– Words by Angela Cowan Photographs by Lia Crowe
When Christina Loucas started in search of traditional Cypriot foods and flavors for a cookbook, she hoped to preserve a slice of her family history as well as the recipes that are generations old, and Cypriot cuisine absolutely accomplishes that, but it is also much more.
The cookbook, released earlier this year, is a love letter to the food she grew up on, the family that loved and supported her, and Christina’s own experience with strength, resilience and following. his heart.
Although she has always loved food and grew up in Victoria as a “restaurant child,” Christina never considered a career in the culinary world, in large part due to the insistence of his father. Harry Loucas built and ran the Victoria Harbor House until he sold it in 2006, he built the Beagle Pub (originally the Oxford Arms), he was named Restaurateur of the Year in 1992 , and he actively discouraged his children from approaching food. industry.
âMy father was adamant, he didn’t want us to get into the restaurant business! He always said it’s long hours and it kills your family life, âsays Christina.
Instead, she obtained a law degree from the University of Oxford and became a lawyer in international arbitration. Not that a career in law offers a balanced family life either, she laughed, and despite her best efforts, food followed her everywhere.
âEven when I was a lawyer and had lunch in Singapore with clients, I inevitably ended up talking about food,â she says.
She practiced law for six years in England and Singapore, then life threw a curveball at her when she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer in her early 30s. When complications from cancer treatment caused her to lose her voice, Christina made some drastic changes.
âIt was a wake-up call for me. I knew I wanted to make a change, âshe says. “The disease was the catalyst that allowed me to take a year off to heal, but also to continue on this path.”
She moved to Cyprus and dedicated her days to researching Cypriot cuisine, from ingredients and flavors to the methods and great varieties of preparing common dishes.
Christina also took the opportunity to immerse herself in photography, developing her skills and her eye as a way to express herself, especially in the early days when she was unsure if her voice would return. (He did, within two months.)
Half memory and half cookbook, Cypriot cuisine is full of stunning color photographs of incredible dishes like bright red tomato soup with orzo, or crumbly orange sesame biscotti. But some of the most beautiful photos are the ones 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 roll out Cypriot pancakes.
âHis hands are so expressive. It’s like I hear him tell me how to do it, âChristina laughs. Her Aunt Evri was the first person Christina started to follow and ask questions about when she decided to embark on the cookbook project, but all of her family – along with their extended friends and neighbors – ended up getting involved as well.
And while cookbooks by nature are precise in their measurements and instructions, Cypriot cuisine also includes a sense of flexibility so often common with old family recipes. Christina has adapted some recipes to include ingredients and alternatives that are easier to find.
âOne of my goals was to make sure that you can prepare Cypriot food wherever you are in the world,â she says.
One example â and something Christina prepared when I visited as part of a range of treats on her table â are butternut squash pies (page 53). They’re usually made with a huge, long-necked squash that she’s only ever found in Cyprus. So for the pies we’re about to snack on, she used acorn squash and kabocha cubes instead. Likewise, the recipe calls for fine bulgur wheat in the filling (along with aromatic cinnamon and fennel leaves, shallots, raisins, and a touch of brown sugar, yum!), But suggests that the cooked quinoa could be a good substitute if bulgur is too hard to find. Many recipes are easily adapted to be vegetarian or vegan, as many people in Cyprus fast for religious reasons.
âIt’s her own unique kitchen,â says Christina. âIt’s a nice mix of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern flavors. Lots of lemon and olive oil, which I love. It is heartwarming and truly calming.
Comforting seems the right word. The squash pies, with their sweet-salty flavors and their hint of cinnamon, present as the quintessential fall, and the Easter butter cookies that you nibble on afterwards are softly sweet and perfectly flaky. But perhaps another reason it’s all so heartwarming is the undercurrent of a mother’s touch.
âThe person to whom I owe the most gratitude is my mother,â says Christina. âA lot of the recipes that have been passed on are hers. This cookbook is as much hers as it is mine.
And indeed, Katherine Loucas is the first person to whom Christina dedicates her book, the love text accompanied by a beautiful photograph of her mother. On the opposite page is a photo of Christina’s then five-day-old daughter Clemmie.
A long-standing love for food, a major life change and an unwavering dedication to following her passion came together when Christina wrote her cookbook and preserved a family heirloom that she can now pass on. As anyone who’s spent time in a kitchen with mothers and grandmothers can tell you, food is love. And Cypriot cuisine is Christina’s heart on the page.
Story courtesy of Boulevard review, a Black Press Media publication