Sometimes a missing ingredient can lead to a tasty surprise. This is one such example, where I planned to make tabouleh for a bbq I was attending, but found that, strangely enough, Vietnamese greengrocers don’t always stock parsley. As the mint and spring onions smelled amazing and I’d already ducked into Woolies and found cracked wheat , the closest I could get to burghul (which is finely cracked wheat), I decided to forge ahead- almost-tabouleh it would have to be. Luckily there was plenty of dill around, so I improvised.
The recipe turned out well, very fresh-tasting and with a nice zing. The lemons I had were ancient (explains the $1/kilo price tag) so I had to add a teaspoon or so of castor sugar, but if your lemons are reasonably fresh you should be ok. This recipe makes a massive salad, a great addition to any summer feast.
1 cup cracked wheat or burghul
1-2 cups boiling water
1 clove garlic
6 spring onions
1 small bunch mint
1 bunch dill
3 large, ripe tomatoes
2 lebanese cucumbers
2 large juicy lemons
1-2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 -2 teaspoons baharat spice mix (if you have it)
Freshly cracked pepper and salt, to taste
If you’re using cracked wheat, boil in 2 cups of water for 10-15 minutes and leave to cool. If you’re using burghul, soak in 1 cup boiling water, covered for 10 minutes. You may need to drain it a bit, I had to rinse the cracked wheat in cold water as it went quite starchy.
They key to this salad is fresh herbs, finely chopped. Very finely chop the garlic and mix through the burghul/wheat. Finely chop the spring onions. Pick the mint leaves, discarding the stalks and very finely slicing the leaves. Finely chop the dill until you reach the point where there’s more stalk than leaf. Stir the herbs through the wheat.
Roughly chop the tomatoes, then quarter and slice the cucumbers. Douse in lemon juice and a slosh of oil, adding everything else to taste. Stir well and refrigerate. Best made a few hours ahead, can make the day before.
Have you ever had a missing ingredient lead to an unexpected dish?
In Argentina I met an English girl who said that Australia was the first place she ever tried Greek Yogurt. What’s more, she hadn’t had it since. She said she couldn’t wait to get back here to eat Greek yogurt every day! Frankly, I don’t blame her. It’s rich, creamy and tart with the thick lusciousness of sour cream- there’s nothing like it.
The availability of Greek food in Australia is not at all surprising when you consider the number of immigrants and their descendants living in here – Melbourne, for example, is the city with the second largest Greek population in the world. There is a large Greek population in Sydney as well, and a myriad of restaurants and ingredients available very easily if you’re interested in cooking Greek food. This is one of the major benefits of living in this country- diversity of food. You’re hard pressed to find a town where you can’t find a veggie burger or a machiatto or, in my friend’s case, Greek yogurt. This is something that we now take for granted and in many cases, never give a second thought.
It is also one of the major ways people understand multiculturalism. Food is a valuable way for different communities to promote their cultures, as everybody eats and it is considered a starting point for greater familiarity with a culture to experience their food. Of course, it is also only the tip of the iceburg- 20 kinds of cuisine in one place does not a multicultural society make. That’s what we call a food court. I love this recipe for it’s simplicity and the burst of flavour provided by the dill. It is best eaten fresh from the oven, crispy and golden but also makes a brilliant cold lunch if you have any leftovers.
Never fail Spanikopita by Dimitra Alfred, via the SBS Food Safari website
2 bunches English spinach (300g or so)
4 sprigs fresh dill, chopped
4 spring onions, chopped
300g feta cheese
100g ricotta cheese
50g (½ cup) finely grated hard cheese like kefalograviera (I used Pecorino)
2 tbsp dry breadcrumbs (I used matzo meal as I had no bread crumbs on hand)
¼ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
60ml olive oil (4 Tablespoons)
375g packet fresh fillo pastry
Around ¾ cup melted butter
Sesame or nigella seeds, for sprinkling over the top.
Chop the spinach, dill and spring onions very finely. Rinse in a large colander and leave to drain.
Place the feta in a large bowl and mash coarsely (I use a fork). Add the ricotta, hard cheese, eggs, breadcrumbs, nutmeg, pepper and oil. Mix with the fork to combine. Add the spinach.
Preheat oven to 180C. Lightly grease a 20cm x 30cm x 5cm deep baking dish or, as I did, two pyrex 6-cup rectangular dishes. Lay the fillo out on a bench. Cover with a damp tea towel to keep it from drying out.
Line dish with a sheet of filo and butter the filo with a pastry brush. Continue layering until about half the sheets of fillo are used (6 to 8). I cut the filo in half with scissors as I was using two dishes.
Using your hands, gently mix the spinach filling into the cheeses until thoroughly combined. Pour into the prepared pastry base and spread evenly.
Top with remaining filo, buttering each sheet, ensuring the final sheet is well buttered. Trim any overhanging pastry and tuck in.
Use a sharp knife to mark pastry top into diamonds, allowing the knife to pierce the pastry once or twice to allow air to escape during baking. Sprinkle lightly with water, sesame seeds and a few nigella seeds and bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until well browned and set.
Gently shake the pan and the spanakopita will slide easily when cooked. Cool on rack for 15 minutes before cutting to serve.
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