Mediterranean Pasta Salad

IMG_2479    This Greek and Italian style Pasta Salad is simple to make, but deceptively complex in flavors.  It’s very versatile–you can make the basic salad and add or subtract whatever you like, or whatever you have on hand.  Perfect for a barbecue or picnic and especially good in summer.  With the beans, it’s great as a main dish too.   I make this at least once every summer, and it’s developed over the years.

MEDITERRANEAN PASTA SALAD

Serves about 6 as a main dish, or about 8 as a side.  (?)

INGREDIENTS
For the dressing:
1/4 Cup white Balsamic vinegar  (or red wine vinegar)
1 Tablespoon lemon juice
2 cloves garlic, pressed or crushed and minced
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried marjoram (optional)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon grainy mustard from a jar  (Dijon style, or spicy brown, etc.)
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Basic Salad
2 Cups pasta cooked  (measure before cooking)
15 oz. can Cannelini beans  (or other white beans)
1 red bell pepper, diced fine
1/4 Cup sun-dried tomatoes chopped
1/4 Cup Kalamata olives chopped
2 Tablespoons capers, chopped
1/2 Cup chopped artichoke hearts
1/4 Cup diced red onion  (I use Pickled Red Onions)
2-inch piece of preserved lemon, minced into oblivion  (optional)
(or just use the zest of a lemon)

Other possible additions:
cooked broccoli florets
fresh raw corn off the cob
raw cucumber, seeded and diced
chopped fresh parsley
chopped fresh spinach

Optional Garnishes:
1 avocado, diced
1 large garden tomato, cut up and salted
toasted pine nuts

DIRECTIONS
Make dressing and pour into a large bowl.  Drain and rinse beans and set them aside.   As you chop ingredients, add them to the dressing so they start to marinate.  Cook pasta according to package directions.  Drain pasta and add to the dressing bowl.  With a wooden spoon, mix all bowl ingredients.  Fold the beans in gently.  If not serving right away, store in refrigerator.  Let salad come to room temperature before serving.  Garnish before serving, with fresh tomatoes, or avocado, toasted pine nuts, etc.

Notes:   Use smaller pastas, such as penne or fusilli, etc.  If you want to add broccoli florets (fresh or frozen), blanch them for two minutes in simmering water, and then rinse under cold water in a colander.  If you want to add fresh garden tomatoes, add just before serving (do not chill the tomatoes).  If using avocado, add just before serving (so it doesn’t turn brown).  Trader Joe’s has good artichoke hearts in a jar.  I make about a pint of Preserved Lemon once a year and then it’s on hand.

Vegan Chicken Gyro Sandwiches

IMG_9994  I’ve loved Greek food since I was in my 20’s, and these really satisfy something I’d been missing.  These were quick to make and so good, and lasted for several lunches for me and Lars.  The main ingredient is Beyond Meat vegan chicken.    Dressed with my own vegan Tzatziki Sauce, and Pickled Red Onions, they’re kind of special.

VEGAN CHICKEN GRYO SANDWICHES

INGREDIENTS
one package Beyond Meat vegan chicken, Lightly Seasoned flavor
1-2 teaspoons olive oil
vegan Tzatziki Sauce
Pickled Red Onions
Kalamata olives, sliced lengthwise
shredded lettuce
tortillas or flat bread

DIRECTIONS
Slice vegan chickn slices in half the long way, to make them skinnier.
In a skillet, heat the olive oil, tiny throw in a pinch of salt too.
Saute the vegan chicken on medium heat, just until some color arrives.
Make your sandwiches!  I like to make a bed of lettuce, load up the Tzatziki sauce, layer on the chickn and then dress with onions and Kalamata olives.

Spanakopita

IMG_3024     I had some leftover Almond Feta, so decided to make vegan Spanakopita.  Here’s a quick Greek spinach pie that’s great for any occasion, even on a special holiday like Easter.  Spanakopita is often made of phyllo dough folded into triangles (think of folding a flag), but here I’ve used Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets to make a simple casserole (photo below) that saves a lot of time.  Often made with eggs, feta and ricotta cheeses, and lots of olive oil, this is a lighter, cleaner dish that still has that savory decadence.  To make it even easier, we’ve used frozen organic spinach, but I did use fresh dill for the sake of authentic flavor.

SPANAKOPITA OR GREEK SPINACH PIE

Makes 8 pieces

INGREDIENTS
1 box Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets,  thawed but cold
2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced fine
1 clove garlic, pressed, or smashed and chopped
16 oz. frozen organic spinach, thawed, and drained
1/2 Cup fresh parsley, chopped, stems removed
2 Tablespoons fresh dill, chopped, stems removed

1 Cup Almond Feta
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg, ground or grated
Ener-G Egg Replacer to equal one egg
1 teaspoon mild white miso  (optional)
2 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.   Lightly oil a 9×13 inch baking pan and put it in the fridge.   Remove puff pastry sheets from the box, and set to thaw on the counter. Squeeze spinach in colander until pretty dry, then press it with the back of a spoon to get any last water out.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.   Saute onion until soft, adding the garlic in toward the end.   To the onions, add spinach, parsley and dill, and stir to combine and heat.   Remove spinach mixture from heat and set aside.

Place almond feta in a small mixing bowl, and add salt, pepper, nutmeg, egg replacer, white miso and flour, and stir until well mixed.   Fold almond feta mixture into the spinach mixture until well combined.

