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March 10, 2009

Weeknight Dinner, Turkish Style from Melissa!

Weeknight Dinner, Turkish Style

Melissa is one of my friends on FaceBook, and also a reader of Dianne's Dishes. When I asked for people to help me out this week she jumped right in! Who says you have to have a blog to be a guest blogger? Today you're getting a treat...Not one recipe but three recipes to make up an entire Turkish Dinner!

For my little family, the weeknight meal is always something I am trying to find a quick fix for. After a long day of working, the last thing I want to be is creative in the kitchen. I’m always trying to put something on the table without too much effort and don’t know where I would be without blogs like Dianne’s Dishes. I have some standbys myself that will hopefully come in handy for you. This is one of my favorite weeknight meals, mainly because it is fairly quick to make and has lots of flavor. I will put a disclaimer on this that I am calling it Turkish style, however the meal would probably be at home in most Middle Eastern kitchens. I grew up in Turkey and am half-Turkish, so I call it a Turkish meal, but this does not intend to start an argument about what food originated where….and I should also note that my husband is Armenian ;)

The following meal recipes do not have to be followed exactly, it’s more a method I am hoping to show – you can make your own meal according to your own tastes. I will offer some suggestions along the way. The one area where there is not a lot of wiggle room is with the rice, the measurements, ingredients, and cook time should be followed for the dish to turn out how it is meant to be. Also, I’m not a big fan of measurements but will try to include them where relevant.

Lebanese Salad

This is my version of a Lebanese Salad, adapted to fit the tastes of my family. I particularly love that there is no lettuce in this salad, it’s such a fresh and delicious (not to mention healthy) side dish.

Lebanese Salad

1 clove garlic
¼ of a red onion
1 green pepper, depending on the size (I use cubanelle)
3-4 tomatoes (I use roma)
1 large cucumber (I like the hothouse cukes, but will use regular ones if not available)
Handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped
Handful of fresh mint, finely chopped
Kosher salt
Olive Oil
Juice of ½ lemon
Sumac (a middle eastern spice that provides a lemony flavor)

Finely mince the garlic and chop the red onion into any size/shape, I like to dice it fairly finely because I do not use much and prefer little bits distributed throughout the salad. Chop the pepper, tomatoes, and cucumber into a ½ inch or so dice (with the tomato, I remove the seeds to make the salad less watery, which I recommend). Combine all of these ingredients in a salad bowl and add the parsley and mint on top . Sprinkle with the lemon juice and a drizzle of oil, add a pinch of salt and a generous shake of sumac. Stir and place in the fridge to let marinate for a while before you intend to serve the salad – an hour or so will really help the flavors combine and add to the deliciousness.

Serves 2 adults with seconds, just add veggies for more servings.

Lebanese Salad Notes:
- I’ve tried grating the garlic rather than finely mincing it but found the grated garlic would clump together. It’s worth the effort to mince it.
- I do not recommend adding any kind of leafy green to the salad, though you certainly can if you want to.
- If you do not have/cannot find fresh mint, dried will work in a pinch, but the flavor of the salad will not be as fresh. Just remember to use only a sprinkling of the dried mint, as the flavor is stronger.
- It is well worth the effort to get sumac – it’s a very versatile spice and particularly good with lamb and other meats. My husband even likes to add it to tomato sauces for pasta. Most major metro areas have Middle Eastern markets that carry it, I’ve even seen it at Whole Foods. However, Penzey’s Spices always has it and it can be ordered through their online store.
- This salad is amazing piled on top of a few toasted pita chips – the chips soak up the dressing and become very flavorful. Serve with a soup (such as lentil) and you’ve got a great lunch or light supper.

Rice Pilaf:

I have never understood the need for boxed mixes when it is so simple to make pilaf with a few simple ingredients that are pantry staples. People can be so intimated by cooking rice, but it could not be easier! An excellent side dish – and a main course for my picky toddler.

