A lazy recipe writer's guide to moussaka


I've decided that it's more taxing to write a recipe for moussaka than it is to make the damn thing. Although the moussaka photo has been up on my flickr page for a few weeks now, I've been putting off writing the post because, ugh, who can be bothered? It's not that the recipe is even that complicated. Sure it is a multi-part recipe with grilling, bolognesing, béchamel saucing, and baking but you've done all of that before. What gets me is the futility of trying to perfect amounts. Your baking dish is bigger than mine, your eggplants are smaller than mine, but none of that matters. What this recipe boils down to is the following:


1. Cook some bolognese with cinnamon and cloves1, about 750 g of meat's worth.
2. Make a big batch of bechamel sauce, maybe 75 g of butter's worth2. Mix it with half to 1 whisked egg & a generous grating of nutmeg.
3. Season and grill a few layers worth of sliced eggplant.
4. Layering from the bottom up: Thin layer of bolognese, the eggplant, a sprinkling of dried Greek oregano, a thicker layer of bolognese, and the béchamel custard. Finally sprinkle with grated hard cheese, such as Greek kefalotiri (reggiano works fine, too).
5. Bake in a 175ºC/350ºF oven for an hour or until golden on top.

But is that enough? There has to come a point where a certain level of knowledge can be safely assumed, particularly with readers as talented as your fine selves. Are you flattered enough yet to forgive my laziness?

(1) I recommend my summer bolognese, adding 5 ground cloves and 1 whole stick of cinnamon at the beginning with the onions. A mixture of half lamb mince and half beef mince works well for this. Finish with a grating of nutmeg.
(2) We've made béchamel before, for macaroni cheese and tuna mornay. Make the sauce using butter, flour, milk, salt, and nutmeg, but unlike those recipes stop there and don't add cheese and such. Mario Batali, unsurprisingly, has also made it.

Feta crumble II: Electric boogaloo

Stuffed eggplant with feta crumble

Spoiler alert! This was awesome.

You might recall from the recent pork entry that I was unsatisfied with the feta crumble. The flavours were all there, but the crumble's texture was stodgy and lacked any of the satisfying bite I was expecting. I intended not to follow that exact recipe again, but the promise that drew me to try it in the first place was still there. The seed was planted, and I was determined to make a satisfying feta crumble.

This time though, I used the crumble as a filling for stuffed eggplant. I have Peter's stuffed eggplants to thank for the inspiration and rough idea of how to cook the thing. I'm sure he won't mind that I bastardised his recipe, because this turned out really, really well. The eggplant's skin could have been more tender (not entirely sure how to make this happen), and I can see this becoming a staple side dish in the second pancake household.

The changes made to the crumble were minor, and more or less along the lines of what my gut told me the first time I was making it. Rather than mix the crumble ingredients into the beans I baked the eggplant stuffed with the beans and scattered the crumble over the cooked eggplant for a final blast under the grill before serving.

Stuffed eggplants with feta crumble


  • 1 medium-sized eggplant
  • 1 cup of baked beans
  • 1/2 cup of fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/4 cup of crumbled Greek feta
  • 1/4 tsp dried Greek oregano
  • Olive oil for cooking
  • Extra-virgin olive oil for finishing
  • Salt & black pepper

1. Preheat the oven to 200ºC (400ºF).
2. Cut the eggplant in half lengthways and scoop most of the flesh out of both halves. Roughly chop the eggplant flesh, salt it well, and set aside on top of a piece of cheesecloth for 5-10 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the crumble: combine the feta, bread crumbs, oregano, and some cracked black pepper in a bowl.
3. Bring the baked beans a 2/3 cup of water to a simmer. Take the eggplant pulp, fold the edges of the cheesecloth up and wring out all of the excess water from the eggplant. Add this pulp to the simmering beans and cook until reduced by 3/4 (the mixture should be quite wet but not soupy).
4. Pile the baked beans mixture into the shelled-out eggplants and place on a baking tray in the oven. Cook for 50 minutes.
5. When the eggplant is cooked through, remove the tray and turn on the grill (broiler). While it heaps up, generously scatted the crumble mixture over the eggplants. Drizzle with olive oil and place under the grill for 5 minutes or until browned. Serve drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil.

Not your average pork & beans

Pork rib eye & feta crumble

I posted a recipe the other day for George Calombaris' baked beans that are used in this dish. Like the beans this recipe comes from his cookbook The Press Club, and like the beans it didn't quite live up to its promise. The principles are there — baked beans is a classical pairing with pork and a classic in itself — but in making both of them I found myself going against my own cooking instincts in order to stay faithful to the recipe.

