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Storebought tzatziki sauce. August 25, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in recipes.
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Silence Dogood here. I wrote about making your own “semi-homemade” falafel sandwiches in a previous post, and blithely assured readers that you could find falafels and tzatziki sauce, the Greek yogurt-garlic sauce, ready to heat (falafels) and spread (tzatziki) on your warmed pitas. I had found falafel patties and Sabra tzatziki sauce at a local Giant grocery, even here in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. But things change.

For the last several months, I haven’t seen any Sabra tzatziki sauce. There are a couple of other options, but one contains gelatin and another contains fish oil (!!!), both no-nos for vegetarians like me. It’s not tough to make your own tzatziki sauce, but what if what you’re looking for is just a simple throw-together sandwich that’s healthy and tastes fabulous?

I decided to opt for Oikos Cucumber Dill Yogurt Dip, made with thick Greek yogurt (like tzatziki sauce) and readily available in the refrigerated dip section in your grocery’s dairy aisle. But I thought it could probably use some punch. So I bought a container of matchsticked radishes and one of diced red (Spanish) onion in the produce section, plus a container of crumbled feta cheese, and when I got home, I mixed all three into some of the Oikos dip to punch it up. Then I proceeded to put my falafel sandwich together.

I drizzled the falafels with olive oil to crisp them up, then heated them at 250 degrees F. in our convection/toaster oven. Meanwhile, I halved thick pitas (not the thin Lebanese pitas that don’t hold ingredients in pockets without falling apart but are best used for scooping them). When the falafel patties were hot and sizzling, I flipped them and set the halved pitas on top of them to warm up. When everything was nice and hot, I smeared my tzatziki sauce thickly inside each pita half, then added two falafel patties, then mashed in shredded carrot and red cabbage to add texture, body, and nourishment. Yum!!!

If you can find Sabra tzatziki sauce, it will save you some time. But if not, the Oikos dip works well with minimal effort, and also makes a great dip for crudites, with or without the added onion, radish, and feta.

‘Til next time,

Silence

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Super, super-easy falafel sandwich. June 12, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. If you’re like me, you’re pretty much up for Middle Eastern and Greek food at all times, and falafel sandwiches are a definite fave. But until a few days ago, I’d never succeeded in making a decent one at home.

The key is in the falafel patties. When you get them at a restaurant, they’re fried, so the outside is lusciously crunchy and the inside is tender and succulent. When you buy falafel patties in a grocery and heat them up at home, unless you’re prepared to fry them—which I’m not, I won’t fry anything and have to deal with all that grease—they just won’t get crunchy. And even a flavorful falafel patty is a sad thing if it isn’t nice and crunchy. After numerous tries with numerous brands, I’d pretty much abandoned hope and resigned myself to forgoing falafel sandwiches unless I was in a restaurant that served them, maybe a twice-yearly treat.

Or so I thought. Our friend Ben and I were shopping at our local Giant this past weekend when OFB made a beeline for their section of ready-to-go deli goods. Before I could even say “Ben, what are you doing?!!” our grocery cart seemed to be filling up with jalapeno poppers, deviled eggs and the like. I was about to start complaining when I saw that they had falafel patties. Oh, sheesh, I thought, here we go again. But it had been such a long time since I’d had a falafel sandwich that I decided to try one last time, and the package of falafel patties joined OFB’s loot in the cart.

As fans of falafel know, a traditional falafel sandwich is made by putting fried falafel patties in a Middle Eastern-style (thin-walled) pita with shredded lettuce, diced cucumber and tomato, and tahini sauce. I wanted to tweak the recipe to make it heartier and easier to eat. Fortunately, our Giant happened to have Sabra Tzatziki Sauce, the fabulous Greek dip made with Greek yogurt and lots of garlic, minced cucumber and dill. I snagged a carton, along with a package of Stonefire Mediterranean-Style Pita Pockets, which are smaller and considerably thicker than the Lebanese-style pitas. (Stonefire also makes the fabulous Indian naan you can now buy in most groceries.)

I wanted something heartier and less liquid than the typical lettuce, tomato and cuke filling, and, since cukes were already in the tzatziki sauce anyway, I figured I’d just go with two coleslaw staples I had at home: shredded carrots and red cabbage.

