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I'm planning a Middle Eastern dinner


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I don't have people over very often because of our schedules, but I'm having about ten or twelve people over to dinner in two weeks. I'd like to make a Middle Eastern type of dinner--not sit down, but more of a buffet/appetizers type of thing. I don't want a formal dinner, and our table just isn't big enough, anyway. I'd like people to be able to wander around and get to know each other.

I need help with the menu. I want it to be somewhat Middle Eastern but it can have Greek or whatever else works with that. I'm trying to think of things that can be eaten easily out of hand or while walking around, though there will be plenty of room to sit down, too, just not at the table. So while I'd normally make couscous, I'm not sure that's really buffet friendly. And I have to admit I'm a bit afraid to make kebabs because I'm worried someone will get poked. :hmmm: I'm a klutz myself so I always try to make things easier on other people just in case.

I'd like to have lamb, hummus, homemade small pitas, baba ghanouj, olives, and maybe some things like feta, peppers, etc, anything that can be put in a pita. I'm thinking besides wine and beer, maybe some pomegranate juice, and dates and baklava.

Any ideas? And not just about the food, but things I might not have thought about, like plate size, how much to prepare, how to display, etc. I appreciate any help.

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I love Persian food because of the way it is served with small plates of all kinds of things (just like you had in mind) all spread around the table ...Lavash ..sliced sweet onions, sliced limes, butter, feta, olives, fresh herbs like mint and cilantro, a roasted tomato all eaten together as bite of this and that with platters used for the heavy dish like roasted lamb shanks and Persian rice ......lovely meal if you ask me ..

forks and big spoons to people eat with ...the main dishes in the center the garnishes around the table so everything can be reached easily

there are lots of drinks you can make ...one refreshing one is a cucumber cooler sliced cucumbers in spritzer

Edited by hummingbirdkiss (log)
why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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I like that kind of food the best--grilled meats, and lots of good stuff to put with it. I'll make some onion confit to go with--I think that will be really good. And roast some peppers, too.

I'll have a few vegetarians over, but I think the lamb will be the only meat dish. It was one reason I chose this type of cuisine, since it tends to feature more naturally vegetarian options.

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I've heard people mention cucumber drinks before--it sounds so strange, but it would go with this kind of food, I think.

Oh, I'll have Greek yogurt too, of course.

This is an odd question, but would a chocolate fountain be totally out of place? I have one and don't get to use it very often, but I don't want it to be too strange. On the one hand, chocolate isn't really a component of Middle Eastern cuisine, but on the other hand, it would be very decadent, which is kind of what I'm going after. Thoughts?

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I like cucumber drinks they are really refreshing ..sliced cucumbers are common on the plates at Persian meals as well ...

and yes use your fountain and have fun with it!

have some dried fruits like apricots and dates for sure

your dinner will be fantastic ..

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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A quick and flavorful side would be greek yogurt mixed with a few jeruselem cucumbers diced small mixed with a little diced garlic and fresh mint leaves. Its a persian staple called "must-o-kheyar" (yogurt & cucumber). You can mix in some golden raisins for a touch of sweetness if you like

About the chocolate fountain... I wouldn't consider it "traditional middle eastern". Like you said, chocolate isn't really a component of the cuisine. However, fresh fruit is commonly served with dessert & I suppose if you're itching to get out the fountain, you could have it with fresh fruit like cut melons, strawberries, and maybe some bananas.

In addition to that, I would have some bakhlava handy with LOTS of tea. I would suggest to skip the bagged tea and go for some loose leaf tea(earl grey is fine). Throwing in a couple green cardamom pods with the tea while its steeping gives it a wonderful fragrence and flavor.

"In a perfect world, cooks who abuse fine cutlery would be locked in a pillory and pelted with McNuggets."

- Anthony Bourdain

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This is an odd question, but would a chocolate fountain be totally out of place?  I have one and don't get to use it very often, but I don't want it to be too strange.  On the one hand, chocolate isn't really a component of Middle Eastern cuisine, but on the other hand, it would be very decadent, which is kind of what I'm going after.  Thoughts?

there was a chocolate fountain at the Spanish tapas place we had brunch at today. Totally not on theme for Spain, but yet also totally enjoyed by the female patrons.

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Oh, tea--that's a good idea. I don't drink tea so I hadn't thought about it. I have cardamom pods, too.

What's a Jerusalem cucumber? Is that sauce similar to tzatziki? Oh, I just answered my own question when I looked it up:

A similar dish is made in Iran called mast-o-khiar, literally meaning yogurt with cucumber. It is made using a thicker yogurt, which is mixed with sliced cucumber, garlic, and mint (sometimes chopped nuts are also added).

Now that I think about it, having a chocolate fountain requires a fair amount of supervision, so maybe I'll skip it so I can relax and enjoy the party. I want to make it fun, and do ahead as much as I can so I don't have to be in the kitchen right beforehand.

