Come On Over: Mediterranean Dinner Party

I have a cookbook problem. I have at least three shelves of them. I have dessert cookbooks and general cookbooks and novelty cookbooks and cookbooks with pictures (the best) and cookbooks without pictures (never as good) and cookbooks that are far, far beyond my skill set. I have cookbooks that read like novels and cookbooks for kids (and I don’t have any kids). And do I cook out of these cookbooks? Occasionally. But never enough. It’s become all too easy to pull one of the many, many hundreds of recipes I’ve bookmarked off the internet (yes, I’ve got a problem there too) rather than turn to the index and find the ingredients I want to use and then see if the cookbook has any recipes at all and, if they do, if those recipes are what I want. Damn you, Google search bar. You’re ruining us all.
But I do love, love, love my cookbooks, and so am supremely excited when I think of an excuse to sit down and thumb through them and take the time to really, really use them. And what’s the best excuse of all? A dinner party.
The Boy and I like to cook, and while weeknight cooking can be fun and even creative, it is still mostly a game of what-can-I-make-that’s-quick-and-still-healthy-and-doesn’t-require-chopping-seventeen-different-vegetables. We’ve been dabbling with the oh-so-adult idea of a dinner party for a while, but the problem with dinner parties is that as hosts, you’re always sort of horribly torn between the kitchen and entertaining your guests (and we are not fortunate enough to have one of those open kitchens that facilitates both).
So, we talked a couple of our most hosting-savvy friends into doing the entertaining guests part, built a menu that supported a lot of pre-prepped items, and got to work.
The menu was mostly taken straight from a menu in David Tanis’s absolutely gorgeous Heart of the Artichoke and Other Kitchen Journeys, with a dessert from Valerie Gordon’s mouthwatering Sweet, a gift from the Boy’s parents.
The whole reason for choosing this Mediterranean menu was a bag of za’atar the Boy had brought back from Israel last year, which had heretofore been sitting unused in our cupboard. Coupled with decent olive oil and Whole Foods pita bread, it made for the simplest appetizer/bread course ever.

The whole meal was served buffet-style, with spiced lamb burgers over eggplant as the centerpiece.

A fresh, herby tabbouleh provided the green for the meal, full of olives and tomatoes. There was a LOT of citrus in this, which actually made eating what was essentially parsley quite appealing.

More tomatoes and olives made up another salad, this one with a coriander vinaigrette. It was similar in many ways to the tabbouleh, but juicily different enough to play well as another supporting player in the meal.

The lamb burgers (and pita, and anything you wanted) were also accompanied by a cucumber and yogurt side dish/sauce, topped heartily with red pepper for a bit of a kick.

In the end, dinner was a hit! The Boy noted that, despite not liking lamb, or eggplant, or tabbouleh, he enjoyed – even overtly liked – all of those things in their various preparations, which I’d say is an endorsement if I ever heard one. And of course, as is often the case, I didn’t hear too many complaints about dessert…

Salted caramel sauce, caramel pudding, and homemade whipped cream topped with more caramel sauce and a touch of sea salt. As the cookbook name says: Sweet.

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