Recipes from a Cypriot Kitchen
Have you, like me, noticed that you seem to reach into the fridge and store cupboard for nearly the same base ingredients no matter what you cook? Obviously there’s a good reason for this – the foundation stones of a good dinner or cake are tried and tested and work consistently with top level variations to mix it up a bit. If this is you, and you’re looking for a change, Taverna might be a good place to start.
Yes, a lot of the traditional ingredients are in there – onion, carrots, tomatoes, garlic – but there are twists and turns, with honey, cinnamon, cheeses you may not be used to, and lemons showing up in unusual places. It’s a sort of Mediterranean meets Middle-East mix, and works brilliantly.
Look and feel
Pretty and sun-filled, with food images from Kristin Perers, interspersed with occasional traditional images of Cyprus. There’s a yiayia (grandmother) at work in a kitchen, and a gentleman on page 71 who may, or may not be, an orthodox pastor of some sort, and the long table of diners on page 152 are clearly taking their food very seriously!
There is a comprehensive introduction to Cypriot foods and dietary habits, including a guide to fruit and veg, meat, dairy and the dry ingredients that crop up in the recipes that follow. If asked to name a Greek or Cypriot cheese we would probably all know about halloumi, but there are many more that we may not yet know so this is a useful introduction.
The chapters are laid out from breakfast, through meze, vegetables, fish, meat through to baking and drinks.
What sort of food is it?
Cypriot, with a Greek slant (Hayden points out in the introduction that some of her dishes would be called something different in the Turkish tradition but I have no idea what the extent of the overlap would be).
One of the interesting taste experiences in the dishes I cooked was that things didn’t always taste how your eyes said they should. What do I mean? The Tomato, Aubergine and Rosemary Spaghetti (pg 91) was delicious. But, as you lifted the first mouthful your brain was screaming ‘expect Spag Bol’ because of how it looked; but with lots of rosemary and aubergine it actually tasted like a very different dish. The Pastitsio (pg 173) had a cinnamon and bechamel theme and not the tomato dominance that we are used to in many pasta bakes and might have expected.
There are slow braises, quick salads, lots of beans, pistachios, pomegranates and way more potatoes than you would expect (although potatoes from Cyprus have been ‘a thing’ forever so I don’t know why I was surprised). Most dishes serve 4-6, with the odd exception such as the Pastitsio, which is eight generous portions.
From the baking section I made the Orange, Yoghurt and Filo Cake (Pg 222). It was completely different to any other cake I had ever made, and was definitely more on to a pudding than a cake. A boiled and pureed orange, and broken dried filo pastry, layered into a cake with loads of yogurt and eggs. It was super tasty and I will definitely make it again, although I will have to figure out how to dry the sheets of filo more effectively – 500g of filo spread around to dry looks like an explosion in a filo factory!
Obscure equipment needed?
Yes and no. There’s a meat section that needs big skewers and a barbecue, if possible a special one called a foukou. Other than this, it’s roasting tins, casseroles, a food processor and a fairly standard range of kit.
Ingredients easily available?
No, not uniformly, but substitutes are suggested for most of the more obscure stuff. Some of the recipes have a long ingredients list, which can be off-putting. When you discount things like salt and pepper, olive oil, butter, and sugar there are probably not so many, so stick with it! Even if you have a good storecupboard you might still stock up with a few items that crop up repeatedly.
Who is it for?
I didn’t encounter any complexity in the recipes (apart from my kitchen being draped in drying filo pastry, which I will be much smarter about in future). I think any reasonably well grounded cook who is willing to follow a recipe will be at home with this book and will have the chance to try some new flavours. You don’t need to be a star cook – it’s not faffy food so a good pass mark will still taste wonderful.
I was surprised by how much I liked this book and the food I cooked from it. It is possibly very ordinary food in its home setting, but in my house it feels quite exotic and there are lots of recipes I would be delighted to produce if I had a crowd in.