Saturday, March 30, 2013

Baklava Rolls
with Pistachios, Walnuts and Almonds

I'm celebrating today! Celebrating 200 'likes' on the Greek Vegetarian Facebook page! And I truly can't think of a more delightful little celebratory sweet to make on such a happy day than baklava. My Aunt Koula's baklava no less.

Koula's recipe was passed down to her by her mother and is a variation on the traditional squared or triangle-shaped pieces of baklava – the baklava is rolled into logs then cut diagonally. Koula says it's much quicker to make baklava this way. It also uses a mixture of three different nuts, including pistachios which are not often seen in Greek baklava recipes.

I briefly introduced you to my Aunt Koula in an earlier post, but here I would like to tell you a little more about this remarkable, beautiful and incredibly funny woman who wears a pair of Nana Mouskouri glasses better than Nana herself.

I first met Koula around 15 years ago when my sister, Melinda, and I were holidaying together in Greece. Koula and her husband (my dad's brother) George, live in Rhodes, a Greek island in the far southeast of the Aegean Sea. On that trip we only had a few days to spend with George and Koula, but the one thing both Melinda and I took away with us was the vivid memory of Koula's wonderful cooking.

It wasn't until Tony and I started spending some time in Limnos that we got to know Koula and George more intimately. Both now in their 80s, they make their annual pilgrimage to the cooler island of Limnos during the summer months when it is too hot for them to swelter away in Rhodes.

Tony and I have been fortunate enough to spend a few weeks each year in Limnos for the last three years, and this is when we get to enjoy quality time with George and Koula, as well as with my dad and his wife Julia who live in Limnos for 6 to 8 months every year.

Not having many relatives here in Australia, it is really lovely to connect with family in the country of my roots. It's quite a spiritual experience for me every year. The moment the plane touches down at Eleftherios Venizelos airport in Athens, a wave of emotion hits me and I just want to applaud the way passengers used to in the early days when Olympic Airways had international flights from Australia to Greece. Back then it was more of a gesture of appreciation (and relief!) that the pilot landed the plane safely, but for me, now, I just want to express my joy that I'm in Greece! Last year I broke out into my own solo performance of applause, and actually started a bit of a crowd response where around 30 people joined me, and some even threw in a few "bravos"!

Over the years Tony's connection with Greece has also strengthened. He hasn't a drop of Greek blood in him but his affinity with the country and the culture of Greece is quite phenomenal. He has been learning the language for the last three years and is now almost fluent. I hardly speak Greek at all which, as you can imagine, is actually quite embarrassing for the one that's meant to be the Greek component of this partnership – especially when we're in Greece!

Arriving at the family house in Limnos is always an emotional moment, seeing how much the garden has grown, and finding George and Koula in the same seats out in the terrace where they always sit, tossing their comboloi (worry beads) and grinning from ear to ear as they see us approaching. Big, giant hugs and kisses, tears and laughter, Koula's hands holding my face, then another big kiss and a hug. It's the most beautiful welcome you could hope for in such a beautiful country.

During the last three years, for just a few weeks every year, Tony and I have got to know a wonderful aunt and uncle that would make us laugh every day. Koula has a very dry sense of humour, ensuring she never laughs at her own jokes. Her English is good, but she would occasionally get the genders confused in our language, as many native Greeks do, and her humour would take on another dimension when she would refer to "her" as "him", as in "I was talking to my daughter-in-law, Kathleen, and I said to him, "Why you no come to Greece?". Tony would be in tears of laughter and although Koula may not have known exactly why, true to form, she would not laugh, and casually carried on with the story.

Memorable also is Koula's cooking. She is the queen of the kitchen and would prepare a meal of gargantuan proportions every day for lunch, and another three meals every day for the freezer. In Limnos everyone is well fed with Koula's dishes, long after she and George have returned to their homeland of Rhodes.

I love spending time in the kitchen with Koula and take every opportunity I can to document everything she cooks, including this baklava recipe that I'm sharing with you today.

I've tried to make Koula's baklava many times and it still doesn't come out the way she does it. Why is that?! This year when we meet again in August I will ask her to observe every move of mine as I try to replicate her baklava and hopefully we'll see where I go wrong . . .

Baklava Rolls, with Pistachios, Walnuts and Almonds

Recipe by my Aunt Koula

Makes around 40 small portions


  • 200g walnuts
  • 150g almonds
  • 60g pistachios
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 200g unsalted butter
  • 12 sheets of filo pastry
For the syrup
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons Greek honey


  1. Place the nuts in a food processor or grinder and pulse until broken down to coarse crumbs.
  2. Add the cinnamon to nut mixture and mix well.
  3. Melt the butter over low heat for brushing the filo pastry.
  4. Lay one sheet of pastry on a flat surface and butter liberally.
  5. Sprinkle a handful of the nut mixture evenly over the pastry.
  6. Repeat with two more sheets of pastry, finishing with the nut mixture.
  7. Carefully roll the pastry, not too tightly, until you have a log shape, and place with seal side down in a baking dish.
  8. Create three more rolls and lay side by side in the baking dish. You should still have at least 1/4 cup of melted butter left. Reserve this butter for the final brushing.
  9. Using a sharp knife, cut the baklava rolls diagonally, almost all the way down to the bottom of the dish, but not touching the bottom, to create around 40 portions.
  10. Brush the baklava with the remaining butter and place in a preheated oven at 170 degrees celsius for one hour.
  11. In the last 30 minutes of cooking time, create the syrup. Combine the water, sugar and lemon juice in a pan and heat until boiling. Allow to boil for 10 minutes without stirring, then add honey and stir to mix in. Remove from heat.
  12. Remove baklava from the oven and pour hot syrup directly over the hot baklava. It will sizzle a bit, but this is the all-important moment when the syrup goes all gooey and sticky, crisping up the pastry and doing all sorts of magical stuff.

As delicious as your baklava looks, you will need to allow it to sit, uncovered, for at least an hour before eating so the syrup can penetrate the pastry and do its crisping-up thing. To serve, arrange three pieces on a plate and sprinkle with ground almonds . . . and just try and stop at three.

Linking back to Fig and Cherry's blog this week on her "This week I'm craving..." weekly post. It's a fun, new way to link up with others that have food cravings (like my carb craving after going a week without them!)

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Hommus, Hummus, Homous

So many ways to say it, so many ways to make it.
But today I'm going to share with you, my Dad's way.

My father, Takis, is a bit of a mad professor when it comes to experimenting with food. He will spend weeks, if not months, perfecting a particular creation in the kitchen. Even something as simple as hommus. No matter what he's making, he will go to whatever length it takes to make sure the flavour, the texture and the aroma is tweaked and refined to absolute perfection.

