I think Selim has a new favorite herb. Recently he’s been gravitating towards tarragon whenever it is a possible option to add to whatever we’re making (see our last post – Easy Herbed Ham & Cheese Quiche). So when I said I wanted to make some herby, savory stuffed dates, that’s what he suggested. I was inspired by Alia’s easy Ramadan date recipes, where she used chives in a similar manner.
Awhile back somehow we learned about the use of dates in Middle Eastern culture during pregnancy. Dates are healthy and good source of energy. But also, tradition holds that eating dates towards the end of pregnancy eases labor. The medical community has noticed – several studies have supported the idea that date consumption late in pregnancy decreases the duration of labor, lessen need for labor augmentation, and increases the likelihood of spontaneous labor. These studies are small and not randomized, so not perfect by any means. But given that there’s no harm in date consumption – we’ve decided to try to incorporate them into our diet a little more at the end of Ally’s pregnancy. Hence, we were inspired to bring a date appetizer to our family’s gathering this weekend!
Herby Stuffed Dates
~50 large pitted dates
1/2 lb feta
1 tbsp of the feta brine
5 turns of fresh ground black pepper
2 tbsp fresh tarragon, chopped
Open up all the dates halfway. If you bought already pitted dates, this shouldn’t be too difficult.
Place the remaining ingredients in a food processor and blitz until smooth.
Stuff the feta filling into each date. We found that using a butter knife was easiest, though a piping bag would probably be even easier than that!
After making Minty Watermelon, Cucumber & Feta Salad last week, we had some leftover mint. By “some leftover mint,” I really mean, “Did this package of mint grow exponentially more mint?” I feel like it’s pretty much impossible to use all the mint in a package and even more impossible to use all the mint that most people grow. We didn’t want to waste any of the fresh herbs, so I was exploring Pinterest this weekend for a dish that would put these ingredients to good use. After awhile I found this recipe that not only required minimal shopping, using up the mint and feta, but also a mostly hands-off and healthy dinner for tonight! We were really happy with how this turned out. It’s light, but filling and flavorful! Thanks Pinterest (and Live Eat Learn) 🙂
I, like most other people I know, love a juicy summer watermelon. It is just so refreshing and delicious! I remember that my grandfather always used to (and probably still does) put salt on his watermelon, which I thought was absolutely crazy. I thought that salt would ruin the sweet taste. Through the years, I’ve come to realize that a lot of people like salty touch with their watermelon. If so many people like salted watermelon, there’s got to be something to it right? And then I realized that the salty watermelon thing was taken to the next step with feta and watermelon salads. This combination is all over Pinterest and summer restaurant menus. And logically, I understand that salt balances sweet and brings out brighter flavors. Yet for some reason, I still never tried it. Well that mistake is over. I didn’t know what I was missing.
The watermelon is still the star of this salad, but it doesn’t taste like just a fruit salad with some feta on top. It’s a little more savory than expected. The mint flavor is strong and makes it nice and herbaceous. Don’t worry about the vinegar on the cucumbers either – it’s not overwhelming at all. Overall a great salad for summer! 😎
Minty Watermelon, Cucumber & Feta Salad
~1/4 cup white wine vinegar
5 cups watermelon, chopped
3/4 cups feta cheese, diced
~10 leaves fresh mint, chopped
Peel the cucumber, then slice it length-wise. Scoop out the seeds. Slice into half-moons.
Marinate the cucumbers in the white wine vinegar, topped with a few turns of fresh ground black pepper, for at least an hour.
Chop the watermelon into bite-sized chunks. Chop the feta a little smaller, more of a dice (can you dice something that’s not a vegetable??). Tear or chop the mint leaves. Combine all of these in a large bowl.
Drain the vinegar from the cucumbers. Add the cucumbers in with the rest of the ingredients. Stir to combine.
Ok y’all, I know I say things like this all the time, but… This dip is SO easy to make and SO worth it. Bring this to your next family gathering, book club, or just make it for tomorrow’s dinner! It’s spicy without being overpowering. And everyone loves feta cheese!
