My Mum’s Recipes

Ejo #116 – My Mum’s Recipes: Meatballs With White Sauce

A couple of years ago, I thought it would be wise to ask my Mum how she made my favourite meal, meatballs with white sauce.  And I’m so glad I did because I don’t really think I could have ever reverse-engineered it.  There’s a sneaky little step at the end which turns a pot of boiling meat into something absolutely magical.  And the secret is avgolémono.  Avgolémono, which literally translates into egg-lemon, is a very Greek flavouring used in lots of different types of dishes.  But my absolute favourite (the best) is this one.

My whole life, whenever my Mum asked what I’d like to eat for my special birthday meal, the answer was always meatballs with white sauce.  And later on, after David and I moved to Dubai, Mum always cooked it as our welcome home meal, because she knew that’s what I wanted.  Sometimes we’d even have it as our farewell meal too.  I’m pretty sure that I have never, ever asked for any other dish.  Ever.  So of course she was never surprised with my answer.  She still asked, but she always knew.  Everyone knew.  This was my dish.  This will always be my dish.

I’m pretty sure meatballs with white sauce has a proper Greek name, but I don’t know what it is.  We always called it meatballs with white sauce, to differentiate it from another of Mum’s dishes which was meatballs with red sauce.  We kept things simple in my family.  This isn’t a dish that can be described.  It needs to be eaten, it needs to be tasted, it needs to be experienced to be fully appreciated.  This dish does take some time to cook, but it’s not difficult to make, so I do hope that you give it a shot.  And who knows, maybe it’ll become your favourite dish too.

Because she knew how much I loved it, meatballs with white sauce became a love letter between my mother and me.  She loved cooking it, and I loved eating it.  And we always shared a moment of gratitude/appreciation/acknowledgement when she served it at the dinner table.  Fittingly, it was the last thing my Mum ever cooked for me.  I had no way of knowing back then that it would be our last meal together but if I had known, perhaps I would have cooked it for her.  Either way, I’m glad it was meatballs with white sauce.

Kalí órexi.

MEATBALLS WITH WHITE SAUCE
INGREDIENTS:
500g mince
3 eggs
5 small handfuls of short grain rice
2 small handfuls of oat bran
cayenne pepper, to taste
olive oil
juice of 1½ lemons

METHOD:
Mix mince, one egg and rice in a bowl.  Add a splash of water if required.  Season with salt, pepper and cayenne, and add oat bran and a dash of olive oil.  Mix well, cover and leave for 20 minutes.

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My Mum used to use breadcrumbs but then she experimented a little bit and found that oat bran made the meatballs softer.

 

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Cover with plastic wrap and go have a glass of wine.

Shape the mince into meatballs.

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Measure each meatball by the very first meatball, rather than the last one you’ve made.  That way they will end up roughly the same size.

 

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One of these meatballs is not like the other.  Try to make them all the same size so they cook evenly but don’t forget that one of them will be sacrificed in order to make the dish so damn creamy and thicc and delicious.

Heat some olive oil in a frying pan and brown the meatballs on all sides.  In the meantime boil a pot of water.

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Brown the meatballs in batches – but be sure not to cook them through.  You just want them to be a golden brown colour, all over

Place the meatballs and the oil from the frying pan into the pot of water and allow to boil.  Reduce heat to low and simmer until done (about 90 minutes).

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You just want a very low simmer.  Also, you don’t want too much water in the pot otherwise the whole thing will turn out too watery.  No-one wants that

When you are ready to serve, mix the lemon juice and 1½ cups of meatball liquid from the pot with an electric mixer.  Add one meatball and continue mixing until smooth.  In a large bowl, crack two eggs and a splash of water and mix until frothy.  Slowly add the meatball liquid.

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This is where the magic happens. And that magic is called avgolémono.

Add this frothy mixture to the meatballs, shake the pot and sit for a couple of minutes to allow it to set.

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Look at them!!!  I just want to put my whole face in there.  My Mum would be proud.

 

Ejo #115 – My Mum’s Recipes: Stuffed Tomatoes

Here I am writing another ejo about my Mum’s food, and the only thing I can think of is how much I just want my Mum back.  This need permeates every cell in my body and imbues every single moment of my day.  It is relentless, because while my “grief” may be gradually subsiding, my sense of loss seems to only increase.  And I don’t think that the words exist that could explain this feeling to you. I am at my parent’s home in Mt. Waverley, with my sisters, stripping it bare to prepare it for auction in a few weeks. This is about as much fun as it sounds.  And yet there is nowhere else I would rather be. I’m so fortunate that I’ve been able to take some extended leave from work to be here with my sisters, to sort through the stuff that we’ve accumulated as a family over the last 36 years. And boy, is it a lot of stuff. So far we’ve donated more than two dozen carloads of family belongings to charity shops, filled skips with 8 cubic metres of rubbish, given away countless bits and pieces to friends, organised for another charity to pick up several of the larger pieces of furniture, and we’ve rented a storage unit that is already filling up fast.  Oh, and we have a garage full of hard rubbish that the council will (hopefully) pick up in a couple of weeks.  Honestly, we may even need to get another skip. It is just mindboggling how much stuff a four bedroom house can hold.

