Greek Grilling

There's something magical about summer entertaining. There's also something particularly challenging about it too. You want to be able to share a medley of wonderful flavors with your guests, but you also want to minimize time and energy spent in the kitchen. After all, you want to spend time with your guests and also keep your kitchen cool on a hot summer day. How can one do that while still offering a spread that will tempt your guests?

Well, this month, I'm offering you my own personal solution to that very dilemma. We recently had a group of Indian friends over for dinner and I wasn't looking to try to offer them Indian food; if I want that, I let them -- the experts -- cook! But I wanted to offer a menu that would be comforting and adventurous at once and allow me to make ahead some dishes, prepare others very quickly and still others with a minimum of fuss. That's where my Mediterranean-inspired menu comes in. Many of the dishes presented here have been inspired by the food of Greece, but other countries like Turkey and Italy also have an impact on it as well.

You can feel free to tweak this menu by adding other dishes, removing some suggested here or slightly changing the ingredients in the recipes. Even changing the types and varieties of beverages and desserts can make it new. Speaking of which, check out the end of the article for some thoughts on them as well.

As always, I encourage you to share your recipe ideas and comments. You can always post comments in the discussion board using the forms provided in the articles or email me directly at . Enjoy!

Simple Hummus

While this spread is not truly Greek, it fits nicely with the menu and is a great starter to this meal. This one includes fresh cilantro instead of parsley for extra kick -- opt for parsley if you want something more traditional. You can make it a couple of days in advance and simply garnish it before setting it out with pita wedges and fresh vegetables for dipping. I also highly recommend rounding out the appetizer course by adding a bowl of mixed marinated olives to the table. These and a glass of white wine will only be made better by good conversation with good friends.
  • 1 (15.5 oz.) can chickpeas
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 T. tahini sauce
  • 1/4 c. packed cilantro leaves
  • 1/3 c. roasted garlic olive oil
  • Pinch kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Drain the chickpeas and reserve the liquid. Place the chickpeas and garlic in a food processor. Add about half of the liquid from the chickpeas and process until smooth. Add the tahini sauce and cilantro leaves and process again until incorporated into the chickpea mixture. Add the oil and the seasonings and process to combine. Taste the hummus and add more oil or seasonings to taste. If desired, sprinkle the bowl with paprika and a drizzle of olive oil before serving.

  • Yields: about 2 cups
  • Preparation Time: about 10 minutes

Sun-Dried Tomato Marinade

This zesty marinade brings many of the bright flavors associated with the countries near the Mediterranean Sea to the party. Do not substitute oil-packed tomatoes for the dried ones or you will not get the strongly flavored infusion described here.
  • 4 oz. sun-dried tomatoes
  • 1/2 c. dry white wine
  • 1/2 c. olive oil
  • 1/2 c. red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
  • 1/4 tsp. black pepper
  • 1 tsp. salt

Using a sharp pair of kitchen shears, snip the tomatoes into little pieces. Place in a small microwavable bowl and cover with the white wine. Microwave on HIGH for 30 seconds and allow to infuse for 5 minutes. Place the contents of the bowl and the remaining ingredients in a food processor and process until smooth. Use as a marinade for chicken or pork.

  • Yields: about 2 cups
  • Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Mediterranean Grilled Chicken

These simple grilled chicken breasts couldn't be easier to make. Just make sure you keep an eye on the internal temperature of the meat so that it doesn't end up dry. The easiest way to do that is by using a digital thermometer. Serve it with a side of feta tzatziki -- the recipe's below.
      7-9 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves
    • 2 cups Sun-Dried Tomato Marinade -- see above
    • Cooking spray

    Trim any visible fat from the chicken breast halves. Place them in a shallow dish and pour the marinade over them, turning the meat to evenly cover them. Cover the dish and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes -- overnight is better.

    Prepare a grill for medium-heat grilling. Spray the grates with cooking spray and place the chicken breast halves on the grill (discard the marinade). Grill, covered, for 10-15 minutes -- turning once. Remove to a platter covered with aluminum foil and allow to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

    • Yields: about 8 servings
    • Preparation Time: 30 minutes, plus marinating time

Feta Tzatziki

This twist on the traditional Greek garlic-yogurt dip features feta cheese -- another Greek favorite -- that gives it a tangy, salty note. It's wonderful served with pita and grilled meats. Add some low fat buttermilk to any remaining sauce and use as a tangy dressing for summer salads.
  • 1 medium cucumber, peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons white wine vinegar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup plain nonfat yogurt
  • 3 oz. crumbled feta cheese

Scrape out the center of the cucumber, discarding the seeds. Coarsely grate the cucumber into a colander and sprinkle with the salt; allow to drain for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, combine the white wine vinegar, oil and garlic in a medium bowl. Allow the mixture to marinate while the cucumber is draining.

Squeeze the cucumber as dry as possible and blot on paper towels. Transfer it to a bowl with the garlic mixture; add the plain yogurt and feta cheese and stir.

  • Yields: about 2 cups
  • Preparation Time: about 45 minutes

Warm Veggie Salad

Grilling a variety of vegetables and tossing them with roasted garlic oil and high quality vinegar make for a simple, yet satisfying salad. Sprinkle some sliced green onions and diced tomato in for another flavorful addition.
  • 2 medium zucchini, quartered lengthwise and cut into 2-inch pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 orange bell pepper, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 8 oz. button mushrooms
  • Cooking spray
  • 1/4 c. roasted garlic olive oil -- or use your favorite flavored oil
  • 1/4 c. high quality balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a grill to medium heat and place the vegetables in a grill basket coated with cooking spray. Lightly spray the vegetables to give them an even coat of oil too. Place the basket on the grill and grill the vegetables for 15-20 minutes, turning once. Remove them to a large bowl and allow to sit for about 5 minutes, covered.

Uncover the bowl and toss the vegetables with the oil, vinegar and seasonings. Serve warm.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: about 30 minutes

Speedy Greek Couscous

Couscous is a quick-cooking pasta that readily absorbs the liquid in which it’s cooked. Therefore using a flavorful cooking liquid is important. Adding other yummy ingredients doesn't hurt either! I used a tomato-basil couscous, but regular couscous will work just as well.
  • 3 c. chicken broth
  • 1 1/2 c. couscous
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 1/4 c. diced red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 oz. grated parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Bring the chicken broth to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the couscous and remove the pan from the heat. Cover and allow to sit.

Meanwhile, sauté the vegetables in a small skillet sprayed with cooking spray until they are crisp-tender. Add the cooked vegetables, cheese and seasonings to the couscous and mix to combine. Add a little more chicken broth if the mixture appears too dry. Serve immediately.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes
This meal can really be tweaked based on the drinks and desserts you choose to serve. For an elegant spread, pair the meal with a light and fruity wine. Whites are traditional, but there are a large variety of perfectly suitable reds -- just stay away from intense merlots and the like. A variety of finger desserts served with strong coffee make a lovely dessert. Baklava is traditional, but also a variety of cookies and small fruit tarts would also be appropriate.

To make the meal a little more casual, try offering guests some lightly-flavored iced tea. An entire pitcher of peach iced tea was quickly consumed at my own gathering in June! Another fun beverage to pair with this meal is tart and tangy lemonade -- a summer favorite that plays nicely with the flavors in this meal. Finish off the meal with a simple lemon tart or an easy sponge cake with fresh fruit.

What did we have for dessert? Well, since my Indian guests brought that, we enjoyed kheer and ice cream! Well, it might not have fit the theme, but it was fantastic and a lovely way to end a meal that was enjoyed in the company of friends. And isn't that what entertaining is all about?

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