A few years ago our friends Bryan and Karen treated us to a Food & Wine event featuring several well-known and up-and-coming chefs. Michael Psilakis, known for his classic and creative Greek dishes, was one of the presenters, and I was thrilled when he announced we were all going to receive his cookbook “How To Roast a Lamb.” On a warm summer evening just a few weeks ago I got the itch to go “Greek” so out came the Psilakis book. Here’s what was cookin’ in my kitchen.
First step is to get your fire going (this can be said of many things in life!). Here’s my trick .. scrunch up a few pieces of newspaper then spray with cooking spray, place under your chimney charcoal lighter, fill the chimney with briquettes, and light. The small amount of oil will keep the fire going. When your briquettes are starting to char on the edges, it’s time to dump ‘em into your grill. When the coals are nice and hot, throw a piece of oak into the fire – the oak burns long and hot.
2 large eggplants
1 lemon, juiced
2/3 cup tahini ( sesame seed paste, available in the international aisle at the supermarket)
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pita chips, for dipping
This is so much fun to make in a fire! Toss the onions and eggplants right into your coals, and char ‘em in the fire. It’s important to keep turning and rotating them so they roast evenly. The eggplants will take about 20 minutes to get nice and soft, onions at least 30-40 minutes. When they’re done, remove from the fire and place in a colander over another bowl (or in the sink). Don’t skip this step – really improves the consistency of the dip. Once the eggplants and onions are cool enough to touch, carefully peel the charred skin off (my friend Deborah suggested leaving a bit of the char so I tried it – definitely added more smoky flavor!). Put in your food processor and pulse with the lemon juice, tahini, parsley, salt & pepper. Whisk together and taste for seasoning. Feel free to add more lemon juice, more salt and pepper .. it will vary depending on your eggplant.
Pour milk into small bowl, add bread cubes and mash with a spoon. Mix lamb, milk/bread mixture, diced onions, fresh herbs and salt & pepper together with your hands. Do not overmix. Shape into patties (I form them to fit perfectly into a half pita) then press your thumb into the center to prevent burgers from puffing up on the grill. Grill burgers over a wood fire, then tuck into a pita and top with tsaziki sauce, thinly sliced red onions and arugula.
Psilakis says “this is the one sauce you must make. It’s a classic and very easy to prepare, but be sure you use only a superior quality Greek yogurt or labne spread. It makes all the difference.”
1 English cucumber, peeled
10 cloves garlic, smashed and finely chopped
1 cup distilled white vinegar
4 shallots, thickly sliced
1 cup small, picked sprigs dill
2 1/2 cups strained or Greek yogurt, or labne
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
Quarter the cucumber lengthwise and trim off the triangular wedge of seeds. Cut the cucumber into a very small, even dice. Transfer to a mixing bowl.
In a food processor, combine the garlic, vinegar, shallots and dill. Pulse until finely chopped but not pureed. Add the mixture to the cucumbers; add the yogurt. Fold together with a rubber spatula, adding the olive oil and lemon juice. Season liberally with kosher salt and pepper, starting off with 1 tablespoon salt. Taste for seasoning. You can store Tsatziki in a covered, clean jar in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.
Tomato & String Bean Salad
This is one of my favorite salads .. so very fresh and tons of flavor.
1/4 pound green beans, ends trimmed
1/4 pound yellow wax beans, ends trimmed
1/3 cup Red Wine and Feta Vinaigrette (recipe to follow)
2 tablespoons crumbled feta cheese
4 vine-ripe tomatoes, preferably heirloom, cut into rough wedges
1 teaspoon dry Greek oregano
1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
6 small sprigs parsley, torn
6 small sprigs dill, torn
16 leaves fresh mint, torn
Kosher salt and coarsely cracked pepper
Red Wine & Feta Vinaigrette
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
1 small onion, sliced and grilled
6 basil leaves
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
6 cloves garlic, smashed
2 shallots, thickly sliced
2 tablespoons dry Green oregano
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon coarsely cracked black pepper
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil