Homemade tahini (sesame seed paste)

casaveneracion.com Homemade tahini (sesame seed paste)

Sam’s journey toward vegetarianism has been a huge challenge for me as a cook. I’m learning about new ingredients and new ways to prepare ingredients I’ve tended to ignore in the past, I’m learning to cook dishes that I’ve always filed away under “too foreign to try” and I’m acquiring a whole new vocabulary of nutritional values. It’s amusing most times and scary occasionally. But I’m the brave one who has never learned to accept the meaning of failure. So, I plod on. As Sam travels the road to vegetarianism, I am travelling a parellel road to cooking vegetarian.

This weekend is a chickpea feast. Hummus, falafel, a soup with split chickpeas and kailan… The soup has been consumed, the falafel I am going to make tomorrow, and the hummus is in the fridge to allow the flavors to develop. Which brings me to this post about homemade tahini. You can’t make hummus without tahini. Or, to be more precise, you can’t make the dish that the Western world calls hummus without tahini. “Hummus” is actually the Arabic word for chickpea and the dish that America and Europe call hummus is actually “hummus with tahini.”

Tahini is a paste made with sesame seeds and oil. It is sold in jars but, in the Philippines, tahini in jars is quite pricey. Sesame seeds are far cheaper and, just with the addition of oil, it’s easy enough to make tahini at home. Of course, there is a traditional way of making tahini which requires several steps. This is the homemade version so everything is simplified. If I have to labor over the process, I’d just bite the bullet and get the pricey stuff in jars. [Read more...]

Greek food at Cyma

Thursday isn’t traditionally a “date night” but then we’re not traditional people. Speedy and I went out to see a movie and eat out. At Shangri-La Plaza because that was where Crazy, Stupid, Love was showing. Screening time was 6.40 p.m. and we had only an hour to eat dinner. Because of its proximity to the moviehouse and because we so fell in love with Go Greek!, we decided to eat at another one of chef Robby Goco’s delectable “projects.”

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Unlike Go Greek!, Cyma is no fast food. There are more dishes to choose from and you can even order wine to pair with your food. The place isn’t large, a lot of tables were reserved but, being a weekday, it wasn’t so crowded and we were seated almost as soon as we entered. [Read more...]

Go Greek! Fastfood re-defined

Except when I’m abroad, I stay away from food courts. Reason? In the Philippines, food courts (found in shopping malls, mostly), offer the same thing. The stalls you’ll find in one food court are the same stalls you’ll find in other food courts. Same companies. Same reheated over-floured food. Same small servings made to look huge by smothering everything with bland sauces.

Then, two nights ago, we found ourselves at the Glorietta 4 where one of the few cinemas that Captain America was still showing was located. It took us an hour and a half to manage the 4.7 kilometer distance between Taft Avenue in Manila to Ayala Avenue in Makati because of the hair-raising traffic and we were very, very hungry. Sam saw “Greek” and, having fallen in love with Greek food after a meal at Mano’s Greek Taverna in Tagaytay, we decided to give Go Greek! a try. Great decision.

casaveneracion.com chicken gyro

Speedy and Alex each ordered a chicken gyro. What is it? It’s like the Middle Eastern shawarma. BUT don’t think of supermarket stall quality shawarma because the chicken gyro at Go Greek! is a hundred times better. Bite size chicken cubes, a thickish wonderful sauce and sprinkled with fresh chopped parsley. [Read more...]

Greek-style two-cheese pizza

Pizza is strongly associated with Italian food but the Greeks have their pizza too. And while Greek pizza is also made with a crust and a toppings that include cheese, feta rather than feta mozzarella is the cheese of choice. Olives, tomatoes and capers are also popular toppings but since my girls aren’t fans of olives and capers, I thought I’d stay with cheese.

casaveneracion.com Greek-style two-cheese pizza

Now, if this were authentic traditional Greek pizza, I should have used feta. But I used apetina cheese, essentially counterfeit feta, and mild cheddar so I’m calling this my Greek-style (not traditional) two-cheese pizza.