On that note, now is a good time to talk about feta again. There is feta cheese and then there is feta cheese. If you bring someone from Turkey, Greece, Bulgaria, Israel, France, or, you know, basically anywhere else in the world, to the United States and show them the crumbly stuff that we sell in our grocery stores as feta – prepare to be laughed at. It is just nowhere near as good as what they have. But fear not! We Americans now have access to much better qualities of feta (usually imported from Europe or the Middle East) pretty easily here. Trader Joe’s & Whole Foods will always have some, your local grocery store might in some areas, and if those all fail, it’ll give you the opportunity to check out your nearest Middle Eastern market or international food shop! Look for feta in blocks, usually in brine. It’ll be wet and have some holes in it. While it crumbles easily between your fingers, it shouldn’t be dry and pre-crumbled for you. Believe me, I was a lover of American grocery store feta for years, so I’m not judging. But do yourself a favor and upgrade! Mmmmmm… feta 🙂
Also, you may have noticed if you read our blog semi-regularly (heyyy Baba, Aunt Suzanne, Mom 🙋🙋🙋), that we share recipes that make a wide variety of serving sizes. For example our Garlic & Truffle Pimento Cheese basically feeds an army, while this dip was easily eaten by the two of us tonight. This just goes to show you that we only share what we’re actually making for ourselves at any given time. We ate this dip with crudites to accompany some lahmacun tonight (perfect combo in case you were wondering!).
Spicy Feta Dip
(Recipe adapted from Sultan’s Kitchen: A Turkish Cookbook, by Özcan Ozan)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp paprika
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
Juice from a lemon wedge
Pulse all ingredients together in a food processor until smooth.
Refrigerate until serving.
Top with a drizzle of olive oil when serving, if desired.
Oh and side note. Please feel free to make your own pie dough. I’m sure it would be better than my freezer-case dough, but I was just not feeling making my own today! And see our Spinach & Feta Gözleme recipe for my rant about feta cheese. Go try some delicious, not pre-crumbled feta today!
Zucchini & Feta Pie
2 tbsp butter
1 large onion, sliced
Fresh ground black pepper
2 zucchini, sliced
Pre-made pie dough
6oz feta cheese
Fresh basil, chopped
Place all of the sliced zucchini in a colander over the sink and toss with salt. Allow to sit and dehydrate while preparing the onions.
Melt the butter in a pan over medium heat.
Add the sliced onions and toss to coat the onions with the butter.
Saute onions until caramelized, stirring occasionally and covering with pan’s lid in between stirrings. [Truly caramelized onions take AT LEAST 30 minutes, if not more like an hour! I get most of my cooking tips from The Kitchn, you should too!]
Follow the directions on your pre-made dough. Spray a pie pan and place the dough in there to line it. (If the packaging indicates your dough should be baked for more than 30 minutes at 375 degrees, go ahead and pre-bake it a little bit.)
When onions are done, place them in the pie pan, forming the bottom layer of the pie.
Add the sliced zucchini to the pan that held the onions and cover for just 2 minutes, so they soften up a little bit.
Place a layer of zucchini on top of the onions.
Follow this with a layer of scattered feta chunks, followed by another layer of zucchini, more feta, and lastly, a layer of zucchini. Sprinkle some chopped basil through the layers.
Not going to lie to y’all. I have no idea what kind of fish I used to make this dish. I was trying to eat through some of our freezer foods and pulled this out. It’s tilapia, maybe? So we’ll just suggest you use any white fish of your choosing. This was another of those recipes that I threw together out of the refrigerator (and freezer) ingredients and ended up pretty happy with. The cakes are just a bit crisp on the outside and nice and moist on the inside. The flavors work well together I think. I ended up topping mine with a little bit of hummus; Selim added a dash of hot sauce. If I’d had some, I would spread some tzatziki on top of mine – that would’ve been perfect!
Fish Cakes with Feta & Olives
10oz white fish
4oz feta, crumbled
10 kalamata olives, chopped
1 cup cracker crumbs
1/2 small onion, diced
2 eggs, lightly beaten
6-8 turns fresh ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Slide the fish into the pot, lower heat, and cover. Allow fish to poach for 10 minutes.
Remove fish and pat dry.
