Thursday, April 4, 2013

How to Feast :: A Vegetarian Middle-Eastern Menu + Recipes


Feast, according to the Oxford English Dictionary:
a large meal, typically a celebratory one
a plentiful supply of something enjoyable

Life gets busy, and full of commitments - not all of them marital. Our kitchens get messy, and our floors even more so. We rush around between work and the greengrocer and ballet class and soccer, and try our best to create healthy, homecooked meals that won't just be eaten - but loved. We put pressure on ourselves, too much pressure, and panic at the thought of entertaining.

But let me tell you something. 

Sometimes we all need a good feast. A celebration of everything and nothing, an excuse for food and friends and who gives a shit about how many dishes pile up in the sink? No panic, or fanciness, or showing off ... (maybe just a little showing off) ... but a feast for showing your friends and family how much you love them. Through ample, enjoyable food. 

A feast ... for feasting.

feast (top) :: tzaziki (middle) :: baba ganoush (bottom)

A feast isn't - in my opinion - about being stuck in the kitchen listening to your friends talk and laugh across the other side of the house. What's celebratory about that? To me, the best kind of feast is the one that can be prepared ahead of time and that involves everybody in some way. Make what you can ahead of time, fire up the grill, and show your guests how to make things like mayonnaise or tortillas or felafels or affogatos. Get everybody to join in, cocktails in hand, and have. fun.

We have a feast at least once a month ... sometimes for family, or friends, sometimes breakfast, or dinner, sometimes for special traditions like our very own Anzac Day/Thanksgiving hybrid. I'd like to promise you that I'll post a feast here regularly ... but to be honest, writing about them seems to be more work than making them! But I'll do my best ...


Last month, we had a Middle Eastern-inspired feast with Robbie's cousin Donna and her sweet family - and I want to start here, because this genre of food makes a great start for a feasting tradition. That's why we chose it for our wedding reception. Based on fresh produce and pulses, with cheeses and lamb cutlets thrown in if you're that way inclined, it's thriftier than it looks, and can easily accommodate gluten free (gf) or vegan (v) diets. And, crucially, you can do so much in advance

For this particular feast, it was the end of summer, and Robbie grilled lamb, and we ate mostly dips and salads and things to spread across flatbreads. Perfect for outdoors.
And here's how to do it.
Amanda xx

The menu:
Dips and spreads (recipes below)
  • Baba ganoush :: smoky eggplant puree (v, gf)
  • Tzaziki :: herby yogurt dip (gf)
  • Hummus :: lemony chickpea spread (v, gf)
  • Marinated feta :: creamy peppery cheese (gf)

Things to dip (recipes below or linked)

Salads (recipes linked)

Dessert (recipes linked)

//

The timing:
Up to a week ahead :: marinated feta

Up to a day ahead :: baba ganoush + tzaziki + hummus + lemon-roasted or crisp-roasted potatoes + felafel + quinoa tabouli + almond filo rolls

On the day :: flatbreads + grilled haloumi + lentil and apricot salad

//

The recipes:
Baba ganoush :: makes ~1 1/2 cups
:: Baba ganoush is a smoky eggplant puree, crafted from eggplants whose insides have been completely, utterly melted at high heat. I never salt my eggplants before using ... any bitterness seems to melt away when they're cooked like this. Slather baba ganoush on sandwiches, tuck it into flatbreads with marinated feta and fresh tomatoes, drag roasted sweet potatoes through it.

:: Prick the skins of 2 large eggplants or 1/2 dozen small eggplants and roast (or grill) them at 200C (400F) ~30-40 minutes until the skins are starting to crispen and the insides are melty (charred is ok) :: remove from the oven and set aside :: when cool, press out any juices and scrape out the soft flesh into a food processor :: blend till smooth with 2 tsp organic garlic + 1/2 tsp ground cumin + 1/3 cup lemon juice + 2 Tbs tahini + 1 1/2 Tbs extra virgin olive oil + sea salt, to taste :: spoon into a serving dish and sprinkle with 1/2 tsp smoked paprika (or use regular paprika) 

:: keeps for 3-4 days in an airtight container in the fridge

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Tzaziki :: makes ~1 1/4 cups
:: Tzaziki is a cool, yogurt-based antidote to heat and smoke - often freshened with the flavours of fresh coriander or mint. I like mine with a dash of spice, and add a chili - a gentle one. (Do NOT accidentally use a green-but-scalding habanero, thinking it's a jalapeno, like I did last time). Drizzle tzaziki over meat and rice and salad, dip roasted potatoes or skewers of meat or veggie burgers into it.

