Greek Recipes

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

It’s that time of year again, where I start craving bright, cheerful vegetables that won’t be available in any degree of abundance for at least another three months. Generally, I try to eat more-or-less seasonally; out-of-season produce tends to be horrendously expensive, particularly if you’re buying organic, and I find that I appreciate the bounty of summer more when I’ve been deprived for a while (I think all Minnesotans must believe this on some level, with regards to life in general – otherwise, no one would stick around for more than one winter). Plus, it’s hard for produce grown in Mexico and trucked in to compete with the fresh, picked-ripe fare available at a farmers market in the summer, which makes eating out-of-season produce in the dead of winter a depressing reminder of just how long it’s going to be before you get to eat a real tomato again. Sigh.

But every so often, I just can’t take the monotony of winter any longer, and go running off to my co-op for an armload of summer veggies from California and Mexico. This salad is one of my favorite things to make with my purchases – it’s delicious, filling, and makes a complete meal on its own. It can be served warmish or at room-temperature, if you’re not in the mood for a cold salad (though it is also excellent cold). Quinoa is pretty expensive for a grain – the price has been climbing steadily for the past several years, and it currently comes in at $4.89/lb. in the bulk section at my co-op (yikes) – but I like it enough that I splurge on it every so often. (If you’re on a tighter budget than I am currently, you could substitute rice, couscous, or probably even barley, all of which are cheaper options.) Cherry or plum tomatoes are a must, if you don’t have any fresh, picked-ripe regular tomatoes on hand – they’re basically the only types of grocery store tomatoes that are worth a damn at any time of the year, and will come the closest to approximating that peak-of-summer tomato taste that is so hard to find outside of the summer months.

This recipe was roughly adapted from the one here.

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (about 1lb.) quinoa
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken broth, or water + bullion cubes, or whatever
  • 1 small red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 red bell pepper, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ bunch parsley, leaves and upper stems, minced
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved (or, if it's summer, 2 picked-ripe roma tomatoes, chopped)
  • ½ cup kalamata olives, chopped
  • ¼lb. feta cheese
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons lemon juice (freshly-squeezed is the most flavorful - you'll need one large, squishy lemon)
  • 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Salt to taste, particularly if your broth isn't salted
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Note

As with all grain and legume salads, you'll need to plan ahead if you want to serve this cold - cook the quinoa at least four hours in advance of serving to give it time to cool off in the refrigerator. (However, this salad tastes great served warmish or at room temperature as well, particularly at times of year when it's not sweltering hot outside.)

Directions

1. Before cooking the quinoa, rinse it in a fine mesh strainer under running water for about a minute; this removes the outer coating that can cause a bitter taste.
2. Combine the quinoa and vegetable/chicken broth in a pot and bring to a boil on the stove. Reduce the heat and simmer the quinoa for 15 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let the quinoa rest (and absorb the remaining liquid) for an additional 15 minutes. Move to a bowl, and put in the refrigerator to cool (you'll need at least four hours if you want it to be cold).
3. Shortly before serving, prepare the vegetables - finely chop the red onion and bell pepper, mince the garlic and parsley, and halve the cherry tomatoes. Chop the olives and crumble the feta cheese as well.
4. Combine the cooked quinoa, chopped veggies/herbs, olives, and feta in a bowl. Pour in the vinegar, lemon juice, and olive oil, and stir well to combine. Taste for salt, and add as needed, along with round black pepper to taste. Serve.

 

Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

  • ~1 lb. quinoa: ~$4.89 (ugh, so pricey!)
  • 1 small onion: ~$0.80
  • 1 red bell pepper: $2.20 (sadly, the peppers in my freezer won’t do for a raw dish – they’re too floppy and sad when thawed)
  • ½ bunch parsley: $1
  • ½ container cherry tomatoes (the rest will go in a different salad): $2
  • ~¼ lb. feta cheese: $1.61
  • ~⅓ jar of kalamata olives: $2.33
  • 1 large lemon: $0.67

Total cost for 6 servings: $15.50 + the cost of small amounts of vegetable bullion cubes, garlic, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and pepper.