But only Takis knows when it's perfect. He may use other people as guinea pigs in the process, but like many proud Greeks, my dad doesn't want to hear your opinion unless it's a favourable one. Even if he asks you "Do you like it?", you mustn't answer. Takis is the only one that can criticise his own food and will make sure he immediately responds to his own question with "It needs more lemon doesn't it". Only then can you speak, and you have two choices: Reluctantly agree with him or tell him "It's great the way it is!"

The process of formulating the ultimate hommus recipe was (and still is!) an enjoyable one for Takis. Around ten years in the making, just about every time we were invited over for lunch there would be another version of hommus for us to try. My proud dad in his favourite I Love Limnos apron, bowl in one hand, spoon in the other (actually, spoon in our face) would encourage us to taste "Here, you must try. Please. This one is very good." As they all were.

There's nothing rocket-scientific about my dad's recipes. He just loves any excuse to spend time in the kitchen making food that makes people happy. And if perfecting a simple dish means another marathon session in the kitchen, then out comes the Limnos apron again. But once dad is finally happy with his creation, you'd better be sure you love it too, because if you don't love dad's food, there won't be a lot of love for you.

So when making hommus, the big tip from Takis is to use dried chickpeas soaked in water overnight, rather than canned. But one big problem comes with this big tip. If you are using dried chickpeas, you have to remove their skins which is a somewhat tedious process. It's worth it though because dried chickpeas give a much "fresher" flavour (in my dad's own words) to your hommus.

Hommus, Hummus, Homous

Recipe by Takis (my dad)


  • 200g dried chickpeas (soaked in water overnight)
  • 1 clove of garlic, crushed
  • 3 tablespoons tahini
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • Extra salt to taste


  1. Drain the soaked chickpeas, rinse and transfer to a large pot.
  2. Cover the chickpeas with plenty of water and bring to the boil.
  3. Allow to cook for 30 minutes, then drain and transfer chickpeas to a large bowl of cold water.
  4. Remove skins from the chickpeas by lightly squeezing them one by one between your fingers. The skins should come off easily. Discard skins and throw skinned chickpeas back into the saucepan you used earlier to cook them.
  5. Cover chickpeas with water again and boil for another 30–45 minutes, until very soft.
  6. Drain chickpeas and transfer to food processor, adding the garlic, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, cumin and 1/4 teaspoon of salt.
  7. Blend until smooth then add extra salt to taste.

Serve in a fancy bowl or on a pretty plate, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and lightly dust with paprika. I love my hommus with crusty, grain-filled bread. It's also lovely with fresh sticks of celery or carrot.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Tofu and Cypriot Halloumi Souvlaki
with Lemon and Oregano Marinade
Meat Free Week – Day Seven

Oh what a week! Seven straight days of eating carbless, vegetarian Greek food, and blogging about it every day. This has been harder than I thought it would be! Tony struggled with the overload of tofu, and I really pined for my carbs!

It was a difficult challenge for us but we also gained a lot. We really enjoyed spending some time with each other in the kitchen and sitting down and eating the same meal together. It was something we both missed over the years of cooking and eating separately. We realised that we only need make a few simple compromises to bring back some mutually enjoyable activity at dinner time so we will definitely be doing this a lot more in future.

Going without carbohydrates for the week was quite physically and mentally draining for me. Tony has been doing this for a while so he got through that part of it okay, but for someone who loves her bread, pasta and sweets, this was a real shock to the system. Tony kept reassuring me that after this week my body will readjust and I'll even start burning off some fat and feeling pretty good.

Sorry Tony, not happening. I'm baking bread tomorrow and I think I have to make a big batch of lentil soup, or something. Nothing beats good old high-carb comfort food :)

Tony will also be glad to have a break from tofu, but he is serious about giving up meat or fish at least one day a week from now on which is a wonderful outcome of his experience with Meat Free Week. As a participant, he also raised some money for animal protection organisation Voiceless this week which he's pretty chuffed about (thanks heaps to those who sponsored him!).

So tonight was the final night of our Meat Free/Carb Free Week. The last carbless, vegetarian Greek meal we'll be having together for a while I'm sure. Not to say that it wasn't an enjoyable meal, but I could really do with some baklava right about now. (Oh tomorrow, you couldn't come quick enough.)

The word "souvlaki" is Greek for "skewer" and anything, not necessarily meat, can be impaled by this skewer and grilled or barbecued over a high heat, resulting in a char-grilled stick of delights.

Traditionally, lamb or pork is used to make the street food souvlakis that most people are familiar with, but tonight we used tofu, halloumi and some vegetables, marinated in classic Greek roasting ingredients to produce another winner of a meal for this final night of Meat Free Week.

Did you know that non-animal rennet is used in the process of making both feta and halloumi cheese?

Tofu and Cypriot Halloumi Souvlaki with Lemon and Oregano Marinade

Serves 2 (two souvlakis per person)


  • 200g tofu, cubed into 12 pieces
  • 1 Lebanese eggplant, sliced into 8 pieces
  • 1 zucchini, sliced into 8 pieces
  • 4 large button mushrooms (5cm diameter), halved
  • 100g Cypriot halloumi, cubed into 8 pieces
  • 1/2 green capsicum, cut into 8 squares
  • 1 clove of garlic, cut into 12 small spears
For the marinade
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Extra lemon juice for serving


  1. You will need 4 long skewers – mine are about 30cm long. Smaller skewers will be fine, but you will probably need to use 6 instead of 4.
  2. Carefully pierce each tofu cube half way with the end of a skewer, being careful not to split the tofu or go all the way through. Turning the skewer as you pierce helps. Remove skewer and insert a garlic spear into the hole you made with the skewer. Repeat for each cube of tofu.
  3. Place all the ingredients for the marinade in a pouring jug and mix well with a fork.
  4. For each skewer, carefully slide 2 pieces of capsicum, 3 cubes of tofu*, 2 pieces each of the zucchini and eggplant, 2 mushroom* halves and 2 cubes of halloumi* in an alternating pattern onto the skewer, starting with one piece of green capsicum, and ending with the other piece of capsicum.
  5. Lay souvlakis in a large oven dish and spoon marinade over each skewer. Allow to soak the juices for at least 20 minutes, turning the skewers once or twice to coat all over.
  6. Place oven dish under your oven griller on the second shelf (this is how I did them), grill over the barbecue, or fry in a large frying pan until charred on both sides. Which ever method you use, a high heat is necessary.
  7. Arrange souvlakis on plates, squeeze fresh lemon juice over the skewers and serve with a crisp, green salad. These souvlakis are also delicious with dollops of tzatziki all over them!

* The tofu, mushroom and halloumi have a tendency to split when pierced so slide these on with care, twisting the skewer as you push, very slowly.

