Boasting her popular Sweet Greek store and two books to her name, it’s no surprise that Kathy Tsaples has been asked to take part in a new food series.
After getting her hands on a copy of Sweet Greek, Food Safari host Maeve O’Meara made no secret of the fact that she is a fan of the Greek Australian’s work and had her sights set on bringing the cook on board.
“Maeve became aware of me from my first cookbook and she made contact to tell me how she loved reading it, was so inspired by it; she cried, she laughed, she did it all while reading the book and it was just beautiful for her to say something like that to me,” Kathy recalls.
So when Maeve asked her to take part in the new SBS Food Safari series, Food Safari Earth and cover Greek cuisine, there was no doubt in her mind.
The series started this week, and takes a meat-free angle, exploring the endless possibilities of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and spices, and with so much of Greek cuisine consisting of pulses, grains, veggies and herbs Kathy says it was right up her alley.
“It looks at the significance of the earth and how it gives us our food, and as Greeks we’ve been very accustomed to this because we were cooking paddock to plate for centuries. Our ancestors, our grandparents – we all had that little plot that we’d plant our vegetables and herbs in and we’d create dishes around that,” she tells.
She is feeling particularly inspired, having only recently returned from a memorable summer in Greece, where she says she had the chance to truly switch off.
“I like to go to Greece frequently … it takes me back to basics and what it is to be Greek. Because of the development of society we all tend to do different things now, but when you go back to Greece, you eat the food that’s available. Back to the land, back to the earth,” Kathy says.
This time around she focused on the Peloponnese, which she admits is her favourite region for fresh produce, taking the chance to indulge in local seafood, varieties of horta (greens), salads, olive oil, cheeses and yoghurt.
“I just love the Peloponnese because you’ve got that beautiful climate, you’ve got the mountains, the sea, the sun, and it produces an abundance and variety of fruit, herbs, wine, olive oil, cheeses – all the beautiful things in life,” she says.
“All these are basic, fundamental core foods; they’re not extravagant, they don’t need a lot and you can mix and match all of them, or eat them on their own and you have the most amazing dishes. This is what I love when I go to Greece; I hardly ever go to fancy top end restaurants. I search for the tavernas that are hidden away, run by locals so that we could eat the foods that they produce.”
Aside from the Peloponnese, Thessaly holds a particularly special place in her heart being the birthplace of her parents.
“I needed to walk through my mum’s village this time and just remember that 19-year-old girl who came out here to Australia all those years ago. I spent time in what they call the baktse (garden) where they would plant fassoulakia (beans), horta (greens), kremidia (onions), and maidano (parsley). So I dug a bit of the soil and planted things in honour of my mum … I knew she wasn’t doing too well,” she tells. It was a timely visit that granted her the opportunity to reconnect with her familial roots, sadly she lost her mum just two weeks after her return to Melbourne.
Accustomed to being surrounded by strong women like her mother, and the woman she herself has become, while in Greece Kathy also seeks out and spends time at women’s cooperatives. This time around she found the most inspiring of all in her father’s village Gonnoi.
“I look for them wherever I go. If you go back to basics, who really understands food and how to cook from the land using seasonal produce? It’s the women; our yiayiades (grandmothers), our mothers. They are a fascinating group of women, and it is run so professionally. They have a roster system, a president, and I just spent days with them as they cooked non-stop,” including everything from jams, spoon sweets, and pasta that is then packed and distributed to local shops. But she admits it was the pites that really enthralled her.
“Coming from Thessalia we make a lot of pites. Even on New Year’s Eve our traditional pita is kreatopita (meat pie) – not so much the cake. And the women are so experienced; they make pita out of anything and everything, it was extraordinary to watch. I think they got sick of me in the end,” she laughs.
Now back in Australia, she’s putting to use the tips she learnt in the kitchen and sharing the love with her family, friends, and customers.
Tune in to Food Safari Earth to see how to make delicious vegetarian yemista, and the host’s particular favourite, Kathy’s special fig pasta made with peppercorns and walnuts.
RECIPE: Easy zucchini, feta and ricotta pita
This recipe was inspired by a pita Kathy’s mother would make using only feta cheese. Featured in Sweet Greek Life, this is Kathy’s version which is equally delicious, and great to whip up for a quick weeknight dinner.
1 x 375g packet filo pastry
250g unsalted butter, melted
3 zucchinis, grated, sprinkled with 1 tsp salt and left to drain in a colander
200g Greek feta, crumbled
300g fresh ricotta
1/2 cup thick Greek yoghurt
3 tbsp fresh mint, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup milk
1 cup thick Greek yoghurt
1 cup light olive oil or sunflower oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1. Brush a rectangular tray, approximately 36 x 30cm with some of the melted butter. Lightly butter four sheets of filo pastry and lay them crisscrossed on the bottom of the tray, with plenty of pastry coming out over the sides of the tray. These sheets will form the sides of the pita. Lightly butter four more sheets and place them on top of each other, then lay them in the bottom of the tray to reinforce the bottom of the pita.
2. To make the filling, thoroughly squeeze the excess liquid out of the grated zucchini. Combine with the feta, ricotta, yoghurt and mint in a bowl. Season with pepper and salt if needed.
3. Set aside three sheets of filo for the top of the pita. Using a tablespoon, drop a few spoonfuls of the filling, here and there, onto the pastry base. Take the next sheet of filo and place it over the top, slightly ruffled, to create pockets of air that will make the pita more fluffy.
4. Drip a little melted butter randomly over the pastry with a pastry brush, and top with more of the zucchini mixture. Try to drip it in different areas of the pastry from the previous layer, again creating air pockets. Continue this layering process until the filling mixture is all used.
5. To seal the pita, fold the filo from the outside inward, then layer the final three sheets over the top, tuck it in around the edges and brush with melted butter. Use a sharp knife to cut the top layer of pastry into approximately 8cm squares.
6. To make the topping, whisk the eggs, milk, yoghurt and oil together, season with salt and pepper, and pour over the pita. Leave to sit for about 30 minutes.
7. Preheat your oven to 180°C or 160°C fan-forced.
8. Sprinkle the pita with sesame seeds and bake for approximately one hour, making sure both the top and bottom are golden.
Food Safari Earth airs on Thursday nights at 8.00 pm on SBS. See Kathy in action on Episode 8: ‘Stuffed, Rolled & Wrapped’ to be broadcast on Thursday 30 November.