When I first met Melia, she was 9 months pregnant, navigating her East Village kitchen with ease as she effortlessly threw together a gorgeous kale and pickled cherry salad, one of the many dishes she has become known for as executive chef at Manhattan restaurant The Smile & The Smile To Go.
Food had always played a big role in Melia’s life. Her mother, who she often sites as one of her greatest inspirations when it comes to cooking, taught Melia many of the techniques and general approach she uses and references in her cooking today. Being exposed at a young age to travel, Melia was introduced to really interesting food influences and combinations. One travel tradition in particular shaped Melia’s understanding of cuisine and shaped the way in which Melia would design the menu for The Smile. “We did this thing that really inspired the way I cook now. We went to Greece every summer to an island called Hydra, which is about 2 hours from Athens. It’s more of a rocky landscape, not a white sand beach people envision when they think of Greece- a little more rustic. My parents have been going since the 70’s. We would rent a fishing boat for the day with a captain. We would go out and cook a big picnic. Everyone would bring something and we would all eat it on the boat. That kind of cooking was a huge influence. It was a huge social thing you are cooking stuff that can sit out and last. It’s all family style and it’s all from the markets in Greece.
Now a mother of two, Melia continues to play in the kitchen with flavors that not only appeal to the more refined palettes, but to those that are still developing! It's important to the food loving mom to pass along traditions and inspire within her children an open-minded approach to cuisine. She thinks cooking and healthy-eating should be fun. If anyone can teach kids to eat their veggies (and love them), it's Melia!
Chickpeas in Roasted Tomato Sauce with Preserved Lemon & Parsley
serves 4 - 6 as a side
For the Roasted Tomatoes:
one 28 ounce cans whole plum tomatoes, drained and rinsed
½ cup olive oil
leaves from 6 sprigs thyme
5 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
For the Chickpeas:
two 14 ounce cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
¼ cup olive oil
1 cup diced red onion (from 1 medium onion)
1 recipe roasted tomatoes
1 preserved lemon peel, finely minced
½ cup roughly chopped parsley
Preheat oven to 375 degrees
1.Halve the plum tomatoes lengthwise and remove and discard seeds. Arrange pieces flat on a lined sheet pan with thyme and whole garlic. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast until lightly browned at the edges, about 30 minutes. Discard garlic cloves.
2.Heat olive oil in a saute pan on medium high heat for 1 minutes. Add onions and cook until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add preserved lemon and stir. Add chickpeas and stir until well coated. Remove to a bowl and add roasted tomato - stir until the tomato is broken down and well combined. Season with salt and pepper.
3.Let cool slightly and add parsley. Garnish with more parsley to serve.
Zucchini Balls with Tzatziki
makes 14 balls
For the Zucchini Balls:
2 cups shredded zucchini, from 2 medium zucchini
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided
½ cup crumbled feta
½ cup panko breadcrumbs
2 scallions finely sliced, about 2 tablespoons
2 tablespoons finely chopped mint
2 tablespoons finely chopped dill
½ teaspoon ground coriander
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 cups canola oil for frying
For the egg wash:
2 eggs, whisked
2 cups panko breadcrumbs
Place zucchini in a colander or fine mesh strainer fitted over a bowl and sprinkle with ½ teaspoon salt. Let sit for 15 minutes. Wrap in a clean kitchen towel, roll and squeeze out all excess liquid. Place in a mixing bowl.
Add 1 egg, feta, breadcrumbs, chopped scallions, mint, dill and spices. Season with remaining ¼ teaspoon salt and mix well. Form mixture into 1 ¾ - inch balls. Each ball should be about a heaping tablespoon.
Set up a bowl of egg wash and a bowl of panko breadcrumbs.
Roll balls in egg and then roll in the breadcrumbs. Arrange on a sheet tray and cool in the fridge for 30 minutes.
Heat canola oil in a large pot or deep fryer to 350.
Drop patties in a fry until dark golden, about 2 minutes 30 seconds. Remove and drain on paper towels. Serve with tzatziki.
for the Tzatziki:
Makes about 2 cups
2 medium cucumbers (about 1 ½ pounds)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
2 cups full fat Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
2 cloves garlic, pressed in a garlic press
4 teaspoons lemon juice, from 1 lemon
Peel the cucumbers completely, slice them in half lengthwise, scoop out and discard the seeds.
Grate the cucumbers on a box grater. Place the grated cucumber in a fine mesh strainer fitted over a bowl. Sprinkle with 1 teaspoons salt and let sit 15 minutes to draw the moisture out of the cucumbers so they won’t make the dip soggy.
Place the grated cucumbers in a clean kitchen towel and press to remove excess water.
In a medium-sized serving bowl, combine the cucumbers with the remaining ingredients and mix well. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if desired.