Maria Elia – Modern Vegetarian


In my column I certainly give lots of recipe suggestions for meat and fish lovers but I sometimes wonder whether I do justice to vegetarians. So in this weeks column veggies are the heroes and I’ll share some inspiring recipes from a first time cook book author which truly illustrate the versatility of vegetables. You certainly don’t have to be a vegetarian to enjoy these recipes. Doesn’t matter whether you make your choice for ethical, religious or health reasons, I would argue that vegetables are by far the most important food group and you certainly don’t have to sacrifice your taste buds.

Seasonality and freshness are everything. For years now I’ve been encouraging people to grow something, anything, and themselves even if it’s only a few herbs or salad leaves. The flavour and convenience will be enough to infect you with the ‘grow your own’ bug and soon you’ll be swapping with friends and expanding your range.

Maria Elia is a new name to me but by all accounts is well known to others. Her passion for food started when she was little, she’d dash into her Greek Cypriot father’s kitchen after school hoping to be allowed to cook. As soon as she could she put her pack on her back and headed for Italy, America, Spain, and Australia, all these international influences are reflected in her cooking style. She was much acclaimed while she was head chef at Delfina’s in London and was voted one of the top 10 female chefs by the Independent. At present she’s making waves at the newly opened White Chapel Gallery Dining Room in London. Her first cookbook rather boringly named ‘The Modern Vegetarian’ is one of the most accessible and inspirational books of vegetarian food I’ve yet to come across. As I flicked through the pages I wanted to try almost everything I saw. How about these…

Maria Elia’s Chilled Tomato, Peach and Ginger Soup

The combination of tomato and peach is delicious. Jazzed up with warming ginger and a hint of red chilli it makes the perfect summer soup, and is one of my favourites. Serve it with some Thai basil (Italian works too), a little diced tomato and peach and a drizzle of olive oil, and you’re sure to impress!

serves 4

4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling

2 large shallots (or 8 small), peeled, halved

lengthways and finely sliced

70g fresh ginger, peeled and finely sliced

1kg plum vine tomatoes

8 ripe peaches

4 garlic cloves, finely sliced

1 red chilli, split in half lengthways

pinch of white sugar

sea salt and pepper

8 Thai basil leaves, torn

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat. Add the shallots and ginger and cook over a medium-low heat until ‘caramelised’ (sticky and softened) – this will take about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water (or a kettle) to the boil. Remove the core and lightly criss cross the base of each tomato with a knife. Put them in a large bowl, pour hot water over them and leave for 30 seconds. Drain and set aside. Repeat with the peaches, but leave for about 1 minute or until the skins begin to loosen. Remove and discard skins from peaches and tomatoes and set aside one of each for the garnish. Add the garlic and chilli to the shallots and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Roughly chop the tomatoes, reserving all the juices, and add to the pan. Roughly chop the peaches, discarding the stones and add to the pan. Add the sugar, sea salt and 650ml water and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, prepare the garnish. Cut the reserved tomato in half, lengthways, then into quarters and remove the seeds (adding to the soup). Cut each tomato ‘petal’ into 1/2-cm dice. Repeat with the reserved peach. Refrigerate until required.

Remove and discard the chilli from the soup. Puree the soup until smooth (add a little water if too thick), season to taste, cool and then refrigerate, covered, until required.

Serve garnished with peach and tomato dice, Thai basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil.

NOTE: If you are feeling adventurous you could also try garnishing with a little deep-fried ginger. You will need a long piece of ginger (I say long, as this means your fingers will be further away from the blade!), which you peel, then using a very sharp knife or mandolin, slice into wafer-thin pieces. Heat a small pan of vegetable oil until almost smoking and fry the ginger in batches until golden. Remove and drain on kitchen paper. These ginger crisps can also be made in advance and stored in an airtight container.