Rice Pilaf

1 cup long grain rice (nothing works as well as Uncle Ben’s)
1/3 cup (scant) of orzo (you can also use little vermicelli from a Middle Eastern Market, if you prefer)
2 cups of chicken broth
Olive oil
Kosher salt

Drizzle 1TB or so of olive oil in a saucepan – some people use butter or a combination of both, it’s up to you. I like the taste and health benefits of the olive oil. Heat over medium-high heat and add the orzo when the oil has warmed up. Sautee the orzo until it browns, as below:

Rice Pilaf

Add the rice and combine until everything is coated with the oil (or butter) and toast together for about a minute. Add the broth (there will be a sizzle and steam) and a generous pinch of salt, bring to a boil, and cover. Drop the stove to very low (1 or 2) and let cook for 20 minutes. Do not lift the cover to stir or even check progress. Once the 20 minutes has passed, uncover and stir the rice. If it still has some liquid in it, leave the cover off and keep over low heat, stirring frequently until it has evaporated. However, the rice should never be bone dry, it should look almost creamy when done. It will look more separate as it cools down.

Notes on rice pilaf:
- The ratio of the dry rice to the liquid should always be 1 unit of rice to 2 units of liquid. Adjust the measurements according to how much you need to make. I do not recommend making more than 1.5 cups of dry rice (and 3 cups of liquid) in one batch, it just doesn’t come out right. Better to make several smaller batches.
- I used the boxed/canned chicken broth from the store; homemade would make it taste even better. My favorite is College Inn, which is what my husband’s family always uses and swears by. You can use a chicken soup base combined with water or even bullion in a pinch, but it’s not my favorite way to go (especially with the bullion with its additives and MSG). Some folks use water, which is fine, but there is not much flavor to the finished product, even if it is well-seasoned.
- My father in law loves black pepper in his pilaf, if you like it, by all means, add it during the cooking process when you would add the salt.
- I grew up eating this dish made with short grain or medium grain rice, which makes for a sticker pilaf. It’s also very good, but I love the separate kernels of the Uncle Ben’s.

Lamb Kofte:

This is a great protein for your weeknight meal, full of flavor and possibilities. Little ones usually like this because they’re basically meatballs, except my picky son of course. There are endless variations to how this dish can be made and then cooked, so please feel free to experiment. This version of the recipe is the way I frequently make it.

Lamb Kofte

1 lb ground lamb
1 small yellow onion
Handful of fresh parsley
1 egg
½ cup, give or take several TB of fine bulgur (plain bread crumbs will work as well)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1-2 TB of cumin
Pinch of red pepper flakes

I have always had a challenge properly seasoning this dish since I cannot exactly try the raw meat, but I’ve come up with a system that seems to be working. Take lamb out of refrigerator one to two hours prior to when you would like to work with it, otherwise your hands will freeze. Spread the ground lamb out in a shallow dish (such as a baking dish) to give it lots of surface area and season with salt and pepper, as well as a pinch of red pepper and the cumin. Having the lamb spread out like this helps me to see where the seasoning is going, which is better than just dumping a handful of seasoning into a pile and hoping for the best.

Lamb Kofte

Next, finely chop the parsley and grate the onion and add it to the meat mixture. I actually pulverize both of these items in a mini food processor; it’s much easier and faster than grating and chopping. These two ingredients add moisture as well as excellent flavor to the dish. Next, beat the egg and add to the meat mixture, followed by the bulgur (or bread crumbs).

Lamb Kofte

Use your hands to combine the mixture together, but do not overmix otherwise the meat will become tough. If it is too wet, add more bulgur (or bread crumbs) a little at a time until it sticks together but is not dry. Next, break off a small amount (I use a small ice cream scoop for uniformity but a spoon will do fine) of the mixture and shape into a flat meatball, as below:

Lamb Kofte

Continue shaping until you have used the entire mixture.

