Frequently used ingredients are fresh vegetables such as zuchinni, green peppers, okra, green beans, artichokes, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce and grape leaves, and pulses such as beans (for fasolia), broad beans, peas, black-eyed beans, chick-peas and lentils. Pears, apples, grapes, oranges, Mandarin oranges, nectarines, mespila, blackberries, cherries, strawberries, figs, watermelon, melon, avocado, citrus, lemon, pistachio, almond, chestnut, walnut, hazelnut are some of the commonest of the fruits and nuts.
The best-known spices and herbs include pepper, parsley, arugula, celery, fresh coriander (cilantro), thyme, and oregano. Traditionally, (cumin) and (coriander) seeds make up the main cooking aromas of the island. Mint is a very important herb in Cyprus. It grows abundantly, and locals use it for everything, particularly in dishes containing ground meat. For example, the Cypriot version of pastitsio (locally known as macaronia tou fournou) contains very little tomato and generous amounts of mint. The same is true of keftedes (meat balls, which are sometimes laced with mint to provide a contrast with the meat. Fresh coriander or cilantro (commonly known as “kolyandro” or “kolliandros” on the island) is another commonly used herb. It is often used in salads, olive breads, spinach pies (“spanakopitta”) and other pastries. In some regions of the island it is also used to flavour hot dishes, particularly tomato-based ones, such as “yiachnista”.
Meats grilled over charcoal are known as souvla, named after the skewers on which they are prepared. Most commonly these are souvlakia of pork or chicken and sheftalia, but grilled halloumi cheese, mushrooms and loukaniko (pork sausages) are also served. They are typically stuffed into a pitta pocket or wrapped in a thin flatbread, along with a salad of cabbage, parsley, and raw mild onions, tomatoes and sliced cucumber. Although less popular than souvlakia and sheftalia, gyros is commonly eaten. Gyros is grilled meat slices instead of chunks, and the taste is made different by the salad or dressings added. It is made from various cuts of lamb, pork, or occasionally chicken, and very rarely beef.
Pourgouri, the Cypriot name for bulgur, is the traditional carbohydrate other than bread. It is steamed with tomato and onion; a few strands of vermicelli pasta are often added to provide a texture contrast. Along with pourgouri, natural yogurt is a staple. Wheat and yogurt come together in the traditional peasants’ breakfast of tarhana/trahanas, a way of preserving milk in which the cracked wheat is steamed, mixed with sour milk, dried, and stored. Small amounts reheated in water or broth provide a nourishing and tasty meal, especially with added cubes of aged halloumi. Pourgouri is also used to make koupes, the Cypriot form of kibbeh, where the pourgouri is mixed with flour and water to form a dough, which is formed into a cigar shape. A hollow is made through the cigar and a mixture of minced meat, onions, parsley and cinnamon is packed. After sealing the meat mixture inside the cigar they are deep-fried before serving with lemon juice. For Greek Cypriots, there are many fasting days imposed by the Greek Orthodox Church, and though not everyone adheres, many do. On these days, effectively all animal products must not be consumed. Pulses are eaten instead, sometimes cooked in tomato sauce (yiahni in Greek) but more usually simply prepared and dressed with olive oil and lemon. On some days, even olive oil is not allowed. These meals often consist of raw onion, raw garlic, and dried red chili is munched along with these austere dishes to add a variety of taste, though this practice is dying out.