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Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

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Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

Postby pjbogart » Thu Feb 28, 2013 1:10 am

So I really enjoyed my meal at the Nile restaurant on Odana Road, and as is usually the case, my next trip to the grocery store found me buying about $40 worth of stuff I don't usually buy, like hummus, plain yogurt, pita bread, etc. So I picked up a Greek All-spice that was pretty good, but I'm wondering which spices I should add to my collection to make good Mediterranean food, Middle Eastern rather than Paella?

I blended some plain Chobani yogurt with a peeled cucumber, green onions and spices and thinned it with a bit of buttermilk and it made a very nice sauce. Pan frying some pita bread in a bit of olive oil with ground pepper and sprinkled with sesame seeds made passable bread for my hummus and cucumber sauce. I added some chickpeas and sliced almonds to my couscous and that turned out pretty good too, but I feel like I'm not getting the spices quite right.

I bought some eye of round steaks that were on sale at Copp's and sliced the meat into thin strips, pan frying it with some yellow and green onions in a bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and tossing in some diced roma tomatoes towards the end. Not only did I oversalt it a bit, but the meat wasn't very tender so I'm wondering if I should cook that differently or if I just need a better cut of meat?

Anyway, it all added up to a pretty impressive Mediterranean dish, considering it was my first attempt. A small pile of couscous topped with the beef stir-fry, four dabs of hummus on the corners and the cucumber-yogurt sauce around the border. Garnished with some unpeeled cucumber slices and served with sesame pita bread.
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Re: Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

Postby green union terrace chair » Thu Feb 28, 2013 11:04 am

I noticed you didn't mention lemon juice, which is an essential background component in many dishes.

I used to make salsa without lime juice. When I started adding that, it changed my world.
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Re: Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

Postby fennel » Thu Feb 28, 2013 11:08 am

Yes, lemon juice is critical. Always have lemons on hand. I'm also a big fan of sumac and zatar.
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Re: Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

Postby pjbogart » Thu Feb 28, 2013 11:24 am

Actually, I poured a bit of lemon juice on each dab of hummus, but I'm mildly allergic to citrus, so I tend to take it easy on the lemon juice. It makes my mouth itch and if I eat too much it gives me cold-like symptoms.

I can eat an orange, but I can't drink a glass of orange juice.
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Re: Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

Postby Mean Scenester » Thu Feb 28, 2013 12:06 pm

A few ingredients I didn't see mentioned that I use regularly: basil, oregano, garlic, ginger, cilantro, thyme, paprika, turmeric.

I use almost no salt when I cook and when I do, it comes from a sea salt grinder. Tastes vary, I get it, but I would never salt meat while I'm preparing it. The key to a truly healthful Mediterranean diet is to derive your flavor from other herbs and spices.

Try adding some whole or sliced olives (Kalamata or similar, never those cheapo canned generic black variety), if you're a fan. Artichoke hearts too. Feta is a staple if you're not averse to dairy. Red onions? Add some fresh mint to that yogurt sauce.

Another tip: If you have room for a small spice garden, you can have all the fresh mint and chives you'll ever need. Hell, you can grow this stuff in a window box if you want, though that will almost certainly mean starting fresh every season. Same goes for parsley (another med staple I never buy fresh because most of it will just go to waste).

Again, maybe it's just me, but when I think "Mediterranean dish" I almost always think fish or chicken before beef. Admittedly, I eat very little red meat these days and can't even remember when I last bought a steak, but yeah, as you suggested, try a better cut.
Last edited by Mean Scenester on Thu Feb 28, 2013 12:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

Postby O.J. » Thu Feb 28, 2013 12:33 pm

pjbogart wrote:I bought some eye of round steaks that were on sale at Copp's and sliced the meat into thin strips, pan frying it with some yellow and green onions in a bit of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and tossing in some diced roma tomatoes towards the end. Not only did I oversalt it a bit, but the meat wasn't very tender so I'm wondering if I should cook that differently or if I just need a better cut of meat?


Eye of round is a lean and tough cut of meat. Marinating it will help some, plus slicing it very thinly(it makes it easier if you freeze the beef for a bit before slicing), always against the grain. A cut of meat with more marbling will make your job much easier.

The typical North African spices/flavors(cumin, ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, harissa) are among my favorite in the region.
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Re: Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

Postby Stebben84 » Thu Feb 28, 2013 12:45 pm

O.J. wrote:Eye of round is a lean and tough cut of meat. Marinating it will help some, plus slicing it very thinly(it makes it easier if you freeze the beef for a bit before slicing), always against the grain.


Also, cooking it fast on the grill or braising it is another option. Braising takes longer, but it is a good option for meat that can be tougher.

http://www.livestrong.com/article/43734 ... aising-it/

The above doesn't reference cutting it up which you could still do with similar results. There is also throwing all of your ingredients in a crock pot.
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Re: Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

Postby Violet_Skye » Thu Feb 28, 2013 4:24 pm

pjbogart wrote:Actually, I poured a bit of lemon juice on each dab of hummus, but I'm mildly allergic to citrus, so I tend to take it easy on the lemon juice. It makes my mouth itch and if I eat too much it gives me cold-like symptoms.

