Tag Archives: Australia

I Say Tamale, You Say Whaaaa?

_MG_6062Photography by Tony Mott, Styling by Ali Nardi

Recently my buddy Tony Mott and I teamed up to do a photo project with my local tortilla joint, La Tortilleria. Tony is a great photographer. He is also the only other person I know other than myself who feeds his pet, a Doberman named Duke, a raw food diet, so naturally, Tony and I make a totally weird awesome team!

La Tortilleria is a small mexican eatery and tortilla wholesaler in Kensington, Melbourne, that makes tortillas  from scratch. They also make awesome cactus and cheese empanadas!



They grind the corn themselves (with the use of a crazy squeeky machine!) to make their own masa de maíz, which translates to corn dough). The dried version of masa de maíz, which is more commonly found, is called masa harina and translates to corn flour. It is often just referred to as masa.


All of the meat they serve at La Tortilleria is free range and humanely treated, and they have awesome vegetarian and vegan option. They are really the local tortilleria for all of Melbourne along with El Cielo, located in the more industrial area of Port Melbourne, as fresh tortillas are not common here (If you are willing to travel to port melbourne, you’ll burn a much smaller hole in your pocket. A kilo of fresh masa from La tortilleria will run you $8 while it is only $3 at El Cielo, and just as delicious. They also offer blue corn products at El Cielo).

Anywho, as I styled and Tony took photos at La Tortilleria, we ate everything we were working with throughout the shoot as one does… My favorite bit (and my favorite photo), was the tamales. I LOVE tamales, and while they were a staple part of my $10/ day lifestyle during the post college year in San Francisco, they are really hard to find over here. It was Tony’s first time tasting one. Even the word was foreign to him, and I threw it around amongst my commonwealth buddies to see if they had ever received this package wrapped appealingly in dried corn husks or banana leaves (tamale strategy changes country by country). Surprise, surprise– they hadn’t. I needed to fix this situtaion.

So I had a group of friends to my place last week for Mexican style tamales. Everyone loved them as much as I hoped they would. As usual, my friend Sel-dawg just went for it and tried eating the corn husk as well. Talk about adventurous eater!

The one con about tamales: They are pretty labor intensive, and in a city like Melbourne, you’ll have to go to multiple shops to gather all of your ingredients. (I have provided a list of tamale ingredient suppliers in melbourne at the bottom of this post.) The trick to make sure it is all worth your effort and is cost effective as well– make them in bulk! They freeze well, and in our case, they didn’t last that long anyway. Tamales are a food you will want to share. These little parcels feel like gifts.

I’d like to share a few tamale tips with you, and let you know my new approach to the fat component that goes in the masa mixture. If you haven’t guessed it already, it’s coconut oil.

There are 4 components to your tamale dough.

  • Masa (in fresh or flour form)
  • Fat (traditionally lard or butter; shortening is another option– now it can be solidified coconut oil too!)
  • Stock to thin the dough out and give it flavor and moisture
  • Salt (sometimes this is already in the masa, so make sure to taste before you add extra)

I don’t use lard in my tamales, not because i am against lard, but because I like to know where my animal products come from, and the stick of lard from the supermarket most likely does not come from free ranged meat…. I stay away from shortening as a rule (just use butter in your pie crust!), and because Anders purchased an industrial sized bucket of organic coconut oil (at industry price :), it just make sense.

The filling for your tamale is often slow cooked pork, beef or chicken, in a sauce made from a variety of dried chillies (In Melbourne, you can find the chillies at Casa Iberica Deli in Fitzroy). Vegetarian tamales are just as delicious, and are usually filled with veggies and cheese.

I made delicious beef tamales in a red chilli sauce (and added a few non traditional extras– my adaptation in the recipe below).

I have a ridiculously large steamer that I acquired while styling for a cookbook, and being able to steam 50 tamales at a time was key to keeping my sanity, as opposed to doing them in tiny batches.

Below is the “approach” I use. I’ve given you measurements to make about 3 dozen tamales  (I made about 100 and found that one pack of corn husks from Casa Iberica Deli was more than enough!).

