Late last year, when we staged our annual TDF Open House project in Sydney for the first time, we had the incredible good fortune of working with the AMAZING Mario Karam of Mario's Kitchen. Mario came highly recommended, and I had seen snippets of his work on various blogs, but nothing could have prepared us for the feast he created for our opening night party! Each dish was made with such love and care, and Mario enthusiastically talked me through each and every dish and ingredient selection whilst he cooked for our VIP guests. Together with his gorgeous wife Liz, Mario runs his catering business drawing on his Lebanese heritage to create super fresh, seasonal and flavoursome dishes that taste more like a hearty home cooked meal than normal 'catering'! We knew we had to invite Mario to do a Tasty Tuesday with us at some point... and finally the time has come! This month Mario will share a series of mouthwatering recipes inspired by the meals he ate growing up in a traditional Lebanese household in suburban Sydney. Please make him feel very welcome! - Lucy
Growing up, our house was mayhem – there seemed to be more boys underfoot than you could count, and although Mum ran a tight ship, mealtimes were pandemonium. But the moment the zucchini fritters were on the table, silence reigned – at least for a few minutes!
It’s funny how a dish so simple and easy to make can evoke such strong memories. And as familiar as it is, this one still packs a flavour punch every time. Fritters were a Sunday brunch favourite for as long as I can remember. As a kid, it was my job to pick the wild oregano, parsley, mint and shallots from the family garden, so it was literally sizzling in the pan within minutes of being plucked and washed. It was so fresh it was still growing, and this is what we continue to do today. Dad’s garden is a revelation, and still provides much of the fresh food we eat.
So go as fresh as you can, because fragrance is what this dish is all about.
It’s traditional Lebanese fair, but of course, with my own twist thrown in. What’s great about this dish is that it can be quite quickly tossed together, and actually looks and tastes better if it’s kind of spontaneous and relaxed. I think it looks more home-cooked and fun when it’s a bit rough, which really is the whole point of this dish. It’s casual, homey, surprising, and just a little bit exotic.
For the fritters
Ingredients for zucchini fritters with wild oregano Salad by Mario Karam of Mario's Kitchen. Styling - Stefanie Ingram, photo - Luisa Brimble.
5 x large free-range eggs
70g of self-raising flour
4 x roughly chopped baby zucchini with flowers attached
1/4 cup of mint leaves finely chopped
1/2 cup of parsley finely chopped
1/2 cup of shallots finely chopped (green part only)
1/4 cup of finely chopped white onion
1 x garlic clove crushed
Pinch of baharat spice (Lebanese spice mix)
Olive oil (for shallow frying)
This dish is just so fast and easy to prepare. You can fry it it while casually carrying on a sparkling conversation with your guests, and quaffing a cheeky drop of white. Trust me I’m a professional!
Make sure the herbs are chopped nice and fine, but you can be a bit more haphazard with the zucchini. It’s actually much better if it’s only roughly chopped – it’s got more texture and visual impact if you can see the gorgeous colours of the flowers, and it also retains its flavour better.
Firstly, mix the eggs – I always choose large free-range eggs because they’re more flavoursome and healthier for you. Then, throw in the zucchini, mint, parsley, shallots, onion, garlic and flour, and mix well. Add a good pinch of the baharat spice and a generous dash of sea salt, and continue stirring until all the ingredients are well mixed.
Heat a good amount of quality olive oil in a frying pan for shallow frying. Scoop lavish tablespoons of the mixture into the heated oil, fry for a couple of minutes on each side or until golden and crisp.
Remove from the pan and place on a paper towel to drain the excess olive oil, then serve while they’re still warm and fragrant. Yum!
Mario slices those delicious zucchini flowers! Styling - Stefanie Ingram, photo - Luisa Brimble.
For the wild oregano salad
1 x bunch of green wild oregano
1 x small red onion
Juice of 1 lemon
3 x teaspoons of good quality olive oil
The salad is even easier. Just wash and dry the wild oregano, then hand-pick the leaves from the stem, leaving the leaves attached to each other in little bunches. Peel and cut the onion in half then slice it finely.
Lightly toss the oregano and onion with the freshly squeezed lemon, olive oil and a pinch of sea salt, and serve immediately with the fritters.
There’s something about the combination of herbs in the fritters and salad that just sizzles in your mouth!
HUGE THANKS Mario and Liz of Mario's Kitchen for sharing their family recipes with us this month, and to Luisa Brimble and Stefanie Ingram for the gorgeous shots! For more foodie inspiration from Mario and a peek at some of the incredible events he caters, be sure to check out the Mario's Kitchen Instagram account!