A couple of weekends ago I had the pleasure of visiting the Cypriot Community of Toronto’s Cultural Centre, where they held their annual Summer Festival on their grounds. After straightening out a mix-up (someone thought I was a politico and asked me to sit at a head table), I located some friends, had a seat and soaked up some live music. I was distracted by the smells coming from the side of the building: the smell of grilled meats.
After excusing and pardoning myself to get through the lineups of those waiting to purchase food tickets and then wait for their food order, I was able to get to the nerve center of where everyone was being fed – the grills.
An old friend Nick was volunteering and he was able to get me to get up close and personal with he fellas that were grilling the meats. On offer for the Festival was your classic Greek souvlaki. Big chunks of pork that are marinaded, seasoned and grill over charcoal were going out fast. Served with pita bread, roast potatoes and a salad.
On the rotisserie that evening was what the gentleman called a “Lamb Kontosouvli” or Souvla as many Cypriots would also call it. Lamb gets segmented (bone-in), seasoned well with salt and pepper and skewered on the rod with bay leaves between each piece of meat. This is another way to feed a large group of people looking for rotisserie lamb: you don’t have to do the whole on the spit thing.
The final and third protein at the Cypriot festival was Seftalia (pronounced Sheftalia by the Cypriots). Ground pork and lamb or beef are seasoned, mixed with the usual binding ingredients of egg and bread. They look very much like Soutzoukakia but the flavourings here are of fresh parsley and mint. What also makes Seftalia unique and very moist is that they are also wrapped in a layer of lamb caul fat. Caul fat is the membrane that surrounds the internal organs of pigs, sheep or goats. Most butchers will be able to get you some if you ask or pre-order it. I also use caulfat when making the Greek Easter specialty, Kokoretsi.
When cooking with caul fat (espcially when grilling), one has to have their undivided attention on them as they are all fat…flare-ups can and will occur. There’s also ground pork in the Seftalia recipe but you’re going to end up with a grilled delight that’s tender, juicy and full of flavour. The caul fat will have rendered and also added to the flavours of meat, seasonings, onions and herbs.
A wonderful way to cope with the flare-ups from the caulfat and also add some more great flavour to the Seftalia is to have some white wine on hand. The grillmeister at the Cypriot festival told me when at home he likes to have a glass of wine while grilling and a cup of wine and a brush handy. As soon as a flare-up occurs from the caul fat, he’ll use his tongs to move the piece of meat and then wipe the Seftalia with a wine-dipped brush. The flare-up is halted and the Seftalia absorbs some of that wine you’re enjoying too!
Grilling Seftalia does take a little longer than keftedes, biftekia or soutzoukakia but when you have a glass of wine in one hand, the grill tongs in the other, a warm summer sun nipping at your shoulders, I can’t really find any excuse not to make these. Get some ground pork, lamb or beef from your butcher, also ask him to get you some caul fat. You will find fresh parsley and mint in your garden or at the market. Dry is fine but fresh is alsways best.
If you’re real lucky, you’ll also be able to find this lovely white wine from Cyprus, The Nefeli white made from the Xynisteri grape vareital that’s indigenous to Cyprus. Live in Ontario? YES…the LCBO carries this white.
To accompany the Seftalia, I lightly grilled some pita bread, served a dollop of Tzatziki, some tomatoes, thinly sliced onions and chopped parsley.
I also served a salad of baby rocket (arugula), roasted beets, orange segments and some grilled Halloumi cheese. The dressing? Olive oil, orange juice, some lemon juice, chopped fresh mint and salt and and pepper.
As a side, I also served up some wedges of potatoes with cracked coriander seeds and red wine. This is another Cypriot specialty which I adapted to suit the grill. I tossed wedges of potatoes (skins one) with wine, olive oil, salt, pepper and a bit of honey. They were tightly wrapped in foil and place over indirect heat on the grill. This side of potatoes was a most pleasantly surprise and I look forward to making these potatoes again.
Seftalia From Cyprus (Σεφταλιά)
1 lb. of ground lamb
1 lb. of ground pork
2 medium onion, passed through a box grater
1 large clove of garlic, minced
2 cups finely chopped parsley
2 tsp. dry mint
1/2 tsp dry nutmeg
4 slices of bread, soaked in water
2 large egg
caul fat from lamb
2 tsp. of sea salt
1 tsp. ground black pepper
1 glass of white wine for basting
grilled pita bread
thinly sliced red onions and chopped fresh parsley and wedges of lemon for garnish
- Wet your slices of bread with some water, squeeze out any excess liquid with your hands and crumble into a large bowl. Add your ground meats, beaten egg, grated onion, garlic, chopped mint and parsley, nutmeg, salt and pepper. Mix well with your hands. If too wet, add some a little bread crumbs and if too dry, a little olive oil can do the trick.
- Take a small piece of the meat mixture and fry-off in a pan. Taste and adjust according to your tastes. Cover and place in the fridge for at least 2 hours for the flavours to marry.
- When you’re ready to grills your Seftalia, take out of the fridge and with your hands, grab enough of the meat mixture to fit in your palm. Roll into a ball ad then roll it into the shape of an oblong sausage. Repeat until all your meat mixture has been shaped.
- Take your cal fat and place it in a bowl with some warm water. The warm water will soften the caul fat, allowing it to expand and make it more pliable. Cut your caul fat into pieces that will fit around each piece of Seftalia.
- Roll each piece of Seftalia in a piece of caul fat. Pre-heat your gas or charcoal grill. You’re looking for a medium-high heat (be about to place your hand over the heat and count to five). Brush your your grill surface to remove any residue ( no need for oil here as the caul fat will render itself on the grill).
- When your grill reaches a medium-high heat, place your Seftalia on the grill. Grill for about 5-6 minutes on each side, keeping a watchful eye on flare-ups from the caul fat. Don’t be afraid to move your Seftalia from any flare-ups. Baste the Seftalia on occasion with some white wine. Your Seftalia should be golden-brown, any evidence of caul fat will not be visible to the eye and now ready to eat.
- Serve with some potatoes, grilled pita bread, salad, some Tzatziki and wedges of lemon. Some thinly sliced onions and parsley are also a nice condiment.
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