MUD, CLAY OVEN & FIRIN KEBAB

Cyprus Local, Kamel working with his Clay Oven

Want to experience the life of a local? Want to make friends around the world? Airbnb is a site where hosts offer their rooms and apartments for short and long-term rentals where you have the opportunity to live in a local's home and be their houseguest. Airbnb is an awesome way to not only help the local economy, but to gain the perspective of living in another household, culture, and country. We have used airbnb's lodging on many occasions and many hosts have become a part of The Recipe Hunters. 

 

We found Karime's profile while perusing the airbnb site for locals who were interested in sharing their homes and culture with strangers. We were kind of "using" the system, because Anthony and I were already living and working on GROL Garden, so we did not need a place to stay. 

Our Message to Karime:

 

Sevgili Kerime!

 

I hope this message reaches you well. We are sorry we do not speak Turkish. We are currently volunteering at an organic farm in Girne and do Not need a place to sleep but we are interested in local cuisine. Perhaps you can help?!

Leila (my colleague) and I are traveling the world researching and documenting people who make food with Love. We hope to discover local, family recipes and the stories behind them. We are creating a website to document people who make food and share it with their loved ones. The website is Madewithlove punto info. We would love to document your story and the family recipe that is closest to your heart. Do you have a special food that you make for your family? Or a family member that makes something special? Would you be interesting in sharing it? We will be here for three weeks and would love to meet you. Our site is Made with love punto info

We look forward to hearing from you! If you only speak Turkish, we can come with a translator.

We do NOT need a place to sleep so we hope that this message does not waste your time!

 

Best,

Anthony & Leila

Karime's Response:

 

Dear friends, hi !

 

I am sorry for late reply. And thanks for your nice e-mail.

Yes , my family and I will be happy to interest your documentary movie about local cuisine . You wrote that you will be here for three weeks. We would love to meet you too, of course...It is perfect at afternoon( 14:30 - 15:00) on next Saturday. We will cook together, first and then we will eat them together. So you must be free all afternoon, evening and night ! We are looking forward to meeting you and having fun ! We are planing to cook something about local cuisine in old stone oven in garden. Kerime (I) , Kemal ( husband) , İbrahim (son) , (daugther) Diren , Aysan and İbrahim ( my mother and father)...You do not need to bring anything, thanks. We live in a small village close to Ercan airport. While you are driving from Nicosia to ERCAN airport you see the supermarket called ERÜLKÜ at your left hand-side. If you come to the Erülkü supermarket we can take you from there. My son's English is better, you might want to contact him. We can arrange to meet you at Erülkü supermarket at 14.00.

 

Thanks

 

Kerime

We run to the bus station in the pouring rain, full of excitement to meet Kerime. The windshield wipers are at full speed and we have to squint our eyes to see the road ahead of us. We keep repeating the name of the grocery store to the bus driver so that he does not forget to drop us off. We arrive at the supermarket and upon jumping out of the bus a young man in his twenties and a teenage girl start beeping their horn at us from a small car. The young man rolls down his window and we see his beaming smile, we figure it must be Karime's son Ibrahim and daughter, Diren. He laughs and tells us to hurry up and get in the car and out of the rain. On the way there, we learn that Ibrihim is studying agriculture at the local university and his sister, is studying at a special primary school for music where she majors in guitar and piano. We drive up the mountainside and enter a beautiful village covered in lush vegetation. We pull up into a driveway and park under a canopy of orange trees. The whole family comes out to the car in the pouring rain to greet us. 

We enter their home and realize it is a small cooking house, where a fire is blazing and platters of meat, vegetables, and cheese lay awaiting to be prepared. We look outside the window and see a glorious lemon tree in the middle of their open piazza and an outdoor oven space where Kamel will be cooking the meat, that is, if the rain stops. While we wait in hope for the rain to abait and for the fire to grow stronger in the oven, Diren and Ibrihim take us to a room next to the garage, where their aunt, uncle, and grandfather are ogranizing olives from the recent harvest. The olives are sorted on an old table that has a hole in the middle, when you find an olive with the right size you roll it towards the hole and it falls into a bucket below. I hear the sound of an engine behind me and turn to see a Diren pouring olives into a machine, I walk to the other end of the machine and see that it is cracking the olives open and dropping them into a bucket. Diren turns the machine off, and we hear silence and realize that the rain has stopped. We hear Kamel call over to us to signal that the oven will be ready for cooking soon and we should start to prepare the meat!  

Organizing Olives, Cyprus
Olive Table, Cyprus
Olive Machine, Cyprus
Diren dropping olives into the olive cracking maching
Cracked Olives, Cyprus

We enter the cooking house and Karime's mother begins to show us her recipe. She lays the meat out on the pan with the potatoes and onions and starts to blend red-wine vinegar with pepper and another concoction with tomato paste. She pours the ingredients over the meat and potatoes and seasons them with herbs and spices. With Diren and Ibrahim's help, we explain to her the meaning of food "Made with Love" and we ask if she can put the ingredients in the shape of a heart. Diren lends a helping hand and together, they lay the bay leaves out over the dish in the shape of a heart. Before we put them in the oven we cover the pans with aluminum foil and wait for the oven to be hot enough.

