Monday, April 29, 2013

Greek Orange Cake with Honeyed Yoghurt
for my mum's birthday

If it wasn't for Tony quietly practicing a few Greek words with my dad in the back corner of my sister's back garden, you wouldn't know the family that gathered together yesterday for afternoon tea was Greek.

Both my parents are Greek but my family is not at all traditional. Growing up we didn't speak Greek, we didn't cook much Greek food and we didn't follow any Greek traditions. Adding to this, my mum, Fifi, is fair-haired and fair-skinned which, to the untrained eye, greatly dilutes our credibility as a 'real' Greek family.

In fact, as a child Fifi looked a lot like Shirley Temple. Her mum even dressed her to look like the child movie star, as you can see below in the Fifi vs Shirley Comparison Table.

I've told you a little about my mum's upbringing in a travelling family, and how connecting with traditional Greek culture wasn't something that came naturally to them. Her father, Nicholas, was a cotton merchant and the family moved from city to city with him for his work.

Coming to Australia in the mid-1950s gave my newly-wedded parents an opportunity to embrace the relaxed and easy-going ways of the Australian lifestyle. They anglicised their surname, gave my sisters and I 'true-blue' Aussie names and spoke only English in the home. The family car was an olive green Holden HR sedan with venetian blinds in the back and we lived in a neighbourhood where everyone, except my sisters and I, had blond hair.

We liked being Aussies. We didn't even really know we were Greek until we met some other kids that went to Greek school on a Saturday and wanted to know why we didn't have to go. Greek school sounded horrible. Any school on a Saturday would have been horrible. We were definitely glad to be Aussies.

This is me with my younger sister Kellie in our sporty matching t-shirt dresses, and our very fashionable mum, standing proudly outside our Australian home of the then very Anglo-saxon suburb of Mount Waverley.

Little did I know then that I would yearn for all things Greek as an adult. I'm now furious that I didn't learn to speak Greek as a child and it's frustrating not to have a built-in knowledge of Greek cooking techniques, but I don't blame my parents. I know they just wanted to fit in.

One of the reasons I started this blog is because of my yearning for a stronger connection with my origins. Without an upbringing enriched with Greek cooking, language and traditions, and with such a strong sense of being Australian, sometimes it's difficult to make that connection. I know deep inside that my heritage is Greek but I have a long way to go when it comes to learning about Greek culture and expanding on my knowledge about Greek food. Unfortunately, learning to speak Greek is something I'm going to have to leave to Tony. After several attempts over the years to learn Greek I've come to realise my adult brain definitely lacks the necessary neurons for learning languages.

It was my mum's birthday yesterday. Traditionally, birthdays are not celebrated by Greeks as much as Name Days. But as you've probably worked out by now, we're not a traditional Greek family. Apart from Christmas, birthdays are the only times the whole family gets together. And when I say 'whole family', I don't mean thousands of cousins. It's just my dad and his wife Julia, my mum, my two sisters and their kids. That's right. That's it. We are sooo not Greek. In contrast though, we have an interesting, are-they-or-are-they-not-Greek dynamic when we get together. We're loud and emotional, we eat and we drink and there are arms waving all over the place, but there's no Greek food, no Greek speak and none of the kids go to Greek school.

But still my heart yearns.

When my sister asked me a few weeks ago to make mum a birthday cake, I saw it as an opportunity to do something Greek for my family (and God knows the blog could certainly do with another cake recipe. Halvas (Semolina Syrup Cake) is the only cake-like recipe I've posted here to date – not just because I have a measly repertoire of Greek cake recipes, but because I'm simply crap at baking cakes in general.) I had high hopes that the incentive of baking a cake for my own mother would give me the encouragement to make a success of this. Especially given I had a trusted recipe for Greek Orange Cake from the wife of a real-life Greek friend.

Without going into detail, a few events came up in the days leading up to the family gathering for my mum's birthday. I had no time to test the recipe and no time to go back to the supermarket when I realised I didn't have any sugar or self-raising flour. I improvised with stevia, plain flour and baking powder and obviously didn't sift them together thoroughly enough, hence the massive bubble on one side of the cake, and dense flatness on the other.

