Cooking is an art form that has been handed down in families for centuries. Women traditionally taught their daughters to cook from a young age, sharing recipes and priceless information about food remedies.
Some people think that this tradition is dying and many precious recipes are in danger of being lost. Well, not if I can help it! I am extremely vocal about keeping this tradition alive – in fact, I may even be known around the small country town I live in as “the recipe stalker”. The moment I get wind of anyone having an amazing recipe from another part of the world I make it a bit of a mission of mine to get to know them. Not in a greedy weird kind of way, just a “hi would you like to be my friend and cook with me” kind of way. I look at it as a way of preserving a precious piece of history and of getting to know people. I love how a person’s face lights up when they recall how their mother used to make a certain dish, or how they always helped their grandmother prepare a cake or pudding.
Food connects us all, and living in the country I still get to see and experience this regularly. Just the other day I came home to a big bag of mangoes sitting on my front porch which will cook up into a beautiful chutney. This week my friend dropped in with a box full of zucchini and eggplant and a bucket of macadamias, and here I’d like to share a few recipes for those ingredients. Some of these are more indulgent treat recipes for a special occasion!
Obviously the arrival of these ingredients meant I needed to get into the kitchen and get cooking. I was mentioning this to my yoga students when one of them piped up and said she was Lebanese and she would cook baklava with the macadamias. That was it; that was my invitation to come to her house and learn how to cook her unique version of baklava. She described how she has adapted her mum’s recipe to use the local macadamias that grow in Byron. I then cheekily asked her if she wouldn’t mind sharing her favourite savoury Lebanese recipe, one she always cooks for her family. She then offered to share special recipe for Mejadara a wonderful rice and lentil dish that is the ultimate comfort food. At this point I was trying not to squeal with excitement.
- 4 cups of nuts (e.g. cashews, almonds, walnuts and macadamias)
- 1 packets of filo pastry
- 3 egg whites
- ½ cup of sugar
- 250grams clarified butter (sediment and whey removed)
- Attar syrup
- 2 cups white sugar
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1/4 cup rosewater
Pre heat oven to 180C (350F/Gas 4).
Blend nuts in food processor until medium to finely ground. In a bowl whisk egg whites until they are stiff, gradually adding sugar until combined. Fold nuts into sugar mixture.
Unwrap filo pastry and place long ways on a dry kitchen bench. Place about 4 tablespoons of the nut mixture along the bottom of the pastry and smooth down to form a flat log shape.
Roll up 2 sheets of pastry over nut mixture into a cigar shape. Place into a greased baking dish.
Continue rolling up pastry until all the mixture is used, stacking the rolls snugly into a greased baking dish as you go.
Cut pastry rolls into desired sizes then pour over melted butter.
Bake until golden brown (30-40mins). Whilst the pastry is baking make attar syrup.
Melt all the ingredients (except rose water) in a saucepan and boil rapidly for 10 mins. Remove from stove and add rose water.
When pastries are cooked, immediately pour cooled syrup over and let it sit in baking tray until completely cooled.
This will keep for 2 weeks in airtight container.
Makes approx. 40
Leah’s brown rice madjadra
- 2 cups of green/brown lentils
- 1 ½ cups of brown rice (medium grain)
- 4-6 onions (cut into fine wedges)
- ½ cup of olive oil
- 5-6 cups water approx.
Wash lentils, ensuring any that float to the surface are discarded, and drain well. Wash and drain rice separately.
Fry onions in oil at medium heat and stir occasionally until deep brown. Remove ½ of onions and set aside for garnishing. Continue frying the remainder of onions until they are just starting to burn, stirring frequently.
Add the lentils and brown rice to the onions and cover with water. Cook on medium heat with lid on until almost lentils are almost cooked (about 40 mins, or until the rice and lentils are soft). Stir again, turn off heat, cover and allow to stand for 10mins. Season to taste.
Serve topped with the reserved fried onion. This dish is great served with natural yoghurt and a salad like fatoush or tabouli.
Now, because I am good at sharing I like to offer to cook one of my own family favourites. My dad is Maltese – he came to Australia when it wasn’t really cool to be a new Australian, so rather than keeping his heritage close, he shunned Maltese food and adopted the very creative Aussie meat-and-three-veg diet.
However, I still remember visiting my grandmother’s house and getting out of the car and being welcomed by the smell of onions and garlic frying. Nan always had an endless supply of pastizzi at the ready. I preferred the ricotta and pea one to the meat-filled ones. It was the combination of the slightly salty golden buttery puff pastry and creamy fresh ricotta with a few surprise peas. Slightly indulgent but very yummy! There was always a large dish of Kapanata – I can remember Nan saying she made it a couple of days before and let it sit so the flavours could develop. I used to love mopping it up with some crusty bread!
After my friend and her daughters and I gathered together for our cookup I realised we had a great collection of stunning vegetarian dishes. My friend Leah’s daughter was incredibly proficient in the kitchen and it was so nice to see her keeping the tradition of her handing cherished family recipes down from mother to daughter (and stalking neighbour) alive. I encourage you to do the same.
Ricotta and pea pastizzi
- 150g/ 5oz dried split green peas
- 300g/ 10 oz ricotta cheese
- 2 teaspoons curry powder
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 4 sheets puff pastry
Preheat oven to 200C (400F/Gas 6).
Cook the peas in a large pan of boiling, lightly salted water for 40 minutes or until soft and just turning mushy. Drain.
Put the peas into a bowl, add the ricotta, curry powder, onion, and egg and mix to combine.
Cut 10cm circles from the pastry, place one tablespoon of the ricotta-pea filling onto the centre of each and pinch the ends together to seal, allow the filling to show through the top.
Place the uncooked pastizzi onto a large baking tray lined with baking paper, bake for 25-30 minutes or until crisp and golden.
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 small eggplant, cubed
- 1 onion, sliced
- 2 zucchini, cubed
- 2 stalks celery, cut into thick slices
- 1 red capsicum (pepper), cut into large pieces
- 1 green capsicum (pepper), cut into large pieces
- 800g (26oz) canned chopped tomatoes
- 200g (6 1/2 oz) mixed olives
- 2 tablespoons capers
Heat the oil in a large heatproof casserole dish, add the eggplant and cook over a medium heat for 5 – 10 minutes or until browned all over. It will soak up the oil when it starts cooking but as it gets softer it will release the oil back into the pan again.
Add the onion to the pan and cook for 5 minutes or until soft. Stir in the zucchini, celery, capsicum (pepper), tomatoes, olives and capers, bring to boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 1 hour or until thick.
Serves 6-8 as a side