Thank you again to everyone who sponsored Tony (it's actually not too late to still make a donation! Just click here to go straight to Tony's profile page on the Meat Free Week website), and thanks for all your support and kind words in the comments. It was really wonderful to know that so many people were interested in what we were doing this week :)

Oh, and I'm linking this post back to Veggie Mama's Meatless Mondays. This week she talks about how to win over your meat-eating partner with some wonderful veggie delights.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Fire Roasted Pepper, Zucchini,
Broccoli and Mixed Olive Frittata
Meat Free Week – Day Six

I wanted to keep a green theme with this frittata, since we're not really supposed to be eating anything "red" during this Carb Free/Meat Free week – tomatoes, carrots, beetroot are all out – and yes, I know, we had stuffed red capsicums on Wednesday, but I needed a little deviation for the week to help me get used to going carbless!

Since then, instructions from Tony have been very clear that Lisa goes in the naughty corner if she tries to put anything else red in the meals this week. (Thank goodness he didn't notice the withered-away slices of tomato in last night's briam!)

After the success of last week's Greek Roasted Vegetable Frittata (not counting the fact it got drenched in rain the next day), we thought a high-protein, low-carb frittata for Meat Free/Carb Free week would make a lovely Saturday night meal.

Fire roasted peppers (capsicums) are used in quite a few Greek recipes. Many of the bottled fire roasted peppers you find in the stores are produced in Greece. The Greeks know how to fire roast their peppers! I discovered this last year in Limnos when my aunt Koula showed me how it's done.

Spray the pepper with oil, pierce it with a big fork and hover it over a gas stove flame for about 15 minutes!

It goes from looking like a regular pepper . . .

 . . . to looking like an alien.

The idea behind "fire roasting" a pepper in this way is that it is quick, and it keeps the vegetable intact so you can peel the skin and then slice it into rings, which was what I wanted to do for tonight's frittata.

You could just slice the uncooked capsicum into rings and place straight onto the frittata if you wish – it will still cook nicely in the final baking. But if you're like me and not a huge fan of capsicum skin, this step is worth it. And it's fun! Just be careful with the flame – oil will drip from the capsicum and when it comes in contact with the flame you'll experience a bit more fire action than you might want.

After the pepper has blackened, just pop it in a plastic bag to sweat for about 20 minutes, then when it's cool enough to handle you can easily remove the skin. It should be soft enough to flatten out a bit without breaking the flesh – it's easier to cut the rings if you flatten it.

The rest of the frittata recipe is a cinch, and I have to say, this one ended up tasting quite a bit better than the one I did last week. I used a deeper baking dish this time and cooked it at a slightly lower heat which resulted in a more moist frittata. I also added some cream to the egg mixture, and the olives imparted a zingy, salty contrast to the creaminess of the eggs. Very, very lovely :)

There is a lot of egg and cheese in this dish, and it may seem a lot for two people, but because of our low-carb diet this week we must make up for that in protein and fat for our energy. This is a lovely, indulgent meal but I would normally have something like this only once in a while.

We served up the frittata with a simple green salad of rocket leaves, avocado, celery, cucumber and pumpkin seeds, tossed in extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice.

Fire Roasted Pepper, Zucchini, Broccoli and Mixed Olive Frittata

Serves 2–4, depending on whether it will be an entree or a main meal


  • 1 fire roasted* green pepper, sliced into rings
  • 200g broccoli, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 20 shelled pistachio nuts (optional)**
  • 1 large zucchini, cut into 1cm thick strips
  • 5 whole eggs
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1/3 cup cream
  • 1/4 cup grated sharp cheese
  • 100g feta cheese, crumbled
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
  • 20 mixed olives, halved lengthways
  • Olive oil for frying

* See paragraph about fire roasting a pepper earlier in this post.
** We added the pistachio nuts, just because we had them. We couldn't really taste them in the frittata ;)


  1. Fry broccoli in olive oil until starting to brown. Add garlic and pistachios and fry for another minute or so. Set aside.
  2. Spray zucchini strips with oil and fry or grill until golden brown on both sides. Set aside.
  3. Combine eggs, cream, cheeses and parsley in a bowl and whisk lightly.
  4. Pour a little of the egg mixture into a square baking dish (ours is 20cm x 20cm) and lay zucchini strips and spread broccoli mixture over the egg.
  5. Reserve five rings of your green pepper and 16 olive halves, and lay the remaining rings and olives into the dish, then pour in the rest of the egg mixture.
  6. Arrange your reserved pepper rings and olive halves in a pretty, symmetrical pattern over the egg mixture and bake for 45 minutes to one hour, until the top is golden brown and an inserted knife comes out clean.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Low-carb Greek Briam with
Goat's Feta and Cinnamon-Baked Tofu
Meat Free Week – Day Five

My partner Tony has been participating in Meat Free Week this week to raise money for animal protection organisation, Voiceless. Five days so far without meat and Tony's been doing it hard replacing his proteins with tofu. He can handle small doses of tofu but he needs to eat a lot of it to make up for the amount of protein that he normally consumes.

For nutritional reasons, Tony tries to maintain a low-carbohydrate diet, so he needs more protein and fat than the average person to make up his energy source. Unfortunately, this means he needs to eat some animal proteins like chicken and fish (he doesn't eat red meat) because tofu isn't enough for his needs, but he does his bit by only eating free-range products.

I respect and understand Tony's need to stay on this diet, however this morning he came to me with some very exciting news.

Inspired by his week of going without meat and trying some different recipes using tofu, he is taking the compassionate step to go meat/fish free one day a week from now on.

This is huge. Not just for Tony (and for me!) but for the animals, the planet and human health. Going without meat for just one day a week will save the lives of around 100 animals per year. It will also help towards improving the environment, reducing greenhouse gases, and lessening the chances of developing health problems such as cardiovascular disease, stroke, bowel cancer and obesity.

If you're interested in cutting down your meat consumption, there is a world-wide movement called Meat Free Mondays which might inspire you. Their website has lots of compelling reasons to cut meat out of your diet, and there are plenty of delicious recipes for you to try.

I have a recipe right here that you might be interested in too! And the added bonus of this version of Greek Briam is that it is low in carbs and tastes absolutely amazing! The creaminess of the goat's feta and exotic flavour of the cinnamon-baked tofu are a marriage made in heaven.

Low-carb Greek Briam with Goat's Feta and Cinnamon-Baked Tofu

The cinnamon-baked tofu recipe is adapted from a recipe for Cinnamon-Spiced Baked Tofu that I found on Macaroon and Artichoke's wonderful blog, The Food Duo.