Lamb Kofte

The next step is to cook the kofte. For this particular meal, I used my trusty countertop grill on medium-high heat, but you can pan fry in olive oil, broil in the oven, or even bake (using a rimmed sheet to catch the fat), etc. The kofte is especially good on the outdoor grill –particularly on charcoal. On my countertop grill (that cooks from both sides), it took about 6 minutes to cook.

Lamb Kofte

Serves four.

Notes on kofte:
- If you do not like lamb, this dish can be made with any other ground meat such as veal, beef (make sure there is some fat in it, if it’s too lean the kofte will be too dry), etc. If using ground ground chicken, make sure to add a larger onion and even some other extra veggies (like carrots or zucchini) for the necessary added moisture to balance out the lack of fat. I’ve also used meatloaf mix for this (veal, pork, and beef), and it was delicious. The sky is the limit.
- I usually will make a double batch of this and freeze many of the kofte after I form them. I keep them in plastic wrap and they thaw during the day in the fridge, perfect for a quick dinner – you just pop the thawed ones on the grill or in the oven, make the side dishes, and you’re all set.
-Kofte is especially good as part of a sandwich – particularly in freshly baked crusty bread that has been warmed on a grill with some tzatziki spread inside with fresh mint leaves and cut up tomatoes.

Thanks Melissa! This looks great and I appreciate you helping me out this week! Be sure and check back tomorrow for our next fabulous guest blog entry!

Posted by Dianne at March 10, 2009 11:06 AM

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I really want to make that salad, it looks so good! What a nice meal!

Posted by: Maria at March 10, 2009 11:38 AM

Looks great.

As a bit of an aside, don't suppose you can recommend a good recipe for tzatziki?

Posted by: Stacey at March 10, 2009 12:34 PM

Absolutely - I make a simple tzatziki though when I lived in the DC area I hardly ever had to because the Trader Joe's version was soooo good!

- Grate a cucumber (again, hothouse is best because of the lower water content) and drain it through cheesecloth to get out as much moisture as possible (if you're going for a less dense dish, don't worry about taking out the moisture). I sometimes use a kitchen towel and give it a good squeeze if I don't have time for it to sit over the drain.
- Add cucumber to some Greek yogurt - I will generally use an entire large container of it. I like the thickness of Greek yogurt though I will add some water occasionally depending on how thin I like it.
- Grate in a clove or two of garlic (microplane grater works best), depending on garlicky you like it
- Add fresh or dried mint (finely minced) to taste
- I add a pinch of kosher salt but not everyone likes to do that
- Mix all together and chill. Serve with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil if you like.
Should keep for several days in the fridge...That's all there is to it!

Posted by: Melissa at March 10, 2009 12:51 PM

Great looking meal!

Posted by: annie at March 10, 2009 8:47 PM

Melissa this looks fabulous! Thanks again for helping me out last week!

Posted by: Dianne at March 15, 2009 9:20 PM

I made the kofte this weekend and they came out a bit dry. I wasn't stingy on the onions or the parsley. I didn't mix the mixture for too long. Any ideas on what went wrong?

Posted by: Liz at March 16, 2009 2:43 PM

Liz - re the dry kofte, a couple of things are possible:
1. You may have used too many bread crumbs/too much bulgur. You want the mixture to stay together, but still be moist.
2. The fat content of your meat may have been a little too low

In both cases, an extra egg will usually go the trick, but you'll have to adjust the bread crumbs/bulgur accordingly if you add more egg.

There is also a possibility you cooked it too long and most of the fat ran out (like if you broiled it or had your grill tilted). I like to keep it pretty even so some of the fat stays in and then let it rest before eating it so the juices don't run out.

Hope you try to make it again, and if you come across the same problem, feel free to email me directly for other tips.

Posted by: Melissa at March 20, 2009 4:26 PM

Excellent recipes, Melissa!

Posted by: Linda at January 16, 2010 8:42 PM

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