I love a traditional holiday menu as much as the next gal, but I get bored cooking and eating the same things year after year. When my dear friend Beth suggested we get together for Easter, I knew she would be up for preparing a non-traditional meal full of colorful vegetables, grilled meat, and lots of ethnic flavors. We quickly decided on a Middle Eastern theme, and set to work creating a simple and healthy menu that would require just a few hours of prep work up front and a lot of porch sunning, wine drinking, and card playing on our Easter holiday.
Persian Easter Menu:
- Kashkeh Bademjan (A creamy eggplant and yogurt dip, served with crudite)
- Lamb Kefta Kebabs with Seven Spices
- Tomato, Onion, and Cucumber Salad with Fresh Herbs and Za’atar
- Steamed Rice with Fresh Dill
For the Eggplant Dip:
2 cloves of garlic, sliced
2 sweet onions, sliced
3 Tbsp. butter
3 Tbsp. full fat yogurt
large handful of fresh mint leaves
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees and fire up your grill. Place the eggplants on a medium-hot grill to char, turning them 3 or 4 times total, about every 5 minutes. Transfer to the oven for 15-20 minutes longer, or until they have fully collapsed. Allow to cool for at least one hour.
Meanwhile, caramelize the onions in the butter, stirring often. When the onions are nearly finished, add the garlic and cook just a few minutes longer and turn off the heat.
When eggplants have cooled, scoop out flesh and put into food processor, adding the onions, mint and yogurt. Blend until smooth, adding more yogurt and some olive oil to get the best hummus-like texture and consistency. Season to taste with salt.
For the Spiced Lamb Kebabs:
2# ground lamb
1 small white onion, grated and drained
4 large cloves garlic
handful of fresh mint leaves
handful of fresh Italian parsley leaves
1 tsp. allspice
2 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. nutmeg
1/2 tsp. ginger
2 tsp. paprika
plenty of freshly ground black pepper
2 & 1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 eggs, lightly beaten
Grate the onion and place into a fine mesh strained or into a cheesecloth lined bowl. Sprinkle with a little salt and mix together. Set aside for 15 minutes to allow the liquid to draw out.
In the meantime, combine the garlic, the herbs, and all of the spices in a food processor and pulse several times until well combined.
Return to the onions and squeeze as much of their water out as possible by either pushing on them in the strainer so that the water escaped out the bottom, or squeezing them tightly in the cheesecloth. Thoroughly mix together the drained onions, lamb, spice mix, and 2 beaten eggs using your hands.
Preheat your grill to to a medium heat. Take a large handful of the lamb mixture and roll it into a rough cylinder shape. Slide it onto one end of a skewer and squeeze it gently into a roughly 1 inch diameter cylinder on the top portion of the skewer, flattening each kebab just slightly so that there will be two sides to brown on the grill. It may not feel totally secure, but as it cooks it will shrink and cling to the skewer.
Continue until all the meat mixture has been skewered up. Oil the grill lightly and place the kebabs down on one side. Close the lid and allow the kebabs to brown on the first side, undisturbed, for 3-4 minutes. Flip the kebabs carefully and allow them to brown on the second side, again, about 3 minutes. Hold any finished kebabs in a 200 degree oven while the others cook. Serve with yogurt.
For the Persian Salad:
1 small white onion, thinly sliced and soaked for one hour (see below)
2 # mixed tomatoes (I used a mix of yellow and cherry tomatoes)
3 Persian cucumbers, chopped (or 1 medium cucumber)
a large handful of Italian parsley leaves, torn
a large handful of mint leaves, torn
juice of 1 lemon
3 Tbsp olive oil
feta cheese, sliced (optional)
Slice the onions at least an our before you plan to assemble the salad and place in a bowl of cold water with a few ice cubes in the fridge. This will help to leach out some of the sulfur from the onions, making them more fit for raw consumption. You can do this up to a day in advance if you are very sensitive to raw onions. Rinse the onions before adding to the salad.
Roughly chop the tomatoes (or just halve the cherry tomatoes) and place in a large bowl with the soaked onion, cucumber, and torn herbs. Add the lemon, olive oil, za’atar, and a few generous pinches of sea salt and toss to combine. Taste for salt and adjust if necessary. Top with slices of feta cheese.
For the Dill Rice: Simple steam your favorite rice, adding a few tablespoons of butter in with the water. Once fully cooked, transfer to a bowl to fluff and add in several handfuls of chopped, fresh dill and a generous pinch of salt.