Leaves of the vine and a glass of wine …

In Recipes on December 29, 2017 at 12:26 am

When I visit my parents place on the Bellarine Peninsula we often eat lunch outside, overlooking their mature grape vines. The time of the year when the vines are most attractive is around October, November and December, when they are in leaf. The leaves with their unusual shape and the light filtering through the mass of pale green are a beautiful sight. Whenever I see them I think of making dolmades but I have never gotten around to it.

Dolmades or dolmathes have been readily available in Melbourne for a long time. This is probably due to our large Greek polpulation (see Sometimes I hear a mermaid singing and More from the Greek diaspora in August 2011), the largest outside Greece apparently. The dolmades that you can buy ready-made vary in quality from the rather bad soggy ones you can get from the supermarket deli to quite delicious ones that can be bought from Greek restaurants. The Greeks claim to have invented the stuffed vine leaf though they are common in countries across the Middle East including Lebanon and Turkey.

The Greek story claims that these tasty rolled snacks, usually served with a Greek meze rather than as part of a main meal, were spread across the region, albeit inadvertently, by Alexander the Great. They claim that when Alexander besieged Thebes, food was so scarce that the locals ‘minced’ their meat and stuffed it into vine leaves to make it go further*. I like this story, it tells of another great dish born of necessity and of cooks trying to use what was easily available to them. I would argue that many of the world’s great dishes began in this way. The poor starving locals may then have discovered that the leaves impart their own unique flavour to the filling and that this was a dish worth serving even in more abundant times. With my profoundest apologies to any Greek readers out there, the dolmades or dolmasi I have made here are from a Turkish recipe in Ghillie Basan’s Classic Turkish Cooking. These ones do not contain meat but you could add 250 g of lamb mince when frying the onions and omit or halve the amount of pine nuts and currants if you wanted to include meat.

Vine leaves stuffed with currants and pine nuts

Dolna served


24-30 fresh or preserved vine leaves, washed and prepared

For the filling

225 g short grain rice

2 onions (finely chopped)

2 cloves garlic (finely chopped)

2 tbs olive oil

1 scant tbs sugar

2 tbs currants, soaked in water

2 tbs pine nuts

1/2 tsp all spice

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground cloves

salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 tbs each fresh parsley, mint and dill (finely chopped)

For the cooking liquid

150 ml water

2 tbs olive oil

2 tbs lemon juice

Dolma filling


# Soak the rice in warm salted water for 10 mins, drain and rinse

# Prepare the filling. Soften the onions and garlic in the olive oil. Stir in the sugar, currants and pine nuts. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Stir in the spices, rice, salt and pepper. Cover with just enough water and bring it to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for 10-15 minutes, until the liquid is almost absorbed. Mix in the herbs with a fork, cover the pan and leave for five minutes. The rice should still have a bite to it.

Dolma construction

# Place a few vine leaves in the bottom of a wide pan. Lay the rest of the vine leaves on a flat surface and place spoonfuls of the rice mixture in the middle of each. Fold the near end of each vine leaf over the mixture, then the side flaps o seal it in, and roll it all up into a thin cigar. Arrange the stuffed vine leaves in the pan, seam side down and tightly packed, and pour over the cooking liquid. Place a plate on top to prevent them from unravelling, and cover with a lid. Bring the liquid to the boil, reduce the heat and cook gently for one hour. Leave to cool in the pan and serve cold with wedges of lemon.

Dolma in the pot

* From ‘Stuffed Grape Leaves, Greek Style’ by Fred Perretti, New York Times, 18/12/2017

** For more on dolma see Middle Eastern Food: You say dolma and I say dolmeh in April 2017


A popular classic reinvented: Mac and Cheese

In Recipes on October 22, 2017 at 4:11 am

The origins of macaroni cheese are not known but the Italians have been making casseroles that include pasta and cheese since the fourteenth century. The modern interpretation of macaroni cheese appears in the famous British cookbook of the Victorian era, Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management and the earliest recipes in Britain date back to the eighteenth century.

Of course, the Americans would beg to differ, claiming that macaroni cheese is an American invention in much the same way that Australia claims the invention of the pavlova over New Zealand. Apparently Thomas Jefferson was the first to serve a macaroni and cheese like dish at his home in the early nineteenth century. The dish quickly became popular and, by the mid nineteenth century it had become an American standard *. Certainly the bright orange version, made with the violently coloured ‘American’ cheese is the one that can be found on many American fast food menus today. It is not something I would voluntarily eat. The other version that we have known for many years here in Australia is the packet meal that is sold on supermarket shelves, this version is also pretty much inedible.

