The Real Greek Salad

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When I was traveling in Norway with Silje, every now and then, we would stop in our sentences and say to ourselves: I can’t wait until we’re in Greece.

Something Silje always added on was how excited she was to have Greek salads, every day.

I kind of brushed it off, because I was more or less just looking forward to feta cheese, all day, every day.

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Upon arriving in Greece, I quickly learned that I did not full understand what she meant by Greek salads. I actually ended up having a Greek salad at almost every single meal. Generally, Silje and I would each have our own Greek salads, and then split whatever the entree of the night was.

You see, here in the States, “Greek salad” could mean one of a billion things. It usually means some sort of vegetable mixture with too much dressing and a scoop of crumbled feta cheese. I’m guessing that the addition of feta just makes a salad “Greek.”

It could not be farther from the truth. Anywhere in Greece, when you order a Greek salad, you get a bowl or plate filled with the freshest of the fresh, and simpler than I could ever ask for: cucumbers, tomatoes, red onion, olives, capers, feta. No more, no less. Don’t let the impostors fool you.

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The Real Greek Salad, from, well, Greece.

1 medium cucumber
2-3 smallish tomatoes
A few slices of red onion
Black olives (with pits)
Capers
Fresh feta cheese – get a block, not the crumbled.
A drizzle of olive oil
Dried oregano for garnish

This enough for one salad – multiply accordingly for how many you’re serving.

First, peel the cucumber, and then slice in half lengthwise. Cut into half-inch chunks, and set aside.

Cut your tomatoes into quarters, and slice the red onion into wedges or slivers (I forgot the red onions in the photos. Don’t hate).

Slice about a half-inch sheet off of the block of feta. Toss the tomatoes, onion, and cucumber in a pretty bowl. Throw a few capers and olives on there, and arrange your slice of feta in the center. Drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with some dried oregano for garnish.

Enjoy the simplicity.

Spicy Penne with Tomatoes, Sardines and Lemon

Tomato, Sardine, and Lemon Pasta

Growing up, I didn’t know very many people who liked sardines or anchovies. I definitely didn’t eat them — but like I’ve mentioned before, I was the pickiest of eaters.

I honestly didn’t even eat them until former-roommate-turned-friend, Kristen, introduced this pasta dish to me.

Tomato, Sardine, and Lemon Pasta

Tomato, Sardine, and Lemon Pasta

Back in the day, when we lived together in that old, falling-apart row house, she and I spent a lot of time making dinners together. We’d both come home, pop open a bottle of wine (we went through a lot of wine back then), and throw something together for dinner. It was usually some sort of pasta, because we were both pretty much broke, and a little bit of pasta goes a long way.

I can’t remember where she got the recipe, but it was her go-to meal when it was her turn to cook. And it costs less than the wine, so it was a-okay for our budget.

I still make it for dinner, from time to time. And it’s the recipe that turned me on to sardines and anchovies. In fact, I sneak anchovies into a few of my recipes, just to strengthen the flavor… pesto, salad dressings, pasta sauces. You name it.

Tomato, Sardine, and Lemon Pasta

Tomato, Sardine, and Lemon Pasta

Tomato, Sardine, and Lemon Pasta

Spicy Penne with Tomatoes, Sardines and Lemon

1 lb. uncooked penne pasta
2 14-oz. cans of diced tomatoes
1 lemon
2 cans sardines or 3 cans anchovies
Crushed red pepper flakes
Parmesan cheese

First, fill a large saucepan with your pasta, cover with a couple of inches of water, and cook pasta to your desired consistency — IMHO, al dente is best for this dish.

In a large skillet and low heat, empty both cans of tomatoes and sprinkle with red pepper flakes. I like this dish very spicy, but you can add pepper flakes to taste.

As your tomatoes heat up, peel open both cans of sardines over your sink. Using your hands, remove the spines from each of the sardines, and use your fingers to break the sardines up into chunks. Set the meat into a separate bowl. Note: this doesn’t really apply if you choose to use anchovies.

When the tomatoes are boiling, add your sardines, and use a wooden spoon or spatula to help mix them into the sauce. They should start to disintegrate. Cover the skillet, and let cook over low heat for about ten minutes. Then, squeeze the juice from one lemon, two if needed, and stir to mix completely.

Mix with the cooked penne in a large bowl, and garnish with heaps of parmesan cheese.

Pasta Primavera

November makes me think of my youngest brother.

Kevin was born in November, when I was seventeen. At the time, he was three months premature — and in North Carolina.

So my dad and I spent a lot of time flying back and forth between L.A. and Chapel Hill to spend time with Kevin and Susie (my stepmom).

Kevin makes me think of high school. I recently found my Livejournal. That was embarrassing. And… I used to think I was really good at Photoshop. I guess we all need a reality check once in a while.

Bad photoshop and high school remind me of when I first toyed with the idea of being a graphic designer. I went to an art school open house when I was a junior, only to realize that I went a week late. I took it as a sign that I wasn’t entirely cut out to be a designer. Like my bad Photoshop skills, this also makes me smile.

I’m getting to a point in my life where the people around me, whether they’re close in age or they’re not, are starting to figure out what to do with their lives. It’s refreshing and exhilarating. Words cannot express how excited I am to see someone who was once frustrated start a new phase in life — doing what they love, loving what they do, and amazing the world with his or her spectacular talents.

Kevin, at age seven, is a pumpkin carving pro.

My dad likes to take Kevin to the pumpkin patch on Halloween, when pumpkins are in clearance mode. They purchase basically whatever is left at the pumpkin patch with however much cash is in my dad’s wallet. Last year, it was something like 14 pumpkins for one dollar each.

Kevin, unlike myself, can carve pumpkins for four hours straight.

For the first time in years, I’ll be sitting inside this Halloween. I’ll be hoping Sasha and Malia trick-or-treat at my house (my fingers are still crossed), while eating Ethiopian food and drinking this cocktail.

I’ve long since bid my farewell to summer. After all, my flip flops never really get too dusty, as I break them out every December for my annual trip to L.A. But this primavera — it’s too hard to let go of. I made this back when the vegetables were fresher and less expensive, but winter never stops me from doing anything now, does it?

Happy Halloween. It’s a good holiday, and I hope you enjoy it.

Pasta Primavera

Ingredients:
Note: measurements are estimates. Use your best judgement.
2 carrots, either julienned or finely chopped
Half an onion, finely diced
Handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
Handful of fresh broccoli florets
Drizzle of olive oil
Handful of fresh basil, sliced into strips
1/4 cup heavy cream
1 clove garlic, minced
As much pasta as you desire. For two, I usually cook a half pound.

Instructions:

Fill a large pot halfway with water, and bring to a boil. Add a pinch or two of salt, and throw some pasta in. I used linguini, which takes just over 10 minutes to get to al dente. Have a strainer ready over your sink. Pour the contents of your pot into the strainer, under cold running water. The cold water stops the pasta from cooking — and you definitely do not want overcooked linguini. Once cooled, drizzle with some olive oil, and delve your hands into the pasta to toss it. You don’t want your pasta sticking to itself and drying out.

In a large chef’s pan over medium-high heat, saute your finely diced onions, your carrots, and your tomatoes. Once the onions begin to soften, add the broccoli, garlic and basic, and a little more olive oil. The tomatoes will start to cook, and their insides will provide a nice base for the sauce.

When the broccoli is cooked to your taste (I like mine still crisp, with parts of the edges browned), stir in the heavy cream. The sauce should take on a light tomato-cream consistency.

Toss the pasta with your primavera sauce, and serve with fresh parmesan cheese.