheese

Dressing:

125 ml (4 oz) olive oil

90 ml (6 tbsp) lemon juice

2.5 ml (1/2tsp) salt

30 ml (2tbsp) parsley, finely chopped

Make the dressing by combining the ingredients in a screw top jar and shake vigorously

Toss the rocket, squash and half the cheese with 60 ml (4tbsp) of dressing in a large bowl. Spoon onto individual plates and garnish with the remaining cheese and a drizzle of dressing.

Roulade of Red Mullet with Potatoes, Tomatoes and Black Olives

400 g (14 oz) or 12 small red mullet filets, tossed in 15 ml (1 tbsp) olive oil and pinch of salt

150 g (5.5oz)blanched and refreshed spinach

85 g (3 oz) black olives, finely chopped

5 ml (1tsp) fresh lavender, chopped

325 g (11.5oz) new potatoes, skin on, finely sliced

Heat large frying pan, add 30 ml (2tbsp) olive oil and then the potatoes. Cook for 5 minutes until golden and just tender.

Put one red mullet fillet, skin side down, on a plate, then place on a little spinach. Sprinkle with some black olives and lavender then roll the fillet up into a pinwheel. Repeat with the remaining fillets and vegetables.

Brush l5 ml (1tbsp) olive oil around heat proof dish. Place potato on one side and tomato on other side. Season with salt, pepper and oregano.

Place red mullet rolls and brush with remaining olive oil. Bake in oven for 10 minutes.

Article by Jacqueline Swartz                 Photos courtesy of Hotel Thanos

 

 

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Last Updated on November 07, 2008 by M. Maxine George editor.  © 2003 Magic Carpet Journals. All rights reserved