:: Blend 1 bunch coriander (aka cilantro), washed and derooted (save the roots for the felafel!) + 1 chopped scallion + 1 fresh chilli (hotness is up to you) + 3/4 cup unsweetened Greek-style yogurt :: transfer to a serving dish and stir in 1/4 cup Greek yogurt + pinch of sea salt + squeeze of lemon (optional) 

:: keeps for 3-4 days in an airtight container in the fridge

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Hummus :: makes ~1 3/4 cups
:: I can't go past Smitten Kitchen's 'ethereally smooth' hummus recipe - and she, and my sister in law, were the first to clue me in on why my previous hummus attempts came out far less than creamy. IT'S IN THE SKINS. Or, as it may be, the absence of them. Take the time, do some meditation, and pop off those chickpea skins. It'll be worth it, promise.

:: Buy yourself a tin of organic chickpeas and process them according to SK's instructions :: to the de-skinned and dry-blended chickpeas, add 1/2 cup tahini + 2 Tbs lemon juice + 1-2 cloves chopped organic garlic (I prefer the lesser) + 1/2 - 1 tsp sea salt, to taste, and blend again :: then, while the food processor's still going, add up to 4 Tbs water (1 Tbs at a time), until hummus has the desired texture.

:: keeps for 3-4 days in an airtight container in the fridge

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Marinated feta :: makes ~ 2 cups, including oil
::This is feta at its best - smooth and peppery, flavoured with herbs and citrus. A stunning addition to almost any table (particularly if you can find pink peppercorns), or tucked into a picnic basket for smearing on baguette. 

:: Rinse the brine off 200-250 grams of feta and place it into a large jar :: add 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil + 1/2 cup sunflower oil + a handful of bay leaves + 1 Tbs dried Greek oregano + 1 Tbs peppercorns + zest of 1 lemon + 1 minced chilli (optional) :: marinate in the fridge at least 2-3 hours, and bring to room temperature before serving

:: keeps 1-2 weeks in the fridge, as long as the feta stays submerged in the oil

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Baked cauliflower felafel bites :: makes ~20 little balls
:: I've never quite made a felafel from scratch that tasted right, so I buy a high-quality mix - look for organic brands, or at the least, ones with no additives or fillers. I'd never considered putting cauliflower in, but what a great match. Feel free to just make the felafel according to your packet's directions, if you want to do the standard. These are often fried, but I prefer the crispiness (and reduced oiliness) that baking imparts.

:: In a food processor, blend up 2 cups cauliflower florets + 1 bunch of coriander (cilantro) - roots only + 1 cup falafel mix + 3/4 cup water + 2 organic eggs :: form into balls and bake on an oiled tray in a preheated oven at 160C (325F) for 20-30 minutes, until golden brown :: cool on the tray and serve warm or at room temperature :: if making ahead of time, store in an airtight container in the fridge and reheat in the oven before serving

:: keeps for 3-4 days in an airtight container in the fridge

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Grilled haloumi, with lemon and chilli :: serves 4-6
:: You'll start out wanting to make this as a kindness for the vegetarians ... while you and the others chow down on lamb cutlets or whatever. But the vegos at your feast better be prepared, because everyone's going to want some of this melty, squeaky, charred cheese. To prevent fights, make extra.

:: Slice ~300 grams haloumi into strips or large flat pieces, keeping a 1-2cm thickness :: place onto a very hot grill, and turn after 1-2 minutes :: remove to a serving plate when the haloumi has taken on a deep golden cast, ideally with char marks :: drizzle with freshly squeezed lemon juice + minced chillies (optional)

:: keeps a couple days in the fridge, in an airtight container

//

Notes ::
  • The baba ganoush recipe was adapted from The Essential Mediterranean Cookbook
  • The cauliflower felafel bites were adapted from a recipe on the box of felafel mix - an Australian biodynamic company called Mount Zero Olives
  • Sometimes I use mint instead of coriander in the tzaziki. Toss in peeled, seeded, minced cucumber, too! 
  • Always use organic when you can, particularly for eggs, dairy and meat.

2 comments:

Dongella said... [Reply to comment]

Oooh I've made it in the world now. A mere mention in one of your posts and I'm famous!!! Aah my life is complete....ha ha! Amanda has greatly influenced my cooking (am a HUGE fan of Quinoa now among other things, also good because I am Gluten intolerant!!)
Seriously people, this feast WAS delicious and a double bonus because we got to spend time with the Wilson clan. Can't wait until next time, Hugs Cuz, love Donna Xx

Amanda @ Easy Peasy Organic said... [Reply to comment]

@Dongella Aren't you a sweetie! Extra pie for you at Thanksgiving ... :) xx

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Thanks for commenting! Amandaxx

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