In recent times, with the popularity of so-called ‘dude’ food, macaroni cheese, made with various mixtures of cheeses from Comte to Gruyere (the types of cheese you can use are only limited by your imagination), has made a reappearance. It can be found not only on hipster American menus but it is also quite commonly found on the menus of trendy fried chicken and gourmet burger joints here in Australia.

Certainly nobody is saying that macaroni cheese is good for you, it is far too cheesy and delicious for that accolade. As an occasional food, however, on a cold night or when you want to make something that kids will eat, macaroni cheese is an excellent choice. If you wanted to make it a bit healthier you could serve it with a salad on the side but, for many people, this would mean spoiling the fun. The macaroni cheese I have made here uses a rather unusual combination of cheeses including Greek kefalograviera, a cheese I also use to make the Greek fried cheese dish saganaki (see Sometimes I hear a mermaid singing in August 2011), Italian parmesan and mozzarella and regular tasty cheddar. I also included fresh thyme and some crumbled crispy pastourma though, on reflection, this was probably a bit of overkill so I will leave it as an optional addition.

‘Greek’ Macaroni Cheese

Mac 'n cheese


400 g elbow macaroni

400 ml milk

3 tbs butter

3 tbs plain flour

1 egg

1 cup finely grated kefalograviera cheese

1 cup grated mozzarella cheese

1 cup grated tasty cheese

1 tbs finely grated parmesan cheese

4 sprigs fresh thyme

a few thin slices of Greek pastourma (crisped in the oven and crumbled into small pieces)

freshly ground black pepper

sea salt

freshly grated nutmeg

panko breadcrumbs

2 extra tbs finely grated kefalograviera


Cook the elbow macaroni according to the packet directions, drain and set aside. Melt the butter in a small saucepan until just bubbling. Add the flour and stir through, reduce the heat and cook gently for one minute stirring constantly. Continue stirring as you add the milk gradually, making sure there are no lumps. Season with some freshly grated nutmeg, black pepper and a pinch of sea salt and cook gently, stirring, until the sauce is the consistency of thick pouring cream. In a large bowl, combine the hot pasta, the sauce, the cheeses, the leaves from two of the thyme sprigs and the crumbled pastourma (if using). Add the egg and mix through quickly. Tumble the mixture into a baking dish that has been brushed with olive oil. Mix the panko breadcrumbs with the extra kefalograviera cheese and the remaining thyme leaves. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and sprinkle evenly over the top of the macaroni and cheese. Bake in an oven preheated to 175 degrees C for 20-30 minutes or until the top is bubbling and golden brown. Serve with a salad if desired.

* Source: Wikipedia

Macaroni Cheese


Low and slow: stew your food to lock in the juices continued…

In Recipes on August 25, 2017 at 4:27 am

With such a cold winter this year I have been exploring the world of stewing and slow cooking in depth. Stews are the perfect winter fare as I find the pot burbling away on the stove gives and illusion of warmth and comfort that, combined with a good heater, makes me feel as if winter were merely a bad dream.

‘Stifado’ or ‘stifatho’ appears to mean a stew with onions in Greek. The traditional version is made with rabbit or beef but I have seen recipes for octopus and other meats. In my case I made it with cubed lamb shoulder but you could substitute beef or any other meat you have available.

Lamb Stifado

Lamb Stifatho


1kg diced lamb shoulder

1/4 cup olive oil

150g baby onions

3 garlic cloves (finely chopped)

125 ml red wine

1 cinnamon stick

4 whole cloves

1 bay leaf

1-2 tbs red wine vinegar (to taste)

2 tbs tomato puree

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Chopped flat leaf parsley to finish


Cut the meat into bite sized cubes. Heat the oil in a large, heavy based casserole dish. Add the onions and cook for 5 minutes or until golden. Remove from the pan and drain on paper towels. Add the meat and stir over high heat until the meat is well browned. Add the garlic, wine, spices, bay leaf, vinegar, tomato paste and lightly season. Add 1 1/2 cups of water and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Return the onions to the pan and cook for a further 1/2 hour or until the meat is very tender. Discard the cinnamon and stir through the flat leaved parsley. You may also want to finish with a squeeze of lemon. Serve with rice or mashed potato.

Hint: For a richer flavour use 1 cup of beef stock and 1 cup of red wine instead of the wine and water listed in the recipe.


Lamb stifado