Homemade Pita Bread

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One of the great parts of living near a metropolitan city is the lots of different types of cuisine. Over Labor Day weekend, I went to a Greek festival and chowed down on a lot of good Greek food. The most important component of Greek food for me is the pita. Great pita bread can make a gyro, and bad pita bread will ruin one.

I wanted to be able to recreate good Greek food in my own home, and since I already had the gyro meat and tzatziki ready, I just needed the pita bread. Now I have had a lot of trouble (and some success) with making homemade bread, so I wanted to find a recipe from someone who I trusted would not lead me astray in a yeast-mess.

And here we go! I have made this pita bread several times, and it works. So go forth and have DIY Greek food in your own home!

PITA BREAD

INGREDIENTS

1 cup water
2 teaspoons dry active yeast
One pinch granulated sugar
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus extra for rolling
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Olive oil, for frying

DIRECTIONS

Heat water to 110 degrees in a large bowl and stir in yeast and a pinch of sugar. Let sit for 5-10 minutes until foamy and dissolved. Stir in flour, salt, and olive oil. Knead dough on a well floured surface for 5 minutes, until smooth and elastic.

Coat a bowl with oil and place dough in bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place. Let rise for 1 hour until doubled in size.

Divide the dough into 8 pieces and keep covered with towel when not working with them. Heat a large skillet over high heat. Coat pan with olive oil. Roll out dough to an 8 inch circle. Place in hot pan and cook for approximately 30 seconds to one minute per side until it begins to bible and brown. Keep wrapped in towel to keep warm while making the remaining pita bread.

Serve immediately.

Barely Adapted from Half Baked Harvest

Babbaganoush (Roasted Eggplant Dip)

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Spring break is…over.

I don’t know what I am going to do when I am working a real job without any of these academic breaks. A problem for future not, not present me.  Present me is just looking forward to having a week without having to teach or work.

I’ll went home to Houston for the break, and besides the joys of seeing my family, I love trying lots of new food places in Houston.  Last time I was in Houston for the winter break, mom and I went to a Lebanese restaurant and I ate some great food- including babbaganoush.

So what did I do then? Found Cook Illustrated’s recipe, put it on our Christmas Day menu , and chowed down. And I have been dreaming about eating it again ever since.

Babbaganoush is very similar to hummus but using eggplant instead of chickpeas.  Creamy roasted eggplant, tahini, and parsley pairs wonderful with pita bread or pita chips. This dip can be served cold or room temperature, so it’ll be a great dip to help cool down once the weather actually starts warming up

BABBAGANOUSH
Barely Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

INGREDIENTS

2 large eggplants
1-1 1/2 tablespoons tahini
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon olive oil, plus extra for serving
3 cloves roasted garlic
Chopped fresh parsley

DIRECTIONS

Preheat grill over high heat for about 15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-high heat. Place eggplants on grill and cook for 15 minutes, rotating 3 times (for 45 minutes total). Remove from grill and let cool slightly. Peel eggplant skin and remove meat from eggplant.

Place eggplant, tahini, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic in a food processor. Process until smooth. Let sit at least 30 minutes before serving. Top with parsley and additional olive oil. Serve with pita bread or pita chips

Individual Falafel Pie

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I am so over this thing called “work” and “earning a paycheck”.  Especially when said paycheck technically puts me under the poverty level.  And when textbooks for one class total $138 (when finding the best deals used).  #Gradstudentlifeisfun

So I am particularly excited to head out of town with my mom and take a trip to the northeast next week. Excited as in my neurotic self has been planning/fantasizing for the past month.  We will be visiting family and hitting New York City for a few days.  And while in New York, one goal of mine is to eat lots of food, including falafel.

I have a confession. I use to hate hummus.

At gatherings people would often joyfully announce to us all “Guess what, I have hummus for us!”. Everyone would cheer and gush, and I would remain very quiet. I’d insist I wasn’t hungry or choose the other offerings, leaving the tan dip to those who could stomach it.

Well, I was a fool. Hummus is delicious. As is lots of Greek food.  Now I love to eat hummus on pita chips and carrots, but I also like to mix my hummus with falafel. Chickpea dip on chip baked chickpea balls? I reworked my baked falafel into this single size falafel pizza, mostly to just up the cute factor. This is for when you just want straight falafel and toppings with no pita bread to slow you down.

