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Archive for the ‘Mediterranean’ Category

Back to this space after a couple months of forced hiatus, thanks to a hectic work schedule that sucked the creativity out of my kitchen time.  And to kick off fall, wanted to share this amazing soup that packs a spicy punch with hearty, autumnal ingredients.  Italian sausage, red new potatoes, kale, and kidney beans dance together in this pot-o-goodness.

Portuguese Kale Soup

4 ounces spicy turkey or Italian sausage

1 medium yellow onion, diced

2 stalks celery, coarsely chopped (3/4 cup)

4 cups chicken stock + 4 cups water

8 ounces kale, thick stems removed and leaves sliced (8 cups)

1 clove garlic, minced

12 ounces red potatoes, halved and sliced (2 cups)

1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper sauce

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 can cooked red kidney beans, drained

(1) Remove casing from sausage, crumble and brown in a 5-quart stock pot. Drain on paper towel when cooked through, leaving 1 tablespoon of oil in the pot.

(2) Cook onion, celery and garlic over medium-low heat in the oil til softened. Return sausage to pot, and add stock and kale.  Bring to a simmer, cover and cook 10 minutes.

(3) Stir in potatoes, red pepper sauce, salt and simmer covered, 20 minutes or until potatoes and kale are tender. Then add the beans and cook until heated through.

Not quite sure what makes it ‘Portuguese,’ to be honest. (I take my Aunt Karron for her word that it’s inspired by the folks from Lisbon.)  All that matters is that it’s unique, addictively delicious and pretty healthy too.

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I’ll admit the thought of a fish stew didn’t immediately grab me for a fun weeknight in the kitchen. But upon closer inspection of this recipe, the layers of Mediterranean flavors were very intriguing: garlic, artichoke hearts, capers, green olives, white wine and tomatoes. Wow.

Served over couscous, it didn’t disappoint.  Fresh lemon juice and chopped ginger, cumin and basil, crushed red pepper. So many flavors that intertwine to create a zesty, light — and healthy! — dish.  Tilapia was on sale at the market and it worked out perfectly here.  Give this one a try.

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This summer’s much needed vacation at the lake afforded a chance to connect with my “culinary roots” and my primary source of inspiration in the kitchen: Mom.  I continue to be amazed by her skill at consistently constructing beautiful and deeply satisfying meals. The first night we arrived, mom served grilled marinated lamb and vegetable kabobs, Israeli cous cous with fresh basil, feta and kalamata olives, and strawberry-rhubarb pie for dessert.  A stunning outdoor dinner with the sun setting on the water.

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Salmon has long been my go-to fish for weeknight cooking since it’s easy to find at grocery stores, pretty reliable in terms of quality and very forgiving in preparation. But I recently decided to give these thick, flaky, buttery sea bass filets a try and in doing so rediscovered a fabulous fish that can be dressed up in a flash.

Over high heat in a little olive oil, sear the filets for 2-3 minutes per side to develop a crisp outer layer and seal in the flavors and moisture of the fish. Season simply with salt and pepper.  Then, place the filets in a baking dish with a little white wine, olive oil and clam juice — adding any chopped garlic and fresh herbs — and top with fresh cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives and artichokes.  Bake at 350 for 10 minutes.

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SpanikopitasQuad

It all started during my year in New York City — and a failure to fulfill my yearning for spanikopita, tossed tomatoes and olives with feta, and salted, roasted whole fish at one of my favorite Greek restaurants, Elias’ Corner in Astoria, Queens. Then, having moved out of the Big Apple, I began working for a Greek boss who, just feet from my desk, loves to talk about her passion for Greek food and cooking.  Then, along comes Ina Garten — host of Food Network’s “Barefoot Contessa” — who on a recent Saturday morning threw a Greek dinner party for friends at her Hamptons seaside digs.  !   Thus the inspiration for my Big Fat Greek Feast.

SpanikopEaten

Making homemade spanikopita is a somewhat delicate and time-consuming process. But the crispy, spinach-feta-filled pockets are amazingly worth the effort. This was my first time making these filo pastries, and it did take me awhile to get the hang of buttering and layering the paper-thin filo sheets:  it’s a bit of trial and error to learn just the right amount of spinach/cheese filling to drop on the sheet before folding into a neat triangle shape (without tearing the filo!).

Kudos to GT for this authentic recipe.  She encouraged me numerous times to get creative with the filling, adding other cheeses and herbs besides feta and dill that you might have on hand at home.

Spanikopita

1 box filo sheets, defrosted
2 bags frozen chopped spinach
1 large bunch fresh dill, chopped
2 bunches spring onions, chopped
1 ½ lbs Feta cheese
Small container cottage cheese
Any other cheeses you may have left over in the fridge – Romano, parmesan, etc.
4 eggs
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Breadcrumbs

(1) Defrost and drain the spinach. Squeeze as much water out as you can.

(2) Combine spinach, dill, spring onions, cheeses, eggs in a large bowl.  Mix in the olive oil and some pepper to taste.  *The mixture should not be too watery, nor should it be too dry. If it seems dry, add olive oil. Add bread crumbs if too wet.

(3) Place one sheet of filo on a flat surface. Brush lightly with butter using a pastry brush. Sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Add another layer of filo on top. Butter, sprinkle, etc. Repeat for 4 sheets, layered.

(4) Cut the filo into strips the long way. For each strip, at the end closest to you, add a dollop of mixture (about 1/3 cup) and gently fold into triangles — like you’d fold a flag.  Butter outside and place on baking sheet.

(5) Bake at 350 until brown.

Lamb

Lamb is another wonderful staple of Greek cuisine.  For these kebabs, I deboned loin chops and marinated the meat in a yogurt-based sauce, with olive oil, fresh rosemary and oregano, garlic and lemon juice. Grill over a hot charcoal fire until medium rare.

Kebabs

Bright, colorful and zesty, Greek salad has always been a summertime favorite.  The vinagrette is so simple: olive oil, red wine vinegar and oregano.  Add garlic, salt and pepper to taste.  We tossed with sliced ripe tomatoes, fresh out of the garden; red and yellow bell peppers; cucumber; red onion; and, kalamata olives.

GreekSalad

The capstone of a Greek feast has to be the tzatziki sauce — creamy, thick, tangy Greek yogurt with dill, garlic, grated cucumber and a hint of lemon juice. I used Ina’s recipe as a guide but added some extra oregano and a little white wine vinegar for taste.  The sauce held together the entire meal, and these grilled pita breads — dusted in olive oil and sea salt — were perfect to mop up the excess and to dip on the side.

PitaCrisps

Now…. if only I had a ocean view and warm salty breeze of the Greek Isles!  Truth be told, this backyard setting worked just fine.  Greek craving fulfilled!

GreekTable

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