Mediterranean Dip

28 Comments

This raw vegetable and feta dip is perfect for a party before fall weather hits. Unfortunately, I cannot remember where I found the recipe for this Mediterranean-inspired dip. I’d typed it in MS Publisher, and recently found it on my computer. Typically I’d have added some notes, and certainly show credit, but nothing.

Honestly, I changed it so much that it’s not the same recipe, but has most all of the original ingredients. This recipe intrigued me because the ingredients are puréed.

On this blog I have made a layered Mediterranean spread, which is a Greek version of Southwestern 7-layer spread. Nothing is puréed except the hummus Layer.

I’ve started a new thing lately, when I serve a dip to a small group. I like to have guests serve themselves from the main bowl into their own little bowl. That way, they can double-dip, drool, and spill their chips in the dip, and it doesn’t affect anyone else!


Mediterranean Dip

2 cucumbers, peeled, sliced lengthwise, seeds removed
2 garden-ripe tomatoes, cored, coarsely chopped, seeded
2 ounces Kalamata olives, pitted
2 ounces black olives, pitted
5 ounces baby spinach (about 4 loosely packed cups)
8 ounces plain Greek yogurt*, strained
1 tablespoon good olive oil
1 small clove garlic, peeled
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 ounces feta or goat cheese
1 teaspoon fresh oregano, finely chopped
Juice of 1/2 small lemon
Finely chopped purple onion, optional
Chopped fresh parsley, optional
Toasted pine nuts, optional
Pita chips, or pita crisps, or pita bread

Before I began, I prepared the cucumbers and tomatoes and let them drain on paper towels.

I even dried off the olives and feta.

Pulse the cucumber, tomatoes and olives in a food processor, but don’t overprocess. Transfer to a colander to drain. I used paper towels to “dry” up the mixture as much as possible, before finishing the dip.

Clean out the food processor, than add the spinach, yogurt, olive oil, garlic and salt and purée. Add half of the feta cheese and purée again. The mixture doesn’t have to be completely smooth.

Transfer the spinach mixture to a large bowl using a rubber spatula. Crumble in the remaining feta, lemon juice and oregano. Give it a stir, then add the cucumber-tomato-olive mixture.

Fold until smooth, check for seasoning, then place in serving bowl.

If desired, sprinkle dip with finely chopped purple onion, chopped parsley or toasted pine nuts. Or all three!

Have you ever had naan dippers?! They’re perfect for this dip, as well as Stacy’s simply naked pita chips – a favorite of mine.

I also cut up some cucumbers and red bell peppers for serving.

This dip is fabulous, and much prettier than I expected it to be. Just whatever you do, don’t eat the dip hovering over the serving bowl!!!
(Sorry, pet peeve of mine.)

* To drain yogurt, I just turn it upside-down on paper towels in a colander; it gets much firmer after two hours.

Lamb Balls in Red Sauce

35 Comments

A while back I saw a recipe for lamb meatballs, cooked in a red sauce. It really appealed to me because I love lamb. And, I think I could eat shoe soles cooked in red sauce.


But did I print this recipe? Or even take notes as to where I found it? Stupidly no, although I’m typically organized about such important things as recipes.

So I’m creating the recipe for slightly Greek-inspired lamb balls, baked in a red sauce, along with goat cheese. The meat balls are gently seasoned with oregano, allspice, and a hint of cinnamon.

Lamb Balls in Red Sauce with Goat Cheese
Makes about 36 meatballs

Approximately 42 ounces favorite red sauce or simple Marinara
2 pounds ground lamb
3 eggs, mixed well
1/3 cup panko crumbs
4 tablespoons chopped parsley
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/4 medium onion, diced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
Panko bread crumbs, approximately 1/2 cup
10-12 ounces soft goat cheese
Freshly chopped parsley, optional

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pour the red sauce into a 9 x 13″ baking dish; set aside

In a medium bowl, mix together the lamb, egg, panko crumbs, parsley, salt, oregano, cinnamon, allspice, and pepper.

In a large skillet, (you’ll be using it for another purpose), sauté the onion over medium-low heat until soft. Stir in the garlic, then remove the skillet from the burner. Let the mixture cool, then add to the lamb mixture.

Using the same skillet, add approximately 2 tablespoons of olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. Have a bowl of panko crumbs next to the meatball mixture. Form the lamb into medium-sized meatballs, I used a 1 1/2” scoop, roll in the bread crumbs, then sauté them in the skillet, about 8-10 at a time.


