Greek culinary walking tour

Join me, Mary (Mary’s Kitchen), and Kelly (Hellenic Odyssey) for a guided walking tour of Melbourne’s most popular and energetic Greek precinct, Oakleigh.

Get ready to bite into a delicious galahtoboureko, an iconic sweet of creamy custard between filo pastry and drizzled with syrup. Crunch into the bestkoulouri outside of Athens. And savour the taste of Greek olives, dips, feta cheese and much more all from the passionate traders in this bustling neighbourhood. With each bite, you will learn about Greece’s enticing food culture, its history and its healthy essence. A delicious lunch at a gorgeous traditional restaurant is included, and you will leave having experienced many flavours, taking recipes away with you to create at home.

Tour Highlights

  • Introduction to Melbourne’s most vibrant Greek precinct, it’s food and it’s culture.
  • Taste the most popular Greek cakes
  • Sample a koulouri and hear about the art of Greek baking
  • Learn about the health benefits of Greek products.

What’s included

  • Guided walking tour and commentary throughout
  • Morning tea at a Greek café
  • Bakery and deli visits
  • Lunch at a traditional Greek restaurant

Visit various Greek shops to learn about the most commonly used ingredients and products in the Greek cuisine, including some samples to taste.

What to bring
An appetite!

What to wear
Casual and comfortable clothing

Meeting point
At the entrance of Nikos Cake Shop

For tickets go to link below:

https://www.eventbrite.com.au/e/greek-culinary-walking-tour-tickets-50630320652?utm_term=eventurl_text

Ikaria, nourishment for the soul

Ikaria, nourishment for the soul

It is my last day here in Ikaria, a beautiful Greek island in the northern Aegean, named after Icarus from mythology, who fell into the surrounding sea when his wax wings melted in the sun. Ikaria is a nature lover’s paradise with its crystal blue waters, and lush hiking trails that lead to quaint, mountainous villages nestled on the coast.

Ilias and his wife Thea are the owners of the inn I am staying at. Over my morning coffee, I ask him the question he has been asked many times over: “What do you think is the secret to longevity?” He answers simply: “Mary, here in Ikaria, we do not try to add years to our life. Instead we add life to our years…we make the most of every day.” While I came here to learn about their food, joy, peacefulness and longevity, I have learned so much more.

Ikaria is one of the Blue Zones, a term that was coined by Dr Michel Poulain. It is an anthropological concept that describes the lifestyles and environments characteristic of the world’s longest-lived people. Together with Dr Gianni Pes and Dan Buettner, they have been studying the planet, identifying these blue zones, with Ikaria being one five, the others being Sardinia, Okinawa in Japan, Loma Linda in California and Costa Rica’s isolated Nicoya Peninsula.

After speaking with many of the locals, what I learned was of most importance was the use of olive oil and fresh vegetables. Olive oil is an integral ingredient and the cornerstone of the Mediterranean diet – an ‘everyday food’. Here in Ikaria, they slow cook their vegetables in olive oil, and since the nutrients in vegetables are fat-soluble, the benefits of these nutrients are enhanced – and not to mention also delicious. The people of Ikaria enjoy a Greek Mediterranean diet, which is rich in olive oil, whole grains, fruit and fish. Vegetable and bean dishes are often the main meal, rather than served as a side. Salads are a part of every meal, and fruit always follows the main.

Mealtimes not only being a time to eat, but to spend together, and to create a strong bond between family and friends, young and old. I notice this bond not just at meal times but during everyday moments: driving along the road and stopping if you see someone you know; winding down the window and asking how the family is, and if they need anything. Chatting with Thea as we drive, she tells me that they take the time needed, the time required. It left me thinking how lovely this is; there is a genuine concern for the welfare of others on the island. They live a simple life but in so many ways it is a richer life.