I can eat an orange, but I can't drink a glass of orange juice.


You said "poured", rather than 'squeezed", so I wonder if you are using a bottled lemon juice like RealLemon? They add other ingredients, sulfites and such, so you could be reacting to those. Try an organic lemon and see how you react. My daughter has allergies to carrots and celery, but organic ones don't seem to bother her.

There is nothing to really take the place of real lemon juice in Mediterranean dishes.
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Re: Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

Postby john_titor » Thu Feb 28, 2013 6:14 pm

I came to say oregano, lemon, olive/oil. Maybe you could zest the lemon and add a little vinegar for acidity?
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Re: Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

Postby pjbogart » Thu Feb 28, 2013 8:49 pm

Thanks for the tip on the za'tar, fennel, or is that thanks for the tip on the fennel, za'tar? Though the only bag I could find was 16 oz, which is a hell of a lot of spices.

I sort of took Chuck's advice on the meat. I picked up a few salmon steaks and some top sirloin (manager's special, $2.49/lb!) and I'm going to try braising that. I just love it when I find the pack of steaks that's about to expire for half price. That's what my freezer's for, no?

Ok, so round two of my do-it-yourself Mediterranean. No salt on the steak, though I rubbed it with some of the za'tar which tastes like it has a bit of lemony salt in it, but not a lot. Braising it in water, balsamic vinegar, a splash of lemon juice, olive oil, freshly minced garlic cloves and green onions.

I skipped the buttermilk in my cucumber sauce this time, hoping it would a bit firmer, but it's still pretty soupy. Cucumbers are pretty much all water, so I'm not sure how to reduce that other than to mash them and just add the pulp. Also added a little lemon juice to the sauce. The restaurants use straight yogurt, but I really like the flavor of the cucumber in there, and it doubles as an awesome salad dressing.

My couscous is in giant balls, looks more like roe. I like the little fluffy stuff, but maybe I'll like this stuff too. Added sliced almonds and olive oil and tossed in some wedges of roma tomato at the end.

Gimme a week and I'll be a pro at this.
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Re: Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

Postby Mad Howler » Fri Mar 01, 2013 2:32 am

Thinly slice the meat after you have seasoned it (zatar is fine) plus all the other goodies including a huge dose of oregano then sear it on a grill or under a broiler. This meat as an accent should be appreciated by midwestern sensibility, it is by mine.

Edit: let me make clear that I suggest you slice the meat after you have cooked it.
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Re: Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

Postby msnflyer » Fri Mar 01, 2013 12:26 pm

Grate the cucumber on the box grater, toss it with a bit of salt and let it drain in a colander for 30 minutes or so. Or you can put it on a clean dish towel or paper towel and squeeze the extra moisture out.

Marinate your beef or chicken in yougurt, it will tenderize it. Drain well before cooking. Do you make your own yougurt? Much cheaper than storebought and you can strain it for Greek style. Between marinating and sauces we go thru a couple of quarts of yougurt when we make schwarma at home.

Did anyone mention sumac for spices? Sumac and coriander are very popular in Med style dishes. Sounds like you got Israeli couscous, reminds me of fish eyes.

Woodman's east has fine textured bulgar in the health food section if you want tabouli. I use almost as much parsley as bulgar when I make it.

Now you'll have to start making preserved lemons and get yourself a tagine. Chicken, apricots, and sweet potatoes, yum.
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Re: Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

Postby Ducatista » Fri Mar 01, 2013 1:10 pm

Violet_Skye wrote:I wonder if you are using a bottled lemon juice like RealLemon? They add other ingredients, sulfites and such, so you could be reacting to those.

Not to mention that the "juice" tastes like ass.
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Re: Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

Postby Violet_Skye » Sat Mar 02, 2013 1:39 pm

Ducatista wrote:
Violet_Skye wrote:I wonder if you are using a bottled lemon juice like RealLemon? They add other ingredients, sulfites and such, so you could be reacting to those.

Not to mention that the "juice" tastes like ass.
Definitely. One of the many things I discovered after leaving my childhood home full of mass marketed processed foods. Thankfully!
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Re: Do-it-yourself Mediterranean

Postby Lily » Tue Mar 05, 2013 10:57 pm

Mean Scenester wrote:...Another tip: If you have room for a small spice garden, you can have all the fresh mint and chives you'll ever need. Hell, you can grow this stuff in a window box if you want, though that will almost certainly mean starting fresh every season. Same goes for parsley (another med staple I never buy fresh because most of it will just go to waste)...


BUT if you live in an apartment without access to gardening Madison has several fantastic farmer's markets (one on the Square immediately comes to mind) with fresh herbs as are several more around the area. When I purchase fresh herbs I usually pitch in with 2 or 3 other friends. Yes, we also don't like to see the fresh produce go to waste and if we chip in that helps. I love having access to a small herb garden and I hope my next apartment (my lease is coming up) will have good sun but there's no guarantee.
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