Week 5: Chowing in Cyprus

Cyprus is a small island off of Greece. Dan suggested this country and I thought it’d be a good idea to do an island so we can eat some seafood. We plunged right into the ocean this week, and we made an Octopus Stew! Dan said this was the week he was most excited for. This week we ate and cooked foods that were completely different than what we’re used to.

Being that Cyprus is such a small country and the cuisine is heavily influenced by Greece, it was difficult to find recipes that were uniquely Cypriot. Fortunately, I discovered a wonderful food blog, Aphrodite’s Kitchen. This blog is written by a Cypriot woman who grew up in Canada, but still had family in Cyprus. She was living in London as a lawyer when she craved a change and packed her bags and moved to Cyprus. The blog follows her adventures cooking both traditional and modern Cypriot food, so I found it a great resource for cooking our meals this week. She is an amazing food photographer (much better than the photos I’ll be putting out this week… it’s hard to make octopus look appetizing!) and writes eloquently. I recommend checking out her blog as well.

Tzatziki and Chips

Before this week’s dinner I was telling a friend from work about the meals we’ve been making. She asked if there had been any major disasters or screw ups with the food. I happily told her that everything had been going great. I don’t know if she jinxed me, or if it was just a matter of time before something went wrong but with this dish it happened.

Tortilla Chips
Before the tortillas were burnt.

We were making the tzatziki as a dip and Dan was making chips by baking tortillas. The tortillas were cut into triangles and seasoned with olive oil and salt and pepper. He’s made chips like this 100 times in the past, and they always turn out great. The chips were the last thing that needed to be made, and Dan tossed them in the oven as everyone was arriving. I don’t know if conversation with our friends, or the fact that the wine had begun flowing distracted us, but the chips got majorly burnt. What were once happy orange and yellow tortillas emerged from the oven scorched black. I hate burnt food! I am a snob, and I won’t even eat a bagel if it even somewhat looks blackened. Heck, I don’t even enjoy a burnt marshmallow when having s’mores! Luckily, Dan and our friend Justin say they like burnt food (hurrah for me, I’m always able to pawn the more burnt food off on Dan) so they still ate the tzatziki, but as for myself I only tried one bite with the least burnt chip I could find.

Ingredients for the tzatziki
Chopped cucumbers, garlic, dill, lemon and mint are mixed with Greek yogurt to make the tzatziki.

If it weren’t for the chip situation, the tzatziki would have been great. Doing this food experiment is also beginning to show me how different countries cuisines influence each other. If you read my first post about India you might remember we made an Indian dip, Cucumber Raita. Tzatziki is extremely similar and equally enjoyable and refreshing. They’re both mainly composed of Greek Yogurt and cucumbers. We got the recipe from food.com and made it the night ahead of time. Luckily, we had leftovers and I have been able to enjoy it since with store bought, non-burnt chips.

Tzatziki
Tzatziki dip.

Artichoke Hearts and Peas

This was a delicious side dish! I had never thought of mixing artichoke hearts and peas in the past. One of the reasons I chose Cyprus was from reading the Wikipedia page on Cyprus cuisine (I perform hard hitting investigating) and it mentioned that artichokes were a popular Cypriot food. I love artichokes. And when I saw the recipe on Aprodite’s Kitchen for Artichoke Hearts and Peas I knew I had to cook it.

The peas did a wonderful job of soaking up all the different seasonings and spices. I’m not typically a huge fan of peas, but the different flavors fusing with the peas made them more enjoyable than plain old peas. The splash of lemon at the end was especially flavorful, and it was a great dish for a cool summer night.

Artichokes hearts and peas
Artichoke hearts and peas

Grating tomatoes was a new experience for us, and we used this technique in both this dish and the Octopus Stew. It was really simple. You just cut a tomato in half, and use a regular grater and grate at the meaty part. The tomato skin gets discarded. It’s a really easy way to make a tomato sauce. I learned online that grating tomatoes is a traditional Greek technique. But it was such an easy way to collect the tomato juice and pulp that I plan on utilizing it again in the future when cooking with tomatoes. Typically I hate dealing with tomatoes! I am unskilled and very messy when it comes to chopping tomatoes. The juices always spray everywhere.

Octopus Stew

Yes, Octopus Stew! What an unusual and interesting food to cook with! I was really nervous no one was going to want to come over for dinner this week due to the “ick factor” of eating a whole octopus. But we managed to scrap together a few brave friends who were also willing to step out of their own comfort zone.

Ingredients for octopus stew
Olive oil, malt vinegar, cooking wine, tomato paste, tomatoes, onions, cinnamon sticks and cloves all make the stew.

It was really fascinating cooking with octopi. First, I was shocked we were able to purchase whole octopi at our local Giant Eagle grocery store! I thought we would have to go to the specialty seafood market. Next, it was really cool to watch them boil. When you put them in the water they are deflated like a shriveled up balloon with tentacles hanging off. But as they begin to absorb water they inflate and their tentacles move creepily. I kept screaming that they were alive! Octopus are very smart creatures, so who is to say they couldn’t survive being cryogenically frozen like Walt Disney? (Only half joking.)

Octopus cooking
The octopus begin to curl up and take shape as they absorb water

Our kitchen smelled like we were standing on docks and the boats had just come in and fishermen were unloading their catches. That is to say, very fishy… until we started making the sauce. We followed the traditionally Cypriot recipe found on Aphrodite’s Kitchen. The sauce is a mixture of grated tomatoes, lots of onions, cloves, tomato paste, olive oil, vegetable oil, cooking wine and white malt vinegar. There is also a teaspoon of sugar, which gave it a pleasant sweet taste.

Octopus stew cooking
Can you see the octopus head melding with all the over flavors?

In the long run, I was very satisfied with our octopus stew. I had been nervous that the octopus would be a strange texture and too chewy, but it actually was fairly tender and less chewy than anticipated. I wasn’t even (too) grossed out by eating tentacles! Everyone was able to have a whole octopus to themselves. It also wasn’t difficult to make, so if you’re looking for a unique dish for your next dinner party I would recommend trying this out!

Oxtapodi Stifado
The finished product, Oxtapodi Stifado, as it is called in Cyprus

This week was a lot of fun as usual. Every week I look forward to and anticipate these meals. But, I have some bad news. Dan is about to start his last semester of college, which is amazing! But unfortunately, our schedules are now completely at odds. He has night classes 3 nights a week and I work late on the days he doesn’t have class. This leads little time for Cooking Through the Countries. We’re not going to stop doing our dinners, but they will definitely slow down. I’m hoping we can do a dinner every other week, but realistically it might be somewhat less.

But the good news is I am developing and growing as a human being (it only took 25 years). Since Dan has so many night classes, I’m going to try and cook dinner for us at least one day a week. That’s something I wouldn’t have dared to do before starting this blog. In the past I would just bring us home Chipotle and call that my contribution to our household. I hope we have another dinner very soon!

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