Is what they say true: The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach? In my experience, the answer is wholeheartedly yes. While this can also be applied to women, some folks simply expect most women to be able to cook. (I’m just stating the overwhelming stereotype here, folks, so please stop throwing forks! 😉 )
Regardless of who is bringing home the bacon and who is frying it up in the pan, food can be an intimate experience. So whether you have been married for years and enjoy cooking meals together, you are trying to impress your love interest despite lacking a lot of experience in the kitchen, or just want a special dinner for yourself and a friend, opting for a quiet meal at home can be a grand alternative to dining out. Not only can you showcase (or reveal) your culinary skills, but you can avoid making a reservation, will typically save a bundle, and you won’t have to dust off your elementary math skills to calculate the tip.
Rather than packing both the surf and turf into the main course, or filling up on a pre-dinner salad, I opted to create an appetizer using a spicy and flavorful beef wrapped in a lettuce leaf and serve a delicate fish with vegetables for the main course. Essentially you have the best of both worlds (surf and turf), which hopefully allows you to save room for dessert!
Spicy Mediterranean Lettuce Wraps
- 1/2 cup tahini
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 Tbsp chili oil
- 1 1/2 tsps honey
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 Tbsp coconut oil
- 1 lb ground beef
- 1 medium yellow onion, very finely diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/4 tsp cayenne
- 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp ground cloves
- 1/4 tsp marjoram
- 1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
- 1 large handful Italian parsley, very thinly sliced
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Large outer leaves of 1 head of butter lettuce
- Combine tahini, lemon juice, chili oil, and honey. Season lightly with salt and pepper, to taste.
- Heat coconut oil in skillet on medium-high heat.
- Add ground beef and cook approximately 10 minutes, until evenly browned.
- 4. Drain beef and place into a bowl, being mindful to reserve enough fat to coat the bottom of the pan.
- Sauté onion approximately 15 minutes, until soft and golden in color.
- Stir in garlic, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, and marjoram, and sauté about 1 minute.
- Add beef to onion mixture and cook just until heated through, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in pine nuts and a big pinch of parsley. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.
- To make lettuce wraps, place a heaping tablespoon of beef mixture in the center of each lettuce leaf. Top with tahini sauce to taste and sprinkle with more parsley.
Chef notes: You may use any type of meat you prefer, as this flavor combination works very well with beef, chicken, and pork.
You may use iceberg lettuce or any other variety provided you are able to peel away a large enough leaf to use as a vehicle for the beef mixture.
I have been known to throw cabbage and carrots into this mix, and for a heartier dish, you could even add quinoa or rice to the wraps.
Make sure to also serve with a fork in case anything falls out of your lettuce wrap.
Mediterranean Fish Parcel
- 2 fish fillets (roughly 200 grams per fillet)
- 1 zucchini, cut into rounds
- 1 small eggplant or ½ large eggplant, cut into small cubes
- ½ bunch of basil, roughly chopped
- 4 Tbsps extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp sea salt
- ½ tsp ground pepper
- 10 cherry tomatoes, halved
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a bowl, combine all ingredients except the fish.
- Arrange vegetable mixture on a baking sheet covered in aluminum foil.
- Place fish fillets on top of vegetables.
- Fold aluminum foil around all ingredients and gently seal at the top.
- Bake for 20 – 25 minutes.
Chef notes: For this recipe, I used flounder; however, you could use any white fish that is local to your area. Some others I have used are tilapia, halibut, and cod.
If you have saved room for dessert, then prepare to amaze your dinner guest with all the comforts of a homemade apple pie, without all the guilt.
Mediterranean Baked Apple
- 2 large Granny Smith apples
- 2 Tbsps honey
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp mixed spice
- 1 ½ ounces walnuts, roughly chopped
- 1 ½ ounces golden yellow raisins
- Juice and grated peel of ½ lemon
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Core both apples leaving a small piece in the bottom of each apple.
- Stand apples up in baking dish.
- Combine remaining ingredients until well blended.
- Push mixture into the hole in each apple, and add remaining mixture to the top.
- Add approximately ½ inch of water to the baking dish.
- Bake 40 – 45 minutes until the apples are soft and golden brown.
Chef notes: I often serve with a scoop of vanilla yogurt or ice cream. You could also use crème fraiche. I also drizzle the remaining juice from the pan atop each apple to add to the presentation and, of course, the flavor.