Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Sofrito



This picture of my leftover paella vegetariana from Sofrito does not do any justice to this dish. Lacking my camera at this Puerto Rican restaurant in East Midtown, I couldn't capture the colorful presentation of green and red peppers, yellow squash and zucchini, asparagus, carrots, corn, peas, olives, and onions that decorated the steaming mound of seasoned rice.

I really do think Latin American food is fantastic, minus the fact that it's not the most vegetarian-friendly cuisine this side of the hemisphere. I usually get a raised eyebrow from waiters at Mexican, Brazilian, Colombian, and Puerto Rican restos, who can't believe that I don't at least want some chicken with my rice & beans, plantains, and sorry-looking array of obligatory peppers and onions that are the only vegetable accompaniments to some meals. Though the only vegetarian entree at Sofrito was the vegetable paella, ordering it didn't elicit any strange stares or any "you sure that's all you want, mami?" (yes, I've heard this before!) from the waiter.

But I was thoroughly impressed! For just $15, I was given a heaping bowl of that delicious paella, and even after I'd eaten my fill, it still looked as if I hadn't put a dent in that generous pile of rice and veggies. In addition to my satisfying meal, albeit a bit lacking in protein, the restaurant had a fun, modern look to it, with silver square panels on one wall of the main dining room. And though the live band was just too loud at times to hear my pal across the table from me, the dining room soon returned to audible levels after the band packed up at 9pm-ish. Vegetarian diners also have their choice of veggie empanadas, a watercress and avocado salad, and a white bean and vegetable soup if veggie paella isn't your thing- and that's it. Limited options aside, which is to be expected, Sofrito's veggie options are solid and a great value; and for guzzling very generous glasses of sangria and laughing loudly with friends, I'd visit Sofrito again for a good time!

Sofrito, 400 E. 57th Street, between 1st Avenue & Sutton Place, 212-754-5999

Yay for October!

I know it's September 30th, and it's not officially October just yet, but after a busy month and time away- and subsequently, fewer blog posts- but there's so much to look forward to in October!

With several food festivals, like the one from Gourmet Magazine and the Food Network, National Dessert month, and a number of veggie-friendly fetes tied into World Vegetarian Day on October 1st and Vegetarian Awareness Month too, I'm excited about posting an extensive October events list by the end of this week.

In the meantime, I was amused by a long listing on the Healthy Vegan Kitchen website of all the designated national food days and food weeks in October. If you don't feel like reading through the entire list, I'm including a few of my faves below!

Oct 1st- World Vegetarian Day, and the kickoff of No Salt/Low Sodium Week
Oct 4th- National Vodka Day- rally your pals together for this one!
Oct 6th- National Noodle Day
Oct 9th- National Dessert Day
Oct 13th- National Pumpkin Festival
Oct 27th- National Potato Day
Oct 28th- National Chocolate Day, and Wild Foods Day

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Greek Salad Skewers



I originally saw a version of these skewers online by Giada di Laurentiis, but after checking out the ingredients, it wasn't full of the authentic components that make a delish horiatiki salata (i.e. vinegar, which I found that the Greeks don't often use). To be fair, I'm no Greek chef, but having indulged in authentic Greek food and in my recent cooking endeavors with Greek cuisine, I'm taking the liberty of improving this recipe!

Anything on a skewer is a foolproof party snack, in addition to a good dip, like the tzatziki recipe below perhaps! You can purchase any of these ingredients in your local grocery store- the amount of ingredients depends on how many skewers you'd like to make, and I'm providing more of general guideline in my recipe. Though the skewers will take a bit of time to assemble, they make for a party-perfect presentation... even if it's not a more traditional presentation.


The Whats:

* 1 pint grape tomatoes
* 2 medium cucumbers, sliced
* half a large red onion, sliced
* 1 cubanelle peppers, thinly sliced
* 1 pint of mixed kalamata olives, pitted
* half of pound of Greek feta, sliced into cubes (don't use the pre-crumbled cheese for this!)
* 1/3 cup olive oil
* juice of half a lemon
* 1 tbsp. oregano
* salt & pepper to taste


The Hows:

1) Place all the vegetables in a gallon-sized zip-lock bag. Pour olive oil, lemon juice, and seasonings over veggies. Seal bag, and shake bag until veggies are coated. Allow one hour in the refrigerator to marinate.

2) Remove veggies from bag. Using large wood skewers, spear vegetables and feta cheese onto the skewer, in whatever order you like. Use care in spearing the feta cheese, as it might crumble. Place skewers on a large serving plate and drizzle with the remaining seasoned olive oil from the marinating bag. Serve chilled with tzatziki and pita chips; cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate if not serving skewers right away.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Tzatziki


A party isn't really a party without some kind of carbs and dip: tortilla chips and salsa, pita chips and hummus, crostini and spinach-artichoke dip. They're super-easy to make and everyone always makes a beeline for the dip!

Of course, having come back from Greece earlier this month and determined to serve something more waistline-friendly for a girls night in, tzatziki was naturally my dip of choice.

