Friday 23 March 2018

Days in the sun - Greek recipes with a modern twist

Spiced almond and vanilla baklava
Spiced almond and vanilla baklava
Dirty eggplant, tahini, lemon, pine nuts, raisins
Kataifi prawns, honey dressing, avocado
Greek by George Calombaris

George Calombaris is an Aussie chef with an Hellenic heart, and his recipes offer a modern interpretation of Greek cooking

Spiced almond and vanilla baklava

iw Baklava_Page_3.jpg
Spiced almond and vanilla baklava

'We must cook not only to fill our stomachs, but more, importantly, to fill our hearts and souls." Wise words from chef George Calombaris, who runs the acclaimed Press Club restaurant in Melbourne, and was voted one of the top 40 chefs of influence in the world by Global Food and Wine Magazine.

Irish fans of TV food shows might recognise George from MasterChef Australia. His book covers everything from street food and his mum's recipes to traditional Hellenic snacks and the seven commandments for Souvlaki, which is not a meal, he says, "it is a social part of life."

George says what he loves about baklava is that the recipe changes all the time, depending on who's making it and where they come from. It's a great way for cooks to put their personal stamp on it.

This combination of almond and vanilla is beautiful, and adding just a pinch of salt brings out the flavour of the almonds. Make sure the syrup has cooled completely before pouring it over the hot pastries (or do it the other way: hot syrup and cold pastries - just make sure one is hot and one is cold).

Makes about 70 small pieces


1kg slivered almonds

½ cup (80g) fine semolina

Pinch of salt flakes

1 vanilla bean, split, seeds scraped

500g clarified butter

40 sheets filo pastry, each sheet about 33cm x 23cm

About 70 cloves

750g caster sugar

250g honey

Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange


Place the almonds, semolina, salt and vanilla seeds (reserve the pod for the syrup) in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped (take care not to overprocess otherwise it will become a paste).

Lightly brush a baking dish (about 33cm x 23cm) with clarified butter.

Place a sheet of filo in the prepared dish, folding any overhanging pastry into the tray, and brush with clarified butter. Layer and butter another six sheets of pastry, then sprinkle a good handful of the almond mixture evenly over the top. Lay another sheet of filo on top, brush with butter and top with another handful of almonds.

Repeat this layering until you have used all the almond mixture. Press down gently on the baklava to compress the nuts. Top with a sheet of filo and brush with butter, then layer and butter another six sheets of pastry. Press again firmly to compress the layers and thoroughly brush the top with butter.

Transfer to the fridge for 1 hour to set.

Preheat the oven to 170°C (fan-forced).

Score the baklava lengthways into five strips about 4.5cm-wide (you should only cut through the top layers of pastry), then cut widthways into seven strips. Cut across each square piece to form a triangle, and stud each one with a clove. Bake for 40 minutes or until golden.

Meanwhile, combine the sugar, honey, orange zest and juice, reserved vanilla pod and 450ml water in a saucepan and bring to the boil, stirring until the sugar has dissolved. Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes, then set aside to cool to room temperature.

Remove the baklava from the oven and cool for 5 minutes, then strain the syrup evenly over the top. Allow the baklava to cool completely (this will take a good few hours), then cut into pieces following the scored lines.

Dirty eggplant, tahini, lemon, pine nuts, raisins

Dirty eggplant, tahini, lemon, pine nuts, raisins

I'm not sure why I call this dirty eggplant - I guess it's the way the eggplants are cooked. You can use your oven if you like, but don't be afraid to fire up your barbecue. If you have a charcoal barbecue, so much the better.

Serves 4


2 medium eggplants (aubergines)

2½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra to garnish

110g tahini

Juice of 1 large lemon

Salt flakes

Two thirds cup (100g) pine nuts, toasted

Two thirds cup (50g) raisins

Dill sprigs and apple mint leaves (or regular mint leaves), to garnish


Preheat a barbecue grill plate to high heat. Pierce the eggplants all over with the tip of a knife, then place on the grill and cook until blackened all over. Alternatively, preheat the oven to 200°C (fan-forced) and roast the eggplants for 30 minutes.

Place the charred eggplants in a bowl, cover with plastic film and rest for 15 minutes.

Remove the skin and discard any resting juices. Cut the eggplants in half, then press flat with your hand to spread them out.

Combine the olive oil, tahini, lemon juice and 3-4 tablespoons water in a small bowl and season with salt.

Dress the pine nuts and raisins with a little dressing, then drizzle the rest over the eggplant halves. Top with the fresh herbs, drizzle with a little extra olive oil and serve.

Kataifi prawns, honey dressing, avocado

Kataifi prawns, honey dressing, avocado

A little tip for you here is to make sure you bring the kataifi pastry to room temperature before you use it. You can buy it from all good Mediterranean delis. For golden, crisp prawns cook them in batches so you don't bring down the temperature of the oil. Serves 4


100g kataifi pastry

100ml extra virgin olive oil

4 large raw king prawns, peeled and deveined, tails intact

1 ripe avocado

2 litres cottonseed oil

Salt flakes

Coriander leaves, to garnish

For the honey dressing:

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

1 tablespoon lime juice

2 tablespoons fish sauce

80g honey

¼ cup (20g) almonds, toasted


Pull the pastry apart and arrange into four 15cm lengths. Brush with the olive oil, then wrap each prawn in pastry and refrigerate for 1 hour.

To make the honey dressing, toast the coriander seeds in a dry frying pan, then transfer to a mortar and pestle and lightly crush them. Place in a small bowl, add the lime juice, fish sauce, honey and almonds and whisk to combine.

Shortly before you are ready to serve, cut the avocado in half and remove the skin and seed. Cut each half in half again, then cut each piece lengthways into three slices.

Heat the cottonseed oil in a deep-fryer to 180°C (or in a heavy-based saucepan until a cube of bread browns in 15 seconds). Add the pastry-wrapped prawns and cook for 3 minutes or until golden and cooked through. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towel. Season with salt flakes.

Arrange the prawns and avocado on a serving plate, dress with the honey dressing and garnish with coriander leaves.

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