Monday, August 27, 2007

Mediterranean Meatballs: Köfte or Keftedes with two Sauces

It's been a hot summer in Atlanta. Work has been busy, plus the Athens family restaurant business has occupied me on the weekends. I've been deficient on getting recipes onto the blog. So here's one from my cooking class at Evening at Emory. It's seasonal for summer, and can be served on a cool-temperatured buffet or picnic. But it also makes an excellent hot dish for dinner, accompanied by a rice pilaf (see my earlier 1/5/07 blog posting from the archives).

All sorts of tasty meatballs are concocted in the Mediterranean and Middle East. The beautiful but easily made treats in this recipe are the small savory appetizer meatballs of lamb or beef that are known as köfte in Turkish and keftedes in Greek. Lamb, if you can get reasonably lean ground lamb, is the most luscious, but good ground beef, chuck or sirloin, works quite well too. The meat balls are served with sesame (tahini) and lemon sauce, or with a yogurt-cucumber-dill sauce (çaçik in Turkish, tzadziki in Greek). They can even be served with a sort of marinara sauce (see my earlier 8/7/06 blog posting in the archives) but with some cinnamon added toward the end of cooking. For serving, the meat balls are piled up on a platter and sloshed down with the sauce. They are then colorfully garnished, if desired, with pomegranate seeds and cilantro or parsley leaves, and sprinkled with the herb sumac, if available. The recipe serves six as an appetizer, four as part of a main course.

Eastern Mediterranean Meatballs Tim

1 pound fairly lean ground lamb, beef, or a mixture
1 small onion, minced
1 small (e.g., roma) tomato, quartered, seeds and juice removed, and flesh chopped finely
1 egg
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon oregano
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of cayenne
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro or parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 recipe of sesame-lemon sauce or yogurt-cucumber-dill sauce (see recipes, below)
1 pomegranate, if available
Coarsely chopped cilantro (coriander) leaf or parsley

Set oven for 400 degrees (380 if convection). Oil a cookie sheet (with sides).

Combine the meat, onion, tomato, egg, seasonings, cilantro or parsley, and lemon juice. Knead the mixture well. With hands moistened with water, roll the mixture into balls either 1 inch or 1-1/4 inch in diameter. Place them on the oiled cookie sheet with space between them. (If desired, they can be refrigerated at this point.) Roast them in the preheated oven (top rack) for 16 minutes, stirring them after the first 10 minutes, and remove them from the oven.

While the meatballs are baking, make the sesame-lemon sauce, or the yogurt-cucumber-dill sauce, and cut open the pomegranate and collect and separate about 2 tablespoons of the seeds into a bowl. Coarsely chop the cilantro or parsley.

When the meatballs are cooked, run a spatula under them so they don’t stick to the pan. Lift them from the baking sheet with tongs and arrange them on a platter. Spoon the tahini-lemon sauce or the yogurt-cucumber-dill sauce over the meatballs, sprinkle them with the pomegranate seeds, and dust with chopped cilantro or parsley.

Tahini-Lemon Sauce

3 tablespoons tahini (ground sesame seed paste)
4 tablespoons lemon juice
Water sufficient to make a creamy mixture
Salt to taste

Whisk together well, adding water bit by bit. The tahini will harden up for a while, but then soften into a creamy texture as more water is whisked in. Add salt to taste.

Yogurt-cucumber-dill sauce

Peel and seed a medium-sized cucumber, and grate the flesh on the coarse side of a grater. Squeeze out the juice. Add the cucumber to 1 cup whole milk or part skim yogurt, along with 1/4 teaspoon salt and a small clove of garlic put through a press or finely minced. Add 1 tablespoon of freshly snipped or cut dill. Combine the mixture well. Let sit a few minutes, then taste and adjust the salt.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Roasted Beets with Goat Cheese

A wonderful treat while beets are still relatively new is beets roasted in a little oil and served with a complementary fixing like goat cheese. It also reduces your kitchen time, which is a blessing in this summer heat.

It's full summer in Atlanta. This has been a record-setting summer with dozens of days over a hundred. We had not previously reached 100 since the year 2000. (That's a little secret of Atlanta, that generally our summers are milder than New Jersey, plus we are much better equipped -- read air conditioned.) But this summer no one wants to cook much in a hot kitchen. So here's a terrrific simple hot summer evening meal, roasted beets with goat cheese, accompanied by good bread and good salad featuring garden fresh tomatoes. (Those we had this evening were courtesy of Kevin, Maria's fiancee, who is working this summer on an organic community-supported farm.)

