I’m elated that it’s finally patio weather – not here-and-there days that will pass for patio weather, but the real deal, where unless it’s raining, you can count on sipping coffee, iced tea or even a cocktail outside. There’s just something about the spring fresh air that puts a pep in my step.
A couple of weeks back, I sprang for some new patio furniture, and, boy, does new furniture transform a space. We had really enjoyed the great painted wood set that my mom scored for us at an Eastborough garage sale (hit those when you can), but it’s weathered, and I was tired of having it painted each year. We had part of it repaired and put it on another patio we’ve never used. But the main patio is now adorned with beautiful wrought-iron furniture with light khaki cushions and soft blue pillows. A succulent garden sits on top of the table to greet guests and make them smile, and the sounds of the trickling fountain below make for a perfect spot to entertain.
When I was teaching cooking classes on a regular basis, I could always count on the Party on the Patio class selling like hot cakes. I’m not sure if it was the fun cocktail I served or the easy-to-make food, but I would end up teaching this class two, three and sometimes four times. No, I didn’t let the attendees actually party on my patio, because I’m afraid the class would last way past my bedtime. But it was a class intended for the attendees to learn to make delicious food simple enough to host their own party and actually get to enjoy the party. Too often when people entertain, they think it must be complicated and fancy, and they consequently wear themselves out. I promise a simple dinner at a friend’s house is every bit as meaningful.
This week, I’m sharing two recipes from a Party on the Patio class in 2015: kefta with tzatziki sauce, and radish tangerine salad. Kefta is a Lebanese entree – think hamburger with seasoning, parsley and dried mint. I call the sauce tzatziki sauce, but it is the Greek version of the Lebanese one I grew up eating. My grandma and my mom make homemade Lebanese yogurt known as leban, but it’s less known by the average person – so that’s why I called it tzatziki sauce. I promised simple, and it’s not simple to make your own yogurt. It’s much easier to pick up a container of Fage at the store. Or for a dairy-free sauce option, drizzle it in tahini sauce. I could literally drink tahini sauce – the nutty, lemony, salty flavor is irresistible.
Let’s talk about this salad. I told you I’m all about salads without greens. This one is really stellar for multiple reasons: It pairs some unlikely ingredients and it’s so texturally interesting. I absolutely love radishes. I think they’re an underappreciated vegetable and quite versatile. If you slice them thinly in the salad, they’re even more enjoyable.
Endive is a veggie that is less known. It provides a beautiful little boat to serve chicken salad or another dip out of but is also quite mild and beautiful chopped up, too. Pick some up at the store and play with it. You’ll be glad you did. And if you can find enoki mushrooms, please buy them. They look like they belong in a tiny fairy garden because they’re so delicate and tiny. But good things come in small packages, because their earthy flavor packs a nice punch for such a tiny mushroom. I find enoki mushrooms at Whole Foods and at Asian markets.
Last but certainly not least, enjoy this weather, friends. I call it California weather, which I had the pleasure of enjoying last week – part for work and part for pleasure. There is nothing quite like the fresh air there, the mild temperatures and the food. We’ll talk about my trip to Northern California next week. Until then, sip something on your patio and take it all in.
Kefta Skewers with Tzatziki Sauce
2 pounds ground beef
3/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/3 cup green onion, chopped
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3 cups Greek yogurt
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1 English cucumber, diced
1 1/2 tablespoons dried mint
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon fresh dill
Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste
In a large bowl, mix together all kefta ingredients. Shape in either patties or sausage shapes. Cook on a grill (skewered) or in a skillet until browned on the outside and cooked through.
Kefta may be shaped into patties and served on a bun or formed into sausage shapes and served in pita bread or on skewers. Of course, this is best if grilled over charcoal, but it’s still very tasty cooked in a skillet.
For the sauce: Put cucumber pieces in a colander and sprinkle with a tablespoon of salt to help draw out the moisture. Let sit for 30 minutes.
In a food processor or blender, add cucumbers, garlic, lemon juice, dill and/or mint and black pepper. Process until well-blended and then stir into yogurt. Add salt, if desired. Can put it in the fridge 2 hours before serving to let the flavors blend.
Radish Tangerine Salad
8 red or multicolored radishes
4 tangerines or clementines
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt or pink Himalayan salt
2 heads Belgian endive, leaves separated
6 ounces enoki or shiitake mushrooms, cut into small bunches
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 bunch fresh chives, chopped
Slice the radishes thinly. Place a tangerine on the cutting board and cut off a little bit from both ends to create flat surfaces. Set the tangerine on one of the flat ends. Shave off the peel and pith with a large knife. Squeeze any juices from the skin into a small bowl and reserve.
Working in your hand with a sharp paring knife, hold the tangerine and cut segments along the membrane to release each segment. Repeat with all of the tangerines.
Whisk together the tangerine juice with olive oil and a pinch of salt.
Arrange the endive, radishes and tangerine segments among plates. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add enoki, season with salt and cook until crispy brown, 3-4 minutes. Sprinkle the cooked enoki over salad and drizzle with dressing, salt and pepper. Top with chives and serve.