Also, it’s great if you are looking for a lighter meal- this is a healthy, vegetarian dinner that will leave you happy and satisfied.  I am trying to trim up a little before my vacation (without any actual exercise… because I am tired and/or lazy).  My thinking is that I can just return back to my equilibrium after going hog wild on vacation.  Logic FTW.

If the falafel in New York is good, I may never be coming home.  Mom, you’re okay with 100% supporting me in a listless New York life full of eating and relaxing, right?  Good.

So tell me, what do I need to see in New York? Where should I go? Most importantly, what should I eat?

FALAFEL PIE
Inspired by Heat Oven to 350

INGREDIENTS

For the Falafel:
1 cup dried chickpeas
1/2 red onion, minced
5 cloves of garlic, roasted
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 tablespoons dried parsley
1 teaspoon coriander (cilantro seeds)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup all purpose flour
Olive oil, for brushing

For the Toppings:
Hummus
Tzatziki
Kalamata olives, halved
Grape tomatoes, halved
Cucumber, chopped
Sweet pickles, chopped
Feta cheese crumbles
Goat Cheese crumbles
Salt and pepper

DIRECTIONS

For the Falafel:

Pour dried chickpeas into a large bowl. Cover with water. Let soak at least 24 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Drain and rinse the chickpeas. In the food processor, combine chickpeas, onion, garlic, cumin, parsley, coriander, salt, lemon juice, and water. Pulse until mixture forms a paste. Fold in baking powder and flour, until mixture stays together. Add more flour if needed.

Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Divide falafel mixture into four portions and form into 5-6 inch circles. Brush tops with olive oil. Bake for 20-23 minutes, rotating pans halfway through.

Top with any mixture of desired toppings. My favorite way is to spread a layer of hummus on the falafel pie and top with olives, tomatoes, cucumber, pickles, and goat cheese. Season with a sprinkle of salt and pepper.

Makes four falafel pies.

Warm Greek Eggplant Salad

It is a magical time of year with the holiday spirit all around us, when people are friendlier (and tip more).  I am full of winter and holiday cheer around this time- that is until I start trying to take pictures of dinner.  My new apartment was only so-so as to lighting even when I ate dinner while the sun was out, but now that it is dark when I get home, it is even worse.   Now, I love the dark normally- I am one of those people who love overcast days and sometimes gets annoyed by the sun- but this is unacceptable.

Basically, take all this rambling to mean this: the picture may not always look the most appetizing, but sometimes ugly food can be very tasty.  And this is.  Since it’s cold outside, I usually want something warm for dinner, so the typical cold lettuce salad just won’t work.  However, this warm eggplant salad with cabbage, onions, and olives fits the bill.  And on the plus side, you get to turn on your oven as some additional heating power.  I discovered this combination out of necessity having to clean out my fridge.  I wish all my household chores were this delicious.  For some reason, cleaning the bathroom and mopping the floor doesn’t give my mouth the same tasty reward.

And for all my fellow students out there working on papers and exams like me, use this recipe as a quick dinner break to fuel you up for more studying.

WARM GREEK EGGPLANT SALAD
From Cinnamon Freud
INGREDIENTS

1 eggplant, sliced in 1/2 incch thick
1/2 cup dry wheat berries
3/4 cup water
Salt
1/2 small cabbage, chopped
1/2 red onion, thinly slice
4 ounces kalamata olives, sliced
4 cloves roasted garlic
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
1/2 tablespoon dried dill weed
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

DIRECTIONS

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Spread eggplant in a single layer on top of paper towels.  Sprinkle with salt.  Let stand at least 20 minutes.  Pat dry.  Toss eggplant with 2-3 tablespoons olive oil.  Spread in single layer on baking sheet.  Roast for 20-25 minutes, until tender.  Set aside.

In a small saucepan, combine wheat berries, water, and a pinch of salt.  Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer.  Simmer for 15 minutes, until no water remains.  Set aside

Heat a large skillet over medium high heat.  Coat pan with olive oil and add cabbage.  Toss, cover, and cook for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Add red onions and olives.  Cook an additional 3-4 minutes (or until your onions reach your desired doneness).  Stir in wheat berries.

In a small bowl, mix together yogurt, dill, and Worcestershire sauce.  Spread yogurt sauce over warm eggplant.  Pour cabbage and wheat berry mixture on top.

