In our Forest Feast giveaway (Kitchen Garden, March 10), reader Asha Tsimeris, whose family is from the Greek island of Kythera, nominated eggplants as her favourite Mediterranean plant. She says her grandparents came to Australia from Kythera and on visits there in summer the highlights for her were fig trees, apricots and thyme honey.
Asha and her partner Patrick Stein have lived in Turner for eight years. Their well designed but small ground floor apartment is shared with their two young children, Reuben, three and a half, and Amina, 11 months.
They all appreciate the decent vegetable patch which is north-west facing and backed by brick wall which heats up to retain warmth in the cooler weather. They are still harvesting roma tomatoes, "Little Fingers" eggplants, beans, zucchinis and passionfruit. They also grow mint, thyme and oregano as well as kumquat and lemons. There is one raised bed and also some vertical plantings in a smaller courtyard with spring onions and strawberries.
Vegetables are mostly grown from seed to teach Reuben about the end-to-end growing and harvesting process. It helps develop his sense of time and to check what is ripe to pick. During mid-summer the family gave some corn grown from seed to friends within the complex where they live, in exchange for beans. It is a way of instilling community in the children. Asha, a lovely young woman, wanted to focus on the kids in the photos in these current times.
Asha is a student development officer in engagement and success, at Wellbeing at the ANU, and she runs a program called ANU+ which gets students involved in volunteering.. Her father, James, used to make pottery for Japanese restaurants in Sydney and the respect and grounding aspects of their culture has always been in the background as she grew up.
She is interested in the "blue zones", geographic regions that are home to some of the world's oldest people, not just their diet but their way of life and she says humans crave social connection and she wants to nurture and demonstrate how this can be done. Diets in the blue zones include whole plant foods, legumes, whole grains and nuts and exercise is built into daily life.
At home in Turner, Patrick and Asha share the cooking though she has a bigger passion for it. Dishes are generally Mediterranean, Greek and others and she is an advocate for authentic cooking. She says many restaurants and cafes stereotype a cuisine, for example "Greeks eat a lot of lamb". As she says, a lot of Greek food especially on Kythera, is vegetarian and seasonal.
Many of the dishes cooked by Asha were taught to her by her late mother, Louise Megaloconomos.
Family favourites were spanakopita, baked green beans and baklava as well as walnut cake served with natural Greek yoghurt and honey. The closest recipe to the one used by Mrs Megaloconomos can be found at www.europeancuisines.com/greece-greek-karithopita-walnut-cake-with-olive-oil
As the authors say, karithopita was always meant to be solid stuff, the newly baked cake soaked with boiling honey and also uses fine semolina for half the basis of he cake. It contains 2.5 cups of coarsely chopped or ground walnuts. The dessert/cake was sent to the 50th birthday celebrations of the European Union as one of 54 "national birthday cakes".
This is walnut season in our area and my fresh walnuts usually come from the Southside Farmer's Market's family owned Alpine Nuts stall. The walnuts and hazelnuts are grown at Eurobin in the High Country. You can purchase walnut kernels and walnuts in shell online but their walnut flour has sold out.
Here is Asha's family recipe which uses home grown eggplants.
2 large eggplants
5 garlic cloves
1 tin cherry tomatoes (or home grown)
Preheat the oven to 180C. Peel and cut or crush the garlic cloves. Fry with olive oil for a minute or two, and then add the cherry tomatoes and about a teaspoon of cinnamon. Cut up the eggplant in slices. In a separate pan, add olive oil and fry the eggplants so they are browned slightly. Layer the eggplants in a baking tray, and add the tomato mixture. Crumble about half a 200g packet of feta cheese over the top. Place in oven and bake for 30 minutes or until the eggplants are well cooked.