The people of the Blue Zones practice healthy lifestyle habits that help them live longer, healthier and happier lives. These are the habits I noticed in Ikaria:

  • Moving naturally – this can be as simple as walking to work, the local cafe or working in the garden.
  • Purpose – having something to live for, a reason to wake up every morning.
  • Reducing stress – simply by taking a nap or having a rest each day and not watching the time constantly
  • Eating honest, fresh seasonal produce, and only until you are almost full, never overeating.
  • Plant-based diet, which also includes a small amount of meat
  • Wine – one or two glasses with a meal
  • Right tribe and community – creating real connections; social circles so important to a healthy life.
  • Loved ones first – people of the Blue Zones put family first, they invest in their children with time and love, and children care for their elders.

The food eaten is of course important, but equally if not even more important are the social connections. The highlight of my stay is attending a panayiri (festival), the essence to their longevity and happiness…the genuine caring for each other. Trestle tables and chairs are set up in the village square, the band is on the stage. Everyone feasts on roasted goat, salad, and the best of the local organic wine (which is drunk diluted with water). It is simply perfect. Young and old, all generations enjoying the night together. The music begins and everyone is singing and dancing to traditional Ikarian songs…soulful music which transports me away…a feeling so hard to describe. We dance all night, tired but at the same time rejuvenated.

Leaving Ikaria I take away with me the lessons of eating honestly, taking the time and living in the moment…it will be hard to leave this paradise, but I will return next year.

Easter baking and red eggs

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. 

Easter preparations begin on Holy Thursday when the eggs are dyed red, with the red representing the blood of Christ. My mother would also decorate a few using a leaf from her garden as a stencil. She would place the leaf on a clean egg, put it into some stocking, tie it tightly and slowing immerse it into the red dye. When the eggs were ready and the leaves removed she would polish them with a little olive oil. They would then take their place in a large bowl. 

Women in Greek families are busy baking tsourekia and koulouria. The house is filled with aromas of mahlepi and warm tsoureki straight out of the oven. I now spend Holy Thursday dying eggs and baking with my children. My kitchen becomes a hive of conversation and laughter.

Good Friday is the holiest day of the Easter calendar. It is a day of mourning. Traditional foods such as lentil soup are eaten. There is a church service in the afternoon and families attend at this time and help decorate the Epitaphio (the tomb of Christ) with fresh flowers, later to return for the evening service when the priest and choir chant Byzantine hymns. During this service the Epitaphio is taken out of the church for a procession and all follow holding their lit candles symbolising the mourners.

On Holy Saturday the Mayiritsa (Easter soup) is being cooked and the house prepared for the coming feast.

Families attend church for the Resurrection service. Just before midnight the church is darkened and everyone is silent. The flickering light of the ‘Eternal Flame’ (a candle inside the altar) is the only light. At midnight the priest lights his candle from the Eternal Flame and sings ‘Christos Anesti’ – ‘Christ is risen’. The Priest holds out his candle and the flame is given to the closest person and this flame travels throughout the entire church while everyone chants ‘Christos Anesti’. You take your lit candle home and place it near your icons and enjoy the late dinner of Mayeritsa and the breaking of the fast.

Easter Sunday is a day to be spent with family and friends and every soul feasts on lamb, usually cooked on a spit or, at times, oven roasted. Everyone always loves the part where the red eggs are cracked. From ancient times, the egg has been a symbol of the renewal of life, the mssage of the red eggs is victory over death and Christ breaking free from the tomb. As a child I just wanted to have the strongest egg.

Here is a recipe for koulouria, Easter biscuits and a recipe for dying your Easter eggs naturally. I decided to simmer the onion skins and the eggs at the same time, giving my red eggs a marbled effect, which I love. Enjoy dying your Easter eggs and baking…have fun and Happy Easter. 

