Mediterranean Meditation

Greek flavors are some of my absolute favorite! I love all the creamy, earthy flavors! Growing up there was (still is) this dive in a sketch part of town my dad used to take me to that had some of the best gyros and rival any I’ve had at some “cleaner,” more “polished” places I’ve had in better parts. It sparked an interest and taste early on and carried over when I went to college and a girlfriend introduced me to the lone (and absolutely amazing) Greek place in the college town she grew up in. I’m sure I ate my weight in gyros and baba ganouj during my four year furlough.

Recently, a friend blessed us with some cherry tomatoes and cucumbers from her garden. I have some really generous friends, y’all. I’d already made pasta sauce and cucumber water with the previous batch so I needed some fresh inspiration (which usually flows fairly readily)! I was walking by the meat section’s freezer bunker at my local Sprouts Farmers Market and happened upon some pasture-raised ground lamb which gave me the idea for sun-dried tomatoes and Greek food! It’d been a good minute since we’ve had some Greek food and I was definitely down for a refresher.

After coming home from church Sunday, I immediately started on my “sun-dried” tomatoes before taking the obligatory Sunday afternoon nap. Really, they were oven-dried tomatoes. I would love to freshly cure tomatoes in the open air one day, but at the moment I don’t feel like dealing with heat and wind and dirt and critters. I thoroughly washed about 4c of cherry tomatoes and spun them dry in my OXO Good Grips Salad Spinner. I sliced them all one-by-one stem-to-bottom and tossed them all in one large mixing bowl. I drizzled about 3tbsp of olive oil over the tomato halves and sprinkled 1tbsp each of kosher salt and Herbs de Provence. I tossed all to coat and laid each tomato half cut-side-up in neat little rows on parchment-lined baking sheets. I dried both sheets in a 200°F oven for about 2hrs while I took a nap. After 2hrs, I rotated the pans and reset the timer for another 2-3hrs (depending on which had reached the texture and consistency I wanted) until they all reached the consistency that I liked.

When they were ready, we tossed a third of them into a decadent homemade cream sauce and (after snacking on a few more) threw the rest in a Mason jar. I filled the jar with some mild EVOO to cover and about 1tsp more Herbs de Provence and shook the mixture together to marinate all the lovely crimson sweetness. This jar is now sitting in my fridge waiting for sprinkling on recipes just like last night’s… or secret sneaks of spoonfuls late at night! You can use them just like you would use the ones you buy at the store.

Back to my Greek food. Last night, after coming home from work, I set to work on the garden fresh cucumbers waiting for me in the crisper. Some years ago, I was fortunate to work with a generous Greek coworker who would bring me authentic Greek treats at Christmas from recipes passed down from her γιαγιά! I looked forward to these goodies every year and one year a few years after I’d left that job, I messaged her to ask her whether she could recommend an authentic Greek cookbook for my collection. She directed me to a little book self-published by her theía’s church in Memphis, TN. I didn’t hesitate in ordering the it’s GREEK to me! cookbook for one second!

Most people know that aside from hummus; cool, creamy tzatziki is one of those dips/dressings/condiments that is ubiquitous with Greek cuisine. Tzatziki is actually the main thing I think about when I see or think about cucumbers. Sure slices of cucumber add a pleasant, cooling crunch to sandwiches and salads, many like fresh slices in their water, and they’ve become a stereotypical spa accompaniment; regardless, for me, it’s all about tzatziki. I just can’t imagine a hot fresh gyro without its dripping with this vibrant, garlicky yogurt-based sauce. Not only that, it’s just so ridiculously simple to make that after reading this, you may not look at cukes the same way again! Read on for my ever-so-slightly different version below.

Ingredients:
1lg or 2sm cucumber
2 lg cloves of garlic, minced
1-1/2tbsp olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
1 (5oz) container FULL FAT plain Greek yogurt (or Icelandic Skyr to make it extra thick even if it’s not traditional)

Directions:
1) Peel the cucumber(s) and cut lengthwise into four divisions. Lay out the slices on a plate and sprinkle generously with kosher salt. Set aside for 30min.
2) Drain off water and blitz slices smooth either in a blender or a food processor. Line a colander with cheesecloth and drain the cucumber into the cheesecloth. Wrap the cheesecloth around the pulp and squeeze out most of the excess moisture.
3) Transfer the pulp into a small serving bowl and stir in minced garlic, olive oil and lemon juice until fully combined. Stir in yogurt and cover. Chill until ready to serve!

While the tzatziki was chilling, The Mr grilled up some lamb burgers alongside some Halloumi. Feta (I snatch up sheep’s milk feta when I can find it!) is universally accepted as the cheese to top your Greek food with, but few know how amazing Halloumi is. Halloumi is a semi-hard sheep or goat milk cheese originating from Cyprus (an island off the Middle Eastern coast). It’s a unique briny, salty cheese that doesn’t disintegrate like other cheese when heat is applied which makes it awesome for grilling or pan-frying! I highly recommend you give it a try if you come across it at your local market.

When the burgers and Halloumi were ready, I slathered a gyro bread (from local Baklava Bakery) with a generous amount of tzatziki and topped it with fresh ribbons of romaine lettuce and dots of marinated oven-dried tomatoes. I sprinkled on some fresh, crumbled feta and topped it all with a burger patty. I placed a few slices of Halloumi beside each serving along with some Kalamata olives and more tomatoes. To round out the meal, I served the meal with Cedar’s Garlic Hummus and some fresh vegetables & Stacy’s plain pita chips. For a moment, we felt like we’d been traveling the Greek islands despite all this Covid nonsense…

What are some of your favorite flavors/cuisines?

Currently Reading: Passionate Nutrition by Jennifer Adler

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