Meal 46: Cyprus

As a solitary island in the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus has seen millenia of influence from outside nations and empires. From Venetians to Ottomans to English, the appeal of a pied-à-terre located between Asia Minor, the Nile, Palestine and Greece has held strong appeal. The geopolitics are strong as ever today, with a split between Turkish Northern Cyprus and the Greek Republic of Cyprus.

For this meal we focus on the latter, primarily because that's the entity with UN membership but also that's because our friend Iva grew up there. All the while the food demonstrates its history while maintaining distinctive aspects of its own. And while it doesn't feature in any recipe, yogurt was the thick and creamy star that held it all together.

Joining us for this pleasant, post-mosquito night on the back porch, in addition to Iva, were Rachel (who's got a great project going with Oldest Living Things in the World), François, Emma, Nathan, Martyna and Martyna's mom. We tried out a new approach where every guest asked Iva something about Cyprus, which was a great way to learn about daily life and culture.

Horiatiki | Rustic salad

If you've ever had a Greek salad, this is a pretty similar beast, with tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, olives and oregano. What makes this Cypriot is the halloumi cheese, which is moister and firmer, and a bit less salty, than feta. Also the dressing is based on lemon juice rather than the vinegar you sometimes see.

Pourgouri pilaf | Bulgur wheat | Recipe

I think I see a bit of Middle East influence in bulgur, or cracked wheat, in this dish! Though the flavor was simple, it was definitely enlivened by some thick yogurt.

Makaronia tou fournou / pastitsio | Noodle, beef and béchamel casserole | Recipe

I'd be surprised if it wasn't the Venetians who introduced the pasta used in this casserole which is well known as a Greek dish but which Iva claims is originally from Cyprus. It was certainly tasty, but what was supposed to be a thick and fluffy bechamel of flour, milk and butter was quite runny and kind of drooped down like a cobbler rather than floating on top like a meringue. I think it was my fault for adding the second half of the milk too quickly rather than slowly incorporating it patiently into the pan of milk and flour. Be that as it may this was still plenty yummy.

Louvi me lehana | Black-eyed peas with chard | Recipe

A beautifully rustic combination of legumes and greens. Interestingly, dried black eyed peas cook much more quickly than normal beans, which is good to know if you have limited time. The dish overall was nice and a bit tangy with the lemon, but honestly the leftovers were bolder and in my opinion better when I added red wine, sumac, roasted garlic, Aleppo pepper and more lemon juice.

Melomakaronia | Honey cookies with olive oil, orange, and spices | Recipe

These cookies are traditional for Christmas but I can see why they're popular year round. Densely made with olive oil, orange juice and rind, and fresh ground cinnamon and clove, and then dipped in a solution of honey, sugar, and more spice, you don't need more than one or two to feel satisfied! Iva generously brought a bottle of Commandaria, a port-like dessert wine known as the world's oldest continually produced type of wine!

And that does it for the C's! If you're around in New York on October 14 we'd love to have you for our biggest Nosh yet, honoring World Food Day with Democratic Republic of the Congo. Buy tickets!

Photos by Laura Hadden, who was grateful to have Iva back from Cyprus for this meal!