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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 #106 – My Dubai: Frying Pan Adventures’ Bengali Cooking Class

Hey, guess what? It’s been ten years since David and I moved to Dubai. A whole fucking DECADE!!!! Guess what else? After all this time, I still can’t say that I like living here. And yet here I am anyway. Go figure. And (for a bunch of different reasons) we’re actually planning on sticking around – for a while at least. So, even though I can’t say I enjoy life in Dubai, I am making an effort to at least try and actually live in the city I’ve inhabited for ten years. Believe it or not kids, I am trying. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I haven’t written a piece shitting on Dubai for a while. Nearly four years in fact. Sure, I’ll whinge about it every now and again, but that’s normal, right? We all whinge from time to time. Nope, I’ve been making a real, concerted effort to find some kind of peace with the fact that this is where I am now. It makes no sense to keep fighting it.  But that doesn’t mean I need to like it.  I never will.  What it does mean is that, occasionally, I will venture out of the comfort of my home to try something new. Something that might even be a little bit fun.

So when my beautiful friend Zimmy asked me to join her for a Bengali cooking class, of course I said yes! To be honest, I actually had no idea what Bengali food looked like, or even where Bengal was. But hey, I was going to spend some time with my second favourite person in Dubai, cooking up a storm and then eating it. What is not to love about that.

Quick geography and history lesson: Bengal, an area in north-eastern India, was ruled by the Brits until they decided to finally piss off home in 1947. The area was then divided into states belonging to India (the predominantly Hindu, west side) and Pakistan (the Muslim, east side). Fun fact: in 1971 the side belonging to Pakistan gained independence and became Bangladesh (hey, you learn something new in this ejo every damn month!). Our Bengali cooking class featured food from the Indian side of the road. And it was amazing.

Bengal Map

And now you know where Bengal is.

The class, held at Hyatt Place hotel was a collaboration between one of Dubai’s prominent food bloggers, Ishita Saha, author of Ishitaunblogged and co-founder of food and travel portal FoodeMag, and and a local outfit called Frying Pan Adventures. Frying Pan Adventures is actually the reason I was really excited about this event. I’ve been reading about their back-alley, culinary adventures for years. Let me put it this way; if I was visiting Dubai as a tourist today, I would skip the luxury hotels, waterparks and malls and I would hit the streets with Frying Pan Adventures. For me, a city’s heart and soul are hidden away in its unseen alleys, and I really believe that the best way to get to know a place is through those backstreets and through the food you find there. Not the “five star” Michelin pretenders, but real food, eaten by real people, every single day. For me, it’s no contest.

Frying Pan Adventures is the lovechild of several young entrepreneurs, mostly women, who came together over their shared love of food. And can I just say, I am thrilled that they didn’t just take that love and open (yet another) Dubai restaurant! This city already has 20,000 of them. It doesn’t need another one (are you listening Gordon Ramsey)? Here’s the thing though, only half of those restaurants are listed on Tripadvisor or Zomato. The rest are small, backstreet joints with no website, no Facebook page and sometimes not even a menu. And they’re usually doing a roaring trade with those in know. The ladies (and gent) of Frying Pan Adventures have taken their passion, and their knowledge of these backstreet gems, and opened that world up to those of us who would otherwise never get to experience it. Isn’t that just awesome!

I’m yet to actually go on one of their walking tours (the class I attended was a one-off event), but I have booked to do their Middle Eastern Food Pilgrimage next month, featuring food from Palestine, Lebanon, Egypt and Iran. I’m excited. And you know what? I’m excited that I’m excited. This is a new feeling for me. Of course I should have guessed that I would feel more at home amidst the grittiness and realness of Old Dubai, than in the distorted reflections of its skyscrapers.

And so I, and 19 other people, went along to the special Bengali cooking event earlier this month. I ate some yummy Bengali snacks as I watched Ishita prepare and cook a couple of the dishes on the menu, with the help of some volunteers. She made us begun bhaja; seasoned and fried eggplant slices topped with garlic sauce and pomegranate. Yum! We then watched her make shorshe baata maach, which is a fish dish made with incredibly delicious and sassy mustard flavours. Speaking of which, did you know that the single ingredient that is most definitive of Bengali cooking is mustard oil? I don’t think I’d ever tasted it before, but it’s so fragrant and aromatic and flavoursome. I’ll definitely be cooking this easy to make dish myself at home.

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Jhal Muri – street style puffed rice with chilli and spices.  We were served this while watching Ishita work her magic in the kitchen.

 

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Begun Bhaja – such a tasty dish and super duper easy to make.

 

 

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Shorse Baata Maach – usually made with a type of fish called hilsa which was unavailable, so salmon was deliciously substituted. It wasn’t to everyone’s taste, but I loved it.  Photograph compliments of Zimmy’s partner Arafaat who somehow appears to have climbed into the frying pan to take the shot!

But my absolute favourite dish of the whole day was luchi!!! Luchi, for the unenlightened (as I once tragically was) is a deep-fried flatbread that puffs up while it’s cooking, transforming it into a billowy pillow of delicious, hot, flaky goodness. An orgasm in your mouth. I could literally eat these all day long, and Bengalis do. Luchi is served with breakfast, lunch and dinner. How fucking civilised!!! And yes, in case you were wondering, I do have a thing for fried bread. Don’t judge.  When they went around the group asking people what their favourite Indian dish was, I unequivocally said naan. Coz you can eat it with ALL the other dishes!! Duh!!

 

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Looks like a pappadum, tastes like the freshest, flakiest savoury cronut you’ve ever imagined.

 

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Ishita’s recipe for luchi.  Will try at home.

After the instructional part of the event was over, we were all taken upstairs to a hotel suite that had been transformed into a typical Bengali home with the help of some soft furnishings, knick-knacks and old photos. It was a really lovely setting and we all sat down to enjoy the rest of the food, which had been prepared by the hotel cooking team and served, family-style, by our hosts from Frying Pan Adventures.

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Assorted fritters and an incredibly moreish relish to dip them in.

 

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Khichudi – a porridge made with rice and lentils.  This is comfort food right here.

 

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Cholar daal.  Someone came around and poured ghee on everyone’s serve.  YES PLEASE!

 

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Kosha Mangsho – slow cooked, tender mutton in it’s own thick onion gravy.

 

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Shukto – vegetable stew.

 

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Baked yoghurt.  This was an updated version of a traditional Bengali dessert, and if I hadn’t already stuffed my face full of everything else I might have been able to manage more than a couple of teaspoons of it.  I really let myself down, and I regret it.

 

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The feast!

 

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The team behind the scenes.  Great work, guys and girls!!  Thank you!

 

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The Frying Pan Adventures chicks rocking their traditional outfits, and some beautiful smiles.

It was such a treat to be part of this culinary adventure and to experience something new in Dubai and on my taste-buds. Nothing will ever change the way I feel about this city. But I can easily admit that there are many things here that are good. Pockets of culture and authenticity and realness, and even joy. If I can find more of those things, then perhaps I can also find a better way to live here.  Perhaps I can find my place. For fuck’s sake, if fried bread can’t do it, nothing can.