– Words by Angela Cowan Photographs by Lia Crowe
When Christina Loucas started researching traditional Cypriot foods and flavors for a cookbook, he hoped to preserve a piece of his family’s history alongside recipes from previous generations, and Cyprus cuisine it absolutely achieves that, but it’s also so much more.
The cookbook, published earlier this year, is a love letter to the food she grew up with, the family who loved and supported her, and Christina’s own experience with strength, resilience, and following her heart.
Although she has always loved food and grew up in Victoria as a “restaurant girl”, Christina never considered a career in the culinary world, largely due to her father’s insistence. Harry Loucas built and ran the Victoria Harbor House until he sold it in 2006, built the Beagle Pub (originally Oxford Arms), was named Restaurateur of the Year in 1992, and actively discouraged his children from approaching food. industry.
“My father insisted that he didn’t want us to get into the restaurant business! He always said that it is many hours and that kills family life, ”says Christina.
Instead, she earned a law degree from Oxford University and became an international arbitration attorney. It’s also not that a career in law offers a balanced family life, she laughs, and despite her best efforts, food followed her everywhere.
“Even when I was a lawyer and in Singapore I would go out to lunch with clients, inevitably I ended up talking about food,” she says.
He practiced law for six years in England and Singapore, and then his life took a turn when he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in his early 30s. When complications from cancer treatment caused her to lose her voice, Christina made some drastic changes.
“It was a wake-up call for me. I knew I wanted to make a change, ”he says. “The illness was the catalyst to give me permission to take a year off to heal, but also to move on.”
He moved to Cyprus and devoted his days to researching Cypriot cuisine, from the ingredients and flavors to the methods and huge varieties of preparing common dishes.
Christina also took the opportunity to immerse herself in photography, developing her skills and her eye as a way of expressing herself, especially in the early days when she didn’t know if her voice would return. (He did, in two months).
Part memories and part cookbook, Cyprus cuisine it’s packed with gorgeous full-color photos of amazing dishes like the bright red tomato soup with orzo or the sesame orange crumbly biscotti. But some of the most beautiful images are those that show the aged hands of her aunts. A photo collage on pages 49 and 50, for example, shows her Aunt Evri’s hands as she demonstrates how to spread Cypriot crepes.
“His hands are so expressive. It’s like I can hear her telling me how to do it, ”says Christina, laughing. Her aunt Evri was the first person Christina started following and asking questions about when she decided to embark on the cookbook project, but her entire family, and her extended friends and neighbors, eventually got involved as well.
And although by their nature cookbooks are accurate in their measurements and instructions, Cyprus cuisine It also includes a sense of flexibility so common in old family recipes. Christina adapted some recipes to include easier-to-find ingredients and substitutions.
“One of my goals was to make sure you can prepare Cypriot food no matter where you are in the world,” he says.
One example, and something Christina made when I visited as part of a variety of treats on her table, is pumpkin cakes (page 53). They are usually made from a huge long-necked pumpkin that is only found in Cyprus. So for the tarts we’re about to eat, she used acorn squash and cubed kabocha. Similarly, the recipe calls for fine bulgur wheat in the filling (as well as aromatic cinnamon-fennel leaves, shallots, sultana raisins, and a touch of brown sugar – yum!), But suggests that cooked quinoa could be a good substitute if the bulgur is too much. hard to find. Many recipes are also easily adapted to be vegetarian or vegan because many people in Cyprus fast for religious reasons.
“It’s her own unique kitchen,” says Christina. “It is a good mix of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors. Lots of lemon and olive oil, which I love. It’s comforting and really relaxing. ”
Comfort seems like the right word. Pumpkin pies, with their sweet and savory flavors and a hint of cinnamon, present as quintessential fall, and the Easter shortbread cookies we nibble on afterward are gently sweetened and perfectly flaky. But perhaps another reason why everything feels so comforting is the undertones of a mother’s touch.
“The person I owe the most gratitude to is my mom,” says Christina. “Many of the recipes that have been passed on are his. This cookbook is as much yours as it is mine. ”
And in fact, Katherine Loucas is the first person to whom Christina dedicates her book, the loving text accompanied by a beautiful photograph of her mother. On the opposite page is a photo of Christina’s daughter, Clemmie, who was five days old at the time.
A lifelong love of food, a major life change, and an unwavering dedication to following her passion came together when Christina wrote her cookbook and preserved a family legacy that she can now pass on. As anyone who has spent time in the kitchen with mothers and grandmothers can tell you, food is love. Y Cyprus cuisine it’s Christina’s heart on the page.
Story courtesy of Boulevard Magazine, a Black Press Media publication
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