Mary x

Natural dye for Easter eggs using onion skins giving a traditional red colour to the eggs

12 uncooked eggs, at room temperature
skins from 12 brown onions (or a mixture of brown and spanish onions)
2 tablespoons white vinegar
4 1/2 cups of water
olive oil for polishing the red eggs

Pour the water into a large saucepan, add the onion skins and the vinegar and bring to the boil. Lower the heat and simmer for about 20 to 30 minutes…the longer you simmer the deeper the colour will become.
Strain the dye and allow to cool to room temperature.
When the dye has cooled, add the eggs and bring to the boil and simmer for about 12 – 15 minutes, if the colour is not as deep as you want leave them in the dye for a 5 – 10 minutes.
Using a slotted spoon remove the eggs carefully and allow to cool on racks. When the eggs are cool enough to handle, polish with a little olive oil and using paper towelling. 

Koulouria (Easter biscuits)

2 eggs
1 cup oil
1 cup sugar
150 grams unsalted butter
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 cup orange juice
self raising flour
2 eggs yolks 

Cream the butter and sugar adding eggs in one at a time. Add the vanilla and orange juice, combine well.

Start adding flour a little at a time working well with one hand mixing continuously. Add as much flour as it needs to form a smooth dough that is not sticky.

Avoid overworking the mixture as that will make the biscuits tough.

Take pieces of the dough and on a smooth surface roll into a cylinder, fold in half and twist. Continue until all the dough is finished. Place on a baking dish lined with a baking sheet. Brush tops with the egg yolks (which have been mixed) and bake in a 220 o C oven for about 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Summertime recipes

Happy New Year to you all! I hope it has been a wonderful beginning to the year, filled with deliciousness, of course!
January for me is a time for rest; it’s a time to reflect and plan, a time for lazy days, and long lunches with family and friends.
Here are some summertime recipes to create, share and enjoy…hope you love them as much as I do.

Eggplant rolls with feta, olives and sundried tomato

60 mls olive oil
2 large eggplant, trimmed and sliced into 1.5 thickness lenghthways
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
1/3 cup kalamata olives, pitted and diced
12 sundried tomatoes, diced
small handful of basil leaves
1 tablespoon parsley, fined chopped
salt, to taste
freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl combine well the feta, olives, sundried tomatoes, parsley and mint.

Prepare the eggplant and brush the slices with olive oil. Heat a frypan with a little extra olive oil over a medium heat and fry the eggplant slices, about 2-3 minutes on each side or until cooked. You can also cook the eggplant over a grill or barbeque if you prefer. 

Allow to sit on some absorbent paper while cooking the remainder of the eggplant. Season to taste.

Lay out each eggplant slice and place a heaped tablespoon of the feta mixture at wider end and roll up tightly. Place onto a serving platter and drizzle a little more olive oil over, a grind of black pepper and some extra herbs.


Watermelon and haloumi 

30 mls olive oil
1 kilo watermelon, cut into chunks
250 grams halloumi cheese, sliced 1 cm thickness
½ Spanish onion, finely sliced (optional)
½ cup fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped
1 lemon

Fry or grill the halloumi cheese on a medium/high heat for 2-3 minutes on each side until golden brown. 

Place the watermelon chunks into a large serving bowl, drizzle with the olive oil, a good squeeze of lemon and add the herbs and onion (if using). Add the halloumi and using your hands combine gently. 

Variations

Watermelon, haloumi with prawns 

24 cooked prawns

Add cooked prawns to the salad and combine gently. 

If using green prawns, sauté the prawns in 30 mls olive oil for 2 minutes, or until cooked. Cool and add to the watermelon and haloumi

Watermelon, haloumi with chicken

1 cup shredded cooked chicken or 2 chicken fillets grilled or pan fried
1 handful baby spinach

Add the baby spinach to the watermelon and haloumi salad. Top the salad with the chicken and combine gently.

from “Everyday Mediterranean”

Food and Wellness Retreat, Ikaria, Greece

Ikaria, Greece

July 2017
9 nights, 10 days

Join me, Mary Valle, for a deliciously, amazing foodie retreat to Ikaria, Greece…it is time to relax and reward yourself.