So yes, I’m here in my home town, Melbourne.  The reasons I love this city are many, but mostly I love it because of the people that live here.  My sisters, my friends.  Usually a trip to Melbourne is jam-packed with social engagements, fun outings, dinners, weekends away, picnics, drinks (lots of drinks).  But this time I’m not here to socialise or to have fun, I am here to spend time with my sisters and to work. And (self-pity alert!) it really is hard work.  Almost every single knuckle on my hands is scraped, my knee and elbow are hurting from a spectacular tumble I took in the back yard a week ago, my forearm was scratched by some mystery item and I’m debating whether I need to go and get a tetanus shot, just in case. I have a gorgeous array of bruises, in various stages of bloom and I needed first aid when I gashed my wrist trying to wrestle a toolkit from the back of my Mum’s car.  A couple of days ago, I almost concussed myself when I banged my head on a wooden ledge, and my arms ache from carrying heavy boxes (who needs the gym anyway). But most of all, my heart aches because, room by room, we are systematically deleting the fragments that collectively defined not just my childhood, but my sense of identity.

The only thing that has made this process tolerable is the fact that I’m sharing it with my sisters. Together, we are working as a team to write the final chapter of the Stathopoulos family home.  There are ups, and you can bet your sweet ass there are downs.  But one of the things I absolutely love is that every night, after a hard day at work, the three of us gather together and eat dinner as a family.  It’s such a beautiful, bonding thing for us to do and I’m so grateful for it.  Dinner time was always a big deal in our family.  It was a time to connect, to talk, to sometimes fight (c’mon, we’re Greek, of course there were fights) and to enjoy my Mum’s amazing cooking.  I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity, while I’m here, for the three of us to get together and cook one of our favourite of Mum’s dishes – stuffed tomatoes.  This recipe has been a favourite in our family for as long as I can remember – because it’s absolutely fucking delicious.  I hope that some of you try cooking this at home, and I hope that you enjoy it as much as we always have.

Kalí órexi.

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These few, simple ingredients make a yummy traditional Greek meal.

 

STUFFED TOMATOES
INGREDIENTS:
8 ripe (but not too soft) bull-heart tomatoes
1 large brown onion, peeled
4-8 cloves of garlic (depending on how much you like garlic)
8 heaped tablespoons medium white rice (one for each tomato), plus extra for the pan
1 small bunch of parsley (stems removed), finely chopped
a few sprigs of mint leaves, finely chopped
olive oil
2 large roasting potatoes, cut into eighths, lengthwise

METHOD:
Preheat oven to 180°C (for a fan forced oven – otherwise 200°C)

Make a horizontal cut near the top of each tomato to create a “lid”, making sure not to cut all the way through.

Using a spoon, gently scoop out the inside of each tomato, making sure to keep the skin intact.  Preserve the pulp.

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Scooped out tomato with the lid (kinda) attached.  Notice the lumpy tomato pulp.

Place the scooped out tomatoes in a roasting pan, leaving room for potatoes and extra rice.  Coarsely grate the preserved tomato pulp until it becomes juicy with no lumps.

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Unlumpy tomato pulp!!!  This is probably the hardest part of the recipe, but very necessary.

Coarsely grate the onion (prepare to cry!!!) and add to tomato mixture.

Finely grate the garlic cloves and add to tomato mixture.

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Behind the scenes.  It’s thirsty work recreating a recipe.

Add eight tablespoons of rice to the tomato mixture (one for each tomato).  Then add extra rice (for the pan – we used an extra five tablespoons).

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The rice mixture goes in the tomato cups and also into the pan, resulting in different textures.

Add chopped parsley and mint to the tomato mixture and stir to combine the ingredients.  Season to taste. Add a liberal glug of olive oil (we added about three tablespoons), and stir to combine.

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Plenty of olive oil.  This is a Greek recipe, after all.

Taste (the most important part of cooking any meal).

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Ready to assemble.

Fill each tomato cup with the tomato/rice mixture, making sure not to fill all the way to the top.

Place potatoes in pan, and season to taste.  Add remainder of tomato/rice mixture into pan with the potatoes and drizzle the entire pan with olive oil. Place the roasting pan on the middle tray of the oven and cook, uncovered, for about 1½ hours or until the rice and potatoes are cooked to your liking.

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Pop the tomato lids closed and then pop the pan in the oven.  Wait for the delicious aromas to permeate your house, and your brain!!!

Enjoy!!!

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I was so excited to eat this I forgot to take a photo right away.  Nom nom nom!!!

 

Ejo #114 – My Mum’s Recipes: Tzatziki

Many years ago, I was lucky enough to become friends with a woman who was studying shiatsu. She was happy because she had a regular, willing body to practice techniques on, and I was happy because I received incredibly therapeutic treatments at half-price. Win-win. Over the years we became quite close, and we are still friends to this day. What I remember the most about that time was how much Harriet was there for me when my father passed away. Not only as a friend, but also, instrumentally, as a shiatsu therapist. I recall the sessions we did after Dad died so clearly. They were super emotional, as you’d expect, but also so cathartic, so cleansing, so healing. She helped me in ways that I’m still not sure she’s aware of. I don’t know if you’ve ever done proper shiatsu, but it is a truly remarkable therapy, and I would really highly recommend it.