Unfold one puff pastry sheet, and cut and piece it to fit the bottom of the baking dish, gently pinching together any seams.  Spread the spinach/feta mixture on top of the pastry sheet.   Cut and piece the second pastry sheet and place over the top of the spinach mixture.   With a sharp knife, score portions into the casserole (for ease of cutting later).   Bake about 25-30 minutes, until puffy pastry is cooked through and golden and puffy all over.  The corner pieces might puff first, so make sure the center pieces are puffy as well.

Notes:  You can remove the box of puff pastry sheets from the freezer and put into the fridge a few hours ahead.  The mild white miso just adds a touch of umami, it’s not vital.

If you want to, you could make your own vegan phyllo dough, and some other brands of phyllo dough are supposedly vegan, such as Athens brand.  I wrote an email to the Athens company and received this prompt reply:  Amanda, Thank you for your interest in phyllo dough and our products. Yes our phyllo dough and mini phyllo shells are vegan.  Sincerely,  A.J. Shepler,  R&D Chef,  Athens Foods,  13600 Snow Road,  Brook Park, OH 44142.  216-676-8500 ext. 338.

IMG_3021

Puff Pastry Squash Tart with Almond Feta

This rich, savory tart is great for lunch, brunch or even a fancy dinner.  The Almond Feta from a previous post provides lots of protein and antioxidants.  And honestly, it tastes a lot like feta in this dish, but better.  I put this together in under one hour, so we could have it for lunch, and it made 6 generous slices.  The only phyllo style sheets I could find were Pepperidge Farm brand, but it worked out.  I looked at the Trader Joe’s phyllo recently, and was disappointed to see that it was NOT vegan.  I did use Penzey’s Greek Seasoning, but you could just improvise with lemon zest, oregano, and marjoram.  Lars had to have another half a slice, so depending upon whom you’re feeding (and what else you’re serving), the yield does vary.  Another photo below.  Vegan Mofo 2012.
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PHYLLO SQUASH TART WITH ALMOND FETA

Serves 4 to 6

INGREDIENTS
1/3 Cup chopped parsley (flat leaf or regular)
1 teaspoon Penzey’s Greek Seasoning
1 garlic clove, crushed and minced
3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 small zucchini, cut into 1/8 inch thick rounds
2 small summer squash, cut into 1/8 inch thick rounds
one package Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry Sheets, thawed
1/3 Cup Kalamata olives, pitted and sliced the long way
1/2 Cup Almond Feta, divided in half

DIRECTIONS
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Make sure Puff Pastry sheets are thawed but very chilled.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, stir together parsley, Greek Seasoning,  garlic, only 2 Tablespoons of the oil, salt and pepper.
Place squash rounds in a large bowl, and add the remaining Tablespoon of oil and only 1/4 Cup of the Almond Feta, and mix well with a wooden spoon.
Unfold one sheet of puff pastry/phyllo and place on parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
Unfold second sheet of pastry, and slice off long, one-inch-wide strips and use them to build up the edges of the bottom sheet of phyllo  (see photo below).  I built mine up twice.  Visualize a picture frame.
Spread parsley mixture all over the bottom phyllo sheet.
Spread zucchini and squash rounds on top of the parsley.
Top with sliced olives and the remaining 1/4 Cup of Almond Feta.
Bake 30 minutes, until phyllo crust is golden brown.
Cut into six pieces, garnish with a light sprinkle of tiny oregano leaves (optional).

Notes:  It is important that the squash slices be cut no thicker than 1/8 inch, so that it cooks through with everything else.  In hindsight, I would cut the kalamata olives lengthwise (not in rings) as it would be prettier.

Here below is a photo of the built-up pastry edges.

Vegan Tzatziki Sauce

Being October, I had no fresh dill in the garden, so I used dried dill weed, and it still tastes great.  The sprig in the photo is actually fennel, just to make it pretty.  This quick and easy recipe uses vegan sour cream, for a rich texture, and it came out better than my try with soy yogurt a while back.  I’m not crazy about garlic in delicate cream sauces, so I omitted it.  For me, it’s brighter and fresher without it, and the cool, crisp cucumber and the dill can come through cleanly.  Besides, I already put plenty of garlic in my falafels.  I also added fresh lemon juice to this vegan tzatziki sauce.  p.s.  I made this recipe specifically to go on my Falafel Burgers.
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Vegan Tzatziki

INGREDIENTS
1 good sized cucumber, peeled and seeds removed
12 ouncesTofutti sour cream
1/4 teaspoon paprika
1 teaspoon fresh dill, chopped fine (or 1/2 teaspoon dried dill weed)
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
2 teaspoons lemon juice

DIRECTIONS
Take vegan sour cream out of the fridge and let it warm up some.
Grate cucumber, put it in a small bowl and set it aside while you work, to let the cucumber juice accumulate in the bottom of the bowl.
With the back of a spoon, press the cucumber and drain the juice out of the bowl.
Drink the cucumber juice, don’t waste it!
Mix all the ingredients together and stir well.
Chill in the fridge.

Notes:  If I had fresh dill on hand, I would have added more of it, and fresh dill is preferable over dried. Some Mediterranean restaurants use sour cream for their tzatziki, so that’s what I did.  It’s better than the one I made previously with soy yogurt, and has a richer texture too.  If you have to have the garlic, I would try 1 to 2 cloves crushed and chopped.