Saturday, September 4, 2010

Messin' with meze

Strictly speaking, I didn't make the following meal on a weekend.  It was Thursday.  But, if I recall correctly, students at my alma mater frequently treated Thursday as part of the weekend (if the endless parade of freshmen in popped collars and ridiculously short skirts on Richmond Row was any indication).  Though I might not have tied one on every week on the day honoring Thor (who probably would've liked a few of the downtown establishments), I can at least take advantage of that practice for my blog.  So there.

Relaxing after work.  This is nowhere NEAR what the ol' Mustang party animals would undertake, trust me.
So my beloved BFF, Kiks, gave me a lovely gift some time ago.  It was a meze cookbook.  I'd never heard of the term before, though many of the recipes were familiar: hummus, spanakopitta, falafel, tyropitta, and kibbeh, to name a few.  Delicious Greek and Lebanese offerings.  I didn't know, though, that these appetizer-ish items were part of a larger recognized group, akin to the Spanish tapas.  The author, Rena Salaman, describes meze as "a snack served alone or before a meal, or as part of a whole meal.  They can be simple, just little plates of olives or feta cheese with olive oil and oregano- or they an be more substantial, a few kabobs of lamb or chicken, or a delicious plate of shrimp."  I'm in!

My meze undertakings this day.
I've been toying with the idea of throwing a themed dinner party at my place for my super-duper coworkers... my budget, however, disagrees.  One can dream, though, and in my mind I picture serving up a table full of delicious meze options for us to sample and graze on over (several) glasses of wine.  Nice way to relax after a week of clinic, says I.  So, I figured it'd be a good idea to practice making some of these for my own enjoyment.  I've made other recipes from the book before (Imam bayildi and tyropitta alonnisou) with decent success, but practice makes perfect!

Hummus.  I'm no stranger to it, but I thought I'd try Rena's recipe.  I figured out what I'd been missing in my own version for so long: just a bit of water to loosen things up. 
Perfect consistency, this time.
Baked shrimp with tomatoes and feta cheese. 
Excuse me while I discretely wipe the drool off my face.
I modded the above just a teeny bit, in the same way I did when I made it the first time with Kiks.  Though I swore off this technique for red curry shrimp pasta, I find that, with all the stove and oven baking this dish endures, using canned tomatoes doesn't seem to detract from the deliciousness one bit.  Plus, blanching and peeling tomatoes is a giant pain in the behind.  So, give my version a shot and enjoy:

Garithes Yiovetsaki
(Baked shrimp with tomatoes and feta cheese)
Adapted from "Meze" by Rena Salaman

Serves 6 (I made a half-batch for myself)

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • About 2 tsp Vietnamese Sriracha hot sauce (this is, obviously, far from authentic.  I like spicy pepper flavour, but not the texture of peppers.  For the purist version, use 1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped)
  • 1 28 oz. can whole Roma tomatoes, mostly drained and coarsley chopped (you COULD use the already-diced tomatoes, but I find them to be less flavourful)
  • Large pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 lb. peeled raw jumbo shrimp (I like President's Choice 31-40 count; they're not jumbo, but you get more shrimp this way)
  • 3 Tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley (don't buy that curly stuff.  It should be banned)
  • 4 oz (or a quarter pound) feta cheese, cut into cubes
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a skillet, add the onion and sauté gently until translucent.  Add the sriracha (or pepper) and cook a few minutes more.
  3. Add the tomatoes, sugar, oregano, salt and pepper and cook gently for 10-15 minutes until the sauce has thickened.
  4. Add the shrimp, parsley, and half the cheese, then transfer to a small ovenproof dish (I used a glass pie plate) and sprinkle the remaining cheese on top.  Bake for 30 minutes.
  5. Serve hot or at room temperature-- both ways are great.  I like to have pita handy to sop up the delicious juices.
Ready for some serious noshing.  And no, I didn't eat the entire dish of shrimp all by myself; half became lunch for the next day.  Ditto for the hummus. 
Who knew chickpeas and tahini could combine in such a magical way?  Thank goodness I have long arms, or these self-portraits would be really difficult to achieve.  I must've been feeling a bit narcissistic this particular evening; usually I don't put so much Honeybee in blog pics.
 I'm really looking forward to trying out homemade falafel- that's a project for this weekend.  Nothing like fantastically spiced, fried bean patties... mmm.  I have two recipes: a traditional one from the meze book, which uses broad/fava beans, and one from Nemmie's blog, which uses chickpeas and (wait for it...) a slow cooker.  Hmm.  I don't know which one I'll test, or if I'll use ingredients from one but the cooking method from the other.  I'm intrigued by the idea of not having to shallow-fry a bunch of little patties in batches... but on the other hand, I stressed myself out at Superstore trying to find fava beans to make the more authentic version.  Who knew they'd be so hard to find?!  I couldn't find a bag of dried, but I finally hunted down a canned version in the Latin section of the "ethnic" aisle.  I felt like a big game hunter who'd finally spotted an elephant.  Whew!  At least now I have options for the legume I choose to include.

Not at all condoning the eradication of endangered species for sport,

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