Also known as bulghur, this is hulled wheat that has been steamed or boiled until partly cooked, then dried and ground. It’s often confused with cracked wheat, which is crushed wheat that hasn’t been par-boiled. Bulgur is available in a range of sizes from fine to coarse; look for grains that are uniform in size to ensure even cooking. It needs to be steamed or steeped in boiling water before eating and is used to make pilafs, koftes and tabouleh.
Still made by hand in many Cypriot villages, trahana is bulgur that has been boiled with soured milk, shaped then sun-dried. It’s the key in ingredient in the national soup trahanas and while borne from the necessity to preserve, it is a firm favourite on the Cypriot table. The shape of the trahana depends on what part of Cyprus you come from: some form the mixture into cigar shapes and others prefer theirs flat like a biscuit. Often served with pieces of haloumi or chicken and usually bread. Available in packets from Greek delicatessens.
Traditionally made from a mixture of sheep’s and goat’s milk, this cooked curd cheese is native to Cyprus and now made and enjoyed throughout the world. Cypriot haloumi can be distinguished from others by the addition of dried mint. With its high melting point, it holds its shape during cooking and is usually pan-fried or grilled and finished with a squeeze of lemon or a drizzle of honey.
Olives and olive oil
It’s no surprise that the flag of Cyprus features two olive branches. A symbol of peace between the Turks and Greeks, it also reflects the important role the olive has played in the nutritional and economic wellbeing of the islanders for thousands of years. Slightly spicy cracked green olives are a household staple and sun-dried soft black olives, such as throumbes, are used to make the traditional bread elioti.
There are some who say that if a dish has a good helping of coriander seed in it, it must be Cypriot! It’s a key ingredient in the classic braised pork dish afelia, as a thick coating for the smoked pork loin lountza, and as a flavouring in loukaniko pork sausages.
A squeeze of lemon over anything from grilled haloumi and bulgur kofte to sheftalia and koupepia is a vital finishing touch; as chef Chrys Xipolitas says, “If a Cypriot person doesn’t have lemon, they may be an imposter. They may be Greek!”
Mastic (or masticha)
The hardened resin from small evergreen tree found mainly on the Greek island of Chios. Used to flavour Cypriot baked goods, sweets, drinks and ice cream, it’s available from Greek food stores and good delicatessens.
Mahlepi (or mahlab)
This Syrian spice made from black cherry pits is usually sold whole and needs to be ground in a mortar and pestle before using. Use to add a sweet, spicy fragrance to sweet breads. Available from Greek food stores.