Immerse yourself in 10 glorious days and 9 nights of traditional Greek village life and culture. We will be learning about this Blue Zone region of the world, with one of the world’s highest concentration of centenarians, it is known as the island where people forget to die…what is the secret to their longevity, joy and peacefulness? There will be cooking, discussions about the food and the secret to living longer the Greek way, and of course there will be dancing, fun, swimming and time for relaxation…I hope you return back home inspired and rejuvenated.

The retreat includes:

  • 9 Nights accommodation
  • Return transfers to and from Ikaria airport
  • Welcome drink and mezedes on arrival
  • Daily breakfast of eggs, homemade cheese, homemade marmalades, yogurt, Ikarian honey, wild herbal teas and coffee
  • Most lunches and dinners
  • Transfers to excursions on the island
  • Hands-on Cooking classes
  • Ikarian knowledge about longevity and the Blue Zones
  • Honey tasting
  • Winery tour
  • Farm visit…get ready to get your hands dirty…gathering whatever is in season, collecting eggs, milking goats and back in the kitchen to prepare lunch.

Additional highlights:

  • Enjoying and taking part in the local panayiri (festival)…be ready for some dancing!
  • Visit the monastery of Theoktistis
  • Yoga/stretch classes and meditation
  • Swimming in the Aegean sea
  • Hike and picnic
  • Farewell dinner 

Retreat exclusions:

International flights to and from Greece
Travel insurance

$3695 per person twin share
Single supplement available on request

Payment plans are available for this retreat
Booking terms and conditions apply

Early bird
Book and pay by 15th February 2017 to receive a signed copy of my cookbook and to go into the draw to win a personalized three hour, one-on-one cooking class worth $295.

For more information contact Mary
email: mary@maryskitchen.com.au
mobile: 0412 324 846

For travel bookings and payment contact Crystal
email: crystal@sanctuarytravel.com.au
mobile: 0402 472 628

Winter comfort food

The icy mornings remind me that winter is here and with that the promise of slow cooking, Sunday afternoon long lunches, retreating to the sanctuary of our homes and nourishing the mind, body and soul with comfort food.

Chicken Soup Avgolemono

I whole chicken
250 grams fine noodles (angle hair) (or short grain rice)
salt and pepper, to taste

egg and lemon sauce

Wash the chicken and place in a large pot with enough water to cover. Bring to boil and cook until tender, skimming off the scum as it cooks. Remove the chicken and strain the stock.

Bring the stock back to the boil, add the noodles and simmer until cooked. 

Season to taste.

Make the egg and lemon sauce and add to the soup.

Serve the soup hot accompanied with the chicken meat.

Avgolemono (egg and lemon sauce)

2 eggs
juice of 1 lemon
juice from the soup stock

Lightly beat the egg whites in a small bowl, add the yolks and beat a little more then add lemon juice gradually.

Slowly add a little stock into the egg and lemon mixture, beating all the time. Add a little more stock, continue mixing.

Pour the egg and lemon sauce into your soup or over your dish, stirring well so it doesn’t curdle.

Chicken casserole with chorizo and peas

Winter has arrived and brings with it a slower pace and more time dedicated towards the old fashioned comforts of home. I love spending time in the kitchen on a rainy day cooking up favorite meals for friends and family….these are the moments that I adore.

This chicken casserole is best served with a simple rice pilaf. I love the full flavors from the paprika and chorizo – they remind me of days spend in Spain.

1 onion, peeled and diced
1 chorizo, sliced
1 stalk celery, trimmed and diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic finely diced
8 chicken thighs, on the bone
1 x 400 g can diced tomatoes
splash of red wine
olive oil
salt and pepper, to taste
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon oregano
1 heaped tablespoon parsley, chopped
1 cup peas (frozen is fine)

In a large casserole pot, over a medium high heat, sauté the onion and chorizo in a little olive oil. Add the celery, carrot and garlic and sauté for a further 2 minutes.

Add the chicken and cook until it starts to brown. Pour in the tomatoes and wine, together with a cup of water. Season with the salt, pepper, paprika, oregano and parsley. Lower the heat and simmer for about 45-60 minutes or until the chicken is cooked. Add the peas and continue cooking for a further 4-5 minutes.