As I brought the lop-sided cake out to the table my mum expressed some polite excitement that I'd made her a cake and she was very gracious to try some without complaining. I think I was the only other person to have a piece and while it tasted okay (the subtle sweetness of the stevia actually complemented the orange flavour quite well) the texture was a bit too rubber-mattress for me.

But yesterday's celebrations weren't about me baking a cake. It was my mum's birthday and we also took the opportunity to take some much needed family photos.

Sometimes months go by when we don't see each other, but the joy of getting together is always precious and we all embrace it with every bit of Aussie-Greekness we can muster.

Below I'm sharing with you the original recipe that came from my Greek friend. One day I'll try it again with the correct ingredients, and would love to hear of any other success (or failure!) stories with Greek orange cake.

Orange Cake with Honeyed Yoghurt

Serves 8–10


  • 1 1/4 cups self-raising flour
  • 1 cup almond meal
  • 1 cup fine semolina
  • 1 1/4 cups caster sugar
  • 150g cold unsalted butter, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated orange rind
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 3 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup flaked almonds
  • Icing sugar for dusting
For the syrup
  • 1/4 cup caster sugar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons orange juice
For the honeyed yoghurt


  1. Grease a 24cm round spring-form pan. Line with baking paper.
  2. Process flour, almond meal, semolina, sugar and butter until mixture becomes like the texture of breadcrumbs or course sand.
  3. Add orange rind, orange juice, eggs and milk and process until a thick batter is formed.
  4. Pour mixture into cake tin, smooth surface with a spatula until it is flattened, and sprinkle with almond flakes.
  5. Bake at 180 degrees celsius for one hour and test with a skewer to see if it's cooked. If the skewer comes out clean it is ready. If not, you might need to bake for another 20 minutes. Mine was in there for an hour and a half, but that might have been because I was waiting for the other side to rise.
  6. To make the syrup, heat water, sugar and orange juice in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for 5 minutes.
  7. When cake is ready, remove from oven and use a skewer to make lots of holes for the syrup to be absolved. Leaving the cake in the pan, slowly pour the syrup over the cake and allow to stand for ten minutes.
  8. Dust the cake with icing sugar and serve warm or at room temperature with a generous dollop of honeyed yoghurt. You can either mix the honey and yoghurt together thoroughly and serve, or drizzle the honey over the yoghurt.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Green Greek Salad with
Blueberry Balsamic Dressing

It's been a crazy, busy, BUSY week – no time to cook, no time to blog, no time to even pat my cat (sorry Simba!) but in the back of my mind lingered the promise I made to myself that I would make a clashing-coloured blueberry balsamic dressing to try with a green Greek salad this week.

Clash the colours did, but yum the salad tasted!

I was motivated by last week's Meatless Monday A–Z challenge to cook something with blueberries and I took inspiration from both Sweat the Sweet Stuff's and Oatmeal After Spinning's recipes for blueberry balsamic salad dressing.

Mondays are Tony's meatless days, and they are also the one night a week I get to cook and eat a meal with my otherwise meat-eating partner. After participating in Meat Free Week last month, Tony made the commitment to go meat free for at least one day a week, which not only helps towards reducing the need for animal factory farming, but also means we get to spend more time in the kitchen together.

Tony cooked an amazing balsamic tofu stir-fry for dinner tonight, and this gorgeous Green Greek Salad with Blueberry Balsamic Dressing accompanied the stir-fry nicely.

Green Greek Salad with Blueberry Balsamic Dressing

Serves 2


For the salad
  • 2 handfuls of mixed lettuce leaves
  • 1 small Lebanese cucumber, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 green capsicum, thinly sliced
  • 15 green beans, trimmed and cut to 3cm lengths
  • 10 green pitted olives, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon slivered almonds, lightly toasted
  • 60g feta cheese, cubed
For the dressing
  • 1/2 cup blueberries
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 clove garlic, crushed


  1. Combine all salad ingredients in a bowl and toss well.
  2. Blend ingredients for the dressing with a stick blender and pour over salad.

