Category Archives: GREEK DISHES

GREEK GROUND CHICKEN MEATBALLS WITH TZAZIKI SAUCE

Sometimes dishes get served before I have a chance to take a picture. That’s exactly what happened at a recent pre-concert JazzVox meal. Before I could take a picture of these meatballs based on a recipe from the Juicy Bites website and the tzatziki sauce (my recipe from about 25 years ago), they were history.

So the next time I serve this delicious combination, I will take a picture. But for now you will just have to content yourself with a mental image of light colored baked meatballs, smothered with a white sauce with green things in it, aka – tzatziki.

Now most of you know that I love chicken and serve it a lot. But chicken can be a bit boring. Well I’m here to tell you, there is nothing boring about these meatballs. The mint and the dill give the dish a unique flavor, and when slathered with tzatziki, well frankly, there is just nothing finer. (Actually, I think dog kibbles would taste good if they were slathered in tzatziki. But I’m not going to stand behind those words; just offer them up as a lazy summer afternoon rumination.)

So next time you want to serve ground chicken or turkey (I use ground turkey as much as I use ground chicken), give this recipe a try. Serve the meatballs and tzatziki with a savory pilaf, a crunchy Greek Salad, and a beautifully chilled bottle of white wine, and you will have captured the wonderful flavors and essence of Greek dining. Huh? Maybe Greece should be our next overseas adventure. Time to buy a couple travel books and see if Greece meets our criteria as a perfect travel destination. We love to visit countries with an ancient culture, beautiful art and architecture, interesting museums, pleasing climate, fun and friendly people, and of course – fantastic food. Wait! I don’t need a travel guide to tell me that Greece would be perfect for us. I already know all of our travel desires would be met in Greece. So, time to make a plan and present it to Mr. C. I know, I’ll serve up my idea along with a meal as described above, and I’ll bet you he’ll be searching our calendar for dates within an hour. Wish me luck! And enjoy the meatballs.

At the bottom of the post you will find 2 pictures of our orange cat Miles. The first picture shows Miles sound asleep on our catwalk. No problem, right? Wrong! The second picture shows why his sleeping at the end of the catwalk is of concern. It’s 9 feet down if our little darling were to fall. And since that part of the catwalk is above the bottom of the stairway, there is no way for either of us to fetch him. And no, when I designed our home Max and Miles were not even a glimmer in their papa’s eyes. We had another pair of orange brothers who were very coordinated and we never worried about them falling.

A little background. Miles and his brother Max are two of the least coordinated and skittish cats we have ever had the pleasure of owning. They can fall off the back of a couch and land on their backs at the slightest movement that might be threatening, like Mr. C. turning a page in his book, or me walking by with a glass in my hand. So the thought of either one of the brothers being startled awake while on the catwalk and reacting quickly to a perceived threat always scares the pickles out of me. And since I’m sure you want to know, Miles survived his nap and my heartrate is back to normal.

  • ½ c. panko bread crumbs
  • 1/3 c. whole milk
  • 1 small onion, finely minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • ¼ c. finely chopped Italian parsley
  • ¼ c. finely chopped mint leaves
  • 3 T. finely chopped fresh dill
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano (Mexican preferably)
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper (not too much)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • zest and juice of 1 small lemon
  • 2 lbs. ground chicken or turkey

Pour the milk over the panko bread crumbs in a large bowl and stir until liquid is absorbed. Add the onion, garlic, parsley, mint, dill, oregano, salt, pepper, eggs, olive oil, and lemon zest and juice. Mix together with a fork until well blended. (I use the large serving fork that came with my silverware set. Works great!) Add the ground chicken and stir with the same fork until just blended. (Do not overwork the meat.)

Using a small ice cream scoop, shape the balls and place on a baking sheet lined with foil and coated with non-stick cooking spray.  Bake in a pre-heated 400 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes until just done. (Do not overbake or the meatballs will be dry.) Serve with tzatziki sauce. Recipe below.

TZATZIKI  

  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 c. plain Greek Yogurt
  • 3 small or 2 medium garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1½ tsp. chopped fresh dill or ½ tsp. dill weed
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt, or more to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 English cucumber, partially peeled, seeded, and grated

Combine all ingredients. Adjust seasoning. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Garlic trick:

If you are using fresh garlic in a recipe, but would like to reduce a bit of the “garlic bite”, place the peeled garlic cloves in a small bowl and cover with milk. Warm the cloves in your microwave, but do not cook them. Then remove the cloves from the milk and slice or mince according to your recipe. You will find that the flavor is still there, but the bite has mysteriously disappeared.

 

BRIAM (GREEK VEGETABLE BAKE)

For any of you who routinely hear “you should eat more vegetables” or say to yourself “hey dummy – you really need to start eating more vegetables”, this is the dish for you! This Greek favorite is sooooo tasty that you or any vegetable challenged family member or friend who might be partaking at your table won’t even notice that this dish contains 6 different types of vegetables and two healthy herbs. (Oregano – contains potent antioxidants and anti-bacterial properties, as well as fiber, iron, manganese, vitamin E, calcium, omega fatty acids, and vitamin K. Parsley – vitamin K, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, and iron.) They will be so busy gulping it down, that before you can ask if they like the dish, they are going back for seconds.

And the best part, the dish is actually better the day after (or two or three days after) it is prepared. Perfect for someone who wants to do a bunch of cooking on the weekend for dinners throughout the week. Also perfect for dinner parties when other dishes you are planning might require last minute attention.

You just throw this dish in the oven for a short time before you plan to sit down to dinner. Lovely.

So do yourself and your family and friends a favor. Go Greek for an evening. Fix some Greek Ground Turkey Meatballs with Tzatziki, Hummus, Pita Bread, Briam, and Greek Marinated Olives. Spread your table with a cheerful table cloth, and sit down for a leisurely meal together. (No cell phones, etc. allowed!) If you can eat “al fresco” – all the better! And even if you make this dish just for yourself, consider yourself blessed. You get to eat every delicious morsel of this veggie dish all by yourself. (Kind of like me with fried zucchini. But that’s a story for another day!)

  • ¾ c. extra-virgin olive oil, divided plus more for drizzling
  • 1 lg. red onion, chopped
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • 1 (14.5-oz.) can diced tomatoes with juice (Italian, if possible)
  • 2 tsp. tomato paste
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 T. finely chopped flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
  • 2 peeled Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced 1/8-inch thick
  • 2 medium sized zucchini, sliced ¼-inch thick diagonally
  • 2 small eggplants, partially peeled, cut in half lengthwise, and sliced ¼-inch thick
  • ½ basket cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • crumbled feta

Heat ¼ cup of the olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet and add the onion. Cook gently until the onion is tender and translucent, about 20 minutes. Add the salt and pepper; stir in the garlic. Cook for another minute or two, until the garlic is fragrant. Remove from heat and whisk in remaining ½ cup olive oil, canned tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano, and parsley. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning. You may need more salt. (Don’t worry if the sauce appears oily. That’s what you need for this dish.)

Lightly oil a deep (approximately 9×13-inch) baking dish. Spread a very thin layer of the tomato mixture in the baking dish and top with half of the potato slices, half of the zucchini, and half of the eggplant. Spread half of the tomato sauce over the veggies. Repeat the layering – again ending with the sauce. Arrange the halved cherry tomatoes over the top, cut side down. Finish by drizzling a small amount of olive oil over the cherry tomatoes, followed by a light seasoning of salt and pepper.

    

Cover with foil or a lid and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 75 minutes. Remove the foil or lid and bake uncovered an additional 30 minutes, or until the potato slices are tender.

Cool to just above room temperature and serve, or refrigerate overnight. (Best served slightly warmed the next day.)

Wonderful sprinkled lightly with crumbled feta cheese.

 

MEDITERRANEAN APPETIZER PLATE

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Perhaps you already know that I love appetizers. And even if that little known fact happens to be within the scope of your knowledge, please allow me to reiterate – I LOVE APPETIZERS. Love to make them, love to eat them, love serving them; love everything about each perfect little morsel of delectability! Even the word “appetizer” is delicious because it implies that there are more yummy dishes to follow. (Food fanatic, not me!)

So when I was planning an appetizer for our recent dinner club get-together, I decided to group several of my favorite before dinner munchies together in the form of a Mediterranean “antipasto” plate. And boy did I have fun. I went on a pantry and refrigerator raid and found all kinds of scrumptious items to add to the platter. The only item I didn’t have was a small bunch of grapes. But with all the other munchies, I thought it would be fine without that one item. But next time, when I actually plan ahead, I definitely will include grapes. Grapes would have fulfilled that juicy component I felt was missing from the total “Mediterranean” experience.

Now granted, when you serve a platter like this one, you don’t have to go nuts like I did. Even three items would make a lovely before dinner treat. I just happen to like to fuss in the kitchen. (And yes I do know there are some out there not quite as crazy as I am.) But you don’t have to make your own hummus and feta spreads or pita bread. But I had the time, the energy, and it was for our cooking club and guests (no pressure there). So I wanted everything to be perfect. Besides I knew that I would be grilling the main course – Cedar Planked Salmon and Grilled Marinated Prawns (both recipes are on site already) so my intimidation level was already on red alert. To date, grilling has definitely not been my forte. Jim, Ken, and Paul (the other men along with Mr. C. in our cooking club) are all grill masters, so when grilling for them I always feel less than adequate. But I should have known better than too worry. Ken and Paul did all the grilling, and bless them for that. (Jim would have been helping too, but he and Margo were off cruising the waters of Puget Sound. And Mr. C. was too busy playing mixologist and sommelier to even know the grill was fired up!)

So next time you have a gathering, assemble a group of little bits of this and that, place them on a platter or tray, throw some lettuce around the edges, and impress your family and friends with your culinary and presentation expertise. It’s really the simple things, like a bit of garnish here and there, and a variety of taste treats that please both the eye and our taste buds. So much more appetizing and interesting than a big old bowl of dip and some potato chips. (Generally more nutritious too.) Plus, when you take the time to go those few extra steps, your family and friends will think you are the kitchen diva or divo, whichever the case may be. And really, isn’t that all we want anyway? Now, let’s see, where did I leave my tiara this time?

To assemble your platter:

  • hummus (see 3 hummus recipes on blog under “Hummus a tune Mr. C.”)
  • Feta Cheese Spread (see recipe below)
  • green or red grapes
  • kalamata olives or mixed olive medley
  • Marcona almonds
  • marinated artichoke hearts
  • Peppadew peppers (sweet piquanté peppers grown in the Limpopo province of South Africa) or roasted red peppers cut into small strips
  • dried figs, cut in half
  • wedge of chèvre, room temperature
  • spears of English cucumber
  • carrot sticks
  • celery sticks
  • anything other ingredient your heart desires
  • Pita Bread (see recipe below) or pita chips
  • assorted crackers

FETA CHEESE SPREAD

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  • 4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
  • 2 oz. cream cheese
  • 1/3 c. sour cream
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice, or more to taste
  • 1 small garlic clove
  • ¼ tsp. dried basil
  • ¼ tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/8 tsp. dried dill weed
  • 1/8 tsp. dried thyme
  • freshly ground black pepper (not too much)

Whirl together in blender or food processor until smooth. Refrigerate. Serve at room temperature.

PITA BREAD

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  • 1 1/3 c. lukewarm water
  • 1 T. or 1 pkg. active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil + more for coating the dough
  • ½ c. whole-wheat flour
  • 2 c. bread flour or more as needed (or should I say – kneaded)

Place water in the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the yeast, sugar, salt, and olive oil. Stir to dissolve.  Place bowl in a warm (not hot) place, uncovered, until mixture is frothy and bubbling, about 15 minutes.

Add the whole wheat flour and just about all of the 2 cups of bread flour. Using your bread hook, work until the mixture has incorporated all of the flour. (Use remaining or additional flour as needed.) Work for about 5 minutes.

Round dough up in the bowl, pour a small amount of olive oil over the ball (about a teaspoon), turning dough as required to coat the entire surface. Cover with a tea towel and let rest for an hour or until doubled in bulk. Divide the dough into 12 pieces and roll into balls.

Roll each ball out on a floured surface until about 1/8-inch thick. Place on a very lightly greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise for 30 minutes. Bake in a pre-heated 500 degree oven for approximately 5 minutes or until puffed and lightly browned. Allow to cool before serving.

    

SOUPA AVGOLEMONO (GREEK EGG AND LEMON SOUP)

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The name of this classic Greek soup comes from its two main ingredients: egg (avgo) and lemon (lemoni).

I first began making this delicious soup just after Mr. C and I started dating. He had taken me to his favorite Greek restaurant and honestly, he practically had to force me to try the Avgolemono. Even the thought of a lemon flavored rice soup (I usually hate rice in soups) made me instantly apprehensive. But we were new at this dating thing, so I thought I would go along with his wishes because I already felt this new relationship might be worth a concession here and there. And boy was I right about the relationship! The concession part, well we’ve both gotten quite good at it over the years, especially Mr. C.! But back to this simple soup recipe.

As you might surmise, I instantly fell in love. (I know with the soup, and maybe even the man!) I thought the soup was the most amazing thing I had ever tasted. Later on in that same meal, Mr. C. introduced me to yet another fantastic dish – hummus. (Be still my heart.)

Well, by now, I’m sure you have no uncertainties about why I married this amazing man! (And they think the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.) That may well be true. But I am living proof that women are as susceptible as men when it comes to falling for someone who appreciates good food. Even if that person’s only contribution involves never ending trips to grocery stores or learning how to punch in the number of your favorite restaurant! Or as in my case, always being willing to try a never ending string of new dishes. For this and other reasons too numerous to list, thank you my love.

Mr. C. and I both hope you enjoy this amazingly simple to prepare and delicious Greek soup.

Oh, BTW – I did marry Mr. C for reasons other than his love of fine food. Those of you who know him, already know the reasons. Those of you who don’t know him – well you wouldn’t care anyway!

  • 4 c. chicken stock
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ c. uncooked long grain white rice
  • 2 eggs
  • juice of 2 lemons, or more to taste
  • crumbled feta cheese, opt, garnish

Bring chicken broth, salt, and pepper to a boil in a covered medium sized saucepan. Add the rice, stir, reduce heat, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes or until rice is soft. Remove from heat. In a small bowl whisk the eggs and lemon juice together. Slowly ladle about a cup of the hot chicken broth into the egg mixture whisking as fast as possible so the eggs don’t curdle. Pour this mixture back into the remaining broth and rice stirring as you pour. Return to heat and bring soup just to boil. DO NOT BOIL. Remove from heat and add more lemon juice and salt as necessary. (The soup should be good and lemony.) Serve immediately. Offer feta cheese as garnish.

GRILLED LAMB PATTIES WITH TZATZIKI (GREEK CUCUMBER SAUCE)

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my estimation lamb is under-utilized. And I believe one of the reasons is that a lot of parents with young children think their children won’t like the taste. Well, I beg to differ. When my children were growing up, a leg of lamb was one protein source I knew would be devoured right down to the bone. And I mean this literally. (I’m pretty sure they would have gnawed on the bone if I would have let them!) They truly loved it. And really, what’s not to love? A nice bone-in piece of meat with slits all over the surface stuffed with slivered garlic and fresh rosemary. Then liberally slathered with oil, sprinkled with salt and pepper, and baked to a medium rare. What person of any age could resist this delicacy?

Now granted, lamb isn’t cheap. But because it’s so lean, it doesn’t shrink as much as beef either.

So attached is a recipe for ground lamb that has tons of flavor and is a good way to introduce your family to the joy that is lamb. (Of course, even if your family are already lamby pie lovers, you can fix this recipe. The flavor just won’t be as much of a pleasant surprise.) I take that back. Because of all the herbs and spices, the flavor is still going to be a pleasant surprise! So regardless of your families’ level of culinary acquaintance with baby sheep, fix this quick and easy recipe while it is still BBQing season. You won’t be sorry.

And for all you parents out there introducing your children to lamb for the first time, at least you won’t have to explain that the lamb on the table absolutely did not come from Shari Lewis’s puppet Lambchop! True story! Thanks for the memories kids. Love you mucho!

  • 1 clove garlic, finely minced
  • 1 T. finely chopped red onion
  • 1 T. chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1 T. dry sherry
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • ¼ tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/8 tsp. ground allspice
  • pinch crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 lb. ground lamb, room temperature

Combine the garlic, onion, cilantro, dry sherry, salt, pepper, cumin, oregano, allspice, and red pepper flakes in a bowl. Add the ground lamb and gently combine with the other ingredients. Don’t overwork the meat. Divide into 3 or 4 patties. While you are forming the patties don’t over press the meat together; just work enough so that the meat retains its shape and doesn’t fall through the grill while it is cooking. (Not good form and you will lose points if the patties fall apart on the grill!)

Place the patties on a medium hot grill and do not overcook. A little red in the middle is perfect. Let rest for 3-4 minutes before serving. Serve with Tzatziki (recipe below). Also great with Cucumbers with a Yogurt, Feta, and Dill Dressing.

TZATZIKI  

  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 c. plain Greek Yogurt
  • 3 small or 2 medium garlic cloves, finely minced
  • ½ tsp. dill weed
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt, or more to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 English cucumber, partially peeled, seeded, and grated

Combine all ingredients. Adjust seasoning. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.

HUMMUS A TUNE MR. C.

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So what is this thing called hummus, and what in the heck is tahini? Those were just 2 of the questions I asked Mr. C the first time he took me to his favorite Middle Eastern restaurant. (Having just recovered from raising and educating about a dozen (or so it seemed) children, I hadn’t had a lot of time or disposable income to go out to any but the most inexpensive of restaurants.) In fact, the only ethnic restaurants I patronized, and then on an infrequent basis, were Mexican, Chinese, or Italian (pizza).

So here I am in a restaurant with this guy I hardly know and he orders some of the best food I ever tasted. Well, I’ll tell you what – his choice of restaurants was one of the contributing factors to my falling head over heels in love. That and the fact that he was pretty darn cute, played the piano, and in casual conversation had mentioned those three little words every girl longs to hear – medical and dental! (He must have been paying attention to one of the comments made by Kaetche, one of the Fabulous Fenderskirts during one of their concerts. She often alluded to the fact that “I love you” was almost passé. What woman really wanted to hear was “medical and dental”.)

Anyway, it was Mr. C who really taught me to appreciate the many delights offered by some of the ethnic restaurants in the Seattle area. And as I discovered fantastic new foods, I would buy cook books (those were the days before internet) and try to duplicate the dishes in my own kitchen. And of course I would try them out on Mr. C. That was almost 24 years ago, and the poor guy is still my number one human guinea pig victim food tester.

But of all the foods I tried early on in our relationship, it was hummus that first captured my taste buds. And since then I must have prepared hummus at least 75 times. It is just a wonderful appetizer, goes beautifully with all kinds of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food, and is easy and economical to prepare. And all the main ingredients are super foods in their own right.

Garbanzo beans (chickpeas) are full of protein and fiber. (Black beans are good for us too!) Tahini (sesame seed paste) is loaded with copper, manganese, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, iron, zinc, selenium, vitamin B1, and fiber. Garlic is an excellent source of manganese which helps contain essential enzymes and antioxidants that assist with the healthy formation of bones and connective tissues, bone metabolism, calcium absorption, and proper thyroid function. Garlic contains 17% of the daily value of vitamin B6, and 15% of vitamin C, along with goodly amounts of calcium, phosphorus, and selenium. And last but not least, extra virgin olive oil is a monounsaturated fatty acid which is considered a healthy dietary fat.

So next time you want to do your mouth a favor as well as your entire body, whirl up a batch of any one of the three hummus recipes given below. They are all delicious and ever so easy to prepare.

Before I go any further, I would like to share a trick I recently learned about fresh garlic. If you are using fresh garlic in a recipe, but would like to reduce a bit of the “bite”, warm the peeled garlic cloves in a small bowl covered by milk. You only want to warm the cloves in your microwave, not cook them. Then remove the cloves from the milk and slice or mince according to your recipe. You will find that the flavor is still there, but the bite has mysteriously disappeared.

HUMMUS

  • 1 (15-oz.) can garbanzo beans, drained and liquid reserved
  • juice of 1 lemon, or more to taste
  • 1 T. extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste and for drizzling
  • 3-4 T. tahini (either purchased or homemade) – see recipe below
  • 2 cloves garlic, rough chopped
  • dash Sriracha or to taste
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. paprika, plus more for sprinkling
  • 2 tsp. finely chopped fresh parsley, garnish, opt.
  • kalamata olives, opt.

In an electric blender or food processor, process the garbanzo beans (also known as chickpeas), lemon juice, olive oil, tahini, garlic, Sriracha, salt, and paprika until smooth and creamy. Add reserved liquid from garbanzo beans if consistency is not as creamy as desired. Add more lemon if not tangy enough or more olive oil if it seems like the hummus needs more depth of flavor. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (The hummus can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated. Return to room temperature before serving.) Serve on a flat plate garnished with parsley, a light sprinkling of paprika, a drizzle of olive oil, and a few kalamata olives. Warm pita bread is great with hummus as are Pita Chips (see recipe below).

ROASTED RED PEPPER HUMMUS

  • 1 (15-oz.) can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 roasted red pepper, or more to taste
  • 3- 4 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1½ T. tahini (either purchased or homemade) – see recipe below
  • 1 small clove garlic, rough chopped
  • ½ tsp. ground cumin
  • dash Sriracha
  • ¼ tsp. kosher salt
  • paprika

In an electric blender or food processor, puree the garbanzo beans, red pepper, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, cumin, Sriracha, and salt. Process the mixture until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a serving bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour. (The hummus can be made up to 3 days ahead and refrigerated. Return to room temperature before serving.) Sprinkle with paprika before serving.

SPICY BLACK BEAN HUMMUS

  • 1 garlic clove
  • 2 T. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 T. tahini
  • 1 tsp. ground cumin
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • 1 (15-oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • ½ fresh jalapeno pepper, chopped
  • 1/8 tsp. Sriracha hot chili sauce (available in almost every grocery store)
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • paprika

Place garlic in food processor; process until finely chopped. Add lemon juice, tahini, cumin, salt, black beans, jalapeno, and Sriracha. Process until very smooth. Place mixture in small bowl, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and sprinkle with paprika. Serve with Pita Chips (see recipe below) or I like Stacy’s Simply Naked that can be found at Costco.

Note: I found this basic recipe in Cooking Light. I made a couple of slight modifications, because that’s what I do, but the “bones of the recipe” remain untouched.

TAHINI 

  • 1 c. toasted* sesame seeds (plain old fashioned white hulled sesame seeds)
  • 3 T. extra virgin olive oil, or more if needed
  • half a pinch of kosher salt, opt.

Place the cooled sesame seeds in a food processor. Whirl for about 3 minutes or until the seeds make a crumbly paste. Add the oil and salt; process until you have a smooth, thick paste. Add more oil if a thinner tahini is desired. Store the tahini for up to a month in an airtight container in your refrigerator. Use in any of your favorite recipes.

*place the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Toast the seeds until they are lightly colored (not brown) and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Cool completely before using.

PITA CHIPS

  • 6 pita breads
  • 1½ tsp. granulated garlic
  • 2 tsp. kosher salt
  • pinch cayenne
  • 1½ tsp. ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 2 T. extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Cut each of the pitas into 8 triangles. Combine the granulated garlic, salt, cayenne, cumin, dried oregano, and olive oil in a medium sized bowl. Add the pita pieces and toss well; spread out on a sheet pan. Bake until golden brown and crisp, about 10 to 15 minutes, shaking the pan once during cooking. Cool and serve.

Note: If baking ahead, store in an airtight container. If they get soft, warm then just before serving in a 350 oven for a couple of minutes.

PASTA SALAD

In my estimation there is nothing better than a good pasta salad and nothing worse than a bad pasta salad. Until I met this pasta salad, I had never tasted one that I considered worth a darn. They had all seemed utterly flavorless to me, and frankly not worth the calories. (And darn it, if I am going to take in idle calories, i.e. pasta, the other ingredients better taste pretty bloomin’ good!) So, when I first tasted this salad, I knew I had met the pasta salad of my dreams.

It all started with a wedding in the bluebird capital of the world – Bickleton, Washington. This little eastern Washington town and surrounding area boast literally thousands of birdhouses purposely built to house their beloved bluebirds. And even though the town isn’t large enough to support a gas station, it does have the Bluebird tavern (opened in 1882) and a great little store/café. (Obviously their priorities are in the right place.) Bickleton is also the home of the state’s oldest rodeo. (This year’s 96th annual Pioneer Picnic and Rodeo will be held on the second week-end in June.)  And featured every year at the picnic and rodeo is one of the west’s oldest carousels, a 1905 Herschell-Spillman. It is set up and used only on rodeo week-end. So if you want to take a spin (so-to speak), I would advise you to go on line (bickleton.org) and learn more about the event.  But back to the wedding and the pasta salad recipe……..

It all started when Mr. C. was asked to play for a wedding. Since we worked with Dave the groom (a native of Bickleton), knew the bride-to-be (JoAnne) and were close friends with the bride’s sister (Mary), Mr. C. jumped at the chance. Then we found out that the wedding was being held in Bickleton. Bickleton? Where in the world of carmen sandiego is Bickleton we asked? As it was explained to us, it’s in eastern Washington near Goldendale. There you go! So to Bickleton we ventured.

As it turned out, our entire day to and from Bickleton was delightful. We got to experience a completely new to us area of our state. The wedding was beautiful, the music divine (of course), and the food at the reception, some of the best I have ever tasted. As it turned out, the reception food had been prepared by friends of the bride who were caterers. Not being the shy unassuming person that I depict myself to be on my blog, I marched right up to the head caterer and asked for the pasta salad recipe. She looked me up and down, determined that I probably wasn’t worthy (just the wife of the piano guy after all), and turned me down. Huh! So being the devious devil that I am, I asked my friend Mary to get it for me, which she did. Ha! And I have been making it ever since! And truly, it is absolutely delicious. (Nothing boring about this salad!) The combination of flavors is perfect, and with nary a drop of mayonnaise to be had, this salad is perfect for a picnic or potluck.

So whenever I hear Angela, one of our dearest friends, talk about her home town of Bickleton, I am always magically transported back to our first time in this delightful little town. And of course, in my remembrance I am always eating this wonderful pasta salad for the first time. But thankfully I can experience this flavor sensation any old time I want. So give this recipe a try. It’s easy to prepare, and best when made the day before. (I love salads that can and should be prepared ahead!)

In closing, I would like to raise a toast to small towns. Some of the nicest, most erudite people I know were either raised in a small town or currently live in one. Large towns are lovely too of course, but small, rural settings will always claim my heart. Cheers!

  • 1 lb. fusilli or multi-colored spiral pasta cooked al dente, drained and cooled
  • ¼ c. chopped red onion
  • ½ c. drained and chopped sun dried tomatoes
  • 1 c. pitted kalamata olives, sliced
  • 4 c. thinly sliced fresh baby spinach leaves
  • ¼ c. finely minced fresh parsley
  • ½ c. extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 T. red wine vinegar
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • ¾ to 1 lb. crumbled French feta cheese

In a large salad bowl combine the pasta, red onion, sun dried tomatoes, olives, spinach, and parsley. In a small bowl whisk together the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt, and pepper. Pour dressing over pasta mixture and toss lightly. Add feta and gently toss until feta is well distributed. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Serve at room temperature.