Smokey Beef Tamales  (adapted from multiple recipes, including Tyler Florence’s recipe on FoodNetwork.com, and tips from the chef at La Tortilleria)

yield: About 3 Dozen

Ingredients for dough using fresh masa (Tyler Florence has a good dough recipe if using masa flour here):

  • 1 kilo fresh masa
  • 250 grams solidified coconut oil (ratio of masa to fat should be around 4:1)
  • 1/2 – 1 cup beef or veggie stock if using fresh masa (if making beef tamales, just use stock from slow cooked beef (you’ll need a lot more if using masa harina base)
  • Salt to taste

Ingredients for filling:

  • 1 pound whole piece of free range beef for slow cooking– a roast or brisket works well
  • 100 grams dried chillies, tops and seeds removed (Pasilla, Ancho, and New Mexican chillies all work)
  • Enough stock (from slow cooking beef) or water to cover chillies
  • 2 onions, sliced
  • 1 head garlic peeled
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tspn smoked paprika
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt to taste
  • Enough corn husks for 3 dozen tamales (Case Iberica Deli)
  • Sourcream and lime or lemon wedges to serve
  1. Place meat, 1 sliced onion, 1 tspn salt, and half the peeled garlic in a heavy pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil, cover with lid and turn down to gentle simmer. Cook for 2 hours, or until very tender and falling apart. When finished cooking move beef to deep baking dish and shred with two forks. Reserve the liquid in pot and put through sieve. This is your beef stock.
  2. For the red chilli sauce, place your chillies, cumin seeds, smoked paprika,  remaining onion and garlic in a pot and add enough beef stock to cover (if you don’t have enough for dough and chillies, you can add some water too). Add salt to taste. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until chillies are very soft. Allow to cool slightly, then blend into a sauce with an immersion blender (or if you are scared of those, a normal blender). Add the lemon juice. Pour the sauce over the beef and stir to coat. Your filling is ready.
  3. For the tamale dough: in a large bowl, cream solidified coconut oil (or other fat) until fluffy. Add in fresh masa using hands. Add enough stock to make the mixture soft and easy to work with, but not too mushy. This part you have to play by ear a bit.
  4. Assemble the tamales! Soak your corn husks in warm water for 20 minutes at least. Start with the larger ones. Spread a thin layer of masa onto the smooth side of the corn husk. There will be a wide top to the husk that comes down to a point. Cover the top half (I don’t have the words to explain this bit very well, but there are some instructional videos on YouTube. Here is one I found helpful.)I use a wet palm but everyone has their preferred method. Place about a tblspn of filling on the masa towards the edge of the husk, and roll. Fold bottom end up and pinch top. If you want to get fancy with it, you can tie a corn husk bow around the tamale, which is also a helpful trick if you are layering two corn husks to get enough surface are (again the video is a very good resource!)
  5. To cook the tamales, places then in a steamer with the open side up (i place a bowl or foil ball in the center of the steamer to prop them on.) Steam for 1.5-2hrs or until tamale dough is nice and firm.
  6. To serve unwrap the tamale from the corn husk. I love them for breakfast with eggs and hot sauce. For dinner, I served them up with a fresh tomato salsa, sour cream with a bit of lime zest, and a lemon and lime cabbage slaw (just the cirtus, some salt, and some thinly sliced scallion– cuts through the richness of the tamale). Oh and hot sauce is a must!

Where to find tamale ingredients in Melbourne, Australia:

  • Casa Iberica Deli in Fitzroy has masa harina (masa in flour form), corn husks, dried chillies, spices
  • El Cielo in Port Melbourne has white fresh masa available during the week, and sells masa harina (blue corn as well). They also have dried chillies and an awesome collection of mexican products
  • La Tortilleria in Kensington has fresh masa, as well as a a good selection of mexican ingredients




Haloumi: The Official Food of Australia’s Crappy Athletes

Haloumi 1Photography by Asia Upward, Styling by Ali Nardi

Admittedly that post title is not technically %100 true. Haloumi is not the official food of anything other than the following salad recipe, and Australia’s athletes are not %100 crappy. In fact, only Australians, particularly the Olympic commentators seem to think their athletes are crappy.