Over the years, I’ve struggled to find someone as good at shiatsu as Harriet was. And I’ve been disappointed enough times in Dubai to essentially just give up trying there altogether. Recently however, while we were travelling, I decided to give it another go. I did a bit of research and found someone online that didn’t seem like a total charlatan and made an appointment at her home clinic. Ostensibly I was there for her to treat my lower back, but during our initial consultation the fact that my Mum had recently died came up. I knew it would – the loss of my Mum is always with me. Always. Front and centre.  Perhaps in seeking out shiatsu therapy, rather than a more traditional massage, I was hoping to replicate the deep healing that had occurred during my sessions with Harriet, all those years ago. Even just a little bit. Sometimes, when you’re grieving, wishful thinking is all you’ve got. I was happy to give it a go.

It was a nice session. It was no Harriet level magic, but it was better than I’ve had in many years, and that was good enough. Something amazing did happen during the session though, and that’s why I’m rambling on about shiatsu when I really want to be talking about garlic. During the first part of the treatment, while the therapist was still feeling around my lower back and trying to figure out what the problem was, out of nowhere, she said to me, gently, “Mother and food are connected, yes?”. I nodded silently and brushed away the tear that fell onto my cheek. I understand that this comment may not be true for every mother/child relationship, but it was always true for me and my Mum.

Fun fact: when my Mum first had me, my Dad was away a lot for work, so she was basically all alone in a foreign land. She had no-one to support her, no family or friends to teach her how to look after a demanding, whiny, fat little baby. So she had to make things up as she went along. For the most part, I’d say she did a pretty good job. But because she didn’t know any better, when I was hungry, she would feed me, and then keep on feeding me, basically until I vomited. Now, I don’t want to go down the path of blaming anyone for any possible eating issues I may have had while I was growing up – that’s not my stripe. Of course I used to tease my Mum that I’ve been chubby my whole life because of her, but it’s always just been a bit of a joke between us. The fact is that my Mum’s cooking has featured enormously throughout my life. Maybe because of the force-feeding, maybe because of the wog-factor, maybe because she put all the love and commitment for her family into the food that she fed us, or maybe just because she was a really good cook. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that for me, yes, Mother and food will always be connected. They both mean sustenance, they both mean nourishment, they mean comfort and fulfilled needs. And they mean joy, and togetherness and love.

I mentioned in a previous ejo how important it is to me that I have some of my Mum’s recipes written down. It’s a way of preserving her memory, and the homely feelings that her food has always given me. I know that towards the end, cooking became less of a pleasure for her than it used to be. She mostly lived alone, eating a very spartan diet herself. But whenever David and I visited, she always wanted to cook our favourite dishes for us. Even though I knew it was an effort for her, I still made these requests because I knew that it gave her real pleasure to make them. It was something she genuinely wanted to do for me. And the resultant gathering of the whole family around the table was something that we all delighted in. After years of living away from my family, what had once been a daily routine became a very special occasion.

I’ve decided to write a series about my Mum’s food, and I’ve chosen to start with garlic. Coz Greek people love the stuff. I’ve certainly always loved it – the more garlicky, the better. I remember back in the olden days, there used to be an unwritten rule that you shouldn’t eat garlic before going out in public. I never paid that rule much kind. If people didn’t like my garlic breath, that was their problem. I didn’t give a shit. Which is lucky because my Mum’s signature tzatziki is ferociously, and famously, strong. Tzatziki, in case you’re not familiar with it, is a staple in any Greek household. It is a super fresh condiment, made from shitloads of garlic and Greek yoghurt, flecked with grated cucumber – and it’s fucking delicious served with meat, fish or even just spread on a piece of bread.

David has always enjoyed my Mum’s tzatziki enormously and she always made sure to have some in the fridge when we were coming over, just for him. It got so that after a while, he couldn’t even wait for our weekly visits to Mum’s place for his tzatziki hit, and he asked her to teach him how to make it. As you can imagine, she was absolutely delighted. He started off watching Mum make it in her kitchen, asking questions, assisting her and taking notes. He practiced and practiced at home, until he’d perfected the recipe. Over the years David’s version has evolved to (somehow???) be even more garlicky than my Mum’s (honestly, I sometimes think that David is more Greek than me!!). Anyway, if you want to try it, the original recipe is below – I’d love to know how your version works out.

Kalí órexi.

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The ingredients.  Greek yoghurt, cucumber and shitloads of garlic.

 

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Stir, stir, stir.

 

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The finished product – best served the next day, all the better to allow the garlic to infuse, but we’ve definitely been known to devour it immediately.

 

TZATZIKI
INGREDIENTS:
1 tub plain Greek yoghurt
1 cucumber, halved
8-10 cloves garlic

METHOD:
Drain yogurt in a kitchen towel for a couple of hours.
Peel cucumber into strips and strain well.
Peel garlic and grate finely.
Mix all the ingredients together with a spoon until combined.
Refrigerate until ready to use.