31 August 2011

a mediterranean staycation

I have unfortunately been suffering from a troubling affliction for quite some time now.  An illness with no cure.  The travel bug.  Since my first solo trip abroad about eight years ago, I've wanted nothing more than to jetset around the world visiting one fabulous, exotic location after another.  Well, maybe not nothing more, I yearn for very many things but travel has always been way up there on the list.  Though I've been afforded the great opportunity to visit many cities and countries since I became a passport holder, one locale that I haven't had the chance to jet off to is the Mediterranean, particularly the Eastern coast.  This dream of mine does not begin and end with the crystal blue waters, the luxurious lifestyles, or the rich (art) histories of the region, though.  No no no.  What I might look forward to the most about my eventual trip is the food.  The spicy and savory spices, the fresh and hearty cuisine, colorful, (relatively) healthy, and foods as ancient as the traditions.  

Since I'm currently unable to afford a vacation (no Mom, New Jersey doesn't count,) I occasionally base an entire meal around the culinary masterpieces of the Mediterranean.  Plus, the food is all pretty simple to make, healthy and perfect for summertime because none of it's super hot.  Since my desire to make something late last night led me to whipping up an ungodly amount of hummus, tonight became one of those wonderfully themed suppers!

To start, that wonderfully simple hummus with red peppers, carrots and pita chips.  Hummus, like the guacamole I make so well, is pretty much made to taste with a few simple ingredients.  It's a recipe that doesn't really require a recipe.  So here are the basics:

chick peas
lemon juice
olive oil
salt & pepper
1. Blend together in a food processor or blender until desired consistency is reached.

Simple enough for you?  You can mix it up and make it a little more 'complicated' by throwing in pine nuts, roasted red peppers, fava beans, sun dried tomatoes, or my personal favorite, olives!  

For the main course, falafel stuffed pitas, salad and pasta salad with Greek twist.  I'd love to say that I make my falafel completely from scratch, but I'd be fibbing if I did.  Instead, I use one of the many packages you can find in the 'ethnic' aisle of your grocery store.  All you have to do is add water, shape into little balls, and fry.  I suppose you could bake the falafel, but I feel like that would be cheating even more than I already do so, into the skillet they go!  I make up for the unhealthy frying by using whole wheat pitas.  Then, I load up the pitas with falafel, chopped onion, hummus, tahini, diced tomatoes, lettuce, and tzatziki.  Tzatziki is another simple, to taste recipe.  All you have to do is mix together plain Greek yogurt (the super thick kind,) fresh dill, chopped cucumbers, salt and pepper.  Voila!  

A simple salad with a vinaigrette and whatever leftover veggies you have makes a perfect side.  Another perfect side is my Greek pasta salad.  A nice twist on the traditional picnic side of canned black olives, tri-color spirals, raw carrots and Italian dressing, my pasta salad is loaded with veggies and drenched in a savory Greek dressing from one of my many classic loves, Mr. Paul Newman.  Put this next to the boring old pasta salad at your next bbq and see which one goes first, I dare you.

Greek pasta salad
1 lb tri-color radiatori pasta
fresh baby spinach
mixed Kalamata olives, pitted
chopped tomato
chopped cucumber
crumbled feta cheese
1 bottle Newman's Own Greek Vinaigrette dressing
1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and dump in the pasta.  Cook about 8 minutes until al dente, pasta salad pasta should never be mushy.  When cooked, drain and rinse with cold water to make sure it completely stops cooking.
2.  In a large bowl, toss together a few handfuls of spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers and olives.  Once the pasta is fully drained and cooled, mix it in with the veggies.  Pour the dressing over the mix (use as much as you want though I usually stick to only half a bottle.)  Toss everything together well, making sure everything gets a good coating of dressing.  
3. Top the salad with crumbled feta cheese.  Cover and chill for at least an hour.  The salad can be served cold or at room temp.

So what if I can't jump on the next flight to Cyprus and lounge on a yacht for awhile.  I've got almost all of the goodness of the region here in my tiny Brooklyn kitchen.  It's exotic enough for me now.  And regionally themed suppers cure my wanderlust, for a few moments at least.  Until next time.


  1. Yumm - I'm snacking on hummus and sliced cucumber as I write this - perfect late evening snack while drowning in tax reading (gross!!)

  2. scrumptious!looks like from the amount of food you made you're on vacation for a week!