Mediterranean Food Fest
This post has been a long time coming — most likely because I wasn’t thrilled about the photos. Each time I cook, I anticipate the photos, waiting to see each one much like I am waiting to open a gift. But it is so completely annoying when the photos aren’t good, and there are any number of reasons why that might be so: I have forgotten to take the time to set the camera correctly and depending on what type of light is being used, there can be an unearthly golden glow. Or, I will enable the macro and then forget to turn it off. Hence, blurry photos. And there’s always the excuse of my just not being able to see as clearly as I used to with my own eyes. That’s particularly annoying. But my favorite excuse for rotten photos?
Trying to take photos, cook, and entertain guests at the same time. I know you know what I’m talking about. Even when the guests are good friends I’m very comfortable with, I cannot possibly take 10 shots of a slice of pie. Okay, so maybe I could, but everyone else would be done with their pie by the time I was through fiddling around with all the glam shots. Now that I think of it, there’s one more excuse for less than stellar food photos that come from my Canon Powershot SD300 Digital Elph: wine. And all of them can be categorized into one huge area: Human Error.
It doesn’t mean the food doesn’t taste exceptionally well, but who the hell will be interested, right? No one ever wants to drool on their monitor over a fuzzy piece of cheesecake or a grainy hunk o’ beef. And yellow food that actually has no saffron content? Hmmmm…
You may recall (or not) that I was planning on celebrating a couple of friends’ birthdays recently by cooking what I ended up calling Med Rim cuisine. I figured that name was safe since Greece, Morocco, and Turkey were all in the Mediterranean region and have some similarities to their respective cuisines: olive oil, garlic, spice, olive oil, garlic, and more garlic. Mmmm…this girl can never have too much garlic.
So, what was on the menu and how did it get there?
I spent about a week or so looking at a variety of usual sources — my own cookbooks (with not much success…), the magazines I enjoy (especially Saveur), websites of those magazines, and Google searches for “Authentic Greek Recipes,” for example. I think that’s what took the longest, because what I found was often less than interesting, and not always “authentic.” But the entire experience is always enjoyable, and someday, I’ll maybe bite off what I can chew. Okay, so probably not. After all, there are sooooooo many recipes to try, and so little time, right?
In no particular order, the ten of us enjoyed the following recipes at our party:
Greek: Olives and Lentil Salad from Vegetarian History Lessons From a Greek Chef by Larry Litt. I wasn’t looking for vegetarian recipes in particular, but I was looking for something with lentils, as I had eaten at a Greek restaurant recently and loved the lentils that were served with warm pita bread before dinner. This recipe was very good, but the lentils I enjoyed at the restaurant are haunting me, and I’ll keep working until I get the combination of flavors just right. The recipe can be found if you scroll down through the text. If you are interested in vegan or vegetarian recipes, there are many included in the larger site, The Vegetarian Resource Group.
Turkish: Yahni with Garlic Cooked in a Clay Pot from A Turkish Cook in America. Now, I didn’t have a clay pot as much as I would have liked to cook this slowly roasted beef dish in the authentic way. But my All-Clad dutch oven worked just fine with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit right over the mixture in the pot. It was quite tasty. The beef was beyond tender, but that wasn’t a surprise considering it cooked for four hours! It was extremely easy to make, and considering it had to cook so long, I was able to put it in the oven and just about forget about it. I would love to try this again so that I can focus on the flavor of this one dish. It would most likely work just fine if cooked in a crock pot.
Moroccan: Chicken with Preserved Lemon and Green Olives from the Saveur website. The recipe calls for preserved lemons and Moroccan olives. Since I took so long to make the decision about which recipes I’d make, I didn’t allow enough time to preserve the lemons. And living in So Cal, this seemed pointless, unless the idea is to intensify the flavor of the lemons. I did look at specialty stores locally, and wasn’t able to find them, so used a regular lemon instead. Same for the Moroccan olives. I liked the dish enough to want to find the olives and make the lemons to see whether there’s a difference in the overall flavor. I love the combination of chicken, olives, and lemon, and have a few other recipes I’ve tried in the past that have been labeled Italian. I’m not a fan of chicken livers, but you can’t skip this part. It adds quite a bit to the sauce to follow the directions as stated. And if you don’t tell anyone they’re in the sauce, no one will know. Trust me.