Diren Helping Grandmother Make Firin Kebab, Traditional Cypriot Dish
Aysan and her Firin Kebab, traditional Cyprus recipe
Anthony Morano, with Diren and Aysan making firin Kebab
Heart out of Bay Leaves, Cyprus
Aysan and her Grandchildren, Ibrahim and Diren
The Best Clay Oven in the World!

Now comes the fun part! The floor of the oven is covered in red-hot coals, Aysan and Kamel lay the pans atop the coals. Kamel then grabs a big bucket full of hardened clay and adds water to it, turning it into wet moldable clay. They then cover the mouth of the oven with an iron door and grab handfuls of mud and seal the door closed so that no air can leave the oven. They work quickly taking turns sealing up the oven. Karime's mother walks to the other side of the oven, clay in hand and starts to cover over the chimney. They are turning the clay oven into a "dutch oven." Before all the mud dries up, Kamel asks me how to spell my name and writes it over the oven...I have to admit I feel honored. 

Kamel watching the Fire in the clay oven, Cyprus
Hot coals in a clay oven, Cyprus
Aysan putting Firin Kebab into the Clay Oven, Cyprus
Mother and Son, Cyprus
Mud for Clay Oven, Cyprus
Closing the Oven Door, Cyprus
Mud over the Clay Oven Door, Cyprus
Covering up the chimney of the clay oven with mud
Heart made out of mud
The name "Leila" in Mud

We all pile back into the small cooking kitchen and Kamel seasons their homemade-backyard harvested olives with lemon, olive oil, and chopped garlic. He lays pieces of sliced hearty bread on a grill next to the fire place, pulls a block of halloumi cheese form the refrigerator and slices it into pieces. Halloumi is a traditional Cypriot fresh white cheese that is made in the morning, brined in salt as it develops and is ready to eat the same day. He lays out the olives, cheese, toasted bread and their homemade olive oil on the table and offers them to us, telling us that Aysan made the cheese herself! The bread is toasted and crunchy, the cheese is firm, chewy, and  the olives are incredible, lemony with the perfect amount of salt. We feel so warm, excited, and happy.

Toasting bread
Toasting Pieces of Bread over Hot Coals, Cyprus

After finishing the appetizers, Diren shows us how to make her favorite cake: Carob cake! Carob trees are all over Cyprus. The carob fruit was once the number one export of the country. It plays a huge role in the local's food scene and is used as a chocolate alternative, given to it's deep coa coa flavor. 

Carob Cake Recipe, Diren and Karime
Diren and her Carob Cake Recipe, Cyprus

We put the cake in the oven and hear some commotion outside, Kamel and Karime's guests have arrived. We meet everyone and head outside to remove the meat from the oven. Kamel and Ibrihim remove the dried clay from the oven's door, remove the door and then Kamel calls us over, inviting us to remove the pans from the oven. 

Kamel Removing the dried mud from the hot clay oven, Cyprus
Kamel Removing the door from the hot clay oven, Cyprus
Leila Elamine, Anthony Morano, and Kamel with the Firin Kebab, Hot out of the Clay Oven, Cyprus
Firin Kebab, Hot out of the Clay Oven, Cyprus
Firin Kebab Recipe

Kamel and Ibrihim remove the dried clay from the oven's door, remove the door and then Kamel calls us over, inviting us to remove the pans from the oven. When we arrive back inside, we see that the table has been set and we all gather around the table. Karime piles the delicious steaming meat, potatoes, dolmas, tzatziki, and salad onto our plates. We cheers to new friends and begin. The meal is incredible and everyone is merry. Anthony sits next to a man named Ibrihim who is the director of Evkaf in Cyprus. We tell him about our journey and goals as The Recipe Hunters and he invites us to come to his office in Nicosia to meet to talk more about our project, he says he has someone in mind that would be a perfect fit. Across from us sits another couple who are visiting from Turkey, they also invite us to come stay with them in Turkey! We are overwhelmed by the kindness of the people and cannot contain our smiles. After our plates are cleared, Kamel leaves and returns a few minutes later with a bucket full of clementines from the garden. We all open the clementines and enjoy them with Diren's carob cake. The room feels and smells like Christmas. 

Cyprus Family Enjoying Traditional Meal
Anthony Morano and Dr. Ibrihim from Evkaf, Cyprus
Karime and Kamel, Cyprus
Our Traditional Cypriot Meal, Cyprus

We finish the night listening to Diren play a few of her favorite pieces on piano and guitar. Before leaving, Karime invites us to come back and stay anytime and to feel as though we have family in Cyprus. It's 12:00 at night at Kamel and Ibrahim drive us back to the Garden and tell us not to forget them! We walk back to the entrance of GROL Garden and look at eachother in amazement. We cannot believe how kind and loving complete strangers can be and how close you can feel to people you have just met. 

Written by  The Recipe Hunters:

Leila Elamine and Anthony Morano