An Entertaining Menu: A Cypriot Christmas

Matthew Lakis, Ousia Restaurant

Ousia: an ancient Greek word meaning the primary essence.

At Matthew Lakis’ restaurant Ousia, the essence in question is the taste of the Mediterranean. Using local pork and lamb and seasonal vegetables, this kitchen borrows flavours and techniques from the cuisine of Spain, North Africa and the Greek islands to fashion something uniquely their own.

Matthew’s Christmas family meal from Cyprus starts with tarama, a savoury fish roe spread to slather on fresh pita, followed by smoky charred lamb, stuffed vine leaves, citrusy roasted potatoes and a refreshingly simple salad. For dessert? Fried dough dipped in honey.

“Every island has their specialty dishes or does things slightly differently,” says Matthew. “The ouzo, for example, is different on every island.

“Cypriot food is more rustic — you could think of it as village food. It took longer for Cyprus to modernize, the same with Crete, with all the lower islands. The old tradition was to use the whole animal — the trotters, souvla and brawn, which is a kind of a headcheese — to preserve the meat for winter. Nothing was wasted. My mom will occasionally make Cypriot sausage, loukanika, a smoked sausage made with red wine and spices.

“In Cyprus, lamb shoulder would be slow-cooked for five hours over charcoal grills outside. It was the man’s job. Some cooks marinate, some do a dry spice rub. We like to marinate in red wine, spices, lemon juice, then baste on the rotisserie. It’s a family tradition for any holiday especially in the winter as it’s a very warming dish.”

Holiday Menu for six

Tarama dip

  • 1 sml jar tarama (200 g, approx 7/8 c)*
  • 2 c olive oil
  • 8 slices stale white bread, crust removed
  • cold water
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • ¼ c lemon juice
  • ½ c white wine vinegar
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • sea salt to taste

Soak bread in cold water for 5 minutes, squeeze dry and set aside.

In a food processor, beat tarama until it has softened. Gradually add the squeezed bread, shallot and garlic. Mix until smooth.

While beating, add half the lemon juice and slowly drizzle the olive oil, alternating with the remaining lemon juice. Drizzle the vinegar into the processor and mix until combined.

The tarama dip should be smooth and hold its shape. It will firm slightly once chilled. Garnish with a kalamata olive and enjoy with pita bread.

Serves 4-6.

*Carp roe can be found at Greek specialty stores.

Koupepia (dolmathes) stuffed vine leaves

  • 1 sml can (approx 375 g) preserved grape vine leaves
  • 1 red onion, diced small
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 500 g (approx. 1 lb) lamb, finely ground
  • 1 c (approx. ½ lb) pork, finely ground
  • ½ c white rice
  • 2 T parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 t mint, finely chopped
  • 2 T lemon juice
  • 1 T butter, room temp
  • 2 c vegetable stock
  • sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Place the grape vine leaves in cold water. Blanch in boiling water for 3 minutes, then place in an ice bath, then in colander.

Heat a sauté pan over medium. Sauté onions in olive oil until translucent, then remove from heat. In a mixing bowl add lamb, pork, rice, onion, parsley, mint, season to taste. Mix lightly until well-combined. To shape the koupepia, place a vine leaf shiny side down on your work surface. Slice off stem if necessary. Place about a tablespoon of the mixture near the bottom end. Roll tightly while rolling the bottom end up and the sides in.

Line the bottom of a heavy saucepan with leaves. Pack the rolled koupepia closely and layer them, sprinkling each layer with lemon juice. Once all the layers are in the pot, cover with 4 vine leaves; add the butter, vegetable stock and any remaining lemon juice. Invert a heavy plate on top to keep the rolls in shape whilst cooking.

Cover the pan with a lid and place over medium heat. Allow to simmer gently for 1½ hours. The vine leaves should be tender when done. Remove carefully from pot and enjoy served hot or cold. Can be served with tzatziki or Greek yogurt.

Serves 4-6.

Lemon potatoes

  • 4 lg russet potatoes, peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 2 T olive oil
  • 2 T water
  • 2 t lemon juice
  • 1 t dried Greek oregano
  • sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Pre-heat oven to 325ºF.

Place all ingredients in a mixing bowl, and season with salt and pepper. Toss until potatoes are well coated and place in a roasting pan. Cover pan with foil and roast until potatoes are golden brown and tender. Approximately 45 minutes. Serve potatoes with fresh lemon juice squeezed over.

Serves 4-6.

Lamb souvla

  • 1 lamb shoulder, deboned, cut into 3-inch cubes
  • sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste


  • 1 c fresh lemon juice
  • 1 c extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • 2 t dried oregano
  • 1 t fresh rosemary, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced

Season lamb liberally. Combine marinade ingredients together then add lamb pieces. Allow the lamb to marinade, refrigerated, for a minimum of 2 hours and up to one day. Reserving the marinade, skewer the lamb onto large metal rotisserie skewers. Preheat a charcoal rotisserie grill to medium heat (you should be able to hold your hand where the meat will be for 6-8 seconds before it gets too hot). If you do not have a charcoal grill, use a gas barbecue on medium heat.

Place the lamb skewers over the grill and rotate frequently to cook evenly on all sides. If you have a motorized rotisserie, allow it to rotate slowly. Baste the meat every 5 minutes with the reserved marinade. Cook the meat until crispy golden brown and medium rare to medium or 150ºF inside. Cooking times will vary due to different grill temperatures. Remove meat from grill and allow to rest covered lightly with foil for 15 minutes.

Serves 4-6.

Horiatiki salata (village salad)

Gull Valley has delicious hot-house tomatoes available year-round.

  • 3 roma tomatoes, medium diced
  • 2 c cucumber, medium diced
  • ¼ c red onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ c kalamata olives, halved
  • 1 c red pepper, medium diced
  • 1 t dried oregano
  • 2 T parsley, finely chopped
  • ¼ c Greek or Bulgarian feta cheese, small diced or crumbled
  • 3 T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • 1 T lemon juice
  • sea salt and freshly cracked pepper to taste

Gently mix all ingredients together. Season with salt and pepper. Can be made an hour ahead to allow the salad to develop flavour.

Serves 4-6.


A deep-fry thermometer is necessary to make sure the oil is always at the right temperature.


  • 2 c (500 g) flour
  • 2 t salt
  • 4 t fast acting dry yeast
  • 2 T honey
  • 2 c warm water


  • honey as needed
  • ground cinnamon as needed
  • icing sugar as needed

Sift the flour, salt and yeast into a mixing bowl. Add honey and warm water and mix until well combined. Cover with a damp towel and allow to proof in a warm place for about
40 minutes.

Heat oil in a deep fryer to 375ºF, or you can use a heavy bottom saucepan half full of vegetable oil.

Once proofed, using a 1 oz scoop, drop batter into the hot oil. Fry until they puff into balls and are golden brown, remove from oil and place in a mixing bowl. Coat lightly with honey cinnamon, and icing sugar. Enjoy immediately.

Serves 4-6.