Serves 2


  • 1 eggplant
  • 1 green capsicum
  • 1 zucchini
  • 2 sticks of celery, chopped in 1cm pieces
  • 4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 small onion
  • 1/2 small tomato
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 100 ml Cretan extra virgin olive oil
  • 400 ml water
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 60g goat's feta cheese, cubed

For the Cinnamon-Baked Tofu
  • 200g tofu, cut into 1/2 cm thick bite-sized squares
  • 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Slice the eggplant, capsicum and zucchini into round pieces, about 1 cm thick.
  2. Slice the onions and tomatoes into thin round pieces. There ain't much of these to veggies so cut them as thinly as possible to make them go as far as possible!
  3. Place all the briam ingredients in a medium-sized oven dish and bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 degrees celsius.
  4. While the briam is cooking, prepare the cinnamon tofu (see below).
  5. After 45 minutes, remove dish from the oven and use the back of a fork to press the vegetables down into the liquid.
  6. Turn oven up to 200 degrees celsius and place tray of tofu, and dish of vegetables back in the oven.
  7. After another 15 minutes, turn tofu and bake for 15 minutes more.
  8. Total cooking time is 1 hour and 15 minutes.
  9. Remove both trays from oven and dish out vegetables into serving bowls, topped with the tofu, then goat's feta.

Prepare the cinnamon tofu

  1. Place the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, cinnamon and oregano in a small bowl and mix well.
  2. Arrange tofu pieces in a small non-stick oven dish and pour marinade over tofu.
  3. Allow to marinate for 10 minutes then place in oven 30 minutes before briam has finished cooking, turning once after 15 minutes.

I really loved the low-carb tofu moussaka we had on Monday night, but tonight's Briam would have to now be our new highlight of the week. It was absolutely delicious.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Tofu Greek Salad with Char-grilled Vegetables,
Rocket and Pistachios, and a Lemon Dill Dressing
Meat Free Week – Day Four

I'm addicted to pistachio nuts. Well, I'm sure I could develop an addiction to any nut really, but pistachios have a special don't-mess-with-me-when-I'm-eating-pistachios place in my heart.

Around 15 years ago when I was just a naive and ignorant young jet setter travelling around Egypt, I was a real wimp when it came to eating street food and didn't dare touch any of it. Luckily I had a bag of pistachio nuts from the Greek island of Aegina with me. For four days I survived on those pistachios. You'd think I'd get more sick from eating only nuts for four days than I would eating Egyptian street food. But these nuts got me through my ridiculous food phobia on that trip and I've loved them ever since.

Pistachio nuts have been cultivated in Aegina for over 150 years and they are like no other pistachio in the world. Because of the combination of a warm climate, rich volcanic soil and close proximity to the sea, they are larger nuts and with a more intense flavour. For this reason the island is now a Protected Designation of Origin and the nuts have been awarded the accolade of being a Protected Origin Product. Pistachio farming provides the island's population with its main source of income, with most of the pistachio trees naturally growing on small family estates.

It's difficult to find good pistachios here in Australia so I don't get the opportunity to use them much in cooking, but our local supermarket was having a special this week for 500g bags so I thought I'd give them another go. They weren't bad (of course I needed to munch down at least 45 of them to come to that conclusion) so I decided to adjust tonight's meal to include these lovely little salty gems.

Originally we were just going to put together a simple tofu Greek salad with some capsicum and a dill dressing, but after a bit of thought we realised a few other alterations were in order to make the salad substantial enough to have as a meal.

Melbourne's weather has been a bit horrendous today. We had some fierce storms, heavy rain and very strong winds... but I still made Tony go outside and fire up the barbecue so we could char-grill some vegetables for the salad. I must sound really mean, but truly, he actually wanted to. He loves any excuse to use his barbecue. It's a man thing, you know how it is.

So, some char-grilled veggies, tofu, rocket, feta and of course the pistachios would make up tonight's delicious salad with a lemon and dill dressing. The peppery rocket went really well with the charred flavour of the vegetables, and needless to say, lemon and dill always infuses well with feta-featured salads.

Tofu Greek Salad with Char-grilled Vegetables, Rocket and Pistachios, and a Lemon Dill Dressing

Serves 2 as a main meal


  • 1 eggplant, sliced into 1cm thick strips
  • 1 large zucchini, sliced into 1cm thick strips
  • Oil for char-grilling
  • 200g firm tofu, cut into wedges 1cm thick
  • 100g baby rocket (arugula) leaves
  • 60g feta cheese, crumbled
  • 30g shelled pistachio nuts
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Char-grill eggplant and zucchini strips on a barbecue or ridged griddle. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  2. Fry or char-grill tofu wedges in a little oil and salt. Set aside to cool.
  3. Arrange rocket leaves in salad bowl, then tofu wedges, char-grilled vegetables, feta and pistachio nuts.
  4. Combine lemon juice, olive oil and dill and drizzle over salad.
  5. Add salt and pepper to taste.

We loved this salad. It had a great mix of salty, creamy, crunchy and soft which covers all bases as far as I'm concerned!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Red Capsicum Stuffed with Ricotta,
Caramelised Broccolini and Toasted Walnuts (Yemista)
Meat Free Week – Day Three

Vegetarian stuffed vegetables (Yemista), is a favourite dish among many Greeks, especially at this time of year during the Lent period. Stuffed with rice and herbs, it is often referred to as the king dish of Greek Lenten fare. You can find recipes for my take on rice stuffed tomatoes and ricotta and mint stuffed banana peppers elsewhere on this blog.

Tonight I'd like to share with you another Greek stuffed vegetable dish which is the perfect blend of low carbohydrates, a healthy amount of protein, and a whole lot of yum.

It's day three of Meat Free Week, with my non-vegetarian partner Tony going meat free and myself being a vegetarian going carb free. You can read more about why we're doing this here.

Ever since my last failed attempt at stuffing a vegetable with ricotta, I've been wanting to create a non-exploding, ricotta-filled yemista that also has a point of difference. Last week when Tony and I were putting our heads together to come up with our menu plan for this week, I asked him "What's something crunchy that you think might go well mixed with ricotta?" and he just blurted out "Walnuts".

Oh ho ho did that open the flood gates of ideas in my head – nutty, cheesy, crunchy, bitter, sweet, what else can I mix with that, oh yeah, caramelised broccolini, yummo, and lots of garlic and parsley, oh yes, yes. I could already taste it. This would be delicious.

Traditionally, wedges of potatoes are used in the bottom of the baking dish to prop up the stuffed vegetables and make sure they remain upright during cooking time. I still had some turnip left over from Monday's Low-carb Moussaka – remember what a neat little potato alternative turnips turned out to be? Well take one guess what I ended up using it for tonight. These would make the perfect little helpers to support the capsicums, and we couldn't wait to see how they tasted cooked this way.

The turnips came out beautifully. Their texture was not as potato-like as they were in the moussaka – without the starch they are a little juicier and didn't crisp up as much as a roasted potato does – but they tasted awesome. I'm definitely going to get turnip savvy over the next few months!

But the star of tonight's meal really took the show, both visually and flavourwise. Our walnut–ricotta filling was a definite hit and I can't wait to try it in filo pastry or perhaps make cheese croquettes with it.

