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Archive for the ‘spreads’ Tag


Tzatziki on Everything!

This entry is dedicated to Dean Davidis, one of my favorite people to chat food with. Thank you for your endless inspiration and support; here’s to you – OPA!

My tzatziki recipe was born on accident after having strained yogurt too far while making a Middle Eastern spread called labne. I eventually tended to my forgotten disaster, but it was already too late – the once creamy yogurt had turned into a solid cheese-like mass. This is when the 1/16th Greek in me chimed in with the thought of turning my losses in for a spectacular tzatziki sauce.

Tzatziki is traditionally made with semi-strained yogurt (i.e. sour cream consistency) and salted, drained cucumbers. Well, what if I don’t drain the water from the cucumbers, what then?

Aside from receiving angry e-mails from Greek purists, the sauce turns out just fine. The moisture from the cucumbers perfectly compensates for the excess loss of moisture in the straining process. Personally, I even find the accident sauce tastier just because the cucumber liquid is more refreshing than the stuff that drains out of the yogurt.

You can execute the following recipe either way: traditional or not, just by adjusting how far you strain your yogurt. Regardless of the route, the final sauce is a tasty complement to almost anything your culinary mind can conjure. My favorites pairings for this sauce are kebabs, sandwiches and salads.

 

tzatziki

Tzatziki Sauce (Greek Yogurt Sauce)

(yields approx. 2½ cups)

Components

  • 16 oz. super strained yogurt (2 cups)
  • 6 oz. cucumber
  • 2 tbsp. lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp. fresh dill
  • 1 clove of garlic, minced
  • salt, to taste
  • 5 oz. drained cucumber, diced (optional)

Putting them all together

  1. Either make or buy strained yogurt (also known as Greek yogurt). To make strained yogurt, strain plain yogurt in a cheese cloth overnight with ½ tsp of salt per cup of yogurt.
  2. Process all the ingredients except for the drained cucumber in a food processor.
  3. Optional: dice cucumbers and salt lightly. Let sit for 15-20 minutes in a colander. Squeeze out any excess moisture and stir into tzatziki sauce at the end for extra texture.
  4. Refrigerate until ready to use.

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Delicious, Any Way You Roast It

Middle Eastern spreads are plentiful, but very few have been able to jump the cultural divide into restaurants and homes in the States. In the Middle East, families, neighbors and even strangers gather around these homemade delicacies to talk for hours about absolutely anything.

Hummus is by far the most recognized Middle Eastern spread, but you don’t need to look far to find plenty of others that are just as tasty (or tastier!). Baba Ganoush is a traditional spread that uses charred eggplants to create a rich smoky pulp that is out-of-this-world delicious. For maximal fire-roasted goodness, roast the eggplants over an open flame. For those of us, however, who are only granted this luxury 2 weeks out of the year (if we’re lucky), we must turn to other alternatives. When it’s subzero outside I use my broiler or grill pan and find that both deliver a comprable fire-roasted flavor.

Baba ganoush literally translates into father who spoils (with an over-caring and positive connotation) in case you were wondering. This is a family recipe that was given to me by my grandmother who grew up in Aleppo, Syria (one of the greatest culinary centers of the Middle East). In this region of Syria pomegranates are abundant and bursting with flavor, so it isn’t surprising that a pomegranate version of this tasty spread evolved. Not only does the pomegranate add a more subtle citrus bite, but it also balances the bitterness of the seeds in the eggplant with its natural sweetness.

Baba Ganoush (بابا غنوج)

Baba Ganoush

Components

  • 2 medium sized eggplants
  • 2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. tahini
  • 1 tsp. lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. pomegranate juice
  • 1 tsp. pomegranate molasses
  • 1 garlic clove
  • fresh pomegranate, for garnish
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

  1. With the tip of a paring knife, poke the eggplant all around.
  2. Cook the eggplants over an open fire (preferably), under the broiler or on a grill pan for 5-7 minutes on each side or until completely charred and soft on the inside.
  3. Place eggplants in a bowl and cover in plastic wrap for about 5 minutes (or until they cool down enough to work with).
  4. Peel the skin off eggplant and place back in the bowl. Add olive oil, lemon juice, pomegranate juice and molasses and mash with a fork.
  5. On a cutting board, mince the garlic clove with the salt in order to create a garlic paste. Then, mix into the eggplant puree.
  6. Cover in plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with fresh pomegranate and extra virgin olive oil and serve alongside pita bread.

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Mahna Mahna… Muhammara!

Note: This recipe has been replaced with a newer, tastier version.

