Culture + Food
Traditional gyros require hours of time and special equipment. Anyone have a vertical broiler handy? Yeah, me neither. Instead, I fake it with chicken marinated in Greek dressing. The better the dressing you can find, the better your gyros–Matsos is my favorite. If I have time, I’ll also grill the chicken breasts whole. But if I need dinner in a hurry, I’ll cut them into thin strips for fast cooking on the stove top.
Prep time: 30 minutes + marinating time
4 chicken breasts
1/2 cup Greek salad dressing
4-6 good pitas
1/2 cup Greek yogurt
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 fresh lemon
1 tomato, sliced in wedges
1/2 white onion, in slices
2 Tbsps. olive oil
Thinly sliced cucumbers (opt.)
- Cut the chicken breasts into thin strips and marinate in the Greek dressing at least 30 minutes. (I usually put the chicken strips in the marinade in the morning so there’s one less step come dinner time.)
- In a large saute pan, bring the olive oil to medium-high heat. Add the chicken strips and cook through. Squeeze the juice from 1/2 a lemon at the end of cooking along with salt and pepper.
- In a small bowl stir together the Greek yogurt and garlic cloves. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. I also like to add in some cayenne pepper. Mr. Squid adds a little bit of extra Greek dressing too–I like to keep mine with just a garlic zing.
- Warm up the pita bread in the microwave or on a heated nonstick pan.
- Prepare each pita by slathering it with Greek yogurt dressing, then add chicken strips, 2 tomato wedges, a few onion slices, and a bit of feta cheese (and cucumbers if you’re using them).
Yup, I cracked my tangine yesterday. And yes, it was my first time using it. Sigh. A tangine is a traditional Moroccan cooking dish that has a cone top that helps slow cook and steam the food inside. Well, I’m still working out the kinks with how exactly you cook using it. But for now my good ‘ol dutch oven seems to do the trick.
Prep time: 20 minutes + 15 minutes cooking
1 1/2 cups rice
1/4 cup oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 cup canned chopped tomatoes
1/3 cup yellow and/or red pepper, chopped
1/2 small onion
2 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp. tumeric
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/2 tsp. smoked paprika (or regular)
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1 pinch of cinnamon (opt.)
Fresh cilantro and parsley
2 tbsp. golden raisins
Fresh lemon wedges
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- In a heavy-bottomed dutch oven, bring the oil up to medium-high heat.
- Rinse the rice in water to remove excess starch and then add it to the hot oil.
- Heat the rice for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until golden.
- Meanwhile, in a blender, place the tomatoes, onions, garlic, spices, and pepper and pulse until pureed.
- Add the tomato mixture to the golden rice and cook for 4 minutes or until the color of the tomato deepens.
- Pour in chicken broth and bring to a boil.
- Cover and bake for 15 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed.
- Add in the raisins, if using.
Kids’ reactions: This dish was a winner. My tween even took the leftovers to school for lunch. I made a wrap for my teen with some of the rice, avocado slices, deli turkey, and Sriracha sauce.
For my birthday, my hubby surprised me with a Moroccan tangine. It’s a baking dish with a high, cone-shaped lid (not pictured) that traps the cooking liquid and infuses the food inside with the flavor.
Yeah, I managed to crack it the first time I tried cooking with it. (In my defense, it didn’t come with any seasoning or cooking instructions.) Well, I’m now researching how to season and cook the right way with the tangine. But I still had all of my ingredients ready to go so I made this Moroccan shrimp dish in a skillet, instead of a tangine. I used a recipe I found on The Food Republic as a base and then tweaked it to mirror the flavors of a dish a Moroccan friend of mine made for me years ago.
Prep time: 20 minutes + 20 minutes cooking
1 1/2 pounds raw shrimp, tails and shells removed
2 tbsp. oil (I used grapeseed)
1/2 cup chopped canned tomatoes
1 raw tomato, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. cumin
1/2 tsp. tumeric
1 tsp. smoked paprika (or regular) + more for sprinkling
1/4 tsp. white pepper
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
Salt to taste
2 tbsp. parsley, chopped
2 tbsp. cilantro, chopped
2 tbsp. chicken broth
1 lemon, sliced
- Puree the tomatoes, tumeric, paprika, and garlic in a blender.
- In a heavy-bottomed skillet (no idea yet if this would also work in a tangine), bring the oil to medium-high heat.
- Add the tomato mixture to the hot oil and cook until the tomato color begins to darken (from bright orange to red), about 4 minutes.
- Add the shrimp into the tomato mixture and sprinkle with cumin, cayenne, white pepper, and fresh herbs. Cook for 3 minutes or until shrimp just begins to turn pink.
- Place the lemon slices on top of the shrimp. Pour over the chicken broth, then cover the skillet.
- Cook for 5 minutes until the shrimp is heated through and tender.
- Add additional spices, if necessary (I like to add more smoked paprika and cayenne).
