Mezedes

 

Mezedes. Mezz or Meze. It’s a Greek snack. It’s not exactly an appetizer, but it can be. It can be satisfying all by itself.

The simplest meze is bread and extra virgin olive oil – Greek olive oil of course. There is Italian, Tunisian and olive oil from other countries. The olive trees they come from were planted by the Greeks. Alexander the Great carried bags of olive pits on his campaigns. He planted them all over the Mediterranean and North Africa.

Meze can be almost anything to snack on by Greek men and women at the local taverna. Fried haloumi cheese. Little fish in olive oil and vinegar. Meatballs – tsoutsoukakia. Fried calamari and cold, marinated octopus.

Here we have fresh tomato, feta, Kalamata olives, good olive oil, lemon juice, fresh oregano, sea salt and fresh ground black pepper.

 

Easy Ratatouille

 

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Easy Ratatouille

I have tried the classic Provencal preparation of ratatouille In that one, each vegetable is sauteed separately. It's good, but tends to come out oily if you are not careful. Also, it's labor intensive.

Jacques Pepin has a modified recipe that uses just two pans. Cook's Country has a recipe that roasts all the veg in the oven.

Ultimately, ratatouille is a vegetable stew. Why not treat it that way?

Course Side Dish
Cuisine French
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Total Time 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings 4 people
Calories 150 kcal
Author Steven Kontos

Ingredients

  • 1 small very firm Chinese eggplant
  • 1 small green zucchini
  • 1 small yellow zucchini
  • 1 small yellow pepper
  • 1/2 Vidalia onion
  • 1 medium beefsteak tomato
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 2 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
  • 1 tbsp olive oil to finish each serving extra virgin
  • sea salt too taste
  • fresh ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tsp thyme
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • 24 oz tomato puree

Instructions

  1. Cut all the vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Thinly slice the garlic cloves.

  2. Add all the ingredients to the pot. Stir.

  3. Simmer for 45 minutes

Recipe Notes

How easy was that?

Serve over couscous, rice or pasta or simply as a side dish.

Like any stew, it tastes better the next day! It is a great make-ahead dish.

Veggie Burger

 

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Veggie Burger

This is loosely based on Bobby Flay Burger's veggie burger. Here I am using different ingredients that humbly, I feel are more tasty. The mix is the same: Some kind of bean, a grain and mushrooms.

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 8 minutes
Total Time 28 minutes
Servings 3 people
Calories 200 kcal
Author Steven Kontos

Ingredients

  • 10 oz black beans drained
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 4 oz cremini mushrooms chopped fine
  • 1 tbsp olive oil extra virgin
  • salt and pepper to taste

Instructions

  1. Finely chop the mushrooms. A mini food processor can really help.

  2. Make the couscous according to the package instructions using olive oil instead of butter to keep the dish vegan. Use a pinch of salt in the water as well.

  3. Combine all the ingredients. If too wet, add more couscous. If too dry, add some water.

  4. Refrigerate the mixture for 15 minutes to firm it up even more.

  5. Form into three patties.

  6. Fry in a neutral oil like canola oil for four minutes per side so that they are nice and crusty.

  7. Serve any way you like your burger.

Recipe Notes

As is, this is a vegan burger. Add cheese it becomes vegetarian. Add Worcestershire sauce and it tastes meaty, but it is no longer vegetarian. Worcestershire usually contains anchovies or fish sauce.

 

Cuban Burger

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Cuban Burger

The favorite tastes and ingredients of a great Cubano Sandwich but with char-grilled beef.

Course Main Course
Cuisine American
Prep Time 40 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 20 minutes
Servings 2 people
Calories 1100 kcal

Ingredients

  • 1 Ciabatta bread roll
  • 2 beef burgers
  • 1/2 cup Goya mojo marinade
  • 1 dill pickle
  • 4 thin sliceds of ham
  • 4 thin slices of Swiss cheese
  • 1 dill pickle sliced lengthwise
  • yellow mustard to taste

Instructions

  1. Marinate the burgers in the mojo marinade for 30 minutes.

  2. Grill the burgers in a very hot grill pan or skillet. Put two slices of Swiss cheese on each burger in the last minute of cooking.

