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Holiday Festive Food with Helen (YiaYia)


To celebrate the festive season, we’ve partnered with some of the very best home chefs in Australia to show you how they do family celebrations in delicious style.

This is Helen, but everyone calls her YiaYia, which means grandma in Greek. She’s a talented chef at her son’s pop-up restaurant, a caring mother and grandmother, and a proud member of the Greek community in Australia. We visited YiaYia in her Sydney home to chat about her family’s most loved festive recipes and how food brings her family together.

I was born in lovely Greece, but I’ve been in Australia for 53 amazing years. 

I grew up in Lesbos surrounded by my family and friends, but my husband and I decided to migrate to Australia. 

I loved Australia from the moment I stepped off the boat. I came from a small island, so it was very different. Australia was a wonderful new world, and everything seemed fantastic to me.

It didn’t take long for me to get used to my new country. I built my family and business here, which my son runs now. 

Through the highs and the lows, I’ve never stopped thinking positive. 

YiaYia's favourite festive food is Spanakopita.

Spanakopita is a delicious, traditional Greek dish that means “spinach pie”. It's made with delicate and crispy layers of filo pastry, and tasty spinach and feta filling.

Spanakopita makes a great side dish during big family Christmas dinners, but it can also stand alone as the main dish.

Everyone loves Spanakopita because it's comforting, tasty, filling and full of flavour. All my kids, grandkids and friends always ask me to make it for them, and I do because I love to make them happy.

Christmas is a special time for me. One Christmas, I surprised my family in Lesbos. It was the first time I returned in 12 years, and I had brought the kids with me. It was snowing, which is unusual, so it was magical. All my friends and family rushed to my mother’s house where we caught up and spent time together. 

Food is the heart of our family because it brings us together. We sit around the table and share memories, stories and Spanakopita. 

Spanakopita has always been about family and bonding. I learnt to make Spanakopita a long time ago when I went to meet my husband’s parents for the first time. My mother-in-law taught me how to collect the right herbs and cook Spanakopita with the right flavours. 

I taught my daughter how to make Spanakopita, just like my mother-in-law taught me. I also make YouTube videos  to teach young people about Greek food and pass down recipes like Spanakopita, Moussaka and Dolmades to the next generation. 

This year we are not letting 2020 hold us back, and we’re celebrating Christmas like we always do, together. Everyone is coming to my house, and I will cook 10 dishes— enough food for 50 people— so that everyone can take some home to enjoy. 

Helen’s Spanakopita Recipe

Ingredients

Filling

3 bundles of English spinach 

1 bunch of dill

1 bunch of parsley

1 bunch of mint

1 bunch of shallots

Add some silverbeet (optional) 

1 small cup rice (to absorb water from veggies)

½ kilo of feta cheese

1 cup of Parmigiano or other melted cheese

Salt and pepper to taste

Filo Pastry

700 grams plain flour

2 tablespoons of vinegar (to make it crispy)

2 teaspoons salt

½ cup of oil

Warm water

Instructions

Filo Pastry

To make the dough, mix all the ingredients together with a bit of warm water. 

Let the dough rest for 20-30mins so it’s soft and easy to manipulate. 

Filling

  1. Start by chopping all the veggies and herbs, add the salt and let it sit for 15 minutes. 
  2. Strain the veggies, squeezing out all the water, and place them in a bowl along with the rice, feta, parmigiano cheese, salt and pepper. 
  3. Roll out the dough on a floured table, making 4-5 thin layers.
  4. Brush oil on the bottom surface of a baking tray and place down 2 layers of pastry.
  5. Add the filling to the pastry, adding two more layers of pastry on top. 
  6. Liberally brush oil on the top, and bake for one hour in the oven. Bake at 200 degrees for the first 20 minutes, and then reduce to 180 degrees for the remaining 40minutes. 
  7. When the pastry is golden all over, turn it over and bake for another 10 minutes. This makes the bottom pastry nice and crispy.

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