χωριάτικη σαλάτα (Horiatiki Salada)
‘Village style’ salad is served as a side dish with almost every meal in Cyprus- but that isn’t a problem as it is quick and easy to make and really nutritious! The dressing is made with extra virgin olive oil mixed with fresh lemon juice with a pinch of salt. In Cyprus, a large amount of olive oil is eaten each year (about 15- 20 litres per person per year!) and the Cypriots firmly believe this is the main reason why they enjoy good health and longevity.
This salad is the perfect accompaniment to all types of main dishes. It is made with chopped white cabbage, tomatoes, cucumber and juicy black olives and is often served with a sprinkling of crumbled Feta cheese on top.
Often a meal in a taverna (restaurant) or around the family table, begins with a plate full of horiatiki salada, some warmed slices of crusty village bread and a variety of dips. The usual dips are Tahini and Tzatziki, but a popular summer one is Melitzanasalada, made with large shiny aubergines. This dip has a distinctive smoky taste as the aubergines are cooked over charcoal.
Cyprus lies in the eastern Mediterranean and over the centuries many of the local recipes have been developed from the cuisine of neighbouring countries. A version of Melitzanasalada can be found today in Lebanon. The Cypriot of Melitzanasalada is made with onions, tahini (sesame paste) and seasoned with paprika.
μακαρόνια στο φούρνο (Macaronia sto Fourno)
This oven-baked pasta dish is also known in Cyprus as Pasticcio and is the Cypriots answer to macaroni cheese with a layer of meat! This dish was first created in Cyprus during the Venetian rule of the island (1489-1571) as the Venetian courtiers introduced the Cypriots to the art of pasta making.
Today huge trays of the dish are made for village weddings and festivals and because it is quite firm, the macaronia can be quickly cut into large squares and served – accompanied by a large bowl of horiatiki salada. Rows of thick macaroni are layered with beef cooked in red wine and tomato, topped with a creamy sauce and a generous sprinkling of the local Cypriot cheese Kefalotiri which has been coarsely grated.
There are many different casseroles to enjoy during your visit to Cyprus and all of them are full of flavour as the meat is marinated first and then slowly cooked in the oven. Many older people still use the traditional style clay ovens which look like large white bee-hives and are wood-burning.
Pork in Cyprus is cheap, plentiful and has a really good flavour. Afelia is made from pork cubes that have been marinaded in red wine, cinnamon and crushed coriander seeds (coliandros) overnight and then gently cooked in the oven to make the meat really tender.
Stifado is a traditional rich beef casserole that is often found on the menus in Cypriot tavernas. Pieces of beef are slowly casseroled with onion, tomatoes and red wine and the flavour is enhanced with bay leaves and a stick of cinnamon. The sauce is really thick and it is a shame to waste any, so always ensure you have been served with a basket of crusty sliced bread.
In Cyprus, beef is expensive and usually enjoyed on special occasions such as a person’s Name Day (many Cypriots are named after Saints and rather than celebrate their Birthday, they celebrate the Saint’s Day that gave them their name).
The name of this lamb casserole comes from the Greek words ‘steal meat’. In years gone by, people sometimes stole a lamb from a shepherd and to ensure they were not caught, they would construct an oven deep in the ground and place a terracotta pot containing the meat, sprinkled with rigano (oregano) on a thick bed of hot embers in the hole, which they quickly covered with soil. The casserole would be left to cook overnight.
Few people cook their kleftiko in this way today, but many still use the ‘beehive’ clay ovens. Kleftiko is usually served with wedges of lemon as the lemon juice adds to the flavour and cleans the palate.
Moussaka is THE Greek dish that everyone knows and in Cyprus, Moussaka is often made in individual red terracotta pots or in a large tray divided into squares – Cypriot Moussaka is not made with less liquid so it cuts easily into pieces like a gateau and is served warm, rather than hot. Moussaka is thought to be Arabic in origin and was brought to the island during the Arabic conquest in the 7th century.
Minced beef or lamb are cooked and made into a sauce with chopped onions, tomatoes, red wine and cinnamon. This thick, meaty sauce is layered with slices of aubergines, courgettes and potatoes and the top layer is a thick creamy sauce that is flavoured with one of the local cheeses- either Halloumi or Kefalotyri.