Archives for posts with tag: mediterranean

I got down poured on yesterday. I wanted to use the dark stormy clouds as an excuse to not go to the gym. But, my inner dilemma and the impending guilt that would ensue made me get my act together and drag myself out the door. I wore my rain boots and took my husband’s heavy-duty umbrella and braved the dark skies. Neither of these two items would really help the upcoming downpour I was to face. Literally, the minute I stepped outside sheets of rain coming in at me from all directions soaked my entire body. I thought I should just go back up to my apartment, but no I kept going, all the way to the gym. When I arrived I must have looked like a frazzled lunatic. Hair all unkempt, wet clothes, and dripping arms.  As you can get my first stop was to the locker room to put the hair dryer into action.

When I was finished at the gym, believe me when I say I wanted to just order takeout. But, in the morning I took out chicken breasts to defrost. I’m sure we all know that we aren’t supposed to refreeze defrosted meat, I don’t know if this is true or an old wives’ tale. Either way, I was tempted to refreeze it, but decided to just cook it. My focus here isn’t the chicken though. I didn’t do anything that special with it. I tossed it with some mayonnaise, honey, herbs, harissa, then breaded it with panko and baked it. The main star of the meal was the pearl couscous that I made as a side dish. Usually, I make regular couscous and toss in whatever chopped vegetables I have on hand. This time, I basically did the same thing but amped it up a little.

I caramelized shallots and threw in some crunchy and crisp Napa cabbage. The Napa cabbage doesn’t have an overpowering taste yet adds great flavor and texture. I am all about the crunch, the crunch factor prompted me to add in cucumbers and almonds. I always add in dried cranberries to couscous and I did this time as well. I threw in some olives for saltiness. A dish isn’t made by me if there aren’t tons of herbs in it, so that’s what I did here; parsley and mint. A squeeze of lemon, some extra olive oil, and some crumbled sheep’s milk feta complete the dish.

I must talk about the spices here, I love adding cumin and coriander to couscous. Many times, I add a pinch of turmeric, but this time I didn’t feel I needed it. In addition, I threw in another flavor contrast; cane sugar and crushed red chilies. Everything balanced in the end. You might think I don’t know when to stop with ingredients and sometimes that may be the case, but usually it all works out.  Cooking calms me down, once I started preparing this dish I forgot about my rain fiasco.

Summer Pearl Couscous

Serves 4, as a side

Ingredients

1 cup dry pearl couscous (cooked according to package directions)

3 shallots, sliced

1/2 a head of Napa Cabbage, chopped

1 clove of garlic

1/4 of an English cucumber, in a small dice

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup pitted olives, roughly chopped (any variety you like)

1/4-1/2 cup crumbled sheep’s milk feta (or any mild variety)

2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted

10 sprigs of parsley, chopped

2 sprigs of mint, chopped

juice of half a lemon

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon coriander powder

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes, or to taste

3/4 teaspoon of salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon cane sugar or turbinado sugar

extra virgin olive oil

Method

Heat a saucepan on medium-low with some olive oil, about 2 tablespoons. Add in the shallots and allow them to caramelize, about 15 minutes. When the shallots are caramelized toss in the Napa cabbage and garlic and allow the cabbage to wilt down a bit and slightly pick up some caramelization. Add in all the spices and sugar and cook for 2 minutes. Next, add in the cranberries and allow them to plump up a little and rehydrate.

Remove the pan from the heat. Take the prepared couscous and add in the shallots and cabbage mixture. Put in the cucumbers, olives, parsley, mint, lemon juice, a little extra olive oil, and the slivered almonds. Toss everything together so that everything is evenly distributed. Crumble the feta on top and serve, slightly warm, at room temperature, or even cold, if you like.