Would you serve fresh fruit and dates along with baklava?

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Heidi, I missed your post while I was posting. I do love chocolate fountains, and I love the smell wafting through the entire place. But then I think about how that scent might overshadow the rest of the food. Maybe I just need to entertain more often so I can pull it out again.

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  ......I'm thinking besides wine and beer, maybe some pomegranate juice....

Arak (Raki,Ouzo), is a must.

If you're ambitious you can try the following. All are finger foods that can be served at room temperature.

One way to have Lamb. Mini Lahm b'ajeen. Lamb, tomatoes, onions and Lebanese spices.

gallery_39290_5704_15840.jpg

Also made with Lamb. Kibbi kabobs.

gallery_39290_5704_25043.jpg

Grape leaves.

gallery_39290_2121_105063.jpg

Spinach pies.

gallery_39290_5704_6625.jpg

Falafel balls and the trimmings. Will go great with mini Pitas.(Click here).

gallery_39290_4300_18041.jpggallery_39290_4300_8300.jpg

Mini Zaatar pies.

gallery_39290_5704_18190.jpg

Hummus.

gallery_39290_5704_22519.jpg

Baba Ghannouj.

gallery_39290_5704_22419.jpg

For a salad Fattoosh is great, not to mention, less work than Tabbouleh.

gallery_39290_2072_112615.jpg

Khiar b'Laban salata. Yogurt and cucumbers with garlic, salt and mint. This one is made with Lebanese cucumbers and goes real well with the first 3 dishes above. Avoid Greek yogurt, it lacks the tang (tartness) essential for this dish.

gallery_39290_5704_34467.jpg

For dessert, Tamer (date filled pastry).(Click here)

gallery_39290_2121_59489.jpg

Baklava (click here).

gallery_39290_4300_13983.jpg

To sober everyone, Turkish coffee. The same if not better than espresso and can be made in large quantities, fast.

gallery_39290_2072_73650.jpg

If you need recipes let me know.

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Now I have to go out and buy things to make Greek food with, because of ChefCrash! I was going to make some suggestions, but he covered everything I wanted to share, and much more.

The only suggestion I have is melons and other fruit and olives. Marinated with spices would be wonderful.

Crack some green olives, a pound to a pound and a half. Add fresh coriander (You will probably have to use dried), mint leaves (to taste), a couple of minced garlic cloves and two Tablespoons of olive oil. You can add some hot pepper flakes here, to taste. You also can, and should if you have them, or can make them, add some preserved lemon rind cut in thin strips. Mix it up, put it all in the fridge one, or two nights before. I love this dish.

Take it out of the fridge about an hour before you want to serve it, so it can come to room temp.

Blog.liedel.org

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Wow, thanks for the ideas and photos, ChefCrash! Lovely and they give me lots of ideas. I'd forgotten about falafel, but that was one of the things I'd written down so long ago when I was starting to think about this. I haven't clicked on any of the links yet, so if there are any recipes that aren't there I'd sure love to have them.

Thanks to everyone else who responded, too. I appreciate it.

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  ......I'm thinking besides wine and beer, maybe some pomegranate juice....

One way to have Lamb. Mini Lahm b'ajeen. Lamb, tomatoes, onions and Lebanese spices.

gallery_39290_5704_15840.jpg

Spinach pies.

gallery_39290_5704_6625.jpg

If you need recipes let me know.

I'm not the OP, but I'd love to have recipes for the Mini lamb b'ajeen and the spinach pies. It all looks delicious!

Jan

Seattle, WA

"But there's tacos, Randy. You know how I feel about tacos. It's the only food shaped like a smile....A beef smile."

--Earl (Jason Lee), from "My Name is Earl", Episode: South of the Border Part Uno, Season 2

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If you are going to be having hummus and babaganoush, you could also throw in some other dips like tatziki and my personal favorite: Muhhamara.

It's a walnut, pomegranate, onion dip.

Dips are fun!

Spanikopita (phyllo pastry, spinach and feta) is also tasty and popular appetizer item.

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The dough is the same for all.

9 oz water (110*F)

1 T Olive oil

1.5 tsp sugar

1.5 tsp table salt

1 tsp instant yeast

16 oz Gold Medal AP flour

In the Kitchen Aid bowl, place the first 5 ingredients, mix (using the paddle attachment) for a few seconds. Stop the machine and add 75% (12 oz) of the flour. Start the machine on the first speed then to the second speed and leave it to kneed for 5 minutes.

Stop the machine, switch to the dough hook. At this point the dough is very wet. Start the machine on the first speed and add the remainder of the dough a little at a time until the dough comes off the walls of the bowl and forms a ball. Should be soft but not sticky.

I like to divide in half, form into two balls, roll them in more oil, cover and set aside to rise.

