Cyprus is an island country located south of Turkey and east of Greece. It’s actually much closer to Turkey than Greece, when I had always assumed it to be the other way around!
There is evidence of human activity on the island as far back as the 10th millennium BC. Cyprus has a strategic location in the Eastern Mediterranean, and was occupied by many different major powers throughout history, including the Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, and Ottomans. It was eventually annexed by the UK in 1914, and gained independence in 1960.
Cyprus is occupied by Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, and the two groups could never agree on what kind of future their island should have, even coming to blows. Nowadays, the northeast part of the island is governed by the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but is only recognized as a country by Turkey.
What Do People Eat in Cyprus?
Cypriot food shares many similarities with Greek cuisine, and there are also heavy Turkish influences.
A wide range of fresh fruit and vegetables are common ingredients, and pulses such as broad beans, black-eyed peas, chickpeas, and lentils are often used in dishes. Taro root is a common ingredient that isn’t found so easily in most other countries; it is often prepared like potatoes.
The most common meat is probably pork, followed by chicken, but you can also find lamb and beef. A wide range of seafood is common too, particularly calamari, cuttlefish, octopus, and fish.
Some of the most popular herbs and spices include pepper, parsley, cilantro, thyme, oregano, cumin, coriander, and mint. These flavors are often what differentiates the Cypriot version of a dish from the Greek one.
Halloumi cheese is popular to the point where it’s considered the national cheese of Cyprus. I meant to include grilled halloumi this week, but the grocery store didn’t have any despite saying they did online. Covid is on the rise in the area and I didn’t want to go from store to store looking for it, so I checked online and found it to be way too expensive where it was available. So I had to skip it this week. It’s definitely an important part of Cypriot cuisine. At least it’s something I have eaten before, and I can say it’s delicious!
What I Made
- Louvi (Black-Eyed Peas and Swiss Chard)
- Koupepia (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
- Afelia (Pork Braised in Red Wine and Coriander)
- Patates Antinahtes (Potatoes Cooked in Red Wine and Coriander)
- Cypriot Village Salad
- Pita Bread
- Souvlaki (Grilled Chicken)
Louvi (Black-Eyed Peas and Swiss Chard)
I chose this dish mostly because it’s distinctly Cypriot and not a common Greek dish, and I already had dried black-eyed peas from an earlier cooking challenge week. Louvi typically consists of black-eyed peas and swiss chard. The version I made includes onion, olive oil, lemon juice, dill, and parsley. Other vegetables can be added for a more substantial meal, but I served it as a simple side dish with some salmon. This was alright, but nothing amazing. I think it’s the black-eyed peas’ fault; I don’t really like them.
The recipe I used is from Kopiaste.
Koupepia (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
Stuffed grape leaves most likely originated in Greece, and they became very popular in what was once the Ottoman empire. They belong to a group of dishes commonly referred to as ‘dolma’, which can include stuffed cabbage leaves and other stuffed vegetables as well. Dolma of some form are common across the Middle East, in Turkey, in the Balkans, and in surrounding areas.
Koupepia is a Cypriot variation, consisting of vine leaves stuffed with meat and rice, cooked in a tomato and lemon sauce. The recipe I used called for ground pork, onion, rice, parsley, dill, cinnamon, pureed tomato, and lemon juice as the stuffing. The cinnamon is apparently something that sets these vine leaves apart from Greek versions. One thing I found interesting was that this recipe instructed that the meat be cooked before stuffing. When I made stuffed grape leaves for Azerbaijan and stuffed cabbage leaves for Croatia, the meat went in raw. I think the raw meat is easier to roll nicely because you can mold it in a way that you can’t with cooked meat. I think cooking the meat first is specific to this particular recipe and not to Cypriot stuffed grape leaves. I would probably keep it raw next time since it would have plenty of time to cook after stuffing.
The recipe I used is from Kopiaste. I thought the koupepia tasted pretty good but were maybe a touch too acidic for me. They were better accompanied by some Greek yogurt.
I also want to mention that these grape leaves have been in my freezer since I cooked for Azerbaijan and they were still good! Maybe a touch more fragile, but otherwise they worked well.
