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Making the World Taste Better - Cyprus

The article appeared in Netcooks.com by J. Powers & T. Nicklow, 2001

This week's journey takes us into the deep blue waters of the Mediterranean Ocean to an island where the term "High Rise" refers to the mountains and not the buildings. A place where you can walk down long stretches of beautiful deserted golden sand beaches and see only a handful of modern hotels, scattered along the hillsides and coast, blending effortlessly with the natural beauty of the landscape. 

Welcome to Cyprus, a country where the scenery is unspoiled and commercialism unheard of. With its unique contrast of magical Crusader castles, imposing Gothic cathedrals, exotic Ottoman mosques, Greek Orthodox churches, Roman amphitheatres and serene harbor front cafes, Cyprus is truly an island with unique characteristics.

We visited with Yash and asked him to share a bit of his beautiful country with us. Situated in the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus is the third largest island in this ancient sea. Cyprus gained its independence in 1960. Founded as a bi-communal Republic of Cyprus, the new state had two main Cypriot communities, Greek and Turkish. Intercommunal fighting in 1963 led to the division between the two Cypriot peoples and eventually leading to its physical division in 1974. As of 1974 there are two autonomous states on the island, North Cyprus and South Cyprus.

Despite the turbulent years of upheaval, Cypriots of both ethnic backgrounds are extremely friendly, a typical characteristic of Mediterranean people. A generous welcome to a guest is of utmost importance. This traditionally implies "setting up the table" for a lavish lunch or dinner. If the guest is not staying long then possibly just a Turkish coffee and/or homemade fruit preserves served with water or "limonata" (lemonade).

Food plays a very important role in the Cypriot culture. Yash said, "Perhaps the most common foods of Cyprus are Dolma, Shish-kebab, Bulghur Pilaf, Mezze and Baklava. Dolma (which means stuffed) refers to vine leaves stuffed mainly with rice, tomatoes, and herb stuffing. World famous shish kebab is made mainly with spiced lamb meat on skewers and then barbecued. Bulghur Pilaf is a favorite among vegetarians. Bulghur Pilaf is a cracked wheat pilaf made with tomatoes, olive oil and onions. Mezze consists of a large number of cold and hot hors d'oeuvres such as salads, meats, vegetables, and fish dishes. Baklava, thin layers of fillo pastry with crushed nut filling and a special syrup, is the best known dessert."

Two other important foods are Halloumi and Bayram Pilaf, also called Nohutlu Pilaf with chickpeas. Halloumi is the traditional cheese of Cyprus made mainly with goat's milk, salt and a hint of mint. Halloumi is a versatile cheese and is eaten on its own, with a slice of bread, in salads, complementing other mezze in a pita bread, or the popular way of eating it is grilled. Bayram pilaf, is mainly eaten on the traditional Muslim religious festival of Bayram (Eid). It is usually complemented with koftes (meatballs), fish and other grilled meat and vegetables. A very important element to all these dishes is the prominent ingredients of olive oil and fresh lemon.

Bayram lunches are usually the main event as the whole family gathers around the table for a sumptuous feast. These lunches are generally followed with the traditional Helva (semolina dessert) and Lokma (honey crisp mini doughnuts). "Usually the mother or grandmother prepares the Helva and will hide a coin, wrapped in cooking foil, inside as a surprise," said Yash. "The lucky person to get their share of the helva with the treat is celebrated by the entire family."

Due to warm climate, Cypriots are late eaters, which means dinners usually start about 7:00 - 8:00 in the evening. On those long warm summer nights one can see harbor fronts and main public areas full of people around midnight. Cypriots love to enjoy life and entertain. For this reason alone they love to picnic no matter what the season. On summer days whole families with aunts, uncles, cousins, or family friends can be seen having a picnic in the cool mountain areas or by the seaside picnic areas.

We asked Yash to share a popular recipe with us. He said, "Perhaps the easiest of the Cypriot dishes one can enjoy is the Bulghur pilaf. The delectable taste of this Cypriot dish is quite surprising and far from bland although its ingredients may seem humble at first. It can be served with bumbar, fried fish, squid, or a meat casserole."

Bulghur Pilavi (Cracked wheat pilaf)

- 125 ml. (4 fl. Oz.) olive or groundnut oil
- 1 medium-size onion, sliced very fine
- 25 gr. (1 oz.) vermicelli
- 250 gr. (8 oz.) bulghur (cracked wheat), picked clean
- 300 ml (1/2 pint) chicken or vegetable stock
- salt and pepper

Heat the oil and sauté the onion until it glistens. Add the vermicelli, breaking it with your hands. Continue to sauté together for 4-5 minutes until pale golden.

Place the bulghur in a fine sieve, wash it briefly under running water and add it to the saucepan. Add the chicken stock and season, but do not add salt if your stock was made from a stock cube. Mix well.

Cover the pan and simmer very gently for 6-7 minutes at most, until the mixture is dry. Cover with a tea towel, place the lid tightly on top and let it stand for 10 minutes before serving. When you uncover the saucepan, you will find its aroma is quite overpowering. 

The bulghur pilavi will keep quite hot and fresh, if covered like this, for about one hour and it keeps its texture if reheated with 2-3 Tablespoons of water the next day. Serve fresh yogurt with this.

Yash is an avid cook and proud of the cultural and culinary heritage of his native Cyprus. For more information about this enchanting island and its cuisine, please visit www.cypnet.co.uk 
At www.netcooks.com we are dedicated to making the world taste better from kitchens across the world to yours! 
Graphic registered to netcooks.com at www.arttoday.com.  



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