For the lahm b'ajeen and the spinach pies, you need 3.5" to 4" rounds. You could form them by hand but it's easier to roll out the dough balls to a thickness of 1/8 to 3/16" and use a cookie cutter (mason jar ring etc.).

Lahm b'ajeen topping

3/4 lb lean hamburger

1/2 lb ground Lamb (if you can't find lamb use ground pork)

8 oz onions chopped extra fine

2 tomatoes diced

2 T tomato paste

1/4 bunch parsley chpped

2 tsp table salt

2 tsp Lebanese 7 spice

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp black pepper

I use the beef/lamb combo because the ground lamb around here is too fatty.

If your tomatoes are too ripe, place them in a strainer and gently push some of the juice out, or simply squeeze them with your hands over the sink (after you chop them :biggrin: ).

Mix everything together.

For the mini hors d'oeuvre pictured above, the dough rounds have to be shaped before they're filled. Grab a dough round at opposite ends and pinch (refer to the photos), rotate 90* and do the same. Lift the sides upward to form a square box. Fill with a T of filling and place on parchment lined pan.

Bake in very hot oven 500- 550*F, 5-7 minute.

Spinach pie filling.

1 lb bag baby spinach

1 small diced onion

salt

Sumac

black pepper

Olive oil

Toasted pine nuts (optional)

I know the list of ingredients is vague, you'll see why.

Wash, and roughly chop the spinach. Place the spinach in a strainer, sprinkle with salt and Sumac and place the strainer in the sink. This step is to wilt the spinach and remove some of its liquid.

Dice the onions and sprinkle with salt as they sit on the cutting board. Mix and let them sit.

Go back to the spinach, grab hand fulls and rub them between your hands to work the salt and sumac in to them. Eventually they'll wilt and look like they're cooked. At this point grab hand fulls and squeeze all the liquid out of then and place in a bowl.

Grab the onions, squeeze their juice over the sink and place them in the same bowl with the spinach and mix.

Now you need to taste and correct the seasoning. If the mixture doesn't taste good now, it won't after baking. Use salt, Sumac and pepper. It needs to be salty and sour (from the sumac).

Depending on the size of your dough rounds, place an appropriate amount of filling, then pick 3 equidistant points on the circumference of the round. Grab two, pull them up and pinch together as you bring the third to the same point. Pinch together the resultant seams (refer to photos above).

Bake at~475*F till golden brown.

Zaatar pies

These are the easiest.

Zaatar (Thyme, Sumac, sesame seeds, salt)

Olive oil

The rounds can be any size (2.5-3" is good)

Those of you who've been mixing the zaatar and oil then applying to the dough, only to end up with some that are too dry and others swimming in oil will find the following trick to be the rats ass.

Fill a small spray bottle with olive oil. While the dough rounds sit on your counter top, spray them with as much, or as little oil as you like, then sprinkle them with a premeasured amount of dry zaatar (say 1/4 or 1/2 tsp). You'll end up with uniform mini manaeesh.

Scoobado97, I'd like to know how you make your Lahm b'aajin filling.

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ChefCrash here is the recipe for my lahm b'ajeen filling.

2 lbs ground meat

2 med onions chopped fine

8 oz can crushed tomatoes

1 tsp baharat spice mix- Syrian based so has cinnamon and allspice

4 hand fulls of lemon juice. Got to love that measurement from my G'mother

6 oz tomato paste

1 tsp salt

1 tbs cumin

chopped parsley

toasted pine nuts optional

I have also played with the recipe at times and used ketchup and diced plum tomatoes, seeds removed instead of the tomato paste and canned tomatoes and added pomegranate syrup fpr a sweet/sour note. I have used sumac in the mix as well to replace some of the lemon juice.

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I love that the three things are made with the same dough, cut into rounds. That will make it much easier. I second the request for the kibbe kebabs; they look interesting.

Thanks for all the ideas! Now I need to get online and order some sumac and the Lebanese spice unless it's something I can make.

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Now that my package is here, I have some more questions--

I opened the Lebanese green olives, and they are very fizzy, like spoiled canned fruit. Is this normal for them or have I poisoined myself by trying one? The jar continues to fizz ten minutes after I've opened it. Not like it was shaken, but like it is carbonated.

A second question--how does one serve labna balls in oil? They're very strong and salty.

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ChefCrash--how well would the lahm b'ajeen and the spinach pies freeze? I would imagine the falafel would probably freeze well, too, but not the grape leaves.

I have some grape leaves I need to use up--would you mind posting your recipe?

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ChefCrash--how well would the lahm b'ajeen and the spinach pies freeze?  I would imagine the falafel would probably freeze well, too, but not the grape leaves.

I have some grape leaves I need to use up--would you mind posting your recipe?

they freeze really well. many households in the middle east make them in batches and bake them from frozen or near frozen.

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