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.

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I cannot take credit for this recipe – my friend Andrew hosted a bunch of us in his lovely home and on a beautiful Saturday morning presented me with the ingredients and his idea. We cooked together and caught up over a glass of wine and fed everyone this amazing risotto. He brought over most of the ingredients from his current home in London, including fresh herbs from his garden. We had a little laugh over that:


It’s not often that I get to cook with a fellow foodie and friend in such a gorgeous environment. It was truly an afternoon to remember 🙂

You will need:

– Arborio or Carnaroli rice, about 100g per person – we had 6 mouths to feed that day so the following proportions make 6 portions

– 1 very large or 2 medium onions

– 3-5 cloves of garlic according to taste

– 1 glass of white wine

–  1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, finely chopped

– 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, finely chopped

– 2-3 bay leaves

– approx. 700ml stock (make your own like this)

– a couple of knobs of butter (thrown into the skillet with such stealth that I barely had time to protest, but hey it was a delicious result)

– 3 tablespoons olive oil

– zest of one lemon

– juice of 2 lemons (that’s about 50ml because it largely depends on how juicy the lemons are, but add this in small amounts until you achieve the desired taste)

– salt to taste (do use the Himalayan variety, it’s better for your health!)

To serve:

Cherry tomatoes which have been halved and roasted with some olive oil, salt and a small sprinkle of sugar

Almonds – dry roasted and crushed or chopped

To make:

Prepare your cherry tomatoes in a flat oven dish and place in the oven to roast whilst you start cooking. Place the almonds in a separate dish to roast or cook them quickly in a dry pan for a few minutes.

Heat up the olive oil and start cooking your onions. Add the first knob of butter to stop them from browning. When they are translucent add the garlic. You know the deal with risotto – you’re going to be stirring almost continuously and there’s no reason not to start now! Add the thyme, bay leaves and rosemary as well as the lemon zest.

Add your rice and stir, then add the wine. It’s a good idea to keep your stock on low heat so as not to cool down the risotto as you cook. You’re going to be adding the stock one ladle at a time, waiting until almost all the liquid is absorbed before adding more. The rice will take between 20-30 minutes to cook so start tasting it after adding almost 500 ml of your stock.

And somewhere in between you will add a knob of butter, won’t you?

When your rice is almost cooked you need to taste several times to add salt and lemon juice until you get the desired result. We wanted strong tastes so the lemon juice got all used up and then added salt to counterbalance some of that sharpness. Don’t forget to remove the bay leaves before plating.

Finally serve with crushed almonds and roasted cherry tomatoes. And a crisp glass of cold white wine. Sunshine always helps 🙂

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You might also enjoy:

Prawn Risotto

4 Mushroom Risotto

Mushroom Barley ‘Risotto’ (Orzotto)

The following is a recipe for making stuffed peppers. We filled them with rice containing bacon, peas and onion but the choice of ingredients can vary widely, for example by omitting the bacon you can make the meal vegetarian and much lighter. I prefer to use brown basmati rice but feel free to use your favourite rice.

You will need:

  • one onion, chopped
  • 2 handfuls of frozen or fresh peas
  • 1 cup bacon bits
  • 1 cup rice
  • 1 can tomato puree or juiced fresh tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 3 peppers (any colour will do)
  • goat’s cheese to cover the tops of the peppers

Cook your rice according to the instructions on the packet. Note that brown rice will take longer to cook, about 30 minutes for one cup of uncooked rice. Cook in double the amount of water to start with, but you may need to add more if this dries up before the rice is cooked.

In a fan fry the onion for a few minutes until it softens, then add the bacon and peas and cook until the peas are fully defrosted/cooked and the bacon starts to become brown and crunchy.

Add to the rice and add the tomatoes and sugar. Mix well.

Remove the tops of the peppers by carving out the stem and seeds. Place in a skillet with water and bring to the boil. Cook for about 15 minutes of until they have softened. Please note that they will cook further in the oven so don’t overdo it.

Stuff the cooked peppers with as much rice as possible, but leaving a small 1cm gap at the top.

Cover with goat’s cheese and cook in a 180 degree oven for about 20-30 minutes or until the peppers just start to brown.

Split in half when serving and warn your guests that they will be rather hot! Bon Appetit!