Afelia (Pork Braised in Red Wine and Coriander)
This dish is simple to make; it consists of only pork shoulder, red wine, coriander, salt and pepper, and some oil for cooking. The pork is cut into chunks and marinated overnight with wine and salt, then cooked in hot oil before being braised in the marinade with crushed coriander and pepper.
This dish had really good flavor but I think my pork shoulder was a bit too fatty. I get that pork shoulder is meant to be like that, but I think something with less large chunks of fat would have been better here. I tried cutting out the bigger pieces of fat but there was still a lot in the remaining pieces which wasn’t too pleasant. I’d like to try this again, maybe with pork sirloin, because it did taste really good.
The recipe I used is from My Family’s Food Diary and I served it with the following two dishes.
Patates Antinahtes (Potatoes Cooked in Red Wine and Coriander)
These potatoes sounded really good – they are hit so that they crack, then fried in olive oil, and then braised in red wine and coriander (apparently a popular Cypriot flavor combination). However, I couldn’t get my potatoes to crack. I was a little doubtful about this working on raw potatoes, but thought maybe it would because they were baby potatoes. But I couldn’t get these potatoes to crack at all. I’m also limited as to how much smashing I can do, since people live below me. Instead, I stabbed the potatoes all over with a knife to try and give the flavors a chance to penetrate, but they just ended up tasting like potatoes.
I’d like to make this again, except I would par-boil the potatoes first just so they are soft enough to crack before proceeding with the recipe.
Cypriot Village Salad
This is a popular salad in Cyprus and it’s very similar to a typical Greek salad. One of the main things that makes it different to a Greek salad is the addition of caper leaves, but I couldn’t get them so maybe this is just a Greek salad. I used a recipe from Just About Cyprus which included tomato, cucumber, red onion, green bell pepper, feta, black olives, parsley, caper leaves, and a dressing made from olive oil, oregano, lemon juice, and vinegar. I used some lettuce instead of the caper leaves, which I know isn’t the same, but I had it already and thought it would be nice in the salad, which it was.
Pita bread is common in both Greece and Cyprus, but in Cyprus it is typically oval, baked in a hot oven, and stuffed with food. In Greece, pita is usually round, cooked on a hot grill, and rolled around food.
I’ve never made pita bread before and I was worried they wouldn’t puff and I wouldn’t have anywhere to stuff the souvlaki I was making (next). About half my pita ended up puffing up and half remained flat. I didn’t get much color either, because they were taking longer than the recipe instructed and I felt like they were drying out too much. I also found the dough to be very dry, to the point where I had to add more water for it to come together. Anyone who has experienced this when making any kind of dough knows how hard it is to add more liquid to a dry dough versus adding more flour to a wet one. The recipe made it sound like I’d have to add more flour so I wasn’t expecting such a dry dough. I did have to decrease it by a lot since it made too many, so maybe this contributed to the dough not really working out how it should. At least I was able to get a few decent pitas out of it!
Souvlaki (Grilled Chicken)
Souvlaki is another dish that is common in both Greece and Cyprus. In Greece it’s often grilled on a skewer and served as is, sometimes wrapped in pita bread, but in Cyprus it is almost always stuffed into pita bread. Salad and some kind of sauce are usually added; I used tomato, onion, parsley, cucumber, cabbage, and Greek yogurt. I had planned on making a tahini sauce but the pita ended up being more of an ordeal than expected and so I decided I couldn’t be bothered, but that would be a very common accompaniment in Cyprus.
Pork is the most common souvlaki meat in Cyprus, but chicken is probably the next most common and I used chicken thighs. Souvlaki is usually grilled, but I don’t have a grill, and the recipe I was following used the broiler instead. But I don’t feel like my broiler does a great job of cooking anything evenly, so I decided to just use my oven set to high heat instead. I’m sure this would have been better on a grill, but I thought it tasted really good as is. The meat was coated in olive oil and seasoned with salt and pepper before being skwered and cooked, and then it got brushed with a mix of olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and oregano.
The recipe I followed is from My Family’s Food Diary.
I think my favorite this week was the souvlaki. But I do want to try the patates antinachtes again because I think they could have been really good.
Next week, I will be cooking food from Czechia (the Czech Republic).