Am I struggling without carbs? You bet I am. But during meal times I am savouring every moment that I have these beautiful flavours in my mouth – I forget all about the carbs and I just enjoy the time that Tony and I are spending together in the kitchen and at the table. He's having a hard time with all the tofu, protein powder and eggs that he needs to consume to make up his protein component, but he says it's also made him appreciate that there are plenty of flavour combinations that work very well with these proteins and in just three days he's already been really impressed with what we've come up with so far.

We served our Yemista tonight with a beautiful Green Greek Salad of mixed leaves, cucumber, blanched green beans, fresh basil, avocado and olives.

Red Capsicum Stuffed with Ricotta, Caramelised Broccolini and Toasted Walnuts (Yemista)

Serves 2


  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 2 medium, squarish red capsicums
  • 200g broccolini, finely chopped
  • 30g walnuts, roughly crumbled
  • 1 large clove of garlic, crushed
  • 250g fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/4 cup of grated sharp cheese
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 turnip, peeled and cut into 4cm pieces


  1. Fry broccolini on low–medium heat in a little oil until browned. Takes about 20 minutes. The volume of brocollini will reduce by almost half but don't be alarmed. The flavour is still all there!
  2. Add garlic and walnuts and fry for a couple of minutes.
  3. Place broccolini mixture, ricotta, sharp cheese and parsley in a medium bowl and combine well. Add salt and pepper to taste, then add egg. Mix well.
  4. Cut tops off capsicums and discard. Remove seeds and membranes from inside of capsicums.
  5. Add oil to a small baking dish, roll capsicum shells in oil to coat and sit them upright in the dish.
  6. Arrange turnip pieces around capsicum shells to prevent the capsicums from tipping over. Use spray olive oil to coat the turnip pieces with oil.
  7. Fill capsicum shells with cheese stuffing and bake for 1 hour at 180 degrees celsius or until cheese filling begins to brown on top.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Low-carb Soy Flour Vegetarian Pizza
with Greek Inspired Toppings
Meat Free Week – Day Two

It's day two of Meat Free Week and Tony has been particularly excited about tonight's meal. Since going on his virtually carb-free diet he's been missing his pizzas badly. He became quite a master at creating the perfect thin, crispy wheat flour pizza base, but when he began his new regime of cutting out almost all carbs from his diet at the start of this year, pizza was to be had no more.

Until now.

The discovery of a low-carb flour when doing his research for foods to prepare for Meat Free Week elated Tony to quite a height. "This means I can make pizza!" he came into lounge room squealing like a little kid.

Soy flour contains almost one third of the amount of carbohydrates that wheat flour contains. In addition to this it has almost three times the amount of protein and is gluten free, so you can imagine Tony's delight that this is a flour that would fit right into his low-carb diet.

After reading about many failed soy flour pizza-base attempts on the internet I got a bit worried about how well this flour might fulfill Tony's dream of eating pizza again. It seemed that most people were disappointed with the cardboardy texture and strong soy flavour of the results. Contributing to their disappointment was possibly the expectation that their pizza base would come out bready and fluffy.

But after presenting my strong-willed and enthusiastically experimental better half with the evidence, he immediately pieced together in his head a recipe that he was confident would work for the dough. He has, after all, spent the last ten years trying all sorts of combinations of ingredients to produce the kind of pizza base that he loves – crispy and thin, like a big cracker – and this soy flour just might do the trick.

A bit of sharp cheese, some eggs, some olive oil, a sprinkling of oregano and a handful of ground sunflower seeds, almonds and pepitas would form the accompaniment the soy flour needed to produce the dough Tony was after.

Tony's dough rolling technique

Tony has a very special technique for rolling the dough out to be super thin and to transfer it to the baking tray. He first lays out a sheet of aluminium foil on the bench top, sprays it with oil, then with his hands, roughly flattens the ball of dough onto the foil. Using a marble rolling pin, he then rolls out the dough to the desired thinness, then covers the dough with a sheet of cling film. He then places a solid chopping board over the top of the cling film and flips the entire pizza base upside down onto the chopping board, foil facing upwards. He then places a baking tray over the foil, flips the whole thing again and peels off the cling wrap, leaving the foil side down on the baking tray.

The pizza base is then blind baked and when done, the toppings are added and the pizza goes back in the oven. The foil is removed before cutting and serving.

Our Greek inspired toppings included olives, feta, grilled red peppers and zucchinis, marinated artichokes, tofu, spinach and a lovely dill tzatziki. We were both really impressed with the way this turned out. Perhaps it was just the winning combination of toppings (you really can't go wrong with these types of Greek flavours) and our preference for a crispy pizza base that made this so appealing to us, but it was great to find another meal that we could enjoy together!

Soy Flour Vegetarian Pizza with Greek inspired toppings

Serves 2


For the pizza base
  • 1 cup organic soy flour
  • 1/4 cup mixed sunflower seeds, slivered almonds and pepitas, ground in a mortar and pestle
  • 1/4 cup grated sharp cheese
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Ground pepper to taste
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
For the toppings
  • 1 red capsicum/pepper, sliced length ways into 3cm wide strips
  • 1 large zucchini, sliced length ways into 1cm thick strips
  • 200g tofu, sliced into 1cm thick strips
  • 5 marinated artichokes, roughly sliced
  • 100g feta cheese
  • 50g mixed, pitted olives
  • Handful of baby spinach leaves
For the dill tzatziki
  • 100g thick Greek yoghurt
  • 2 tablespoons grated cucumber, with liquid squeezed out
  • 1 small clove of garlic, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons fresh dill, finely chopped


  1. Preheat oven to 190 degrees celsius. Grill the capsicum strips, skin side up, for 5 to 10 minutes, until starting to blacken. Remove from grill and place in plastic bag for 10 minutes to sweat. When cool enough to touch, take capsicum strips out of plastic bag and remove peel. Set aside.
  2. Grill or fry zucchini on both sides until golden. Set aside.
  3. Grill or fry tofu on both sides until lightly browned. Set aside.
  4. To make the dough, combine dry ingredients first, then add beaten eggs and olive oil. Using hands, mix to form a ball of dough and use Tony's dough rolling technique above to prepare the pizza base for blind baking.
  5. Blind bake the pizza base for ten minutes, or until lightly golden, then remove from oven.
  6. While pizza base is blind baking, prepare tzatziki. Mix yoghurt, cucumber, garlic and dill together in a small bowl and set aside.
  7. Arrange toppings on pizza base in any order you like. We started with the ugliest ingredients first, finishing with the prettiest (i.e. tofu, artichoke, zucchini, capsicum, feta and olives).
  8. Place pizza back in the oven for around 10 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and top with fresh spinach leaves and dollops of tzatziki.

