Cook Book Review - Taverna by Georgina Hayden
This book was always going to be close to my heart because Georgina Hayden's second cook book - Taverna is all about her Cypriot heritage, about my Cypriot heritage and I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it!
The books beautiful photos recall summers as a child spent at my cousins house. We’d run around the dusty front yard underneath the grape vines whilst the men gathered around a couple of old tin bbq’s and their other halves busily preparing everything else in the kitchen. These gatherings were so large that every table in the house was dragged out into the garden and chairs of all heights used, so that we could all sit and share those precious moments together.
A quick intro to growing up in a Greek Cypriot household - The kitchen is the heartbeat of the home, it’s where we laugh, cry, shout and eat. There is no problem that can’t be solved with a little food, drink and a good chinwag across the kitchen table. We’d rather serve more food than can be eaten in one sitting, because we want you to go back for more. It’s in our blood to feed, water, and mother you whilst your under our roof, it’s passed on from generation to generation and resistance is futile. So, in traditional Cypriot form, I didn't bother making 3 separate courses, I simply cooked lots of food and laid it out on a large table for everyone to dive into!
The menu - brace yourself, it’s pretty extensive so lets focus on the highlights.
Obligatory dips: Tzatziki (yoghurt and cucumber) Is it even a Cypriot meal if you don’t have Tsatziki on the table? I don’t know why anyone ever bothers to buy this when it’s so easy and satisfying to make and the best part is, you can tailor it to your palette. I matched this with a delicious creamy spicy whipped feta with cumin. I hadn’t thought of this as a traditionally Cypriot dip before but the ingredients don't lie, Feta and Yogurt (and ricotta, but I’m sure our Italian friends won’t mind).
Kioftedes: deep fried meat balls, crispy on the outside and fluffy and light on the inside. I always squeeze a bit of lemon and sprinkle some salt over them - my guests were swiping these even before I had laid the table!
Fried halloumi, mint and roasted almonds, which added crunch and really made this simple dish a game changer.
Roasted saffron cauliflower with date dressing - one of my personal favourites. I adore the sweet and sour dressing and it seems to compliment not just the cauliflower, but everything else that was sat next to it on my plate!
Roasted Beets and leaves with dill yoghurt - Its an awesome combo and one I’ll be making again, in fact my guests took a vote on their favourite dish and this came a very close second to the makaronia tou fournou ( pasta in the oven). This must be served and room temperature so that it firms up and I personally think it tastes much better. It’s similar-ish to a lasagna but instead of sheets of pasta, we use long tubes of pasta. This was the show stopper and quite frankly would have been enough served with just the village salad, which by the way just happens to be the best blooming Greek salad I’ve ever had outside of Cyprus or Greece!
To wash it all down we drank Persephone's (named after Georgina’s daughter)- Prosseco and Rose syrup with a sprinkle of pomegranate seeds. My guests came over on the Sunday afternoon to sooth their hangovers (not naming, just shaming- hehe..) and to feel nourished. More booze wasn't on their agenda until I made myself one and then they decided that the hair of the dog was the only way to fix things.
The only thing that was served separately was the dessert. In hindsight, I probably should have chosen something light, like the cherry sorbet or the fennel and rose ice cream. Instead I made a deeply filled custard filo pie called Bougatsa- oops! By the time it was served we all only managed a few forkfuls, it’s rich, creamy and sweet and not for the faint-hearted. The bottom was a bit soggy but overall, I was really pleased how this came out and it didn’t stop me from eating eat again the next day … and the day after!
Normally I run on nervous energy when I'm hosting a dinner party, particularly when the meal is designed around a brand new cook book. But maybe because the food was so familiar to me, I was so chilled out and relaxed. As I’m sure with most family dishes, my mum cooks by feeling, taste and instinct. I doubt she even owns any scales, so you can imagine how hard it is to get any recipes from her! For me this book was a modern guide to making so many of those much loved, familiar meals, but with the added Georgina Hayden passion!