For more amazing and easy vegetarian recipes using blueberries, click on the logo below to visit Heather's Better With Veggies Meatless Mondays from A–Z page.

Better With Veggies

Next week is C for Cabbage. Can anyone think of something Greek that I can cook other than stuffed cabbage leaves?

Time now to give Simba his long-awaited cuddle...

Monday, April 15, 2013

Blueberry and Ricotta Greek Pastries

I just had to make another sweet pastry today, after being deliciously inspired by a Morello cherry and ricotta strudel my dad made for Tony and I over the weekend.

It's not often you will see my dad making something sweet. At least not since his days as an ice cream manufacturer. For many years he has reigned as King of the Main Meals while his wife Julia has always held the title of Dessert Queen in their household. But on Saturday Takis ventured out of his comfort zone with the desire to recreate something he remembers his mother making when he was a boy – a simple, sweet cheese strudel filled with what ever fruit was in season at the time: figs, cherries, grapes, apples, peaches, pears or apricots, and wrapped in fresh, home-made filo pastry.

Home-made filo is something I am dying to make but am just trying to get over the final "it's too hard" hurdle before I take it on. I've always thought making your own filo was one of those things that should be left to the experts. Watching a documentary a few years ago of village ladies stretching the dough over massive marble tables until you could see through it like tissue paper, without a single tear or hole, didn't leave me feeling this was a technique I was going to be mastering any time soon.

Oh, but can you imagine my excitement when recently I came across a new method of rolling and folding the dough, buttering as you go, to create the paper-thin layers, without having to make paper-thin pastry! I plan to experiment with this alternative technique over the coming weeks and am thinking it might be fun (or funny) to share some of my experiences with you here on the blog. Feel free to throw any tips my way, anything to get me over that final home-made filo hurdle!

In the meantime, I am still using commercial filo for my flaky pastry dishes. Here in Australia we are very lucky to have a very good fresh filo product available to us that comes in two thicknesses. Today I am using the thinner filo because that's all I have left in the fridge, but I think a thicker filo might be better suited for this recipe, mainly because the filling expands a little during cooking and the thinner pastry can sometimes tear.

I've chosen to use blueberries in these pastries because this week it's "B for Blueberry" over at Heather's Meatless Monday A–Z challenge. If you haven't heard of MMAZ, it goes a little like this: Each fortnight a new ingredient is introduced that corresponds with the next letter of the alphabet. For the first week of the fortnight participants are asked to create a recipe and in the second week we cook a recipe, preferably chosen from one of the dishes submitted in the first week.

Better With Veggies

I love the MMAZ concept and am going to try and stick with it for the entire alphabet. The added challenge I've made for myself is that all my dishes need to be Greek! I'm sure there'll be times when I'll struggle to come up with fresh ideas for this challenge so prepare yourselves please because I'll be calling on you guys for help!

For the letter "C" the ingredient is Cabbage and of course I could turn to the classic Greek recipe for stuffed cabbage leaves but would love to create something a bit more original. So please throw me any suggestions for flavour combinations or perhaps even just one other ingredient that you think would pair well with cabbage to create something that would be acceptably Greek. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Blueberry and Ricotta Greek Pastries

Makes 8


  • 400g ricotta cheese
  • 1/3 cup castor sugar
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 1 teaspoon lemon zest
  • 100g blueberries, fresh or frozen
  • 8 sheets of filo pastry
  • 100g unsalted butter, melted for brushing
  • Flaked almonds for sprinkling
  • Icing sugar for dusting


  1. Preheat oven to 180 degrees celsius.
  2. Combine ricotta, sugar, egg, vanilla essence and lemon zest in a bowl and mix well.
  3. Add the blueberries, stirring until just combined so that you have a two-tone marble effect. Try not to mix the blueberries in too much otherwise the mixture will just become a rather unattractive greyish colour.
  4. Have your melted butter ready, cut all your pastry sheets in half and place in a pile.
  5. Take one sheet of pastry and brush with melted butter. Lay another sheet over the first and brush again with butter.
  6. Place two heaped spoonfuls of the filling at one end of the pastry, roll it up a little, fold the sides in, then continue to roll up, not too tightly, to form a parcel. Flatten the parcel a little and lay seam-side down on a greased baking tray. Repeat for the rest of the pastry sheets and brush the tops of all of them with remaining butter.
  7. Bake for 20 minutes or until pastry is lightly golden.