I love living in Australia mainly because the quality of life here is so great. High work wages, free health care, good weather, lots of space, the list goes on. And because Australia has all of these high standards for quality of living, I find that frequently on occassion Australians whine get mildly upset when they don’t get something they feel entitled too. And no where has this attitude been more apparent then the consistently negative and critical coverage of their own athletes in the Olympics.

A typical interview tends to go something like this (fictional discussion based on my own perception of commentators interviewing athletes):

Commentator: “How does it feel to get fourth when you were so close to getting on the podium?”

Athlete: “I’m so proud. It feels great to get to be at olympics and I gave it my all.”

Commentator: “Yes, but how disappointing is it not to get gold?”

Athelete: “I’m just so excited at what I accomplished and I’m looking forward to the next olympics in 4 years.”

Commentator: “Ok, but how does it feel to totally suck for not winning the gold, which is the only thing that matters,” and so on a so forth.

I’ve also never witnessed Olympic commentators who are so eager to see fellow competitors fall, crash, or slip so their athletes can gain a spot on the podium. I mean, is that really how you want to win? Hoping your opponent takes a fall trying something daring and worthy of gold while you play it safe? I don’t think so, and I don’t think Australia’s Olympic athletes do either, but hey, I can only speak for myself…

So this post is in dedication to Australia’s Olympic Athletes who I think are doing a pretty swell job in the most prestigious athletic competition in the world. Chumpy might have gotten wiped out in border cross, but man is he good looking. And David Morris didn’t win the gold, but he dressed in bright yellow for his follow-up interview which is just as good.

haloumi 2

Australia loves haloumi, they support haloumi, they believe in haloumi. They should probably start treating their athletes more like haloumi short of eating them, and make this awesome Haloumi, Rockmelon (Cantalope), Almond and Basil Salad instead. Cook time is minimal, so you don’t have to linger by the heat on a sweltering Melbourne day, and it’s super simple to prepare so you can reserve your energy for things like walking down the block, or getting the lid off your water bottle which you have probably refilled at least ten times when Melbourne is at it’s worst. I serve it as a main–it is refreshing and filling, and won’t bog you down. It’s definitely worthy of a gold :)

haloumi 3


  • 12  1/3″ thick slices haloumi cheese (it’s the “meat in this dish” so i don’t skimp!)
  • 1/2 rockmelon/cantalope, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1/4 cup chopped or slivered almonds, lightly toasted
  • 1/2 french shallot, thinly sliced
  • a handful of basil, leaves picked and large ones torn
  • a few handfuls mixed salad greens

For the dressing: Mix olive oil, fresh lemon juice, and sald and pepper to taste

1.Over medium high heat on the BBQ/grill, or on a grill pan or regular fry pan, cook  haloumi pieces in a bit of oil until golden brown on both sides (if doing this directly on the BBQ, just brush haloumi with oil). This only takes a few minutes on either side.

2. Combine remaining salad ingredients with dressing,  lay haloumi pieces on top and drizzle with a bit of extra dressing. Simple as that. Enjoy!

The Jew-Factor: Just Follow the Matzo Crumbs… Passover Carrot Cake

Photography by Asia Upward, Styling by Ali Nardi

Except there are no matzo crumbs.

Being a Jew in Australia is both comical, and a little difficult to swing.

Here’s an example of the comical: Many Aussies assume that because I am Jewish, I am an expert on the Jewish religion– even though I am more of a Jew by heritage if you catch my drift. A friend wrote Anders an email when she returned from a trip to NYC: “While we were in New York, there were all these Jewish people dressed in traditional clothing going into these makeshift rectangle rooms. I think they were celebrating something? And the young boys were going around asking people if they were Jewish. Does Ali know what they were celebrating???”

The Difficulties: It’s not that I feel unwelcome or anything. It’s just that there isn’t really much of anything Jewish going on if you are a “casual Jew” like myself (something like a half-blood from Harry Potter, who grew up celebrating all Catholic and Jewish Holidays but never really tied any religious significance to either). So it’s hard to keep up with Passover, Yom Kippur, Chanukah. It’s also difficult to find egg noodles to make kugel with, and this is the real tragedy of it for me.

