Only 2 more days until the 2012 London Olympic Games 27! And, in honor of all that the Olympic games inspire, this month’s Five Star Makeover Challenge is a Greek meze roundup. The epitome of Greek style entertaining is the meze (meh-ZEH) table - a traditional gathering place – warm, inviting, and always casual. It is an atmosphere where the plates are communal, the conversation is spirited, and the pace is leisurely. Translated literally, the word meze means a taste or a bite. It is used to describe small plates of savory snacks that are served as a complement to drinks – most often the anise-flavored aperitif ouzo (OO-zoh).
There are many different types of mezethes and the menu will vary according to locale. This style of entertaining encourages people to come and join the party. So grab a fork and have a seat! In the list of suggested Greek meze for the Challenge, Boureki (described as eggplant rolls) immediately caught my eye as I’m a big fan of eggplant. My web search turned up more recipes for boureki as a layered zucchini and potato baked dish with myzithra like the recipe Evelyne posted after her trip to Crete.
Myzithra (mee-ZEETH-rah) is a Greek cheese made from the whey of Feta and Kefalotiri. Fresh myzithra has a soft, creamy consistency similar to ricotta. It is also available aged into a very dense, hard white cheese that is suitable for fine grating and what I used in my Eggplant Boureki along with a Greek yogurt cheese called Labne which has a distinctive tangy flavor and is smoother and thicker than yogurt. Preferring grilled eggplant wrapped around a savory stuffing for our meze table, these elegant, party-worthy eggplant rolls bring together culinary influences from Greece, Italy in the arrabbiata-style sauce, and North Africa in the nuts and dried fruits in the stuffing.
Mediterranean Eggplant Rolls
For your Olympic meze table: elegant and party-worthy grilled eggplant wrapped around a savory, yogurt cheese stuffing showcases culinary influences from Greece, Italy in the arrabbiata-style sauce, and North Africa in the nuts and dried fruits of the creamy stuffing.
3 medium eggplant, stems removed, sliced in half lengthwise, then into six 1/2 inch slices, discard thin end pieces that are mostly skin
3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided use
2 cups Greek-style Arrabbiata sauce (recipe below)
1 cup Karoun Labne yogurt cheese*
1 teaspoon Gourmet Garden oregano
1 shallot, diced
2 cloves garlic, pressed
3 tablespoons dried cherries or currants
3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
½ cup finely grated Myzithra cheese*
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Sprigs of Italian parsley or basic (optional)
1. Place eggplant slices on large rimmed baking sheet covered with paper towels. Lightly sprinkle with salt – or sodium-free salt substitute if on a restricted sodium diet (I used a product called AlsoSalt). Cover with another layer of paper towels and let stand for 20 minutes. This step draws out excess moisture so the eggplant will absorb less oil and stay firm when cooked.
2. Preheat grill to medium-hot, then lower to medium or medium-low, depending on your grill, to grill the eggplant. Brush both sides of eggplant with olive oil, grill over indirect or low heat, turning once, halfway through, until softened and grill-marked, but not completely cooked, 10-15 minutes.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Lightly spray a baking dish with cooking spray.
4. In a small saucepan, heat 1 teaspoon olive oil over medium heat. Cook the shallots until softened, about a minute. Stir in the garlic, remove pan from heat. In a glass bowl, mix the yogurt cheese, oregano, garlic, shallots, cherries, and pine nuts. If using cherries, coarsely chop them – dried currants are fine as is.
5. Lay the eggplant slices flat on a cutting board. Place a rounded teaspoon of the cheese mixture in the center of each slice. Carefully fold the eggplant ends over to enclose the cheese. Place seam side down in the baking dish. Place a spoonful of Greek-style Arrabbiata sauce on each roll. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake for 15-20 minutes until heated through. Remove from oven. Uncover the dish, sprinkle eggplant rolls with Myzithra cheese and bake, uncovered, for another 5 minutes until cheese is browned. Remove from the oven. Serve hot, plated with extra sauce and garnished with basil or parsley sprigs, if desired.
*Note: I was pleasantly surprised to find that Labne yogurt cheese is very low in sodium compared to most cheese – only 15 mg. per 2 tablespoons. Myzithra, on the other hand, has 580 mg. per 1.1 ounce, making it a very salty cheese. I used the Myzithra very sparingly and left half of the rolls without it – they disappeared just as quickly.
Greek-style Arrabbiata sauce
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 cloves of garlic, sliced into slivers
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 14-1/2 ounce cans diced tomatoes*
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 can tomato paste (about 3 tablespoons)
3 tablespoons water
1/3 cup fresh basil, chiffonade
Heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic, sauté for one minute, stirring. Add the chili flakes, stir and cook for another minute. Add the tomatoes, brown sugar, cinnamon, tomato paste and water. Simmer for 15 minutes, breaking up the larger chunks of tomatoes. Stir in the basil. Best if covered and refrigerated for 6-8 hours to allow the flavors to develop.
Pull up a chair and share this and the other fabulous mezes at the 5 Star Makeover Meze Table, now open here!