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Delicious cod for the Greeks March 21, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Recipes, Greek Food Culture, Special Features.
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In Greece and Cyprus, there are two Sundays in the Easter season when all households cook codfish.

The first is for the religious feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary celebrated on 25th March annualy [also a National Day for Greece, commemorating the Independence Day and the Greek struggle for liberation against the Ottoman empire, started on 25th March 1821] and the second is Palm Sunday, which for this year is celebrated on 20th April, according to the Orthodox Church.

On these days, every household cooks the salted favourite. The pieces of cod are dipped into a batter of flour and water, and deep fried, then served with a garlic spread.

To make the spread, wet white bread, then combine it with lots of garlic, olive oil and lemon juice and blend till creamy.

Sounds delicious, so why not try it? Of course, the excess salt would have to be soaked from the fish overnight.

The chequered past of the Cyprus meze February 12, 2008

Posted by grhomeboy in Food Cyprus, Food Recipes, Greek Food Culture.
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Not known for its refinement or sophistication, Cyprus cuisine is based on the use of fresh, wholesome ingredients. Its flagship is, of course, the meze, which does show subtle differences to those available elsewhere in the region.

When the British arrived in Cyprus in 1878, they expected to find people with a spark of the Turkish fire and a touch of Grecian taste. They were greatly disappointed as Cypriots were neither oriental nor occidental. “Except in name, they are neither Turks nor Greeks; neither are they an amalgam of these two races. Who then are the Cypriots?” asked one perplexed British official in 1879.

Who are the Cypriots really, with a series of conquerors having left their marks behind? Enriched and diversified by the Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantine, Lusignan, Venetian, Ottoman and British, Cypriots have a rather unique disposition. The same can be said about Cyprus cuisine. It is an amalgamation of diverse tastes and textures. Cyprus meze reflects food influenced by the full range of different cultures, civilisations and traditions that have occupied the island. Some may argue that it is more closely related to that of Greece. It is true that in recent years, many dishes have been added which predispose the palate to Greek origins – dishes like tirokafteri, saganaki or kolokithokeftedes (spicy cheese, baked feta and courgette balls).

The origins of meze can be traced to the pre-Islamic wine culture of Persia, where the original meze were sweets to counteract the bitter taste of young wine. Among the very few rare early cookbooks, kebabs and stew-like meat are mentioned in one cookbook written in Baghdad in1226. Nowadays, meze is a type of hors d’oeuvre, an appetiser accompanying drinks.

Cyprus cuisine shares much with the other cuisines of the Eastern Mediterranean. For the Arabs, a mazza table can be the entire dinner. In Greece, mezedes or meze platters are almost a kind of institution where diners are encouraged to linger over their meals, and the same applies here. There is an especially strong family resemblance between Greek and Turkish recipes, and it is in no way clear in which direction the influence was strongest. While the Greek cuisine is older, it was also heavily influenced by Persian and Phoenician sources, so it is easy to believe that the central role of lamb, yoghurt, sesame, citrus, flatbreads, and very thin pastries all came from some common central Asian source. Also, meze platters are very similar in concept to the Spanish tapas.

Cyprus’ position at the crossroads of Europe, Africa, and the Middle East has added colourful dimensions that make it different and appetising. Emphasising fresh local ingredients, regional herbs and spices, and in recent years the use of olive oil in cooking, the Cypriot palate is quintessentially Mediterranean in character.

According to Niki Paraskeva, owner of Erinia Tavern, “a meze consists of as many as 30 small plates of food, from savoury dips and vegetables to a wide range of hot, mainly meat, dishes. The restaurant opened in 1934 and the same wholesome, traditional food has been served ever since with very slight variations. “I use the same recipes that my late mother passed on, and I make everything from scratch. I never serve anything that comes ready made in a tub.”

Much more than hors d’oeuvres, the meze often comprises the heart of a meal itself. Some of the dishes you can expect to be served when you ask for a Cyprus meze vary from place to place. Traditionally the appetisers are taramosalata, fish roe blended into a creamy pink dip of pureed potatoes with parsley, lemon juice and finely chopped onion; talatouri, mint and cucumber flavoured yogurt with crushed garlic; tahini, sesame seed paste with lemon juice, garlic and olive oil; horiatiki salata with tomatoes, lettuce, peppers, onion slices, feta cheese, green olives with a dressing made of olive oil, lemon juice, salt and local herbs.

Some common vegetable preparations are boiled potatoes in olive oil and parsley, pickled cauliflower and beets, fried courgette with scrambled egg, fried tomato puree with scrambled egg, kolokasi (a sweet potato-like root vegetable) and wild asparagus with egg when in season.

