Thoughts of revithokeftedes, Sifnian chick pea balls, would not leave my mind. And my heart.
I’d watched a video I found online, a part of this year’s Nikolaos Tselementes Cycladic food festival on Sifnos, that shows viewers how to make this most popular of the island’s snacks. Still, I was not entirely confident enough to tackle making them on my own. Then, aha! I thought.
I went to my shelves and pulled out the first purchase I ever made at the island’s bookshop, a slim volume called Traditional Recipes of Sifnos. Equal parts cookbook and cultural treasure, it has taught me how to make revithia when I’m at home and longing for a taste of Sifnos, the chick pea soup that is the island’s signature dish. Surely a recipe for revithokeftedes would be found in there as well. And, of course, it was. On page two, which tells me something about how important a dish Sifnians consider chick pea balls to be.
This book, says its author, Ronia Anastassiadou, is her “effort to collect the most characteristic dishes of Sifnos and the way these are made in our home nowadays.” To gather these recipes, a part of this land’s tradition, she spoke to “old housewives and men with a good relationship with the kitchen.” Sifnian men have long had a tradition of going to sea as cooks on merchant ships and good relationships with the kitchen, I’ve happily discovered in their tavernas, they have in equal proportion to their wives. So if there was anyone who could help me to make revithokeftedes in this year when I can’t be on the island to eat those prepared in Sifnian kitchens, it was Ronia. And I could think of no one more qualified to help me understand the nuances of this dish that is said to have as many different recipes as cooks who make it.
Sometime long after I bought her book, I met Ronia and was privileged to spend time in the kitchen of her old Sifnos house where three generations before her have cooked. That is one of the great joys of travelling among people as generous and open-hearted as Sifnians are, of coming back again and again with no agenda beyond seeing where your curiosity and your own open heart will lead you. The good news, she told me not long ago, is that she’s been working on a new edition, the third one, of her book. It will have traditional local recipes as before, but a lot more – locality, weather, habits and customs, seasons, ways of production, plants that don’t need water, the reason behind everything, etc. Another of the treasures that is the culture of Sifnos. I can’t wait. There’s a spot for it already on my bookshelf at home.
In the meantime, she has given me her kind permission to share with you from the first edition of Traditional Recipes of Sifnos her instructions for making revithokeftedes as the Sifnians do, your way.
Kali orexi. Good appetite. Enjoy. May the taste transport you to this blessed isle. May it cause you to smile the way Sifnians do, from deep inside.
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Sharon Blomfield is the author of The Sifnos Chronicles: tales from a greek isle and, new in spring 2019, Sifnos Chronicles 2: more greek island tales. These books are available at To Bibliopoleio, The Book Shop in Apollonia, Sifnos, at Tithorea, a Greek food shop in Rockwood, Ontario, Canada and on Amazon.