Eastern Mediterranean grilling recipes for Memorial Day weekend
When it comes to the big summer food holidays — Memorial Day and the Fourth of July — the former is where I want to tackle everything grilled, charring each ingredient I use for maximum smoky flavor after a spring season of eating barely-cooked fresh young green things. I save the barbecue, burgers and hot dogs for the Fourth or later in the summer, and instead focus on the simple art of grilling for the first three-day weekend of the summer.
For great grilled dishes, there’s no better region in the world to cook from than the Mediterranean — everything cooks quickly and is treated simply to let the ingredients shine. In Yasmin Khan’s new cookbook, “Ripe Figs,” she focuses on the cuisines of the eastern Mediterranean region, specifically the countries of Turkey, Greece and Cyprus, where she’s spent many years traveling, and where the influence of the region’s food is felt in her north London neighborhood of Green Lanes, home to long-settled Turkish, Greek and Cypriot communities.
Several of the recipes highlight the eastern Mediterranean’s plethora of grilled foods, from lamb and fish kebabs to simple skewered tomatoes and long peppers, blistered until tender and sweet. These dishes are everyday staples of the region, and their aroma is a mainstay of her neighborhood.
“On summer nights,” Khan writes, “I love to walk through the neighborhood inhaling the aroma of grilled meats that wafts out of the dozens of ocakbasi kebab houses. I don’t have to travel far to find the Eastern Mediterranean. It’s right here, just a few steps away from my London kitchen.”
Those aromas hit you instantly when making her charred cabbage with hazelnuts and chile butter, a great salad to eat alongside any grilled meat. The leaves are suffused with smoke on the grill via a flavorful olive oil rub with cumin, coriander and allspice and then topped with toasted hazelnuts slicked in Aleppo chile butter.
The floral sweetness of ripe stone fruit — you can use peaches, nectarines, apricots, plums — and figs is concentrated and balanced with char in griddled fruits served over yogurt with pistachios sprinkled on top and a drizzle of honey. It’s a breakfast dish for Khan, but you could also turn it into a simple dessert by tossing the fruit on the grill at the end of the meal so it’s ready when you want it.
The main event, though, are her adana kebabs. Ground lamb is flavored with cinnamon, Aleppo pepper and Turkish hot pepper paste and then molded around flat skewers and grilled until singed and fragrant. Serve the kebabs with chewy flatbread, grilled vegetables and thick tzatziki and you’ve got one of the simplest feast meals to set out for entertaining.
It’s feast food done simply, which is all anyone wants this time of year. As Khan notes in the book, “Kebabs aren’t the only Eastern Mediterranean main meals, but sometimes I think they could be and that — given their quality and variety — no one would really mind.”
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