Pure flavours that are simple, unadulterated, naturally delicious and prepared as of old.
Text: Marilena Joannides
Photos: Antonis Farmakas
Food Styling: Laura Colocassides
Retracing the route of traditional Cypriot cuisine, it is apparent that it was predominantly plant-based: a simple diet consisting of vegetables, legumes, and local cereals of wheat and barley, primarily. The principal reasons for this were twofold. Firstly, most people faithfully adhered to the dictates of the church that required abstention from consuming animal products during repeated periods of fasting. Secondly, meats, poultry, fish and game were considered luxuries that most islanders could not afford frequently.
The plant-based aspect of Cypriot cookery was and continues to be varied in the type and number of edible plants and ways of preparing them. Nature has blessed the Mediterranean’s easternmost island with a bounty of indigenous plants and shrubs. Having adapted to the extreme climatic conditions that frequent the region, these evolved to make the most of the native soil’s constituents.
From past to present, traditional Cypriot recipes have been in step with the seasons. When the soil’s bounties are most flavourful, nutritional, ripe and ready, they are transformed into imaginative and delicious dishes. By mastery of the home cooks of Cyprus, let us acquaint ourselves with the typical methods for preparing some of the most popular vegan offerings, savoury and sweet.
Wild Greens, Legumes and Potatoes of Renown
Wild greens from the fields, usually boiled and garnished with olive oil, lemon and sea salt and served with village bread, are the epitome of pure and natural flavours. They are also combined with Louvia (black-eyed peas), Louvana (yellow split peas), beans, lentils, chickpeas, red pumpkin and other legumes or served in soup with traditional bulgur fried in olive oil with onion or garlic drizzled in the juice of bitter oranges. Enjoy fresh greens like rocket, louvana and coriander served raw in salads. In summer, dehydrated tomatoes transform stews into culinary art.
Legumes are an important element of Cypriot plant-based cuisine. They are cooked with handmade pasta such as Τrin (pasta from thin strips of dough) and Τoumatsia (Cypriot version of Lasagne) or rice. Moutzentra is a traditional dish of rice with lentils. If you are in the region of Marathasa or the hills of Pafos, be sure to try the famous potatoes cooked with fresh tomatoes and wild fennel. If you are in Kokkinochoria or other lowlands, look for Antinahtes, small potatoes cooked whole in red wine with coriander seeds.
Have You Tried Kolokasi?
On a visit to Kokkinochoria, treat yourself to Κolokasi (taro root) and Poulles Sotiras, secondary growths from the main roots of taro cultivated in Sotira province – both PDO-certified products (Protected Designation of Origin). Kolokasi is an integral part of the plant-based cuisine of Cyprus. Its roots date back to the 12th century when, according to legend, it was served during the wedding feast of Richard the Lionheart to Queen Berengaria of Navarre at Limassol castle. Today, it is commonly prepared with tomato paste and celery, while poulles with red wine and coriander. Wild artichokes and mushrooms are cooked similarly, but can also be combined with rice or bulgar, then wrapped in Κoupepia (stuffed vine leaves). These festive vegan delicacies exude aromas of fresh herbs such as parsley, dill and spring onion, as does the vegan version of Κoupes (fried bulgur pastries). Bulgur is a mainstay ingredient in plant-based dishes along with the ubiquitous bread that accompanies Cypriot meals.
Olive Oil – The One and Only
Nutritionally, olive oil is the primary source of dietary fat in Cyprus. Varieties are known for their flavours and aromas of fruit. The island’s limestone plays a significant role in its superior quality. Olive oil poured over boiled vegetables like fresh string beans or grilled pine mushrooms, these garnished with freshly-squeezed lemon juice, is the ultimate vegan meal in the Mediterranean. That is no exaggeration! When accompanied by cauliflower fermented in a mixture of yeast, mustard seeds and sea salt (a method of preservation traceable to the Byzantine Empire), simple and delicious meals acquire unique umami flavours.
PASTIES, PASTRIES, PANCAKES & PIES
Wild greens, vegetables, olives and seeds such as Schinus (Pistacia lentiscus) and Trimithia (Pistacia terebinthus) are nutritious and commonly incorporated into traditional pastry. Discover olive pies containing fresh coriander and spring onions, or schinopites and trimithopites made with the heavenly seeds mentioned above. Alternatively, said ingredients are added as filling to covered pies such as the Kolokotes (pies stuffed with pumpkin, bulgur and raisins – a local delicacy). Spinach pies are made much the same way. These ingredients are also used to fill bite-sized pies called Pourekia which are either fried or cooked on sizzling hotplates called Satzi.
For the Sweet Tooth
Try sweet and scrumptious Satzi pies (pancakes with honey). Other vegan delicacies found everywhere in Cyprus are exceptional tahini pies. Deliciously-sweet and somewhat crunchy, these can be combined with carob syrup for a highly-nutritious breakfast or as accompaniment to afternoon coffee and tea.
Tahini mixed with carob syrup or Petimezi (grape molasses) is a condiment that, by itself or with sourdough bread, is common in traditional Cypriot breakfast. Carob or grape Halouva is combined with wheat flour, roasted sesame seeds and olive oil to create an unusual dessert from the old days still prepared on a satzi and served at summer festivals. There, you will also find Tertzelouthkia (small cookies baked in carob syrup), Carob pasteli (carob toffee) and Pastelaki (small bars formed of peanuts and caramelised sesame seeds). However, Palouzes (pudding made with the essence of grape mixed with flour) and Soutzoukos (a necklace of threaded almonds or walnuts dipped in palouzes) are the ultimate treats at summer festivals. These traditional, delectable derivatives of grapes are the most delicious treats in Cyprus.
Found mainly in the village of Koilani are elaborately-shaped Glitzista (fried dough dipped in syrup), a confection that will sweeten your day at any hour. Pissies (small pancakes or fingers filled with almonds, then fried) are found everywhere in Cyprus.
Should you prefer something simple, try the many varieties of traditional spoon sweets. Preserves of walnut, citrus, bergamot, cherry, watermelon, fig and apple are invariably served with a tumbler of cool water. On par are the almond and marzipan sweets of Cyprus scented with rosewater.