Once a year our church-- a congregation consisting of many Palestinians and Lebanese, people who know their deliciousness-- has a festival.
At that festival, there is live music and hookah and general merrimaking.
There is also super super awesome food. And you feel compelled to buy lots of it cause duh you are supporting a church.
Thus, we enjoyed several different incarnations of takeout, which I formed into a sampler platter. To me, mezze (and its relatives, tapas and the like) are the greatest thing ever. You get a lot of tastes of a lot of things. You get to look at a plate that is colorful and varied in shape and size and texture.
This made a thoroughly fabulous apres-church brunh.
From your top left hand corner, we begin with spinach pie. That spinach pie is BALLER, with a rich and puffy crust that is actually, I realized after my Chicago experience, reminiscent of DEEP DISH! Next, we have green beans; the thick broad bean kind. Stewed with oh-so-flavorful tomatoes and spices. Continuing round, lamb shank. Holy slow cooking this was tender. And obviously, I’m a Greek girl. I love my lamb. It was rounded out nicely by the final item, a spiffy tzaziki.
Yum. Yum. Yum.
Eaten over the course of the next few days was more spinach pies. Also some fresh stuffed grape leaves (I am a grape leaf snob; especially after having them in Greece. I can’t do the canned ones. I think they’re gross. Fresh, though, and I’m one happy camper). And finally meat pies, with the same flavorful crust a savory lamb-beef blend of ground meat in the center, and an adorable pine nut garnish.
Lucky for me, I do not have to wait for the annual church festival to indulge in splendor from Lebanon and the rest of the Middle East. For that, I have Lebanese Butcher, my halal/organic meat and general exotica source.
On our most recent trip, we made some new purchases. First, after I commented on how I was always intrigued by the dizzying variety of dairy products in the cheese/yogurt/kefir case, my mom selected this specimen:
The soft meltiness of mozzarella with a tang reminiscent of feta. EXCELLENT in wraps.
Some spices, the always wonderful harissa and a new impulse-buy mix called panch puram.
A well-timed article in the food section informed me that panch puram is actually Bengali. The guy at Lebanese Butcher said it was spicy and you grind it and it’s good for meats. Has anyone cooked with it before? Any recommendations?
SO delighted to find out that Lebanese Butcher is also a great TEA SOURCE! I am in the height of tea season these days, as any of my coworkers or loved ones who have to tolerate my near-constant bathroom breaks can attest.
Extra points for EXTREME affordability. The anise tea (which is DELICIOUS and licoricey and so tummy-soothing) was a mere 89 cents, and mate, which is one of my favorite beverages but costs an arm and a leg everywhere else, was $3.99 for a megaportion. Love it!
Our main purpose for going to a butcher was, as you might have guessed, meat. They were out of whole chickens for the time being, but gave us a good deal on chicken legs. Seriously, it is the best price you are going to get for organic anywhere that I’ve seen.
We had leeks in the fridge and I fondly remembered a recipe for chicken with leeks in The Philosopher’s Kitchen, one of my favorite cookbooks which you can learn more about on the Recipe Inspiration tab up top of my blog.
The original used boneless skinless chicken breasts, which turned out to probably be the best way to make it, but I shrugged and decided to adapt it to bone-in, skin-on thighs, because I throw caution to the wind that way.
I began by browning the chicken. I highly reommend cast-iron skillets for tasks like these.
Then, draining most all of the fat but leaving the flavorful bits at the bottom of the pan, I sauteed the leeks to tenderness.
At which point it was deglazing time. Added broth, white wine, summer savory (an herb which kind of sits dustily on my shelf and I should really learn more about).
It smelled wonnnnnnnnnnnderful.
Then you were meant to return the chicken to the pan and stew it in there til the pan juices thickened and the chicken was cooked through but… yeurgh it was such a pain. I knew it would take longer than the time for the boneless skinless chicken breasts and man oh man did it. It just kept going and going and going in this endless, joyless thing, with the chicken yielding all this fat that I tried to kind of siphon off the edges of the pan with the sauce cause it just looked greasy and nasty.
I finally just chucked the chicken in the microwave, where it ended up needing at least an additional ten minutes.
Meanwhile I tried to reduce the sauce cause it was so… wet.
It worked, but probably zapped all the flavor out of the (nonetheless quite attractive) leeks.
I’m not going to call the dish a failure, because it tasted fine… but definitely not worth the labor/heartache.
Fortunately, the accompaniment was delicious and inspired by a great friend, so this is a better story.
We had purchased some surprisingly gorgeous zucchini at the farmer’s market (doesn’t it seem AWFULLY late in the season?!)
Just a few nights before this cooking endeavor, I enjoyed a wonderful dinner at Cava Mezze, a ridiculously popular local restaurant that’s now opened a variety of outposts. I was lucky enough to get to see my wonderful friend (and loyal blog reader) Eireni. It was the first time I’d seen her since her ridiculously awesome wedding, and it was wonderful to catch up (although SOOOOO briefly, alas).
Anyway, I’d been meaning to try Cava for awhile because everyone at my church loves it and as you saw above, they are food authorities. Eireni’s sister Kristen, who’s going to school at George Washington and was playing hostess for the weekend, recommended it as one of her favorites. And the food was EXCELLENT.
I particularly inhaled the chickpea three ways and one other dish: zucchini (and eggplant) in the most cunningly simple yet totally fantastic preparation.
Are you seeing where this is going? Restaurant re-creation!
(Guys, don’t we miss Gourmet? I never subscribed, but would kind of grab it whenever I saw it, which with all the food lovers in my life was pretty frequently. Anyway, I loved-loved-loved their column where people would write in about a particularly delicious dish they enjoyed in a restaurant and have Gourmet track down the recipe. RIP, man.)
As Eireni put it, the secret to all those wonderful Greek vegetable dishes is to “take a lot of olive oil and cook down some kind of tomato- paste or sauce or fresh tomatoes- in it for a long long time.”
Which is true.
And exactly what I did.
Lots of olive oil, some sweet onion for kicks…
… and then a jar of Trader Joe’s marinara sauce that’d been hanging around in my fridge. Definitely doesn’t have to be classy.
And let it cook down slooooooooowly til thiiiiiiiiiiiiiick for a loooooooooooong tiiiiiiiiiiiime.
(Actually did some kickboxing to Exercise TV on my computer while it cooked. Multitasking!)
The finished consistency will be thickened, thoroughly infused with the flavoring and enriching olive oil.
Then I added scads of oregano (obviously) and cooked the zucchini in it.
One of the best things about the zucchini dish at Cava was that it wasn’t MUSHY! It was still thoroughly toothsome. I love it! I did the same in this dish.
See how thick and rich and concentrated-looking the tomato sauce got? So killer!
The verdict is that it was totally, totally awesome.
Rounding out the meal, for the carbs we so enjoy (and cause the chicken took for-EVER to finish cooking and I needed something to nosh on to keep me going), toasted pita bread with the last of some homemade hummus.
Unbelievably delicious: toasted pita chip. Hummus. Olive-oily basil tomato chunk atop.
Like incredibly delicious miniature pizza.
Lots and lots of little tastes!