A Canadian Cypriot, Christina was an international arbitration lawyer for six years in London before moving to Cyprus. On her blog, she shares Cypriot recipes that she learned from her aunts while adding a modern touch sometimes to traditional Cypriot recipes. Christina writes and photographs for Taste Magazine in Cyprus.
I am so psyched to have Christina Loucas of Afrodite’s Kitchen joining me on the show today.
(*All photos below are Christina’s.)
On Moving to Cyprus:
I left Canada when I was 18, and then I moved to England to study and work, and I was there for about 12 years in total. And towards the end, I knew that I didn’t want to live there forever. So I knew I wanted to make a change, I just didn’t really know what that change would be. And my parents are Cypriot, and I made Cypriot friends in London, and to be perfectly honest I was missing the sun because London was really gray. I was over that. So I thought I might go to Cyprus just to see how life was over there. I always knew it was an option. And so I went over there, I got a job as a lawyer, I started working there, and in the back of my head, I always wanted to try and write a cookbook and preserve all of these old traditional recipes that my family would make. I could see that at some stage the younger generation was just going to completely forget them and nobody is going to know how to make these things any more.
So it came to the point I was just like, “Okay, I’m gonna try and pursue this,” and it coincided with a big health scare that I had over there, which just fueled the fire even more. So I was like, “Okay, I know that life is short and I should really just go after what I want to do.” And when I was recovering from an operation, I just started doing the blog and started following my aunts around and taking pictures of what they were doing and taking food photography courses, and that’s how the blog developed.
On the Food Culture in Cyprus:
It’s such an important part of everyone’s lives. I think people come together over food. Families gather together because of food. There’s still a big emphasis on eating a big lunch as opposed to a dinner. So people will probably come together at one family member’s house for lunch, and you’ll have a big spread for lunch. And then you might have something really light for dinner, unless it’s a special occasion.
There are a lot of fruits and vegetables over there, and it’s really common place so everybody will have a lemon tree and everybody will have relatives that have olive trees and everybody has someone who will give them freshly made olive oil. There are all these things that as a Canadian, I am just in awe. I think it’s so incredible. And in Cyprus, it’s just something that they have that is pretty normal over there. So I think people enjoy eating well, and it’s not particularly complicated food. It’s just your homemade mother’s or grandmother’s recipes, but the ingredients that they have access to, I think, are pretty incredible.
On What a Typical Cypriot Meal Looks Like:
There has to be vegetables. Whether it’s salad or something that was gathered in the fields and boiled with lemon, there’s always something green on the table. Usually there is a plate of olives just as a snack, and it really depends. It’s sort of if you just have a quick lunch, it’s usually greens or vegetables, and if you’re having a big family gathering, there’s always meat involved. And what’s interesting is that Cypriots are more… you think Cyprus because it’s an island is going to be a lot of seafood, emphasis on seafood, but there is not. Because traditionally everybody who’s gathered around the coastline they were going more inland to protect themselves from invasions, and as a result, there’s a big emphasis on meat.
So when you have a traditional Cypriot meal, there’s a lot of vegetables. When my parents were growing up, they didn’t have meat all the time. It was just what they gathered, and a lot of beans, and that sort of fair. But if you have a big traditional meal with family members, there’s always like pastitsio, and there’s souvla, which is their version of a barbecue over there. And then it depends on the season as well. Things will vary seasonally because in the wintertime it’s still warm compared to the rest of the world. It’ll be about 16 degrees, but it feels so cold because all the buildings are designed to keep out the heat. So when you take a look at what people eat in the wintertime it’s like stews and soups and then that totally gets pushed to the side in the summertime and it’s just a lot of vegetables, fruits, and lighter things.
On Some Good Resources on Cypriot Food:
There are a lot of old books that you can find. There’s one book in particular that every Cypriot household has. It’s this blue book and it has every traditional recipe I can think of in it. Well, not all of them actually, there are a few that are missing. The style that it’s written, it all refer to cups, but I don’t know if it’s a Cypriot cup or if it’s a cup that we use over in North America, but it’s just something that everybody has. So when you’re looking for traditional recipes, that’s a good place to start. And then there are a few Cypriot books that have been written over the years that touch on Cypriot food. So you have to leaf through a bunch if you’re looking for a particular recipe. But most recipes in Cyprus have been handed down from grandparents. So they haven’t really been recorded that much.
There was a recent book that was published maybe a year ago and it was great. It was the first time I’ve seen a book on Cypriot food for a really long time, and the pictures are beautiful, and that was I think published by a German publisher. But yeah, that’s the most recent one that I would say.
The Pressure Cooker:
Which food shows or cooking shows do you watch?
I watch Anna Olson.
What are some food blogs or food websites we have to know about?
Who do you follow on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook or Snapchat that make you happy?
Lots of people. They are so many to name. Dalia’s Kitchen, I love her story, just where she goes, and then I feel like she’s a beautiful person when it comes to her photographs. And Marianne Jacobsen, again, just beautiful photographs, and I love the story that she tells.
What is the most unusual or treasured item in your kitchen?
Probably orange blossom water that was homemade by my great aunt over 10 years ago.
She made it, and then she’s since passed away, and it doesn’t go off as long as you keep the screw on top. And so it still is really beautiful and fragrant and it’s gorgeous. And I love using it in recipes that call for orange blossom water. So it’s a really personal touch.
Name one ingredient you used to dislike but now you love.
Probably the soup in Cyprus called trahana, which is like this fermented wheat yogurt soup, and I used to hate it. It was disgusting, it stunk. The soup itself looks like vomit. It’s hideous. And as you grow up, I don’t know what it is, this has happened to a lot of people I know, you just start to enjoy it. It’s really soothing, you make it in the winter months, you add a little bit of halloumi.
If you let the tarhana, which is the dried fermented wheat soak in water during the day, when you come home at night and you put it on the stove, it only takes like 20 or 30 minutes, and you just add water. Yeah, that recipe is on my blog as well, so if anybody’s interested in that, but it’s an acquired taste.
What are a few cookbooks that make your life better?
Tessa Kiros, she’s written this beautiful book about Greek cooking, and when I open it up I always feel like I’m in Greece. I think it’s called Food From Many Greek Kitchens, but it is one of the first cookbooks that I fell in love with. The photography is beautiful, the way she writes is really gorgeous. So I would say that’s one of my favorites.
What song or album just makes you want to cook?
I love Stevie Wonder. So anything by Stevie Wonder just relaxes me. I like to listen to music when I cook, and he’s always a favorite of mine. So, I’d say anything by Stevie Wonder.
On Keeping Posted with Christina:
I would say Instagram at the moment. I haven’t actually started using Snapchat yet, although I have a profile there, but I’m mostly active on Instagram. It’s probably the best way to keep up with what that’s going on.