Friday after Friday after Friday, I became used to a consistent routine: an hour at the market, a few hours for the challah, a few more hours for cooking & setting up Shabbat dinner followed by 25 minutes of scarfing down food. Great. Done. See you guys next week. Adam cleans up.
A couple of weeks ago though, I finally figured out how to
drag out the meal, and bask in the enjoyment of spending more time eating and relaxing with close friends than it spent to prepare the food.
Now, to many of you this may seem obvious and you’ve been cooking like this for ages. But it has really been a challenge for me to learn how to pair light beginnings with complete and filling endings while keeping people at my table eating and talking for more than an hour. Plus, I actually find it offensive when people feed me food that makes me want to die of fullness on my walk home. And that feeling is essentially synonymous with Shabbat, if you ask me, so I took this endeavor very seriously.
This is one of the light appetizers that I made on what I am going to call “My First Successful Shabbat Dinner Who-Knows-How-Many Shabbat Dinners Too Late.” It helped that my friend Tamar asked for a Persian-themed meal, so we started out slowly with traditional Persian appetizers of herbs, feta, radishes and lavash bread (I actually used lafa bread because I couldn’t find lavash at the shuk); dolmeh (dolmas), several dips, a pistachio-cranberry-fennel salad with a lemon-mint dressing, hummus and hamutzim. I guess the trick was only providing enough to get your stomach gurgling and not enough to actually feel satiated. That does sound obvious…
Traditionally, the herb & cheese platter is comprised of: tarragon (tarkhoon), mint (nawnaw), persian basil (reyhan), cilantro (geeshneez), watercress (shawhi), green onion (peeazcheh), chive (tareh) and radish (torobcheh); a block of feta cheese cut into bite-sized pieces and some lavash (which is a soft, thin flatbread bread that is used to make wraps or with kebabs) for wrapping. I had to make do with less, plus some herbs I didn’t even recognize. Nevertheless, you place your favorite herbs and cheese on a small square of lavash, roll it up and eat! It’s tremendously refreshing, delicious and simple.
Back to the tomatoes. I really enjoyed these because the flavor wasn’t overpowering and although they aren’t a “traditional Iranian dish” that I’ve ever had (though maybe they are!), they were made in the spirit of the herb and cheese platter above and were fun to eat and beautiful to look at.
Serves 5 as an appetizer
What you need:
100 grams of feta cheese (or one container like you can buy at any Persian grocer or the same size of the Trader Joe’s feta that comes in the plastic container, although I wouldn’t go with the crumbled variety)
about 3 tblsp olive oil (just keep it out because you’ll want it for drizzling)
1 tsp table salt or a large pinch of kosher salt
pinch of ground black pepper
2 garlic cloves; minced
1/4 c bread crumbs
2 tblsp fresh mint; chopped
How to do it:
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Halve the tomatoes and remove the seeds and wetness from the inside. Place the tomato halves juice-side-down on paper towels to drain for about 5 minutes.
In a bowl, mix together two tblsp of the olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper. Gently toss the drained tomato halves in the oil mixture until nicely coated. Let them sit and “marinate” in this mixture for 15 minutes.
While that’s happening, in a small bowl, mix together the bread crumbs and feta cheese.
Place the marinated tomato halves, open-side-up, on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Fill each tomato half with the bread crumb & cheese filling. Drizzle about 1 tblsp of olive oil over the tomatoes. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until the tomatoes have slightly softened and the underside of the tomatoes are brown. If you notice that the tops of the tomatoes are starting to look very brown (like the bread crumbs are burning), bring the tray out slightly and just move a little bit of the mixture around. No worries. Top with the chopped mint (I would do more than I showed in this picture), and serve warm. Enjoy!