Saturday, 9 December 2006

nights of malta

My sister, Shamu, was visiting Sydney one weekend and I had to think of something yummy to cook for dinner. Given that one the challenges I’ve set myself is to cook a dish from every country in the world, I asked Jonas to pick a country off the top of his head and he chose Malta.

Now I needed to do some research to come up with a little Maltese feast.

Malta is such an interesting island. Floating in the Mediterranean, somewhere between Tunisia, Libya and Italy, it has a history with a convergence of very diverse cultures.

I have never been to Malta but I have met many Maltese. One of my lovely work colleagues (Carolyn) is Maltese and there is a significant Maltese population in Australia too.

First ruled by Phoenicians then Carthagians, Romans, Byzantinians, Vandals, Arabs, Sicilian Normans, Angevine, Hohenstaufen, Aragonese, Napoleonic France, Britain and then finally independence in 1964.

This history is reflected in the Maltese language which uniquely consists of three linguistic groups: Semetic (Arabic), Romantic (Italian) and Germanic (English). Maltese is in fact 40% Koranic Arabic (this old version of Arabic is used in Malta for common words used such as man, woman, summer etc), 40% Romantic (derived from Sicilian and used for expressing ideas, culture and government) and 20% English loan words.

It’s interesting to learn that the Semitic words are used heavily in Church and in poetry and literature whereas the Romance words are used in intellectual speech. This means that Italian speakers can often guess what is being said in a formal document (because they are heavily Romance influenced) but they couldn’t even come close to understanding simple sentences (because they are Semitic derived).

Yes, I’m a geek for languages.

But back to my other geeky pursuit – food.

I did some web research and came across a few sites with some interesting Maltese meals. I chose a salad (chickpea & lupini) and a stew (artichoke), both vegetarian.

Chickpea & Lima Bean Salad

Taken from Maltese Food & Recipes. Serves 4.

Lima beans, canned
Chickpeas, canned
4 garlic cloves, crushed
Olive oil
Salt & pepper
Parsley, chopped finely
Mint, chopped finely

1. Mix the beans with the olive oil and garlic
2. Add the herbs
3. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Great eaten with bread that’s been rubbed with tomato and anchovies and served with olives.
Note: I couldn’t find canned lima beans so I used lupini instead (which, incidentally are fantastic beer snacks too).

Stuffat tal-Qaqocc (Artichoke Stew)

Taken from Traditional Maltese Recipes. Serves 4.

4 large tender artichokes
4 small onions, finely chopped
200g broad beans, both skins removed
200g shelled peas
400g fresh or canned tomatoes, chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tablespoon parsley
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
4 eggs
4 gbejna (fresh goat cheese)

1. Prepare the artichokes by removing all tough outer leaves, completely cut off the tops of remaining leaves and remove the choke with the aid of a teaspoon. Cut the artichokes in halves and put in a basin covered in water lemon juice.
2. In the meantime, heat the oil in a saucepan, add the onions and gently fry until soft.
3. Add the garlic and as soon as it turns golden, add the tomatoes.
4. Bring to the boil add the parsley and seasoning, lower the flame and add the artichoke hearts.
5. When these are almost done, add the broad beans and peas. At this stage you may have to add a little water, to make sure all the vegetables are covered. Continue simmering until the vegetables are tender.
6. Make a hollow and add the egg and the gbejna. As soon as the egg is poached serve the stew hot.
Note: I couldn't get fresh broad beans so I threw in some asparagus for good measure.

This week Weekend Herb Blogging is being hosted by Pookah from What's Cooking in Carolina. Be sure to visit the recap!

Just in case you’re interested to learn a little something more about Malta, here are some facts direct from Wikipedia:
• Currently the smallest EU country in both population and area.
• Although there are some small rivers at times of high rainfall, there are no permanent rivers or lakes on Malta.
• 98% of the Maltese population are Roman Catholic, making the nation one of the most Catholic countries in the world.
• Around 45 % of illegal immigrants landed in Malta have been granted refugee (5%) or protected humanitarian status (40%), which is the highest rate of acceptance in the EU.
• Malta produces only about 20% of its food needs, has limited freshwater supplies, and has no domestic energy sources.
• Malta’s major industries are limestone, freight (shipping point), electronics and textiles manufacturing and tourism.
• Malta has been inhabited since around 5200 BCE and structures on the island predate the Pyramids at Giza by a millennium.
• Malta's population density of 1,282 per square kilometre (3,322/sq mi) is by far the highest in the EU and one of the highest in the world.
• Malta is the only nation in the world that has collectively been awarded the George Cross for conspicuous gallantry.
• The official languages are English and Maltese. Italian is also widely spoken.
• Maltese is the only Semitic based language to be the official language of a European country.
• The Maltese alphabet is based on the Latin alphabet, but uses the diacritically altered letters ż, also found in Polish, as well as the letters ċ, ġ and ħ, which are unique to Maltese.




  1. What a brilliant idea, to cook your way around the world! This one reminds me of very hot days, on holiday in Malta! I loved the food there, especially the Maltese Salad, it depends where you eat it, what it consists of!

  2. I have an uncle from Malta, he's hilarious. Your stew looks great, I need to try more things with artichokes.

  3. Anna, a beautiful post! I can't get my eyes off the Artichoke stew! ;)

  4. your recipes and the info about Malta expand my horizon!

  5. Both these recipes sound great. The bean salad sounds like tabbouli with beans instead of the wheat. Interesting information about Malta too. So many interesting places in that part of the world.

  6. What on earth is "conspicuous gallantry"??


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