Ella Mittas on Food, Culture & Belonging

Photography by Damien Laing
Words & recipes by Ella Mittas


To celebrate chef & food writer, Ella Mitta's self-published debut cook book Ela! Ela! being republished by Murdoch, we invited her to share an excerpt from her beautiful tome. Ella also reveals a recipe for Melomakarona, a delectable Greek treat that yields 30 - perfect for sharing with neighbours & friends. 

“My father’s side of the family is Greek. They all live on one street, in houses next door to each other. There are holes cut between backyard fences, so everyone can be together easily. That one small section of street has given me a sense of community and belonging I haven’t been able to locate in the rest of my life. It seems separate from the rest of Australia, but it’s a version of Greece abstracted from the real thing; its traditions are built on distant memories. The language spoken is Gringlish, a mix of both places. I’ve always felt that somewhere inside that place, among the carved-out fences, is where my true identity lies. I’ve looked for more concrete examples of that elusive sense of community for years: a place where it exists in its entirety, where it’s set in stone.

“This collection of essays and recipes in my cookbook, Ela! Ela!, are taken from some sort of journey of knowledge. Of food, culture and belonging. In Melbourne, I’d worked under a chef who’d cooked traditional Turkish cuisine and had seen how interwoven it was with Greek food culture. There was even a genre of cuisine in Greece dedicated to the crossover. Politiki Kouzina translates to ‘food of the city’ and came to Greece from Istanbul via the ethnic Greeks deported from Turkey during the 1923 population exchange. Once I decided I wanted to work in Greece, had applied for my citizenship and was waiting for it to be processed, I thought Istanbul would be the next best thing and chose to wait there.”

“Where I got the arrogance to believe I’d be accepted in Turkey with no prior knowledge of the culture is beyond me. I’ll put it down to my age and naivety mixed with various forms of privilege. These things helped form my almost willful misunderstanding of how language and culture barriers would affect me anywhere I went and cooked—something glaringly obvious when writing in retrospect, but indecipherable at the time.

“The recipes in the book are a mix of things I saw, ate and was taught. Years of cooking them have turned them into something more my own.”

The recipes in the book are a mix of things I saw, ate and was taught. Years of cooking them have turned them into something more my own. 


Makes about 25–30 biscuits

These are some of my favourite Greek sweets because of their mix of savoury olive oil and herbaceous thyme honey. Instead of Greek thyme honey, you can heat some good-quality Australian honey with thyme to infuse it. These will keep in the fridge for a few weeks.


1 1/2 cups olive oil
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup fine semolina
2 oranges, zested
2/3 cup orange juice
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground cinnamon
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 cup Madeira
1/2 cup ground walnuts
1/2 cup almond meal
3 1/2 cups cake flour or all-purpose flour, or more as needed

For the honey syrup:
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup Greek thyme honey
1 1/2 cups water
2 cups walnuts, coarsely chopped


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Add the oil and sugar to a bowl and mix to combine.
  2. Add the semolina, orange zest and juice, salt, cloves and cinnamon and mix for another minute.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the baking powder and Madeira, then pour into the semolina mix, followed by the ground nuts.
  4. Once that is all incorporated, start to gradually add in the flour, kneading to create a soft, oily dough.
  5. Turn the dough out onto a working surface, adding a little more flour if it’s too soft and difficult to shape.
  6. Knead for 2–3 minutes, then cover and let rest for 20 minutes in the fridge.
  7. Roll dough into golf ball-sized biscuits. Take your time doing this: if the biscuits aren’t well formed they’ll crack when baking.
  8. Place the cookies about 4 centimetres apart on trays lined with baking paper and press a fork on the surface to create ridges.
  9. Bake for about 25 minutes until the biscuits are golden brown and sound hollow when you tap them.
  10. Meanwhile, make the syrup: in a medium saucepan, simmer the sugar, honey and water for five minutes and remove from the heat. Let cool.
  11. Drop six to eight hot cookies at a time into the honey syrup and let them soak for about a minute—or a bit longer, depending on how soft or crunchy you’d like your melomakarona.
  12. Once the biscuits have been soaked, sprinkle the crushed walnuts over them for garnish
Purchase Ela Ela! here.