There are plenty of great things about this dish, don't get me the wrong. The idea of juicy pork topped with hearty beans and a salty, crispy crumble sounds great, doesn't it? What's more, Calombaris recommends serving it with a jus infused with Greek coffee, and the flavours work terrifically.

Unfortunately the feta crumble topping — the very thing that sets this recipe apart from regular old pork and beans — lets it down. It didn't feel right to be mixing the crumble ingredients together with the saucy baked beans, but I did it anyway. The results were predictable: unpleasantly soggy in the middle, and poorly crisped on the outside. It's hard to believe that they would make it this way in the restaurant.

I don't want to shamelessly plunder another of the book's recipes, especially since it's nothing to write home about. Instead a short description should suffice:

Pork rib eye with feta crumble

Full recipe in George Calombaris' The Press Club cookbook.

Combine bread crumbs, diced red onion, and crumbled feta and stir this through a portion of baked beans. Refrigerate until needed. Fry a pork rib chop on both sides in oil and butter until medium/medium-well. Top some of the crumble & bean mixture and grill under the broiler until browned on top. Serve with greek coffee jus.

A bit disappointing really, but you haven't heard the last of feta crumble.

Grilled lamb with white bean skordalia

Grilled lamb neck with white bean skordalia

I've gushed about Food Safari before, but is it okay if I gush a little more? Food Safari is a show about international cuisines that somehow manages to perfectly capture what it is to eat and cook in Australia. We don't have any unifying culinary tradition, but what we do have is a diverse range of high quality produce, and people of every background who are proud of their culture. There are the douchebags among us that would demand we all assimilate into one big ball of bland, but there's something pretty cool about the old Italian woman who is able to live and work here for 45 years but still has to speak to me in very broken English with her son translating. The fact that you can get away with it and still be part of a large, supported, mainstream community and not be marginalised is an achievement, and we're better for it.

The Greek community is huge in Australia. Melbourne is in fact noteworthy for having the largest Greek population of any city outside of Athens. It's not surprising that Melbourne is where you will find George Calombaris and his three restaurants. His flagship Press Club is famous for its modern Greek food, but he's not averse to slumming it.

This dish is more homestyle: neck of lamb braised with yoghurt & onion until, sliced and chargrilled, and served on white bean skordalia with a parsley and fennel salad. If it sounds finicky don't be put off, it's actually very simple. It's a great dish (I would however make the braise both sweeter and saltier next time) and an excellent way of serving front and center an otherwise tough cut of lamb. The standout though is the white bean skordalia which is pleasantly tart and full of flavour. I used a couple of spoonfuls with dinner, and scooped the rest up with crusty bread for lunch the next day.

Get the recipes and videos at the Food Safari website:

* The keen-eyed will notice that my fennel & parsley salad has fennel seeds in place of fresh fennel. This last-second substitution was necessitated by a dodgy fennel bulb

Greek village salad

Greek village salad

As I was embarking on the long walk home at 8 o'clock this morning after a huge night out (so much for being busy with work), I thought about simplicity. I watched the the non-hungover public go about their Saturday morning routines — jogging club with old friends, bacon & eggs at a café, walking the dog by the river. It was nice. Why complicate things?

A good village salad is crisp, fresh, cool, and bright. It has the salty intensity of feta and olives, and the sharp tang of vinegar but is never harsh and overwhelming. It's great by itself, with some fresh bread, or if you're really keen a slab of tender, slow roasted lamb.

Greek village salad

This is less of a recipe and more of an ingredient list.


  • Cucumber
  • Tomato
  • Shallot, halved then very thinly sliced
  • Kalamata olives, pitted
  • Greek feta
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Dried greek oregano2
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Cracked black pepper

1. Chop the cucumber and tomato into medium-sized chunks. Chop or crumble the feta into 1 cm pieces. Place the cucumber, tomato, olives, feta, and shallots in a large bowl.
2. Sprinkle with a little pepper and a little oregano. Drizzle with olive oil and vinegar (I use roughly a 3:1 ratio of oil to vinegar). Toss to combine, serve.

1. It should go without saying to use the best ingredients. A ripe tomato, fresh feta, and the best olive oil you can find.
2. This is different from most of the dried oregano you find in supermarkets, it's fragrant and intense. Find it at ethnic delis, it comes as a large bunch, dried whole, stalk and all. To use break of what you need and rub it between your fingers to separate the herb from the twigs.

