Baklava, burgers, basil & black beans — oh my!
I feel like I’ve gone from Greece to Mexico, but on a plate, not a plane.
That’s the joy of food. Sometimes it’s as expensive as an actual flight, but you avoid the packing and the pervy pat-downs. Hopefully you won’t need the barf bag.
Last weekend included two trips to the Greek festival in Spartanburg. The food is the best I’ve had at that kind of a gathering. We had souvlaki (perfectly marinated and tender pieces of pork on a skewer), Greek potatoes (roasted with lemon, olive oil and garlic), green beans (stewed with tomatoes), Spanakopita (spinach and feta cheese wrapped in crispy fillo dough), and a Greek salad. Then we hit the dessert line. The anticipation was similar to the kind you feel waiting in line for a roller coaster. You get a rush of excitement and you feel an underlying sting of fear as you worry that the porkers in front of you will clean out the cases of treats.
We got baklava, almond crescents, diples (dough rolled, then fried and dipped in syrup) and spice cake. We went back the next night, an hour before the festival ended, to stock-up on desserts one last time. I ate my weight in fingernails wondering if being 5th in line would cost us the 8 remaining almond crescents. It didn’t. We got 4. OK, and we got more baklava, among other things. The festival only happens once a year! But, they do have a pastry sale planned for November. Don’t think that’s not already on my calendar.
After our last-minute dash for desserts we went back to Cribbs Kitchen in Downtown Spartanburg. We’d been once already (see former blog). We both got burgers. I had “The Missing Link”: jalapeno relish, “cannonball” barbecue sauce and other goodies. I chose the orzo pasta salad (creamy and a touch of basil) as a side. The burger was fantastic. It was a party of textures and flavors. That’s really the secret to a great burger. Think about it. Just a good ol’ cheeseburger has layers of texture… melty stringy cheese, soft but firm tomatoes, crunchy lettuce and a wave of ketchup. Next time you build one imagine the opportunities: Crunchy bacon, crumbly feta, tender caramelized onion, sweet soft grilled pineapple, lumpy guacamole, crisp fried onions or jalapenos. I’m drooling!
Monday night, we had London Broil (a flank steak marinated, then seared or grilled and cut thinly against the grain) and my own twist on a chimichurri sauce. I marinated the steak all day in balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, worcestershire sauce, garlic cloves, honey, salt and pepper. I seared the steak in a hot cast iron pot. Always let it rest before slicing. If you cut into it immediately all the juices will run out and your steak will be dry.
Chimichurri is a green sauce usually made with parsley. Oddly enough, I had one last burst of basil in the yard. Somehow it began growing in the pot belonging to my dwarf meyer lemon tree. I think a bud from the nearby basil supply drifted over and bam, two new plants.
Honestly, I could eat basil by itself. I have basil soap on the kitchen counter. I love the stuff. So I thought, why not use it for sauce? It was SO good. My resident taste-tester said it may possibly be the best thing he’s ever eaten. That’s a huge compliment! I mean, it’s only a sauce, but gosh, was I proud! Make it. Serve it on steak or chicken. It could be a salad dressing, but you may find it a bit thick for that. Dip bread in it. Slice up some fresh mozzarella and tomatoes and drizzle it over the stack. It’s a fresh, vibrant finish for whatever you’re dishing up!
I won’t provide an exact recipe here… but to do it, get about 4 poblanos (2 per person, unless they’re huge). Cut off the tops and remove the seeds inside. Coat them in oil, put ’em in a dish and bake at 400 degrees for about 15 minutes. For the filling, I sautéed half a red onion (diced) and then added diced dark meat from a rotisserie chicken (Mojo flavor). Add about a 1/4 cup of low-sodium chicken broth to deglaze the pan (bring up the brown bits), add about 3 tbsp. of whipped low-fat cream cheese, a huge pinch of garlic powder, a small pinch of cumin, some salt & pepper and a handful of Mexican cheese blend. Mix. Add a few good dashes of hot sauce. Remove the peppers from the oven and stuff each one with the mix. Use tongs and a spoon – the peppers will be hot! Sprinkle some cheese on top and put back in the oven for about 10 minutes. The peppers will have a bit of a crunch. The filling will be soft and creamy. Tasty, spicy, yummy!
If you aren’t starving by now, I hope that at the very least, you’re inspired.
For now, I’m gone dishing!
Tip: Don’t underestimate the power of beans. I always have cans of black, cannellini and garbanzo in the pantry. They’re an instant side dish. To go with the poblanos, I emptied (and drained) a can of black beans and put them in a bowl with the juice of half a lime. They went in the microwave for 1:45. Then, I added half a red onion (raw) diced, a diced mango, some cumin, salt and pepper, garlic powder and the juice of the other half of the lime. Garbanzos are great in salads or they can be a salad of their own when combined with red onion, red grapes and a vinaigrette. Cannellinis are great with pasta or pureed as a creamy side (mix with cheese and garlic) or for a dip (just add lemon juice, oregano, lemon juice, salt & pepper).