Monday, June 16, 2008

A feast from the Middle East

It was a pretty cooking-heavy weekend, so get ready for a lot of photos. On Saturday night my friends Anne, Sam and Dave came over for dinner, and during the day as I thought about what to cook I was struck with the desire to make hummus and baba ghanoush from scratch, which I had never done before. To complement those dishes, I decided to make some simple grilled chicken kebabs and tabbouleh.

Making the hummus and baba ghanoush was dead simple and fun, too--I liked the process of adding small amounts of seasoning, blending, tasting, and doing it all over again to get a precise balance of flavors. I must add that having a food processor is really what makes these recipes so easy, but you could definitely chop the eggplant by hand, and, with some dedication, mash the chickpeas up in a bowl. Both the hummus and baba ghanoush rely on the same flavorings--tahini (sesame seed paste), lemon juice, garlic and olive oil--for their distinctive taste. It's just a matter of fine-tuning things and tasting over and over again to achieve that savory, nuanced flavor. I used canned chickpeas (drained and rinsed) for the hummus, and two large eggplants for the baba ghanoush. They got roasted until they looked like this:

















After the eggplants cooled, I peeled them, drained the flesh in a colander for a while (it's very, very watery), then pureed it up. The finished baba ghanoush, drizzled with extra olive oil and sprinkled with fresh parsley:

















The chickpeas, too, got pureed in the food processor. Here's the hummus, garnished with olive oil, toasted pine nuts and parsley:

















I improvised the marinade for the chicken, and it turned out very tasty--and bright green. Very, very bright green. All I did was toss a big handful of fresh herbs (we grow a variety on my deck) into the blender, added some plain yogurt, olive oil, smashed garlic,
salt and pepper, and blended it up:

What a lovely color, huh? Well, you'd think that the green would fade somewhat after the chicken was grilled, but sadly that was not the case. No matter, really; after marinating for 5 hours, the chicken was meltingly tender and full of flavor, if not very attractive:

And finally a light and refreshing tabbouleh, which is made from bulgur, tomatoes, cucumbers, lemon juice, olive oil, and lots of fresh chopped parsley and mint. A perfect dish for the summer heat:
















The only thing missing from this meal was baklava, which I neglected to buy (or, of course, make). Oh well--our improvised dessert of chocolate ice cream with salty, crunchy peanut butter spooned on top wrapped up the evening nicely.

Fresh Herb Marinade for Grilled Chicken

Combine a handful each of fresh parsley, fresh thyme, and fresh chives in a blender, along with slightly less fresh rosemary. Add 3/4 cup plain yogurt, 1/2 cup olive oil, 2 smashed garlic cloves, salt and pepper and blend until smooth. Pour over chicken and marinate for as long as possible, preferably overnight. Drain the chicken of excess marinade before cooking.

Hummus
Makes 2 1/2 cups

Place 2 cans of rinsed drained chickpeas in a food processor and add 2 tbsp. tahini, the juice of 2 lemons, and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Pulse to combine. Add 1/3 - 1/2 cup of olive oil and blend hummus to desired consistency, tasting frequently to adjust seasonings. Add salt to taste. Serve drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh parsley and toasted pine nuts, if desired.

Baba Ghanoush
Makes 2 1/2 cups

1. Preheat the oven to 400°.
2. Place 2 large eggplants on an oiled baking sheet and roast them until skin is charred and flesh is very soft, about 20-25 minutes. Let cool.
3. When eggplants are cool, peel them--the skin will slip right off. Drain flesh in a colander for 10-15 minutes.
4. Place the eggplant in a food processor and add 2 tbsp. tahini, the juice of 2 lemons, and 2 cloves of minced garlic. Pulse to combine. Add 1/3 - 1/2 cup of olive oil and blend baba ghanoush to desired consistency, tasting frequently to adjust seasonings. Add salt to taste. Serve drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with fresh parsley.

Tabbouleh
Makes 6 - 8 servings

1. Place 1 1/2 cups of finely-cracked bulgur in a bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. Add 3 cups of near-boiling hot water; cover tightly with plastic wrap and let sit for 20 minutes or until water is absorbed.
2. Remove plastic wrap and fluff bulgur with a fork. Add 3 finely diced plum tomatoes; 1 large cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely diced; the juice of 1 1/2 lemons, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1 cup chopped parsley and 1/2 cup chopped mint. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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