When the balls have browned well on all sides, use a slotted spoon to remove them from the skillet and place them in the baking dish with the red sauce. This should only take about 5 minutes over medium-high heat.

Repeat with remaining meatballs. If you have any bread crumbs leftover you can sprinkle them over the meatballs in the red sauce.

Bake the meatballs for approximately 20-25 minutes and remove the baking dish from the oven. Turn off the oven.

Add the goat cheese to the meatballs, adding a generous tablespoons interspersed amongst them, eturn the baking dish to the oven to allow the cheese to melt, approximately 10-15 minutes.


Before serving, sprinkle the lamb balls with freshly chopped parsley.


Serve directly from the baking dish, if desired, along with crusty bread.

Make sure there’s a generous amount of red sauce served with the lamb balls.

If desired, the meatballs and red sauce can be served over pasta or polenta, but today I used pasta.

The meatballs are tender, with a slight crunchy firmness on the outside.

The goat cheese is spectacular with the lamb and red sauce.

The crusty bread is a must!

Cabbage Braised in Red Sauce

42 Comments

It still confounds me what pops up on the internet when I least expect it. I’m talking recipes of course. With all of the cooking I’ve done for almost 40 years (yikes!) I just love it when something unique shows itself.

Case in point, a Bon Appetit recipe called Fall-Apart Caramelized Cabbage. It wasn’t the name that caught my attention, but the photo of charred and braised cabbage in a red sauce. I just had to make it.

Mine isn’t as beautifully styled, but it is still a beautiful dish, and most importantly, delicious.

Cabbage Braised in Red Sauce
Slightly adapted from Bon Appetit

1/4 cup double-concentrated tomato paste
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon cayenne chile pepper flakes
1 medium head of green cabbage (or savoy), about 2 pounds total
1/2 cup extra-virgin oil, divided
Kosher salt
1 cup broth
1/2 cup tomato sauce
3 tablespoons chopped parsley
Creme fraiche

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix tomato paste, garlic, coriander, cumin, and red pepper flakes in a small bowl.

I like to use tomato paste in a tube.

Cut cabbage in half through core. Cut each half through core into 4 wedges.

Heat 1/4 cup oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high. Working in batches, add cabbage to pan, cut side down, and season with salt.


Cook, turning occasionally, until lightly charred, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer cabbage to a plate.

Pour remaining 1/4 cup of oil into skillet. Add spiced tomato paste and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently, until tomato paste begins to split and slightly darken, about 2-3 minutes.

Pour in enough water to come halfway up sides of pan, season with salt, and bring to a simmer. I used vegetable broth mixed with tomato sauce for extra flavor. The original recipe called for 1 1/2 cups of water.

Nestle cabbage wedges back into skillet (they should have shrunk while browning; a bit of overlap is okay). I placed the wedges of charred cabbage in a baking dish instead of using the skillet.

Transfer cabbage to oven and bake, uncovered, turning wedges halfway through, until very tender and liquid has mostly evaporated, about 40-50 minutes. Cabbage should be caramelized around the edges.


Scatter chopped parsley over the cabbage.


Serve with creme fraiche.


Today I wanted lamb so that’s what I made for the protein! But the cabbage would be prettier with grilled chicken or sausages.

I think the red sauce would also be good with some oregano and a pinch of cinnamon, instead of the coriander and cumin. But leave in the cayenne!

Honestly, if the red sauce was more Italian-inspired, I could definitely see some grated Parmesan sprinkled over the top!

White Sauce

60 Comments

A white sauce is just that – a sauce that’s white. It’s white because it’s made with milk, 1/2 & 1/2, or cream.

It was years before I dared make a white sauce; I assumed it was difficult for some reason. I remember calling up my mother and asking her how to make one, but she didn’t have an immediate answer, because cooking came so naturally to her. She simply added a little of this, and a little of that while cooking, and only followed recipes when making something completely new.

But she made a white sauce, just for me, and sent me the recipe. Trust me, after making a white sauce one time, you’ll never need a recipe again.

White Sauce, or Bechamel

4 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons flour
2 cups of 1/2 & 1/2, or cream
(this recipe can be doubled)

Have all of your ingredients ready; the sauce will not take long. All you need is a pot and whisk.

I like to use Wondra instead of regular white flour for sauces and gravies.

Place the butter in the pot and heat over medium heat. Add the flour and immediately whisk it into the butter until smooth. This is called a roux. Some people make a roux that is almost like a paste, but I prefer mine slightly thinner.