Roasted beets couldn't be easier. The only important thing is to get -- or raise -- good sweet beets which are non-fibrous. (The ones from the local farm in spring, or from California at other times, are not designed for storage and are sweet and without fiber.) The only thing is to peel them before cooking and to use a little olive oil and salt for the roasting. The best goat cheese I have had recently is the fines-herbes goat cheese from Canada, known as "Madame Chevre". Other soft goat cheeses will serve also, includng the ones made in Vermont and in France. It's the soft cheese with either finely minced fresh herbs on the outide or grape-vine ashes as a coating that I particularly like. You want the soft unripened cheese, not the aged cheeses such as the fabulous goat cheese from La Mancha in Spain ("Mancheco cabra") or from the Mediterranean. Save the aged goat cheeses for tapas or dessert or taking on camping trips, where they keep well in a back pack.

This dish will serve as a main part of a cool dinner on a hot summer evening (like tonight for the family) or as a major appetizer course for a full, fancier meal. The quantity is sufficient for six people. The dish goes especially well with a chilled, slightly acidic white wine such as a sauvignon blanc (especially from New Zealand) or a light-bodied chardonnay, such a from Australia or Washington state.

Roasted Beets Tim with Fresh Goat Cheese

1-1/2 to 2 pounds young, not very large beets (maximum of 2-1/2 inches diameter)
A little salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound fresh soft goat cheese, such as "Madame Chevre" from Canada

Crusty French or Italian bread for accompaniment

Heat oven to 360 degrees. Peel the beets and trim off the stems and tails. Cut in half then into four pieces for each half. Sprinkle lightly with salt, then with olive oil. Toss together then set them out on a cookie sheet. Roast 10 minutes, then turn them with a spatula. Roast them another 20 to 30 minutes, or until tender. Test with a two-pronged fork or toothpick for doneness, and bake a little longer if needed.

When baked, let the beets cool somewhat and place them on part of a platter and put the log of goat cheese on the other end of the platter. Parsley is an optional garnish.

Enjoy with warm crusty bread and a salad.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ratatouille: French Provençal medley of summer vegetables

We’ve been away on vacation (from which several recipes will eventually show up in blog postings), and my writing has been delinquent. But the season is already passing into late mid-summer, and our restaurant and deli in Athens opens back up tomorrow, my Evening-at-Emory cooking classes begin next week, and I'm cooking a lot.

Produce is more plentiful. And with all the summer vegetables coming in, it’s a great time for that delicious vegetable medley, ratatouille, which can be served either hot as the vegetable in a meal, or cold on the buffet or picnic table. In either case, it can be made ahead, so lunch or dinner time is easier.

A classic, ratatouille (ra-ta-tóo-ee) is from Provençe, in the south of France. Like much of Mediterranean cuisine, this dish is as vibrant and complex in flavor as it is colorful with the bright hues of summer. The cooking “trick” is soaking the cut eggplant in salted water before sautéing to remove its bitterness. The recipe serves six generously. Wines that would go well with this are fruity and DRY, and served slightly (for reds) to very (for rosés) chilled. If French and red, they would include Côtes du Rhône or a Grenache (Garnacha if Spanish) or a dry rosé such as Côtes de Provençe or Rosé d’Anjou.

Ratatouille Tim

1 small-medium sized eggplant
4 small zucchini
1 medium sweet red pepper
1 medium onion
1 large stalk celery
2 medium-large tomatoes
1 medium-large clove of garlic
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon oregano
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1/8 teaspoon thyme
1 large pinch rosemary leaves (fresh preferred)
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons capers
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley

Wash the eggplant and cut off the stem. Peel off four lengthwise strips of skin, leaving part of the skin in between. Cut eggplant lengthwise into quarters, through the peeled part. Cut the quarters into chunks 1-inch long. Soak eggplant 20-30 minutes in well-salted water to remove the bitter juices. Cut the zucchini crosswise into 3/4-inch slices (if the zucchini are more than 1-1/2 inches wide, cut them in half lengthwise before slicing). Core the red pepper and cut flesh into 1-inch squares. Chop the onions coarsely. Cut the celery into 1/2-inch lengths on a slight diagonal. Mince the garlic. Quarter the tomato, push out the seeds with your fingers, and cut the tomato into 1/2-inch pieces.

In a large frying pan, heat the olive oil and gently fry the onion until translucent. Add the garlic and celery and fry gently for 2 minutes. Drain eggplant pieces and add them plus the zucchini to the pan. Stir and fry 2-3 minutes, adding a little water to keep from sticking. Add the red bell pepper plus the black pepper, oregano, paprika, thyme, and rosemary, a half teaspoon salt, and several tablespoons of water. Cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are becoming tender (15-20 min). Add the tomatoes and a little salt. When the vegetables are tender, stir in the capers. Taste and if necessary add a little more salt. Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, sugar, and parsley.

This can be served hot, or cooled and served warm or room temperature later. When serving, drizzle with a little olive oil and chopped parsley.