I’ve been wanting to attend a cooking course ever since I can remember. I’d always imagined it would be in the South of France, that the weather would be perfect, and I’d consequently spend the afternoon sipping wine, reading, and taking leisurely strolls. That dream is still on my bucket list, but in the meantime I found something that fit right into my schedule – a course at the Mediterranean Culinary Academy. They have a few to choose from at the moment, as well as a couple of one-off workshops that focus on a specific dish  (e.g. pasta) or cooking techniques (e.g. braising).

Kotopoulo Kollyva pilafi and Imam biyaldi in the making

 

There’s quite a bit to choose from even when it comes to the courses – from the cuisines of coastal France and Spain, to the cuisines of regional Italy, or the cuisines of the Maghreb and the Arab Levant. There was something about a memorable meal on a balmy summer night in Greece that steered me towards the Cuisines of Greece and Turkey.

 

That’s me in the MCA apron

 

The courses run over 4 weeks, with weekly 4 hour sessions that include time to eat what you’ve just cooked and chat over a glass of wine or two. During the sessions you learn a little bit about the history of the area, and that helps you appreciate the subtle differences in the flavours you’re about to recreate. It’s good to remember that each dish is the result of the cultural heritage of the particular area. That doesn’t just mean that the ingredients must be available, but also depends on the lifestyle, how long the inhabitants could be in the area, the political ongoings, the weather, the soil, and the means available to the locals.

There’s something about these recipes that felt deeply familiar, like a life I knew – and simultaneously, they tasted exotic and foreign, new.

Of course the chefs – Michael Camilleri, Stephen La Rosa, and Keith Abela – make it look easy. Their patience, enthusiasm, guidance, and light-heartedness are choreographed into the lessons. Besides going through the recipes at hand, you’re also encouraged to observe knife techniques and learn general tips and tricks. The MCA kitchen is super comfortable to use, and quality tools are at hand to make your life easier. Obviously the experience here is rather luxurious compared to cooking in your own home. Someone else has provided the ingredients and anything else you might need to prepare the dishes. It is communal and you can ask questions at any time. You’re also being supervised in a way, so that if you’re about to make a mistake or need help before messing things up, someone if there to catch your fall, or stop your pie from burning as it were.

I’ll never forget the first lesson where Chef Stephen La Rosa demonstrated how to butterfly a fish. My first thought was: no way, baptism of fire, I’m going to make a mess, my fish is never going to look like THAT. Surprisingly, by following the simple steps, every one of us in class got it right. We delicately removed the fish’s spine and other bones, replaced its guts with fragrant wild greens, closed it up and cooked it beautifully. I have rarely been so proud of myself in the kitchen. It’s amazing what a good demonstration can do.

Chef Stephen La Rosa demonstrating how to clean up the fish

 

During the second lesson, we were teamed up and given 3 or 4 recipes for each team. There were no demonstrations this time (which I found a tad disappointing) but by the end of it, we all completed our recipes successfully. Needless to say, there was a huge feast at the end of the lesson, more food than we could handle, so we all ended up taking a doggy bag home to relive the flavours again the next day.

Day 2 – a feast of mezes

 

Overall I would say that if you’re into cooking (and eating) this is a course that will continue giving after it is over. It helped me rediscover my cooking mojo, recognise what tools I needed to help me cook better, and regain confidence in trying out new flavours. A course that provides knowledge and joy that is well worth it in cost, time, and effort. Thank you, MCA for a very pleasant experience that will keep on giving.

Day 4 – You learn how to make a divine baklava

 

Level: Competent cook with basic skills

Value: This seemed too expensive at first, but considering the experience, the quality ingredients provided, and that dinner (i.e. the fruits of your labour) + wine is included – overall it is a fair price

Venue: It’s not so difficult to park close to Sappers Street after 5:30pm, the kitchen is well-equipped and very comfortable to use

Chefs: Knowledgeable (with specialisations in different fields), easygoing, approachable, patient.

 


Once you try making this and realise how quick and easy (and cheap) it is to make your own mayo, where you know exactly what went inside, you may never buy another jar of mayo again. I like to put some curry in mine, but you may want to use mustard instead. It’s rather important to have an immersion blender and to use a container that is approximately the width of your blender, so there isn’t too much space at the side. You may use a regular blender, but in that case you will need to double the ingredients.

I’m using aquafaba in this video, that is the liquid found with chickpeas that are purchased in a can or carton (not the dried variety of course) that you usually probably chuck out as I did before discovering I could use it in recipes as a substitute for eggs!

If you prefer, you can use a large raw egg instead of the aquafaba, and in that case be sure to refrigerate as soon as possible, and throw it out within a few days and up to a week. Avoid giving to pregnant women. The version with aquafaba is vegan.

So, for the demonstration above, I used:

  • 4 tablespoons aquafaba
  • 2/3 glass vegetable oil (olive oil will have too strong a flavour, so it’s best to use sunflower or other similar oil)
  • 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon hot curry powder
  • pinch of salt

Whizz for half a minute, twisting the blender around slightly to incorporate all the ingredients. Cover and refrigerate when not in use.


IMG_20160206_092946

There are a couple of meals that you really should be able to make at home. Even if you’re the kind of person who prefers to get their food ready-made, it’s very convenient to be able to rustle up at least a couple of breakfast things. It’s also so much better knowing what’s in your food for your first meal of the day!

For this recipe, I would suggest having everything prepared before you turn the heat on. If you’re a more advanced cook, you’ll know how to juggle and multitask. So get things ready before-hand if you’re not sure where your skill level lies.

You will need: (for 2)

3-4 eggs, whisked together

1 cup cooked spinach, water drained

1/3 cup finely sliced leeks

2-3 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

1/2 cup sliced mushrooms

1/3 cup cheese of your choice e.g. parmesan, cheddar, stilton (or a mixture)

1 cup sliced onions

optional 2 sliced bacon, diced

 

This recipe will work with most ingredients of your choice. The trick is to add things to the pan according to the time they need to cook, keeping the eggs and cheese for last. You may want to add salt and pepper to taste as you get to the end of your cooking time.

For example in this case I started with the bacon, then added onions, leeks and garlic and let these cook until softened. Then I added the mushrooms and eggs. As the egg cooks you will want to stir every few minutes and remove off the heat every now and then (whilst stirring) to avoid overcooking the eggs. Finally, add the cheese, blend in, and remove from the heat.

Serve with a side salad e.g. tomatoes and rucola with olive oil. I had some gorgeous Maltese tomatoes that needed no garnish. Yum!

IMG_20160206_092936