The base will be hard and crunchy like a cracker, but the tzatziki works really well with the crunch, providing a lovely cool and creamy contrast.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Low-carb Vegetarian Moussaka
topped with Creamy Paprika Ricotta
Meat Free Week – Day One

Ohhh we are so excited today!! It's the first day of Meat Free Week!

And quite appropriately, today also marks the start of the Lent period before Greek Easter. Delightfully named "Clean Monday", it is the first day of the Greek Orthodox meat-free fasting period which lasts for 5 weeks, and ends at midnight before Greek Easter Sunday when an almighty feast to break the fast is laid out on the tables of Greek family homes all over the world.

Here in Australia my meat-eating, non-Greek partner Tony has decided to take on the Meat Free Week challenge. For one week he will go without meat with thousands of other Australians as part of a campaign to raise money for animal welfare organisation, Voiceless.

I'm already a vegetarian but to join in I am also changing my diet. I am eliminating carbohydrates for the week. WHY I hear you ask. Well it's not just an arbitrary decision. Tony is a Type 1 diabetic and he is already on a low-carb diet which he can't really change. He is, however, able to replace animal proteins with tofu for Meat Free Week. Obviously I already eat lots of tofu, but in order to be able to cook meals together for this challenge, I am taking on the low-carb element of Tony's existing diet.

Tony claims the level of difficulty to get through the week on tofu is close to a 9 out of 10, so I am providing as much encouragement as I can by giving up my carbs for the week, therefore subjecting myself to just as high a level of difficulty!

We both think we're doing it harder than the other, but really it just sounds bad if you put it all together. In other words, Tony was already on a carb-free diet, and I was already on a meat-free diet so to find a level ground, each of us only had to eliminate one more thing from our diets. We're really not doing anything overly radical ... (we keep telling ourselves).

But the big bonus that comes out of this is that we get to cook and eat the same meals! As you can imagine, our differences in eating preferences means that we rarely cook or eat together so this is a great way for us to share more quality time in the kitchen, doing something we both love. And that is to cook!

And Tony finally gets to use the Vegetarian Utensils!

But all that aside, the main focus of Meat Free Week is to raise awareness of the amount of meat Australians eat and where it comes from. Click here to read more about the Meat Free Week campaign.

Our first meal together took a bit of preparation but it was well worth the effort. We found this amazing low-carb moussaka recipe (the only source of carbohydrates being from vegetables) in one of Tony's diabetic reference books, "Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution" by Richard K Bernstein, MD.

The recipe calls for meat but obviously we have replaced this with tofu and have made a few other minor adjustments to suit our tastes. The big eye opener to us was the humble vegetable that's used to replace high-carb potato – The Turnip.

Now, this may sound surprising to some but neither Tony nor I have ever eaten turnip. Don't slap me but I didn't even know what a turnip looked like until I bought one yesterday for this recipe.

Well, what a surprise package this vegetable turned out to be! When cooked it tastes just like a potato! But with a quarter of the carbohydrates! This has opened up a a whole new world of possibilities for us: turnip rosti, turnip and cheese croquettes, turnip fries, mashed turnip! And not just for Meat Free Week. For Tony especially (who, unlike myself, won't be returning to a carby diet after this week), he's very excited to have discovered such a nifty little potato replacement.

Tonight's moussaka was an absolute winner for both Tony and I. He hardly noticed the tofu, and I hardly noticed the lack of bechamel sauce. The ricotta topping was actually quite amazing. The addition of paprika gave it a warm, earthy flavour, and it browned up just beautifully!

We served it up with a simple green salad of mixed leaves, cucumber, olives, walnuts and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and honestly, it was just lovely to sit together at the dining table and enjoy the same meal :)

Low-carb Vegetarian Moussaka topped with Creamy Paprika Ricotta

Adapted from Dr Bernstein's recipe, "Moussaka a la Bernstein" from the book Dr. Bernstein's Diabetes Solution

Serves 4


  • Oil for frying
  • 1 large eggplant, sliced into 1 cm rounds
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 red capsicum, finely diced
  • 400g tofu, sliced into 1 cm strips
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 turnip, sliced into 1/2 cm rounds
  • 1 cup ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/3 cup grated sharp cheese


  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Fry eggplant rounds in oil, until browned on both sides, adding more oil as the eggplant absorbs the oil. Set aside
  2. Meanwhile, in a separate pan add a couple of tablespoons of oil and the cumin and allow to fry for a minute or so until fragrant. Add tofu strips and fry for a few minutes each side. Set aside.
  3. In the same pan, add some more oil, the capsicum, garlic and oregano and fry for a couple of minutes. Set aside.
  4. And once again, in the same pan, add some more oil and fry the turnip slices for 5 minutes each side, until lightly browned.
  5. In a large bowl add ricotta, cream, paprika, salt and pepper to taste and whisk until well combined. Add eggs and whisk a little more.
  6. Grease a baking dish around 20cm x 30cm and layer the eggplant, tofu, turnip and capsicum mixture. Pour the ricotta mixture over the vegetables and top with grated cheese.
  7. Bake moussaka for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown.

It will keep well in the fridge for 3 or 4 days – we are having this for lunch tomorrow – but the best thing is that it can be frozen and easily thawed and reheated in the oven, covered with foil at 180 degrees celsius for the first 15 minutes, then foil removed for the last five minutes.

Oh, I'm also linking this post with Veggie Mama's Meatless Mondays – go take a look for some more fabulous ideas for Meat Free Week!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Neil Young Concert and
Preparing for Meat Free Week

I'm aching all over from being drenched to the bone and dancing with frozen limbs for 8 hours straight, but we had an incredible time at the Neil Young concert yesterday.

My wet frittata might tell you another story however. It rained almost the whole time, except for this brief sunny moment when I took the shot of the soggy Greek frittata and our pathetic and very unmotivated display of picnic food.

Husky opened the show with a terrific set of beautiful tunes just as the sun peeked through a gap in the clouds, but before long the rain settled in again and it was all raindrop-pelting engines are go for the rest of the evening. Shane Howard followed with a great performance as the clouds thickened and the rain steadily fell on our heads.

The enthusiastic crowd of around 5,000 were determined to endure the onslaught of cold, windy rain in order to see our hero, Neil Young. It was wonderful to be a part of such collective stamina! Our plastic ponchos did nothing to keep us dry – the wind blowing rain in all directions, including underneath us. It became quite surreal and all we could do was laugh, dance and just enjoy the show!

Neil was such a good sport to share such horrendous weather with us. Quite appropriately, the unmistakable guitar riff of Hurricane began just as one of the biggest storms of the night moved in. The rain absolutely bucketing down, the wind carrying huge sheets of water straight onto the stage, all over the equipment and totally drenching Neil and his band. But they kept on playing – Neil wiping his guitar between strums with his trademark flannelette shirt. What a legend.