Maria Elia’s Halloumi, Raita, Endive Salad and Crispy Poppadoms

Add an interesting twist to halloumi with this fruity spice paste. Paneer would also work well or, if you’re a vegan, try using tofu (but make sure it’s well drained). The raita is great served with grilled aubergines, too.

serves 4

For the spiced halloumi

2 x 200g blocks halloumi cheese, each sliced

into 4 pieces

1 tablespoon olive oil

8 poppadoms, cooked

For the spice paste


4 tablespoons mango chutney

2cm fresh ginger, peeled and grated

a pinch each of ground turmeric, paprika,

cumin, coriander

half a bunch of chopped coriander

sea salt and black pepper

For the raita


6 tablespoons Greek yogurt

6cm cucumber, peeled, deseeded and finely diced

1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and grated

2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion

2cm fresh ginger, peeled and grated

pinch each of ground cumin and garam masala

juice of 1 lime

2 tablespoons chopped coriander

sea salt

For the salad


2 heads Belgian endive (white chicory),

thinly sliced

1/2 bulb fennel, finely sliced

4 Medjool dates, stoned and julienned (optional)

11/2 tablespoons shredded mint and coriander

a bunch of watercress, picked

For the dressing


juice of 1 lemon

4 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, preferably


salt and pepper

Heat the oil in a non-stick pan and add the halloumi. Cook for 1 minute on either side.

Meanwhile, mix all of the spices for the paste together. Remove the pan from the heat, top the halloumi pieces with the spice mix and place under the grill. Cook for about 3 minutes to heat the halloumi through.

While the halloumi is cooking, mix together all of the ingredients for the raita and season to taste with sea salt. For the salad, mix all of the ingredients together and dress with lemon juice, olive oil and white wine vinegar. Season to taste.

To assemble, place 1 poppadom flat on each plate, top with salad, half the raita and 2 halloumi slices. Break the remaining poppadoms into 3 pieces each and stand upright in the remaining raita.

Dino’s Greek Peas – Maria Elia

Thanks to my dad, Dino, I knew I wanted to be a chef at the age of just four. My parents owned a restaurant in Richmond, and I would eagerly wait for my mum to come and collect me from nursery every day, after which we would run back to the restaurant together and I would get to see my dad. He was always busy cooking and I found it fascinating to watch him. Sometimes, I was given jobs to do, like grating Parmesan through the cylinder grater, or feeding potatoes through the rumbler. I would be in my element!

Here is the recipe for Dino’s peas, best made a day in advance so that the flavours can intensify overnight.

serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 small onion, finely diced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 teaspoons tomato purée

1 x 400g tin plum tomatoes, crushed by hand

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

200g peas

a small bunch of dill, finely chopped, or 11/2 tablespoons dried dill

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan, add the onion and cook over a medium heat until softened. Add the garlic and tomato purée and cook for a further minute. Add the tomatoes, sugar and cinnamon and cook for 5 minutes. Add the peas, 3 tablespoons of water, the dill and a pinch of salt and bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 20–30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Adjust the seasoning. Serve warm.

Maria Elia’s Spiced Cherry Vine Tomato Sauce

If you like a bit of spice, add a pinch of chilli flakes to the recipe below. Try using this sauce tossed with spaghetti, fresh chillies and coriander for an Asian slant on a spaghetti arrabiata.

makes enough for 4

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 teaspoon yellow mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

10 curry leaves

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2cm fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated

450g cherry tomatoes, halved

pinch of sugar

1 tablespoon tomato puree

pinch of sea salt

Heat the olive oil in a wok or frying pan until hot. Add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and curry leaves and cook until beginning to pop. Remove from the heat. Add the garlic and ginger, and then cook over a low heat for 30 seconds. Add the tomatoes, sugar, tomato purée, salt and 2 tablespoons of water and simmer over a low heat for 10–15 minutes until the tomatoes are softened and the sauce has thickened.

Maria Elia’s Coffee Bean Crème Caramel

makes 7 baby ramekins (or 4 large ones)

For the caramel

110g caster sugar

20ml water

2 tablespoons strong coffee

For the custard

225ml double cream

1 tablespoon coffee beans

1/2 vanilla pod, split and beans scraped

1 egg yolk

1 egg

65g caster sugar

To make the caramel, heat the sugar and water over a low heat until the sugar dissolves. Increase the heat and bring to the boil without stirring; cook until golden. Remove pan from the heat and carefully pour in the coffee. Stir until smooth and simmer for 2 minutes, then divide evenly between the ramekins.