Other popular choices are koupepia, grape leaves stuffed with minced meat and rice; anthous, rice stuffed pumpkin flowers, when in season, halloumi, a delicious soft cheese, (usually grilled) made from sheep milk and spiced with fresh mint; home-made raviolis and kritharaki, orzo in tomato sauce.

The meat dishes will include loukanika, coriander-seasoned sausages, soaked in red wine and smoked; sheftalia, grilled pork sausage, pork or chicken kebabs, afelia, pork marinated in wine and coriander served with burgoul and stifado, beef or rabbit stew casseroled with wine vinegar, onions and spices. Some places may serve ofto kleftiko, chunks of lamb cooked in a sealed clay oven and seasoned with bay leaves and the traditional souvla, chunks of pork, lamb or chicken cooked on skewers.

A traditional sweet treat is a variety of fruit preserves or fried sweet anari bourekia, a kind of ricotta cheese filling in thin pastry.

Cyprus cuisine is not considered one of the world’s most refined and elegant styles of cooking, nor does it involve sophisticated techniques. There is nothing refined about cooking ofto kleftiko or souvla. Good quality produce and the use of wholesome ingredients which are in season are, however, all important in the local cooking.

Here are two Cypriot traditional recipes > 

Pork Afelia [Serves 4]

1kg pork pieces
1 glass red wine, extra for the marinade
3-4 tbsp coriander, crushed
½ glass vegetable oil

* Marinade pork pieces overnight, in enough red wine to cover the meat and 2 tbsp coriander.
* Add oil in a saucepan and heat up. Fry pork pieces on high heat for a few minutes, turning once or twice. Season well, add the rest of the coriander and stir. Pour in the wine and stir for a few minutes adding some water if needed. Lower the heat to medium and cook until the juices have reduced and the meat is tender.
* Serve with pourgouri (burgoul).

Pourgouri [Serves 6]

½ glass vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 fide – fine noodle nests, crushed
2 glasses burgoul
4 glasses water
Salt

* Fry onion in the oil until tender and brown. Add the crushed noodle nests and stir. Add the burgoul and stir more. Pour in the water and season well. Cook on low heat for 15 minutes or until almost all liquid is absorbed. Remove from the heat and place a clean towel over it.

Cultivating split peas on Santorini and Schinousa September 21, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Food Culture, Lifestyle.
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Islanders use age-old methods to grow and harvest the crop > Mules and donkeys thresh the crop of fava, preparing it for winnowing, by the same methods that have been in use for some 3,500 years

The more you learn about split peas, known as “fava” in Greek, and the way they are produced, the more fascinating they are, especially when you find out that the same methods have been in use for 3,500 years. The earliest record of the word fava comes from a tragedy by Aeschylus (6th-5th century BC). Later, Dioscurides, the famed doctor of antiquity, linked the word with the food we know.

The inhabitants of Santorini and Schinousa both claim that their split peas are the best and most flavorful. The Rural Cooperative of Thera and the Agricultural University of Athens have applied to the European Commission to have fava recognized as a Protected Designation of Origin. The people of Schinousa insist that their variety is sweeter.

The harvest always takes place early, when the ground is still moist, to protect the crop. In the fall, the farmers plow the fields in a traditional style, though some now use tractors. Christos Nomikos is one of the few who use the wooden plow mentioned by Hesiod. Seed is sown in December. On Santorini, many still sow on December 21, the feast day of Saint Eleousa. Fava grows easily in soil that is dry, sandy and normally infertile. The seeds sprout in about 20 days, depending on the south wind, which brings the rain.

As in the past, the crop is planted every second year. As horticulturalist Markos Kafrousos explained: “Crop rotation stops the land from becoming depleted. It also deters insects and bacteria.” The plant flowers in April and the pea starts to form. This is the most crucial phase, when rain is essential.

Two or three people can thresh and winnow a harvest of five tons. When the weather is right and the wind has taken away the straw, leaving the split peas, the harvest begins. The fava is threshed on stone mills identical to those used in antiquity. The workers do not talk, but concentrate on getting the job done in favorable weather conditions. It is like a ritual.

Mimika Kringa, a scholar of prehistoric archaeology, tells us about samples of fava found in vases in the West House at Akrotiri, and the conversation turns to dietary habits down the ages. There is a lovely chapel dedicated to St Epifanios in Akrotiri. On May 13, the saint’s name day, locals cook fava and share it out at the feast, served with sardines.

The island’s chefs have conferred gourmet status on fava. “Such a humble and neutral ingredient is bound to intrigue any cook,” said well-known Santorini chef Nikos Pouliasis. His collegue Giorgos Hadziyiannakis is delighted every time he creates a new dish, even desserts, using fava. Their efforts have paid off. On Santorini the demand for fava now exceeds supply. Similarly on Schinousa, Evdokia Despotidou and Dimitris Papadakis take a creative approach to cooking fava.