What a trooper.

Look at that rain! The large circles in the picture are water drops on the camera lens. Good thing I only had the little point and shoot with me!

We are now back home, warm and dry with the heater on (can you believe it? After two months of continuously hot weather, suddenly it's winter!) and we've just finalised our menu plan for Meat Free/Carb Free Week.

If you've been following the Greek Vegetarian blog you'll know that starting tomorrow my partner Tony will be taking the Meat Free Week challenge. To provide some encouragement (and to also give myself a dietary challenge), I will be joining him by going carb free for the week. You can read more about our Meat-free/Carb-free challenge here.

Over the last couple of weeks we have been scouring all our recipe resources to come up with a menu plan for the week that complies to the following criteria:

  1. The meals need to be vegetarian.
  2. They must be almost carbohydrate-free, which means no wheat or other grains, no sugar, no rice, no pasta, no legumes, no FRUIT, no CHOCOLATE (this is going to be HARD), no desserts of any kind, no beans and definitely no bread. Can you imagine the will power I'm going to have to muster up here? The only carbohydrates that can be consumed must come from vegetables, however potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, corn, peas and pumpkin, among other sweet and starchy vegetables, are all out.
  3. There must be a significant vegetarian protein component.
  4. The meals need to be Greek inspired.

This is going to be very challenging for both of us but if we can get through the week (and if enough people get on board with the Meat Free Week challenge) several things may happen, including:

  1. The lives of two animals will be saved for every person that goes without meat for the week.
  2. The message will be made clear that Australians care about animal welfare and want to stop factory farming for the sake of the animals, the environment, and human health.
  3. Tony and I might find a middle ground where we can actually cook some meals together, despite our dietary differences.

We would love to inspire others taking the Meat Free Week challenge with some of our recipes so I will be documenting each meal, every day here on the blog.

Here's what we plan to eat for the week:

Monday: Vegetarian Tofu Moussaka topped with Baked Ricotta
Tuesday: Soy Flour Pizza with Greek-inspired toppings
Wednesday: Stuffed Capsicums with Ricotta, Feta and Walnuts
Thursday: Tofu Greek Salad with Capsicum, Rocket and Dill
Friday: Briam with Feta and Cinnamon-Baked Tofu
Saturday: Greek Roast Vegetable and Mixed Olive Frittata
Sunday: Tofu Souvlaki with Green Bean and Avocado Salad

All the best to everyone else taking the Meat Free Challenge and I'll be back tomorrow with Day One of our Meatless Carbless Cookfest!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Greek Roast Vegetable Frittata with
Spinach and Feta and a Neil Young concert!

There are some major events going on this weekend in Melbourne. Four suburbs away from where we live, Formula 1 racing cars are tearing around our beautiful Albert Park Lake for the Grand Prix. The screaming din of these high-octane machines can be heard as far away as Sandringham which is almost 15 kilometres from the Grand Prix site. I have music playing here at home – a bit of Neil Young, Fleet Foxes, Grizzly Bear and some very loud Led Zeppelin thrown in for good measure – and I can still hear the constant gear changes of these noise polluting gas guzzlers.

Thankfully, we are leaving town in about an hour to make our way 70 kilometres southwest of Melbourne to lovely Geelong where Neil Young (yes, the actual Neil Young) will be performing at an outdoor concert. The event is known as "A Day on the Green" and several are held during the year with big-name artists on the bill, in the form of a half-day festival that is usually set up at a winery property. Victoria is home to many picturesque wineries and they provide the perfect backdrop for outdoor concerts.

Today we are going to see Neil Young and Crazy Horse at The Hill Winery, with support bands Husky (fantastic young, Australian, folk-inspired pop/rock band), and Shane Howard, former lead singer of Goanna (remember Solid Rock?).

The weather isn't looking too promising (after weeks and weeks of dry sunny days, the forecast for today is cold with showers – can you believe it?) but we'll make sure we're well prepared for whatever the weather may bring. Donned in my very fetching red plastic poncho and rainbow-coloured gum boots, I'm sure I will be wowing everybody with my high sense of fashion. We've got the picnic rug, fold-up chairs and a big hamper of food ready to go, including a batch of Greek Frittata that I prepared last night, the recipe for which I will get to in a moment.

But first, another very important event happening in Melbourne this weekend is the Lonsdale Street Antipodes Festival. Unfortunately we are going to miss out this year but if you're in Melbourne and interested in Greek culture, music and food, I highly recommend spending Sunday afternoon at the festival for a dose of good Greek fun and frivolity, or if you're a fan of the gorgeous Mihalis Hatzigiannis, he'll be headlining a free concert on the main stage in Lonsdale Street on Saturday night.

In the spirit of bringing some Greek flavours to the Neil Young mini-festival this weekend, I have prepared a picnic-friendly Greek Frittata and a simple Greek salad to take with us.

The frittata is made with classic Greek ingredients including spinach, feta, tomatoes, onions, red capsicum and oregano. It can be served warm or cold, the latter being the way we will be enjoying it at the concert today.

Greek Roast Vegetable Frittata with Spinach and Feta

Serves 6–8


  • 1 large red onion, finely sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 150g baby spinach leaves
  • 1 red capsicum
  • 150g feta cheese, sliced to 5mm thick
  • 5 whole eggs
  • 5 egg whites
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 250g cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
  • Ground pepper to taste


  1. Place whole capsicum, coated in oil in a small oven tray and roast at 200 degrees celsius for 30 minutes or until starting to blacken. Remove capsicum from oven and place in plastic bag to sweat. When cool enough to handle, remove from plastic bag, cut in half and remove the skin and seeds. Slice lengthways to make approximately 8 slices and set aside.
  2. While capsicum is in the oven, cook onions over low heat for around 30 minutes until softened and caramelised. Add the garlic to the onion mixture in the last minute of cooking time.
  3. During the onion and capsicum cooking time, lightly beat whole eggs and eggs whites in a medium sized bowl. Add salt and oregano and set aside.
  4. In the last few minutes of onion cooking time, steam the spinach.
  5. Roughly arrange the onion and spinach in clumps around the base of a straight-sided baking dish that measures approximately 20cm x 30cm.
  6. Layer slices of capsicum over the onion and spinach, followed by the feta slices.
  7. Pour egg mixture over vegetables and cheese and arrange cherry tomato halves over the egg mixture, cut sides up.
  8. Grind cracked pepper over the tomatoes and bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until lightly browned on top. The frittata is cooked if a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Yemista Piperi (Banana Peppers
Stuffed with Ricotta and Mint)

Earlier this week I posted a recipe for Vegetarian Stuffed Tomatoes topped with Bechamel Sauce and mentioned the many and varied versions of this Greek dish known as "Yemista". Tony and I are planning on creating a cheese-filled yemista of sorts for one of our Meat-free/Carb-free week meals next week so I thought I should do a quick test run with some home-made ricotta to make sure it held up to the task.

