Cypriot Pastitsio, Mint, Béchamel Sauce and Cyprus on Spice & Recipe

UNO basketball star and honor student Elena Pilakouta scores on “Spice & Recipe” with a recipe from her native Cyprus.

Mint is a plant family that has at least 25 species. In fact, there is a quote that says that “if any man can name … all the varieties of mint, he must know how many fish swim in the Indian ocean.”

Peppermint and spearmint are the most common cultivars, with spearmint as the preferred variety for cooking.

Elena Pilakouta, a native of Nicosia, Cyprus, loves to cook, and that hobby came in handy when she made the move to the United States.

A former basketball player of the Cypriot national team, Elena was recruited by the basketball coaches of the University of Nebraska at Omaha in 2018. She committed to UNO without visiting the city before moving here. Although weather and food portions surprised her, coming to Omaha has been a great decision for Elena.

Elena Pilakouta is an honor roll senior student majoring in psychology and a stellar player for the Omaha Mavericks women’s basketball team.

Spice & Recipe with Mike DiGiacomo is a weekly show that you can watch locally in Omaha, Nebraska on KPAO-TV, Cox 22 or Century Link 89, and worldwide on the NAM YouTube channel or this website.

Serving size: 4 – 6 people


  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 can diced tomato
  • ½ – 1 tablespoon mint
  • 1 teaspoon oregano
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • salt and pepper, to taste 
  • olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2-3 cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 vegetable stock cube
  • 1 egg yolk
  • Nutmeg
  • Cinnamon
  • 1 lb. pastitsio pasta, boiled
  • 8 oz. Halloumi cheese, grated
  • 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped

Boil pasta as per directions on the package and have it ready.

Meat Sauce
In a pan over medium heat, sauté onion and garlic on olive oil until translucent. Add meat and stir well, until meat turns brown. Add spices – salt, pepper, mint, oregano, bay leaves, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, mix until all spices are well blended. Add beef broth, bring to a boil, reduce heat and let it simmer for about 45 minutes.

In a deep pan, start by melting butter over medium heat and then then add milk and vegetable cube. Add flour one tablespoon at a time, constantly stirring the mixture to avoid clumps of flour. When the mixture begins to boil and bubbles appear on the surface, reduce the heat and add a pinch of nutmeg, a pinch of cinnamon, the egg yolk — mix well until the yolk is incorporated and sauce turns pale yellow. Turn off the heat. Lastly, add half of the amount of the Halloumi cheese in the mixture and mix well.

Layering the Cypriot Pastitsio
Preheat oven to 350F. Spray a baking pan with cooking spray, butter or oil and spread a layer of pastitsio pasta. Sprinkle pasta with Halloumi cheese (about 2 tablespoons) and mint and add meat to cover all the pasta. Pour béchamel on top to create a third layer and sprinkle the remaining amount of Halloumi cheese and parsley on top of béchamel. Do not mix. Bake for about 40 minutes, checking in between for doneness. Let it cool down for about 15 minutes before serving.


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May 23, 2021

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