My Hubby is half-Maltese so I have been lucky to have spent a couple of summer holidays in Malta with the family on his Mother’s side. One of the things I love about Malta is the delicious, fresh and healthy food that is so easy to find there – you can almost taste the sunshine and the breeze from the Mediterranian sea in your mouth! My Hubby is keen to preserve the traditional Maltese recipes which are popular in his family and I have been his keen student to master some of these recipes myself and make them a regular feature in our meals in the UK.
This is me in Gozo at the iconic Fungus Rock, enjoying a bit of sea-breeze
In this blog post I would like to introduce three of my favourite Maltese dishes: a dip which makes a nice starter or a light protein filled snack; a colourful veggie main to help you get your 5-in-a-day; and a no-fuss go-to snack which you can have at any time during the day. All are easy to make, are full of goodness and make a great summer dish on your table. Even better, they are all vegan, but of course you can add or consume them with some meat options if you wanted to!
Hobz Biz-Zejt/Ftira (‘Bread and Oil’)
This is truly Malta’s national dish – a popular afternoon snack during the summer; even most pubs or bars serve it at request! Which I could not believe at first – during a cycle trip in Gozo in the heat of the day, Simon and I stopped in a small town pub to get some refreshments. When Simon asked the owner of the pub for some Hobz Biz Zejt to accompany our Kinnie drinks, I was about to apologise for the ‘inappropriate’ request and check whether my Hubby suffered a sunstroke which messed with his thinking, when, to my greatest surprise, the pub owner disappeared in the corner shop and returned a minute later with a huge chunk of freshly baked local bread in his hands and he prepared the light meal for us in front of our eyes without asking any questions. I have to say, I can still feel the taste of that lunch in my mouth!
Make sure you get good quality, fresh artisan bread – or perhaps you are a baking queen and have a fool-proof recipe already to make your own bread at home. Using plastic white bread slices and butter would constitute an ‘abomination’ according to the Maltese who cherish this dish, so make sure you get good quality ingredients and not poor substitutes.
In Malta they sometimes use flat bread (it is baked in a round flat disc) for this dish – they simply split it in half horizontally and use the same ingredients as the Hibz Biz Zejt to stuff it, but it is then called Ftira.
Thick slices of artisan brown bread or Brown baguette
Large ripe tomato
Extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt
Sliced red onion rings
Anchovies or Tinned Tuna
Fresh herbs e.g. basil, mint or marjoram
Cut the bread and the tomato in half. Pour some olive oil onto a plate. Dip the halves of the tomatoes in olive oil and rub them into the bread slices until the bread takes on a pink colour. Leave the pieces of tomatoes on the bread (or you can cut them into smaller pieces if you haven’t managed to puree them in the rubbing process and they remained very chunky). Sprinkle some more oil on the top (if you want to) and add the rest of the ingredients. Eat within half an hour of making, otherwise the bread will go soggy and soft.
Bigilla (Bean Dip)
This is a very popular dish in Malta which is often served as a complimentary starter in restaurants. You can have this with crudites of your choice – here in the UK I use Nairns oatcakes and Dr Karg’s crisp bread; in Malta we dip thin Maltese crackers into this creamy deliciousness. This dip is especially healthy as it has a good amount of protein and it is a good alternative to traditional hummus made from chick peas.
400g broad beans
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 head of garlic, crushed
1 red chilli pepper, finely chopped
1 tbsp mixed fresh marjoram, mint or basil
A pinch of sea salt
Cook the beans in boiling hot water until tender, then drain and mash them roughly. In a bowl, mix in all the other ingredients.(Alternatively, you may want to use a strong blender to achieve a smoother texture.) If you prefer it less spicy, you may want to remove some of the chilli seeds before adding them in.
Serve with crudites or spread it over a thin slice of toasted rye bread.
Kapunata (Aubergine Ratatouille)
This is the Maltese version of the Sicilian Capunata. A very healthy dish which is full of fibre and is packed with colourful veggies. This can be served either hot (as a stand alone or side dish) or cold with a slice of toast/pitta bread.
1 large aubergine, peeled and cut into 1 cm cubes
1 onion, finely sliced
3 cloves of garlic, finely crushed
A couple of red, green and yellow bell peppers, seeded and cut into strips
1 stick of celery, finely chopped
A couple of large ripe tomatoes, blanched and cut into chunks
1 large courgette, sliced and slices cut in half
A big handful of pitted black olives, chopped into halves or smaller
A big handful of capers
1 tbsp of fresh (or dried) basil, mint or marjoram, finely chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
A few drops of tabasco sauce
Cube the aubergine first and place the cubes into a large colander. Put the colander over a big pan. Sprinkle a generous serving of sea salt over the aubergine, mix well, and leave it for about half an hour – the aubergine will ‘sweat out’some liquid and this will drip through the colander and into the pan (you can discard this liquid later). Whilst the aubergine is ‘sweating’, you can use this half an hour to chop and prepare the rest of the ingredients.
After the aubergine has sweated out the liquid, rinse the cubes thoroughly in water to get rid of the salt.
In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and add all the chopped vegetables at once (except the capers and olives), stirring well and coating them with the oil. Season and add the herbs.
Add a few drops of tabasco sauce. Cover tightly and cook slowly until all the veggies are done (but not overly soft or soggy).
Add the capers and olives towards the end.
The recipes were written using our family traditions and advice from the Caruana-Galizia cook book (aka the Maltese foodie Bible).