Serves 2.

Spanakopita

After only trying Greek food for the first time last year, I have been busy at work making up for lost time.  All those years when I turned up my nose at those “funky” foods with yogurt, sweet spices, spinach, and olives- what a waste.  I am now enamored with Mediterranean cuisine in all forms.
For those who have never had spanakopita before, it’s a pastry of phyllo dough filled with a spinach, nuts, and cheese. It’s warm, crunchy, and cheesy all at the same time- perfect as a side dish with some lamb or a main dish served with a Greek side salad.  Making homemade spanakopita seems like an intimidating and long process, but it really isn’t.  It takes a little more effort than a microwave dinner perhaps, but the results are so much better.  The only step that might pose some difficulty is buttering each phyllo dough and layering.  I’ll be honest- I often don’t bother with buttering each sheet when I am feeling lazy, and it still tastes good.
(On a side note, I am very proud of these pictures.  I have taken dozens upon dozens of pictures of Spanakopita, but these are the first to actually look appetizing- all thanks to a new camera from my uncle!)
SPANAKOPITA
Adapted from Ina Garten
INGREDIENTS
12 cups fresh baby spinach
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chicken stock
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 ounce Romano cheese, grated
1/2 teaspoons grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled

12 sheets phyllo dough
3-4 tablespoons melted butter

Kosher salt
DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375°F.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.


Heat a large skillet over medium heat.  Add spinach and cook until wilted.  (You may need to do this in two batches if you don’t have a skillet large enough).  Cool in a colander.  Drain and squeeze out excess water.  Set aside.


Heat a medium skillet over medium heat.  Heat olive oil and  add onion. Cook for 5-7 minutes, until golden brown and tender.  Add garlic, and cook for 1-2 additional minutes until fragrant. Deglaze the pan with chicken stock and continue to cook until all liquid has evaporated.  Cool and set aside.


In a large bowl, combine eggs, Parmesan, nutmeg, spinach, onion, and garlic.  Season with a generous pinch of salt and some freshly cracked black pepper.  Fold in a pine nuts and goat cheese.


Working with 3 sheets of phyllo dough at a time, brush each layer with melted butter as you layer then on top of each other.  Cut the sheets in half lengthwise.  Place a dollop on each strip of phyllo dough.  Fold in a triangular shape as if you were folding a flag. Place on baking sheet fold-side down.  Repeat with remaining phyllo dough and filling.  Brush the tops of the spanakopita with melted butter and sprinkle with kosher salt.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, until tops are golden brown. Let cool for 3-5 minutes on baking sheet before eating.


Makes 8 spanakopita.  Serves 2-4.

Seven Layer Mediterranean Dip

One of my first recipes I created and made for weekend snacking as a seven layer Mexican dip (minus a few layers since I didn’t like tomatoes and avocados when I was younger so I wisely compensated by adding some more cheese).   Served with salty Frito scoops, I was set for a weekend of yummy snacking and felt like a culinary genius.

This dip is a genius idea for a spin on the traditional seven layer dip replacing the Mexican layers with its Mediterranean flavored counterpart.  It tastes fresh and light and is simple to make.  Each layer provides a different flavor profile to create a combination of creaminess and crunchiness.

SEVEN LAYER MEDITERRANEAN DIP
INGREDIENTS

10 ounces hummus
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
3 cloves roasted garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried dill
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 cucumbers, pealed and chopped
2-3 tomatoes, chopped
1/2 cup kalamata olives, chopped
4 scallions, chopped
1/4 cup feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

DIRECTIONS
Spread the hummus in the bottom of an 8×8 pan.  In a large bowl, combined cream cheese, garlic, dill, and lemon juice.  Using a hand mixer, beat until combined and whipped.  Spread cream cheese mixture on top of hummus layer.
Spread cucumbers in a layer over a colander.  Salt and let sit for at least 15 minutes.  Pat dry and transfer cucumber to a tea towel.  Wring out excess water.  Sprinkle cucumber on top of cream cheese layer.  Drain excess juices from chopped tomatoes with a paper towel.  Sprinkle over cucumbers.  Drain excess juices from olives with a paper towel.  Sprinkle olives on top of tomatoes.  Sprinkle green onions, feta cheese, and parsley on top.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at least 2 hours (preferably overnight) in refrigerator.  Serve with pita chips.