Bon Appétit!

Greek-style Lentils and Rice, plus excuses for why I haven’t been posting lately

Ohai culinary blogsphere and lovers of Inexpensive Real Food everywhere. Long time no see.

All kinds of stuff has been going down in my life lately. This stuff has prevented me from posting by effectively turning my brain into a quivering pile of goo. It has included:

  • Near mental and emotional breakdowns due to the stress of Ph.D. work
  • Dramatic questioning of What I Want To Be Doing With My Life and Whether Getting a Ph.D. is Actually Going to Get Me There
  • Very, very serious contemplation of dropping out of grad school or, at the very least, taking a break
  • Crippling anxiety over my perceived lack of marketable skills for doing anything other than getting a Ph.D.
  • Daily flip-flopping over whether I need to cancel or postpone my last major qualifying exam (which is less than three weeks away, ahhhhh)
  • Etc.

Grad students and former grad students will know exactly what I mean. To everyone else, I will just say this: Ph.D.s are evil and you should not get them. (That, and: If you want to give me a job if I quit my Ph.D. program, shoot me a comment.)

Anyway. I’ve finally managed to get some mental R&R lately, which has put me in a much better frame of mind and made me want to blog about cheap food again. Yay! I can’t promise that this will happen again before the semester is finished, but I do intend to keep at this once my metaphorical plate is a little less full.

So. Carrying on. This dish, called Moukentra in my Greek cookbook, is another one of my favorites. It’s a good fallback option when you need a quick-ish meal and you don’t have much food in the house – the only ingredient it calls for that I don’t always have on hand is fresh cilantro, and it can be made without it in a pinch. I’ve made this dish with both white and brown rice, and it’s fantastic both ways.

Greek Lentils and Rice

Greek Lentils and Rice

This recipe is adapted from The Foods of the Greek Islands by Aglaia Kremezi. Though it’s low on veggies, I usually eat it on its own, though it would be even tastier paired with a small salad or the like.

Moukentra (Greek-style Lentils and Rice)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (½ lb.) green or brown lentils
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 red or yellow onion, chopped
  • 2 - 3 cups lentil cooking water, chicken/veggie stock, water + bullion stuff, plain water, or a combination thereof
  • 1 cup brown or white rice, rinsed ((the recipe calls for white Arborio, but I have substituted brown basmati with similarly tasty results))
  • ½ - 1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, depending on your spice tolerance
  • ½ bunch fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

1. Wash the lentils, then put them in a pot with the bay leaf and water to cover by about two inches. Bring this to a boil, and let it simmer until the lentils are done, about 20-25 minutes.
2. Chop all veggies while the lentils cook.
3. Once the lentils are cooked, drain them, reserving the cooking water if you want to use it later in the dish (this is optional, but flavorful and efficient).
4. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan or large pot over medium heat. Sauté the onion until it has softened, about five minutes.
5. Add two cups of the lentil cooking water or stock or whatever you are using, plus the rice, cooked lentils, and crushed red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer.
6. The cooking time will depend on whether you are using white or brown rice - white rice should cook in about 20 minutes, brown in 50. Regardless of which you use, open the lid to stir the dish periodically, and add a bit more lentil water/stock/whatever if it's drying out or sticking. This dish is supposed to be creamy like a risotto rather than fluffy like a pilaf, so a bit of extra liquid won't hurt anything. Cook until the rice is done.
7. Remove from heat and add the cilantro, along with salt and pepper to taste, and serve.
[Adapted from The Foods of the Greek Islands by Aglaia Kremezi]

 

Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

  • ~½ lb. brown lentils @ $1.79/lb. = $0.90
  • 1 medium red onion: ~$1
  • ~½ lb. brown basmati rice @ $2.19/lb. = $1.10
  • ½ bunch cilantro = $1

Total for at least four servings: $4.00 plus the cost of small amounts of olive oil, stock/bullion, crushed red pepper flakes, salt, pepper, and a bay leaf.

