For days now, I have been thinking about the salty-sweet Cypriot bread rolls called pilavuna on the Turkish side of the island’s Green Line and flaounes on the Greek side. I decided to make them for breakfast today, to soften the blow of watching Chelsea’s rather casual 2-1 defeat of Arsenal yesterday. Who knows? If Fabianski hadn’t mistaken the half way line for the mouth of the goal, and Adebayor hadn’t played like he was having a kick about at the beach rather than playing in the FA Cup semi-final at Wembley, perhaps I would have been celebrating victory with çilbir, that lovely red and white Turkish breakfast dish of seasoned yoghurt topped with a poached egg and trickled with melted butter stained with paprika?
But rolls it is. I was first introduced to them by our friend Nash Khandekar when we moved into our house six years ago. Nash almost wasn’t our painter and decorator.
We’d just bought our house. It was sound, but needed some TLC (I mean, I like lime green walls and a glitter ball as much as the next person, but perhaps not in the room where I intend to eat breakfast for the foreseeable future). I arranged to have a few companies come over and give us quotes, my very own Decorator Idol. There was the Irish one, whose curling brogue and patched sweater did a great job of disguising his capacity for gouging on prices. The Polish one with graceful manners but almost no English. The posh Home Counties one who seemed to have become a painter and decorator in response to a not-entirely-worked-through midlife crisis... And then there was Nash, who was delightful and charming and entirely won my mother over. I declared him ‘Too smooth by half’. Until the quotes came in and he was the cheapest (by half) and I decided that delightful and charming was something I could live with.
And live with we have. Ever since, we’ve called on Nash and his brother Sean whenever we need something doing in our house or garden. I remember one freezing November day when Nash was smoothing grout between the paving on the terrace he’d just laid for us (having first placed pennies beneath the slabs for good luck). His olive skin was a grey with cold. I told him to stop for the day and his response? ‘No, the Bangladeshi in me is keeping me warm and the Irish in me is keeping me working.’ How could you not love a man like that?
When we were restoring our house, Nash and his team worked alongside us to make our six-week deadline. He promised it would be finished on time, and on moving day I pitched up at the house at 8am to find him putting the final licks of paint on the sitting room walls, leaning on a broom for support and a full day’s growth in his beard. He’d been up all night, but he made it.
In those six weeks, I listened to more Talk Sport radio than I ever thought possible and we ate with Nash and his gang, sitting on the floor, our buffet of pides or kebabs from the local take away spread out on the wallpaper pasting table. One afternoon, he sent his wiry young assistant Chefki out to buy snacks and he came back with warm pilavuna. We ate them greedily with cups of tea while Nash prodded shy Chefki to tell us the tale of when he played professional football for a team in the Ukraine, scoring on his debut and ending up the local hero, his picture on the front page of the paper. Chefki is no longer the shy teenager, but he’s as lovely as he always was, married to Hattie, his once-lanky frame bulked out with muscles. Every time I bite into a pilavuna, I think of those happy, exhausting weeks working on our house and the friendships forged over paint, football on the radio and tea breaks at the pasting table.
These are traditionally made at Easter, from a seasonal cheese called flaouna. If you can’t get hold of flaouna – and let’s face it, I live in the middle of a Turkish area and even I can’t always get hold of flaouna – a mild Cheddar or an unsmoked Gouda might be nice.Makes a dozen pilavuna
750g strong bread flour (actually, I ran out of bread flour so used 500g bread flour and 250g plain flour and it worked out pretty well)
7g fast-acting yeast (a sachet’s worth)
1 slightly rounded tsp salt
20g caster sugar
450ml warm water
2 tbsps olive oil
250g flaouna (see note above for alternatives), grated
100g haloumi, grated
1 ½ tbsp crumbled, dried mint
The grated zest of a small lemon (This isn’t traditional as far as I can tell, but I like it. You can leave it out if you prefer.)
1 tbsp plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1 egg, beaten with a little water to glaze
Some sesame seeds for sprinkling over the top
Tip the flour, yeast, salt and sugar into the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook and mix to blend. With the beater stirring, pour in the warm water then the oil and beat for about 10 minutes at a medium-low speed (if it looks like the mixer might walk itself off the counter, you’re going too fast) until smooth and velvety. You can certainly do this by hand, but it’s Sunday morning and I’m taking the path of least resistance. Put your dough into a lightly-oiled, warmed bowl, cover with a plastic bag and leave in a warm place to rise for about an hour, or until doubled in size.
While the dough is rising, make the filling. Mix together the grated cheeses, sultanas, mint, zest, flour and baking powder. Pour in the eggs and mix to a stiff paste.
Preheat the oven to 220C/425F/Gas 7. Knock back the risen dough and divide it into 12, shaping each piece into a nice round. On a lightly floured surface, roll out into circles about 12cm in diameter. Heap a good spoonful of filling into the middle of each circle. Fold over three sides of the dough to make a triangle, pinching the edges together a bit and leaving some of the filling showing. Brush the pastries with the beaten egg and sprinkle over the sesame seeds. Put on a lightly-floured baking sheet and bake until golden, about 13 minutes. Serve warm or cold, at a pasting table for authenticity.
I love The Arabica Food & Spice Company. They sell wonderfully aromatic blends such as ras-el-hanout and za’atar, and fiery sauces such as their Il Shaytan Chilli Sauce. Their wild mint is picked by a women’s co-operative in Jordan and it’s the most sweetly aromatic dried mint I’ve ever used.