This title might make it sound like I have a vendetta against mayonnaise.  It’s just a temporary “bye-bye.”  Actually, mayo and I are fine, except for the fact that I like to dollop mayo on fries like it’s no one’s business.  But other than that, I have little qualms with it.  I do like the classic potato salad.  Hmmm, let me rephrase that.  I do like the classic potato salad, if it’s made with red potatoes, tons of tarragon and other yummy herbs.  See, I don’t have any hang-ups.  You all must know of the classic potato salad, that is white, made with regular potatoes, vinegar, and mayo, I think.  I have not ventured into making that version, because of the no herbs thing, which does not fly in my books.  Just letting you all know (if you didn’t already).

In my mayo-less version, there are of course potatoes, baby new potatoes that were roasted rather than boiled for extra flavor and caramelized goodness.  By the way, this potato salad was in no way a planned recipe.  It was the outcome of hunger and a fridge raid.  Back to the ingredients, spring asparagus is EVERYWHERE, so rather than just roasting it and serving it as a side, I thought to make it part of this potato salad.  Then, I started thinking of Salad Nicoise, minus the boiled eggs, minus the tuna or salmon, and minus the haricots verts.  Essentially, I just conceptualized Kalamata olives and potatoes together in some form and did not have all the ingredients for Salad Nicoise.  Thus, the olives went in too.  The next biggest decision would be which herbs I would use.  Mint and chives are staples of mine and always in my fridge (along with parsley, thyme, and cilantro).  I crumbled in some feta and sliced in red onion, but leave these out if you do not care for them.  I love the purple pop the onion adds to the dish.

Through this, a new version of potato salad was born.  I imagine it would be great on a picnic. I would have rather been on a picnic while eating it.  Alas, the kitchen table had to suffice.  I will be making this potato salad again.  A new recipe, to my repertoire and it was so easy to come up with.  This makes me very happy.

The Bye-Bye Mayo Potato Salad with Asparagus, Kalamatas, Chives, and Mint

Serves 4 (as a side)

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds of baby new potatoes, washed and dried

1 small bunch of asparagus

1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted (or as many as you would like)

1/2 a small red onion, sliced finely

1/4 cup crumbled feta, optional (good quality)

10-15 springs of chives, chopped

handful of mint, chopped

1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil + extra for coating the potatoes and asparagus (good quality)

juice of 1 lemon

1 clove of garlic, minced and mashed

salt, to taste

black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Season the potatoes and asparagus with salt and pepper.  Lay the potatoes on a sheet tray and put them into the heated oven for about 45 minutes or until fork tender.  When there are 10 minutes left on the cooking time of the potatoes add the asparagus to the oven.  In the meantime, whisk the olive oil into the lemon juice with salt, pepper, garlic, chives, and mint, set aside.  When the potatoes and asparagus have cooled slightly, cut the asparagus on an angle into 1 1/2″ pieces.  Next, toss the potatoes, asparagus, red onion, Kalamata olives with the lemon/herb dressing.  You may not have to use all of it.  Add in the crumbled feta on top.  You may add more chives and mint on top.  Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

Cheese strikes, yet again.  I love it when I make something and people love it and rave about it.  I especially love it when what I made was simple and easy.  I sometimes get insecure about making things that do not take a lot of time for guests.  Will they judge me because I made something that took me literally five minutes to make.  Me and my hang-ups, difficult to understand for my husband some.  I mentioned this before, I like guests to feel welcome and enjoy the experience of coming over, and part of this includes good food.

In Rhode Island, I helped my parents throw a party for their friends.  Party planning is something that gives me a high.  (On a small scale, large 500 guest parties might cause me to go over the edge, but that’s another story.)  The non-stop action and preparations that are required for a party are thrilling as well as terrifying.  To ease this extreme range of emotions, it is important to have a few tricks up your sleeve.  (Wow, I said a few tricks up your sleeve, am I becoming cliche!?)

