It was around Easter time…my mum had been cooking like there was no tomorrow during the week leading up to our biggest celebration of the year – Greek Pasqua.
I can still remember the aromas drifting through the house and into the backyard where my brother and I would often kick a ball around.
My mum had made some koulouria (butter biscuits). They were my favourite and probably because they were so much fun to make – twisting them in all shapes and sizes.
Anyway, while my mum was out visiting the neighbours one afternoon, I decided it was a perfect time to help myself to those biscuits. Pulling a stool up close to the fridge, as they were sitting in a jar on top of the fridge looking amazing may I add, my curiosity got the better of me and I had to have a biscuit or 10. My little 4-year old arm couldn’t quite reach and as I tried to grab hold of the jar, the inevitable happened – I knocked the jar off the fridge and it smashed into a trillion pieces.
“You’re in trouble and I am going to tell mum on you,” taunted my older sibling.
I was petrified of what was going to happen, so I had to run and hide. I snuck into the outside shed and pushed my way around the back of one of the tall shelves and sat there. It felt like forever, but probably not that long really, when I heard my mum come home and she called out to me.
“Sofia, where are you?”
My older sibling joined the hunt but before they could find me, I made the decision to come clean and face the consequences.
There I was, looking very sheepish and waiting to be punished but to my surprise, nothing except for, “why didn’t you just ask for a biscuit?”
Ah that’s what I love about our Greek culture when it comes to food – all is permissible!
But it’s a very different story when it comes to boys – let’s leave that for another post.
Moving on….I wanted to share this dish with you my mum used to make for us that we always loved to eat. In fact, we would often sit at the table watching her construct this delicious dish. But I am going to have to call it the “No-name dish” because I asked her what do you call it, and she had no answer for me! So if you are Greek and your mum used to make this dish for you and you know what it’s called, please help a sister out!
She would grab a dessert cup...you know those gold glass ones that was so typical in the 70’s and 80’s. Lightly oiling it, she would scoop spoonfuls of cooked rice into it, press it down firmly. Then she would turn the cup upside down and press it onto a dinner plate. We thought she was amazing and a master chef really. Then she would scoop ladles full of cooked mince over the rice and then finishing it off with a generous amount of grated parmesan or mizithra. It didn’t take any convincing on those nights to eat up all our dinner, that’s for sure.
But why keep it as a memory, I thought today – how about I try to reconstruct this memory and put my twist on it and present it to my family.
And so I did!
Using lamb mince was a must! I know it’s a little fattier than beef but hey, it sure is tastier! Of course lots of onion, garlic and some aromatic spices were included – such as cinnamon bark, a whole nutmeg and ground cumin and fresh herbs out of our organic garden. But I am convinced the real hero of this dish is the small sweet cherry truss tomatoes (they have the highest amount of Vitamin C in them than any other tomato) we have been growing over the summer months. They are packed with flavour and compliment the fresh basil perfectly.
So here is the recipe. I hope you and your family enjoy it as much as I did while growing up. I am happy to report, the family gave me the thumbs up! Happy Days!
Serves 4 – 6
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 red onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, sliced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1 cinnamon bark
1 whole nutmeg
1 teaspoon honey
½ cup lamb mince
1 cup tomato passata
1 tablespoon tomato paste
½ cup water
1 bay leaf
handful of chopped basil
handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup of rice
extra basil to garnish
½ cup grated parmesan or mizithra
1. In a medium saucepan, heat oil. Add onion and garlic cooking until transparent. Add spices and honey cooking for a few minutes making sure onion mix is well coated.
2. Add to this lamb mince and brown. Add tomato passata, tomato paste, water and herbs. Bring to boil and then turn to low and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally.
3. Cook rice according to packet directions when mince is 15 minutes off from being ready.
4. Lightly oil a small cup or soufflé dish. Spoon in rice and flatten with back of spoon until cup is filled to top. Turn onto a dinner plate holding its shape. Scoop rice on top and side, garnish with fresh basil and sprinkle some grated parmesan or mizithra on top.