HAPPY NEW YEAR from the CYPRUS GOURMET

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - FOOD, DRINK and OTHER MAT­TERS with Pa­trick Skin­ner

In this volatile world it would be un­wise to con­sider “New Year “per­haps is a bet­ter word. At this time I am re­minded of Woody Allen’s quip: “How do you make God laugh? – Tell Him your plans”.

The hopes I have for my fam­ily, friends and my­self sim­ply cen­tre round that of good health for the next 12 months. I hope to have an­other year of my page here each week and that it may in­ter­est and en­ter­tain a few read­ers in 2016! So, to you all, I wish hap­pi­ness, peace and pros­per­ity for the year to come. And, of course,

Our 2015 Christ­mas lunch was with friends – the tra­di­tional Bri­tish tur­key. It’s one of those tra­di­tions that took hold in Cyprus in the years we lived there, al­though I can’t think why. For me it doesn’t have a great flavour and there’s a lot of it. Un­less you’re a big fam­ily, the wretched bird hangs around for ages, com­ing up in guise af­ter guise. Roasted. Cold, sliced. Fri­c­as­see. Risotto. With ham in a pie. So, I have only had to face it once this year. On Box­ing Day (last Satur­day) I roasted a chicken stuffed with a cooked mix­ture of finely chopped lamb flavoured with cin­na­mon, cumin and turmeric, plus onions, gar­lic, pine nuts, chopped mint and red wine. Much bet­ter!

This is how such a dish should look (it’s ac­tu­ally the jacket photo of a won­der­ful book pub­lished in 1982, by Arto der Haroutu­nian, called “Mid­dle East­ern Cook­ery”. (

To keep juices in, I cover the chicken with foil for about 40 min­utes of the to­tal cook­ing time of be­tween 60 and 80 min­utes (at 200C)

When you’ve had your main meal, cut all the re­main­ing meat off the bird, not for­get­ting the two lovely “chicken oys­ters” on the flat part (top). Keep this for an­other main dish.

Then, break up the car­cass, put in a large pot with some mixed herbs (fresh and/or dried), add some bits of ham or ba­con, a car­rot or two, some pieces of other root veg­eta­bles such as swede, turnip or cele­riac, and an onion or leek or two. Cover with wa­ter, sea­son and sim­mer for about three hours. You will then have the ba­sis for some ex­cel­lent soup or stock in which to cook rice, pasta, bul­gar wheat our cous-cous.

All this talk of what to do with a chicken was prompted by my look­ing through a new and de­cid­edly orig­i­nal book about food, with recipes, sent to me for re­view.

“by Sher­ine Ben Halim Ja­far, has been pub­lished by Ni­cosi­abased Ri­mal Pub­li­ca­tions, at US$55. It is a sub­stan­tial hard-back book, with more than 300 pages, printed in colour on art pa­per. More than 200 pages con­cern food, in terms of in­gre­di­ents, cook­ing and recipes.

Through­out, there is a feel­ing of fam­ily. Their story, en­com­pass­ing de­par­ture from Libya in 1969, to es­cape the Gadaffi regime, to the present is redo­lent of sev­eral writ­ten of the Pales­tinian fol­low­ing the 1948 cre­ation of Is­rael.

Here, though, we do not have a nar­ra­tive about one na­tion’s food – the au­thor, Sher­ine Ben Halim Ja­far, found set­tling any­where other than her home­land, Libya, most dif­fi­cult. This search­ing for a home and in­deed her own self, led her through Le­banon, Syria and Iraq, then be­yond the Arab world into Iran. Every­where she ab­sorbed the in­di­vid­ual culi­nary cul­tures. Now, she presents not only her fam­ily story, but her ex­pe­ri­ences with each cui­sine. The ded­i­ca­tion tells you a lot about the feel­ing of this work: “To my loves”, it reads.

The recipes are ac­com­pa­nied by at­mo­spheric colour pho­to­graphs, of­ten in soft-fo­cus and look­ing like they’ve been taken at home (in some you can al­most smell the food). This is all to the good.

I have trav­elled in most of the coun­tries rep­re­sented here, eaten the food and cooked some of it, too. Their sim­i­lar but dif­fer­ent cuisines have been well doc­u­mented and a num­ber of dishes have joined the reper­to­ries of in­ter­na­tional chefs. But Madame Ja­far has pro­duced many recipes you don’t find in most Mid­dle East­ern cook books or mag­a­zines. And, there is more than this. There is a feel­ing through­out of love and of It is a book to read, enjoy, I keep my copy on a lit­tle ta­ble near my work desk and ev­ery now and then dip into it for a few min­utes. In the depths of an English win­ter it takes me back many years, to an­other world, of sun­shine, friend­ship and hos­pi­tal­ity. I can rec­om­mend this as a gift for some­one you love – or for your­self.

Said by some to be the sem­i­nal work on the food of the Mid­dle East, Mr. der Haroutu­nian’s book re­mains avail­able (cur­rent edi­tion is pic­tured left). It of­fers a lu­cid ex­po­si­tion of the di­ver­sity, sub­stance and style of Mid­dle East­ern and North African cook­ing.

Born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1940, he grew up in the Le­vant, but went to Eng­land with his par­ents as a child, re­main­ing there for most of his life. He stud­ied ar­chi­tec­ture at Manch­ester Univer­sity and em­barked upon a ca­reer de­sign­ing restau­rants, clubs and ho­tels. In 1970, in part­ner­ship with his brother, he opened the first Ar­me­nian restau­rant in Manch­ester which even­tu­ally be­came a suc­cess­ful chain of six restau­rants and two ho­tels. It was log­i­cal that he should widen his hori­zons to in­clude cook­ery books – 12 of them – be­cause they com­bined his love of food with his great in­ter­est in the history and cul­ture of the re­gion. Sadly he died be­fore his time at the age of 47, in 1987.

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