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Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Island of Love

As this is Valentine’s Day, I thought it might be appropriate to send out a special posting to wish all of you a Happy Valentine’s Day, even though Valentine’s Day is not something Greeks were wont to celebrate in days past. Saint Valentine is, after all, a Roman Catholic saint and does not appear in the Greek Orthodox calendar. Yet, with more than a little help from Greek florists, chocolatiers, lingerie peddlers and the mass media, North American commercialism has exported this custom to Greece as well.

Of course, the celebration of love is hardly something new to Greece. In fact, the concept of love as we understand it today is a Greek notion. Without going into too much detail, the ancient Greeks had a word for everything under the sun, including “love”. However, unlike the English word “love” which is used interchangeably for a) love between family members, b) love among friends, and c) erotic love, the Greeks delineated between all three types.

The English word “erotic” has its origins in the Greek word “Eros”, which is both a minor god in the Olympian pantheon (the son of Aphrodite) and the state of sensual loving or desire. The prefix “philo” as in philosophy, philology, philately and philanthropy has its origin in the Greek word “philia” and signifies the love between friends. Finally, there is the bond of Christian love as among family members and community which is called “agape”. Suffice it to say; when an Englishman speaks of “love”, a Greek requires further clarification…

Now, one could go on and on about all three types of Greek “love”, but that would make this posting longer than intended, so let me connect this discussion back to Greek food. An ancient tragedian once wrote:

εν κενη γαρ γαστρι των καλων ερως
ουκ εστι πεινωσιν γαρ η Κυπρις πικρα

“There is no dignified love on an empty stomach
As Hunger makes Love bitter”.

So, let us heed the advice and make sure that we are well fed this Valentine’s Day as this will help to stoke the flames of desire in a good way. Interestingly, two different words are used in the quote above to express the notion of love; the first is ερως (eros), and in the second line the proper name Κυπρις (Cypris) is used. Now we know that Eros was a godling (i.e. the little winged cherub with the bow and arrows whom we know by the later Roman name of Cupid) and that his name was also used as a verb to signify love as desire. But the name “Cypris” is probably unfamiliar to most, unless we use her other name: Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of Love. Now, the resemblance between Aphrodite’s alias “Cypris” and the name of the modern day country of Cyprus is not a coincidence. The island of Cyprus is the birthplace of the goddess Cypris/Aphrodite and bears her name to this very day, which makes Cyprus the original ‘Island of Love’.

With all this in mind, I set about making some dessert for our Valentine’s meal tonight. Not surprisingly, I chose a specialty from Cyprus as I thought it would be quite appropriate to the occasion:

Cypriote Loukoumia

For the dough:

2 cups of flour
½ cup of butter
½ cup of sugar
1½ cups of milk
1 egg
1 teaspoon baking powder

For the filling:

1 cup of finely chopped almonds
½ cup of orange marmalade
2 tablespoons orange blossom water
½ teaspoon of nutmeg
½ teaspoon of cinnamon
Confectionery sugar

  1. Melt butter in a pot over a medium-high heat and slowly add flour while stirring constantly with a wooden spoon to avoid clumping.
  2. Once flour and butter have been well-mingled, lower heat to medium-low and slowly add the milk, making sure to continue stirring as the mixture thickens and starts clumping. When all the milk has been added remove the pot from the heat and add the sugar, egg (beaten), and baking powder to the dough and mix well until the dough is uniformly smooth.
  3. Prepare the filling by mixing together the marmalade, chopped almonds, orange blossom water, cinnamon and nutmeg.
  4. Using a rolling pin, spread pieces of the dough on a floured surface to the uniform thickness of a banana peel.
  5. Using a tumbler or cookie cutter, cut discs from the flattened dough.
  6. Place a small amount of the filling mixture in the centre of each disc.
  7. Fold each disc in half over the filling into a half-moon shape and tightly pinch together the edges to ensure a good seal.
  8. Place cookies on a buttered pan and place in pre-heated oven at 350° for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle cookies with confectionery sugar before serving.

Yield: Approximately 20 pieces.


Sam Sotiropoulos
Greek Gourmand

Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.


Laurie Constantino said...

These look and sound wonderful. I'm definitely making this one. Is this a family recipe?

Anonymous said...

These look divine!
I will have to set aside a day to try them out.
IMO the term 'cookie' doesn't do these type of desserts justice. Confections? How else can we translate the 'delightful' connotations of the word 'loukoumi'?