I see that I am about to complete 20 years on the chain-gang of writing a weekly food-and-drink page in Cyprus newspapers (I anticipate a flood of congratulatory Emails) Before the summer of 1995 I had “cut my teeth” so to speak with several years of monthly writings in newspapers or magazines. My first weekly article concerned the advent of the Cyprus cherry season. So, as it is almost upon us, I re-print it below, because many of the old readers may well be beyond reading at all and those who are able to will have forgotten it anyway. For me, these old press pages are my “Ghosts in a Box File”.
SOME LIKE IT HOT….
In our donkey sanctuary days in the Troodos Foothills, for several years we had four Sri Lankan grooms (two married couples). Not only were they wonderful workers with a remarkable affinity with animals, but they were exceptional cooks. They made the most wonderful pilaffs, pastry and vegetable dishes. And they made curry, virtually every day, for themselves. Invited to taste it, it was fresh and delicious but throat-burningly hot. How they could assimilate so much hot chili we couldn’t understand. They reduced the heat alot for us, when they had us in for a meal!
I have often wondered why it is people in hot countries love HOT food. That said, the many varieties of moderately hot dishes you can find in cook books do add excitement to a Western diet. The simplest way to hot up a dish if, of course, pepper, which comes in many powdered forms. From there one can go on to pepper sauces, like “Tabasco” or Nando’s “Peri Peri” and many more.
Mustard, especially Colman’s mustard powder, adds zest and heat to many dishes. Generously coat rabbit joints with mixed mustard, dip them in flour, brown in a frying pan and then put in a casserole with chicken stock and mixed root vegetables – lovely. Add a little extra mustard to the Stroganoff sauce to hot up the fillet steak – super.
Fresh Green Pepper Corns – whack a dozen or so into both sides of fillet steak before frying to create Steak aux Poivres, before finishing with brandy, flamed. Start the same way for Steak Diane, adding some red wine, Worcestershire sauce, mustard and salt, reducing it well down and flaming with brandy before serving. If you haven’t got fresh green peppercorns, soak some dried ones for an hour or two in water.
This hot saucy paste originated in North African countries, but it now graces kitchens and dining tables all over the world. It comes in small jars and can be bought from good grocery stores and shops specialising in Middle Eastern foods. Made from ground chilli and various herbs and spices, it has a lovely aroma. Widely used in North African and Middle Eastern cuisines, it is dabbed on to plates of meat, fish, pilaffs and so on. Or, gives a hot lift to stews, soups and casseroles. Around the Middle East and North Africa you may find it comes in a little bowl, with added oil and bread for dipping. Beware, though. It is pungent and powerful and should be taken in small instalments!
It’s also possible to make your own with a food processor. These are the ingredients for one (of many!) version: dried red chillis, garlic, salt, fresh coriander, caraway seeds and olive oil. Optional items are: smoked paprika, cumin and mint. To allow the flavours to meld, make the day before you want to use. After that, store it a cool, dry place. Once opened, it should be stored in the fridge and will last for 4 – 6 weeks.
This is a lovely Arabic recipe I first encountered at a long-gone Lebanese restaurant, called “Abu Faysal”, in Nicosia. Strangely, you don’t often come across it and I can’t think why. It should not be too hot, in order to allow the flavours of the walnuts to come through. Muhumarra should have just a “hot” tinge to it – but how hot you make it is largely up to you.
4 Sweet (“Bell”) red peppers 2 fat garlic cloves, peeled and chopped. 90g / 3 oz chopped walnuts 60g / 2 oz dry breadcrumbs (I make mine from lightly toasted pitta bread) 1 tbsp lemon juice 125 ml / 4 fl oz extra virgin olive oil 1 tsp ground cumin A pinch or two of chilli powder or red pepper flakes. Muhumarra should have a “hot” tinge to it – how hot you make it is largely up to you. Salt and pepper to taste
Firstly you need roasted peppers. You can cheat a little by using the very good bottled ones, but wash the brine off them and pat dry. Otherwise, and this is not difficult, open up your peppers and discard seeds, stem and choggy bits. Then heat a grill till it’s really hot then flatten the pepper and put the pepper, shiny side up, in a small oven tray. Grill them until the surface is black and bubbly. Remove, let them cool then scrape off the blackened skin. Alternatively you can slightly incendiarise the peppers by putting them on a fork and holding or placing them over a high gas flame.
1) Chop the peppers and coarsely.
2) Now put all the ingredients except the oil into your food processor and whiz until mixed.
3) Drizzle in the olive oil and in a series of quick whizzes blend the mixture – don’t make it into a puree, but leave it with a little texture.
4) Taste and season.
Serve as part of a starter selection of dips, pickles, olives etc., with hot pitta bread, or as an accompaniment to grilled meats, chicken, fish or roasted vegetables.
….AND SOME PREFER IT SWEET & JUICY
Life is just a bowl of cherries (sometimes) Published in the “Cyprus Mail”, July 9th. 1995.
Cyprus cherries are as good as you can get anywhere and served fresh they’re delicious – on their own or with other seasonal fruits like apricots and peaches. For just a while they catch the end of the strawberry season and, for me, they are a great combination.
Unless you are simply serving up a bowl of washed fresh cherries, it’s best to remove the stones. You can use an olive or cherry stoner if you like, but I find it easiest to split the cherry between thumb and forefinger and squeeze the stone out. Tip: do this in the sink, because cherry juice both squirts and stains. Steep the pitted cherries in Cyprus cherry liqueur (about a coffee-cupful) for an hour or two and serve with whipped cream. Or, drain and use in a recipe like this one, which one of our friends from Sweden introduced to us. It’s called:
PER’S PUDDING – Ingredients for 6-8 portions
2 medium-large eggs
200 grams of caster sugar
125 grams of plain or village flour
Half teaspoon of baking powder
250 grams of pitted cherries, steeped
as above, drained About 100 grams of very cold unsalted butter
1. Heat the oven to 175ºC
2. Rub a little butter over a 28-30cms round pastry tin, non-stick for preference.
3. Dust with a sprinkling of flour.
4. In a food processor, blend the eggs and sugar until very creamy and whitish. Or beat with a whisk.
5. Add the flour and baking powder and whiz until blended.
6. Spoon mixture into the pastry tin and spread evenly.
7. Dot the drained cherries all over the mixture.
8. Take butter from fridge and flake off very thin slivers to cover the top of the mixture.
9. Bake for around 30-35 minutes until top is golden brown and crisp and the mixture is cooked.
10. Serve warm or cold, with cream, ice-cream or a fruit coulis — fresh apricot for example (10-12 stoned and peeled apricots, whizzed for a few seconds in a blender with a little sugar and a coffee cup of Cyprus apricot liqueur)
This delicious variation on a sponge cake theme can use a variety of fruits — strawberries, chopped apple (with skins), apricots, peaches, even raisins. Good the following day, too, if there’s any left!