Victoriaâs writer is on a mission to preserve family recipes that come with trips to Amargeti. were enjoyed from their childhood
My favorite cookbooks are those that are written with passion and determination. Engaging works are as pleasant to read as they are to cook. After reviewing the recently published book by Victoria-based Christina Loucas, Cyprus cuisine (Whitecap Books) it was clear that those boxes were checked.
Loucas’ introduction to good food began at a young age. As a child she helped out at her late father Harry’s restaurant Victoria Harbor House, which he ran for 27 years and sold in 2007.
As a child, she traveled every summer with her mother Katherine, a trained baker, and her sister Stephanie to Amargeti in Cyprus, where her grandmother Despina lived. That is where the seeds were planted for one day to write a cookbook.
âAmargeti is a typical Cypriot mountain village – cactus pears grow by the roadside, vines swirl around your head. Olive and lemon trees were heavy with fruit, as they probably had for hundreds of years, âwrites Loucas in her book. In addition, her grandmother and other relatives and acquaintances upheld Cypriot culinary traditions there, such as making homemade halloumi (cheese) and bottles of lemon squash, a syrupy base for making Cypriot-style lemonade.
As Loucas grew up, trips to Cyprus became rarer. Because her career choice led her to London, England, where she worked as a lawyer for international arbitration. The work was rewarding, but stressful, energy-consuming and associated with long working hours.
When she came to Cyprus during this time, Loucas said she noticed less of the homemade foods she remembered from childhood. People she knew made, like her grandmother, grew old, others died, and their methods of making traditional foods were not always documented.
âWhen I looked for a cookbook that told me how to cook these recipes, I couldn’t find one that explains things in a way that I could understand,â writes Loucas in her book. She then decided that if she wanted to keep her family’s recipes, she would have made it herself.
Loucas decided to move to Cyprus for a brief adventurous career break to start working on this project. Influential people she knew, however, were shocked by this decision as they thought it would jeopardize their legal career. She hesitated and took a job with a Cypriot law firm, assuming that she would write the cookbook in her spare time, but fate had other plans for her.
In short, she felt constantly exhausted, sought medical help, was diagnosed with a serious illness and ended up in London again, this time in a hospital for surgery and recovery. She recovered, took on a new view of life, and decided to do things she’d dreamed of without excuse. This included becoming a seasoned photographer, working on her food blog Afrodite’s Kitchen (afroditeskitchen.com) and creating her beautiful cookbook, Cyprus kitchen.
âWhen I first held the book, I felt a sense of accomplishment. It was a passionate project that came true – both preserving my family’s recipes and publishing my first cookbook, âsaid Loucas. “It was also the first major success after my thyroid cancer and my job change.”
Cyprus is a small island in the Mediterranean Sea, close to places like Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Greece, and Turkey. Over time, these places influenced the food in Cyprus. As Loucas says in her book, Cyprus has a humble but seductive Eastern Mediterranean cuisine that blends Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors and ingredients.
This amalgamation is reflected in the recipes of her book, accompanied by her wonderful photos, including many step-by-step preparation shots.
“In Cyprus we eat mostly vegetarian every day,” said Loucas. That is why you will find delicious recipes in her book for z. B. Cypriot lentils, spinach pies and peeled white bean soup.
Meat is of course also eaten and you will be delighted when you appear at the table when Loucas’ lamb and orzo stew, egg and lemon drop soup with meatballs or hearty and delicious Cypriot lasagna have been served.
The book also contains recipes for beverages like lemon verbena iced tea, bread and pastries like honey and cinnamon sticks, seafood, dips, salads, pickles and sweets like pistachio baklava.
The recipes in the book are preceded by sections on Cypriot cuisine and key ingredients and tools that can provide insightful information about the island’s cuisine. The book also contains photos that were taken in Cyprus – at farmers’ markets, by the sea and by people there.
“I tried to take people to a beautiful Mediterranean island through their colors and scenes through the pictures I took,” said Loucas. “I made the recipes available to everyone around the world, as my goal was so that people outside of Cyprus can enjoy the wonderful cuisine.”
Cyprus cuisine can be purchased in Greater Victoria at Bolen Books, Munro’s and Bungalow. It is also available from online retailers.
Butternut Squash Pie (Kolokotes)
This recipe is from Christiana Loucas Cyprus cuisine (Whitecap books). She says these delicious hand patties are usually made in the fall and winter, when a particular variety of pumpkin is in season in Cyprus. It’s hard to find here, so in Canada she uses a combination of acorn and kabocha squash. You can also use 4 cups of butternut squash in the filling as the recipe name suggests.
Power: 12 cupcakes.
For the filling:
2 cups diced acorn squash (1/2-inch cube)
2 cups diced kabocha squash (1/2-inch dice)
1 shallot, lightly seared in 2 tablespoons of olive oil
3 to 4 tbsp chopped fennel fronds (the green leaves)
1/2 teaspoon pepper (or more to taste)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tbsp brown sugar
1/2 cup of fine bulgur wheat
1/2 cup sultanas raisins
For the dough:
4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (60 ml) olive oil
1 tbsp Chardonnay vinegar (or any other vinegar)
â¢ Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups of warm water
â¢ Olive oil, for coating
Mix all ingredients for the filling in a bowl and let rest for two hours.
To make a batter, in a large bowl, rub the flour and olive oil together with your fingers so the flour absorbs the oil. Add the vinegar, salt and warm water and stir the dough with your hands. If needed, add more flour and / or warm water so you can shape a ball. Shape the dough into a ball, place in a lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl with cling film and two kitchen towels and let it rest for 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough 1/4 inch thick. Cut out circles six inches in diameter. Spoon 1/4 cup filling into the bottom half of each circle. Close the circles into crescent shapes and firmly press the edges together with your fingers. Place the cake on the baking sheet and let it rest for about 15 minutes.
Brush the top of each cake with a little olive oil and cut small holes in the top of each cake. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until they are light golden brown on top.
Eric Akis is the author of eight cookbooks. His columns appear on Wednesday and Sunday in the Life section.