It seems that most of us are thinking about celebrating these days. It’s that time of year. The trick is how we do that while not ignoring our healthy physical selves. There may be a few lessons we can learn from others through terms that have become popular such as meze in Turkey or batanas in Mexico or tapas in Spain. They all refer to a selection of small dishes which are served at the beginning of all large scale meals.
Their general intent is to satisfy our cravings while we wait impatiently for our dinner. My favorite definition however is culturally distinct in that it refers to the Spanish tendency of viewing tapa bars as places that not only satisfy our appetites but also our need for social interaction.
A few years ago a Yale professor wrote a book arguing that Americans have become less inclined to join local friendship networks but instead prefer isolating themselves from others. Perhaps this is what Zuckerman and others saw in the value placed on Facebook and Twitter--electronic avenues of communication to more easily “stay in touch.”
Perhaps society has changed or perhaps the Spanish and the Turks, among others, can at least teach the rest of us about the value of celebrating together and in moderation. I suspect this is especially true if the goal is not only to eat without restraint but to communicate with others in friendly ways, as well. The Spanish at least have created an institution called the tapa bar where local citizens seek to lubricate themselves with discourse, alcohol and small dishes of food. Eating and drinking small while talking and conversing in socially agreeable terms with new friends may be a new approach or an old one that can taste good while feeling even better. To help us achieve this tapa bar like behavior, I have included a few delicious reminders about how to enjoy the holidays to come. There are five recipes below that remind us of local traditions and cross cultural ones as well.
1) Deb’s Salmon Pate
8 ounces fresh wild salmon 11 ounces cream cheese juice of 1 ½ lemons handful of fresh dill one bunch of scallions with white end and 2 inches green cracked pepper 1 teaspoon horseradish 3 tablespoons fresh parsley
Place filet into a pan and parboil for 5 minutes. Add filet and rest of ingredients to food processor until smooth. Taste and adjust as needed. Enjoy with crackers or toasted pita triangles.
2) Turkey Meatballs, Italian Style. Serves 12-15 Inspired by the 50Year old Italian Cookbook,The Silver Spoon
1 lb. of ground turkey 1 lb. of ground boneless pork shoulder ¼ olive oil 2 ½ cups bread crumbs ½ cup milk 2 large eggs 6 diced garlic cloves 1 tablespoon rosemary 3 tablespoon parsley 1 cup dry red wine
¼ cup parmesan cheese 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes 3 red onions, thinly sliced 2 tablespoons salt 2 tablespoon black pepper 2 cups basic tomato sauce *
Preheat the oven to 475 F. Mix all the pork and turkey, cheese, bread crumbs, milk, eggs, 3 diced garlic and 2 tablespoons parsley with your hands until just combined. Form into balls relatively small in size (2 inches in diameter) and place in casserole dish. Roast the meatballs until dark brown about 15 minutes. Remove from oven and reduce the oven temperature to 350 F.
To make the sauce, in a large ovenproof skillet heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking; Add 3 red onions thinly sliced with the remaining 3 diced garlic. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until well browned-- about 5 minutes. Add red pepper flakes, dry red wine, rosemary and “basic tomato sauce”; bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.
*Basic Tomato Sauce: ¼ cup olive oil; 1 spanish onion; 4 cloves garlic; 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme; ½ medium carrot- finely shredded; two 28 oz. cans whole tomatoes.
Saute onion in saucepan with olive oil and with diced onion and garlic. Add the thyme and carrot and cook 5 minutes. Add thetomatoes, bring to a boil; simmer for 30 minutes. Season with salt.
Add the meatballs to the sauce, place the pan in the oven, and cook for 1 hour. Season the meatballs with salt and pepper to taste. Serve in shallow bowls with the sauce, topped with the 3 more tablespoons of chopped parsley. This is a wonderful warm-up to the roast turkey or to eat with left overs.
3) Larry’s Scallops and Bacon. Serves 12 -- 15
12 slices of smoked bacon, halved 24 scallops, halved ¼ cup apple cider vinegar 2 tablespoons light soy 1 teaspoon Dijon 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
Cut the bacon in half and cut the scallops in half. Fry the bacon for 3-4 minutes until slightly crispy but still able to wrap around the scallops. Using a toothpick attach the halved, cooked bacon slices around each of the 12 halved sea scallops. Create a mixture of apple cider vinegar, light soy, 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard—whisk and marinate scallops in mixture. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons light brown sugar on each scallop wrapped in bacon and broil for about 5-6 minutes until adequately crispy. Enjoy.
4) Clams Casino Italian Style Serves 24. Inspired by Mario Batali
8 ounces Italian Pancetta, diced 24 Cherry Stone Clams 2 tablespoons olive oil 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar 1 diced medium yellow onion 2 diced garlic cloves 1 red bell pepper 1 teaspoon oregano 2 tablespoons parmigian salt and pepper to taste
kosher salt for plating prepared clams
Pre-heat the oven to 400 F. In a 10 to 12 inch heavy bottomed sauté pan, cook the pancetta over medium heat, stirring just until it begins to brown and renders fat. Drain the fat from the pan and place the pancetta on a plate lined with paper towels.
Add 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 diced medium sized onion, 2 diced garlic cloves and cook until soft—about 5 minutes. Add one red bell pepper, cored, seeded and minced. Add oregano and cook until peppers are tender but still have a crunch –about 6 minutes.
Transfer the mixture to a medium size bowl and stir in the pancetta, two tablespoons red wine vinegar and 2 tablespoons parmigian. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Carefully open the clams with a clam knife discarding the top shell; or you can place the clams on a sheet tray at a preheated oven of 400 F until clams open—about 7 minutes.
Make a bed of kosher salt about ½ inch thick. Place the clams in the salt. Using a small spoon, divide the bell pepper mixture among the clams. Bake about 12 to 15 minutes—less time if you opened the clams in the oven. Serve on a fresh bed of sea salt. The kosher salt nicely holds the clams in place.
5) Na’ama’s Fattoush (Arab and Israeli Salad popularized in Jerusalem) Known for including chopped fresh vegetables and bread. Salad is very popular at all meals in Jerusalem. There are many variations. This one was created by Sami Tamimi’s mother among Arabs in Jerusalem. Sammy is the coauthor of the recently published book, Jerusalem with his Israeli friend, Ottam Ottolenghi—both of whom live and create beautiful food in London. One bone of contention about this dish among families in Jerusalem of all ethnic backgrounds is the size of the dice used to cut the vegetables. It varies between 1/8 inch and ¾ inch. With this kind of disagreement we should all be able to collaborate and compromise more easily.
The vegetables and herbs for this salad include:
three large tomatoes 3 ½ ounces red radishes 3 mini cucumbers, peeled, cut into 2/3 inch dice or smaller 2 scallions, thinly sliced 1 tablespoon dry mint 2 cloves crushed garlic 1 tablespoon za’atar (Lebanese spice made with Sumac).
The dressing for this salad includes:
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice ¼ cup olive oil 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 1 2/3 cups Greek yogurt
Combine all of these ingredients with a whisk or in a blender. Add 2 large Turkish flatbread or "Naan" torn into bite size pieces and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the yogurt mixture followed by the other ingredients.
Finally, Za’atar is generously added to individual serving bowls of vegetables along with a drizzle of olive oil. Wow! All of these ingredients are worth the time and effort.