Ella Mittas' Pickled Sardines And Fava Bean Dip

Ella Mittas is a name that has been frequently popping up on the Melbourne food scene for the past couple of years. With a host of events and creative collaborations under her belt, this young chef is definitely one to watch.

Studying creative writing at university, Ella first started cooking as a way to make money (as it turns out, creative writing wasn’t a particularly lucrative career!).  

Her first ‘real’ food job was in the tiny kitchen of the Gertrude Street Enoteca where she learned the foundations of her skills, and she then went on to work for a Turkish chef. It was this experience that inspired her travel to Istanbul in Turkey, where she worked for a year, and then on to Greece, where she worked for three summers in various local kitchens. Here, inevitably, she fell in love with the local flavours, and returned to Melbourne with a bulging repertoire of recipes and ideas inspired by her travels.

This month, Ella brings her unique Mediterranean/Middle Eastern flavour to TDF, kicking off today with a flavour-packed appetiser, perfect for sharing.

Ella Mittas

How to layer your butterflied sardines for pickling – skin side down, stacked like like ‘little sandwiches’ in a baking dish, sprinkled with salt, lemon, vinegar, herbs and olive oil. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Lucy Feagins. Styling Assistant – Ashley Simonetto.

Ella always looks totally chill, even when cooking outside for a food shoot, on a 37 degree day! Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Lucy Feagins. Styling Assistant – Ashley Simonetto.

Serving out the fava. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Lucy Feagins. Styling Assistant – Ashley Simonetto.

Ella’s approach to food is casual and relaxed, and all about sharing. Photo – Amelia Stanwix. Styling – Lucy Feagins. Styling Assistant – Ashley Simonetto.

Ella Mittas
5th of March 2019

Fava is very sweet, and pairs well with salty or strong tasting flavours. I have two distinct memories of eating it on my first trip to Greece. In a restaurant in Thessaloniki, where it was topped with smoked fish and had been set in a cube shape, and also at Ntounias, a restaurant I ended up working in Crete, where it came lathered in olive oil and sprinkled with capers and chunks of raw, red onion.

Ntouris restaurant served slow food in the slowest way possible. Not only was the service terrible but the way they cooked was so immediate that it was almost dysfunctional. They raised their own animals for milk and meat, grew all their own vegetables, grew and milled their own wheat but also didn’t cook using any electricity! Everything was heated by fire. This made the wait for olive oil fried chips over 40 minutes long if it was windy outside where they’d set up the pans.

I have very fond memories of working there, this fava recipe is inspired by the one they cooked. The sardines are my own touch, as there isn’t any seafood in the mountains where the restaurant was.

Ingredients (serves 4)

For the fava

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups yellow split peas
2 bay leaves

For the pickled sardines

500g sardines, I buy mine already cleaned and butterflied
About 1/4 cup white wine or red wine vinegar, as needed
Flake salt
1⁄3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley or a combination of parsley, dill and sometimes I use hard herbs like marjoram and thyme too.
About 1/2 cup good quality olive oil, or as needed


Soak the split peas overnight.

Fry off your onion until translucent in a saucepan big enough for your split peas too. Pour in your split peas and cover them with about 5cm of water. Add in bay leaves, bring to the boil, then reduce to a simmer – skim the whole time your fava is cooking. The more you skim the scum off the surface the sweeter your fava will be. Watch while your cooking that your mix doesn’t get too dry, it also has a tendency to start to stick as your split peas break down so watch out for that too.

The fava is done when it is very, very soft. Once the beans are totally cooked through take off the heat and allow to rest. Once the mix is cooled, puree until smooth and season. Serve as a dip with the accompaniments mentioned above. I serve mine with capers and red onion that I soak in red wine vinegar.

Make a layer of the butterflied sardines, skin side down in a baking dish, or container that’s not metal. Sprinkle the flesh of the sardines with salt, lemon, and herbs. Make sure they are well doused as this mix is what cures the fish.

Then make another layer of sardines on top of that one, like little sandwiches. Repeat until you have used all the sardines, using the aromatics, vinegar, and lemon throughout the layers. once finished, top with olive oil. You want the olive oil to form a film over the sardines protecting them from air. These will be ready in a few hours and can be kept for up to four days. Serve with the fava dip.

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