Being a Jew has always been a bit like wearing an accessory in my case–something I identify with to a certain extent and enjoy having as an extra flourish, but not something that I defined myself by…. until that is, I started living abroad and until I met Anders. In New York I am one of many who get called out while in the NYC subway: “Are you Jooeesh?” Here, it’s more of a novelty, because I am the only Jew most of my Aussie friends have ever encountered, or rather, known personally. And whether or not I chose to tell people doesn’t make a difference, as Anders has made it a well-known fact. It’s cute… sort of.  I didn’t understand how widespread the word was until people were leaving bacon just off of my plate (I do not keep kosher for the record). My favorite bit though is when Anders told his father I was Jewish before his father met me, and he said “Well don’t hold it against her!”

But like I said, no one I know has an issue with it. For the most part, they just didn’t grow up with it as part of their lives. During December holidays in Brisbane, there was no such thing as saying “Happy Holidays!” It’s just, “Merry Christmas!”

Bottom line: it’s good that people have a curiosity to know what it’s all about. I just wish I knew so I could tell them!

I feel like I should participate a bit in this inherited culture though, even without mom and dad and the olds here to organize Passover. I gotta represent! So this year, I have decided to do a mini Seder on the second night of Passover (tomorrow). In Brisbane, finding Passover products just wasn’t happening. But now we are in Melbourne, where the possibilities are endless (and the laksa is amazing!). Sure enough, there is Carlisle St. in Saint Kilda, an area that feels a lot like Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, about 45 minutes away from me via bike. So I took my wheels on an adventure yesterday, and got the necessary bits for passover. Matzo meal to make matzo balls, matzo bread (this is also nice to have in the house to snack on), and red horseradish (my favorite). The rest I can find at Vic markets tomorrow.

I also made a Passover Carrot Cake (flourless) that we can enjoy at the mini Seder and throughout the week, because I like having something sweet around that is nutritious enough to eat as a meal. I’m not a big fan of chocolate, and the typical flourless chocolate cakes at passover are too sweet and heavy for my taste, but I love a good carrot cake.

I’ve adapted this recipe from Elana’s Pantry. I’ve spiced it differently, added dried figs, and since I originally posted this, I have altered the frosting, as her cream cheese frosting didn’t really do it for me and can now give you an awesome cream cheese frosting recipe! Also, I simply don’t use gave in my food.

Instead of doing a two-layer cake, I do a one layer cake, and then make the rest into cupcakes, or do them all as cupcakes as a sweet snack to have during the  week– no frosting when going for the snack idea! (You might notice two are missing in the photo. Photographer Asia Upwards dog Bear got to them when we turned our backs for a second!)

Note: This cake is flourless (almond-meal), and can also be made dairy free by swapping out the melted butter with your oil of choice (I recommend coconut oil, or the original recipe calls for grape seed oil).

carrot cake 2 Asia

Flourless Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Adapted from Elana’s Pantry

  • 3 cups blanched almond flour (DO NOT use Bob’s Red Mill. It is too coarse)
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp ground ginger
  • 1 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 5 eggs
  • ½ cup honey or agave nectar
  • ¼ cup melted butter
  • 3 cups grated carrot
  • 1/2 cup raisans
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried figs
  • 1 cup walnuts (plus a few extra for decoration)


  • 1 cup creamcheese (about 250 grams)
  • 2/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 stick (115 grams) butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup honey
  1. Preheat oven to 325F. Grease two 9 inch cake tins, and line the bottom with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper.
  2. Mix dry ingredients in a bowl, using your fingers to break up any clumps of almond meal.
  3. In a seperate bowl, mix together eggs, honey and melted butter. Stir in carrots, raisans, figs, and walnuts.
  4. Mix wet ingredients into dry, and divide batter evenly into cake pans.
  5. Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. If the top starts to brown too quickly, cover with foil. Allow to cool before removing from cake pans.
  6. For the frosting: With an electric beater, beat cream cheese until smooth in a  medium bowl. Add butter and honey and beat until smooth and fluffy. In a separate bowl, beat cream until you have a nice thick whipped cream (don’t let it go to butter!). Combine with cream cheese mixture. Store in Fridge for up to a week, and store in freezer after that. To revive it, just beat it til smooth again.