I’ve always been a huge fan of Greek food. Regardless of the season the tangy Greek flavors of feta cheese, oregano and fresh dill inspire images of sun drenched Greek beaches. And this time of year, when the weather is especially gray and dreary, I find myself longing for a Greek Island getaway. When that isn’t possible, I head to the kitchen and cook up my own Greek feast.
These gyros, adapted from Peanut Butter and Peppers, comes pretty close to channeling the Greek Island experience. Here beef is substituted for the traditional lamb (which is also delicious but sometimes difficult to find). The meat is marinated in a lemon-oregano mixture which ensures that every bite is juicy and flavorful. As a finishing touch the entire gyro is topped with Tzatziki Sauce- the yogurt, dill and cucumber sauce that Greece is famous for.
So here’s to getting your own dose of the Greek Islands. Enjoy!
For the Tzatziki Sauce
1 cup Greek yogurt
1 cup cucumber, diced small
3 tablespoons fresh dill, diced small
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 dash salt
1 dash pepper
For the gyros:
1 pound beef steak tips, cut into bite size pieces
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper
4 cups salad greens
2 tomatoes, sliced
¼ cup feta cheese crumbles
4 pita breads
- To make the tzatziki sauce, place the cucumber and half of the yogurt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until smooth.
- Add mixture to a medium sized bowl and stir in remaining yogurt, the dill, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper. Stir well to combine.
- Add additional salt, if needed and refrigerate until ready to use.
- To prepare the gyros, combine the garlic, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, oregano, salt and pepper in a small bowl.
- Add the meat to a zip top bag or bowl, and pour marinade over the beef. Refrigerate for 1 hour up to 4 hours.
- When you are ready to cook, set grill to medium low heat
- Place the meat on the grill, (you can place meat on skewers if you prefer) and cook on each side for about 4 minutes or until they are done to your preference.
- Let the meat rest for 5 minutes.
- Evenly divide the meat on a pita shell, top with the salad greens, tomatoes, feta cheese and the Tzatziki Sauce.
I’ve never met a pickle I didn’t like. From beans and carrots to beets and the traditional cucumber, I’m a fan of them all. Pickled vegetable salads are a common feature on Balkan menus and as such, in the past two years I’ve tried pickled vegetables I never even imagined. I’ve learned that cauliflower is surprisingly good when it has been sitting in a vinegary brine as are red peppers and even mushrooms. As much as I love pickles it was only recently that I started making my own. A part of my reasoning for not making my own pickles is because they are so readily available on market shelves. I am also the only pickle fan in my house so I was hesitant to invest a lot of time into something only I would enjoy. And then I realized how easy it is to make my own pickles!
These cucumber pickles are the perfect solution to my pickle making phobia. I am able to make them in small batches so there isn’t the fear of being inundated with more jars than I can possibly ever eat. (With a move on the horizon the last thing I want to be packing up and moving is jars of pickles). They cure overnight in a vinegar brine while sitting in the refrigerator so I can enjoy them the next day–no extended pickling process is necessary. I used cucumbers for these pickles but you can easily substitute any vegetable you like. Depending upon your preferences, you can add more or less spices. And because this recipe only makes two pints, you can experiment with vegetable and flavor combinations without ending up with numerous jars of pickles you don’t like. Unless you are like me and love all things pickled.
REFRIGERATOR GARLIC DILL PICKLES
1 cup cider vinegar
1 cup cold water
2 tablespoons pickling salt
4 large pickling cucumbers
4 dill sprigs
4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 teaspoon mustard seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns, crushed
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Combine the cider vinegar, water, and salt in a medium-sized sauce pot. Bring to a simmer, remove from heat and allow to cool slightly.
- Divide the dill, garlic cloves, mustard seeds, peppercorns, and red pepper flakes between two one-pint canning jars or other glass container with a tight-fitting lid.
- Thoroughly scrub the cucumbers, discard the ends, and slice into 1/4 to 1/2 inch coins. Pack the two jars with as many cucumber coins as will snuggly fit.
- Pour the hot pickling brine over the cucumbers to just cover.
- Wipe the rims and seal with the lids.
- Place the jars in the refrigerator and allow to sit for at least 24 hours before eating.
Yields: 2 pints
Sometimes the simplest things are the best. Case in point this cool yet spicy salad from Food 52. The ingredients are minimal: cucumbers, celery, pepperoncini and parsley. The celery provides crunch while the cucumbers and parsley add a coolness that tames the fieriness of the peppers. That’s it. Do taste your pepperoncini before adding them to the salad though since not all peppers have the same level of heat.
The salad can be used to top burgers or as an easy side dish for grilled meat. It really is so easy.
3/4 cup cucumber, peeled and sliced into half coins
3/4 cup celery, both leaves and stalks, chopped
1/4 cup pepperoncini, sliced
1/4 Italian parsley, chopped
Pinch of sugar
Salt & pepper to taste
- Combine all of the ingredients in a medium sized bowl.
- Allow to sit for at least 1/2 an hour before serving.
Regular readers know I love soups and I’m a big fan of chilled soups when hot summer days call for something light and refreshing for dinner. Gazpacho or even a fruit soup might be the first ones that come to mind but they are really just a jumping off point. In reality, the possibilities are endless. I came across this soup from William Sonoma’s Soup of the Day when I was looking for a first course for a recent dinner party but it can just as easily be served as a light dinner when accompanied by a loaf of crusty bread (which is actually how we ate the leftovers the next night).
Because I was serving a crowd and think soup only improves with age, I tripled this recipe which meant blending the cucumber in batches. Lacking fresh buttermilk I used rehydrated powder from King Arthur Flour with good results. To make the soup richer I used half milk and half water when rehydrating the buttermilk. I also substituted Greek style yogurt for the plan yogurt called for in the original recipe.
I’ll admit, I was initially a bit unsure about the combination of ingredients but realized that since I like them all individually I would probably enjoy them together. My guests shared my skepticism but in the end every drop of the soup was scraped from the bowls proving that this recipe is indeed a success and a tasty way to eat your veggies.
CHILLED CUCUMBER BUTTERMILK SOUP WITH DILLED SHRIMP
5 English cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped
4 green onions, white and tender green parts, chopped
2 large cloves garlic
1/4 cup buttermilk
1 1/2 cups plain whole Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 pound bay shrimp, coarsely chopped
1 tablespoon fresh dill, minced
- Place the cucumbers, green onions, and garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.
- Add the buttermilk, yogurt, and lemon juice and puree.
- Season with salt and pepper. Let sit in the refrigerator for at least a 1/2 hour.
- To make the shrimp, place the shrimp and dill in a small bowl and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper.
- Serve the soup topped with the dilled shrimp.
Last summer I was lucky to take not one but two trips to Greece. The first trip was to the Ionian Islands of Cofru, Paxos and Antipaxos. The second trip included the town of Meteora and the city of Thessaloniki and several villages in between. The geography was varied but the one thing that held true regardless of our locations was the food. Whether eating at fancier restaurants or simple mom and pop operations, all of the food was simple, fresh and delicious. Fish was a mainstay when we were near the sea while inland grilled lamb reigned supreme. But the one item that was guaranteed to be on every menu was a village salad.
The actual ingredients in a village salad may vary depending upon location but cucumbers, tomatoes, olives and feta cheese were mainstays. Oregano, whether fresh or dried was often included. Some salads may include peppers or onions. Because we were there during the steamy days of July all of the ingredients were local, super fresh and tasted so wonderful. I actually ate a salad as an entree at more than one meal.
I’ve attempted to recreate the salad on numerous occasions but some how the salads never taste quite as good as they do in Greece. But by using the freshest of ingredients; vegetables bought at the farmer’s market rather than the grocery store, feta cheese and olives from a Greek importer rather than mass produced products that come to Belgium from Greece via the United States, the results are pretty darn good.