Choose a fat free, strained Greek yogurt, found in most grocery stores, to make your dip- traditional tzatziki requires draining the yogurt overnight, so you'll save yourself some prep time, and you'll give yourself an extra protein boost that comes from strained yogurt. Authentic tzatziki, like the recipe below, is full of garlic, but if all your guests are partaking, will anybody actually notice?

From personal experience, that answer is a resounding no!


The Whats:
* 2 cups plain, strained Greek yogurt (I used Fage 0%)
* 1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded.
* 2 cloves garlic, minced
* 3 tbsp. olive oil
* 2 tsp. white wine vinegar
* 1/2 tsp. dill
* salt & white pepper to taste


The Hows:

1) Finely chop or julienne the cucumber; allow cucumber to drain on paper towels.

2) In a large mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and stir gently to mix. Refrigerate for at least one hour before serving to allow flavors to blend. Serve with pita triangles and crunchy vegetables.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What's In a School Lunch?

Check out this post on school lunches on Good.Is.com. I'm a huge fan of graphics, because while some of us can read statistics and put them into perspective, others rely on visual cues to understand the information we're given. And this blog entry's graphic, which depicts a typical processed food lunch (seriously, a soft pretzel as an entree?) that still falls under outdated USDA guidelines and a healthier alternative to the scary school lunch we've all experienced as kids, puts the school lunch dilemma into perspective.

How do you feel about it? I may not be a parent yet, but I would not want my child eating some of the undercooked, fatty crimes against real food that I remember in our cafeteria. Aside from preparing your child's lunch every day (which, lucky for me, my mother was able to do for us in elementary school), contact your local Congressional representative and petition them on this issue. With a renewed interested in reforming the American diet, thanks to the President and First Lady, now is the time to put this issue on the agenda for change.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Black Eyed Peas & Spinach


When I think of black-eyed peas, I'm more likely to think they're fergalicious rather than a delicious Greek dish. I like being proven wrong though, and this saucy combo of beans & spinach became one of my favorite dishes while in Greece. As someone who regularly cooks Italian-style tomato sauce with basil, adding dill to this sauce was a springy, aromatic treat! You can serve this dish on its own with a pita or rice accompaniment, or you can make it part of a larger Greek vegetable spread.


The Whats:

* 1 cup dried black-eyed peas (or to save time, use 2 cans; drain & rinse peas)
* 1/2 large onion, diced
* 2 cloves garlic, crushed
* 4 or 5 plum tomatoes, peeled and diced
* 1/3 cup olive oil, plus a few extra tbsps for drizzling
* 1 large bunch of spinach, leaves washed and torn into bite size pieces
* 3 tsp. dill
* 1 tsp. oregano
* salt and pepper to taste

The Hows:

1) If using dried beans: in a medium saucepan, bring two cups of water to a boil. Remove from heat. Add the black-eyed peas to the boiling water; cover and let soak for three hours. Drain and rinse beans. In the same saucepan, bring 2 1/2 cups of water to a boil; add soaked beans. Turn heat to low; cover and simmer until beans are soft and ready to cook.

2) In a large skillet, heat several tablespoons of the olive oil; add onions and garlic and cook for two to three minutes. Add the tomatoes, remaining 1/3 cup olive oil, salt, pepper, and dill and cook for about 10 minutes until more sauce-like in consistency.

3) Add torn spinach leaves by the handful, allowing each handful to wilt for a minute or two before adding the next handful. Add black-eyed peas to the skillet with several tablespoons of their cooking liquid and cook for another 5 to 8 minutes, stirring occasionally. Adjust seasonings as desired. Serve hot; drizzle with extra olive oil if desired.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I'm back!



Just got back stateside yesterday, and aside from lounging on the beach and exploring mountain villages in south Greece, I'll miss the delicious food and the atmosphere of the tavernas!

I mean, you've got to respect a waiter who, when asked what the fresh fish of the day is, matter of factly answers, "We have none, you're better off going with something else."

The veggies were fresh and simply prepared- lemon juice, some dill, garlic, and tons of olive oil. With our proximity to Kalamata, olive trees grew wild and, as I was told, there's so much olive oil produced here that no one knows what to do with it all except douse everything- from the fish, beets, boiled greens, salads, meats, et cetera- with that olive oil. A vegan or vegetarian would have no problem finding plenty of lunch and dinner options in Greece, and the portions are generous- the picture above is just some of our meal at Argo taverna in Kalamata. And like anywhere else in the world, there were some restaurants that were better than others, but I didn't have one bad meal during the entirety of our stay in south Greece. Seriously, not a single one.

If you're in Athens, however, you're more likely to fall into tourist traps (like the Plaka restaurant that served ketchup with frozen fries, as opposed to the fresh cut potatoes fried in olive oil down south, and a tzatziki made without garlic- blasphemy!). Zorba's Tavern in Plaka, outside the Acropolis, is more authentic and definitely worth a visit if you are in Athens!

Until the next trip, however, I'll spend my time trying to replicate some of those fantastic Greek dishes on this blog for you, my dear readers! Kali Orexi!