I’m back! And all too happy to be so.
I think Tomato and I need to rethink our definition of vacation, because this was not relaxing. It was actually sort of horrible. I’ll explain.
We signed up to trek up to Annapurna Base Camp in Nepal. It was to take around 12 days and we thought it’d be similar to what we did three years ago when we went to Everest Base Camp. In some ways the trek part was the same, but the experience was a whole lot of different. In the bad ways.
By day 3, Tomato and I had contracted some sort of food poisoning. I knew something was up as I snubbed my nose at my breakfast of a chocolate peanut butter pancake (which, if you know me, you know that I’d never snub my nose at chocolate PB anything). That day was the longest as through the heat I battled a fever the whole 7+ hours we walked that day, me throwing up sporadically on the trail at least four times, working on little besides ginger tea for sustenance. While my fever luckily managed to break that night, my flu-like symptoms gave way to the worst diarrhea that I’ve ever had and my continued lack of appetite meant that I spent two days powered by nothing more than chapatti. Eventually I was able to stomach egg-veg-noodle soup and by day 7 about my appetite was mostly back though, to quote one of my fellow group members, the “exit was still a bit dodgy.” The good news, if there is any in this scenario, is that 10/11 in our group came down with varying degrees of the same, and since misery loves company, the constant monitoring of each other’s bathroom habits served to bring us really close, really fast.
The trip did end on a high note and the others with whom I shared this adventure were so awesome, and they provided the silver lining on what was otherwise a pretty miserable trip. The views were, however, quite spectacular.
My trip home had me laying over in Istanbul for 23 hours. It was sort of fruitless and sort of a waste, which was fine since 1st, it was unavoidable and 2nd, because I’d already been there I didn’t feel the need to cram 100 things to see into my 6 daylight hours. I did plan on hitting the Grand Bazaar, but since it was closed on Sunday, my #1 destination became a no-go. Rather, I wandered the streets for about 4 hours, popping into shops here and there and let myself so far to avoid getting horribly lost, which I am all-to prone to do. Also, exhausted, I didn’t have the mental or physical energy to deal with pushy vendors. I grabbed a quick Donor kebab and some ice cream and was back in my room by 7:30, asleep by 9:30.
I woke up too early as the call to prayer echoed through the streets. I remember 5 years ago how after a few days, the sound was barely noticeable, but I wasn’t there long enough for that to happen this time. I slept in, relaxed and enjoyed the best breakfast buffet in the history of my travel before I headed back to the airport for my 12 hour flight back home.
I actually got back into town late last Monday but it was a rough vacation and needed the rest of the week to recoup and settle back into life. Truth be told, by Thursday I was itching to get back at it and couldn’t wait to start digging deeper into what I started with Greece three weeks ago. However, the rest of me wasn’t quite ready but having slept 10+ hours the past two nights, I woke up this morning kicking and ready to roll.
Remember when I made the brash statement on Cinco de Mayo that Mexican was my #1? Well, the problem with brash statements are they often turn out to be wrong, and right now my food-loving self is making a strong case for the eats of Greece and Turkey. Ever since I started that ball rolling by making the Grilled Greek Salad, I can’t get enough and it didn’t help that I had 24 hours to eat the real deal on my layover in Istanbul. I’ll say now that it’s a tie and right now, the Mediterranean side has a slight edge for the season.
I had initially planned on doing Greece and Turkey separately, but after being there and subsequently researching recipes, I realized that there is a lot of overlap. Therefore, in the next few weeks I’ll be making some things uniquely Greek, others uniquely Turkish, and a few that can swing either way, or some that melt the best of the two. Kapeesh?
The things that I love about Mediterranean food is the bright simple ingredients that pack a lot of punch flavor-wise while still being healthy and fresh, similar in the way that I found all of those Spanish flavors to be and the best foods to eat as the temps start to rise.
My first welcome back dish is a nod to both Greece and Turkey, a recipe for “Spaghetti and Meatballs,” but not in the way that you think.
I had originally planned on making the spanakopita burgers ala Rachel Ray that I stole my stomach years ago, but after discovering a recipe for Calkama in the Turkish air magazine, figured I’d reinvent both dishes into the perfect summer pasta dish.
In case you aren’t in the know on Greek food, spanakopita is a popular spinach pie, with spinach, onions, feta and herbs layered between phyllo dough. I loved Rachel’s burger-take on this and used her recipe to make the meatballs.
As for the Calkama, according to said in-flight magazine, it’s a lemon-flour sauce atop baked zucchini and garlic.
The two sounded like a match made in heaven, and so it would be.
True to self, I used my trusty go-to Tofu Shirataki fettucini noodles, but feel free to use regular old wheat pasta. Or, if you have a spiralizer, just spiralize the zucchini and leave it at that.
Turkish air is THE BEST, both experience and food wise. On one of my flights they actually served the Lamb-stuffed Eggplant that I made way back when (high five for Buddha authenticity!) and on another I had lamb chops for dinner. I don’t even make lamb chops for myself, and, yes, I did fly coach. They also passed out pistachio Turkish delight shortly after each takeoff, a tidbit that made Tomato a little jealous.
Remember that Halvah that I made right before I left? Well, that’s also super authentic and they sold it everywhere in Turkey in a bunch of different flavors. I had a walnut one at my hotel. I meant to take a picture for you, but I ate it too fast. Whoops.
- 3 cloves garlic, crushed
- ¼ red onion, chopped
- 5 ounces, frozen spinach, defrosted
- 1 tsp dried Greek oregano
- ½ cup crumbled feta cheese
- ¼ pound ground chicken thighs
- ¼ pound ground chicken breasts
- ½ TB grill seasoning (recommended: Montreal Steak Seasoning by McCormick)
- Salt and pepper
- Handful of flat-leaf Italian parsley, chopped
- 1 lemon, juiced
- For the sauce
- 1 large zucchini, cut into thin matchsticks
- 6 cloves garlic, crushed
- 2 TB rosemary, chopped
- 1 TB dried Greek oregano
- ¼ cup Italian parsley, chopped
- 2 TB olive oil
- 1 medium lemon, juiced
- 1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 package of Tofu Shirataki noodles (or alternatively, enough of your favorite noodles to serve 2 people), drained and rinsed
- Preheat oven to 400F and line a broiler pan with aluminum foil.
- Heat a large skillet to medium heat. Add a little extra-virgin olive oil, about 1 TB and add the chopped garlic and chopped red onion and cook 5 minutes. Transfer the onions and garlic to a bowl to cool.
- Wring the defrosted spinach dry by twisting it in a clean kitchen towel over your sink. Separate the spinach as you add it to the bowl with cool onions, garlic and season with the oregano. Add in feta crumbles then chicken, grill seasoning and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice and parsley. Mix and form into 4 patties, and then divide each patty 4 meatballs, about 1-1 ½ inch in diameter. Place the meatballs, evenly spaced on the broiling pan and bake about 20 minutes until they are cooked through.
- While the meatballs are cooking….
- To your large skillet, add the 2 TB olive oil and 6 cloves of crushed garlic. Let the garlic cook, but not brown, in the olive oil (you’re creating a garlic infused oil). You may need to tilt the pan to let the oil congregate and cook the garlic without browning it. Just before the garlic starts to really fry, remove ½ of it and reserve for another use.
- To the garlic and oil, add the zucchini, and let cook about 7 minutes until the zucchini is soft. Add the herbs, pepper, lemon and noodles, and season as you wish. Add the cooked meatballs and toss everything so it’s all evenly distributed with the noodles.
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