Saturday, July 14, 2012

Greek Influence

Several months ago, a friend of mine invited me over for a cooking lesson from her very own mama, the fabulous Georgia of "Georgia's Greek Cuisine" at 3550 Rosecrans St, San Diego.  I had the best time hearing her stories of growing up in Greece, laughing while we shared the food prep tasks, and taking directions from our local master of Greek cuisine.  Best of all, my palate was rewarded with ridiculously delicious spanakopita, tiropita, and meatballs. 

We did our best to capture the recipes, but alas, Georgia cooks by feel much more than she does by a recipe.  We went home that night with a list of ingredients and cook times and it seemed to me that recreating these foods was going to be an exercise in cooking by memory and instinct.  For a girl whose cooking has always been heavily dependent on recipes, this was incredibly scary.  So for months, I satisfied my Greek food cravings with visits to the restaurant as often as I possible (not at all a bad option, let me tell you!). 

Finally, though, inspiration struck with a recent foray into gluten free eating.  Knowing I had to get beyond boring chicken and salad dinners, I took the plunge and pulled out Georgia's list of ingredients for Greek meatballs.

1. Ground turkey
2. Fresh mint
3. Fresh basil
4. Garlic
5. Minced Onion
6. Breadcrumbs to combine (not g-free, I know)

I did my best to eyeballs the amounts of each, mixed it all together, and dropped them into hot olive oil to brown on both sides.  This first recreation of the most delicious meatballs EVER was much better than I expected.  Paired with a salad and no-noodle eggplant lasagna (don't worry, that recipe deserves its own post next week), I had a hit on my hands.  The family loved it!

Not only were the meatballs delicious, but it was the first real entree I had ever made without a recipe to hold my hand -- woohoo!  And I must admit, this small success had me wanting to make the recipe my own.  

The next week, my CSA delivery arrived with fresh cucumbers, basil, and microgreens -- a perfect beginning to a Greek meal!  As the day went on, I had a plan to transform the meatballs into a delicious and artistic appetizer.  I call it Greek Meatcakes . . .because they look like cupcakes :)

For the meatcakes:
1. 1 lb ground turkey
2. Two handfulls each of finely chopped basil and mint
3. Three cloves minced garlic
4. One yellow onion, finely minced*
5. Salt/pepper to taste
6. Lightly beaten egg.
*A note on the onion, chop as finely as possible, over and over.  Or use a food processor.  Large chunks of onion will make it harder to form the meatballs and increase the chances they'll fall apart.

For the topping:
1. 1 tub of Greek yogurt
2. One peeled, grated, drained cucumber

To make the "cakes," mix all ingredients with your hands until well combined.  Form into meatballs with either a large tablespoon or 1/8 measuring cup to maintain consistent size.  (I roll all the meatballs while the olive oil heats in a nonstick pan over medium heat -- this makes me feel very efficient, haha!)  Drop the meatballs in the heat, and flatten slightly to help cook evenly.  It is imperative to get a good crust on both sides of the meatcakes, so make sure the oil is well heated prior to adding the meatballs.  I cook over medium heat until a dark golden brown crust developed on both sides (about 10-15 minutes, depending on thickness).  Set aside. 

For the topping, combine the Greek yogurt with grated cucumber and refrigerate for 10-15 minutes.  Don't forget to drain most of the liquid out of the cucumber so you don't end up with soupy yogurt sauce!  I do this by grating the cucumber into a towel and then wringing the towel out over the sink.

Feeling very artistic, I lined my meatcakes out onto a pretty platter, slathered on the yogurt sauce, and topped with beautiful microgreens for some color and artistic flare.  And, Bravo!, I had my very first foodiva creation.  And yes, it tasted as good as it looks!  Just ask my husband . . . he ate almost the whole tray of g-free goodness.  Love!

All that to say: thank you, Georgia, from the bottom of my heart.  You shared your amazing food and love of cooking with us, and it truly inspired me to finally create meals without recipes and with instinct.  The hands-on experience, sans measuring cups/spoons, changed my culinary world.  FINALLY! 

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