Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dinner enough

On Tuesday and Thursday evenings I ride horses. Well, one horse in particular: a big ol' moody quarter horse named Max who has one gray hair in his mane and a penchant for snorting at me if I don't give him a mint fast enough. He is a good boy, a patient boy, and I am glad he lets me sit on his back two hours a week. He is teaching me a lot. He just keeps going in a circle around the arena while I figure out how to stand my trot and work on my ankle strength and balance while two-pointing. I wonder if he knows how much he is helping me. Each time I lead him back to his stall I try to tell him, but he just snorts and runs past me to get to his hay. 

I suppose we have more in common than just the gray hair.

I love the time I spend riding. But by the time I get home on Tuesdays and Thursdays I rarely have the energy to cook dinner. Which is not so much of an issue when Husband's home, because I can easily cajole him into cooking for me. He has even started doing the dishes. I come home, change out of my breeches and into my sweats and...hello couch. I hear the pots and pans rattling around the other room and know that soon I will be presented with a delicious bowl of something.

But Husband is out of town this week. Which means if I want to eat dinner, I have to put forth the effort all on my own. This doesn't seem like too much of an issue, considering that cooking is sort of my thing. But people, horseback riding is tiring. It's not just sitting while the horse does all the work. It is aerobic and quite a workout for the legs and feet. When I got home tonight it was a heck of a lot easier to snack on some easy-to-make small bites rather than cook a meal. Sometimes I prefer "picking," as my mother would call it, in place of a proper dinner.

I am grateful that I have a well-stocked spice pantry, for when occasions like tonight strike I am ready. When I was in Washington, DC, in January on a business trip, my friend/coworker and I ate at a Lebanese restaurant one night. We ordered six or seven small dishes and shared. It was a great meal full of the kinds of flavors I love: spicy falafel, earthy hummus, warm fresh-baked pita, tangy fattoush. One of these small dishes really stood out: feta cheese rolled in zatar and served alongside a fresh heap of tomatoes, onions and olives. The next day, during the morning session of the work seminar, I scrawled such phrases as "zatar-rolled feta" and "don't forget thinly-sliced onions" right there in the margin next to "check out Department of Justice Financial Guide" and "consulting fees --> allowable cost?" (My work is scintillating.)

So anyway. Back to tonight. I turned to my aforementioned well-stocked spice pantry and made a batch of zatar (you can also buy zatar, but if I have the spices on hand I enjoy making my own). I cubed some feta, sliced a decent but still sub-par by summer's standards tomato, and ate dinner. Well, "dinner."

But when my dogs are barking because my horse was trotting, "dinner" is dinner enough.



This little delicacy is really not much of a recipe, but more of an idea. And sometimes ideas are even better than recipes; they're often so simple you wonder why you didn't think of that. But you're glad someone did.

UPDATE: It looks like what I've made here is a variation on a dish called shanklish. I learn something new each day! Thanks to Dad and his friend Fahim for the clarification.

1 T. sesame seeds, toasted
1/4 c. ground sumac
2 T. dried thyme
2 T. dried oregano
1 t. kosher salt
**Alternatively, you can use 1/4 c. pre-mixed zatar.
1 large tomato, cut into wedges
1/2 medium onion, sliced thinly
1/2 c. kalamata olives
Sea salt
Freshly-cracked black pepper
2 T. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
4 oz. feta cheese, cubed

Toast the sesame seeds in a dry skillet over low heat until brown and fragrant, about five minutes. Stir frequently and keep and eye on them so they won't burn.

In a small bowl, combine the sumac, thyme, oregano, toasted sesame seeds and kosher salt. Mix well. Place about 1/4 c. of this mixture into a shallow bowl; store the rest in a spice jar or small mason jar for later use.

Slice the tomatoes and onions and arrange on a plate or board with the kalamata olives. Drizzle the tomatoes and onions with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper to taste.

Put 2 T. olive oil in a shallow dish. Dip each feta cube in the olive oil, then roll in the zatar. You don't have to cover all sides of the feta cube with the zatar; two or three sides will do. Serve the feta alongside the vegetables, rounding it out with a nice piece of crusty bread if you so desire. Even better: dip the bread in the oil and give it a drag through the zatar, too. Yum.

Serves 2, or more if part of a larger snacky spread.


Anonymous said...

I'm impressed that you have sumac in your spice cabinet. That's one of the ones I don't have. Although sometimes I have za'atar.

robert said...

what you made is shanklish. take it from an adopted lebanese boy

Dianne said...

Hm, interesting...you're a Lebanese food expert now? :)

Want to come over tonight and have some shanklish?

robert said...

why does it surprise you that someone as old as I am has aquired a wide variety of food knowledge over his lifetime. my head is used for more than just anchoring my hair and keeping it from blowing away in the wind you know

Dianne said...

Dad, you make a good point there. Speaking of, you should be glad you still have so much hair to anchor, given your age! (Did you see that I updated the recipe to include the real name of this dish?)

Savor-fare, I love herbs and spices. Keeping a well-stocked pantry is sort of a hobby of mine. I often buy less-common spices first, then root around for recipes to feature them. Blame Penzey's!

ARLENE said...

Were it just me, I'd eat my main meal each day at noon and "just pick" each evening. Your meal looked quite interesting.