Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year's Eve Dinner Idea: Middle Eastern

CAUTION: This post contains profanity for the sake of humor.

When I was growing up, we had one ethnic restaurant in our town that wasn't a teriyaki joint - Hadi's, a Lebanese restaurant.  My family was slightly starved for culture, so we must have gone to Hadi's at least once a month for a few years.  Lebanese/Middle Eastern food has since become my comfort food - I love all the different lemony dips, the warm and floury pita bread, and the bright green parsley.  Lemon, garlic, sesame, and herbs form the foundation for many of the dishes.  And it makes for quite an impressive-looking spread:


This is a picture of the dinner Alyse and I prepared for our friends Kat and Vanessa (the same Vanessa of the Etsy shop hubuh) a couple of weeks ago.  Kat took this pic with her mobile and tagged it on facebook thusly:

In this photo: Kat, home-made tabouleh, Alyse, Alyse-fried falafel, BEER, pitas!, cukes and 'maters, Katherine, tzatziki sauce - HOME-MADE TOO BITCHES! feta - yum, home-made hummus.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

The only thing that wasn't homemade, I must admit, was the falafel - I made that from a mix (a tasty, tasty mix!).  But the hummus, tabbouleh, and tzatziki were homemade, and from recipes I created after much experimenting to recreate the tangy, exotic flavors of Hadi's from my childhood.  This would make a fantastic spread for a New Year's Eve Dinner Party!  It is easy to prepare, all the different foods go together, it is vegetarian, and it is easy to serve as finger food (minus the tabbouleh, which can be accommodated with a few small plates).  New Year's has always been a quieter holiday for me, and a quiet dinner with friends sounds just about right to welcome in 2011.  So make yourself some tzatziki, pop open a bottle of bubbly, and enjoy!

New Year's Eve Middle Eastern Dinner Party


To create a Middle Eastern-inspired spread, I served everything that Kat mentioned above, plus spanakopita for an appetizer.  Put out a platter of warm pita with all of the spreads (tzatziki and hummus), vegetables (sliced tomato and cucumber), falafel and tabouleh and let your guests go to town creating falafel sandwiches for themselves.

Tzatziki (Greek Yogurt Sauce)


1/2 cup - 3/4 cup plain yogurt (Greek or some other thick yogurt works best)
2 cloves garlic
1/2 - 1 lemon's worth of lemon juice
1 handful fresh dill
1/2 English cucumber (peeled or unpeeled, your choice)
Salt and pepper

1. Slice the 1/2 cucumber in half lengthwise and remove seeds, if any, by running your pinkie finger down the center.  Shred the cucumber using a hand grater.  Salt the cucumber lightly and place in a mesh sieve over a bowl or the sink so that the excess cucumber juice can drain.  (You may want to do this up to a few hours in advance so you get rid of as much liquid as possible - but if you don't have a few hours, it will still taste great.)

2. Finely chop the dill.  Smash the garlic using the back of a large chef's knife and peel.  Mince the garlic very finely.  One trick that works well is to chop the garlic once, then sprinkle with a little salt and, using the flat part of the knife, grind the salt into the garlic to make a paste.

3. In a medium-size bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, and dill.  Squeeze in the juice of half the lemon; taste, and add as much of the other half as desired.  Squeeze out as much of the cucumber liquid as you can, then add the cucumber to the mixture.  Stir and season with salt and pepper to taste.  Best served as a sauce for the falafel, or as dip with warm pita bread.

Tabouleh


Tabouleh is traditionally an herb salad, so if it is authentic, the ratio of herbs to grain should be about two to one.

1 cup bulgur wheat
1 cup parsley leaves
1 cup dill leaves
1/2 - 1 lemon's worth of lemon juice
1- 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tomato
Salt and pepper

1.  Bring 2 cups of water to a boil.  Add the bulgur wheat, reduce heat, and stir occasionally until the grain has absorbed all the water and tastes done (if too chewy, add a little more water).  Once cooled, transfer the grain to a medium-size bowl.

2.  Finely chop the parley and the dill.  Chop the tomato into 1/4 inch pieces.  Add the herbs and tomato to the bulgur wheat.

3.  Squeeze the lemon juice into the salad to taste.  Stir in the olive oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve at room temperature.

Hummus


There are a frillion grocery store hummuses on the market now, but I really like being able to control what goes into mine - I like plenty of lemon and garlic and a creamy, smooth consistency.  All of the measurements in this recipe are basically to taste - the secret to getting hummus the way you want it is to taste as you go along.

1 medium can chickpeas
3-6 heaping tablespoons of tahini (available in most grocery stores these days)
3-5 garlic cloves
2 lemon's worth of juice
Olive oil
1/4 teaspoon cumin
Salt and pepper

1. Rinse and drain the chickpeas.  Smash the garlic cloves with the flat part of your chef's knife and remove the peel. Run your knife through the garlic once.

2.  In a food processor, add the chickpeas, garlic, splash of oil, and a big pinch of both the salt and the pepper.  Run the food processor until the garlic has been incorporated into the chickpeas and the chickpeas have broken down.

3.  Add the first 3 tablespoons of tahini, the juice of 1 lemon, the cumin, and another splash of olive oil.  Run the food processor until these combine and the mixture begins to look creamy.  Taste and add, according to your own tastes, more tahini, lemon juice, salt, pepper, or oil (or all of these).  Run the food processor until the mixture is smooth and at the desired consistency.  To serve, sprinkle the hummus with paprika and chopped parsley, drizzle with olive oil, and present it on a platter with warm wedges of pita bread.

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