Beetroot tzatziki

Beetroot tzatziki

It's about time I posted a recipe. There have been a few posts lately, but the last recipe was the Aussie burger back in February, and I doubt many of you need instructions on how to make a tasty burger. I enjoy posting recipes, but it's as much for my own reference as anything — I don't know about you, but I rarely use the recipes I see on food blogs. It's not for lack of trust in their authors, either. Rather I like to soak up the appetizing photos and steal interesting combinations/techniques to apply to whatever ingredients I have on hand. I may not use everything I see straight away, but it all gets mentally filed away.

This beetroot tzatziki is an example of a recipe that I saw in the wild (in the food section of a newspaper, actually) and set about making months later. Some of the original elements are still there, but the gaps have been filled in with common sense. Beetroot pairs classically with orange and dill, turning an otherwise standard tzatziki into something completely new. Serve it as a dip or with grilled lamb (squeeze lemon over your lamb to balance out the sweetness of the tzatziki) and enjoy.

Beetroot tzatziki


  • 2 cups grated beetroot1
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice2
  • 1 tsp orange zest
  • 1.3 tbsp finely chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup strained greek yoghurt3
  • 1 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt, to taste

1. Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well to distribute everything. Taste for seasoning, and consider adding some more salt and lemon juice — these sorts of dips usually benefit from an extra kick of flavour.
2. Leave in the fridge overnight to allow the flavours to infuse.

(1) Boil beetroots whole, then allow to cool slightly before removing the skin and grating. For what its worth, these would have to be the easiest things to grate in the world.
(2) A word of advice: zest the orange first, it's much easier to zest an intact citrus.
(3) Strained yoghurt is exactly what it sounds like. Buy a tub of Greek style yoghurt and sit the contents in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl in the fridge overnight. Discard the liquid in the bowl and save the now-much-thicker yoghurt for tzatziki and marinades.



Continuing the Greek theme, I give you pastitsio, the ultimate in Greek comfort food. Much like lasagna, baked ziti, and other baked pasta dishes this is one of those meals that you find yourself sneaking back to a few hours after dinner. When I made this particular batch, if it weren't for my competing desire to leave some for the following day's lunch I'm quite convinced I would have eaten the whole thing in one sitting.

Simplistically, pastitsio is a later of pasta (ziti or macaroni, fastitiously arranged in rows if you can be bothered), topped with an aromatic bolognese, a thick layer of béchamel, some grated cheese, and baked. All of these layers are important and delicious, but the element that really makes a pastitsio sing is the bolognese. Unlike an Italian bolognese this is flavoured with cloves, cinnamon, Greek oregano and bay, which should be used in large amounts to impart a noticable flavour. The recipe for this bolognese is below, but for the rest I'm simply describing the process since the exact amounts will vary depending on the size of your dish.

For the pasta, as well as being tossed with parmesan (or any hard cheese) the pasta is mixed with egg — not so much for flavour but rather to glue the pasta together for easy and attractive servings. The béchamel is your basic white sauce: butter, flour, milk, salt, white pepper, and a grating of nutmeg. Once it's all assembled, grate some cheese on top and bake at 180ºC until golden on top (about 50 minutes).

Pastitsio bolognese sauce


  • 600g beef mince
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 5 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 12 cloves
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 400g canned tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp red wine
  • 1 tsp dried Greek oregano
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 anchovy
  • Salt, to taste
  • Pepper, to taste

1. Heat a heavy pan until very hot, then add the olive oil, beef mince, and some salt. Cook, stirring and breaking up occasionally until the meat is very well browned, then remove and set aside.
2. In the oil left behind in the pan, add the onion, garlic, and cloves and turn the heat down to low. Cook until the onion is translucent.
3. Add the remaining ingredients, the reserved beef, and 1/2 cup of water, then cover and cook on a low heat for 2 hours.

Odysseus leaves Ogygia: Grilled lamb backstrap

Chargriled lamb with lemon potatoes and tzatziki

Greek food, man. Greek food.

Recently a great meal at Eros Kafe opened my eyes to the joys of Greek food. By all indications I should have seen this long ago — since high school almost all of my close friends has worked for a time at Eros — but that doesn't matter anymore, here I am. It's like the guitar: while I was growing up my dad collected and played guitars, but it took moving out to finally motivate me to learn (alternate explanation: I took up guitar in university thinking that if I could strum out Counting Crows songs it would impress girls).