Break up the fish in a large bowl.
Stir in all of the rest of the ingredients.
Line a cookie sheet with aluminum foil and lightly coat with cooking spray.
With your hands, scoop up a full handful of the fish mixture. Form into a ball between your hands. Place on the cookie sheet, and press down lightly with the heel of your hand to create the patty.
Repeat step 7 for each patty.
Bake for a total of 30 minutes. Flip halfway through, so each side cooks for 15 minutes.
What’s the first thing people think of when they think of Turkish food? Kofte is the first thing for most people, but there’s so much more! Don’t worry, we’re going to keep cooking our way through them and sharing with you here. Gözleme is one of the many great Turkish street foods. (Lahmacun is another that if you haven’t tried from our blog, you should soon!) So good in fact that it has spread from Turkey to the rest of the world. In Australia, there’s a fast food place, called Gözleme King, devoted to making different types of gözleme. This spinach and cheese preparation is a fairly traditional one, but gözleme can contain pretty much anything! In the future we’re definitely going to throw in some sucuk (Turkish sausage). But as is, this dish is amazing. The dough is soft, light, and just a bit crispy on the edges. And it essentially goes without saying that the warm feta brings it all of the flavors together perfectly.
*So speaking of feta… Let’s talk about feta. I know so many people who loooove feta. I’m one of them, obviously. We could form a fan club if y’all want? But here’s the thing, a lot of people I know have only ever had the pre-crumbled, standard grocery store feta. I used to be one of them. As with many other things, when I started dating Selim, my narrowly bounded world of feta expanded. If you think feta only exists in its pre-crumbled form and you love it anyway, please go out and find some block feta in brine. Your world will be changed forever, I promise. (Mine was!) The flavor and texture are so much better – you’ll never go back. Sadly, not all of your standard grocery stores will have feta like this. Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods usually do, but if yours doesn’t, try an international grocery store, a halal market, or a Middle Eastern specialty shop. While you’re there, try all the different types of feta and Middle Eastern cheeses, your cheese-world will be forever changed.
We have two go-tos when it comes to making Turkish recipes. The first is Ozcan Ozan’s cookbook that I’ve referenced on here before. But the second is a blog called Ozlem’s Turkish Table. Tonight’s recipe is adapted from there. It is a wonderful resource for all things Turkish food!
Begin by making the dough. Take 1/2 cup of warm water and stir in the pinch of salt and yeast. Allow to sit for a few minutes until it begins to bubble.
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast mixture, yogurt, and 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add additional water by the tablespoon. (I used an additional 2-3 tbsp). Using your hands, form into a big ball of dough.
Once you have a ball of dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for several minutes.
Divide into 4 similarly sized smaller balls. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest for ~30 minutes.
Meanwhile, prepare the filling. Pour 2 tsp of olive oil into a pan over medium heat.
Once the oil is hot, add the garlic and onions. Sprinkle with the spices and stir.
Cook just for 4-5 minutes until soft and fragrant, but not starting to brown.
Add the spinach and a couple drops of water to the pan and cover. Leave covered for just a minute or two, until the spinach has wilted just a bit.
Remove the lid and stir together well. Allow to cook for another minute or two with the lid off to get rid of any excess moisture.
Remove to a bowl on the side. Mix in the feta.
Now roll out the dough balls into large, thin, rectangular segments.
Divide the mixture from the pan among the dough segments, placing in the middle of each piece of dough. Make sure to leave plenty of room around the edges for folding.
Fold the dough around the mixture as pictured. (You want to end up with a little rectangular envelope.) Brush the edges with olive oil to help them stay together.
Now, bring a large pan, preferably a griddle one, up to medium heat. [Don’t start until the pan is hot!]
Brush both sides of each gözleme with more olive oil. Once pan is hot, place them on the pan. (You can do one at a time or if you’re more confidant in your skills than I am, as many as will comfortably fit in your pan.) Cover the pan and do not touch for three full minutes. At this time, flip to the other side, re-cover, and again, do not touch for three minutes!
After this point, you may flip back and forth a few times, cooking another 4-5 minutes until dough is cooking and the outside crisped to your liking.