Wednesday, March 5, 2008

My Big Fat Greek Dinner

On Monday, I made dinner for my mom, in celebration of her birthday. The three-course Greek meal was a huge success, and one of the best meals I've ever made. Though there were a few things I would have done a little differently, here are the highlights of the menu.

Appetizer: Flaming kasseri chese, aka Saganaki, aka OPA! aka "Oh my God the food's on fire!" This is quite a common dish in greek restaurants. It's showy, with big, bright flames, and hey, who doesn't like melty cheese on bread. This was amazingly easy to do. I just dredged some kasseri cheese in flour, pan-fried it in some butter until it was all melty, removed from the heat, added the Grand Marnier, lit it, yelled OPA!(yes, this is a required step. It's much like yelling "FORE!" when playing golf), and doused the flames with a squeeze of lemon.

This was just as good as you get in a restaurant. The hardest part was finding the kasseri cheese. Next time, I would use only 2 tablespoons of butter, and use a non-stick pan.

Main course: Lamb rib chops marinated overnight in olive oil, lemon, oregano, and garlic. I broiled these to medium-rare. They were super-tasty, little morsels of savory goodness.

Lamb rib chops are hard to find, so I just took a rack of lamb and cut it into rib chops. I also learned not to be afraid of trimming excess fat and gristle off a piece of meat. Even though it was technically "wasteful," it made the meat much easier to eat, and much more tender. Next time, I would use a ratio of 2 parts oil to one part lemon juice--the chops were a little too tangy. I would still add at least head, if not a head and a half, of chopped garlic.

Side dishes: Brown rice with lentils, and greek salad. For the rice, I more or less improved, and it came out great. I fried up a chopped onion with some oil, oregano and cumin, then added chicken broth and a half cup of lentils. I let that cook for a while, then added some more broth and some instant brown rice. Very tasty, and the lentils were a nice texture contrast in the rice.

The greek salad used romaine lettuce as its base, then I added a chopped tomato, some thinly sliced onion, some good Kalmata olives, and a lot of feta cheese. I served a tangy greek dressing on the side.

Dessert: Walnut and pistachio baklava with vanilla ice cream. I've worked with filo dough enough to know that the super-fancy desserts are best left to the pros. Both of these items were store-bought. The baklava straight from the local greek restaurant. Greek yogurt would have been more traditional here, but it was a birthday party, after all.

Wine: Two different wines, both procured by my dad were served with dinner. A Greek white wine, and a Spanish red wine. The white was very wierd. It was very piney. Not bad, per se, but it didn't go terribly well with the cheese, and it took some getting used to. The red, on the other hand, was wonderful. Nothing too complex, but it was smooth, spicy, and meshed really well with the lamb. I promise to do a separate wine writeup sometime soon, with the names of the bottles and all.

The meal was great, not just because of the taste, but because it was easy to do, I could do much of the hard work in advance, and it was thematically consistent.

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