Another week, another menu, or really another three – because I worked through three different menus this week – some of which I’ll have to tweak and recook and rephotograph – so when or what of those you’ll see I don’t know. Basically, I did a lot of cooking last week. Cooking for work, cooking for home, and cooking for … cooking.
I don’t get tired of cooking. Cooking is something I truly love and, in fact, if I haven’t had the chance to disappear into my kitchen and into my kitchen brain for a few days I can get kind of ornery. I’m a Midwesterner of a certain age, so ornery is my privilege, but it’s generally better if I stay away from getting too ornery as my baseline level of prickliness is already bordering on intolerable.
This is the menu that made it past the finish line this week. I’m calling it Greekish because it’s not Greek, though some of the flavors and some of the preparations are – or sort of are, or nearly might be if I changed this or that or … you get the point. It’s not really Greek. It’s Greekish.
The American kitchen owes greet cooks and restaurateurs a huge debt. They helped shape the American food was of the last century in ways we may never fully realize. I love Greek food – everything from the real traditional spreads of carefully tended dishes rich with the bounty of the Mediterranean and its surrounding lands, to a take-away gyro on a college campus, to the truly remarkably splendid bounty of a 15 page menu at a 24 hour Greek diner outside Baltimore. Grilled cheese with a Greek salad and baklava at 3am? Oh yes, absolutely. This week’s menu isn’t any of those things – but was influenced by them. And I’m definitely getting a gyro for lunch sometime this week.
Flatbreads with Whipped Feta
I’ve espoused the virtue of grilled or griddled flatbreads before. They’re an exceptionally easy way to put fresh bread on the table, and all the more so when it’s darned hot out and you want to reduce time using the oven. These simple flatbreads are fortified with yogurt and olive oil, which both adds flavor and makes them exceptionally tender. The instructions here call for griddling – but you can cook these on a grill or in a very hot (500°F) oven. If you go the oven route, they’ll puff up into pillows and end up like the pocket pita you buy at the store.
The whipped feta is deliciously salty, bracing, and delicious. It’s a delicious balance to the tender breads, and it’s particularly delicious with a drizzle of honey. If you want to get super fancy about it, you can thin it down more with water, then use a cream whipper such as an iSi container to whip it into a perfectly smooth foam as I did for the photo above – but that’s not really necessary and makes cleaning the container sort of a pain in the butt.
325g Bread Flour
50 g Greek yogurt
25 g olive oil
7 g salt
8 oz feta cheese
Add the water and yeast to the bowl of a stand mixer, and stir to combine.
Allow to sit for 5 minutes.
Add the bread flour, yogurt, salt, and olive oil and process with a bread hook until a smooth dough has formed.
Turn the dough out into a lightly oiled bowl, and cover.
Allow to rise until doubled in size.
Divide the dough into 8-10 pieces.
Roll the pieces into balls, and lightly flatten them with a floured hand.
Allow to rest 10 minutes, covered with a damp towel or plastic wrap.
Roll each piece into a thin circle approximately 1/8th inch thick.
Heat a griddle, comal, or thick bottomed pan over medium heat.
Griddled the flatbreads, turning once they begin to puff up, until lightly browned on both sides.
Drain any brine from the feta.
Place in the bowl of a food processor and process on high until smooth.
Add small amounts of water as necessary until the feta is smooth and light.
Garnish with herbs, olive oil, and optionally a small sprinkling of sumac or honey.
Sort of a Village Salad
I decided to Google why this is called a village salad. I learned nothing. The consensus seemed to be “outside of Greece, sometimes Greek Salad without lettuce is called village salad” which gave me exactly zero information about why it’s called a Village Salad. Turns out maybe I need to do more than a few seconds googling. My solution? Tell you a story about how I googled it and then label it “sort of a village salad.”
Regardless of my lack of academic rigor, the resulting salad is pretty great. Herbaceous and bright with lemon and red wine vinegar, crunchy, sweet, assertive. It’s one of those everything in one salads – and to be honest, with this meal I use it as a garnish for sort of a “what’s on my plate” sandwich as I do a salad. One note, the acid and salt in the dressing begin to break down the tomatoes and herbs in this pretty quickly, so while you want to rest it a little while to let flavors combine, you don’t want to make it far in advance unless you’re really craving a watery mess that resembles deconstructed gazpacho.
2 medium English cucumber
4 -6 small, sweet peppers, various colors
1 medium red onion
1 medium tomato
1 clove garlic
3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp lemon juice
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tbsp chopped fresh oregano leaves
1 tsp chopped fresh mint leaves
½ tsp ground black pepper
½ tsp kosher salt plus more to taste
Peel, trim, and finely mince the garlic.
Add the garlic to a large non-reactive bowl along with the lemon juice, vinegar, and salt.
Allow to rest for 5-10 minutes to help tame the garlic’s harshness.
Quarter the cucumber lengthwise, discarding the ends.
Remove the seeds and discard.
Cut the cucumber into 1-1 ½ inch pieces.
Cut the tops off the peppers and use the tip of a knife to remove the ribs and seeds.
Slice the peppers into rings.
Peel, trim, and cut the onion lengthwise into thin slices.
Remove the stem and blossom ends from the tomato and slice into 1/8ths.
Whisk the olive oil into the garlic, lemon, and vinegar mixture.
Add the peppers, cucumber, tomato, and onion and toss well.
Add the herbs and toss well to distribute.
Season with additional salt and pepper as needed.
Allow to rest 10 minutes before serving.
Shrimp with Dill, Lemon, and Ouzo
This dish is a dinosaur. I don’t remember exactly when I first saw it, or in fact who the cook making it was. I do remember where I first saw it – in the basement “TV room” (we didn’t have cable in the rooms and almost no one had a TV) of my college dorm. It was an episode of PBS’s “Great Chefs” – a show that probably did more to teach me to cook than any family member, distant relative, kitchen mentor, back of the box recipe writer, or random web page ever did. I loved that show, and luckily for me the re-runs seemed to be on PBS as often as Law & Order is on whatever channel it’s on.
This dish requires you to flambe the shrimp in ouzo or another strong anise flavored liquor. If you’ve never intentionally set a pan on fire in your kitchen, consider simply simmering it to burn off the booze, or look for YouTube videos showing your how. I don’t want you setting yourself on fire or burning down your house or anything, but it is one heck of a show. No, seriously – be careful – but it really is a real technique.
1lb peeled deveined medium shrimp
4 cloves garlic
2 tbsp olive oil
4 tbsp chopped fresh dill
1 oz ouzo or another anisette liquor
1 tsp kosher salt
Peel, trim and finely mince the garlic.
Add the olive oil to a pan over medium high heat.
Season the shrimp with salt and add to the pan along with the minced garlic.
Cook, tossing occasionally, until the shrimp are just firming up – about 1-2 minutes.
Add the ouzo or other anisette and – carefully- tilt the pan to burn off the alcohol.
Add the dill and lemon juice and toss well, cooking just until the dill is wilted.
Serve immediately, garnish with dill or fennel fronds.
Greek-ish Sheet Pan Chicken
Sheet pan chicken is all the rage. Or was? I’m not really all that great about keeping up with trends. It’s what’s keeping me from becoming one of those influencers I keep reading about. That and my tendency to buy four copies of the same shirt instead of buying anything new. Also because I really just don’t care what whosit wore to whatsit.
Anyway, this exceptionally well dressed and stylish sheet pan chicken is playing with some classic Greek flavors – but it’s not Greek any more than that mispronounced gyro you bought at the hockey game is Greek. It layers tomato, citrus, alliums, and cinnamon to create a flavor profile that’s simply delicious – mostly because tomato and cinnamon are amazing together but for some reason a lot of traditions don’t use them together.
This dish is pretty easy to put together – and you can even skip the fussiest step (halving the cherry tomatoes) if you want. Look for the multi-colored and shaped cherry tomatoes for the best contrasts of flavor and appearance.
4 bone-in, skin on chicken thighs
1 medium red onion
1 pint “snacking” cherry tomatoes
4 cloves garlic
1 tbsp oregano leaves
1 tbsp rosemary leaves
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp tomato paste
1 tsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp kosher salt
½ tsp cinnamon
½ tsp red pepper flake
Salt and Pepper to taste
Add lemon juice, vinegar, tomato paste, 1 tsp kosher salt, cinnamon and olive oil to a non-reactive bowl and whisk to combine.
Add the chicken to this mixture, turning to coat well, and allow to rest – covered – in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
Preheat your oven to 400° F.
Peel, trim, and thinly slice the garlic.
Peel, trim, and cut the red onion into thin slices from end to end.
Slice the tomatoes into halves.
Tear the herbs into small pieces.
Combine the onions, garlic, and tomatoes with the herbs.
Remove the chicken from the refrigerator and arrange on a sheet pan.
Arrange the vegetable mixture around the chicken and drizzle with marinade.
Bake in a 400°F oven until the tomatoes have collapsed and softened, and the chicken is browned, and its internal temperature has reached 165° F – about 30-40 minutes.
Pistachio Plum Crumble with Whipped Yogurt
I know what you’re saying: “Oh gosh, another crisp, crumble, whatever. This guy is just lazy when it comes to desserts.”
Yes. Yes, I am. I’ll spend hours tourneéing veg for a pretty photo of coq au vin but can’t be bothered to temper and sift and whisk for that Instagram ready cake. No, it’s true. You know it is. I love sweet things, but sometimes – particularly at the end of a long day or week or quarantine compressed year like things – I just don’t have the mental energy to concentrate in the way I would to turn out fancy desserts. I’m pretty sure a lot of you don’t either. So, a lot of my sweets are of the mix-dump-bake variety. Call them rustic. Call them homey. Call them lazy. I call them “Hey, I made dessert. It’s ok.”
1 cup All Purpose flour
½ cup plus 2 tbsp granulated sugar, divided
½ cup roasted unsalted pistachios
6 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tbsp honey
¼ tsp salt
½ cup Greek Yogurt
Mint leaves as garnish
Wash and slice the plums into 1/8ths, discarding the pits.
Add the fruit, 2 tbsp of sugar, and the honey to a non-reactive bowl.
Toss well to coat with sugar and allow to rest while preparing the crumble.
Add the pistachios and sugar to the bowl of a food processor. Process until the pistachios are finely chopped.
Add the flour, and the butter – cold and cut into small cubes – to the flour and pistachio mixture. Process until the mixture resembles fine corn meal.
Divide the fruit between four ramekins, gratin pans, or another oven-proof vessel.
Divide the crumble mixture and sprinkle evenly over the fruit.
Bake at 400°F until crisp and beginning to brown, about 20 minutes.
Allow to cool before serving.
Whisk the yogurt until light, and spoon over the crumbles, garnish with mint leaves.