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68 Days of Gourmet: Day 51

Part two of our Greek feast – check out my homemade pita bread here. This dinner has been on the list since I first began researching recipes for 68 Days of Gourmet. I thought Kefta and Zucchini Kebabs with homemade tzatziki sounded great. Unfortunately, the kebab thing was not happening! I tried to putting these meatballs on skewers but immediately knew that there was no way they would stay on the skewer. They were falling off. I made a game time decision to cook them inside in a skillet and all was well and tasty with no grilling disasters!

I think one of the biggest milestones you make as a home cook is the ability to deal with situations in the kitchen that don’t go as planned. I had a lot going on in the kitchen – homemade pita bread, making tzatziki, assembling the meatballs and marinating the zucchini. It would have been easy for me to get frustrated and give up on the dinner but I just decided to make the best of it and cook the meatballs and zucchini on the stove top instead. I made a different kefta recipe last year using this method so I knew it would work out.

I don’t blame the recipe for my meatballs not coming together. I forgot to buy pine nuts for the meatballs and don’t know if they might have been a detrimental part of the binding. Regardless, this turned out to be a great dinner. We stuffed our pitas with the keftas and taziki and ate the zucchini on the side. Brandon enjoyed the leftovers in pita sandwiches for lunch.

Quick update on fitness recently. 10 workouts in the last 8 days – all yoga, running (!!!) and teaching BodyPump. Overall, I’ve been feeling great but kind of hit a wall today. I’m a big fan of the time change – love having daylight when I get home to run and hang out outside – but it was really tough getting up at 5 to teach BodyPump this morning. I felt so out of it and exhausted all day. Decided just to relax on the couch, catch up with the DVR and make homemade pizza this evening after work. Exactly what I needed. Sometimes you just need to listen to your body and rest!

One Year Ago: Tomato, Fresh Mozzarella and Basil Salad

Kefta and Zucchini Kebabs
(Recipe adapted from Gourmet, January 2006 – originally published in 1980)

Ingredients:

FOR THE TZATZIKI SAUCE
1 cup plain yogurt
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint (I subbed parsley)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
Squeeze of fresh lemon juice

FOR THE ZUCCHINI
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil
2 medium zucchini (around 1 pound), cut crosswise into 1/2-inch-thick slices

FOR LAMB MEATBALLS (KEFTA)
2 slices firm white sandwich bread, torn into small pieces
1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves (omitted, I just increased the parsley)
1 pound ground lamb
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted and finely chopped (omitted because I forgot to buy them!)

12 (10-inch) wooden skewers, soaked for 30 minutes

Directions:

FOR THE TZATZIKI SAUCE
Stir together yogurt, mint/parsley, garlic and salt in a small bowl and chill.

FOR THE ZUCCHINI
Whisk together lemon juice, sugar, salt, pepper and oil in a large bowl and stir in zucchini slices. Marinate at room temperature while making meatballs.

FOR THE KEFTA
Cover bread with water in a bowl and soak 10 minutes. Squeeze handfuls of bread to remove as much excess water as possible and transfer to a bowl.

Pulse onion and herbs in a food processor until finely chopped. Add mixture to bread along with lamb, salt, spices and pine nuts. Mix with your hands until well blended. Form lamb mixture into 36 balls (about 1 tablespoon each).

TO ASSEMBLE
Prepare grill for cooking over medium-hot charcoal (medium heat for gas). Thread 6 meatballs, 1/4 inch apart onto each of 6 skewers.

Thread zucchini lengthwise onto remaining 6 skewers (5 slices per skewer). Cut sides should be on grill, leaving 1/4 inch between slices. Grill zucchini and lamb on oiled grill rack, turning over once, until golden and just cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes. Serve warm with yogurt sauce.

Alternatively, saute zucchini and meatballs over medium heat on the stove top (in separate skillets) until cooked through, 6-8 minutes.

Yield: 4-6 servings

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68 Days of Gourmet: Day 5

jeweledrice

I was tasked with bringing a starch side dish to a family dinner last weekend. Brandon was cooking a turkey breast on the Big Green Egg as our meat. I decided not to make anything potato based since Thanksgiving is coming up so soon. I found this rice recipe when I was researching recipes for 68 Days of Gourmet and thought it sounded different. Brandon isn’t the biggest fan of rice but I love it. He also isn’t the biggest fan of dried fruit but I love that too. I thought our family dinner was the perfect time to try this since I would have a larger audience who would appreciate my rice and dried fruit side dish!

The method for preparing this rice is really different. Read the recipe directions below and you’ll see what I mean. I was pretty nervous about the final product turning out but I trusted the recipe and it turned out exactly right. I was scared the crust would be a burned mess but it was perfectly golden. The butter drenched toasted almonds on top were the perfect finish.

This rice is a great side dish for richly spiced pork and chicken and complemented our turkey breast well too. The leftovers were great with the Spiced Chicken I made for dinner on Tuesday night. A note, this recipe makes a ton of rice so you may want to half it if you’re feeding a smaller crowd.

Jeweled Rice with Dried Fruit
(Recipe adapted from Gourmet, November 2004)

Ingredients:

3 cups basmati rice
4 quarts water
3 tablespoons salt
1/2 cup dried apricots (3 1/2 oz), quartered (I omitted these)
1/2 cup golden raisins (3 oz)
1/2 cup dried cranberries (2 oz)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, divided
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup slivered unsalted roasted almonds

Directions:

Rinse rice in several changes of cold water in a large bowl until water runs clear. Drain in a large sieve.

Bring water and salt to a boil in a 6-quart heavy pot. Add rice and boil, uncovered for about 5 minutes – starting from the time the rice starts to boil. Stir occasionally. Drain in sieve.

Mix together dried fruit in a bowl. Melt 6 tablespoons butter in a cleaned and dried pot. Stir in cardamom and pepper and combine. Alternate layers of rice and dried fruit over the butter mixture, beginning and ending with rice. Mound loosely, don’t pack it in. Make 5 or 6 holes in rice to bottom of pot with round handle of a wooden spoon. Wrap lid of pot in a kitchen towel, folding edges of towel up and over the lid (keeping towel away from burner). Cook rice over low heat, undisturbed, until tender and a crust forms on bottom, about 30 to 35 minutes. Do not lift the lid while the rice is cooking. Remove from heat and let rice stand, tightly covered and undisturbed, at least 30 minutes.

While rice is resting, heat remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a small skillet over medium heat and cook almonds, stirring, until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes.

Spoon loose rice onto a platter, then break crust into 1-inch pieces and scatter over rice. Sprinkle with almonds.

Yield: 10-12 side dish servings

Notes:
*Rice can stand off heat up to 1 hour. Just keep covered and undisturbed
* If you’re short on time, you can skip letting the rice stand after cooking. Spoon loose rice onto a platter and then dip bottom of pot into a large bowl of cold water for 30 seconds to loosen crust.

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