Baked Feta definitely qualifies as a crowd pleaser.  The night of the party, it was a big hit and was the first starter to be wiped clean.  Some people do not love cheese in the same way as I do (my husband grrrr, though I must admit he has come a LONG way).  But, even people who do not share in my enthusiasm for cheese enjoy this Baked Feta.  Feta is known to have a salty pungency, but the baking process really mellows it out.  I use a sheep’s or goat’s milk feta of good quality because I have tried this with average supermarket feta and it does not have the same consistency or smoothness.  The sundried tomatoes, and nuts, capers, and thyme ooze together in perfect unison.  I also add a drizzle of honey to cut the saltiness and though most could not discern the honey in the baked feta, they could certainly notice its absence if I did not include it.  The honey and almonds caramelize together, almost forming a candied crunch on top.  Enjoy this with some crusty bread, Greek pita, or crackers.

Baked Feta with Sundried Tomatoes, Almonds, Capers, and Thyme

Serves 6 (as a starter)

Ingredients

10 ounces of food quality Feta, sliced into 1/4″ thickness

1/2 cup sundried tomatoes in oil, julienned

2 tablespoons sliced almonds

2 tablespoons capers, rinsed

10 springs of thyme, left whole

2 tablespoons honey

2-3 tablespoons good quality extra-virgin olive oil

juice of half a lemon

black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Use a quiche dish and lay the feta slice son the bottom and assemble the sundried tomatoes, almonds, capers, and thyme on top in an attractive way.  Drizzle with the honey, extra-virgin olive oil, and the lemon juice.  Add a few cranks of freshly ground pepper over the top.  Bake the dish in the oven for about 15 minutes or until bubbly and oozing.  Switch the oven to broil for about a minute, stay near the oven because the thyme can burn easily.  Remove from the oven and serve hot with warmed Greek pita.

My sister and I have these lists called “life lists.”  Nine out of ten times they relate to food.  We came up with this somewhat childish classification system on a long road trip with my husband and his friend.  We were absolutely bored out of our minds and decided to ask each other what were each of our “life foods,” in other, less eccentric terms, which foods can you see yourself loving for life?  Essentially, we broke down our “life foods” by categories such as regional cuisines to something as odd as, “what are your life chips?”  I know, you must be thinking that we are a little off in the mind, but little quirks like this make us who we are.  I’m sure every group of close friends and family have their own innuendos that no one else would understand.

Back to the “life foods,”  I named Mediterranean cuisine as a regional “life cuisine.”  I love the freshness and the lightness associated with it.  It’s such a vibrant area that yields amazing cuisine in my opinion.  Though the term, Mediterranean is a little vague, I love it all, whether it is Southern European, Greek, North African, Turkish, Lebanese, and so on.  I would consider this dip truly Mediterranean, because I’m sure you can find it in one form or another all over the Mediterranean.  It’s a fresh, light, and a delicious dip.  It’s simple, yet packs a lot of intensity.

Eggplant and Pepper Dip

Makes about 2 cups of dip

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

Ingredients

i medium sized eggplant

1 large red bell pepper

6 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 jalapeno chili, roughly chopped (remove the seeds if you like)

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 /2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies, or to taste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

6 tablespoons olive oil

10 sprigs on chives, roughly chopped

handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped

4 mint leaves, roughly chopped

crumbled feta cheese, for garnish, optional

extra parsley and chives for garnish, optional

pita wedges for serving

Method

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Poke the eggplant and red pepper  with a knife so that you create some holes in the flesh.  Cover both with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.  Place on a baking tray with 4 whole garlic cloves and bake for about 30-45 minutes, or until the flesh is soft and cooked through.  Allow to cool slightly and remove the skins off the eggplant and the pepper.  Place the cooked eggplant, pepper, and roasted garlic cloves in a food processor with the salt, pepper, cumin, crushed red chillies, lemon juice,  jalapeno, 2 raw garlic cloves, chives, mint, parsley, and olive oil.  Pulse until the consistency is almost smooth, let there still be some texture.  Chill in the refrigerator and garnish with feta cheese, fresh herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve with pita wedges.