Let the mixture bubble and cook for about 30 seconds, whisking often. The cooking supposedly keeps the sauce from having a “floury” taste, but I’ve never tested this theory.

With the whisk in one hand, pour in the milk with the other and begin gently whisking. Don’t add the milk gradually; pour it all in.

If the milk/cream is warm, the sauce will form sooner, but cold milk/cream works just as well.

Hold the pot now with one hand and gently whisk; you will notice the mixture thickening. You can even remove the pot from the stove if you think the sauce is cooking too fast.

A few bubbles might form, but don’t let the sauce boil. It’s better to take a little more time to whisk the sauce than allow it to burn and stick to the pot.

Once the sauce has thickened, remove the pot from the stove. You have just made a white sauce.

Now for the fun part. Think of what you can add to your white sauce to make it, well, different! What about adding fresh herbs, or pesto, or tomato paste, or paprika cream, or curry powder!

Today I’m being indulgent and treating myself to a breakfast of goddesses – poached eggs with a white sauce.


A white sauce will work with any milk substitute as well, from soymilk to coconut milk, to hemp milk, to goat milk. However, the color of the sauce will change with the milk color.

It will turn into a cheesy white sauce if you add cheddar, fontina, or Parmesan to it. Any cheese works.

Besides salt and pepper, you can also add white pepper, dried herbs, nutmeg, cayenne, or just about anything you like.

Lastly, a browned butter white sauce is really flavorful, but keep in mind that the white sauce color will be brownish.

For a more scientific approach to making a white sauce, here is a link to Stefan’s white sauce on his blog, Stefan Gourmet.

Greek Pork and Beans

47 Comments

We had quite the cold spell a while back, so I during it I felt the need to make a one-pot, stick-to-your-ribs kind of stew. And what better cuisine from which to choose than Greek. It’s often the direction I take for satisfying and comforting dishes, like pastitsio and moussaka.

For these times, I refer to an old cookbook, called Flavors of Greece, published in 1991, and authored by Rosemary Barron. And in it I found exactly what I was looking for – a Greek version of pork and beans.

The beans in this dish are giant white Lima beans, and the meat includes pork shoulder, bacon, and sausage.

The bean and pork components are layered, then topped with a thick bread crumb and Parmesan crust. Oddly enough, it reminds me of a giant cassoulet!

Here’s the recipe.

Traditional Pork and Bean Casserole
Khirino´ Khoria´tiko

1 1/2 pounds dried butter beans, soaked overnight
3 pounds boneless lean pork shoulder
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup diced pastourma´s ham or bacon
3 cups chopped onion
3 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 cup red wine
2 pounds tomatoes, peeled, diced, juices reserved
1 teaspoon honey
1/4 cup dried oregano
2 tablespoons ground coriander
5 whole cloves
4 juniper berries, lightly crushed
1/2 cup chopped parsley
Salt
1 tablespoon cracked black pepper
1 – 1 1/2 cups meat stock
1/2 country sausages
1 cup fresh whole-wheat bread crumbs
1/4 cup kasse´ri cheese or Parmesan

Cook and drain the soaked beans. I cooked mine in chicken stock. Set aside.

Cut the pork into 1” cubes. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy skillet and lightly brown half the meat over medium heat. Repeat with the remaining meat.



Add the bacon and sauté 2-3 minutes. Add the onion and sauté, stirring occasionally, until light golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Add the garlic, cook 1 minute longer, and add the red wine. Bring to a boil and boil a minute or two, then stir in the tomatoes with their juices, honey, oregano, coriander, cloves, juniper berries, parsley, salt, and pepper.

Simmer until the liquid is reduced by half. Add 1 cup of the stock and simmer 5 minutes longer.

Add the meat, cover, reduce the heat, and simmer 30 minutes longer; add stock if there appears to be less than 2 cups of sauce. Season to taste. The sauce should be highly flavored.

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Slice the sausages into 1/2” thick slices and combine with the beans.

Sprinkle 2 tablespoons olive oil over the bottom of a heavy casserole and cover with one third of the sausages and beans. Cover with a layer of half the meat mixture, then half the remaining beans, then the remaining meat. Top with a layer of the remaining beans.

With the back of a wooden spoon, gently press down on the beans so some of the sauce rises to the surface.

Sprinkle the bread crumbs and cheese on top.

Sprinkle with the remaining olive oil, cover, and bake 45 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300 degrees F and bake 1 1/2 hours longer, until a golden crust has formed.

Remove the casserole lid and bake 10 minutes, or until the crust is deep golden brown.

I let the casserole sit for at least 45 minutes, without the lid, before serving.

Even though I used a large/wide Le Creuset for this casserole, it was so thick I wasn’t sure how to serve it up!


For the sake of this post, I cut out a square so the layers would show.

The casserole is quite stunning. And the flavors are just what you’d expect. Tomatoes, herbs, meat – a lovely, rustic meal.

And the meat is extremely tender.

Note: The recipe also included dried marjoram and winter savory — neither of which I had.

Pastitsio

65 Comments

My introduction to Greek cuisine began with the set of cookbooks that introduced me to many International cuisines – the Time-Life series of cookbooks called “Foods of the World.” Included in the set are beautifully photographed hardback books describing the cuisines and cultures, as well as smaller, spiral-bound recipe books.

The set was gifted to me by mother, because she owned and loved hers. They were also my first cookbooks, so as I learned how to cook, I also learned about various cuisines. Had I known better, I might have been intimidated, but I just jumped in and started cooking.

One week I’d make meals from the Ethiopian cookbook, the next week Japan, the next Italy, and so forth. One of the cookbooks was “Middle Eastern Cooking,” which included foods from Greece as well as Turkey, Israel, Egypt, and other countries from that part of the world.

_MG_0625

Over the years I made moussaka, chicken baked in red sauce with cinnamon, grilled pork kabobs smothered in oregano, and many more lovely recipes. But one that I really loved was Pastitsio. To me it was way more fun than moussaka.

_mg_1062

When I first made it, my husband loved it. But over the 30-plus years that I’ve been cooking, he’s somehow decided that he hates lamb. It’s just not the same with beef, so I’m using a 50-50 mixture. Who knows, in a future post, I might be writing from my own apartment…

_mg_1082

Pastitsio

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons salt
1 pound ziti
7 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup finely chopped onions
1 1/2 pound lean ground lamb
2 cups chopped, drained, canned tomatoes
1 cup canned tomato purée
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon oregano crumbled
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Black pepper
1/2 cup soft, fresh bread crumbs
1 egg, lightly beaten
3/4 cup grated Kefalotiri or Parmesan

In a large pot bring 6-8 quarts of water and 1 tablespoon of salt to a boil over high heat and drop in the ziti. Stirring occasionally, cook the pasta for 10-15 minutes, or until soft but still somewhat resistant to the bite. Immediately drain the pasta and set aside.
_mg_1022
Meanwhile, prepare the lamb and the cream sauce. In a heavy 10- to 12-inch skillet, heat 6 tablespoons of the olive oil over moderate heat until a light haze forms above it. Add the onions and, stirring frequently, cook for 5 minutes, or until they are soft and transparent but not brown.

Add the lamb and, mashing it frequently with the back of spoon or fork to break up any lumps, cook until all traces of pink disappear.


Stir in the tomatoes, purée, garlic, oregano, cinnamon, the remaining 2 teaspoons of salt and a few grindings of pepper. Bring to a gentle boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to low, cover tightly and simmer for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat, stir in 1/4 cup of the bread crumbs, the beaten egg, and set aside.


Sauce:
4 cups milk
2 tablespoons butter
6 eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup flour

To make the cream sauce, combine 3 cups of milk and the butter in a small pan until bubbles appear around the rim of the pan. Remove from the heat. In a heavy 2- to 3- quart saucepan, beat the eggs with a whisk until they are frothy.

Add the remaining 1 cup of milk and 1 teaspoon of salt and, beating constantly, add the flour, a tablespoon at a time.


Stirring constantly, slowly pour in the heated milk and butter mixture in a thin stream and, still stirring, bring to a boil over moderate heat. Continue to boil until the sauce is thick and smooth; set aside.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Farenheit. With a pastry brush coat the bottom and sides of a 9 x 15 x 2 1/2″ baking dish with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the bottom with the remaining 1/4 cup of bread crumbs and spread half of the reserved pasta on top.


Cover with the meat, smoothing it into the corners with a spatula.
_mg_1028
Then pour 2 cups of the cream sauce evenly on top. Sprinkle with half the grated cheese.
_mg_1032
Make another layer with the remaining ziti, pour over it the rest of the cream sauce, and sprinkle with the remaining cheese.


Bake in the middle of the oven for 45 minutes, or until the top is a delicate golden brown.

_mg_1077

If you love moussaka, you’ll definitely love pastitsio. It’s the love red meat sauce, slightly sweetened with cinnamon, layered on noodles, and topped with a rich, cheesy cream sauce that makes it the ultimate in comfort food, Greek style!
pastit-2-of-2