He ain’t Greecy, he’s my brother

Our new sink pisses me off a little bit. First of all, it’s white, which means that every bit of fat and tomato sauce and grime shows up on the sides and stays there until it’s scrubbed vigorously. Second, it’s not deep enough. I just need a giant farm sink that will never splash me on the titties while I’m doing the dishes. I don’t think that’s too much to ask. Finally, it has one of those McWorthless soap dispensers built into the back, only the little pump arm isn’t long enough to reach any dishes. So I have to pump it onto the sponge itself, then scrub the dishes. So stupid. So very, very stupid. But what i love (and I do mean love) is that I have an ENORMOUS window behind my sink, and a big ledge below the window to spread tiny little pots of various fresh herbs. Now I can dedicate my Aerogarden to growing pot full time! Like in Weeds! Kidding. It’ll be growing tons of basil, since basil seems to be one of the plants that really thrives in the Aerogarden, unlike cilantro or thyme, both of which just kick the bucket and die upon being in the same room as the Aerogarden. Also, I still don’t know how to grow pot, nor do I fancy the idea of marijuana pesto on cavatappi.

One of the current windowsill dwellers is a big mint plant. Having a mint plant is one of those things that you don’t feel will be important until you want to make mojitos or Greek food or garnish a fancy dessert. But then, when you go to the store to buy some sprigs of mint, you find out it’s about $5 for a tiny little plastic carton of mint leaves (measured as 1.75 mojitos worth of mint), and you get all kinds of indignant. And mint grows so easily, and takes over so much space, that it really makes a better ground covering spreader than it does a contained herb. It’s doing great in its little pot, though, and has already contributed to some pretty tasty food.

I’ve also got a giant wodge of sage, which is probably going to be made into logs of sage butter and frozen for Thanksgiving festivus this year.

But Greek food. Yes. Chris’s dad is alone this week being a bachelor, so it was determined that the appropriate son and daughter-in-law thing to do would be to take him up some food so he didn’t have to subsist on grilled hot dogs, peanut butter, and beer for the entire week. Chris’s parents aren’t super food-adventurous, so we’ve been slowly breaking them in using such “wildly exotic” ethnic bites as Greek, Mexican, and (horrors) organic. I find that Greek food is a good entry food to trying new things for people. The spices are familiar, but slightly differently combined, and bright and cheerful rather than musky and sexy (looking at you, Indian food). Most food novices will eat a gyro. Then it’s just a hop, skip, and a jump to more creative fare.

I think sometimes it puts people off that I try to force them to try new foods, but it really is how I show love. Recently, my friend Bex (who just had a gorgeous baby boy), told me that she could tell I genuinely liked these two other people we’ve been hanging out with. I asked her how she knew, and she said, “because you’ve started talking about trying to feed them things.”

I guess if I try to feed you or exercise you, then you know I care. If I try to do both, well, we’re basically soul mates.

Anyway, I love Chris’s dad, and I want him to have a good time with his palate. But I’m not going to get away with showing up holding a Thai curry or truffled potatoes just yet, so I made a parallel shift over to Greek meatballs and a tabbouleh salad, coupled with pitas and tzatziki for serving.

Tabbouleh is not Greek food. I know that. It ventures into the middle east; Lebanon, specifically. But it’s delicious and it goes REALLY well with Greek flavors.

Greek food and middle eastern food are very similar in a lot of ways, and one is certainly a great introduction to the other. There are crossover flavors like lemon and garlic and olive oil, but while Greece focuses on fresh, bright herbs (mint, parsley, oregano), the middle east tends to wander over into the world of spices (allspice, sumac, cumin). Tabbouleh is just a salad of chewy, nutty bulgur wheat mixed with lemon juice, parsley, mint, tomatoes, spring onions, and (in my case) cucumbers. It takes about 10 minutes to make, is super-healthy, and really, really delicious. You absolutely MUST use fresh, sweet, vine-ripened tomatoes, though. Any of that mealy supermarket crap will destroy the dish. You’ve been warned.

And the Greek meatballs are easy. CAKEWALK. They taste a lot like gyro meat, but have a more realistic texture and wholesomeness. Try these out next time you’ve got a good pound of beef (or lamb, if you want to go traditionalist).