Turkish: Marinated Grilled Lamb Loin Strips from the Saveur website. Because I was going back and forth between this lamb dish and another that braised shanks (which I now have and am planning on cooking…), I ended up altering this recipe. I decided not to make kebabs. I know. It would have been such a great idea for the party, but I cut to the chase when I have this much going on. I am not a barefoot contessa who has it all done ahead of time! Instead, after making the Turkish Herb and Spice Mix, I used large slices of the loin to marinate as directed, and then cook on the stove top in a skillet. I perseverated over Italian peppers and Turkish hot pepper paste, finding out that any sweet pepper would do, but happened onto the real deal in Trader Joe’s of all places. I’ve never seen Italian sweet peppers anywhere around here. Hot and spicy peppers, we always have. So I roasted the peppers like I normally do, seeding and removing the membranes before slicing them and adding them to the lamb. Some notes about making the Turkish Herb and Spice Mix: If you cannot find winter savory, it is very much like thyme in flavor, and more intense in flavor than summer savory. I used thyme. Pickling spice comes in a packet already mixed and can be added to the mix of other spices in this recipe. The aroma was amazing and I have much left over for another use. This dish was the one that got the most attention from guests. Of course I only got a bite, and from what I tasted, it was perfectly spicy (a slow, low burn in the back of the throat) and very delicious. So maybe another time on this one, too, and as kebabs!
Greek: Lathera from Evangelos Doussis’ Zuchinni Collection. There were three Greek recipes located on this site, and I wanted vegetables so chose this one. It’s the only recipe I had really high hopes for and was very disappointed in. I layered the vegetables in a large wide porcelain baker, thinking about which vegetable would be best placed where considering the hour baking time. In spite of the seven cloves of garlic and 1/2 cup of kalamata olive oil, it truly lacked flavor. I guess I wanted it to settle together better and develop a crust or at least some caramelization in spots. I love this combination of vegetables and still haven’t figured out why it didn’t add up to more than it did. Oh well. The next day, heated up the flavor had improved a bit, but not enough to make a real difference. Needless to say, there were left overs that sadly ended up in the sink.
Turkish: Pub Style Bulgar Pilaf from Almost Turkish Recipes Blog. This is an AMAZING site. There are so many recipes that look and sound so delicious, it was difficult to choose which to make. I settled on this particular recipe because the idea of the grain was perfect. I needed another side dish, so this was it. I purchased the coarse bulgar in bulk and chose the optional garlic to add to the main ingredients. Actually I didn’t make this dish. My husband did. He not only does laundry — he cooks. All I have to do is hand him the recipe and he’ll go to town. I did prep the vegetables for him, this time because I had planned on making it myself, but ran out of time. Anyway, this dish was so tasty. I’ve always enjoyed whole grains, and the interesting combination of potato — something I wouldn’t consider adding to a grain dish, peppers, onions, pepper flakes, tomato….Mmmmm….it was also a favorite and there were no left overs. So thank you to Almost Turkish Recipes for such an amazing recipe!
Moroccan: Harissa from astray recipes which seems to be quite the compilation of a many resources. The jury is still out on this particular version of harissa, or Moroccan hot sauce. Even though the spices had time to flavor the oil, it wasn’t remarkable as I thought it would be. The aroma of the spices was wonderful, however. I so have some left and plan to use it to flavor chicken before roasting. I’ll have to let you know how that goes. Otherwise, I’m off to look for a different recipe.
