The history of Cyprus can be traced back to the Neolithic Period (around 10000BC) at the World Heritage Site of Khirokitia. By 1400BC Greek traders were well established, bringing their cultural influence to the island. It's said that the Goddess Aphrodite emerged from the waters off Cyprus between the towns of Limassol and Paphos.
Due to its favourable location, Cyprus has seen its share of invaders - from Alexander the Great, Cleopatra to Richard the 1st. In 1459 it was handed over to Venice and from 1571 it came under Ottoman rule. From 1878 it was placed under British administration until independence in 1960. Finally in 1974 after the Turkish invasion, the island was virtually split into two and remains divided to this day.
It is no surprise that with such a colourful history the cuisine of Cyprus shows its Greek, Syrian, Lebanese, Italian, French, Catalan and Turkish influences - so you are sure to find a dish to suit your tastes.
As part of this alphabetical culinary journey we have arrived at the letter M and the dish selected to represent Cyprus is Moussaka.
Moussaka is a layered dish of eggplant, potato and meat topped with a béchamel sauce. I always thought that Moussaka used lamb but apparently it is more traditional to use a mix of beef and pork. Since I'm a novice when it comes to Cypriot cuisine I've sought out expert advice and found the answer in the pages of Tessa Kiros' Falling Cloudberries - this recipe is the one used by Tessa's Aunt.
[Slightly Adapted from Tessa Kiros (Falling Cloudberries)]
1 large eggplant
2 potatoes, peeled
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
300 grams mix of pork and beef mince
1 cup tomato passata, approx
25 grams butter
25 grams cornflour
1½ cups milk
25 grams kefalotyri cheese, grated
1 egg yolk
Notes: There is a lot to do in this recipe but it all can be done in advance. You can leave the dish as individual components and assemble when you're ready to cook. You can also cook it in advance and reheat it when needed.
Prepare the eggplant:
It's more traditional to slice the eggplants lengthways but due to the size of my dish I've sliced it into rounds. Top and tail the eggplant and then cut evenly into 5mm thick slices. If you find your eggplants are usually bitter you should salt the slices at this stage for about 30 minutes otherwise just skip this step.
Fry the eggplant in olive oil until golden and soft - beware eggplant is a sponge when it comes to oil so once cooked drain them on paper towels to remove any excess oil.
Prepare the potatoes:
Slice the potatoes into 2mm thick slices - steam them until just tender. Drain and then pat dry. Fry these slices in the same oil as the eggplant until golden. Once again, place on paper towels to remove any excess oil.
Make the filling:
Sauté the onion in a little oil until soft and lightly coloured. Add the garlic and parsley and cook for a minute. Crumble in the minced meat and cook until the meat has browned evenly. Add in a little dried oregano, a sprinkle of cinnamon and season with a little salt and pepper. Deglaze the pan with a little white wine and once it has evaporated stir in the passata. Simmer uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The filling should be thick but not too dry.
Make the béchamel:
Melt the butter in a saucepan over a low heat - whisk in the cornflour to form a smooth paste and then slowly pour in half of the milk, whisking constantly to ensure a smooth mixture. Once this has thickened, add the rest of the milk and continue stirring. Once the flour has cooked out and the sauce is thick, stir in the Kefalotyri cheese and adjust the seasoning to taste. Once cooled, whisk in an egg yolk. If you are making this in advance add the egg yolk when you are ready to assemble the dish.
Assemble the moussaka:
Lay half the potato slices over the base of a baking dish. Cover this with half of the eggplant slices. Follow this with an even layer of meat. Repeat the layering, ending once more with meat. Top with a thick layer of béchamel and sprinkle over with a little extra kefalotyri cheese.
Place the baking dish on a tray to catch any spills and bake in a preheated 170°C oven until golden and heated through - about 40 to 50 minutes.
Let it cool slightly in the pan before slicing - you can also serve it at room temperature. For a traditional look, serve it cut into square pieces.
If you'd like to join in this culinary journey of Cyprus:
You'll need to post a Cypriot recipe by Sunday 6th October.
In your post include a link to this post and to the Culinary ABC
then leave a link to your post in the comments section below.
You are welcome to use old posts but just update the details to include the relevant information and multiple entries are welcome.
I'll end this with a warm welcome of Kopiaste - I hope you'll come and share in the wonderful food of Cyprus.
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