No! Here you see Nitsa, in the village of Choulou in South Cyprus, tending meat (mostly pork) for a souvla she is cooking up for me, my old school chum Anne, and a table full of delightful expats. “Nitsa,” I said, “tell me about Cypriot soup.” “I don’t make soup,” she replied. “Nobody wants it–it’s too hot.”
She was certainly right about that. With no air conditioning, no screens on the windows, and a relentlessly blazing sun in a clear blue sky, it was witheringly hot. We would get up at 6 am, hike in the hills and dales of Ezousa valley, below Mt. Olympus and the Troodos mountains, then either siesta through the day or climb into the blessedly air conditioned car to go adventuring. Yes to see the ruins of ancient Paphos, including the pillar where St. Paul was reputedly chained and whipped. Yes to see the spot where Aphrodite was born of sea foam–and explore Sanctuaries to both Apollo and Aphrodite. Yes to monasteries and churches and abandoned mosques and wineries and Mediterranean beaches and ruins from the 4000 BC Chalcolithic era. Yes to medieval castles and the remains of Kourion. Yes to late-night performances of Media, Philoctetes, and Lysistrata in Greek and Roman theaters.
But no soup, despite my best efforts. Finally in Pissouri we found a restaurant that had chicken and tomato soups on the menu. And I got what I deserved: canned chicken broth thickened with flour, absolutely awful. Let me repeat it: NO SUMMER SOUP IN THE LAND OF APHRODITE.
But! Southern Cyprus has a wealth of soups in more temperate seasons. Nitsa told me about Avgolemeno (egg and lemon) and Trahana (wheat and sour milk). And Amaranth Sitas, in her cookbook Kopiaste describes meatball and fish Avgolemono, a traditional sour lentil soup for Good Friday, and Patcha, a soup made from lamb brain and tongue or lamb head.
Once home in my deliciously air conditioned house, I tried out Sitas’ Yavarlakia avgolemono, the meatball soup. Delicious.
YAVARLAKIA AVGOLEMENO (for 8)
- 2/3 pound ground pork
- 1 cup raw rice
- 1 egg
- finely chopped mint or parsley
- salt to taste
- plate with some flour to roll the meatballs
- 10 cups chicken stock
- For the Avgolemono: 2 eggs and the juice of 1 big lemon
Mix the meat, rice, beaten egg, mint/parsley, and salt, then form into very small balls (because the rice expands the size). Roll lightly in flour.
Bring the stock to a boil in a large pot, then carefully add the meatballs. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, partially covered, for 30 minutes, until the rice is tender. When ready to serve, take the soup off the heat and put to the side. Beat the eggs and lemon juice for the avgolemono, then beat a cup or so of hot soup into it, a little at a time. Add this back into the soup, stirring so that the egg does not curdle. Taste for seasoning–both salt and lemon–then ladle into bowls. Garnish with a sprig of mint/parsley and serve extra lemon slices on the side.
A last word: Nitsa told me she would teach me a soup when I came back in cooler weather. Stay tuned!