To serve, sprinkle with toasted almond flakes and dust with icing sugar.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lemon and Ricotta Sweet Cheese Pastries

A short and sweet post today as I'm up to my ears with unexpected freelance work and freaky deadlines this week.
Luckily I have these beautiful little sugar pastries to keep me happy!

They're so quick and easy to make and although they might not be the most nutritionally-packed things you could shovel into your mouth, they certainly make a good stress reliever!

I've very loosely based the recipe of these little cuties on a traditional Greek recipe for "Melitinia" which are small, sweet tarts filled with a soft cheese and baked. My version uses filo pastry, is deep fried, and totally addictive.

Lemon and Ricotta Sweet Cheese Pastries

Makes about 40


  • 300g ricotta cheese
  • 1 packet of filo pastry
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 100g castor sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • Oil for deep frying
  • Icing sugar for dusting


  1. Place the ricotta, 1 teaspoon of lemon zest, egg, castor sugar and vanilla essence in a bowl and mix with a wooden spoon to combine.
  2. Using a round cookie cutter, approximately 10cm diameter, cut the filo pastry into circles.
  3. Spoon about of teaspoon of the cheese mixture onto one half of each pastry round.
  4. Moisten the edges of the pastry with a little water, fold in half and press to seal.
  5. To make them pretty, use a crimped pastry wheel to trim the edges and create a ruffled edge.
  6. Deep fry the pastries in oil until puffed and golden, around 2 or 3 minutes, then drain on paper towels.

These little babies are best eaten when warm, dusted with icing sugar and lemon zest. Mine have now gone cold and a little soggy but I'm still more than happy to keep shovelling them into my mouth!

Monday, April 8, 2013

Baked, Stuffed Avocados with Mushroom,
Walnut, Feta and Thyme (Papoutsakia Tou Avokado)

Last week I jumped on the Meatless Mondays A–Z bandwagon, hosted by Heather over at Better With Veggies. It's a great system she's got going to encourage people to experiment using a different ingredient each fortnight. Last week we started with A for Avocado. Recipes are submitted using Heather's linky tool and are displayed on the Better With Veggies blog for others to peruse and be inspired by – it really is a wonderful way to discover new recipes and meet other bloggers.

Better With Veggies

Each ingredient is featured for two weeks. The first week is for those adventurous enough to create something using that ingredient (you can read about my little "adventure" last week with avocado dolmades here), and the second week is an opportunity to cook something using that ingredient that is not necessarily your own recipe.

For the second week, participants are encouraged to use one of the recipes submitted in the first week, and I've chosen to adapt a gorgeous, baked, stuffed avocado dish that was sent in by Kait from Chickadee Says.

With a few adjustments to Greekify this dish, I am absolutely in love with the result, and I couldn't believe how easy it was! For the stuffing I used a couple of ingredients from Kait's original recipe – mushrooms and walnuts, which are already widely used in Greek cooking – and I added feta, garlic, oregano and thyme to complete the Greek ingredient set list.

I used Swiss Brown mushrooms, which are just small Portobellos. I think they have more flavour than white mushrooms and they're such pretty little things aren't they?

Oh my god, this dish is so tasty, soft, crunchy and yum that I ate both avocado halves in one sitting (one was meant for Tony). I don't think I've ever eaten a whole avocado before. But don't worry folks, Tony will still get some. I have plenty of filling left over and more avocados in the pantry :)

There is a traditional Greek stuffed eggplant dish called "Papoutsakia" which means "little shoes", because someone thought the shape of the halved eggplant looks a bit like a shoe. Well it kind of does . . . a little. But a zucchini definitely doesn't. For some reason they call the zucchini version Papoutsakia as well. I can tell you now, I'd eat my cat before I'd be convinced a zucchini looks anything like a shoe (shut up all you people that know I made zucchini papoutsakia not that long ago).

