Lemon Olive Oil Cake


Spring is (sort of) finally here! Temperatures are above freezing and we have actual continuous periods of sunshine. Sure, it’s raining today, but I don’t care. Because Steve and I are taking off for a weeklong trip to Cyprus with three of our friends. We’ll visit my family and drive around the island in search of poppy covered mountainsides, turquoise blue seas, orange blossom scented villages, and lots and lots of good food. DSC03763

No two ingredients say “Meditteranean!” better than olive oil and lemons. They are at the very core of the soul of the people that have lived for millennia around this beautiful sea, with its temperate climate (though not always as warm or friendly as most people think) and plentiful fish (which are currently endangered from overfishing and pollution).

So, in honor of our Mediterranean adventure, I give you my favorite version of a lemon olive oil cake. You gotta love a cake that has a total of five ingredients. All things you probably have at home right now. With these humble ingredients you can have a cake that is not overly sweet and incredibly tender, making it an equally good option for afternoon tea or breakfast. Top it off with a dollop of lemon curd or sweetened whipped cream and you have a great dessert. This is a cake that in every bite, you can taste what it’s made of: the taste of eggs is right there, cut through by the acidity of the lemons, while everything is smoothed out by the mild grassiness of the olive oil.DSC03775Lemon Olive Oil Cake – Slightly adapted from Epicurious.com


3/4 cup olive oil (extra-virgin if desired), plus additional for greasing pan
1 lemon (preferably organic/unsprayed)
1 cup cake flour (not self-rising) (see here for instructions on how to make your own cake flour)
5 large eggs, separated, reserving 1 white for another use
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar


Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch (24-cm) springform pan with some oil, then line bottom with a round of parchment paper. Oil parchment.

Finely grate enough all the lemon zest and whisk it together with flour. Halve lemon, then squeeze and reserve 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice.

Beat together yolks and 1/2 cup sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until thick and pale, about 3 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add olive oil (3/4 cup) and reserved lemon juice, beating until just combined (mixture may appear separated). Using a wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture (do not beat) until just combined.

Beat egg whites (from 4 eggs) with 1/2 teaspoon salt in another large bowl with cleaned beaters at medium-high speed until foamy, then add 1/4 cup sugar a little at a time, beating, and continue to beat until egg whites just hold soft peaks, about 3 minutes.

Gently fold one third of whites into yolk mixture to lighten, then fold in remaining whites gently but thoroughly.

Transfer batter to springform pan and gently rap against work surface once or twice to release any air bubbles. Sprinkle top evenly with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar. Bake until puffed and golden and a wooden pick or skewer inserted in center of cake comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Cool cake in pan on a rack 10 minutes, then run a thin knife around edge of pan and remove side of pan. Cool cake to room temperature, about 1 1/4 hours. Remove bottom of pan and peel off parchment, then transfer cake to a serving plate.

Lamb Stir-Fry with Pomegranate and Yogurt


I wasn’t especially close to my grandparents. My maternal grandfather died when I was really young and my dad’s parents lived far away so we saw them rarely. The only grandparent I saw fairly often was my maternal grandmother. For as long as I can remember, she lived in a little house behind my aunt’s house. She was a refugee, having lost her home in the war of 74, and a widow. We saw her a few times a year when we would go and visit.


My grandmother looked like a typical old Greek woman from the movies. Always dressed in black (perpetually in mourning for her husband, as old customs required), her hair always covered in a large black headscarf. It was a source of great mystery to me, her hair, when I was little. The couple of times I caught a glimpse of her without the headscarf, I could see a torrent of white hair cascading down her black-clad back. It seemed magical somehow.


I have few memories of the times I spent with her. I remember that my sister and I, influenced by American movies and cartoons we watched on TV, always wanted her to tell us stories and fairytales. When she would tell us that she didn’t know any stories (she was a farmer’s wife who raised nine children in hard, village conditions) we would explain to her that she must, she was a grandmother after all, and all grandmothers know all kinds of fables. Inevitably, she would give in and tell us the same one or two stories she knew, none of which satisfied our hunger for fantastical beings. One of those stories involved a cockroach who convinced a cow to let it ride on its back to cross a muddy field, but then somehow fell in the deep impression that the cow’s hoof left in the mud, at which point the cow, unaware of the cockroach’s fall, started to pee, filling the impression with pee and drowning the unfortunate cockroach to death.

Yeah, she wasn’t kidding when she said that she really didn’t know any fairytales.


One fond memory I have with her involves pomegranates. There was a small pomegranate tree growing in her front yard and when the fruit was ripe, she would pick one and painstakingly peel and deseed it for us. My sister and I loved receiving our small bowls filled with the sweet-tart fuchsia-colored seeds, eating them with a spoon, feeling their juices burst in our mouths, always wary of eating too many lest they make us constipated as the adults always warned us.


Pomegranates always make me think of my grandmother. I didn’t often eat them, however, because I hated the process of picking the tiny seeds from their intricate web of pith. It was only recently that I discovered a much easier way to deseed a pomegranate by whacking it with a wooden spoon. So, when I saw this recipe for a lamb stir-fry with pomegranate and yogurt in Bon Appétit, I bought a pomegranate and tried it. It turned out to be fantastic. The lamb is intensely fragrant with cumin and coriander, while the yogurt and pomegranate add a buoyant and sweet coolness to the dish.