The meal responsible for said eye opening was Eros's souvlakia: lamb loin skewered and chargrilled, on a tabouleh, chickpea and smashed potato salad, served with tzatziki. The meat was disappointingly tough for loin, but the flavours were excellent: crisp and fresh, perfect food for a warm summer evening. The dish was simple but came together really well. What better place than that to kick off my next cooking odyssey?

For my homage I used backstrap rather than loin, and can I just say to the uninitiated that you simply can't go wrong with backstrap. It's tender, flavourful, and effortlessly looks great on a plate. Unfortunately it's quite expensive, but with a hearty salad of potatoes and chickpeas a little meat goes a long way. Backstrap isn't used a lot in traditional Greek cooking, but it's obvious why it's a favourite in modern Greek circles.

The recipe below is a simple parsley and yoghurt marinade for the meat, but in time I'll put up recipes for the tzatziki and potato salad. The day after I took the photo I remade the salad for the remaining meat adding cumin and roasted tomato, which made it even better. This marinade is a good all-purpose Greek marinade, which would taste just as good on chicken or beef.

When I first made the marinade I added half a teaspoon of sugar to the mix. I hoped this would help get the nice charred crust I was after — and maybe it did — but it took the edge off the salty and sour tastes which should really be quite sharp to compliment the gaminess of the lamb, so leave it out.

Grilled lamb backstrap


  • 400g lamb backstrap
  • 1/4 of a medium onion
  • 3 cloves of roasted garlic1
  • 1/4 cup of flat leaf parsley
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp greek yoghurt
  • 1/2 tsp salt

1. Combine all of the ingredients except for the lamb, and blend until they make a smooth puree. Coat the lamb in this paste and marinate in the fridge overnight.
2. Take the lamb out of the fridge and allow it to come to room temperature. Heat a grill (preferably charcoal) to very hot and cook the lamb for 5 minutes a side, or until it's medium-rare inside and charred on the outside. Rest the meat before slicing, then serve with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.

(1) Fresh garlic would be fine, but I had a whole head of roasted garlic on hand which is never a bad thing.

Lamb, olives, & potatoes, two ways

Roast leg of lamb

One of the troubles with cooking for one is keeping costs down whilst avoiding repetition. A leg of lamb is delicious and more economical than most other cuts, but once the initial roast dinner is over it's each to get sick of lamb sandwiches all week. As good as risotto and pasta are at incorporating last night's leftovers, it's hard to shake the fact that you're eating the same thing you ate last night tossed through a bowl of penne. This was the situation I found myself in last week, with an impulsively-purchased leg of lamb, a large batch of olive tapenade, and some mashed potato. The challenge was to create two distinct dishes from more or less the same ingredients, and at the risk of sounding too proud of myself I think I did pretty well.

Roast lamb, skordalia, and olive tapenade

Dinner number one was roast lamb with skordalia and a minted olive dressing. I regret not writing down the specifics, but I can offer a general outline. First the lamb: Make a marinade of greek yoghurt, honey, crushed garlic, dried oregano, chopped mint, and salt. Rub this over the a leg of lamb and roast in a 220ºC/425ºF oven for 20 minutes, before reducing the heat to 160ºC/320ºF and cooking until the internal temperature of the lamb reads 70ºC/160ºF. Meanwhile, boil some potatoes, then drain well and mash with crushed garlic, salt, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a liberal amount of olive oil. To make the dressing, combine equal parts olive tapenade and extra virgin olive oil with some finely chopped mint. To assemble, top portions of skordalia with slices of the rested roast lamb and drizzle with some dressing.

Potato gnocchi with lamb & olive ragu

For dinner number two I picked over the bones of the lamb roast to make potato gnocchi with a lamb & olive ragu. The gnocchi I've written about before, and the ragu recipe is below. It's meaty and very savory thanks to the olive tapenade, and goes well with grated parmigiano reggiano and finely shredded fresh mint. I used leftover roast lamb, but if you're making it from scratch, substitute lamb shoulder.

Lamb ragu


  • 250g lamb, diced
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 shallot, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tbsp olive tapenade
  • Salt, to taste

1. Heat the olive oil to a high heat, then add the lamb and cook until it is well-browned. Remove and reduce the heat to low. Sauté the diced shallot and garlic with the bay and oregano until the onion is translucent.
2. Add the tomato paste, diced tomato, and cook until reduced to a pulp. Return the browned lamb and cover with water. Bring this to a boil then simmer, covered, for 1 hour or until the lamb is very tender.
3. Stir in the olive tapenade, season to taste, and serve.