A halved avocado on the other hand, does look like a shoe and when I saw Kait's recipe on Meatless Mondays A–Z last week, I knew immediately that I would be turning this into an Avocado Papoutsakia. And I know this goes against everything Greek and traditional, but I'm naming it "Papoutsakia Tou Avokado" (Little Shoes of Avocado) – such a cute name don't you think?

I love how intensely green the flesh becomes when the avocado is baked, and the taste changes to a deep, burnt-buttery kind of flavour, slightly bitter but still creamy. Some people think avocados shouldn't be cooked at all. The flavour does change and they do go soft, but you have to try it – you just might be pleasantly surprised!

Baked, Stuffed Avocado with Mushroom, Walnut, Feta and Thyme
(Papoutsakia Tou Avokado)

Adapted from Pestoed Mushroom-Stuffed Baked Avocados by Kait at Chickadee Says

Serves 4


  • 2–3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 300g Swiss Brown (or Portobello) mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 cup walnuts
  • 50g feta cheese, crumbled
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 small avocados


  1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees celsius.
  2. Heat oil in frying pan and cook mushrooms until they start to sweat. When the mushroom juices are bubbling, add garlic, thyme and oregano and keep frying until the liquid had evaporated. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
  3. Meanwhile, halve the avocados, remove the stones and shell out some of the flesh. Set the flesh aside until needed – this will be combined with the stuffing.
  4. Transfer cooled mushroom mixture to a food processor, add walnuts and pulse on and off for 30 seconds.
  5. Place mushroom and walnut mixture into a mixing bowl and add crumbled feta, reserved avocado pulp, salt and pepper to taste. Mix until combined.
  6. Place avocado shells on a baking tray lined with foil. You can use a neat little trick to keep the avocados level by placing a walnut under the thinner end of each avocado (see photo below).
  7. Spoon mixture into avocado shells and bake for 10 minutes.

And not to forget, I'm also linking this post up with Veggie Mama's Meatless Mondays. Her blog is always a huge source of inspiration for me. Go take a look for a whole lot more veggie recipe ideas.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Gigantes (Giant Bean Stew)
and a story about my dad, the ice cream man

Writing about my dad's hommus recipe the other day reminded me of another specialty dish of his. Beautiful, big white beans slowly baked in a tomato-based stew with carrots, onions, celery, bay leaves and thyme, served with scatterings of roughly chopped parsley. These flavours are about as Greek as they get and the aroma throughout the house when a combination like this is stewing in the oven just makes me want to lie down on the kitchen floor and levitate to Greece.

See? I was levitating when I took this photo.

Along with many other boat-loads of Greeks escaping the turmoil of Egypt in the mid-1950s, my dad Takis arrived in Australia with his new wife (my mum) Fifi in search for a better life.

Settling in Melbourne, Takis worked hard from day one, covering the gamut of job opportunities on offer in the lucky country at the time, from insurance and sales to electronics and food manufacturing.

But it was the food industry for which Takis would develop a passion, and the following three decades would provide him with the most satisfying years in food manufacturing, owning and running (to his childrens' delight!) his own ice cream factory.

Takis had a great respect for his factory workers, as did they for him. Most of his staff were Greeks and Italians of the 1960's wave of immigration to Australia. He knew how hard it was for people to leave their homeland and their family and friends behind to find work and start their life over in a new country. Takis gave them an opportunity and they gave him their loyalty, many of them remaining dedicated workers at the factory for more than 30 years.

It was this mutual respect that created such a strong relationship between employer and employee, along with a few perks like free tubs of ice cream to take home to their families, and free lunch every day at the factory for all the workers.

You may remember me talking about my dad's obsession with food experimentation. This obsession goes way back to the mid-70s when he developed his first ice cream brand, Swan's Ice Cream, available in vanilla, chocolate and Neapolitan. Various flavours of gelato were also added to the product list, as well as many Italian dessert ice creams like Cassata and Tartufo to cater for the growing number of Italian restaurants popping up in Melbourne at the time.