As with any pizza, baking in a very hot oven is essential. The dough must get a kind of shock from the sudden intense heat so that the inside is baked just at the same time that the outside turns brown and crusty.

Some people swear that a pizza stone is essential. I don’t use one but I do have a very reliable and very hot oven. [Read more...]

Moussaka (baked eggplants and beef with bechamel sauce)

Sometimes known as mousakas, musaka or musakka, this dish of eggplants and meat is found in Turkey, Hungary, the Balkans and across the Eastern Mediterranean. The baked version with the white sauce topping appears to be Greek in origin.

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Personally, I would describe it as something like lasagna except that instead of layers of pasta, we have layers of thinly sliced eggplants sauteed in olive oil. It’s delicious, really, especially when served with bread to mop up the tomato sauce and the white cheesy topping.

Ingredients

  • about 6 eggplants
    olive oil
    400 g. of beef, minced or ground
    2 onions, chopped
    6 cloves of garlic, minced
    2 c. of finely chopped tomatoes
    a splash of red wine
    a handful of sweet basil leaves, roughly chopped
    the leaves from three sprigs of oregano (or the equivalent of half as much if using dried)
    salt
    pepper
    a little sugar

    For the Mornay sauce (it’s bechamel sauce with cheese):

    1/4 c. of butter
    1/4 c. of flour
    1-1/2 to 2 c. of milk
    3/4 c. (or more) of grated Parmesan cheese (or other salty cheese — a combo if cream cheese and sharp cheddar works really well too)
    salt

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Instructions

  1. Make the meat sauce.

    Heat about 4 tablespoonfuls of olive oil in a pan. Add the beef and stir around until the meat starts to brown a little. Throw in the chopped onion and minced garlic and cook until fragrant, about two minutes.

    Pour in the red wine. Boil, uncovered, until the liquid is reduced to almost nothing.

    Add the tomatoes, basil and oregano. Season with salt, pepper and a little sugar to balance the acidity of the tomatoes. Cook over medium heat, uncovered, and with occasional stirring, until the tomatoes are soft and the mixture is almost dry. Trust me, you do not want a soupy sauce. When the sauce is done, set it aside.

    Fry the eggplants.

    To prevent the eggplants from discoloring, do not slice them all at the same time. Instead, slice them just before each batch goes into the hot oil.

    Heat about 1/4 c. of olive oil in a frying pan. Cut off the tops of about two eggplants then cut the eggplants vertically into 1/4 inch thick slices. Depending on the size of your eggplants, you’ll get three to four slices with every eggplant.

    Fry the eggplant slices in hot olive oil over medium heat. Just brown them a bit; do not overcook or allow to turn soggy. Transfer to a plate, keep warm, fry the next batch, and so on. Eggplants will soak the oil like anything so you will have to add more after frying each batch.

    Preheat the oven to 375F while you make the Mornay sauce.

    Melt the butter in a pan. Add the flour, all at once, stirring to get rid of any lumps. Cook the mixture for about five minutes, stirring occasionally. Pour in the milk little by little, stirring as you do. Use as much, or as little, milk as you like — more milk means a thinner sauce; less means a chunkier sauce. Just remember that a very chunky sauce will not be pourable and it might not be easy to level it off when spread over the beef and eggplants.

    Add the cheese (or cheeses). Stir until melted. Season with salt, if needed.

    Assemble your moussaka.

    Take a baking dish. Line the bottom with fried eggplant slices. Then, cover the eggplant slices with the meat sauce. Top the meat sauce with another layer of eggplant slices. Pour in the Mornay sauce, spreading so that all edges are sealed.

    Baked in a preheated 375F oven for 10 to 12 minutes or just until the top of the bechamel sauce is browned in places.

    Allow to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving to allow the moussaka to firm up so you can have nice slices. If you don’t care about appearance, well, serve the moussaka even while still very hot. I did. We were hungry.

Cooking time (duration): 50 minutes

Number of servings (yield): 4 to 5

Meal type: lunch / supper