Sunday 19 April 2009

Of paint and pastries

Pilavunas on parade

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?

A moment when hope still sprung eternal

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.

PilavunaPilavuna Ingredients

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
90g sultanas
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

To finish:
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.


Ready for the oven

Pilavuna detail

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.

Wild Mint


  1. Your Pictures of Pilavuna are Perfectly Plumptious... I so remember Nash and tall slender Chevki working their socks off to get it right for you - and not only being fed royally, but bringing in food for us.
    And here I see at last you are bringing the Arsenal into your blog! I supposes that was inevitable.

    I've always wondered why it was the Arsenal rather than just Arsenal, like more everyday teams. What does Sean say? One day perhaps you will take cookies onto the pitch...

  2. Sunday evening-Another wonderful blog! what a way to end my weekend. I can almost smell the Pilavuna baking...mmm!

  3. You makes I laff and want to scoff food at the SAME time! It's quite a skill. Your blog is officially now on my Yahoo homepage - and I didn't even know I could do that. Happy days...

  4. I'm glad you posted the pictures otherwise I'd have trouble believing you made these. They look so impressive. Truly. Just amazing. I will revisit this post for sure and make my own version. Wish I could do it right now.

    So, you are a "gunners" girl. I actually don't mind Arsenal but I do go for Liverpool. Mitch is guess what, an Arsenal fan too. He has a dinky di jersey to prove it as well. He's played soccer since he was five. My Hubby also has played soccer since he was five, but unfortunately he goes for that dreaded Man Uted.

    Last year he lived one of his dreams when he flew to Moscow to watch his team defeat Chelsea in the Champions League. What a moment! I am truly glad he experienced such a time; so very special.

    And on that very day a calf was born at our farm. We have a paddock named "Russia" because there is tree in there that looks exactly like a cossack hat. I named the little calf "Manushka". 'Manu' for his team and 'Ushka' for the russian connection. She is a constant reminder of his amazing experience.

    Oh my goodness sorry to go on; thanks for your kind words and I cannot wait to reconnect.

  5. Mum - Those were wonderful, if exhausting, times weren't they?

    Marty - So delighted to see you here. Have a lovely week in DC.

    Anon- Zeena, is that you? Even if it's not, I'm beyond thrilled you have me on your homepage!

    Mariana - PLEASE don't apologise for telling your lovely story. I have always thought that food is more than just 'dinner', it's stories and shared history and something that connects us in a very profound way. In fact, if any of you are reading and have been too shy to leave your own comments, do jump in. I really love to hear your stories.

    SO delighted your Mitch is a Gunner! He obviously is a man of very good taste. And how marvellous for your husband to go to Moscow!

    I look forward to seeing your messages again soon - I hope everything goes well for you.


  6. I'm moving in....I wish someone would make those for me for breakfast! There's a bakery in NYC and LA called City Bakery that makes the most incredibly delicious pretzel croissants--they remind me of these Turkish delights.

  7. Thanks, too, for the great comment on the crispy potatoes--will try first chance!

  8. Hello Catherine,

    I promise, they're quite simple to make, especially if you do the dough in a mixer. You can get everything else ready while the dough's rising. I've been thinking it might be nice to do some which are filled with fried onions, minced lamb, cubes of feta and mint - they won't be pilavuna, but I think they would be good!

    You're very welcome, with regards to the potatoes. However many I make, there are never any left over. The secret is getting the edges of the potatoes quite rough and the goose fat very hot. And now I'm hungry...


  9. Those are the coolest things I have ever seen!

    Thanks so much for sharing that recipe!

    They look beautiful!

  10. Hello Jen,

    Thank you! Do try them if you get the chance.


  11. Here I am, feeling virtuous if I so much as heat a frozen waffle for breakfast and here you are, making something that looks like something I'd paid large coin for in any bakery. We had a Cypriot architect once...the envy I had for him extended from his violently virile hair to his graceful hands...Oh, such memories!
    Lanky Yankee Karen

  12. My dear LYK,

    Stay tuned, some day very soon I'm going to give you the recipe for çilbir, the poached egg and yoghurt breakfast which you're going to love!


  13. Oh, my stars and garters!

    Cannot wait!


  14. Ahhh - those are incredible looking - what I wouldn't give to have a nibble -

  15. Hello Lady P,

    Thank you! I hope you're enjoying a wonderful and creative weekend.


  16. Tis I! And it's all true - it's the only blog I read. See you soon zxxx

  17. Zeena, I knew it was you! Do come and visit soon, though we are still smarting, all these years later, that you abandoned Stokie for Bristol. Dx

  18. Thank you so much for the recipe. My friend and I are competing to see which one of us will make them first. Yours look really scrumptious!! I like the idea of lemon zest - not tried them like that before. Maybe orange would work well too? Fx


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