A few months ago I told you how I made Cypriot Pita Bread and how easy it was to make. Ever since I learned how to make them we have been enjoying them in all sorts of sandwiches especially with halloumi and lountza or eating them with dips, like hoummous, taramosalata, tzatziki or melintzanosalata but one of the best ways to use them is to fill them in with sheftalia, souvlakia or both “mixed” as we call them in Cyprus.
Probably 99% of the Greeks will be barbecuing or grilling as it is tradition to roast a whole lamb on Easter. I will be giving the recipes for the lamb and kokoretsi in the next few days but until then I would like to tell you how to make this Cypriot specialty and fill in your pitas.
The origin of the word sheftalia comes from the Turkish word şeftali (kebab). However, the word şeftali means “peach” in Turkish. So how is this delicacy which is made with minced meat, spices and herbs be connected with the word peach? The word şeftali (peach), has its root from the Persian word şaft ālū , which means “fat berry”. So, this crépinette, which looks like an oval shaped meatball, wrapped in caul fat*, probably took its name by being compared to a fat peach. Source: Linguarium.
*Caul fat is the membrane that surrounds the stomach and is transparent, fragile, and naturally fatty, although when it is finally grilled or barbecued all the fat melts away.
Ask the butcher in your neighbourhood for it. In Cyprus you can also find it frozen in supermarkets. I do get some in Athens from my butcher but whenever we go to Sparta there is a big butchery and the owner has a big pigsty. Caul fat from pigs are better because those from lamb have a lot of fat on them and are more expensive. So whenever we go to Sparta I bring a lot with me (did I say a lot) and after washing them I separate them and store them in the deep freezer and use them whenever I like. Apart from sheftalia I also wrap stuffed meat rolls with the caul.
If you decide to make them don’t add oregano: it’s biftekia, don’t add cumin: it’s soutzoukakia, don’t add mint: it’s Cypriot keftedes don’t add rice: it’s dolmades, don’t add egg it’s something else and don’t use cooked meat, as I’ve seen that as well.
When we first moved to our house there was a take-away rotisserie just around the corner and I was so excited to see that he was selling sheftalia. I was already more than ten years in Greece and apart from a few Cypriot restaurants in Athens, you couldn’t find sheftalia anywhere else, so I hadn’t eaten any for a long time. The first thing we bought there from this rotisserie was sheftalia.
I was surprised at first of the size of them. Each sheftalia was like a giant burger but shaped oblong like sheftalia. When taking them home the first bite revealed chunks of meat (probably his leftover grilled meat) and chunks of peppers and whatever else he thought would go with it and wrapped them in the caul fat and baptized them as sheftalia
Needless to say that I never bought his sheftalia again but I continued buying other grilled meat as they weren’t bad. Months later when we got acquainted I asked him where he learned the recipe and he confessed that he served his military service in Cyprus years ago but could not remember exactly how they were, so he just improvised.
If you ever visit Cyprus, you can find sheftalia in every neighbourhood, where there are small kebab shops selling souvlakia and sheftalia. They are served in Cypriot pita together with salad (tomato and cucumber or slaw, depending on the season), parsley and lemon juice. If you like pickles you should ask them to add some in your pita.
This is my entry for The Root Source Challenge event, hosted by Brys Stephens of Cookthink. This month’s theme is Pita.
Preparation time: about 2 – 2 ½ hours
Cooking time: about 20 – 30 minutes
- 1.500 grams (3.30 lbs.) ground pork
- 3 onions, finely chopped
- 4 medium tomatoes grated
- 1 cup of parsley, finely chopped
- 1 tbsp salt
- ½ tsp pepper
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- Panna also called mpolia (caul fat)
- ½ cup lemon juice
- Extra lemon juice, to serve
The instructions are included in my cookbook Mint, Cinnamon & Blossom Water, Flavours of Cyprus, Kopiaste!
You can find my Greek recipes in my cookbooks «More Than A Greek Salad», and«Mint, Cinnamon & Blossom Water, Flavours of Cyprus, Kopiaste!» both available on all Amazon stores. Read more here.
Kopiaste and Kali Orexi,