The ricotta performed very well indeed, perhaps a little too well... to the point of causing a scientific phenomenon known as Exploding Pepper Collapse. I think my choice of vegetable to stuff had a lot to do with the unfortunate result here. I've stuffed long, thin peppers before, but not with self-combusting cheese.

Obviously the use of a self-standing vegetable like a plump tomato or a sturdy capsicum would avoid the gravitational tendency of ricotta cheese that, given the opportunity, will simply remove itself from its surrounds. And that's exactly why I conducted this experiment. I now know not to use sideways-lying banana peppers for our recipe next week!

Before explosion – beautiful, neatly stuffed peppers

After explosion – not one bit of stuffing left inside the peppers

They might have been a bit of a visual fail but they still tasted amazing. It's a really, really simple filling but oh so flavoursome. Mint and ricotta are just magic together.

Yemista Piperi (Banana Peppers Stuffed with Ricotta and Mint)

Serves 4


  • 4 small red or green self-standing capsicums (or banana peppers if you'd like to recreate the Exploding Pepper Collapse phenomenon)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 400g fresh ricotta
  • 3 tablespoons mint, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Fry the onions in 3 tablespoons of oil until golden.
  2. Meanwhile, cut the tops off capsicums and set aside. Using a paring knife, carefully remove seeds and membranes from the capsicums (or banana peppers).
  3. Place cooked onions, ricotta, mint, salt and pepper in a large bowl and mix well.
  4. Pour the remaining olive oil into a high-sided baking dish and roll capsicum (or banana pepper) shells in oil to coat.
  5. Stand capsicum shells upright and stuff with cheese mixture, (or lay banana peppers flat) then cover with capsicum tops.
  6. Bake in oven for 1 hour, or until capsicums are starting to brown.
  7. Serve with a simple tomato and cucumber salad mixed with fresh shredded mint and extra virgin olive oil.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Yemista (Vegetarian Stuffed Tomatoes
topped with Bechamel Sauce)

Only one week to go for Meat Free Week! Are you taking the challenge? My non-vegetarian partner Tony is, and I will be joining him with a bit of a twist added to the challenge.

Since I'm already vegetarian, we figured a way that I could get more involved would be to also change my eating habits for the week. Tony is on an eating plan designed for diabetics (he's Type 1 diabetic) which means no bread, no rice, no pasta, no fruit, no sugar, pretty much no carbohydrates except what's found in vegetables (in addition to proteins and some fats).

In order for us to partake in Meat Free Week together, and to be able to cook together, I am taking on the challenge to go without carbs for the week. I love my carbs so this is going to be HARD for me. For Tony it means he'll just be replacing meat and fish with non-animal proteins which really won't be that hard at all.

So as you can imagine, our usual eating preferences mean we rarely get a chance to cook meals together. We are hoping that Meat Free Week will give us the opportunity to come up with some great food that we both enjoy.

And one more thing to tie this all together. All our evening meals will be Greek-inspired and I'll be blogging about them here! Imagine that. Greek, vegetarian, low-carb meals (is that actually possible?). We're gonna make this happen people!

I know I keep going on about this but it's for such a good cause and I would be thrilled to know that at least one other person reading this is also going on the challenge. It's not too late to sign up and funds raised from people sponsoring you go to animal protection organisation, Voiceless.

You can sponsor Tony for the Meat Free Week challenge by clicking here.

And now for today's classic Greek recipe for stuffed tomatoes. Yemista is the Greek word for "stuffed" and it is used to describe any of the stuffed vegetable dishes that you will find in many Greek recipe books and menus.

Sometimes they contain minced meat, but usually it's a simple rice and herb filling. Sometimes peppers or capsicums are used, sometimes zucchinis or eggplants. Sometimes pine nuts and currents are mixed in the filling. Sometimes topped with bechamel sauce, sometimes a herbed breadcrumb crust, sometimes just the lid of the vegetable. The variations are endless.

Today I am using tomatoes stuffed with brown rice, onions, almonds, parsley and garlic, finished with a thick layer of bechamel sauce on top and let me tell you, this little number served up as a tasty lunch treat really hits the spot.

Yemista (Vegetarian Stuffed Tomatoes topped with Bechamel Sauce)

Serves 4


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • 4 large tomatoes
  • 2 cups of cooked brown rice
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon of slivered almonds
For the bechamel sauce
  • 400ml milk
  • 30g butter
  • 30g plain flour


  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius. Fry the onions in oil on low heat until golden, takes around 30 minutes. In the final minute of cooking, add crushed garlic and stir while cooking. Remove onion mixture from heat and set aside.
  2. While the onions are cooking, carefully slice the tops off the tomatoes, removing a layer around 1cm thick.
  3. Remove the pulp from inside the tomatoes using a spoon, a paring knife or whatever implements work best for you, being careful not to pierce the skin. Reserve around 6 tablespoons of the tomato pulp.
  4. Dry fry the slivered almonds in a frying pan, tossing the almonds frequently, until they start to make a cracking noise and become golden and fragrant. Don't allow them to burn. Remove from heat and set aside.
  5. Prepare the bechamel sauce (see below). Cover and set aside.
  6. In a medium-sized bowl, combine the cooked rice, onion mixture, reserved tomato pulp, parsley and almonds and season with salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Fill the tomato shells with the rice stuffing, being careful not to pack too tightly as the rice will expand a little more. Leave room on top for the bechamel sauce (see Picture 1).
  8. Carefully spoon bechamel sauce on top of stuffed tomatoes and place in a high-sided baking dish (see Picture 2). Carefully pour cold water in the tray so that the tomatoes are sitting in around 2cm of liquid.
  9. Bake for 45 minutes, or until bechamel is just turning golden brown.

Bechamel sauce

  1. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  2. Add the flour and mix well, stirring quickly.
  3. Cook while stirring for around 1 minute until the mixture is beginning to froth a little, then remove from heat.
  4. Add around a quarter of a cup of milk, stirring quickly to incorporate. The mixture will thicken and lumpify a little but trust me, it will smooth out. Immediately add a little more milk, stirring quickly and constantly, ensuring the mixture is combined properly before adding more milk. Keep adding milk and stirring until all the milk is incorporated.
  5. Put the saucepan back on medium heat, stirring constantly until it thickens. Takes around 10 minutes. Remove from heat.
  6. Cover until ready to use.

Picture 1: Leave enough room for the bechamel sauce to go on top.

Picture 2: Topped with bechamel sauce. (Don't you love this gorgeous little oven dish?)

I'm linking this post with Veggie Mama's Meatless Mondays. Go take a look for some more fantastic vegetarian recipe ideas.