For me, cooking food is a way for me to express what dishes inspire me. You know a dish is classified as perfect when the flavors are perfectly balanced, and you don't need that extra hot sauce or seasoning to satisfy that mouthful. It is very rare that I will go to a restaurant and not ask for some hot sauce on the side. Not because it isn't good, but because I just have that kind of a palette that always needs a kick. However, I finally stumbled upon this Lebanese restaurant in Vancouver called Jamjar, and this place simply blew my mind. We got two platters, which were meant to be ordered for a platter a person, but it was a real feast. Essentially, it was a medley of side dishes, where each dish had its own character and flavor, but together really complimented each other.
So I am going to share recipes of my Mediterranean Feast, which is purely inspired by the beautiful dishes I tasted at Jamjar. The few flavours and items which stuck with me the most were their chicken shish tawouk (very similar to my Reshmi Kabab), their roasted eggplant dip, and finally this unbelievable chickpea and greens salad. All three of them were very different in terms of flavor but the freshness and simplicity of the flavors married really well together.
I knew I had to recreate some of the dishes I tasted here, simply because I couldn't stop thinking about it. I really wish I had made some fresh bread to accompany these dishes, I didn't have enough ingredients to whip it up! I used my regular store bought bread, but I would definitely recommend some sort of simple flatbread of your choice to have on the side.
What I loved about making this meal was that it was really effortless and super simple. Here I have three very simple recipes, packed full of flavor, and a perfect example which reflects the fact that clean and healthy food don't always have to taste bland. I hope you find something that tempts you!
First to get started with the Roasted eggplant dip. This recipe is my take on an eggplant Baba Ganoush. A classic eggplant dip that can always be found at a Lebanese or afghani restaurant. The ingredients are all super fresh and can be whipped up with only a few simple steps.
In Bangladesh, an eggplant Bharta (mashed eggplant) is a classic. It is essentially made with the same concept as a baba ganoush, but instead of olive oil, we use sunflower oil. Sunflower oil is a staple in Bengali food, and the smell and flavor can take a dish to a whole other level. It actually is fascinating how just one different ingredient can make something taste so different. I would definitely play around with the flavors and you can re-create different types of eggplant dip using your favourite ingredients.
Baba Ganoush 2 eggplants (medium sized) 2 tbsps olive oil of choice 1 tsp salt 1/2 tsp black pepper 1 tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste) 2 tbsp lemon juice 3 cloves of garlic very finely chopped 2 red dried chili or 1 tsp chili flakes 1/2 cup chopped parsley
STEPS First pre-heat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Then in an iron skillet or regular roasting pan, place eggplants and rub 2 tbsp olive oil. Once your oven is preheated, place eggplants into the oven for 40-45 minutes till fully roasted and blistered. Use the picture below as a reference.
Once your eggplants are fully roasted, let it cool completely and then peel off the skin. Should come off quite easily, if it doesn't then place the eggplant back into the oven for another 5-10 minutes. Place eggplant and the rest of the ingredients (parsley, salt, pepper, cumin, tahini, lemon juice, chili, and garlic) in a bowl and mix well into a chunky dip. Alternatively, you could place all ingredients into a food processor, and process it to get a smoother dip. Taste to adjust the balance of flavors, drizzle 1 tbsp olive oil and serve with fresh pita or crackers!
Now for the Mediterranean-inspired Blackened Chicken. For this recipe, I simply used chicken breast strips, marinated in a very light rub and pan-fried it on an iron skillet. I absolutely love using iron skillets, especially because they give this beautiful char, you never need to add excess oil to cook, and it also helps to cook the meat evenly.
Blackened Chicken 7-8 pieces of chicken strips (breast piece) 1 tbsp paprika 1 tsp salt 1 tsp pepper 1 tsp garlic powder (or chopped garlic) 1 tsp dried herbs (to your choice, but I used a blend of oregano, thyme, and rosemary) 1 tbsp lemon juice 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil. 1 teaspoon cumin powder 1 teaspoon chili or cayenne pepper
STEPS First, grab two plates and place all dry ingredients in one plate and the lemon juice and olive oil in the other plate. Now make sure your chicken strips are dry, if not, just pat them dry with a paper towel. Then place your strips in the lemon oil mix, drip off excess oil and then place into the dry rub mix. Again, dust off any excess rub and place aside ready to fry. This will turn out to be more of a dry rub, hence the title blackened chicken!
Once your chicken is ready, heat your iron skillet or pan over medium heat. If you are using a frying pan, definitely add a little bit of oil to avoid your chicken from sticking. Once your skillet/pan is warmed up, place your strips onto the pan and lower the heat to medium-low. Let it cook well on one side for at least 5 minutes before you flip it over. Try to keep an eye on the heat, as you don't want to burn your chicken. Once you've flipped the chicken over and cooked for another 4-minutes, you can turn up the heat just slightly to get a nice char on each side (although this is optional). Once your chicken is cooked through, serve with a generous squeeze of lemon and sprinkle with fresh parsley.
Finally to finish off my Mediterranean feast we have a lovely and fresh Chickpea and Kale Salad. My favorite ingredient of this salad, which I believe brightens the whole dish, is the addition of Chaat Masala. Chaat Masala is a South-Asian spice mix which includes a mix of mango powder, cumin, coriander, black salt, black pepper, asafoetida and chili powder. It essentially is a mix of spicy, tangy and sweet spices and no matter what you add it to, it'll open up those taste buds and make the food taste so much better. Although this is optional, I will definitely recommend going to your local food store and trying out this spice mix.
Chickpea & Kale Salad A bowl of fresh kale (with or without stem) 1 can of Chickpeas (~500g) 10-15 cherry tomatoes halved 1 shallot finely chopped 1 1/2 tsp salt 1 tsp black pepper 1 tsp chaat masala (Indian spice mix) 2 tbsp olive oil 1 tsp cumin powder Juice of half a lemon
STEPS In a bowl, pour cold water and ice, and make an ice bath. Set aside ready to dump the kale into in. Then pour water into a pot and set to boil. Once your water is boiling, pour the kale into the water for 20-30 seconds maximum, strain it out and dump it straight into the ice-bath. This will keep your kale from wilting and keep it green and crisp.
In a separate bowl mix chickpea, olive oil, salt, pepper, chaat, tomatoes, onion, cumin powder and lemon juice. Taste to adjust and make sure you like the flavors. Finally drain your kale well and mix it in with the chickpeas and serve!