- Serve over plain rice or Moroccan rice (recipe coming tomorrow).
Kids’ reactions: Thumbs up and clean plates all around. I would definitely make this again EXCEPT Mr. Squid seems to be having bad reactions to shrimp lately so I’m not sure whether we’ll have to cut out shrimp for awhile or altogether:(.
There’s no better place to inspire your kids to try seafood that right where it’s caught. Sure, the Costco jumbo bags of shrimp are fine, but when you really want fresh fish, you’ve got to have an ocean nearby. So last week while visiting Northern California, I encouraged my kids to eat plenty of fish.
After spending the day at the world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium we walked down to the Wharf for dinner. Seafood restaurants line both sides of the Wharf. They also compete for guests by claiming to have the best clam chowder. Each restaurant has a person posted outside during busy times to lure customers inside by giving them chowder samples. We must have sampled around five or six different chowders before settling on Albonetti’s.
While the creamy clam chowder at Albonetti’s quickly became my middle daughter’s favorite (seriously that’s all she had for dinner. The child who hates peanut butter loves clam chowder), their real specialty is squid. Albonetti’s uses squid caught in the Bay and then cleans them fresh daily. Albonetti’s is one of the few restaurants that cleans their own squid–some 1,000 pounds each week. Interestingly, much of the squid caught locally in Monterey Bay is sent overseas for cleaning and packaging before making their way back to area restaurants.
At Albonetti’s fresh squid is a passion (I didn’t realize until the waiter enlightened me that for many Italians, squid is comfort food). They have an entire section of the menu just for different varieties of calamari, from traditional to their own take on Buffalo-style squid.
But the best thing on the menu, and that we sampled during our week in No Cal, was Albonetti’s Marty’s Special. It’s been on the menu since the family-owned restaurant opened over 60 years ago. The waiter literally did a jump of excitement when my oldest daughter ordered it. The squid is prepared like veal Parmesan, breaded and fried and served along with eggplant in a rich marinara that simmers for 10 hours before topping this dish. The tender texture of the squid melds perfectly with the robust flavor of the red sauce and the smattering of melted mozzarella cheese. This is one dish I can’t even attempt to make at home. I did find one recipe for Albonetti’s Marty’s Special online.
Your turn–have you ever found a food that your kids were more willing to eat when you were on vacation? How do you find good places to eat while traveling?
I found gorgeous peaches at the market today, which I thought would pair perfectly with pork in traditional Mexican tacos. With authentic tacos, it’s all about the fresh fillings. Seriously, no cheese, no unidentifiable gritty ground meat.
For an easy, tasty summertime meal I chopped up pork cutlets into bit-sized pieces sauteed them with a few spices and lime before adding thin-sliced peaches, cilantro, and homemade salsa.
Picky eater trick: For my kids, I put all the ingredients on their plates and then let them construct their tacos on their own. My youngest later dipped the extra peaches right into the salsa. I surprisingly tasty combo!
Prep time: 30 minutes
2 lbs. pork
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
- Cut the pork into bite-sized pieces.
- Bring 1 tablespoon grape seed (or canola oil) to medium-high heat in a heavy-bottomed skillet.
- Saute the pork until heated through and crisped, adding garlic and cayenne powders and ground cumin half way through cooking.
- Squeeze half of a lime over the meat before removing it from the pan.
- Cut the peach into thin slices (I didn’t bother removing the skin since the slices were so slim).
- Serve the pork with fresh peach slices, cilantro, and salsa on toasted corn tortillas.
A molcajete is pretty much a the Mexican version of a mortar and pestle with Aztec origins. Mine came from a side street market in Mexico City and weighs 10 pounds (thank goodness my husband got it before the airlines started charging you to check your bags).
Made of volcanic rock, the molcajete’s porous surface absorbs the flavors of what has been ground in it before. So the garlic rub you might have used to start off a salsa a month ago will leave hints of flavor in the guacamole you make today; every batch is entirely unique.
For instructions on how to season your molcajete you can check out my post on Wandering Educators.
To create a basic tomato salsa at home using a molcajete here’s what you need:
Prep time: 15 minutes (depending on how hard you grind)
3 Roma tomatoes, chopped into slices* (See note)
2 slices onion
1/2 cup fresh cilantro
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (or 1/4 teaspoon cumin seeds)
Peppers (you can use whatever kind of heat your family prefers–cayenne powder, fresh serrano peppers, jalapenos)
- Place the cumin and garlic in the molcajete bowl. Grind into a paste using the hand tool.
- Next, grind the pepper of your choice in the molcajete bowl. I often use dried chiles, but fresh is great too.
- Add the tomatoes, onion, and cilantro to the molcajete and start grinding. (My kids have fun doing this).
- Mix in salt to taste and serve at your table in the molcajete.
