How to host a gluten free Mediterranean night

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I love the Mediterranean! I love the countries, I love the climate, I love the people and most of all, I love the food. So it’s only natural that every so often in my family, we throw a Mediterranean night filled with sangria, wine, olives and tapas, i.e. my idea of heaven itself.

This year I was the host and sous chef, in fact I was the only chef on the night. I’d settled the famalam in with a river of wine and lager and had put on some cultured music courtesy of the Gypsy Kings and Latino Lounge – okay, not technically Mediterranean but it added to the atmosphere.

So, with a Spanish rendition of Hotel California and Bamboleo ringing out in the background, I got busy in the kitchen creating eleven dishes of absolute scrumptiousness. Here’s what I served up on the night.

Appetisers

Tortilla chips, cucumber and carrot sticks with tzatziki and houmous

Pimento stuffed olives

Tapas dishes

Chickpeas with feta, chilli and fresh mint

Griddled chicken salad in a chilli and garlic butter with quinoa, rocket, red onion and chives

Tray bake of butternut squash with courgettes, sweet potato and peppers

Baked aubergines in a honey and lime dressing

Pan fried Scallops and king prawns with chorizo, finished off with a sprinkle of coriander and parsley

Focaccia bread served alongside a selection of cooked hams, feta and grilled halloumi cheese

Mains

Lamb tagine with toasted pine nuts

Chicken, chilli and bacon pasta in a creamy sauce

Griddled steak with rocket and a balsamic vinegar dressing

Dessert

Tiramisu

Strawberries, apples, grapes and cranberry cheese with honey

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Okay, so here’s where I go all Miranda on you and admit that my tiramisu was purchased from Sainsbury’s. But, the thing to note is that everything else was fresh, home cooked and most importantly, gluten and wheat free.

Tip: If you don’t believe that a whole host of fussy eaters can enjoy a night of eating gluten free food, then think again. Nobody would have guessed that any of these dishes were lacking in what I like to call ‘evil ingredients.’

Some of the dishes that I whipped up, such as the gorgeous lamb tagine courtesy of my favourite free from chef Pippa Kendrick and my very own creamy chicken and chilli pasta, were tried and tested. However, some were sort of created on the spot after raiding my cupboards and seeing what I had in – after all, it’s not the most cost effective ‘come round for dinner guys’ kind of night. The baked aubergines in a honey and lime dressing was inspired by my trip to Barcelona earlier in the year, and it was a recipe which I had noted down at the time as it was extremely simple to make and bloody delicious. The fruit concoction I served up at the end of the meal was also extremely refreshing and light after so many dishes.

Anywho, over the next few weeks I want to share some of these beautiful recipes with you to demonstrate how gluten free cooking doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, my cousin remarked after eating everything that ‘you would never guess that it was all gluten free,’ and thankfully, everyone went back for seconds. Pheww!

Even though somehow I managed to get all of my dishes out at the exact time that I said I wanted everything ready, the important thing to remember if you are hosting a dinner party is that in the Mediterranean, you don’t need to be in a rush. My Rhodian friends like to use the phrase ‘slowly, slowly,’ which basically means ‘your dinner will be ready when we’ve finished cooking it and not before.’

On that note, Yammas, Cin Cin and Salud! May you always be in possession of a smooth red wine.

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Greek Mezze

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It is no secret that I absolutely adore Greece. I love the country, the people, the culture and most of all, the food. Having spent countless summers on the beautiful island of Rhodes making friends for life and mixing with the locals, I can’t deny that if I had to change nationalities, I would choose to be Greek.

The thing that I really admire about the Greeks is their passion for cooking as a way of bringing people together. If you ever visit the country, you will never be far from a family gathered around a table sharing a mezze, a variety of national or local dishes similar to Spanish tapas. Believe me, if you ever have the pleasure of joining a family for a mezze you will be overwhelmed by the variety of flavours and colours presented to you. Never be afraid to try out the local dishes, I was pleasantly surprised by what I have tasted on my travels that I would never have dreamed of eating before back in England – squid and mussels being some of them.

This week, my brother and his girlfriend had us all round for a Greek afternoon and I was told I needn’t worry about bringing my own food, as it would all be gluten, wheat and cow’s milk free. We had a beautiful selection of dishes to choose from, including chicken skewers, lamb and mint mini burgers, Greek salad with feta cheese, olives, bell stuffed peppers, rosemary and garlic roast potatoes, gluten free pitta bread with a red pepper hummus dip and homemade tzatziki, as well as beef stifado which had been slow cooked.

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My brother Nick cooking up a Greek feast

One of my favourite Greek dishes is Moussaka and I have to admit that it is the one thing I really miss being able to have when I am over in Greece, as unfortunately it does contain flour and milk which is off limits to me. However, with a few alterations, this national dish can be made at home with minimal effort, and quite frankly it is delicious even if I may say so myself.

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Here is a recipe I found in Greece in a cookbook and although there are many recipes out there which have been incorporated into fancier looking and more difficult dishes to make, when it comes to proper Greek cooking, simplicity is key.

Moussaka

Serves 4

  • 2 kilos of large aubergines
  • 1 kilo of mince
  • ½ cup of olive oil
  • 2 large onions
  • 5 ripe tomatoes skinned and finely chopped
  • ½ cup of dry white whine
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon of oregano
  • Grated kefalotiri sheep/goats cheese (parmesan or dairy free cheese can be used instead)
  • 2-3 portions of white sauce or if dairy free, I use Free & Easy dairy free cheese sauce and follow the pack instructions

1)    Peel, wash and cut the aubergines into large thin slices and leave them to drain in salt.

2)    Brown the mince in the oil with the onion.

3)    Pour in the wine, tomatoes and season with salt, pepper and oregano

4)    Allow to boil until the moisture has been absorbed.

5)    Fry the aubergines and spread them in a large roasting tin and sprinkle with grated cheese.

6)    After the first layer, spread the mince on top and then add another layer of aubergines, then sprinkle again with the grated cheese.

7)    Pour on the white or dairy free sauce so that the surface of the moussaka is covered with a thick layer of sauce and finish with the cheese.

8)    Cook in the oven for around 30 – 40 minutes until cooked through and crisp.

Variations – Thin sliced potatoes can be incorporated into the dish and fried before adding to the layers for a more filling and thicker moussaka, or alternatively, the aubergines can be swapped with courgettes.

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A shot of Souma and you’ll be smashing the plates….Yammas!!