Lamb Stir-Fry with Pomegranate and Yogurt – Adapted from Bon Appétit

Serves 2


1 teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon ground coriander
1 pound boneless leg of lamb, thinly sliced against the grain
1 teaspoon paprika
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1½ tablespoons olive oil
½ cup plain Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon water
zest from half a lemon, finely chopped
1 medium red onion, cut into ½” wedges
½ cup water
¼ cup pomegranate seeds
2 tablespoons chopped pistachios
Fresh oregano and mint leaves (for serving)


In a medium bowl, mix together cumin, coriander, paprika, garlic, vinegar, salt, pepper, and 1½ Tbsp. oil in a large bowl. Add lamb and toss to coat. Cover and let it marinade in the fridge for at least two hours, or up to 24 hours.

Whisk yogurt, lemon zest, and 1 Tbsp. water in a small bowl; season with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, cook lamb (do not overcrowd in pan), tossing occasionally, until browned, about 3 minutes per batch; transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon.

Add onion to skillet and cook, stirring often, until beginning to brown and soften, about 4 minutes. Add ½ cup water; season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until onion is tender and water is almost completely evaporated, about 4 minutes. Return lamb to skillet and toss to combine.

Serve lamb topped with yogurt, pomegranate seeds, pistachios, and herbs.

Pasta Flora / Παστα Φλωρα (Apricot Jam Coffee Cake – Cyprus Version)

Pasta Flora / Παστα Φλωρα (Apricot Jam Coffee Cake – Cyprus Version)

There is no better way to experience the inertia of history than through ethnic cuisines. Take the Mediterranean, for example. If you were to take a cruise around the region and sample food from all the countries you visit – Spain, Italy, Morocco, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Lebanon, Egypt – you’ll start to notice that variations of the same dish have a way of popping up in every place.


Talk to the people of each country and they will tell you that the dish originated with them, brandishing its name as proof or the use of a local ingredient as irrefutable evidence. In reality, so much of the “traditional” foods of those countries come from their past, often going back centuries to empires that ruled the region: the Greeks, the Romans, the Venetians, the Ottomans.

It’s both a comforting and frustrating experience. Comforting, in that it confirms the sameness in all of us, the artificiality of our differences, and our shared roots. Frustrating because it seems unable to bridge differences that have led to wars and conflict. If Israelis and Palestinians could all concentrate on their common culinary tradition, would they be more conciliatory towards each other? Would Greeks and Turks? Doubtful.


This recipe is for one of those dishes that spans different countries in the Mediterranean. I knew it as a Greek Cypriot dessert called pasta flora. Growing up, my mom made it regularly and it was one of my favorites. At some point, I found out that it was also made in Greece but somewhat differently, with a short, cookie-like crust, instead of the cake base used in Cyprus. Then a few years back, an Italian friend I invited to dinner brought over a dessert she made. As soon as I saw it, I exclaimed “You made a pasta flora!” She smiled and said “a pasta FROLA,” stressing the reversed r and l.


It turned out, it’s an Italian dessert called pasta frola. And today, doing a little bit of research, I found out it’s also an Argentinian dessert, brought over by Italian immigrants, usually filled with quince paste, instead of the apricot jam used in Cyprus.

Here’s the bottom line: No matter where this comes from, it’s a winner. This recipe is for the Cypriot version. It makes something more like a coffee cake, with a layer of apricot jam and a lattice crust. It’s simple to prepare and makes a wonderful dessert or even breakfast, no matter where you are from or what part of the world you are eating it in.


Pasta Flora / Παστα Φλωρα (Apricot Jam Coffee Cake – Cyprus Version) – Adapted from Μαγειρεύοντας για φίλους Tόμος α


2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
pinch of salt
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon brandy or cognac
finely grated zest of one lemon
1 cup apricot jam
6 tablespoons all purpose-flour
1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon of water, for eggwash


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9 x 13 baking pan and line it with parchment paper (alternatively, grease, lightly dust with flour and shake out excess). In a medium bowl, whisk together 2 1/2 cups of flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of a mixer, beat 3 eggs well, until they lighten in color, for 2-3 minutes. Add the sugar and continue to beat for another 2-3 minutes until they thicken and increase in volume. Add the oil, brandy, and zest and mix until combined. Add the flour mixture and using a spatula, fold together just until combined and no dry flour streaks are visible.

Take one cup of the batter out of the bowl and put it in a small bowl.

Pour the remaining batter in the prepared baking pan and smooth out the surface with spatula or back of spoon. Stir the apricot jam with a spoon to loosen it up and then carefully spread it on top of the batter in the pan, taking care not to press it into the batter too much. The best way is to just dollop it with a soup spoon and then use the back of the spoon to lightly spread it, leaving about a 0.5-1 inch border around the edge of the pan without jam.

In the small bowl with the 1 cup of batter, add 6 tablespoons of flour. Mix with a spoon until fully combined. The dough will be soft but you should be able to work with it with your hands. If you want, put some flour on your hands to prevent the dough from sticking.  Take a piece of the dough and roll it gently between your hands to create a log about half an inch in diameter. Place it on top of the apricot jam diagonally. Continue until you have created a lattice pattern across the whole pan. Don’t worry too much if your lattice isn’t perfect. When it bakes it will puff up and change shape anyway.

Very gently brush the lattice with the beaten egg. Bake for about 40 minutes until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Let cool for 10 minutes and slice into squares or rectangles. Allow the pasta flora to cool completely before you remove the slices from the pan. Store in an airtight container for 2-3 days or wrap slices with plastic wrap and freeze.