I’d been wanting this book for quite a long time when I finally saw it on sale and cracked. I like that it doesn’t just have the standard ‘Middle Eastern’ countries that I think Anglo-Australians think of when they think of food; it’s got Armenia, The Gulf States, Yemen…. So my thought was to try and do a week or two of mostly cooking from on country. Obviously that’s going to be harder or easier depending on season, as to what we feel like; and some ingredient will make things hard. But I figure it’s a good way to try new things and make my way through bits of the book.
So my first foray was into Cyprus. It’s not the first country in the book – that’s Greece – but I thought starting with Greek was cheating because I already know at least some Greek food.
The very first recipe is for haloumi. I am intrigued by the idea of making haloumi but I can’t imagine every actually doing it. Unless I hit some holidays and I get really adventurous… which may well happen, not going to lie.
I also don’t think I will be marinating or frying brains (appetisers). Yes, I happily own to being a culinary coward.
Page-wise, the first recipe I tried was the Kolketes (pumpkin pies; appetiser). This was a bit harder than I had expected. Making the filling of pumpkin and bulgur and spices was a cinch. But the pastry wasn’t nearly as easy to deal with as I had expected, and I got a bit frustrated. This was compounded by the instruction to roll the dough out “about the thickness of a normal pie crust” which is not at all useful if you’re not accustomed to making pie crusts. As I am not. So I just had to guess. Ultimately I managed to make the pies; they were quite tasty. However the pastry has made me leary of trying them again.
Next was haloumi bread. Yes yes yes and yes. I can also imagine just making the Kouloura bread dough by itself.
Further on we hit vegetables, and I made Yemista – stuffed vegetables. I can’t quite imagine stuffing eggplants and my love isn’t a huge fan, so I just went with tomatoes and capsicum. I’d seen some American cooking show where the woman did ‘deconstructed’ stuffed capsicums – don’t worry, she was being sly about and knew this was entirely the cheat’s way of making them – and I had every intention of making the filling (mince, rice, tomato) and then piling the capsicum and tomato on top or something. But in the end I actually properly stuffed them (and how organised is this, I made that bit the day before and just had to cook them the next day for dinner!). They were quite tasty, although I think either the stuffing or the sauce (which was a very basic tomato sauce) needed something a bit richer. Possibly just more tomato.
Then there’s Afelia, which is apparently anything with cracked coriander seeds. I made mushrooms with coriander – fry them off, add some red wine, add coriander – and given I love coriander in all its forms I liked it. I would have liked more ideas in this section about what sort of food it should accompany, though. I also made the pork version, which was quite a Moment for me since I’m not sure I’ve personally cooked pork more than… once before? Basically it just tasted like coriander, though; I didn’t think the pork came through at all. Maybe that’s just pork.
Finally, fish: Psari Savoro (fish with rosemary and vinegar). I used Australian rockling. We went through a bit of a fish phase a few years ago but haven’t been back in ages; I’ve just not found a convenient and good fishmonger. There’s apparently one a bit north of where we are, though, that I’ll have to try – I think this cookbook is likely to have some good seafood recipes. Anyway: salting the fish was an intriguing suggestion, and then coating with flour of course made it crisp up a bit and leave flour to thicken the sauce. My love cooked the fish and did it very well. The sauce was made up of garlic, rosemary, vinegar (we used cider instead of brown) and white wine. It thickened up heaps more than I expected, and was basically tasty although too heavy on the vinegar for my taste. One I will quite likely be revisiting.
Starting with Cyrpus was an … interesting choice. It wasn’t an overwhelming success – I didn’t love everything – but there wasn’t anything that I hated the taste of. I’ll be a bit more cautious as I go further into the book as I’ve not always found Mallos’ instructions to be as straightforward as I’d like. With both the pork and the fish, she says to fry until ‘just cooked through’ – but no instructions about what that looks like. It’s surely not hard to say ‘until the pork is white through’ or ‘until the fish is white and flakes’? Even expert cooks aren’t going to get annoyed by a few extra words, are they?
None of these were particularly photogenic, hence the lack of pics.