Testing the Waters of Mediterranean Cuisine
Sunday 1 October 2017 — Category: Dining Out
Starting in mid-2015, I suddenly became positively passionate about food, both dining out and cooking at home. Since then my tastes in food have been expanding as I have be brave enough to try new dishes and types of food. It has been exciting and rewarding — and it has most definitely gotten our weekly family meals out of a deep rut. In addition, my wife has been pleased that I have been giving her plenty of time off from the kitchen.
For the final articles and photos of 2016, I’m going to explore some of the culinary experiments which resulted from my growing interest in Mediterranean cuisine last year. This article will lay the foundation with a bit of history, while the following three will focus on specific dishes and recipes.
This attraction to Mediterranean cuisine didn’t simply develop out of thin air, nor did it suddenly descend on me one day from the culinary muse. I would say that it all started with articles about food and dining on the OregonLive.com Web site. And this interest continues to be fueled by their writings to this day.
Although I realize that many different cultures eat lamb, in my mind it is much more associated with the Mediterranean and Middle East than it is with North America, Europe or Asia. I never even tasted lamb until I was around 30 years old, and rarely after that for more than two additional decades. To me it seemed like an exotic meat that was outside and beyond the realm of “normal” meals. I had pretty much felt the same way about goat cheese as well, even though cheese in general is one of my favorite foods.
This skewed perception started to change in March 2016 when I had the desire and courage to try a lamb burger with goat cheese at The Observatory in eastern Portland. It was surprisingly and stunningly awesome!
The following month I feasted on my first shakshuka at Tasty n Sons in North Portland. About this heavenly (and devilishly spicy) Northwest African Jewish dish I wrote that it “was spiced to perfection, and tasted out of this world!“
At this point I was definitely starting to break out of my narrow American food culture ghetto and enter a whole new world of Mediterranean cuisine. I continued the adventure a month later with a Middle Eastern lamb meal, which gave me my first taste of za’atar dip and tahini sauce, at Zaatar Fine Lebanese Cuisine in downtown Portland’s Pearl District. Once again my taste buds were amazed and delighted!
The same month I stopped by the McMenamins Thompson Brewery & Public House in Salem to revel in my first gyro. Although it was made with beef rather than lamb, it did include typical Greek ingredients like tzatziki sauce and feta cheese wrapped in a pita. After just one meal I was hooked on tzatziki!
A few months later I delighted in delectable lamb skewers, with feta cheese and tzatziki sauce, at the Ironwork Grill on the McMenamins Grand Lodge property in Forest Grove, Oregon, in the western Portland metro area. My notes from that day read: “Wow! The lamb and tzatziki were awesome!”
I am taking the time to recount these 2016 Mediterranean cuisine restaurant experiences because they have had a significant impact on my gourmet chef wannabe experiments in my kitchen during the latter half of 2016 and throughout 2017 (and beyond, I would expect). These restaurant dishes have greatly inspired me to step out of my comfort zone and try new recipes which at first seem kind of “out there.”
In the next three articles I will share with you the details and results of those experiments from last year — documented with photos, of course. They will consist of: