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Tag Archives: mediterranean

Israeli Couscous with Apples, Mint, and Feta

11 Oct

Isreaeli Couscous with Apples, Mint, and Feta 6

Sometimes, I admit, I take it upon myself to right the wrongs of this world. In many ways, I’m surprised that I haven’t gotten the shit kicked out of me at some point in the last 30 years. I’d like to think that my beard and size make me appear brazen, but probably not. I usually give enough contempt to get my point across while managing to stave off any potential ass-kicking coming my way. Perhaps bringing forth some examples might conjure up the reasons why I still have most of my teeth, only self-inflicted facial scars, and a largely in-tact nose.

In Santa Maria, California, the city in which I live, people generally do not regard “No Parking” signs or red curbs. One afternoon, a gentleman parked his truck right underneath a “No Stopping Anytime” sign to let his wife into the local mall and to enjoy what appeared to be a Marlboro Red. His obstruction basically caused a traffic jam on the little two-lane mall frontage road, and he was oblivious to it all. When it came my turn to pass him, I stopped, rolled down my passenger window, and addressed him thusly:

“I wish I could do whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. Like parking in a no parking zone, like you.”

“Me too!” he replied.

“You’re a complete asshole!” I replied, and sped away quickly.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone behind me in a grocery store line starts putting their items on the conveyer belt when I haven’t finished placing my items on there. As the conveyer belt keeps running, their items come towards me and slowly leave me no room for the rest of my stuff; I basically have to hand my groceries to the cashier because there’s nowhere else to put them. One time, a very tall and large man did this to me, and I pointed out his seeming lack of attention to the situation at hand.

“Calm the fuck down,” he generously replied to me.

“Oh! That’s wonderful! And thanks for giving my 3-year-old a new vocabulary word!”

“Get over it, jerk,” was his next insight.

“How about you wait until I’m finished and then put your stuff on the belt, which would be normal and intelligent.”

“Why don’t you just shut up?” he queried.

I said nothing at this point. But when I left, I got his attention and blew on my thumb until my middle finger popped up in his direction. I then left quickly.

Lastly, a few years ago in the autumn, my neighbor Mark alerted me that middle school miscreants were jacking apples from my tree on their ways home from school. “Jon, they’re filling their backpacks and takin’ ’em home. I mean a shitload of ’em.”

“Oh yeah?”

Well, that warranted a bit of stealth on my part. So, the next day, I hid in my garage with a view of the apple tree and my angry beard in tact. I waited until the first pair o’ kiddos was under the tree when I came around and cornered them. I’m guessing one had to do an underwear check at home after I lifted him up by his backpack a foot off of the ground, spewing vitriol and police threats, his friend darting toward the sidewalk. I’ve never seen two teenagers run so fast in my life. After five more confrontations that afternoon, I was exuberant and my tree protected. To this day, almost three years later, kids walk on the other side of my street and eye me suspiciously. The lore has been passed down. Siblings know who I am if they get my class and I get a full load of apples every year now.

So, after reviewing these instances, I realize that cowardice underlies a lot of the reasons why I haven’t gotten a good beating. Alas. But I’m getting braver, so we’ll see…

Most importantly, now that I have all of my apples, I can make all sorts of bitchin’ dishes, such as this Israeli Couscous with Apples, Mint, and Feta. This is an easy fall side which pairs excellently with any Mediterranean dish, I would think. I got the base recipe from delish.com and only tweaked it a bit. They make this a cold salad, but I made it as a warm side dish. Both rock, I would guess.

Israeli Coucous with Apples, Mint, and Feta

Serves 6 or so

Ingredients:

3 tbsp. olive oil, divided

1 cup Israeli couscous

2 cups water

1/4 tsp. salt or to taste

2 tbsp. minced shallot (use onion in a pinch)

2 apples, cored, peeled, and diced (Use whatever kid you have; I have Granny Smith and they work famously.)

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint

1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (I omit them to cut the fat and calories)

1/2 tsp. oregano (1 tsp. freshly chopped, if you have it)

4 oz. crumbled Feta cheese

Freshly ground pepper to taste, about 1/2 tsp.

Makin’ It:

In a medium saucepan, heat 1 tbsp. of olive oil over medium heat. Add in the couscous and get it golden brown, shaking the pan occasionally, about 3 minutes or so. Add in the water and the salt and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer it until it’s tender, about 6 to 8 minutes. Drain the couscous.

In the same pan, add another tablespoon of olive oil and heat it over medium heat. Add in the shallots and saute them until soft, about 3 minutes. Add in the apples and the drained couscous and let them get happy for a few minutes, stirring a few times. Remove this from the heat and transfer it to a large bowl.

In that bowl, add in the lemon juice, chopped mint, pine nuts (if using), and the oregano. Stream the last tablespoon of olive oil over it and toss it all together lightly. Transfer it to a serving dish. Top it with the Feta crumbles and pepper. Serve. Easy as a hippie needing a beer at Burning Man.

Isreaeli Couscous with Apples, Mint, and Feta 7

And if you need apples, I got a ton. You’ll find me hiding in the garage.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

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Israeli Couscous

13 Apr

Israeli Couscous 3

In one of my first posts, I shared an Israeli couscous recipe attached to a recipe for tandoori chicken pitas.  The pictures were horrible and did not do the dish justice.  Moreover, it was part of a very convoluted post and it was the first time I made it.  Since then, I have made it a few times, tweaked the recipe, and I am now certain that this will make anyone’s nipples erect and tingly.  So I decided to do a separate post on it.

This dish could be a meal in and of itself.  If you grill up some chicken breasts, slice them, and put it on top of this, you have a very healthy and tasty dinner.  Use vegetable broth and it’s vegetarian.  Any sort of candied nuts will do, and they are easily made if you have plain ol’ nuts in the pantry (“Nuts in the Pantry” sounds like a great album name or a Three Stooges episode, no?).

This recipe was originally inspired by the recipe on the back Trader Joe’s Israeli Couscous.

Israeli Couscous

Serves 6 at least

Ingredients:

2 tbsp. olive oil

1/2 cup red onion or shallots

1 1/2 cups Israeli couscous

1 cinnamon stick

1 bay leaf

2 cups broth (chicken or vegetable would be best)

1/2 tsp. salt

a handful of chopped parsely, chopped

lemon zest from 1/2 of a lemon

1/4 cup chopped candied nuts (I got the candied walnuts from Trader Joe’s and they’re unreal) or pine nuts

1/4 cup of raisins or similar dried fruit (figs, cranberries, etc.)

black pepper to taste

Makin’ It:

In a medium sauce pan over medium to medium high heat, heat the olive oil and saute the onion until it’s golden, about 7 minutes.  Add the couscous, cinnamon stick, and bay leaf, and saute until the couscous starts to get golden, about four minutes and stirring often.

Slowly pour in the chicken broth and add the salt.  Bring it to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover, and let cook for 12 minutes or until tender.  Uncover, fluff, add in the parsley, lemon zest, nuts, raisins, and pepper, and mix well. Sprinkle with additional parsley and you’re rockin’, like this:

Israeli Couscous 2

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Moroccan-Spiced Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad

3 Mar

Carrot and Avocado Salad 010

I think one of the biggest compliments I have ever received on a dish I have made was for this one.

A few years ago, I made this as a side for my Baked Penne with Butternut Squash and Ricotta (https://dinnerwithjonny.com/2012/12/26/baked-penne-with-butternut-squash-and-ricotta/).  I had a meeting that evening at school, and I knew that my principal probably had her nose to the grindstone the entire day, so I decided to bring her some dinner (I AM Italian, so I want to feed everyone if I can).  I showed up a bit early for the meeting, gave her the dishes, and went to grade some papers until the meeting started.  About ten minutes later, I heard, “Jon!  What did you put in that salad?  My mouth is dancing with flavor right now!” I explained the recipe below and told her I would send it to her.  I even got a thank you note for this with similar sentiments on how much she loved the salad.  The reason this was such a big compliment to me is because I know that she’s a foodie, and I managed to impress her with some flavors that she hadn’t experienced.

If anyone makes this salad, you will totally understand why anyone would be impressed.  This is not a pussified salad either; it borders on a main course, and its flavors will titillate the erogenous zones of an entire party, if you make it for them.  The substance of the roasted carrots, avocado, and grilled bread, kissed with the seeds and the dressing, create pure pleasure and satisfaction.  It took me about an hour and a half to make it the first time, but now that I got the hang of it, it’s 45 minutes tops.

By the way, this recipe, with only a few modifications, is straight from Jamie Oliver, that British kid whose food show is quite bitchin.’  But, he’s British and therefore writes in a funny accent and he uses the metric system.  I write using the U.S. Customary Unit, which isn’t nearly as confusing as the metric system, that 10-based thingie where everything translates logically and easily. Most importantly, I do not write in a funny accent, so I have an edge on him.

A few years ago, Jamie would do a half-hour show (Jamie Does…wherever) that focused on dishes of a particular region.  The recipes from Morocco totally intrigued me because I was almost completely uneducated as to the culture and cuisine. So I went on sort of a Moroccan kick for a while, and I will write about those recipes in the coming months because they tend to be more springy and summery dishes (Africa can be hot, from what I hear).

In any case, this would be a great salad to make and serve a while (like an hour) before dinner because it is filling.  It will give people more incentive to drink good wine and loosen their jaws a bit.

Moroccan-Spiced Roasted Carrot and Avocado Salad

Serves about 4

Ingredients:

1 lb. carrots, the neato heirloom ones are best, but regular ones are fine too

2 tsp. cumin seeds

1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes

1/2 tsp. each of salt and ground black pepper

2 cloves garlic, peeled

2 tbsp. fresh thyme leaves, or 1 1/2 tsp. dried

3 tbsp. olive oil

1 tbsp. red wine vinegar

1 orange, halved

1 lemon, halved

2 or 3 ripe avocados (I love more, but it’s up to you)

Ciabbata or a rustic-type bread, cut into about four slices, and grilled a bit

Enough mixed greens for four small salads, washed and drained

1/2 cup sour cream

4 tbsp. mixed seeds (I used poppy and sesame, and I would have used pepitas if I had them)

Makin’ It:

Preheat the oven to 350°.

You can peel or not peel the carrots, depending on your preference.  Cut the ends off of them and put them in some boiling water (to parboil them) for about 10 minutes.  While they’re boiling, make the seasoning for the roasting part.

Using a mortar and pestle (I am guessing a spice grinder would work here too, but not when you add the garlic and wet ingredients), smash up the cumin seeds, chilies, salt, and pepper.  Add the garlic and the thyme and smash all of this up into a kind of paste.  Add in the olive oil to cover up the paste (add more if you need to)  and the vinegar.  This is the marinade for those carrots when they come out of the boiling water.

Put the halved oranges and lemons face down in a roasting or baking dish.  Drain the carrots, add them to the baking dish, and carefully coat them with the herb-y paste-y marinade. Roast this for 30 minutes.

While everything’s in the oven, cut the peeled and pitted avocados into slices.  Wash the greens and get your act together.

When the carrots are done, remove them and divide them amongst four plates.  Carefully and using tongs, squeeze the orange and lemon halves well into a bowl  (I mean carefully because the fruit will be fucking hot).  Add an equal amount of olive oil and a swig of red wine vinegar (1 tbsp. or so, but taste and adjust if you need to, kiddo).  Season it with salt and pepper.

Divide the avocado between the four plates.  Take the greens and toss them with some of the dressing.  Top the avocado with the greens, dollops of sour cream, and the seeds.  Tear pieces of the grilled bread around it too.  Drizzle  more of the dressing over the salads and serve.  You will get this:

Carrot and Avocado Salad 016

The colors alone warrant a collective thrill and hug-fest.  Get some wine involved and lifetime friendships will be made, to be sure. There are lots of Moroccan chicken soups and stews that would compliment this salad well.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013

Chicken Gyros Easy Peasy

20 Feb

gyros 006

In Santa Maria, California, where we live, the food scene flat out sucks.  If you want steak, we have the best damn steakhouses around.  Mexican food?  Ubiquitous.  We have burger joints that will make your knees shake.  But beyond these types o’ places, you need to travel a bit.  For example, the best Italian food, besides my house, is at Olive Garden.  I suppose that I’m spoiled from living in Southern California for the first 33 years of my life.  The irony is that, down in O.C., we had problems figuring out where to eat because there were too many options.

Every time I see a new restaurant getting set to open here in the SMC, I wistfully hope for something new, something different, something original, or something that will just make me optimistic about this town.  But 99% of the time, it’s a fucking steak house or Mexican restaurant that opens, leaving me to curse my fate and stomp in circles in front of their “new” restaurant while talking to myself in tongues (I’ve become popular in this regard, at least).

Good Mediterranean food just can’t be found around here.  If a pizza-type Greek place opens up, it usually lasts a year or two and then it folds up without fanfare.  There is a place north of here, in Nipomo, California, called Antonio’s which is about as close to authentic as one could get.  But it is a bit pricey for a young family, so I have to suffer without gyros and moussaka and the like.  On the positive side, it gives me the impetus to branch out and start making Greek food.

I got the gyro recipe below online at  http://basil-albi.blogspot.com/2011/11/chicken-gyros-with-tzatziki-sauce.html?m=1.

It didn’t  have much in the way of explaining the process, but the recipe itself is a keeper.  I have always wondered what made gyros taste the way they do.  This recipe showed me.  It’s easy and quick, too, kiddo.  The grill pan gets a bit juicy, but it doesn’t burn like a BBQ sauce or Asian sauce does.  An outside grill would have no problems.

Chicken Gyros Easy Peasy

Makes about 6 Gyros

Chicken Marinade Ingredients:

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into slices or strips

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tbsp. lemon juice

2 tbsp. chopped garlic (yes, there’s a lot of it)

1 tsp. dried oregano (I am thinking fresh would kick ass here)

1/2 tsp. cumin

1/2 tsp. onion powder

1 tsp. salt

Makin’ the Marinade:

Mix everything up in a zip-lock bag or a non-reactive dish that you can cover.  Put it in the fridge for an hour or until you’re ready. Mix it up every so often.

When you’re ready, take out the strips and shake off the excess marinade.  Grill them over medium high heat until cooked through, about 12 to 15 minutes total.

Tzatziki Sauce Ingredients:

1 cup of roughly chopped cucumber

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt

1/4 cup sour cream

1 tsp. chopped fresh mint

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1 garlic clove, chopped

1/4 tsp. salt

Makin’ the Sauce:

Put everything in a food processor and pulse it until the chunks are broken down fairly well.  You still want texture, so don’t go nuts on this and let it puree while you make a cocktail.  If you don’t have a food processor, just chop everything finely and blend them together well.  Either way, put it into a dish in the fridge until you’re ready to use it.

If you’re in a hurry, get the tzatziki sauce from Trader Joe’s or someplace comparable and you’ll be fine.  But, the homemade still kicks the store-bought sauce in the nuts with puissance.

Stuff to Build the Gyro

Pita bread

sliced red onion

lettuce

tomato

Sriracha (me only, unless you too are obsessed)

Put it all together and you get this:

gyros 007

I made these Greek potatoes to go with this using Bobby Flay’s recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/bobby-flay/greek-potatoes-with-lemon-vinaigrette-recipe/index.html.

They were unreal, but be sure to flip them regularly or you’ll have some serious charring going on.  The flavor was perfect with the gyros.

Until later, eat, drink, and peace out.

©Jon Marino 2013