Dinner 1 - Harissa Feta Carrot Salad, Leek Pie, Eggplant with Spiced Meat and Chickpeas
Most people take January as a time to detox from December indulgence. I probably should have done the same but instead I took it as a time to hibernate, cook lots of warm food, and eat and drink to my heart’s content. I mean, what is a Thursday night if not an opportunity for copious amounts of red wine and topical dinner conversation? I guess you can get rowdy on Whole30 but it’s a lot easier with plenty of booze and some carbs.
Greek pies are one of my therapeutic comfort foods. They’re also relatively healthy, economical, filling and a crowd pleaser. Leek pie is one of my favorites in the Greek pie canon, not only because it’s delicious, but also because it’s easy and unexpected. This meal is a good intro to making pies at home because the leek filling is straightforward and the pie assembly is easy, but looks very impressive. I always get at least one ‘oh wow’, ‘oooh’ or ‘aaah’ when I set it on the table, laughing a bit inside because little do people know that it’s basically a leek jelly roll. Matched with an equally easy and always crowd-pleasing eggplant dish and simple salad, this is a unique meal that comes together pretty easily.
Beverage Recommendation: Red wine
Recipe 1 - The Salad
6 - 8 carrots, halved lengthwise
~6oz feta (sheep’s milk always preferred)
Salad greens, preferably arugula, spring mix or similar
1 - 2 tbsp harissa (Cava or NYShuk, or look in your local store)
lemon juice to garnish
Preheat the oven to 350F. Place the carrots on a baking sheet, drizzle lightly with olive oil and a dash of salt, combine. Roast carrots until starting to caramelize (golden), ~25 - 30 minutes, checking halfway. Once roasted, set aside.
Place the feta in a container with the harissa and ~2/3 c olive oil. Let marinate until ready to serve.
When ready to serve, place the greens on a plate/shallow bowl, top with carrots at room temperature, then top with harissa-soaked feta, cubed. Drizzle some of the harissa-oil and lemon juice, serve.
Recipe 2 - The Leek Pie (aka Prasopita/πρασοπιτα)
This pie requires very few ingredients and people are always surprised by how good it is given that it requires so little. You can make the filling and dough a day ahead (I wouldn’t do more than a day before). If you make ahead, let the filling and dough come to room temperature before you assemble.
For the filling:
3 - 4 large leeks
1 medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 tsp dried oregano
olive oil, salt and pepper
For the dough:
2 3/4c AP flour, plus more for dusting
8 tbsp raki (or white vinegar or cold soda water)
8 tbsp olive oil
~1/3 c cool water
(You can also refer to my phyllo dough tutorial for extra notes)
Clean the leeks very well, discarding rough dark tops and slice into ~½ inch pieces. Heat a large skillet or pan to medium heat, add the leeks with a generous dash of olive oil and salt. Saute for ~8 minutes, then add the onions, adding another dash of olive oil and salt. Cook until everything is tender, ~15 - 20 minutes. You don’t want these browned so lower the heat if it’s cooking too quickly. Add more olive oil as needed. Once cooked, add a generous dash of ground pepper and the oregano, combine and set aside to cool to room temperature.
While the onions and leeks are cooking, prepare the dough. Place the flour into a large bowl. Make a small well in the center and add the oil and raki. Mix with a spoon until the wet ingredients are incorporated, and then start adding the water a little bit at a time. You might not need all of it so start slow. As the dough starts to come together, ditch the spoon and start combining and kneading with your hands. Keep adding a little water and kneading until the dough is fully combined and maybe a little sticky but not overly wet and not sticking to your hands. If you want, you can turn out the dough onto a flat surface to continue kneading but I keep it in the bowl because it’s easier to knead and one less thing to clean. Knead the dough until smooth and incorporated, ~5 minutes, do not overwork. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes to rest (or up to the day before).
Preheat the oven to 350F. Choose a ~12’ circular baking dish or baking sheet (doesn’t really matter which). Rip a piece of parchment paper big enough to cover the baking surface. Set aside.
Cut the dough in half (keeping the unused half in plastic wrap to prevent drying). Roll out the first half into a large rectangular-ish shape, ~8 x 18 in (very roughly). The dough may shrink back as you roll it out but don’t worry, just keep working and it will get there. When rolled out, place half of the filling in a line on one lengthwise (long) side of dough. Fold and roll it in towards the rest of the dough until you end up with a long roll, then shape the roll in a circle. Transfer circle to the parchment paper.
