Mediterranean diet afficionado and food author Meni Valle has gone vegetarian in her latest cookbook showcasing nearly 100 vegetable recipes from Greece and southern Europe.
Her latest cookbook, The Mediterranean Cook – A year of seasonal eating focuses on 80 vegetarian recipes from southern Europe, including Italy, Spain and even Turkey, and includes many from her ancestral home of Greece.
“It’s a lot more Greek than anything else because that’s what I know best,” Valle said.
“But there are other dishes: paella, pasta.”
Valle said about 40 of the 80 recipes were of Greek dishes including her favourite.
“These are the pickles. The pickled stuffed peppers,” she said.
“My mother used to make them.”
Valle, whose parents came from Florina, in northwestern Macedonia, said her mother also worked in Greece’s second largest city, Thessalonki, which was cosmopolitan, and may explain her mother’s unusual take on stuffed peppers.
Her sixth book in 10 years, The Mediterranean Cook – A year of seasonal eating, sees Valle, 64, drawing on her decades of teaching about food, family recipes and annual trips to Greece.
“It’s not just recipes,” she said. “There are some personal stories.”
One of those is about living with her former public servant cousin, Antonios, and his wife Eleni, in Florina, in 2022, and watching them grow, nurture, produce and breed what was needed to live.
“They are almost self-sufficient,” she said.
Valle was born in Melbourne and lives in the inner-Melbourne suburb of East Melbourne. As well as her five other cookbooks on Mediterranean food, she has written for leading Australian and overseas publications and been interviewed on local radio. She spent decades teaching food technology to secondary students in Melbourne’s south-east including Templestowe College and Camberwell Girls Grammar School. She was also a presenter for, and board member of, Home Economics Victoria – a health promotion charity and registered training organisation.
Valle said she wrote her latest cookbook about vegetarian Mediterranean dishes because of demand for it and the value of Mediterranean cooking.
“People are asking for more recipes,” Valle said.
The book explored recipes using seasonal vegetables, but also legumes, nuts and olive oil, with practically no butter used in her book.
For Valle the beauty of her latest book was that you could have the vegetarian meals on their own, or add meat products.
The book would also suit the budget conscious as it focused on using local and seasonal vegetables and offered tips on cooking with leftovers, she added.
“You don’t want to be getting things from California,” Valle said.
“If you are counting food miles, (produce) needs to be local and seasonal.”
As well as being about food the Mediterranean diet was about community, sitting together at the table, “having a glass of wine” and health and wellness.
Valle’s other books include: Everyday Mediterranean which looked at Mediterranean recipes as well as provide information on olive oil; My Mediterranean Kitchen with recipes from Spain, France, Italy, Greece and Lebanon; Mediterranean Lifestyle Cooking – The key to a healthy life through simple and delicious cooking, which is a selection of Valle’s favourite recipes from her first three books; and My Greek Kitchen which has classic recipes from Valle’s childhood handed down through the generations and enlivened by her own modern twists.
Her fifth book, Ikaria – Food and Life in the Blue Zone, was awarded the Eugeine Brazier prize for the transmission of women’s culinary heritage, a French prize created for cooking books written by women.
It includes traditional Ikarian island recipes and looks at island life in the “blue zone” that has seen Ikarians known worldwide for their incredibly high life expectancies and low chronic disease rates.
The Mediterranean Cook – A year of seasonal eating is published by Smith Street Books, and is out on 27 February.