What’s the first dish that you make when you move into a new house? It’s taken me some time to get settled into my new apartment in Cyprus. Having just moved homes days before I caught a plane to Canada for 1 month, I arrived back in the new flat with lots of boxes and a kitchen that did not feel cozy or clean. Over the years I have discovered I am picky with my cooking space. Kitchens are sort of the heart of my homespace, and I find I love them to be OCD-level clean, light, bright, well organised and – when I look at my track record – new. Before I start to cook I have to feel like it is a calm space, like my own mini shelfter inside the bigger apartment. The new flat is definitely not new. It’s older (old). It has a lot charm which is why we decided to move here, but the kitchen definitely needed some TLC to bring it up to my (ahem) anal standards. When I arrived from Canada I immediately noticed that the water did not drain at all in the sink, the stand-alone cooker did not feel like it was in the right place and needed to be moved, and I needed to unpack so I wasn’t living as a kitchen box lady. The view, however, from the kitchen windows of the city scape and sea was perfect. But as a result of these issues, I just haven’t cooked since I arrived. I have essentially lived off of take-away for the last ten days while adjusting to jet lag being entirely uninspired by my kitchen. Then my friend Antonis came to visit Cyprus from England for a week and I asked him if he would show me how to make his rabbit stifado that everyone was talking about. He agreed. Which provided the perfect kick-in-the-butt moment I needed to actually organise my kitchen and start cooking instead of pretending the kitchen did not exist. So, after several containers of cashew nut chicken, I organised an electrician, plumber and some auntie-super-power-unpacker help. And they literally all came over during 1 morning for the same two hours, 2 hours before Antonis was going to come over. I will take it as a good sign that everything was organised so quickly, including the move of the stove and replacement of electrical wires which actually makes my stove even stronger than before. Electrician “Who would ever have all hobs on at the same time?” Me: “Me, me, me!”. I was also pleasantly surprised that I will be able to install a dishwasher and an air conditioner without much difficulty, so the kitchen is on its way to feeling like my zone again. Plus I found a little lizard in the sink which is one of the varieties I remember my mom said is good luck (am just going with it), so I am just going to go with that as a good sign! Anyway: this week I made rabbit stifado.
Until I was in my mid twenties I actually thought this dish was made with chicken. Why? Because my mom had told me it was chicken as I was growing up so that I would eat it, because she thought if I really knew it was rabbit I would refuse to. As a result, I had a conversation with my younger cousin in England about 8 years ago, being of an age where I was way too old to not know that stifado is made with rabbit, when I insisted that “stifado” was made with chicken, or at the very least prided myself on the fact that my mom made it with chicken. Errrrr, nope. Entirely untrue. Anyway, this time I was sure to buy a whole rabbit from the supermarket. Though I was a bit intimidated by chopping up a rabbit, Antonis showed me how to do it with ease and provided many tips and tricks to make it one of the most delicious stifados I have enjoyed. For example, it is actually preferable to use a rabbit that has been in the freezer for about 1 month because when you defrost it, it makes the rabbit more tender – just like using frozen octopus when making octopus stifado. The other neat thing about stifado is that you can add as many onions, as much wine and vinegar as you want suited to your preference. You could literally double the amount of onions and vinegar in the recipe below and it would still taste delicious, just in a different way. I loved Antonis’ version of stifado because it was tasty without being too heavy, and had a subtle spicy kick through use of the peppercorns and wine. I used a French beaujolais only because that is all I had, but what I really wanted to do was use a Cypriot wine. Next time. And now that my kitchen is a cozy space again, that is sure to happen. Thank you Antonis!
1 whole rabbit (you can ask the butcher to cut it for you in large pieces, you can remove the head and innards, but you can also cook them)
30-35 small shallots (onions are OK too, but shallots are sweeter; you can also use up to 40 onions for more onion flavour and a sweeter taste, if you add more shallots/onions I would also recommend adding more vinegar)
1 cinnamon stick
1 heaped tsp whole peppercorns
dash of cumin
2 cups of red wine (just over half of a 2L wine bottle) (this recipe is quite wine heavy, so you could add a little less, but bear in mind the sauce will reduce over the 1.5-2 hours you stew it, so I think I will always add this much)
1/4 cup of weak red wine vinegar (for a stronger vinegar flavour, add 1/2 cup, but if your vinegar is strong then 1/4 cup is OK, I would add 1/2 cup if you add more onions)
2-3 bay leaves
35g Mitsides tomato puree
1 cup water
olive oil for frying
salt and pepper to taste
plain pasta for and grated anari cheese for serving (optional)
* Antonis mentioned that for extra tender rabbit, he lets the rabbit marinate overnight in red wine vinegar. Then he continues to prepare the recipe as per below and when adding red wine vinegar, take from the vinegar that the rabbit was marinated in.
1. Peel the shallots, there is no need to dice them.
2. Chop the rabbit into pieces if you have not done so already.
3. Heat about 2 tbs olive oil to a large pan. Once hot, add the rabbit pieces ensuring that the olive oil touches the skin. Lightly brown the rabbit pieces on each side, remove and set into a plate.
4. Add about 1 tbs more olive oil to the same pan. Add the shallots, they will absorb the flavours from having lightly fried the rabbit. Once the shallots have been lightly browned add them to a large pot.
5. Add the rabbit, cinnamon, peppercorns, cumin, wine, vinegar, tomato puree, bay leaves and 1 cup water to the large pot with the shallots. Close the lid, leaving a slight gap, and bring to a boil. Once it reaches a boil, reduce the temperature to medium heat and cook for between 1.5 to 2 hours until the rabbit is cooked and falls off the bone and the juices have reduced. It is up to you how much you want the juices to reduce – runny, thick, thin, etc.
6. When serving, boil some pasta and take some pieces of rabbit, onion and juices and use it as a sauce. It goes great with grated salty anari – a type of Cypriot cheese similar to ricotta in the way you make it – but I think the Greek cheese kefalotiri which is widely available would work great as well.