Greek Burrito

I have been in a serious food rut lately.  Nothing I have been making turns out good.  Actually, it is not just not good- it turns out awful.  It has gotten so bad that I can’t even finish my plate (and I have eaten some seriously gross stuff before).  If you don’t believe me, I ate green and blue onions last night (bad experiment with baking soda).  So the reason for low activity here is because food is not bringing me any inspiration and my time in the kitchen lately has been sparse.
These Greek styled burritos were the last good thing I whipped up- ah, the memories of good food.  The Tex-Mex burrito is filled with Greek flavors.  A delicious dinner is something to be truly appreciated.  Go home today and thank whoever made you a great dinner.
On a side note, today I will be interviewing at my first clinical psychology PhD program.  Wish me good luck!
GREEK BURRITOS
Inspired by KokoCooks
INGREDIENTS
1 cup dried wild rice
Olive oil
1 red onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
20 ounces ground lamb (or turkey)
1 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1/2 teaspoon dried cloves
Salt and pepper, to taste
6 ounces goat cheese
1 tomato, chopped
6-8 flour tortillas
DIRECTIONS
Prepare rice according to instructions.  Keep warm and set aside.
In a large skillet over medium heat,  add enough olive oil to coat the pan.  Add red onion and a pinch of salt.  Cook for 2-3 minutes.  Add garlic and tomato paste.  Cook for 1 minutes.  Add ground lamb and cook until browned, about 6-9 minutes.  Drain off grease, if needed.  Add rosemary, marjoram, and dried cloves.  Cook for an additional minute.  Remove from heat and set aside.
Wrap tortillas in wax paper.  Microwave for 30 seconds, until warm.  Fill each tortilla with rice, lamb mixture, tzatziki, goat cheese, and tomatoes.  Fold the bottom of the tortilla over the filling then fold over the sides.
Serves 4-5.

Fig and Strawberry Baklava


I have been waiting for fresh figs to pop up in grocery stores for about a year.  I just missed last year’s fig season by a couple of weeks (this was back during the days when I was only beginning to cook for myself), so it’s been a long year of anticipation.  Except that I completely forgot that fig season was happening, so maybe not so full of anticipation.  I nearly walked past these in the grocery store, but luckily I finally got to buy my fresh figs while they are in season.
Now that I had fresh figs, and I went to work finding a recipe to make with them.  I wanted a recipe that let figs shine as the star.  I debated between a savory or sweet recipe, but in the end, I decided not to fight my sweet tooth.  I browsed through my recipe books and was sad to find that most of the recipes with figs only needed dried figs.  I wanted to make a recipe that could only be made with fresh figs, so I decided to come up with one myself.
This is my spin on baklava, using fresh fruit instead of all nuts.  And it’s still somewhat healthy for a dessert, so everyone can stick to their resolutions for 2012 and still enjoy a little something sweet.

FIG AND STRAWBERRY BAKLAVA

From Cinnamon Freud
INGREDIENTS

15 strawberries, chopped
10 figs, chopped
3-4 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon brown sugar
16 ounces walnuts, chopped
1 pound phyllo dough, thawed
2 sticks butter, melted
2 cups honey
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3 teaspoons vanilla extract
Toasted almonds, for serving

DIRECTIONS

In a large bowl, combine strawberries, figs, honey, and brown sugar.  The amount of sugar and honey needed will depend on the the sweetness of the fruit used.  Taste and add more sugar if needed.  Macerate for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Brush a 9×13 baking pan with butter.  Layer 6 sheets of phyllo dough, brushing with melted butter on each layer.  Top with a small layer of the strawberry and fig mixture.  Top with walnuts.  Layer 3 sheets of phyllo dough, brushing with melted butter on each layer.  Top with a layer of strawberry and fig mixture.  Top with walnuts.  Layer 6 sheets of phyllo dough, brushing each layer with butter.

Bake for 35-40 minutes.  If top begins to brown too much, cover with aluminum foil.

Meanwhile, combine honey, water, sugar, and vanilla extract in a medium saucepan.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer.  Let cool.

After taking baklava out of oven, pour honey sauce over top warm baklava.  Let cool to room temperature for several hours.  Cut with a sharp knife into triangles.  Top with toasted nuts if desired.