Takis had a purpose-built laboratory on the ground floor of the factory where he would spend days and nights developing flavours and recipes for his ice creams. I loved that room. All those colourful bottles and jars, tubes and packets, powders and creams – it was just like Willy Wonker's chocolate factory.

There was also a large, fully equipped industrial open-plan kitchen/dining area for Takis to further his experimentation. It was the ultimate, stainless steel kitchen wonderland and was also utilised by two of the employees whose job it was to prepare the free daily lunch for everyone at the factory.

Takis and the two Greek ladies, Voula and Katie, would spend a couple of hours each morning in the kitchen preparing large batches of food, usually consisting of a massive cauldron of soup, a huge tray of baked vegetables, another huge tray of some sort of pasta or rice-based dish, a gigantic bowl of Greek salad, and an enormous basket of fresh bread rolls.

Over the school holidays I worked at the factory for some extra cash and I too would join the rest of the workers in the lunch room to enjoy the beautiful array of food and the good company of all the wonderful people that worked there. Unlike many stark and cold workplace lunchrooms, the whole kitchen was buzzing with conversation, clanging cutlery, laughter and movement, and the sweet aroma of what ever just came out of the oven or off the stove top. It was a time to relax and chat with workmates, enjoy a fresh, home-cooked meal, and recharge for the rest of the day's work.

By far, my favourite lunchtime meal at the factory was the hearty Gigantes stew. I don't make Gigantes very often myself – it's another one of those dishes that I simply haven't been able to recreate the way my dad, Voula and Katie would to make it. I have my dad's recipe and I follow it to the letter, but you know, it's probably something as simple as using a different brand of olive oil that changes everything. This dish still tastes wonderful though.

Gigantes is a heart-warming stew, perfect for the cooler nights approaching with the Autumnal season here in Australia. Even with the arrival of Spring on the other hemisphere this stew would still be welcome as the evening frosts settle in.

Gigantes (Giant Bean Stew)

Recipe by my dad, Takis

Serves 4


For boiling the beans
  • 250g dried Gigantes* or Lima beans, soaked in water for at least 8 hours
  • 1 large onion, peeled and cut in half
  • 1 large carrot, cut in half
For the stew
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
  • 2 large carrots, sliced
  • 375ml vegetable stock
  • 1 cup of water
  • 2 x 400g cans of chopped tomatoes
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 1/2 cup flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper to taste

* Note: Traditionally, 'Gigantes' or 'Elephantes' beans are used to make this dish which, as the name suggests, are larger than Lima beans. These are grown in the northern regions of Greece and can be expensive and difficult to find here in Australia. If you can't find Gigantes beans, Lima beans make a great substitute.


  1. After soaking the beans overnight, drain and rinse then transfer to a large pot with the halved onion and carrot. Fill the pot with water, bring to the boil and allow to simmer for one hour.
  2. When beans are cooked, drain, discard onion and carrot and set aside.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large oven-proof casserole dish, fry the finely chopped onions and celery in olive oil until soft, around ten minutes.
  4. Add carrots to the onion and celery mixture and fry for another ten minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Add the cooked beans, vegetable stock, water, tomatoes, bay leaves and salt and pepper to taste, and bring to the boil.
  6. Transfer the casserole dish to a preheated oven at 150 degrees celsius and cook for one hour with the lid on. If your casserole dish doesn't have a lid, cover with foil. 
  7. After one hour, remove dish from oven and give the stew a good stir, then place back in oven for another hour with the lid slightly askew (or the foil slightly loosened) to allow the steam to be released and the sauce to thicken.
  8. Keep checking the stew to make sure it doesn't dry out and add a little water if necessary.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Vine Leaves)
with Avocado, Feta and Pine Nuts

Grape leaves have been used in Greek cooking for millennia. In ancient times they were also used for medicinal purposes to stop bleeding and inflammation and to reduce pain.

These days they are most commonly used to make a well-known Greek appetiser, dolmades, which are grape leaves stuffed with rice, onions and herbs, and sometimes with pine nuts, mashed broad beans, lentils or meat.