I’ve had The Muppets song stuck in my head for days now and cannot help the fact that it plays itself whenever I try to sneak in a thought. Granted it could be worse… perhaps Michael Bolton? Anyway, I digress. This entry is dedicated more to a delicious spread called Muhammara than to my random quirks. For my family, Muhammara is like the ketchup that is served alongside most of our meals. We eat it with toasted pita bread, as an accompaniment to meaty swordfish and even as a condiment for sandwiches. No one can deny Muhammara’s versatility, but what keeps me coming back for more is how easy it is to prepare.

Muhammara (محمرة)

Ode to the Humble Chickpea

Creamy yet healthy; inconspicuous yet bold; seldom do we appreciate all the wonders this modest legume has to offer. As a tribute to this golden gem, the inaugural entry in this blog will be dedicated to it and the star role it plays in the celebrated Middle Eastern dish called hummus.

Ask any Middle Easterner and they will insist that hummus originated from their homeland – probably in the heart of some small village, where it was a product of their ancestors’ tears, sweat and toil. To this day, however, no one knows exactly where this highly acclaimed spread originated. With a past that’s ancient history, this heavenly dip lives within the millions of circulating recipes that have adapted through time, culture and local resources.

Determined to get as close to an authentic recipe as possible, I went directly to my grandmother. “A few handfuls of chickpeas, some lemon juice, a couple garlic cloves and a tiny bit of tahini,” she said through the proud smile printed on her face. Typical Arab grandmother that she is, it didn’t take more than an enthusiastic expression on my face before she offered to make a batch with me the following day. She had me soak dried chickpeas overnight and woke me up at the crack of dawn to what seemed to be hummus boot camp. I was constantly pulsing the food processor, smashing garlic and squeezing lemons while she gloriously worked her magic to recreate the traditional hummus I grew up eating.

After spending the day with my grandmother and experimenting with a few ideas myself, I came up with a hummus trilogy, if you will, that attunes to the palates of purists, classics and hummus eccentrics.

classics are never out of style

Traditional Hummmus

Components

  • 2 15.5 oz. cans of chickpeas, rinsed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 tbsp. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. tahini
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

Boil the rinsed chickpeas for 20 minutes in lightly salted water to remove their canned taste and soften them up for processing. Drain the chickpeas and add into a large food processor along with the garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Pulse until you get that creamy consistency and check for seasoning. Finally, transfer into a bowl and mix in the tahini by hand; cover and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Spread the hummus in a shallow bowl and make a well in the center for the olive oil. For garnish, sprinkle cumin, Hungarian paprika or chopped flat leaf parsley and drizzle your fruitiest extra virgin olive oil into the well. Serve along side some warm pita bread and enjoy!!

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For a classic interpretation of this spread, try my Roasted Red Pepper Hummus. It’s deep flavors and red colors will add sophistaction and vibrance to every bite.

fiery red hummus

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Components

  • 2 15.5 oz. can of chickpeas, rinsed
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 tbsp. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. tahini
  • 3 roasted red bell peppers
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus is a just as easy to put together as the Traditional Hummus. Start out with the same ingredients, but go a bit shy with the lemon juice and olive oil because of the natural moisture in the bell peppers. Pat dry your roasted red peppers and process along with the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Finally, transfer into a bowl and mix in the tahini by hand; cover and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Spread the hummus in a shallow bowl and garnish with pieces of roasted red peppers and a drizzle of your favorite extra virgin olive oil. You can serve this with warm pita bread or even as a spread inside a sandwich for a healthy and exotic appeal.

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For the hummus aficionados out there, my spinach artichoke hummus is a modern translation of a timeless classic. This recipe came to life after my stubborn self decided to feature a hummus trilogy and was in need of a third recipe. So I drove down to Wegmans with my friend Jason and started brainstorming right down the produce isle, blurting outrageous possibilities like asparagus hummus and even banana hummus. Fortunately, those ideas were immediately vetoed and after many ridiculous suggestions, we stood in front of the wide array of greens. At this point everything fell into place and I looked over at Jason and suggested: Spinach. Artichoke. Hummus.

can’t go wrong with spinach & artichoke

Spinach Artichoke Hummus

Components

  • 2 15.5 oz. can of chickpeas, rinsed
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 tbsp. lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 tbsp. tahini
  • 6 oz. frozen artichokes
  • 5 oz. frozen spinach
  • salt, to taste

Putting them all together

Again, this hummus is just as easy to make. First, defrost the spinach and squeeze out as much of the water as possible. Next, steam (or boil in 1/4 cup of water) the artichokes for 4-5 minutes and then sauté them in olive oil for a couple more. By sautéing the artichoke you cook out most of the water and are left with its natural Mediterranean flavor. Process the drained spinach and sautéed artichokes along with the chickpeas, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and salt. Finally, transfer into a bowl and mix in the tahini by hand; cover and chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Spread the hummus in a shallow bowl and garnish with sautéed artichokes and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. Serve this hummus with your favorite pita chips and enjoy!

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