By Meni from Mary's Kitchen
Born in Australia to Greek parents, Melbourne-based cook Meni Valle grew up surrounded by tradition and a love of food. Meni gained her teaching qualification while raising her young family and teaches Food Studies. She has presented at The Melbourne Food & Wine Festival Masterclass sharing her knowledge and passion for Greek home cooking. A love of travel, a rich Greek heritage and great skill in the kitchen has seen Meni become one of Australia’s most-respected authorities on Mediterranean cuisine. She often spends time in Greece where she learns new techniques and recipes to add to her kitchen. She teaches Mediterranean style cooking in Melbourne, sharing her love for food with others and presents at festivals and conferences on the Mediterranean diet. Meni’s first book ‘My Greek Kitchen’ is about the food she grew up with and her desire for preserving culture. She loved to cook with her mother and the importance of home cooking has become a big part of her life. Meni continues to collect recipes and stories from the people she meets along the way. She contributes to magazines regularly and runs culinary tours in Greece.
Meni’s new cookbook ‘Ikaria’, published by Hardie Grant will be released in September, 2020 and will also be available to purchase from Grecian Purveyor.
Memories of Easter as a small girl have been fused into my mind. Easter is the most significant religious celebration in the Greek Orthodox faith. The Lenten fast begins seven weeks before Easter on a Monday… ‘Clean Monday’. This time of fasting is a time to cleanse the body and spirit. During this fasting you abstain from foods that contain red blood, meat, poultry, milk, cheese and eggs for example and enjoy delicious vegan and vegetarian dishes such as fasolakia and other "ladera".
Ladera are the dishes that the Greeks eat during periods of fasting when all meat and dairy products are not eaten. Of course, that is not to say that they are not eaten at other times.
They are always vegetarian dishes cooked with olive oil and usually tomatoes, garlic and herbs. The word ladera comes from the word ‘ladi’ meaning oil…so oil-based, comforting dishes.
Some of my favourite ladera dishes are those prepared in the summer: the delicate green beans, eggplants, zucchini and okra which are cooked with tomatoes, bursting with flavour and perfect served with fresh crusty bread and some cheese, usually feta. In winter dried beans are included as part of the ladera menu.
Ladera are best served at room temperature but I also think that they are even more delicious the next day. I love the simplicity of these one-pot dishes and here is my favourite ladera dish…green beans with tomato.
Fasolakia (green bean caserole)
I love to eat this casserole with some fresh bread as it is. It is also lovely served as a side to roasted meats.The sweetness of fresh tomatoes is gorgeous in this dish if you have some on hand otherwise tinned tomatoes work well also. As this dish relies on few ingredients, mainly vegetables, using high quality extra virgin olive oil really elevates the dish.
1 x kilo green beans
1 x 400 grams tinned chopped tomatoes (4 or 5 fresh tomatoes roughly chopped)
4 x carrots peeled and sliced
4 x small zucchini cut into chunks
Salt and pepper
Meni used Organic oregano by Mountain Treasures
Meni used VEE organic extra virgin olive oil
1 x onion finely diced
Wash beans and cut into half. Prepare carrots and zucchini and put aside.
In a casserole dish sauté the onion in a little olive oil until soft, then add tomatoes, beans, carrots and zucchini, season with salt, pepper and oregano. Add 1 cup of water, enough to just cover the vegetables. Cover and simmer for approximately 45 minutes or under tender.
You can also add potatoes into this casserole if you like or simply serve with mashed potatoes or roasted meat. This is also delicious with fresh crusty bread and lots of feta cheese if you wish.
If you enjoyed this recipe, then head over to https://www.maryskitchen.com.au for more authentic Greek recipes.