I recently discovered a fun new challenge on the Better With Veggies blogMeatless Mondays A to Z. Every Monday fortnight an ingredient is selected, beginning with a letter of the alphabet, and participants are asked to create a vegetarian recipe using that ingredient. So starting with "A", the first ingredient is "Avocado".

Better With Veggies

I thought it might be fun to participate in the challenge so for the last few days I've been thinking about what Greek dish I can come up with that would be acceptable with avocado.

Everyone says you're not supposed to cook avocado. Why? Because it goes bitter?? Umm, yeah, but does that really matter? I actually like the flavour of cooked avocado. It adds a vibrant, new dimension to the normally quite mild-flavoured avocado and goes incredibly well with feta cheese and lots of sweetly cooked onions.

I had a good feeling this mixture was going to taste great wrapped in vine leaves and was pretty excited about turning these into my Dolmades with Avocado, Feta and Pine Nuts recipe submission for the Meatless Monday A to Z challenge.

The only thing I forgot about was how time consuming it is to make dolmades. It also requires LOTS of patience and a calm mind right from the get go – two things I didn't have today being the last day of the Easter holidays and having lots of freelance work piling up.

The key here is to choose a lazy day, perhaps a leisurely Sunday when you're in a relaxed mood and quietly prepared for some frustrating moments, starting with removing the tightly rolled vine leaves out of the jar without ripping them all apart. Then try unrolling them without ripping them all apart. And just when you think you've done okay, now it's time to separate each leaf without ripping them all apart.

I think this is why they pack about three hundred of the things in a jar because seriously, after you've deliberately (out of sheer madness) ripped apart more than half of the okay ones you managed to get out of the jar, unrolled and separated, you really only end up with about 30 usable leaves.

So, if you can get past all that, the rest of the process is at least a little less taxing on your sanity!

Have I completely put you off making dolmades yet? I'm sorry, I really don't mean to make such a fuss about this. I've actually only made these twice in my whole life and naturally my lack of experience is going to influence the way I feel about making dolmades. I would love it if an experienced dolmades master could share some tips on making the process a little easier and perhaps it will encourage me (and others) to give these another go, one day.

I really did love the filling I made for these though, and I'm thinking I could use it in a much more Lisa-friendly receptacle in future, like a capsicum or tomato! Even cabbage leaves would cause me less stress!

Dolmades (Stuffed Grape Vine Leaves) with Avocado, Feta and Pine Nuts

Makes about 30–40


  • 450g jar of grape leaves in brine
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 onions, finely chopped
  • 1/2 cup long grain rice
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 2 tablespoons dill, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 and a half avocados, roughly chopped
  • 100g feta cheese, roughly crumbled
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Juice of 1 lemon


  1. Fry onions on low heat in half the oil until soft and transparent.
  2. While onions are cooking, remove grape leaves from jar, unroll and rinse well. Carefully separate leaves (it's a little easier if done under running water) and lay 30 or 40 untorn leaves out on a clean bench top. Reserve a few of the torn leaves and use them to line the bottom of a straight-sided pan.
  3. When onions are cooked, add rice and cook, stirring, for a couple of minutes.
  4. Add garlic to onion and rice mixture and cook for another minute or so.
  5. Add pine nuts, dill and parsley, season with salt and pepper to taste, and set aside to cool.
  6. In a large bowl, carefully combine avocado and feta, without mashing.
  7. Once onion and rice mixture has cooled, carefully fold into avocado and feta mixture until just combined.
  8. Place around one teaspoon of mixture onto the base of a vine leaf and start to roll, tucking in the sides as you go. Place rolled vine leaf, seam side down, in pan.
  9. Repeat with remaining vine leaves, packing them into the pan, in two layers if necessary.
  10. Combine remaining olive oil with lemon juice and pour over vine leaves. Fill the pan with enough water to just cover the vine leaves and position an upturned plate over the vine leaves to keep them in place.
  11. Place a lid over the pan and simmer on low heat for around 40 minutes.