Increase your pulse rate - it’s good for you
Visitors to Cyprus often comment upon the quantity of meat served in a meze, or indeed in most restaurant and taverna meals, and remark that the Cypriots are obviously great meat eaters. It was not always so. I think today’s emphasis on meat is a reaction to the past, the years I call “B.T.”, meaning Before Tourism. Cyprus was a poor country with most people living in villages eking out a meagre living from land that was all too often stricken by drought. Meat was for special occasions, religious festivals, saints days and so on. Church tradition, too, was (and still is) very strong – our former neighbour, the dear Maria, for example, a “woman beyond reproach”, who baked the blessed bread for the Communion at the village church, used to fast for 160 days a year: 50 days before Easter, 40 before Christmas, every Wednesday and Friday, as well as for various anniversaries and memorials.
In consequence, vegetables and pulses figure very strongly in the home cooking of this country. Even when meat is used, for example in the stuffed vine leaves (Koupepia), a little goes a very long way. It is sad that so many people come to Cyprus, pass their holidays eating kebabs, chips and salad, and leave without savouring some of the lovely food that is cooked here. Like many countries, the best Cyprus food is mostly to be found in family homes.
Much home cooking entails soaking white beans or other pulses overnight and then having a long slow simmer to cook them until they are tender. I think canned beans can make things much easier and produce a delicious result. A great favourite in our household is bean and vegetable stew, which is very simply prepared. 1. Drain liquid from the chickpeas and set aside. 2. Put the chickpeas in your food processor/blender. 3. Add the tahini, garlic cloves, lemon juice and sunflower oil, and blend. 4. Season to taste and add as much of the chickpea liquid as you want to produce a creamy, not-too-runny ‘dip’.
Chickpeas need a good soak and a long cook, but if you do use the dried variety, remember they never actually get totally soft no matter how long you cook them. I prefer canned, because the liquid greatly helps the flavour of the dish we are making.
Pictured right, served with kofta and green beans and tomato, today, this is quite frequently served in the better tavernas. Here’s how they do it: 200 grams of coarse Pourgouri 50 grams of very fine noodles (Vermicellini) crushed very small 250ml of tomato juice 750ml of water (a full wine bottle) 1 small onion, sliced very finely 3 tablespoons of oil Juice of half a lemon and salt and pepper to taste