*Note: Many salsa recipes call for you to remove the tomato skins before grinding. I’ve found that the skin comes off during the process and you can take it out easily. Another option is to use drained, canned tomatoes. These work well, especially the roasted variety.
Your turn: Have you ever used a molcajete? What about a mortar and pestle?
Breakfast burritos are a dinnertime staple around my house. I forage in the fridge for whatever leftovers I have, throw it in with scrambled eggs and wrap it in a heated flour tortilla and you have dinner. Sauteed veggies? Throw ‘em in for veggie burritos. Leftover pork? Chop it up, throw it in then top the scrambled eggs with salsa for Mexican breakfast burritos. Mozzarella + diced tomatoes + fresh basil (if you have it) and you’ve got Italian breakfast burritos. Yeah, I wasn’t kidding when I said we have this a lot. Easy peasy.
On Friday night I even packed our breakfast burritos to go since we were running late to see The Avengers. Yes, I carted our burritos into the theater with us so we could eat while we watched the previews. I had thought of just giving in and buying fast food on the way but I took 5 minutes and made Mexican burritos instead. So I had burritos on the brain while watching the Hulk smash through Cleveland. Yes, it’s Cleveland, not New York, getting pummeled during the movie. I’m so proud. After defeating Loki and his minions (yeah, no spoilers there we all figured the Avengers would prevail, right?), Iron Man mutters that he wants shawarma. I love that shawarma got a big screen mention. The Middle Eastern shish kabob deserves the A-list star treatment.
The next day my husband and I did a little what we like to call culinary spelunking in Cleveland and stumbled upon the Assad Bakery, which had shawarma and fresh pitas for sale. Fresh pitas are nothing like the cardboard kind you find at a regular grocery store. They’re soft and pliable and come in different sizes. They’re meant to be rolled. I was inspired: what about a Middle Eastern breakfast burrito complete with a slathering of hummus? I went for Trader Joe’s smoky red pepper chipotle hummus and paired with scrambled eggs for this Middle Eastern breakfast burrito.
Recipe rundown: Prepare scrambled eggs. Spread about 2 tablespoons hummus over the pita. Place about 1/3-1/2 cup cooked eggs in a center line on the pita then roll up starting with one end. If you can’t find decent pitas around, go ahead and buy the pocket variety and just place the hummus and eggs into the pocket (don’t try to roll ‘em). Or, you could use flour tortillas for even more cross-cultural food fusion.
Kids’ reaction: Rave reviews all around. My two youngest requested their burritos sans hummus but then when I couldn’t finish mine they both offered to eat it.
In celebration of Cinco de Mayo, I wanted to share some pictures from our family’s visit to Mexico City and the surrounding area. We took our trip a couple years ago but my kids still talk about their experiences there–from watching the famed voladores dancers fly through the air outside the National Anthropology & History Museum in Mexico City to eating a milenesa tortas in Chapultepec Park to stumbling into a street fair in a town on the side of a mountain and so much more.
To capture a little bit of Mexican culture at your dinner table, here are a few of my favorite authentic dishes you might want to try this weekend:
For some of you toasting corn tortillas might seem fairly basic, but for others you might still be clipping coupons for the hard shells. Put the scissors down.
Here’s what to do instead:
Look for white corn tortillas in the refrigerated section of your neighborhood store, or try to find a more local brand at a Mexican grocers. The brands at the store don’t tend to be as fresh or pliable, but they’re still an improvement over the hard shells.
If you have a gas grill you can go ahead and light the burner–or burners to medium heat (I use all four at once). Then place the white corn tortillas right on the grate. For those with electric ranges, it’s a bit harder to get the tortillas toasted; use a heavy-bottomed skillet that’s heated to medium-high heat.
The tortillas will begin to puff slightly as they bake, flip after about 1 minute then toast on the other side.
Last step, and this is important for flexible tortillas, place them in a tortilla warmer or a kitchen towel.
Often, when I’m serving tacos I’ll place the warmer in the middle of the table and then put a variety of fixings on each person’s plate.
More ideas for Cinco de Mayo:
Your turn–are you already a toasted corn tortilla fan?
Yesterday I explained how to make your own corn tortillas at home, well today I wanted to give you an idea for a tasty, fast filling: lime-spiked shrimp.
The shrimp filling takes all of 15 minutes to make (an extra 15 if I need to thaw the raw shrimp and remove the tails). Here’s how I do it:
- Heat 1/2 tablespoon canola or grape seed oil in wok or heavy bottomed skillet to medium-high heat.
- Add 20-30 medium-sized raw shrimp to the hot oil. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin and garlic powder; you can even add 1/4 cayenne if you want more of a kick.
- Cook until the shrimp are just beginning to turn pink (about 2 minutes) and squeeze all of the juice of a fresh lime during the final minute of cooking. Add salt to taste.
- Serve in toasted, corn tortillas with fresh salsa or as a topping for tostadas.