  3. Slice the Ciabatta bread in half, lengthwise. Generously dot each half with yellow mustard.

  4. Add the burgers to the bottom half of the roll. Add two slices of ham on each burger.

  5. On the other half, add the pickle slices and combine the two halves together.

  6. In the grill pan, weigh down the sandwich with a heavy pot. Turn over after about 2 minutes and weigh down the other side until you get nice grill stripes.

  7. Cut in half and serve.

Recipe Notes

The mojo marinade is the key ingredient to this recipe.

Learn to Speak Greek Burger

Learn to speak Greek Burger:

Burger  -+- Boorg-ger

Tomato -+- Toe-mah-ta;

Feta      -+- Feh-tah;

Tzatziki -+- Zot-zee-key

Grill the burger. I like a combination of chuck and brisket. Season both sides with salt and pepper.

Grill the top and bottom buns in the burger grease.

Assemble:

Burger down on the bottom bun.

Salt and peppered tomato slice on the burger.

A slab of feta cheese on the tomato.

On the top bun, use a generous amount of tzatziki sauce.

Smash the buns together and enjoy!

The Big Kahuna Burger

This is one tasty burger.

Grill a burger. A chuck and brisket blend is terrific.

Grill a slice of fresh pineapple.

Grill the burger bun.

The burger and pineapple go on the bottom bun.

Homemade coleslaw and sriracha sauce go on the top bun.

Quickly smash the buns together and enjoy!

The Thai sriracha sauce is less hot and sweeter than the Chinese version. Go with the Thai sauce if you don’t like food that is too spicy.

Controlling Heat

Of all the cookbooks I have read, none tell you about the importance of being a master of heat.

There are knife techniques and butchering; flavors and how to build them and pair them; composition and plating: I have yet to see a book that discusses how and when to apply the right amount of heat at the right time for the right amount of time.

Controlling heat is the secret of being a great chef. How many cooking competition shows have you seen where the chef with the under-cooked or overcooked protein gets chopped?

Poached eggs are not as easy as they look. You want a runny yolk. How runny? It depends on the cooking time and a proper simmer.

Bring a pot of water to a simmer. Use cold eggs. Crack an egg into a cup without breaking the yolk. Slide the egg into the simmering water. The simmer will stop. That’s okay. Use a timer. 3 minutes – nice runny yolk. I like 4 minutes. 5 minutes and the yolk is almost completely set.

Serve the eggs right away. If preparing ahead, plunge the poached egg into ice water to stop the cooking. In this case, we start cold and end cold. For serving, reheat in the simmering water.

Grilling is another test of heat control. I have complete control over a gas grill. If you like that charcoal flavor, cooking with coal offers a terrific challenge.

Despite what the package of charcoal says, I would never spread the coals evenly over the bottom of the grill. I would pile the coals on one side of the grill and grill indirectly. Why? No flare ups. No blackened burgers or chicken thighs that are raw in the middle.

Baking in the oven is problematical. There may be hot spots. The temperature setting may be off by as much as 15 degrees. Get a quality oven thermometer so you know exactly what temperature you are using to bake.

Know your stove. Know how your pans conduct heat. Know your oven. Know your grill. Know your broiler.

Get an instant read thermometer. It should have a range of temperature readings that go up to at least 350 degrees so you can measure the temperature of oil for frying. If the oil is not hot enough, you will get soggy, oily fries for example.

For meat, steaks will come out a perfect medium rare (130 degrees). Turkey or chicken will not be dry if cooked to 160 degrees. 160 is that magic temperature where bacteria can no longer survive but the poultry still retains its juices.

Get a good oven thermometer. Keep it in the oven!