-1 lb 80/20 ground beef
-2 cloves garlic, minced
-.25 C sweet onion, minced
-1 egg
-1 C unseasoned breadcrumbs
-1 T parsley, minced
-.25 t dried oregano
-.25 C milk or cream
-salt and pepper to taste (about 1 t salt and .5 t pepper)

Mix all of the ingredients thoroughly by hand. Heat a small pan over medium-high heat with a touch of oil. Make a tiny patty of your meat mixture and cook it on both sides until just cooked in the center (think medium to medium-well, but not more). Taste it. Add things as necessary. You think it’s too wet? More breadcrumbs. Too dry? More milk. To fat-free? You overcooked it. Not salty enough? Add more salt.

I can’t overstate the importance of tasting fillings before you commit to them. If you’re making stuffed mushrooms, fry up some of your filling before stuffing and baking the mushrooms. If you’re making a meat pie, fry up a tiny patty of the meat mixture. Otherwise you’ll end up with bland food 50% of the time. That’s how you adjust salt and pepper to taste, and it’s arguably the most important part of the dish. Salt, that is. If you’ve found you oversalted, you can add some more breadcrumbs and another egg, but it’s best to add it in modest increments and test it out as you go. Easier to add than to subtract.

Now use an ice cream scoop to make little uniform meatballs that fit into your muffin tin cups. You can make mini-meatballs in a mini-muffin tin using a mini-scoop, but I like them a bit bigger for moisture retention and to allow caramelization of the outside without dessicating the middle. Bake your meatballs at 375 F until they’re browned and tasty on the outside, but don’t go over an internal temperature of 160 F. They only need to cook for about 20 minutes, tops. If you’ve got a convection oven, this is a good way to use it. If you don’t, you’ll still have fantastic Greek balls for dinner.

Serve them with a simple yogurt sauce and some warm pitas.

We ate the bottom corner one for further testing purposes.

These were eaten with vigor and delight, and I was “rewarded” with a bag of giant mutant zucchini, which are still in my garage threatening me. I loathe zucchini, and I dread the part of each year where people are like “I grew zucchini!” and then try to share with you. Let’s be totally honest: You can’t NOT grow zucchini. It’s a pestilence. And everyone has way, way too much of it, and nobody wants it. So from now on, I think I’m going to pretend I have a zucchini allergy. It’s less ridiculous than the stuff that most people pretend to be allergic to, and will possibly protect our household from the plight of the generous gourd that we face each year.

Why can’t people grow me extra cucumbers and tomatoes? Huh?? Because I really, really like those. Or pot. Why can’t people grow me pot that I can replant in my Aerogarden for my marijuana pesto that I’m totally going to try when I’m moldy and old and can get away with pretending I have cataract and need more than the occasional glass of wine to relax? People have no sense.

8 thoughts on “He ain’t Greecy, he’s my brother”

  1. I eat zucchini about 8x per week in the summer and don't get sick of it. But, if you don't love it and are really into not wasting, even you could enjoy dark double chocolate zucchini muffins, right?

    Or just tape googly eyes onto it and put it in your roommate's bed, underwear drawer, looking into his window from the outside, etc, which is what we do with our extra zucchini. Only if it's your husband and his room is your room, it's probably less effective.

    I think I'll make tabbouleh tonight–thanks for the idea.

  2. Shall I mail you some zucchini?

    Though I'm not sure that the googly-eyed zucchini would lose efficacy just because I share the room with Chris. The worst that could happen is that I would startle myself and be convinced it was a big, green serial killer looking in the window or something.

  3. Zucchini is pretty bland without seasonings, so I like to season mine with tomatoes, eggplant, yellow peppers, green peppers, onions, yellow squash, garlic, basil, thyme, bay leaves, salt, pepper, and herbs de Provence. Oh sure, you're probably thinking "rataouille" but it's really zucchini seasoning. And it is pretty awesome. :)

    More importantly, though, awesome meatballs! Nothing better than homemade meatballs with a yogurt sauce. I developed a fetish for fresh, homemade tzatziki that may someday reduce me to immobility. Meatballs, yogurt sauce and flatbread, and it's time to put on the stretchy Sunday eatin' pants (aka sweats), and plop down in front of the TV.

  4. We got a mint plant from a co-worker about the size of your plant last year. Andy planted it near our deck in the back yard and now the plant is as big as a lawn chair. they grow crazy! Andy wants to get it to grow all under our deck so we can smell Mint whenever we are sitting out there. Im not so sure but it is wonderful to have on hand when we do our roast lamb and mint sauce.

  5. just plain excellent. my cyber friends are fucking brilliant.

    regarding zucchini, like so very many foods that you are wrong about, add this to the list. it's just a challenge, that's all. go to ruhlman's latest post. i mean, he knows all. listen to HIM.

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