Bon Appétit!

Greek Lentil Salad

Greek Lentil Salad

Greek Lentil Salad

It’s been bizarrely warm lately for this time of year in Minneapolis – I think we may have even hit 80 sometime last week, which is literally 40 degrees above average. The lawns are green, the trees are blooming, and I’ve been spending my evenings sitting on the porch, rather than huddled up under a blanket in my cold, cold house that my roommates and I can’t afford to heat above 60 degrees. It’s been FANTASTIC.

But it’s given me a hankering for summer foods – fresh tomatoes and eggplant and ripe, red peppers and all the other wonderful peak-of-summer farmers market veggies that, sadly, won’t be showing up in my kitchen in any degree of abundance for several more months. These are things I tend to buy and eat sparingly during the winter months, due to the expense as well as to the lack of quality compared to the vine-ripened, fresh-picked stuff you can get at farmers markets in July and August. A midwinter ratatouille made with imported eggplant and tomatoes just doesn’t compare to the same dish made with veggies that were picked that morning in the summer – and the winter version will cost you about three times as much to boot. It’s better to stick with winter staples to get your requisite veggies, in my opinion – squashes, cabbages, kale, and root veggies – with some canned tomatoes, picked ripe and canned fresh, to add some much-needed variety.

But last week was definitely too hot for a soup or stew, so I opted to try out this middle-of-the-road dish – a cold salad, with some fresh veggies, but comprised primarily of lentils, which are cheap year-round. It did not disappoint – it was crunchy and tangy and just summery enough to satisfy my need for a bit of warm weather food. This salad is very similar to a tabbouleh, but has the advantage of packing more protein (thanks to the lentils), and is gluten-free.

This recipe is adapted from Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian cookbook. I’ve changed some of the vegetable quantities to make things simpler (so you don’t end up with a third of a green pepper and half a cucumber sitting around rotting in your fridge – I hate recipes like that). I recommend serving it with a side of hearty bread and a spoonful of plain yogurt mixed in.

Greek Lentil Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cups (1 lb.) green or brown lentils
  • ½ medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 roma tomatoes, finely chopped
  • 1 medium green pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 medium cucumber, cut into a ¼" (or so) dice
  • ½ bunch parsley, leaves and upper stems, minced (discard the tougher bottom parts of the stems; the rest are fine to use)
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 tablespoons lemon juice (fresh is always more flavorful - 1 very large, juicy lemon or 2 smaller lemons should do it)
  • 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Directions

1. First, note that you should allow enough time for the cooked lentils to cool in the fridge, if you want to serve this cold. Rinse the lentils, and cover them in 5 cups of water. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook partially covered until the lentils are tender but not falling apart. This should take about 25 minutes, though it could take longer if your lentils are old, so try a few at 25 minutes to see where they're at. Add more water if they get too dry.
2. Once the lentils are cooked, drain the cooking water (or save it for later use in a soup or stew). Refrigerate the lentils for a couple hours or longer, if you're going to serve them cold (though this dish is great served warm as well, so it's okay if you don't have time to let the lentils cool).
3. Immediately prior to serving, chop all the veggies and combine them in a bowl. Add the lentils plus the oregano, olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Mix, taste, and adjust the salt and pepper if necessary. Serve with yogurt and/or bread, if you wish.
4. Serve with yogurt and/or bread, if you wish.
[Adapted from World Vegetarian by Madhur Jaffrey]

Cost of core ingredients: All primarily organic and purchased at my food co-op.

  • ~1 lb. brown lentils @ $1.79/lb. = ~$1.79
  • ½ medium onion: $0.50
  •  2 roma tomatoes: $1.21
  •  1 green pepper: $1.03
  •  1 cucumber: $1.47
  • ½ bunch parsley: $0.80

1 ridiculously juicy lemon: ~$1.00

Total for at least five servings: $7.80 plus the cost of small amounts of oregano, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Bon Appétit!