It took me a little while to really come to love mussels. They had not graced our family table that often while I was growing up, and I liked them - but they were not the first thing I would always select on a menu. That was until, in a little Paris bistrot, I was presented with a huge, steaming pot of white wine, tomato and garlic soaked mussels - accompanied by a chilled glass of Chablis. They were a revelation, so tiny - unlike the hulking great big mussels that I had here in Australia - but sweet and with a delicate texture. From that time on, mussels have always caught my eye if they are on the menu.
That was the case in Lefkada, when Mr K and I visited a family run taverna, perched right on the edge of the sea in Agios Nikitas. Μύδια γεμιστά (stuffed mussels) were on the menu and I just had to try them. In Greek cooking, there is a certain penchant for the 'yemista' style - filling summer vegetables, flower blossoms, cabbage leaves, vine leaves and more with lots of aromatic herbs and rice. Mussels are not exempt from this Greek culinary preoccupation and at the little taverna in Agios Nikitas, the filling of choice was plenty garlic, herbs, a little crumbly aged sheep's cheese and instead of rice, fresh breadcrumbs and of course, a good glug of their homemade olive oil.
This meze is inspired by that night where we ate these aromatic stuffed mussels beside the the sea and enjoyed a glass of the taverna's super chilled homemade wine. If you are in Australia, I would highly recommend using Kinkawooka Mussels for this dish. They are small, sweet and incredibly fresh - just perfect for this simple and easy to make meze dish.
Herb & garlic stuffed mussels from Lefkada (Μύδια γεμιστά)
1 kg mussels, cleaned
1/2 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons of fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
5 tablespoons of aged sheep of goat's cheese (such as kefalotiri or pecorino), grated
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
Lemon wedges, to serve
Place the cleaned mussels in a wide frying pan, add wine and cover. Turn the heat to high and steam for approx. 5 minutes or until the mussels have just opened up. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the mussels.
Preheat the grill.
In a separate bowl, add the breadcrumbs, parsley, garlic, cheese and half the olive oil. Mix well to combine and season to taste.
Using the mussels, discard the empty half of the shell and using a teaspoon top the meat half of the shell with the breadcrumb mixture. Put the shells, filled side up, in an oven proof dish.
Once all the mussels are filled, place the dish under the grill and cook for around 8-10 minutes, or until the topping is lightly browned. Drizzle over the remaining oil and serve hot, accompanied by chilled white wine and lemon wedges.