Comfort food for me is Greek food. My maternal grandparents are from Cyprus and I always favoured my grandmother’s cooking (my yiayia) over my mother’s… much to the latter’s disappointment! My most favourite yiayia dishes include dolmades, or koupepia, or in the cute way my yiayia calls them, koupepouthkia. These are a very popular food in the Middle East and parts of South-Eastern Europe and consist of rice and other lovelies wrapped up in grape vine leaves. I find that when I eat them out, they are usually always vegetarian. However, my yiayia always made them stuffed with rice, beef mince and mint. My other favourite yiayia dish is pastitsio, or makaronia, which is a layered pasta bake with minced meat, haloumi and topped with a delightfully creamy haloumi bechamel. The key to these meals is lots of oil and lots of meat. My husband being vegetarian, I lost all hope of ever making these dishes once I moved out.
After a few months in Costa Rica, I insisted my mum send me the recipe for my yiayia’s dolmades, as strangely enough, grape vine leaves were at our local supermarket. They were okay, but I needed just a tad more salt. From memory, I may have found a recipe online for vegetarian dolmades and made half in this manner for Alex.
When we returned to Australia, I insisted my yiayia show me how to make pastitsio. I sat through an epic cooking session, realising just how unhealthy and oily yiayia’s food actually is. But I soldiered on, and wrote down every minute detail. I wasn’t really planning to make it just for myself, but wanted to have the recipe for my future reference, just in case I was ever craving it. It was a pretty big dish to make for just me and Alex. Plus, the meat part.
Recently I was uploading all my favourite recipes to Evernote, and I came across the one for pastitsio. Now that we have discovered veggie mince, the dish looked more achievable than ever before. So I went out and bought the ingredients and got started.
As I was going, I felt very reluctant to follow yiayia’s recipe exactly. Haloumi is expensive, so I reduced the amount used. I left out an egg, and half the milk and flour. And guess what? My pastitsio was amazing! Just like I remember! Yiayia would be proud.
The pasta used is a long, cylindrical spaghetti-meets-macaroni. You should be able to find it in specialty or European grocery stores. I use Misko No. 2 Pastichio Pasta. Otherwise I believe any macaroni would work just fine.
I now present you with my healthified, veggiefied version of Yiayia’s Cypriot Pastitsio. Enjoy!
- 1 onion, diced
- 500g (1lb) Misko Pastichio No. 2 pasta
- 1 tbsp oil, divided
- ½ bunch parsley, sliced (40g/1.4oz)
- 300g (10.6oz) vegetarian mince
- ½ tbsp + ½ tsp cinnamon, divided
- 1 tbsp salt, divided
- 180g (6.3oz) haloumi, grated, divided
- 500 mL (17oz) milk
- 2 eggs, whisked
- 6 tbsp self-raising flour, sifted
- Preheat oven to 200°C/390°F (fan-forced 180°C/360°F). Fill large saucepan with well-salted boiling water and cook pasta whole for 30 minutes or until very thick.
- Meanwhile, heat ½ tbsp oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Fry onion until it starts to brown. Add veggie mince until cooked through. Add ½ tbsp cinnamon, ½ tbsp salt and parsley and cook through.
- Drain pasta. Add remaining ½ tbsp oil to pasta and mix through. Pour half the pasta into a large baking dish (lasagne size) and mix with 75g (2.6oz) haloumi. Add salt. Pour all the mince mixture over the top.
- Pour remaining pasta over mince layer. Add salt. Top with 75g (2.6oz) haloumi.
- Pour milk, self-raising flour and eggs into a saucepan set on high heat. Stir quickly with a whisk and mix until smooth. Reduce to medium heat. Add 30g (1.1oz) grated haloumi and salt. Keep stirring until sauce thickens.
- Pour sauce over the layers and sprinkle with cinnamon. Cook in oven for 1 hour or until top is golden brown.