Thursday, August 23, 2012

Dad's Gazpacho

Dad was a genius in the kitchen and would spend hours concocting the most elaborate feasts—often for no occasion at all. He just loved cooking. I can only dream of becoming a fraction as talented in the kitchen as dad was. He was really something special.

While there’s nothing too elaborate about this particular dish, it is the best gazpacho I’ve ever had—Dad spent years perfecting it. Like any gazpacho, this recipe is especially delicious when you can get fresh, local veggies. Exotic, unusual-tasting heirloom tomatoes can also give this soup interesting dimensions. Only for summertime!

Prep time: 1 cocktail 

1 box of croutons, divided
¾ cup chopped celery
½ very small onion
1-1.5 large cucumber, chopped
1 red or yellow bell pepper, chopped
4 tomatoes chopped
2 garlic cloves, (NO MORE!) minced
4 Tbsp red wine vinegar
½ tsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp +1 tsp Tabasco
1.5 cups cold veggie stock
2 cups cold tomato juice (Snappy Tom is best)
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
Italian flat-leaf parsley (optional)

Blend 1 cup of croutons into crumbs in food processor or blender. Set aside.

Next, combine celery, onion, cucumber, bell pepper, tomato, and garlic in food processor. Mix well.

Now combine crouton crumbs, veggie mixture, and all remaining ingredients in a blender and mix well.

Depending on the tomato juice used, it may be necessary to add additional salt to taste.  

Serve chilled with additional whole croutons on top. Also garnish with a drizzle of good olive oil, parsley and additional minced veggies, if you like. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012


This dip is versatile and is great with many foods. It's a great for chips or pita, is awesome with most Middle Eastern foods, and solves conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Yeah, it's that good.

If you can't find Greek yogurt, you can make your own. Buy a tub of plain, full fat or lowfat yogurt (fuck that fat-free shit--tastes like donkey dick). Now, take a large strainer or colander and line the inside with triple-layered cheesecloth. Pour the yogurt into the cheesecloth and place the whole thing in the fridge above a large bowl or other dish to catch the drippings. In 12 hours, it's ready. Remove from fridge and discard drippings. The Greek yogurt in the cheesecloth is ready to use.

Prep time: 1/2 cocktail

2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of ½ large lemon
¼ tsp and pepper to taste
½ tsp salt (or more to taste)
8 ounces Greek yogurt 
1-2 tablespoon chopped fresh dill or fresh mint (or more to taste)
1 medium cucumber
1 clove garlic, minced

Grate the cucumber with a cheese grater and squeeze all the water out of it by wrapping it in cheesecloth and gently but firmly squeezing. After this, spread cucumber in a colander and toss it with some salt. Let is stand in the sink for 20 minutes. The salt will draw out any remaining moisture.

While cucumber drips out, process everything except the cucumber and garlic very well in food processor or blender. Transfer this mixture to a bowl.

Now combine cucumber and garlic with yogurt mixture.

Finally, let the dip sit covered in the fridge a few hours or overnight before serving (it can be really bland at first).

Holy Dolmas!

Dolmas are the amazingly delicious stuffed grape leaves that you might recognize from Middle Eastern restaurants or the salad bar at your natural grocer. Making dolmas from scratch is a bit time-consuming compared with buying the canned variety, but the flavor is even better. Serving these with tzatziki dip or hummus will make you the hit of any party (read: you're not going home alone).

The grape leaves in this recipe can be purchased at any Middle East grocer and most large natural food stores. You can also use your own, if you happen to have grape vines nearby. Just blanch fresh leaves in boiling water for 2-3 minutes or until they soften up. And if you’re using canned leaves, be sure to rinse the brine off them before using.

You can use forbidden black, sushi, brown, or plain old white rice for this recipe. I like forbidden black because the high gluten helps everything stick together and it looks cool. 

Prep time: 2 cocktails

18 or so grape leaves
1 medium red onion, chopped fairly finely
1 cup olive oil, divided
1 cup prepared forbidden black rice
1/3 cup fresh mint, finely chopped
1/3 cup fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
A small handful of fresh dill (finely chopped) or a few shakes dried dill (optional)
2 tsp salt
½ cup pine nuts, finely chopped (optional)
Juice of 2 lemons

Blanch grape leaves if you're using fresh; rinse if you're using canned. Set aside.

To prepare filling: In a large frying pan or wok, heat ¼ cup of the olive oil on medium heat. Sauté onion 6 minutes, stirring frequently. Add rice, mint, parsley, dill (if using), salt, and pine nuts and sauté one more minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat.

To fill each grape leave, place the smooth side DOWN. Add about 1-2 tsp rice mixture per leaf (though this will vary, depending on leaf size). Fold the leaf in half, then fold in sides. Then roll up like a burrito. Be sure you roll tightly, or else they’ll unwrap during cooking.

Arrange the dolmas in a single layer in big round pot or pan that has a snug-fitting lid. Top the dolmas with the remaining ¾ cup olive oil and lemon juice. Next, place a plate on top of dolmas so they don’t float away when you add water… but be careful not to crush them!

Now add BOILING water so it just covers the dolmas (if they’re not tightly packed, only submerge till they’re 2/3 covered).

Place the dolma pot on the stovetop and turn the heat to high. Bring the water to a boil, then put the lid on an reduce to simmer for 60 minutes or until liquid is absorbed.

Once liquid is all cooked off, remove from heat and allow to cool in pot (moving them while hot will break the leaves). Once cool, remove. Serve at room temp or slightly chilled. An extra sprinkle of salt and some lemon wedges are good accompaniments.

Unruly Tabbouleh!!

It's summertime and the garden is kicking tons of ass! What to do with all those tomatoes, cucumbers, green onions, and herbs? Tabbouleh, obviously. This Middle Eastern salad is so damn good, it makes me want to move to Syria. Even now. 

This makes a pretty huge batch. You can always halve it if you wanna avoid a week of leftovers. 

Prep time: 1 cocktail (includes harvest time)

2 cups bulgur (or whole wheat couscous--both available in the bulk section any natural food store)
4 cups water
1 tsp salt
1 medium bunch Italian flat leaf parsley, chopped finely (no curly parsley!)
1 cucumber, chopped
½ cup green onion, chopped
6 tomatoes, chopped (you can certainly use many more tomatoes, if you like)
½ cup lemon juice
½ cup olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1.5 ounces mint (about 6 TBSP), chopped finely
Additional lemon, salt, and olive oil for topping

Boil water and add bulgur. Reduce heat to low and cook uncovered until all the water is absorbed, about 10 minutes. No need to stir. Add more water and cook longer if bulgur is still crunchy. 

Transfer to a large bowl and chill completely.

Once the bulgur or couscous is cold, combine all ingredients in a large bowl. When you serve it, top each portion with an additional drizzle of olive oil, a good squeeze of lemon and a nice pinch of salt.

Now kick back, pour a huge cocktail and enjoy your summer. 

Roasted Red Bell Pepper (or just plain) Hummus

Simple, fast, delicious. That's about all I need to say about this one. Eat heartily and often. 

Prep time: 1/4 cocktail

1 can garbanzo beans, drained
Juice of 1 lemon
¼ cup tahini
1 clove garlic (no more)
¼ cup Italian flat-leaf parsley
½ tsp salt (or more to taste)
2 TBSP green onions
4 TBSP olive oil
1 roasted red bell pepper, seeds and skin removed (optional)

Combine all ingredients in food processor. Puree until smooth. It may be necessary to add some water or additional olive oil to reach your desired consistency.

Adjust if there is too little lemon or salt. Serve chilled.

Alternate recipe:
Omit parsley, bell pepper and green onion. Replace with a couple pinches each allspice and cumin. And maybe a touch of sugar. Prepare the same way.