Dinner Plans #46

A bitter girl's guide to Greece.

APÉRITIF:

Is it just us or did everyone go to Greece this summer? It seems as though everyone we know, their freshman year roommate, and their freshman year roommate’s little brothers all flew across the world to sleep in cream-colored villas, swim in sparkly water and eat hunks of feta and fresh sardines under cloudless cerulean skies. We admittedly took dreamy trips of our own this summer, up the winding coast of California and to Hatch chile-obsessed Santa Fe. Still, hearing about trips to tiny islands with names like Sifnos and Syros and Paros have left us fiending for a taste of that Mediterranean magic. For now, spreads of fresh, salty, fishy, herby things have been doing the trick, so we’re sharing the dishes we think do the best job of that for anyone else who didn’t make it to Greece this summer. Welcome to the club, it’s miserable here </3


ON THE MENU THIS WEEK:

DINNER PLANS 

  1. Belated Challah: This week marked the end of the High Holidays for Jews like myself with Rosh Hashanah last week and concluding with Yom Kippur on Thursday. For the second year in a row, celebrations were slim, which made me a bit sad, not because I am highly religious, but because I love making challah. If you’ve never tried your hand at challah, I highly recommend it — even for the Shabbos goy among you. The dough is heavily enriched with eggs making it softer, more fun to play with, and harder to fuck up than regular bread. I use Joan Nathan’s recipe, subbing olive for vegetable oil and taking a tip from Deb (us, citing Smitten Kitchen?! Shocking, I know) to double-egg wash the top for an extra golden, extra-shiny crust. I have been heavily craving a perfectly plush loaf of the stuff since last week, and just have to come to terms with the fact that I will bake and eat an entire loaf of challah myself, probably within 24 hours. If there is somehow, for some odd reason, any challah left over after that, don’t worry, it will be French-toasted into this custardy perfection. Eating something wildly decadent for breakfast on, say, a Wednesday, feels like exactly what we all need these days. 

  1. Lentil-Chickpea Salad: After eating an entire challah myself, I imagine I’ll want to eat something a little more nutrient-dense. Cue this lentil-and-chickpea salad from Smitten Kitchen via my friend Valentina. She lovingly made it for me and my B.N.A. (boyfriend named Alex) when we visited her and her B.N.A. (boyfriend named Alex) in Oakland back in August. It was quick, earthy, and filling enough to keep me on task for the rest of my workday, but not so filling that I fell asleep during my umpteenth Zoom meeting of the day. On this particular day we omitted the feta and topped it with heaps of fresh chopped herbs and a cool dollop of creamy labneh. Make it! Like, this week! If you’re anything like me, you probably have all the ingredients in your pantry already and definitely haven’t meal-planned any of your lunches for the week yet.

  1. Yogurt-Marinated Chicken: To know Samin’s buttermilk roast chicken is to love Samin’s buttermilk roast chicken, though it’s extremely rare I have buttermilk in my fridge that isn’t expired, let alone the foresight to marinate something overnight. These character flaws usually mean I give up and call a salad with toast “croutons” dinner. But last week, after realizing what I thought was a whole chicken was actually whole but butchered, I said f*ck it, proclaimed Greek yogurt a fine substitute for buttermilk, and just a few hours an acceptable amount of time for marinating. I followed the recipe otherwise, pulling the chicken from the fridge an hour before cooking, scraping off most of the yogurt, and roasting the pieces on high heat until the skin broiled into a crunchy, chestnut brown shell. This riff leaves you with the crispy, salty skin and juicy meat from the original recipe, and opting for a pre-butchered chicken means no burns from scorching hot juices while you hangrily, probably prematurely, cut it apart yourself. 


SO YOU DIDN’T GO TO GREECE THIS SUMMER

  1. Pita: I think it’s absolutely devastating that bread, the simplest and most comforting food a person can eat, is made from yeast, a dreadfully fraught and finicky ingredient to work with. But if you want to understand the transcendence that is ripping into fresh, hot bread made with your very own hands, you’re going to have to peel open one of those little packets of yeast. Luckily, pita is the most low-risk, high-reward homemade bread I’ve made, probably because of this significantly straightforward recipe. I love that it lays out the steps, ingredients and rest times in the simplest, shortest format possible, offers alternatives for those of us who don’t own pizza stones due to small bank accounts and even smaller kitchens (spoiler: use a preheated baking sheet), and that it churns out fluffy, hollow rounds with crispy, delicate crusts every single time. If this didn’t convince you to test the waters with a packet of yeast, these flaky flatbreads are yeast-free, but don’t lack the tangy, complex flavor yeast usually imparts thanks to the addition of yogurt. They’re bready but light, and can stand in anywhere you’d normally reach for pita — you’re welcome. 

  2. Shrimp “Mykonos”: In my hometown growing up, we had an amazing Greek place in town that was in our permanent takeout regimen. My mom and I always ordered the same thing: ‘Shrimp Mykonos’. It was a dish consisting of orzo, shrimp, and giant hunks of salty feta all in a mildly-herbed tomato sauce that I’m pretty sure they made up to appease suburban palates, a Greek version of General Tso’s. When ‘Greek Delights’ eventually closed, we took it upon ourselves to recreate the dish at home, albeit with a slightly more complex flavor profile. That’s how we stumbled upon this truly delectable Ottolenghi number. It provides all the same comforts of orzo, feta, shrimp, and tomato of our beloved Mykonos but with added notes of freshness, acid, and bitterness by way of fresh basil, fennel seeds, and orange peel, respectively. If fennel isn’t your thing, marinate the feta with other dried spices like za’atar or herbs de Provence. If you want to ditch the effort altogether, bring a taste of European coastlines to your kitchen in a matter of minutes by just making the marinated feta portion. Feel free to forgo a recipe and simply slice thick slabs of Actually Good Feta (I prefer the milder French feta — sorry Greece!), add dry herbs of your choice, some pepper and/or chile flake, and a heavy pour of olive oil, then smear with abandon onto bread, crackers, or directly into your mouth. 

  3. Dakos: As you already know, I did not make it to Greece this summer. But I also didn’t go there last summer, any other summer, or any fall, winter or spring. I have never been to Greece, which is why I live vicariously through my boyfriend, who has been once but talks about it (and the food) every day. The dish he recounts most — and most fondly — is dakos, a bread salad that the Italian in me likes to think of as Greek panzanella. Unlike panzanella, though, dakos uses a starch much more calculated than stale bread: barley rusks, which are crunchy, malty and nutty, almost like crackers. This recipe will guide you in the right dakos direction, as long as you replace the vegan cheese it calls for with the saltiest, most milky feta you can find. And if you’re wondering, you can panzanella-ify this by using cubes of old bread, but you can also easily find and order barley rusks online. Pricey for a cracker, cheaper than a trip to Crete. 


TAKEOUT:


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