Tuesday, October 27, 2009

80 Plates: At War With Our Bellies

So I finally have a few minutes to blog about our culinary journey in the Mediterranean. I had been in the mood for Greek food for a while, so I decided to go for it one day. I knew my sister would be over and that she digs cucumbers, so I knew she'd help me eat up tzatziki sauce. I am attempting to make peace with the cucumber, but it is one of my least favorite vegetables. I'm getting there though. From that came our menu of souvlaki and tzatziki from Greece. Then I decided if I was going to do that, I might as well add Turkey to the mix. Greece and Turkey have a long history of disagreements (the granddaddy of all international conflicts some might say), and it turned out that we were all kind of grumpy with each other as a family that day, so I enjoyed the cooking as it matched the mood of the household. I scanned my copy of "The Essential Mediterranean Cookbook" and found a recipe for zucchini patties in the Turkish cooking section and voila! A menu was created.

I started out with the tzatziki since I felt it should all kind of blend a while. I used a combination of recipes from the Mediterranean cookbook and the Food Network. It seems all tzatziki recipes are more or less the same--cucumber, yogurt, garlic, mint, lemon juice, and some use sour cream and some don't. I went ahead and used fat free sour cream to try and make it a tad healthier. I apologize that the cucumber is missing from the ingredient picture! I started grating it before thinking that I needed to photograph it.

So step one is to grate a seedless (English) cucumber. You can usually find these in the produce section wrapped in plastic, as opposed to 'regular' cucumbers that are just out in their skins. Why is this? I wondered that myself. "Regular" cucumbers are waxed to retain moisture and prevent rotting. English cucumbers are shrink wrapped. Why? I don't know. That's just how it is. Anyway, I grated it and I have to say, this is one of my favorite 80 plates pictures just because I like how green it is.

Then I added some salt and let those suckers drain into the sink.

Meanwhile, I measured out 1 cup each of Greek yogurt and sour cream. Greek yogurt is thicker than "regular" yogurt. If you can't find it, you can use the equivalent amount of plain yogurt. Put it in a strainer lined with cheesecloth and let the moisture seep out of the yogurt for a while before mixing it up.

Once the yogurt and sour cream were measured out, I added tons of garlic. I used up the last of the minced garlic I had and then minced some fresh garlic, which accounts for the two different colors. Then a little salt and pepper and voila! The base was complete!

All that was left was to put in the cucumbers and let the whole thing sit in the fridge for at least an hour, or longer if desired.

Then it was time to get the chicken marinating. I had decided on souvlaki, which is a dish I never order, as I love eating gyros when we go for Greek food. Alton Brown did an episode of Good Eats where he showed you how to make gyro meat on your grill, but I just felt like trying something new. Plus, only God knows how Vesuvius would handle grilling a big mound of gyro meat. But I digress. The marinade for souvlaki in all the recipes I scanned seems to be pretty much the same ingredients, only the quantities vary. Also, souvlaki is very popular as a pork dish, although we used chicken.

Into the food processor, I put olive oil, lemon juice (was super excited I got to use my new Pampered Chef citrus press for the first time!), thyme, oregano, onion, and garlic and pureed the hell out of it. It comes out as a kind of yellowy whitish looking marinade.

Meanwhile, I was soaking my bamboo skewers in water and I cubed up my chicken. I poured the marinade over the chicken and stuck the bowl in the fridge to sit for a while.

Then it was time to turn my attention to the zucchini patties. One thing that kind of got me about this was that yet again I had to buy a special ingredient (in this case, self rising flour) and used exactly 1/4 cup of it. You can bet I'll be looking for recipes to use it up! I don't really mind buying things like fresh herbs because they don't come by the pound. But it gets my goat to buy jars and bags of things that I need a minute amount of! Oh well :-) Enjoy my money, Gold Medal. You make good flour, I have to hand it to you.

Anyway, to start, you grate both the zucchini and the onion, and then place them in a clean towel and squeeze out as much moisture as you possibly can. I couldn't squeeze and photograph all at the same time, so you'll have to settle for my before and after pictures, which I guess look basically the same!

You will have to take my word for it--A LOT of moisture comes out when you squeeze these through a towel. I was actually quite surprised.

Once that's done, you add salt, pepper, flour, parmesan cheese, mint, parsley, nutmeg, breadcrumbs, and an egg and mix it all up until it becomes a stiff kind of mixture that holds a patty shape. Then I shaped the little patties up and all the food was prepped except for skewering the chicken, which I did pretty quickly!

So I fired up Vesuvius, and at the same time heated up some olive oil to fry the zucchini patties in. I figured the chicken would take longer, but in fact they took about the same amount of time, so I was running in and out between the grill and the electric frying pan to get everything done at roughly the same time.

Then it was time to eat! YUM! Wegmans had some delicious soft pita bread--I really don't like that brand that makes the real dry pitas, so I was thrilled to find soft ones--so we added that and the recipe for the zucchini suggested we serve it with fresh lemon, so I wedged some of that up as well! I also happen to like lettuce and tomato on my gyros and figured it would be good on souvlaki, so I put some of that on the table too. It was quite a feast.

Then it was time to fix up a plate and eat!

How amazing does this look, huh?!

Then Judy decided to take a picture of the family sitting down to eat, with me in it for a change. As I said, none of us was really speaking at this point, and a picture speaks louder than words. She snapped this picture and promptly burst into tears. But now when I look at it, it kind of cracks me up!

So then she told us we HAD to smile, so we all put on our game face and smiled--even Dottie. Leah declined to participate--hahahaha.

Then it was finally time to dig in! The ceremonial first bite picture of the General--you can see that I remembered his mashed potatoes this time! No more rookie mistakes for me, no sir! Now I love Mediterranean food and I love Greek food, and I always thought it would be beyond my capabilities to actually prepare. How pleased I was to be proven wrong. This was a delicious meal that all of us truly enjoyed! We actually thawed our relations and really enjoyed ourselves during the meal--good food is definitely the antidote to rage :-)

We will be eating this again, no doubt in my mind. Try it yourself sometime and see!

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