Middle Eastern: Hummus bi Tahini from the April 2006 issue of Saveur (No. 29 ). This is about as basic and delicious as it gets. And if you’re used to purchasing hummus in a little plastic container at the grocery store, think again. There’s no contest. This is so good and perfect spread on the fresh pita I baked to go with this dinner. The recipe is very easy. I used canned garbanzo beans instead of taking the time to soak and cook the dried chickpeas. The recipe does allow for that substitution in the directions. Drizzle on some kalamata olive oil and sprinkle paprika over and you’re ready to dip in. No, not veggies. That wouldn’t be authentic. Mmmmm….
Here’s the recipe for both the hummus and the pita bread:
Hummus with Sesame Paste
2-14 oz. cans garbanzo beans, drained
1 clove garlic, peeled
1/2 c. tahini (sesame paste)
1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
3 T extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsp. chopped parsley
1/4 tsp. sweet paprika
Into the bowl of a food processor, pour drained garbanzo beans and 1/4 c. water. Puree, occasionally scraping down bowl, until very smooth, 3-4 minutes. Transfer puree to a large bowl.
Put garlic and a pinch of salt into a mortar and crush with a pestle until they form a paste (or mince on a cutting board with a knife and sprinkle on salt as you mince, occasionally smashing garlic with the side of the knife until a paste forms…). Transfer garlic paste to bowl of pureed garbanzos. Add tahini, lemon juice, and salt to taste and mix well to combine.
Transfer hummus to a shallow bowl and press a well into the center witht he back of a spoon. Drizzle hummus with oil, sprinkle parsley and paprike into well, and top with a few whole chickpeas, if you like. Serve with olives and pita.
1 7-gram package active dry yeast
1/4 tsp. sugar
6 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
3 T veggie oil
2 tsp. salt
Put yeast, sugar and 1/2 c. warm water into a lg. bowl, stir to dissolve, and let mixture sit until frothy, 10-20 minutes. Add 2 more c. warm water and 1 c. flour and stir to combine. Add 2 more c. flour, 1 c. at a time, stirring well after each addition. Set mixture aside to let rest for 10 minutes.
Add 2 T of the oil and salt and stir well to combine. Gradually add remaining flour, mixing well with your hands, until dough holds together as a ball. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 15 minutes. Grease a lg. bowl with remaining oil. Roll dough around in bowl to coat, then cover bowl with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to let rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
Place pizza stone on middle rack of oven; preheat oven to 500 degrees F. Punch dough down, turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead for 2-3 minutes. Divide dough evenly into 16 balls and cover with plastic. Roll each ball out into a 7″ disk, keeping remaining dough covered. Transfer disk onto a clean, lightly floured kitchen towel and cover with another clean towel. Repeat process with remaining balls, laying them 1″ apart in a single layer. Let rest for 20 minutes.
Bake breads, 2-3 at a time, on pizza stone until lightly golden and puffed, 3 minutes per batch. Wrap hot pitas in a clean kitchen towel to keep them soft and pliable. Cut pita into wedges and serve with hummus, if you like.
Notes: These are very tasty, and fun to make, if a bit high maintenance when you’re actually baking them. Mine were in the oven more like 4 minutes, and they puffed nicely, but never really got brown. Laying the flattened balls on the clean kitchen towels is very important, as they want to stick, and the towels prevent this. Occasionally, an oddly shaped pita comes out, but that does nothing to the flavor. Very easy bread to make, and so very good with the hummus recipe above. In fact, excellent with our dinner. Absolutely no left overs here either!
Now you know why it took me so long to write this post. I do have a party like this about once every six to eight weeks depending on the occasion, and this is the first time I’ve put all the recipes into one post. It’s just too much work. One of these days, I’ll figure out how to provide the menu with a party run down (like someone would actually hold their breath to find out whether everything turned out great or not…) and then do a recipe a day until everyone is completely burned out on reading about it all and just want to lust after a plate of chocolate chip cookies, or drool over a technicolor carrot cake, right?
But do I get an E for effort here? OH MY GAWD! I almost forgot. My food friend also made an amazing Greek salad…
…and a skillet of huge shrimp with feta which was my favorite dish.
I think the recipes were from epicurious, but I’ll have to check and get back to you.
You think we had enough food at this party? Hmmmm….?