Sometimes I hear a mermaid singing …

In Recipes on August 15, 2011 at 5:30 am

I was a mere kid when I first read Charmian Clift’s Mermaid Singing.  I blame that book for many hours wasted daydreaming about life on a Greek island – eating, writing and dancing to the haunting strains of bouzouki music.  Later, when I read Peel Me a Lotus, a loosely autobiographical novel about the time that Clift and husband George Johnston – famous author of My Brother Jack – spent on the Greek island of Hydra, my fantasies continued.  It wasn’t until I read some of the biographical writings about Charmian Clift’s life (and had small children of my own) that I realised  the time Clift and Johnston spent in Greece was not always idyllic.  Johnston was apparently quite a considerate man for the time but  most of the housework and childcare  would still have fallen to Clift.  The combination of being in a foreign country, primitive facilities, the care of small children and her frustration at not having enough time for her own writing, meant that Clift was often far from happy with her life in Greece.  Besides, by the time I was reading Clift’s books the Greek islands that she and Johnston enjoyed in the Fifties had all but disappeared under a swarm of  British tourists.  Luckily for me, there was still Greek food to enjoy.

Melbourne is home to the largest Greek population outside Greece itself so it is not hard to find your nearest Greek enclave – mine was in Oakleigh.  There was a distinct smell of souvlakia in the air as I turned into  the mall off Atherton Road so I knew I was on the right track.  After poking around in a couple of small Greek delis I found just what I wanted at the Oakleigh Gourmet Deli  in the Centro shopping centre.  Here I got some kefalograviera cheese to fry for saganaki, some gigantes or giant beans and some pastourma – a type of spiced, cured beef.  With these ingredients the obvious choice for lunch was mezedes.  These are a series of small meze plates served in the same manner as Spanish tapas and enjoyed with the Greek drink of choice – retsina or ouzo. I also made a couple of dips and picked up some pita bread.


A delicious spread



700g potatoes (peeled and chopped into small cubes)

2 cloves garlic (minced)

2/3 cup olive oil

2 tbs white wine vinegar or lemon juice

1 egg yolk

1 tsp lemon juice

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Place the potatoes in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring to the boil.  Simmer for 10 mins or until tender.  Drain and place in a bowl with the garlic.  Beat with an electric mixer or stab blender until smooth.  Whisk the oil, vinegar, lemon juice, egg yolk and 1/4 tsp sea salt  together in another bowl.  With the mixer on, gradually add the oil mixture to the potato (a bit like making a mayonnaise).  Store the finished dip in the fridge covered with cling wrap – it benefits from sitting.  When ready to serve taste for seasoning and garnish with extra virgin olive oil.



1 1/2 cups Greek yoghurt

2 small continental cucumbers

1 tbs chopped fresh mint

1 tbs chopped fresh dill

1 tbs lemon juice

1-2 cloves garlic (minced)

1 tsp honey

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Grate cucumbers and squeeze over a sieve to remove as much moisture as possible.  Place yoghurt, cucumber and all other ingredients in a bowl.  Mix well.  Cover and place in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.  Serve with pita bread.

Skordalia and Tzatziki

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