This left the issue of the falafel patties: How to crisp them up without frying? Suddenly, I had (in the immortal words of a dear friend’s mother) a rush of brains to the head. I put the patties on a sheet of aluminum foil in a tray in our convection/toaster oven and drizzled them with olive oil. Oil! The missing link! Then I turned the oven to 250 degrees F. and let them sizzle. The heat was enough to crisp the outside, but low enough not to dry out the inside.

When I could see that the oil was bubbling, I split the pitas in half, forming two pockets from each pita, and set them on top of the falafel patties until they were heated through. Then I turned off the oven, took out the pita halves and opened them up, spread a generous amount of tzatziki sauce on the inside of each pita half, added two falafel patties to each half, then stuffed in the shredded carrots and red cabbage and patted the whole thing down to condense it to a size more appropriate for an easy bite.

Success!!! It may not have been traditional, but it was perfect, and perfectly delicious. Oh, yum!!! The olive oil gave the falafel patties the exact outer crunch they needed, while the inside remained tender, and the patties absorbed the drizzle of oil so there was no fuss, no muss, unlike frying. The thicker pitas contained all the ingredients with no breakage or dripping like thinner pitas. The tzatziki sauce, as I’d expected, was simply delicious with the falafel, and the shredded carrots and red cabbage were the perfect complements.

I can’t wait to get back to Giant and get more of the baseline ingredients. So easy, so good!!! You might want to go for other sandwich stuffings, from the traditional ones (tahini, tomato, cucumber, and lettuce) to adding minced sweet onion, parsley, cilantro, shredded kale, you name it. You could be a rebel and add horseradish sauce or ranch/Dijon mustard dressing instead of tahini or tzatziki. I expect it would be delicious any way you made it, as long as you crisp up the falafel patties and add plenty of sauce! Whatever you do, enjoy.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Going Greek. June 12, 2012

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Silence Dogood here. A couple of years ago, our friend Ben and I were staying at our favorite vacation destination, the Log Cabin Motor Court in Asheville, North Carolina, where we have our own little log cabin complete with a full kitchen. We’d gone to a cheerful Greek restaurant down the road, and I’d ordered Greek salad and what the menu referred to as “Greek pasta.” The salad was delicious, but the pasta was boring, with a simple olive oil and crumbled feta topping. (Fortunately, OFB and I had ordered pita and tzatziki sauce as an appetizer, so between that and the salad, I was perfectly satisfied.)

Determined to turn the pasta into something delicious—especially since the huge portion could easily feed both of us if we added a salad—I had it boxed to go. The next night, I boiled broccoli florets until just bright green, then drained them. Meanwhile, I sauteed diced sweet onion and minced garlic with basil and oregano in olive oil in a deep pan. When the onions had clarified, I added the pasta and broccoli, lots of crushed red pepper, cracked black pepper, and salt (we like RealSalt or Trocomare, hot herbed salt), turned the heat way low, stirred well to mix, and covered the pot to let the pasta heat through.

Yum!!! What a breakthrough! The dish was healthy and light—perfect for summer. It’s been part of my summer repertoire ever since. Best of all, it lends itself to endless variations.

I’ll be making it tomorrow night for dinner with friends. This is what I’ll do: Tonight, I’ll roast sheets of sweet onion wedges, quartered garlic cloves, small button mushrooms, corn cut off the cob, and miniature orange sweet bell pepper halves, drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and sprinkled with cracked black pepper, salt, and a mix of dried oregano, basil, thyme, rosemary, and marjoram. Once they’re cooked through and their flavors have deepened, I’ll stash them all together in a container in the fridge.

When OFB and I get to our friends’ house, I’ll cook the pasta (we like multigrain or Jerusalem artichoke pasta, and I like spaghetti with this, though fettucine would be excellent, too). While it cooks, I’ll reheat the roasted veggies in a deep pan and add quartered artichoke hearts, fresh basil leaves, and seeded Kalamata olives (you could go for sliced black olives or garlic-stuffed green olives if you preferred).

When the pasta’s al dente and the veggies are good and hot, I’ll drain the pasta and add it to the veggies, stirring well to blend, then serve it up and pass the crumbled feta cheese on the side so everyone can have as much as they want. (Now that I’m a vegan, I can’t indulge in real feta, but I’ve made some cubed tofu “feta” from a recipe I found in VegNews, and maybe I’ll try to get brave enough to actually try it. I suspect it might be a better idea to try it in the salad instead, though, so maybe I’ll do that.)  

