Chicken rice, chickpea bake and wheat salad: Ella Mittas’ easy autumn recipes for a Mediterranean feast

My father’s side of the family is Greek. They live next door to each other in Melbourne. There are holes cut in fences, so everyone can be together easily. It seems separate from the rest of Australia, but it’s a version of Greece abstracted from the real thing; its traditions are built on distant memories.

These recipes are a mix of things I saw, ate and was taught while working in a village in the mountains of Crete and the hot, loud streets of Istanbul, as well as my own Greek heritage. Years of cooking them have turned them into something more my own.

Chicken rice

(Pictured above)

This is my take on the chicken pilaf we’d buy from street vendors on our way home after nights out in Istanbul. It was the best part of going for a drink. The street food was my highlight of living in the city – buying roasted chestnuts in the snow; going to get a morning simit, a ring-shaped bread covered in sesame, served wrapped in newspaper – always such a treat, always such an event. This dish is best served on the day of making it.

Serves 6

To poach the chicken
3 chicken
1.5L water
(6 cups)
Table salt

For the pilaf
600g aged basmati rice
(3 cups)
35g slivered almonds (¼ cup)
4 tbsp butter
1 brown onion, diced
2 tsp cinnamon
1.25L chicken stock
, from poaching the chicken (5 cups)
2 tbsp lemon juice
5g parsley
, chopped (¼ cup)
, to taste

‘Years of cooking them have turned them into something more my own.’ Photograph: Jessica Grilli

To poach the chicken, place the chicken marylands in a pot and cover them with around six cups (1.5 litres) of water. Choose a pot that will allow them to be submerged with that volume of liquid. Salt the water with two tablespoons of table salt, bring to a boil, then turn down to a soft simmer. Cook until just past pink, about 25 to 30 minutes, then remove from the heat, leaving the chicken to continue cooking in the hot liquid. Once the stock is cooled, set the pot aside. Remove the chicken, allow to cool, then shred the meat and set aside.

To make the pilaf, soak the rice in cold water for 20 minutes, then drain well.

While the rice is soaking, in a small fry-pan over low heat, melt one tablespoon of butter and fry the almonds until golden. Drain on a paper towel to get rid of excess butter, then set aside.

In a large frying pan on medium heat, melt one tablespoon of butter. Add the onion, cinnamon and a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring regularly, until the onions are caramelised, approximately 15 to 20 minutes.

Add the drained rice and fry, stirring regularly, until well coated in butter. While you’re doing this, bring the stock to the boil. Slowly add three cups (750ml) of stock to the rice, bringing the liquid up to a soft simmer. Cover with a lid and cook until the stock is absorbed, checking every couple of minutes. Add the remaining stock in increments, checking the rice as you go.

Once the rice is cooked through (this will take 15 to 20 minutes), remove from the heat and leave to steam for five minutes, with the lid on. Stir through the shredded chicken, the remaining two tablespoons of butter, lemon juice and chopped parsley, and check for seasoning. Serve immediately, garnished with almonds.

Chickpeas baked with lemon and honey

‘Great for using up any leftover greens’: Ella Mittas’ chickpeas baked with lemon and honey. Photograph: Ella Mittas

This recipe is great for using up any leftover greens in your fridge. I use whatever I have – spinach, chard, sometimes beetroot leaves. Similarly, with the herbs, use a mix of whatever you have on hand.

Serves 4

1 bunch silverbeet
1 brown onion
, sliced
60ml olive oil (¼ cup), plus extra to season
2 garlic cloves
, sliced
2 x 400g cans chickpeas
, drained
2 tbsp honey
1 lemon
20-30g chopped mixed dill, mint and spring onion
(½ cup)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
, to taste

Preheat your oven to 180C/160C fan. Wash the silverbeet – I finely chop it, then leave it to soak in a sink full of water before draining well.

Saute the onion in one tablespoon of the olive oil in a saucepan for about 15 minutes until golden, then add the garlic and saute until aromatic (approximately 30 seconds). Add the silverbeet and stir it through the oil, allowing it to wilt. Add the chickpeas and saute briefly.

Transfer everything to a baking dish and add the rest of the olive oil and the honey. Cut the lemon in half and add it to the baking dish.

Bake for about 40 minutes or until most of the liquid has been cooked out of the silverbeet. Season with salt, pepper, extra olive oil and the pulp of the baked lemon. The lemon will be mellower than a fresh lemon, but taste as you go – it’ll still be quite acidic.

Stir in the mixed greens and serve warm or at room temperature.

Wheat salad with pistachios, feta and seasonal fruit

‘Sweet, savoury and sour’: wheat salad can be adapted for the seasons. Photograph: Ella Mittas

This salad incorporates sweet, savoury and sour flavours to find balance. It works best in summer when stone fruits are abundant, but you can use whatever mix of fruit you like. Usually I use nectarines, red grapes, plums and cherries – figs if it’s later into summer. You can substitute the pistachios for hazelnuts or any nuts you have on hand. In winter, you can use citrus or dried fruit. I use isot, which is a Turkish chilli. Its flavour is very umami, slightly smoky and not very hot at all. So if you can’t find it at a Middle Eastern grocer, I would leave it out. You will need to start this recipe a day ahead to soak the wheat grain.

Serves 6

500g wheat grain
1 handful crushed pistachios
500g chopped mixed fruit
(3 cups)
80-120g finely chopped mixed mint, dill, parsley and spring onion
(2 cups)
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp sherry vinegar
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses
100g feta,
1 large pinch of
isot (Turkish chilli flakes)
Herbs to garnish (optional)

Soak your wheat overnight in plenty of cold water. This will help reduce cooking time and achieve a better texture.

The next day, preheat the oven to 160C/140C fan. In a large pot, combine the wheat with enough water to cover it. Bring to the boil and cook, uncovered, until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and allow to cool.

Place the pistachios on a baking tray and toast in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes.

Place the wheat grain, pistachios and remaining ingredients in a large bowl, and toss to combine. Check for seasoning and serve garnished with herbs.

The Guardian