Roll out the second piece of dough and once filled and rolled, wrap that piece around the first roll. If you notice in the image below, you can see a little browned part on the left where the first and second pieces of rolled dough were joined. This dough is pliable and relatively forgiving so don’t be scared when you wrap the two pieces around each other. Tuck the last edge under the pie. It keeps its form in baking.
Holding the pie in the parchment paper, transfer it to the baking dish or sheet. Don’t worry, it won’t fall apart or lose shape. I just find it easier to shape outside the baking dish first.
Drizzle and brush with olive oil (I use my hands) and bake until browned, ~30 minutes.
Recipe 3 - The Eggplant
3 large eggplants
3/4 lb ground chuck/beef (preferably 15% fat/85% lean ratio)
3/4 lb ground pork
1 can garbanzo beans with canning liquids
1 medium yellow onion, diced
2 - 3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp petimezi/grape must syrup (or pomegranate molasses)
2 1/2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp all spice
2 tsp dried oregano
olive oil, salt and pepper for cooking
Preseason your meat by combining the two ground meats with a dash of salt and pepper, and place in a sealed container in the refrigerator. If you’re preparing this immediately after buying the meat you don’t need to refrigerate, but if you bought your meat ahead of time, do this the day or morning before and place in the fridge.
Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise, roughly cut a few crosshatch into the flesh (deep into the flesh but not through the skin, obvi). Salt generously and set aside for 15 - 20 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375F. When the eggplants have sat for 15 - 20 minutes, rinse off the salt, pat dry with a paper towel, and place the eggplants flesh-side up on a baking sheet. Generously lather the eggplants in olive oil and roast for ~30 minutes until they are tender to a knife prick in the middle. You might need to add another dash of olive oil ~20 minutes of the way through cooking. Once roasted, set aside.
Meanwhile, prep the filling. In a large pan on medium heat, saute the onions with a generous dash of olive oil and salt until translucent, ~8 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, cinnamon, allspice and oregano, combine and saute for another minute or two.
Add the tomato paste and combine. Then add and incorporate the meat to brown, using a wooden spatula to combine and break up the meat as it cooks. Stir occasionally to encourage even browning, cooking for ~10 minutes.
6. Add the petimezi and beans with their canning liquid and combine. Let simmer for another 2 - 3 minutes. Set aside.
7. When ready to assemble, preheat the oven to 350F and select a large baking dish big enough to fit the eggplant halves. You can make them snug (I usually only get 5 of the 6 halves into my largest baking pan).
8. Top the eggplants with the meat and bean mixture, and add 1/3 c water. Cover with foil but just wrap two sides so some air can escape, and cook for ~10 minutes. [Note, if preparing this a few hours ahead, you can stop here and then finish the rest when ready to serve].
9. Remove the foil, use a spoon to baste the meat with the cooking liquids a bit, and cook for another 8 - 10 minutes until the meat is browned a bit on top. Baste again with the cooking liquids before serving.
Recipe 4 - Dessert
Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Makes ~2 dozen small cookies. Dough (and baking) can easily be done a day before.
1 3/4 c AP flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
3/4 c brown sugar, packed
1/3 c sugar
1 1/4 stick salted butter, room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
~4.25oz chocolate bar of choice, roughly chopped
Flakey sea salt
In a mixer, add the butter and sugar. Cream on medium-low speed for ~5 minutes. [Note, I used to make all my cookies with a bowl and spoon before I got a mixer. Totally cool, they just might not bake as well-structured. But they’ll still be delicious.]
In a bowl mix the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
After you’ve creamed the butter and sugar, add the egg and vanilla to the mixer. Continue to combine for another ~3 minutes.
Bring the speed down to low and slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet, scraping down the sides of the bowl if needed.
Turn off the mixer, open the top and add the chocolate. Mix by hand a bit, then put the paddle back in and mix on low a few turns just to incorporate.
6. Place all the batter on a sheet of plastic wrap, form into a square block and chill in the fridge, ideally for at least ~12 hours.
7. When you’re ready to bake, let the dough come back to room temperature for at least an hour (house-temperature dependent). Preheat the oven to 350F and using a medium cookie scoop (golf ball size), scoop out the cookies from the dough. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet ~2 in apart. They should all fit on two large baking sheets, plus you’ll probably have ‘tested’ some cookie dough by now.
8. Bake for ~13 minutes, turning the baking sheets and switching oven levels halfway through for even baking. Let cool on the baking sheet until cool enough to handle.
Serve the cookies with some winter citrus to offset the heaviness of the meal.