To make the custard, preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas Mark 2. Heat the cream, coffee beans, vanilla pod and beans over a low heat until beginning to boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 10 minutes. (Put the kettle onto boil now for your bain marie.) Whisk the egg yolk, egg and sugar until pale and thick. Strain the cream mixture into the eggs, whisk and pour into the ramekins. Line a small baking tin with a tea towel, place the ramekins on top and pour in boiling water to halfway up the sides. Cook for about 20–30 minutes for small ramekins and 30–40 minutes for bigger ones, until the custard is just set.

Remove the ramekins from the water and leave to cool before refrigerating for 2 hours or overnight. To serve, run a knife around the edge of each ramekin and turn the custard out. Serve with Coffee Tuilles.

Maria Elia’s Coffee Tuilles

Tuilles are usually circular and curved in the centre, involving a rolling pin and lots of work. Here I’ve suggested spreading the mixture out, cooking, then breaking into long shards. I think they look much more dramatic this way and are a lot less fiddly.

Serves 4 – 6

40g unsalted butter

2 teaspoons instant coffee granules

40g plain flour

40g icing sugar

1 egg white

Pre-heat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas Mark 4. Gently heat the butter until just melted, add the coffee and stir to dissolve. Sift the flour and icing sugar together and with a wooden spoon, beat in the egg white and the butter mixture to form a smooth paste. Chill in the fridge for at least 20 minutes or overnight before using. Spread the mixture thinly on a non-stick tray or Teflon mat and cook for about 4 – 5 minutes until beginning to brown at the edges. Remove from the oven and leave to cool before breaking into long shards. Keep in an airtight container if not using straight away.


Fool Proof Food

Maria Elia’s Rosemary Popcorn

Decadent popcorn, easily made by infusing olive oil with rosemary. Fabulous to serve at a drinks party. To vary the flavour, try adding a little chilli powder to the rosemary popcorn once cooked. Or infuse the oil with sage or finely grated lemon zest instead of rosemary. You could also pop the corn, then drizzle with truffle oil and sprinkle with sea salt. Popcorn will never be the same again!

serves 4

100ml extra virgin olive oil

3 sprigs of rosemary

150g popping corn

sea salt

Pour the oil into a small saucepan, strip the rosemary leaves off the sprigs and add the leaves to the oil. Warm over a low heat for 10 minutes, and then set aside for 20 minutes or overnight to infuse. Following the directions on the popping corn packet, make the popcorn. When popped and still warm, drizzle with a little rosemary oil, sprinkle with sea salt, toss well to mix and serve.

Thrifty Tip

“Wine boxes, with their lovely embossed logos, are great for growing salad crops in. The best place to source these are from high end wine merchants as the better the wine the better the quality of the boxes” taken from ‘The Thrifty Gardener’ by Alys Fowler, published by Kyle Cathie.  



Diva Boutique Bakery and Cafe

Diva Boutique Bakery and Café in Ballinspittle near Kinsale serve really good coffee and the owner Shannen Keane freshly bakes her famous brownies daily. The roasted organic chicken with organic rocket pesto served with sweet potato chips is delicious. Shannen believes in supporting local farmers and buys most of her produce locally. Stop in on the way back from Garretstown Beach to try her ice cold strawberry lemonade. Open every day except Tuesday when Shannen sells her wares at the Kinsale Farmers Market. Telephone (021) 4778465.

Ballymaloe Cookery School Gardens and Farm

Find out what’s new on the farm and in the farm shop on Twitter (bcsfarmshop)

Cool and Spicy Summer Menu

Green Saffron has its summer menu out and it’s all about fresh, flavoursome, spicy food. Try their rose petal and lemon rice salad served with mild spiced chicken, organic leaves, jalfrezi crème with fresh lime and coriander. Their mango kulfi (Indian ice cream) is delicious and so is the lemon ginger sherbet cordial, perfect for hot summer days. Ask about their meal deals, dinner for two for a tenner. Find Green Saffron at the Farmers Markets in Kinsale on Tuesdays, Mahon Point every Thursday, and Limerick and Midleton Markets on Saturdays.

About the author

Darina Allen
By Darina Allen


Past Letters