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      Ella Mittas on Cooking, Seasonal Ingredients and Eggplant

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      Peruse Ella Mittas' feed and find yourself in a world of perfectly detailed lino cuts and heartwarming meals. The Melbourne-based cook recently released Ela! Ela!,a collection of writing and recipes inspired by her travels through Turkey and Greece, and her Anglo-Greek heritage. Here she fills us in on her approach to cooking, her kitchen must-haves, and a recipe that is set to elevate your entertaining this season.  

      What is your favourite thing about cooking? How did it become such a big part of your life?

      I like the tactile nature of cooking and how much it allows me to use my intuition. Food is a big deal in our family, so it's always been a big part of my life. But it became a career, I think, because it was the opposite of writing. While I studied creative writing in my undergraduate, I started cooking. It offered me relief from that very cerebral world. Not to say it isn't hard! It's just hard in all the other ways.

      What is your overarching food philosophy/mission?

      To promote seasonality and regional Greek and Turkish foods. I think food, for me, is about community and place; I try to organise my food events and food writing around the importance of both.

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      When recipe creating, where do you draw inspiration from?

      Usually, when creating recipes, I start with a seasonal vegetable and just do a google search to see what other people have done with it. I also create lots of recipes by matching colours of things, which sounds a little but odd, but I often find that the colours of ingredients that look good together also taste good together. For inspiration, I love the Moro cookbooks, Claudia Roden and Marcella Hazan. Too many to mention.

      Tell us about the space where you cook - and what makes it special, unique and representative of you?

      I cook in lots of different spaces, depending on what I'm working on. But most of my cooking is probably done at my parent's house. Apart from being in the house I grew up in, I think it matches my cooking style: it's rustic and wooden with very warm light. And my parents are usually there for me to rope them into helping me cook.

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      What is your go-to look in the kitchen?

      Easy and comfortable clothes that I can wear straight from the kitchen out. Clothes that are low maintenance but still look fresh and chic.

      Can you give us your top three:

      Pantry essentials - 

      Greek olive oil

      Murray River flake salt

      Forum red wine vinegar

      Fridge finds - 

      A nice bottle of white wine

      Thyme honey from Crete

      Kefalograviera

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      Late night meals -

      Boiled eggs on buttered sourdough with Ortiz anchovies.

      On-the-go snacks -

      I love Greek rusks. They're very dry, but I eat them as a snack almost daily.

      Down-time activities -

      I make woodcut and lino prints. I print them in a studio about an hour out of town, so the process always involves me getting out of Melbourne.

      What is your ultimate meal of love / a spread to share with family and friends?

      I think homemade pasta is probably one of my favourite meals for close friends; it's so comforting to eat and feels special when you've made it by hand. Or, I cook a selection of small meze dishes because I think it's one of the most fun ways to eat.

      Ella's Shallow-Fried Eggplant

      ella mittas shallow fried eggplant recipe

      Serves 4 as a side

      You can make this eggplant a few hours before serving to let it steep in the marinade. It's great as a side or excellent as a starter on grilled bread. I sometimes serve it with goat's cheese too - although I didn't include that in the recipe because I don't think it's very Turkish. Depending on the season I garnish this dish with either the tomato mix or pomegranate. I don't think there's too much use in salting eggplants nowadays to get rid of the bitterness; it's mostly been bred out of them. But I have found salting them and introducing them to some oil before frying helps them to absorb less once they're in the pan.

      2 large eggplants

      Canola oil, for shallow frying

      Flake salt to season

      For the marinade:

      1/2 cup red wine vinegar

      1 clove garlic, sliced

      1 tbsp honey

      2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

      2 tbsp lemon juice

      2 tbsp parsley, chopped

      Flake salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

      For the garnish:

      3 tomatoes, diced

      1/2 red onion, diced

      2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

      2 tbsp lemon juice

      Flake salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

      Or:

      1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

      Mint

      1. Start by peeling the eggplants. I peel mine lengthways in stripes, leaving 2-centimetre strips of skin in between. Then cut into rounds about 1 1/2 to 2 centimetres thick.

      2. Once cut, lightly salt the eggplant and douse in around 1/4 cup oil and leave to one side for five or so minutes to marinate.

      3. Heat up 2 centimetres of oil in a frypan over a medium heat.

      4. Shallow-fry the eggplant slices until very golden; you'll need to keep topping up the oil as it's absorbed.

      5. Once the eggplant is cooked, drain on a paper towel to get rid of excess olive oil. 

      6. Arrange on a serving dish and season with salt. I arrange mine in circles that follow the line on the plate I'm serving on and spiral in.

      7. Mix the marinade ingredients well, then pour over the eggplant slices.

      8. Combine garnish ingredients and arrange over eggplant. Best served still slightly warm. 

      ella mittas shallow fried eggplant

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