Greeks beat the heat with watermelon salad

Greeks beat the heat with watermelon salad

Even Hippocrates, the ancient Greek father of medicine, was apparently a watermelon fan, prescribing the fruit as a diuretic. (He also suggested treating children with heat stroke by placing cool, wet rinds on their brows.) But the good doctor had nothing to say about watermelon as food. That could be because watermelons of his era were still at least as bitter as an overgrown cucumber. A half millennium would elapse before farmers were raising the sweet modern watermelon. But the Greeks made up for lost time. One of the quintessential summer delights of Greek cuisine is some variation of watermelon salad. There are really only three essential elements: pieces of watermelon, mint leaves, and crumbled feta cheese. Personally, we like to add cubed pieces of...Read More
World on a Plate: carciofi alla giudia

World on a Plate: carciofi alla giudia

‶Jewish-style artichokes″ is what the Romans call this most Roman of fried dishes. The vegetable—really the flower of a thistle—is transfigured by its dual bath in hot olive oil. The ‶Jewish″ part of the name is a tip-off that it's a fried dish, as Jews introduced deep-frying to Italian cuisine during their confinement in the Roman ghetto in the 16th–19th centuries. The photo above shows a classic example from Da Teo (facebook.com/Trattoria.da.TEO/), a trattoría in the Trastevere neighborhood that recently reopened with social distancing. A few years back, we rented an apartment just down the street and ate there as often as we could. We almost always started with the artichokes as an appetizer. What we didn't appreciate at the time was that the giant...Read More
Greeks know elemental simplicity of kebabs

Greeks know elemental simplicity of kebabs

We can just imagine the invention of the kebab sometime in the Paleolithic era. Stone-age Barbecue Bob was grilling a whole haunch of ground sloth impaled on a tree branch over an open fire. As the haunch began to cook, it would eventually fall off the stick into the fire. And Bob would throw a cursing fit. A woman at the cave no doubt looked up from grinding wild grass seeds into flour. She observed that if Bob cut the haunch into smaller pieces, he could thread them on a stick and they would cook faster and remain ash-free. Ta-da! Bob's Kebabs was born. He got all the credit around the cave complex for this wondrous new invention. She got a break from his whining,...Read More
World on a Plate: elusive ketchup bun from San Sebastian

World on a Plate: elusive ketchup bun from San Sebastian

Trying to choose a favorite pintxo from San Sebastián makes us throw up our hands and sing the end of the first verse of a particular 1965 Beatles song: ‶...in my life, I loved them all.″ That said, we're haunted by a simple slider on the menu at A Fuego Negro (31 de Agosto; tel: 650 135 373, www.afuegonegro.com/). The current incarnation is listed as ‶MakCobe with txips,″ which is a smirking play on words in English, Spanish, and Euskara that you almost have to be there to appreciate. We do know that you do have to be there in person to appreciate the little burger. Sure, the meat is richly beefy and meltingly tender. That's to be expected. What blew us away was the...Read More
Finding a Greek solution to the zucchini problem

Finding a Greek solution to the zucchini problem

Every gardener knows the zucchini problem. When you ordered seeds in January, you were dreaming of ratatouille—maybe even of zucchini bread with sunflower seeds that turn inexplicably green. Then the reality hits about this time of summer. Zucchini sounds like a great idea. So does keeping rabbits—until you're suddenly overrun with rabbits. Or squash. Pre-pandemic, you could invite friends over, get them well lubricated, and send them home with a bag of zukes. Or bunnies. Such solutions don't work in the COVID era. The Greeks take a more pragmatic attitude toward zucchini proliferation. During the season, they throw zukes into everything. One of the tastier light dishes is a bake that falls somewhere between a frittata and an unfussy souffle. There are zillions of different...Read More
World on a plate: Gangemi gelato in Trieste

World on a plate: Gangemi gelato in Trieste

The first time either of us ever visited Trieste was with a group of American and Italian chefs. Coming from the ancient city of Aquileia, we drove nearly an hour out of our way to hit the seaside town at the head of the Adriatic. The leader of our group lined us all up for a photo on the main plaza overlooking the sea and then let us free for 20 minutes. The smart ones followed him to Gangemi at the juncture of Piazza della Borsa and Piazza d'Unita. ‶This is the best gelato in Italy,″ he pronounced, which was saying something coming from a Neapolitan who only grudgingly swooned over pistachio gelato in Sicily. Now that it's midsummer and we are stranded 5,000 miles...Read More
One more Greek meze spread: baba ganoush

One more Greek meze spread: baba ganoush

Not quite as ubiquitous as tzatziki and tirokafteri (see July 14 post) on meze platters in Greece, baba ganoush is one of those spreads that you'll find all around the eastern Mediterranean. The origin of the name is Arabic, and we suspect it found its way to Greece during the Ottoman occupation. But the Greeks have embraced it wholeheartedly—and so have we. Spread on pita bread, it might be our second favorite way to eat eggplant (after ratatouille). Too often homemade baba ganoush is shy on the smoky flavor that distinguishes the dish. Most recipes we've seen call for roasting the eggplant whole in the oven, then chopping up the flesh. Since eggplant season is also grilling season, we prefer to light up the Weber...Read More
World on a Plate: lobster and lighthouses

World on a Plate: lobster and lighthouses

We spent the last week researching and writing a story about lighthouses that will appear sometime soon in the Boston Globe (bostonglobe.com). We, of course, have been visiting them from land and during the day, but David has enduring and fond memories of lighthouses in Maine's Penobscot Bay. In the pre-GPS days, when he worked on an old salt's small trawler, he can recall navigating at night by distant lights winking at each other across the bay. His heart would leap when he rounded Sears Island and suddenly saw the pint-sized light of Belfast harbor flashing in the distance. Coming home for a late dinner. In summertime, that usually meant lobster. These days, when we want lobster, we're more likely to stop at the Clam...Read More
Something Greek to spread on that fresh pita bread

Something Greek to spread on that fresh pita bread

We've been practicing pita (see July 7 post) until we got it down just right. Sure enough, our loaves stay nice and pliable and puff up with an air pocket from edge to edge. The key is searing the first side when you start cooking. But with all that pita, we needed something Greek to spread on it. Wherever we went in Athens, every meze platter had pita with four spreads: hummus, tzatziki (cucumber yogurt), tirokafteri (whipped feta with red pepper), and baba ganoush. We have yet to tackle making our own hummus and we're reserving baba ganoush for next week's post. But here are our recipes for the yin and yang of Greek dips or spreads, tzatziki and tirokafteri. TZATZIKI This utterly refreshing dip/sauce...Read More
World on a plate: Welcoming tomatillos

World on a plate: Welcoming tomatillos

As summer rounds the corner and comes scorching down the midway, the tomatillo plants in our garden couldn't be happier. The bees are buzzing and flitting into the profusion of yellow blossoms and the half-vine, half-branches of the plants are sprawling into every available space. We try tying them up, but how do you restrain a plant the grows like Jack's proverbial beanstalk every night? Answer: You don't. If tomatillos were frost-hardy, they would probably be more invasive than kudzu. Their seeds, on the other hand, could probably outlast a nuclear blast, and since we're not always as quick to clean the garden as we should be after the first frost, a few seeds become embedded in the soil. Once the soil temperature reaches about...Read More