I am a diehard playoffs fan. Which is to say I am pretty oblivious to any sports season – until it gets to the playoffs. My last minute interest is amplified when it’s a Boston or a San Francisco team, due to history and my current zip code. As you can imagine, this can pose a dilemma. I have found myself at times the lone cheerleader for the other team, the guest-non-grata, risking loss of friends or getting pelted with tortilla chips. I can’t help it. Birthright rules, and so does Boston. This year, once again, I am gearing up for the Superbowl, where the Patriots are on their way, and fortunately this year I have absolutely no conflict of interest. I may even be invited to a party.
Superbowl Party Dips for Vegetables and Chips
I get the chips, but if I am going to nosh for 3 hours while I watch a football game, I crave vegetables too. Here are a few of my favorite dips that go well with chopped veggies and chips alike – including this recipe for Guacamole.
There is something utterly complete about this meal. Homemade ground lamb keftas, fragrant with Moroccan spices, are grilled until crisp and succulent. Served with a sweet and spicy red pepper puree and cool minty yogurt sauce, these addictive morsels hit all flavor notes. They are a great option for party food, easy to prepare in advance and economical in ingredients. Just be warned that your guests will inhale these skewers before you blink, so you might need to splurge on a double recipe.
Spicy Lamb Kefta Skewers
Serves 4 to 6
2 pounds ground lamb
1 small onion, minced, about 1/2 cup
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne, or to taste
1/2 cup Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
Pre-soaked bamboo skewers
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups whole milk Greek yogurt
1 small English cucumber, seeded, finely diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Dash of Tabasco
Prepare the keftas: Combine all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix to combine, without over-mixing. With a light hand, form a handful of the meat around a skewer into a sausage, about 2-inches long by 1-inch wide. Place on a tray or platter. Repeat with remaining meat. Lightly brush the keftas with olive oil. Cover with plastic and refrigerate at least 1 hour.
Prepare the tsatsiki: Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl. Keep refrigerated until use.
Grill the keftas over medium heat until cooked through, about 10 minutes, turning once or twice. (Or broil in the oven). Serve warm with tsatsiki, red pepper sauce and pita. Garnish with mint leaves.
September is the gateway to autumn, my favorite season. Everything seems to sparkle in the lower light, perhaps as a last hurrah while the foliage changes its color, leaves begin to fall and nature hunkers down for the winter. Warm, cozy pullovers are pulled from storage; enough time cannot be spent outdoors walking in the woods, raking leaves, picking apples, and breathing in the crisp fall air tinged with smells of chimney smoke and fallen wet leaves. At home, the fire is lit, homemade bread bakes, and the wooden floor creaks beneath my feet while I pad around the kitchen preparing a comforting braised dish for our dinner.
But wait. I live in California now. t’s actually hot outside. I have summer dresses in my closet – not fluffy cardigans. The redwoods don’t lose their leaves. My kitchen floor is tiled, not wooden. And grilling is the only sane way to cook in this heat.
Where is that New England autumn I grew up with? Since I moved from Boston many years ago, all ensuing autumns, whether in Europe or here, have been measured, perhaps unfairly, against New England’s version. Even in the less temperate climates of Switzerland, England and Denmark the smells and colors failed to capture the autumnal intensity I remember from my youth, an intensity especially associated with the return to school after summer holidays. Presently, in my new home of Northern California, the children have returned to school, but autumn is nowhere to be found. In fact, there is talk of an Indian summer happening at this moment. How can there be Indian summer, when summer hasn’t even ended? This is just more summer, and hotter. Please don’t misunderstand – this is not a complaint, just an observation – with a trace of wistfulness. Apparently, you can take the girl out of New England, but you cannot take New England out of the girl.
So, having said all of that, I shall do what I always try to do: I will get on with it, embracing the moment and the environment – in flip-flops, tank-top and shorts. The following recipe will not be for an apple tart or a stew. Rather, it will be a simple staple that I cannot live without on a warm day; a wonderful accompaniment to grilled meats and vegetables – especially late, end of summer vegetables. It is also a cool, creamy dip or salad on the side, best served with bread. The other autumn recipes will follow later when I can finally put on the cardigan, and after I have been out apple-picking, my eyes and nose watering from the brisk fresh air.
Tsatsiki Makes about 2 1/2 cups
16 ounces / 450g whole milk Greek yogurt
1/2 English cucumber, washed, seeded, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
Combine all of the ingredients in a bowl and stir to blend. Taste for seasoning.
Before serving, drizzle with olive oil and garnish with additional black pepper.
Serve with pita bread, fresh bread, or cruditées for dipping.