Serve with some plain pilaf.

Serves 4 – 6

Christmas baking

Christmas is nearly here and I need another batch of kourabiedes…love to give these gorgeous biscuits as gifts.

Here is the recipe for that last minute baking and homemade gift giving.

Mary x

Kourabiedes

250gm unsalted butter
½ cup (125 gm) caster sugar
3 egg yolks
½ cup (125ml) oil
1 small cup (shot glass) ouzo
1 small teaspoon baking powder
4-5 cups plain flour
75 gm slivered almonds (optional)
pure icing sugar

Preheat oven to 200 degrees C

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add egg yolks and mix well. Pour in the oil, ouzo and baking powder.

Slowly fold in the flour a bit at a time. You may not need all the flour; the dough needs to be light and not sticky. Do not overwork the dough as this can make the kourabiedes tough.

Take a small handful of dough and shape into crescents.

Place them onto a baking tray.

Place the slivered almonds in a clean frying pan and toast them over a low heat on the stove top until slightly golden.

Sprinkle over the dough.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Remove from the oven and, using a spatula, transfer onto greaseproof paper. When they are cool, dust with plenty of icing sugar and transfer onto a platter.

These biscuits keep well for about 3-4 weeks.

Summer couscous salad

Summer is here and it is time to slow down. 

Dreamy summer holidays for me are all about relaxing, having lazy days, enjoying time with family and friends over long lunches that turn into dinner. Summer food includes the idea of simple cooking, and this recipe is not only simple but perfect for summer eating. 

Summer Couscous Salad

150 grams couscous
½ small watermelon
150 grams haloumi cheese, sliced
1 red onion, peeled and sliced
1 pomegranate, cut in half and deseeded
small bunch of mint

Dressing 

100 mls olive oil
50 mls white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon pomegranate syrup
1 tablespoon honey
salt and pepper, to taste

flaked almonds to garnish

Prepare the couscous by placing the couscous in a bowl and adding150 boiling water. Cover with a plate and leave for 5-6 minutes or until the water is absorbed. Pour in a teaspoon of olive oil and fork up. Transfer the couscous onto a serving plate.

Cut the haloumi in small squares and pat dry. In a frypan heat some olive oil and fry the haloumi until golden and set aside.

Cut the watermelon flesh into pieces and add to the couscous. Place the haloumi on top and add the mint and red onion. Scatter the seeds from the pomegranate onto the salad. 

Place the olive oil, vinegar, pomegranate syrup, honey and salt and pepper into a bowl or jug and whisk to combine.

Dress the salad with the dressing, scatter with flaked almonds and serve.

Bean, vegetable and chorizo soup

As Melbourne winter begins to nibble, I love the idea of stews and soups simmering away on the stove, sitting by the fire with a throw and a good book and of course sharing comforting meals with family and friends.

This bean, vegetable and chorizo soup is an old family favorite and one that my mother cooked almost weekly.  She would occasionally vary the vegetables she used depending on what she had on hand.  Chorizo was a must, as we all loved the sweet smoky heat that it stirs up.

Perfect with some fresh crusty bread, feta cheese and olives.

Bean, vegetable and chorizo soup

400 grams white beans (butter or cannellini)
1 onion, finely diced
1 clove garlic, finely diced
1 bay leaf
2 carrots, peeled and diced
2 zucchini, diced
2 celery stalk, chopped
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 x 400gram can of diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
½ teaspoon smoked paprika (optional)
1 chorizo, chopped into chunks

Soak the beans in cold water overnight.

In a large pot saute the onion and garlic in a little olive oil or until soft.  Drain the beans and add to the pot and pour in about 2 litres of water. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar and bay leaf and stir well.   Add the vegetables and bring to the boil.  Simmer for ½ hour and add the chorizo and paprika.  Continue cooking for a further ½ hour or until beans are cooked.

Season to taste and add the parsley.

Serve hot.