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Big Fabulous Picnics: Cypriot-Greek Inspired!

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If barbecued lamb and Greek salad, accompanied by traditional dancing in the sun, sound like a good time then you’re in for a treat. Christine Amygdalidis, a Cypriot-Greek living in Toronto, shares her family’s summer traditions and recipes.

Samali recipe
(Photo credit: Eli Giannopoulos)

The Location

Christine and her family enjoy summer picnics at Toronto's Sunnybrook Park or the Scarborough Bluffs. As President of the Cypriot Federation of Canada, she helps plan an annual festival near Innisfil, Ont. “We like going outside the city, where there are big, green parks. Old people can sit under the trees and young people can play in the sun,” Christine says.

The Atmosphere

The program at the annual Cypriot summer festival features music, traditional dancing and wine-making demonstrations. Christine says the park it’s held in has a unique feature. “There’s a small Greek Orthodox church there, so some people like to light a candle or say a prayer in the church.”

When Christine’s family has picnics, they bring music and board games to the park, and arrange activities like races that are set up friendly competition, like women against men or children against their parents.

The Company

Christine’s family gatherings are intimate and include her husband, two young adult daughters and a few close relatives. At larger events in the community, she sees a more diverse crowd, since the public will often attend to get a taste of Cypriot culture.

The Feast

Christine usually marinates meat to grill on skewers at the park, but when she’s short on time, burgers will do the trick. Meats are served with bread, tatziki, rice, potatoes and salad. Greek salad is made of tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, bell peppers, large chunks of feta cheese and some olives, with oil and oregano drizzled on top.

Christine sometimes prepare dishes ahead of time, like a baked lasagna dish called pastitsio, or dolmades — a mixture of rice and minced meat wrapped in vine leaves.

To drink, there is usually Greek wine or beer, or a Cypriot beer called Keo. They’re big fans of Commandaria, a dessert wine from Cyprus, known for being the oldest wine in the world.

For those with a sweet tooth, loukoumades is the perfect snack. Christine says they’re “like Timbits, but golden, and with icing sugar and cinnamon on top.” Although she says these days, most people in her family watch their sugar intake, so they opt for fruit salad and watermelon as dessert.

Christine shares her recipe for samali, a traditional cake which is light and sweet. Try it below:

Samali Recipe


For the syrup

1 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 tsp lemon juice

For the cake

2 eggs
1cup sugar
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp crushed mastic
1/2 cup flour
3/4 cup oil
1 cup yogurt
3 tsp baking soda
2 cups coarse semolina
Almonds, for garnish (optional)


  1. Mix all syrup ingredients on the stove for 5 minutes and remove from heat. Let it cool.
  2. In a bowl, mix together all liquid ingredients for the cake, followed by all dry ingredients. Pour the mixture into a rectangular pan. Garnish with almonds, if desired. 
  3. Bake at 350 F for approximately 45 minutes. The top should be golden.
  4. Pour the cooled syrup over the warm.

Jacky Habib is a Toronto-based freelance journalist. You can follow her on Twitter.


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