Even the humble pancake needs the right amount of heat applied for the right amount of time. The first one never comes out perfect because the pan is not hot enough. The last of the bunch are slightly burnt because the pan has gotten to hot.

Master and control heat. It takes practice and repetition.

Stuffed Shells

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Stuffed Shells with a Twist

Pasta makes me happy. Here we lighten the dish with lemon zest and yogurt in the filling and finish with a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar.

Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Total Time 1 hour
Servings 4 people

Ingredients

Quick Sauce

  • 28 oz tomato puree use a good brand
  • 1 handful basil leaves torn
  • 1 rind Parmesan cheese optional
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1 tbsp olive oil extra virgin

Filling

  • 3/4 cup ricotta
  • 3/4 cup Greek yogurt
  • salt to taste
  • pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 2 tbsp minced celery leaves

Shells

  • 14-16 jumbo shells or as many as will fit in the baking dish

Topping

  • 3-4 oz mozzarella cheese grated
  • 2 oz Romano cheese or Parmesan, grated fine

Garnish

  • minced celery
  • Balsamic vinegar

Instructions

  1. Get all the ingredients together. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

  2. Add all the ingredients for the sauce and simmer while you prepare the shells.

  3. Combine all the ingredients for the filling and stir well.

  4. Boil the shells in salted water for 8 minutes. Drain and set aside.

  5. Ladle sauce on the bottom of a baking dish.

  6. Add as many shells as will fit.

  7. Fill the shells with a heaping teaspoon of the ricotta-yogurt mixture.

  8. Ladle sauce on top of the stuffed shells.

  9. Grate the mozzarella cheese. Add the grated mozzarella over the top.

  10. Add the finally grated Romano over the top.

  11. Bake uncovered for 30 minutes at 400 degrees. Rotate the dish after 15 minutes if your oven has hot spots like mine.

  12. Garnish with a drizzle of Balsamic vinegar over the dish and sprinkle finely minced celery leaves, or parsley, on top.

  13. Let cool, covered with foil for 20 minutes. Slice and serve.

Old Timey Lemonade

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Old Timey Lemonade

The ultimate summer drink.

Course Drinks
Cuisine American
Prep Time 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1-1/3 cup lemon juice 8-10 lemons
  • 1-1/3 cup sugar more or less to taste
  • 80 oz water 2-1/2 qts
  • lemon slices for garnish

Instructions

  1. Cut all the lemons in half.

  2. Squeeze the lemons through a strainer.

  3. Using a funnel or measuring cup, pour lemon juice into a large container.

  4. Add the sugar.

  5. Add the water.

  6. Shake or stir very well and taste. Too strong, more water. Too sour, more sugar. Too sweet, add the juice of one lemon and another cup or two of water.

  7. Serve in a tall glass with plenty of ice and garnish with a lemon slice.

Recipe Notes

If you have an electric juicer, great. There are hand held juicers as well. I put the lemons between a pair of tongs and squeeze, turn 90 degrees and squeeze again.

Celery Leaf Chimichurri

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Celery Leaf Chimichurri

The local farm stand has fresh picked celery. Unlike the stuff in your grocery store, this is a dark green product that has more leaves than stalks.

So, what can you do with celery leaves?

Chopped fine, they can be used like parsley. The leaves can be used in salads. Here we make a chimichurri sauce/salad dressing/marinade for use on salads, grilled meats and vegetables.

Course Dressing
Cuisine Argentine
Prep Time 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch celery leaves
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup olive oil extra virgin
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/8 large red onion
  • 1/2 jalapeno sliced lengthwise
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt or Kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp fresh ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Put everything in a blender and pulse a few times. Turn the blender on medium speed for one minute. Pour into a Mason jar and refrigerate.

Recipe Notes

Without a doubt this makes the best salad dressing I ever had.

You can use it on almost anything grilled. It might be a little too strong for fish.

Tonight, I used it in a grilled chicken dish.