So what happens when a group of girls who love to eat but are still learning to cook get ambitious? There is always strength in numbers so we experiment togetherâ€”we hold a cook off. That way, if someone fails, you have a group of people ready to eat your mistakes with you. Plus, there’s always someone to pester when you get hesitant about certain things in your chosen recipe.
The first Saute on Saturdays Cook Off happened roughly a year ago. The theme was Japanese and on parade were dishes like Gyudon, Agedashi Tofu, Enoke Dake Bacon Maki and Coffee Jelly. While not much was documented about it, it was successful enough for us to want to do it again.
Of course, schedules donâ€™t always jive so it was only recently that we were able to meet up again. And since even little events sound more grand when given proper branding, the name SOS: Saute on Saturdays was coined. We felt it was classy, plus, it doubled as a distress signal. Help, my soup is burning!
We tossed around the idea of doing Mediterranean. It was unchartered territory for us all, but the idea of doing Greek vis-Ã -vis Spartan quickly appealed to us all. Undaunted by the idea of disaster, nor of ingredients and recipe names we can barely pronounce, we trudged on and prepared a spread that we could gladly call a success.
Taking the Heat
Meat! We need meat! We love meat! Especially when it’s Greek-style meatballs. Originally, I wanted to make Keftedes, but when I heard about Chris’s Biftekiâ€”feta cheese stuffed meatballsâ€”my mouth watered. Feta! In meatballs! Sold! The bifteki called for ground beef that was prepped with yogurt and other spices before being rolled into feta-stuffed meatballs.
Naomi went for a Shrimp and Feta stew. To extend the dish, as well as to offer added texture, she tossed in some chicken as well. Here’s the simmering stew, being sprinkled with flat-leaf pasley. It’s like Parsley from the heavens!
Because the girls had the entrees covered, I figured I’d do sides instead. One of my favorite Mediterranean sides is hummus. Because it was my first time making a large amount of hummus, I underestimated the whole process. I had to transfer ground chickpeas from my mini-food processor to a bowl to the mini-food processor again. Plus, I made the mistake of adding too much peanut butter so I had to do emergency food rescue. End result? My cooking spot turned into a disaster area.
Rae took care of dessert for us, an exotic creamy concoction called Kopi Djeliki. While I’m not lacking for electric mixers at home, her nifty plastic hand mixer rocked my world. You just press it down and it spins! I was trying to smuggle it out of the house but their doggie stopped me.
Our Spartan Feast
In the end, all the chopping, grinding, stirring and frying was all worth it. It was a battle which we won; hot sputtering oil be damned.
Chris’s Bifteki turned out nice. It flavorful and meaty, with the melty feta adding an interesting cheesy flavor. She made adjustments to the recipe, doubling it to yield more portions. She also had to skip the thyme because we ran out, and opted to deep-fry instead of grilling, since it was more convenient, plus some other bifteki recipes she unearthed recommended frying.
Naomi‘s stew was originally a shrimp and feta stew recipe. She added some chicken for added texture and a bit of tomato sauce to heighten the tomato flavor. It had a sharp taste that was especially delicious when served with couscous.
My hummus, sadly, was a failure. This was my first time making hummus with peanut butter, since for my previous attempts, I purposely looked for hummus recipes without tahini (sesame paste). Some may find it insane, but personally, it tasted all right with me. Still, I wanted to be a tad more authentic this time around, hence the inclusion of peanut butter which some sources say is a good, cheap substitute to tahini. It wasâ€”peanut buttery. -_-;; Lesson learned, splurge on tahini, or skip it all together!
Fortunately, the melitzanosalata fared better. A Greek eggplant dip, it’s made from grilled mashed eggplant, olive oil, garlic, and red wine vinegar. Like the hummus, I intended it to be served with the warmed pita bread. It was a nice counterpoint to everything else, because it had a nice sour tartness that was refreshing to the palate, especially after the flavorful bifteki & stew. Next time though, I’d use a food processor, so I could better approximate the intended texture of real Greek melitzanosalata. Here is the recipe I used.
The thing I forgot to photograph separately was the couscous, which was a pity since everyone went nuts about the couscous’ lovely texture. I always felt that couscous was like rice, only with a nice, explosive texture. The other girls loved it as well, especially since it complemented the feta stew nicely. We were even laughing about it, saying that couscous won the day for Sparta. Because eat one teaspoon, and it expands tenfold in your stomach! Wonder why Leonidas went, “Tonight, we dine in hell”? Because that morning, they breakfasted on couscous. No need to eat anything else for hours on end!
Kao’s Couscous Recipe v. June 2, 2007
1 Â½ cup couscous (available at specialty stores like Santis Deli)
2 to 2 Â½ cups chicken broth
1 Tbsp lemon juice
3 Tbsp butter
1. Bring chicken broth to boil.
2. Add lemon juice and sea salt. Turn off heat.
3. Add couscous then cover.
4. After 5-10 minutes, or when it’s done, fluff up the couscous with a knife.
5. Add butter and toss until evenly coated.
For dessert, we had Rae’s kopi djeliki. Okay okay, fine. We admit it. It’s the same Coffee Jelly we had for the Japanese Cook-off. But truth is, none of us minded because Rae’s Coffee Jelly is sooooo good. Unfortunately for everyone else though, her recipe is a closely guarded secret. (Although I did manage to wheedle it from her, BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!)
Overall, we rated our Greek Cook-off a success. We were so happily well-fed. And while we did conquer the kitchen, in the end, the food conquered us we had left enough food to feed an army. Who are we to stand against the mighty might of Couscous? Aah Hoo!