GREEK VILLAGE SALAD
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 cup baby cucumbers, cut into coins
1 cup mixed Mediterranean olives
3/4 cup feta cheese, cubed
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Combine the tomatoes, cucumbers and olives in a large bowl.
- Gently fold in the feta cheese taking care not to crumble the cubes
- Drizzle the oil over the top of the salad, sprinkle with the oregano, salt and pepper. Toss well to combine.
This isn’t your grandma’s shrimp cocktail. Instead it is a fun twist with a spicy tomato sauce reminiscent of a chunky gazpacho. When paired with plump shrimp you will find yourself (and perhaps your guests) asking whether it is a shrimp cocktail or a shrimp gazpacho. Or maybe it is a little bit of both. Regardless of what you call it, if you are a fan of shrimp and like a bit of spice, it is good.
This recipe is inspired from one found on the Simply Recipes blog. If fresh tomatoes are in season, do use those but if they aren’t use good quality canned ones. I’ve done it both ways and both are good but there really isn’t any beating the flavor and texture of fresh tomatoes. You could serve this dish in traditional shrimp cocktail style as a first course or you could even serve it as the meal itself. Simply pair it with bread–corn bread would be particularly good.
So with Cinco de Mayo just a few days away why not add these shrimp to your menu?
MEXICAN SHRIMP COCKTAIL
1 pound medium shrimp, deveined and cooked
1 cup red onion, diced
1 cup peeled English cucumber, diced
1/2 cup celery, diced
1-2 jalapeno peppers, minced
1 1/2 cups fresh tomatoes with their juices, chopped
1 15-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
1/3 cup cilantro, minced
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon Tabasco sauce, or more to taste
Up to 1 cup of lightly salted water
1 avocado, cut into chunks
- Cut half of the shrimp into large chunks and set the other half aside.
- In a large bowl, combine the chopped shrimp, onions, cucumber, celery, jalapeno, tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice, and hot sauce. Stir gently.
- Add the lightly salted water, one tablespoon at a time, until the shrimp cocktail has a consistency that you prefer.
- Adjust the seasonings, adding more hot sauce if desired.
- Divide into individual dishes and garnish with the avocado and whole shrimp.
It is Fast Friday again and time for another fast and fabulous dinner suggestion. If you are anything like me, by the time Friday rolls around the last thing you want to do to cook a big meal yet we all still have to eat. The dishes featured in this series aren’t necessarily fancy but they bring together simple ingredients most people already have in their pantries or have easy access to and allow you to put a real meal on the table in between 30 and 45 minutes. Enjoy and if you have your own fast recipes you want to share, please send them my way and I will in turn share them with all of my readers.
The recipe, adapted from the Splendid Table, is the ultimate in fast since it literally cooks in minutes. I like my food with a bit of heat but if you think it will be too spicy for your taste you can use less Tabasco and cumin. While the soup cooks you can make the avocado, cucumber, and orange salsa, which when paired with a dollop of sour cream tempers the heat of the soup. Don’t skip this addition; this simple salsa takes the soup from good to unbelievable.
SPICY BLACK BEAN SOUP
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups vegetable broth
2 – 15 ounce cans black beans, rinsed
1 cup roasted red peppers, diced
1 – 15 ounce can corn
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons Tabasco sauce
1 avocado, cubed
Juice of 1 lime
1 orange, peeled and chopped
1/2 English cucumber, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup sour cream
- Heat the oil in a large pot set over medium heat.
- Add the onion and garlic and cook until translucent, about 5 minutes.
- Add the broth, beans, corn, red peppers, seasonings, and hot sauce and bring to a boil.
- Reduce the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 10 minutes.
- While the soup is simmering, combine the avocado, lime juice, orange, and cucumber in a small bowl. Toss well.
- Serve the soup in bowls topped with the avocado and orange mixture and top with a dollop of sour cream.