Our friend Carolyn is making tomorrow night’s salad, so I’m not sure what it will include. But when I make Greek salad, I like to keep it good and simple: chopped Romaine lettuce, arugula, diced sweet Spanish onion, chopped green onion (scallion), pitted Kalamata olives, chunked cucumber, chopped ripe paste tomatoes or halved cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs like basil, thyme, and mint. Served up with a simple dressing of extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, plus plenty of fresh-cracked black pepper and salt, and crumbled feta for those who want to add it. Yum!!!

Our friend Rudy is responsible for the red wine that will round out our meal. For a healthy dessert, rather than taking the baklava option (yummy, but not what I’d call healthy or low-cal), we’ll probably pass around pistachios and dried apricots. Non-vegans could chop and stir them into luscious Greek yogurt, or stir some plain Greek yogurt or tzatziki sauce into the pasta sauce for a richer flavor. But we find the lightness of the olive oil-based sauce ideal for summer. It practically begs for a minted, lime-juice infused melon ball appetizer, too.

Please try your own variations and share them with us!

                 ‘Til next time,

                              Silence

Greek pasta. June 27, 2010

Posted by ourfriendben in homesteading, recipes, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here, with a dish from our recent travels. While in Asheville, NC, our friend Ben and I ate at a modest Greek-Italian restaurant just down the road from our beloved Log Cabin Motor Court. We ordered Greek salad, warm Greek pita with tzatziki sauce for dipping, and what the menu referred to as “Greek pasta.” The Greek salad and pita with tzatziki were excellent, and by the time the pasta arrived, OFB and I were full. Which was a good thing, since the pasta, spaghetti with olive oil and feta, was bland, to say the least.

However, I saw an excellent opportunity here. Taking our pasta to go (and adding ample sprinklings of crushed red pepper, black pepper, and salt), we stashed it in the fridge in the small but fully functional kitchen of our little log cabin. After a quick trip to the nearby Ingles market the following day, I set about turning our leftover “Greek pasta” into a delicious dinner.

Here’s what I did: I cooked broccoli florets until just tender in boiling water while sauteeing minced onion and crushed garlic in a little extra-virgin olive oil. The second the broccoli was fork-tender, I turned off the heat, drained the broccoli, and rinsed it with cold water. Once the onions had clarified, I dumped in the pasta with its crumbled feta, added the broccoli, stirred well to blend, and topped the dish with flaked Parmesan. I slapped the lid on the pan, turned the flame to its lowest setting, let the pasta heat through, and served the dish with a salad and wine. Yum!!!

The modified dish was so good that I’ll add this pasta to my permanent repertoire. But with a full kitchen, pantry, spice selection, and fridge at my disposal, I’m planning to try some more modifications until we find our favorite. Adding artichoke hearts, kalamata olives, and strips of red, orange, and/or yellow bell pepper to the onion/garlic saute instead of the broccoli should make a delicious dish. Sauteed mushrooms and bell pepper strips with onions and garlic, feta and flaked Parmesan, crushed red pepper, black pepper, salt, and Greek oregano would be delicious, too. You could saute sliced mushrooms with the onion and garlic and add the just-cooked broccoli instead of the pepper strips. If you eat meat, you could add grilled or rotisserie chicken, or beef or shrimp hot off the kebab. You could add Greek yogurt to make a creamier dish, or anise liqueur (in this case, skip the peppers, broccoli and olives, please) to give the dish more depth. Yum! The possibilities are endless.

Greek salad and warm Greek pita (which is quite different from a thin, dry Middle Eastern pita, in fact, more like a rich Indian naan) with tzatziki sauce are great accompaniments to this pasta. I like a simple Greek salad: Romaine lettuce, quartered ripe paste or whole ripe cherry tomatoes, slivers of red onion, chopped scallions (green onions), chopped bell peppers (any color or a combination), kalamata olives, and crumbled feta cheese with a dressing of extra-virgin olive oil, salt and balsamic vinegar. Fresh herbs—basil, thyme, mint, and/or cilantro—added directly to the lettuce before adding the toppings creates a delicious, fresh salad. Grilled artichoke hearts are fabulous on this, too.

Check your local grocery’s freezer section for Greek pita. We can find Greek pita at our local farmers’ market, too. To make tzatziki sauce, buy Greek plain yogurt (or strain regular plain yogurt to drain off the whey and make a thick, cream-cheese-like yogurt) and mix in crushed garlic and minced fresh cucumbers to taste.

Try this meal, you’ll like it, I promise! And if you come up with variations of your own, please share them with us.

                 ‘Til next time,

                             Silence