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Of Olives and Sumac

August 16, 2011

This past Sunday, I finally got to make the private dinner that one of our Kickstarter campaign backers won. It took a few months to schedule it, but it seems pretty appropriate that it ended up being a couple weeks before the birthday dinner.

The Kickstarter donator was Diane, one of my “aunts” (I think she’s a second cousin once removed), which needless to say made it slightly awkward to have her “pay” money to have dinner with me and my wife. I’d have made her dinner if she’d asked. (I still have a bit of residual embarrassment over the Kickstarter campaign.)

I decided to go with a Mediterranean-inspired menu.

Beverages for the night were a bottle of Three Philosphers (not Mediterranean, but it’s good) and a Spanish Jumilla red wine.

First course:

Cheese plate with kefalotiri (a semi-hard sheep’s milk cheese reminiscent of Italian pecorino) and a barrel-aged feta with olives (Ceringnola, Mt. Athos, oil-cured black, and Greek jumbo brown). Served with homemade bread and olive oil. The kefalotiri was a big hit.

Second course:

A variation on the classic greek salad with baby spinach, oil-cured olives, feta, and red onion. Dressing was a lemon vinaigrette:

Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup salad oil
black pepper
1/2 tsp honey

I considered a pomegranate vinaigrette, but the main course had a pomegranate sauce, so I needed some variety.

Third course:

I thought for a bit about what would make a good main course for this meal. Gyros didn’t feel right, and lamb didn’t seem distinctive enough to stay in theme. There’s a few other dishes I like that I’ve just never made before, like fata, but the Pomegranate-sumac steak recipe I decided on is something I’ve made at home a couple times a year. (We don’t eat much beef, and we eat steak only once or twice a year.)

The original recipe I based this on used skirt steak, which was cheap at the time the recipe appeared in Cooks or Gourmet or whatever magazine I saw it in. Skirt steak is now $15 a pound or more, and that’s previously frozen, not even restaurant grade, and and it’s just not that good of a cut of meat to justify the cost. NY strip works just as well and has less waste.

The sumac used in this recipe is a Turkish spice. It’s not poisonous, obviously.

I used a low-sugar pomegranate juice because my aunt is diabetic. The original recipe adds sugar to the pomegranate juice, which I’ve found completely unnecessary. I find that this recipe serves 6 easily. A half pound of steak is a lot.

Pomegranate-sumac steak

2 lb strip steak
1 tbsp Sumac
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper

Pat the steak dry. Mix the spices together and rub them on the steak. Let rest for a while, at least 10 minutes. You need to let it rest to let it come up to room temperature – it really has very little to do with the spices seeping into the meat or anything like that. I find it’s best to reserve a little of the sumac for after the steak has cooked.

Heat a pan to very high heat and sear the steak on all sides. (Medium rare is about 4 minutes on each side in my pans.) The best way is actually to do steak in the home is probably in a cast iron pan, get the pan extremely hot, and then plop the steak in the pan and stick it under the broiler. It cooks more evenly that way. But I don’t have a cast iron pan.

Transfer the steak to a cutting board or platter (something that the juices won’t go all over your counter) and let rest for about 10 minutes.

2 cups pomegranate juice, reduced to half
1 large shallot
3 tablespoons butter
1/4 cup tawny port
Juice of the other half of the lemon

Reduce the pomegranate juice and reserve. Dice the shallot and sauté in half of the butter until softened. Add the port and reduce to a glaze. Turn off the heat and add the pomegranate juice reduction, the drippings from the steak pan/cutting board, and lemon juice, and the remaining butter. Whisk until the butter is fully melted.

To plate, slice the steak and arrange five slices in the center of the plate. Spoon some of the shallots on top and pour some sauce around the plate. If you reserved some of the sumac, sprinkle a little on top.

I wish I’d taken some pictures. My aunt throws pottery and we used some of her homemade dishes, including some very cute green leaf salad bowls.

Before I go, I just want to get a complaint about foodies off my chest: I like pomegranates because they taste good, and my mom used to buy them when my sister and I were in grade school. They’re fun to eat. But now they’ve become uber-trendy, so pomegranate juice – which I paid less than $4 a bottle for in 2006 when I first learned this recipe – is now $8 or more.

And the reason isn’t just that it’s a trendy flavor. It also got picked up by the health food people, who can’t seem to enjoy anything without being convinced that it’s some sort of miracle food, and are currently in love with anti-oxidants. Like red wine: Let’s get bunch of scientists together and ask them if it’s good for us, because it tastes good and we can’t just Enjoy Things That Taste Good. It is good for us? Oh, okay, let’s drink it. Wait, it’s not? Let’s stop drinking it. This is a particularly American way of doing things, because if you like red wine and everyone’s telling you booze is evil, you have to have a witty retort like, “Well, I won’t be having heart attacks!” (Except from all the stress created by worrying about whether what you eat is the most healthy thing ever.)

So these anti-oxidants. The guy who first researched them was transferring knowledge of energy industry corrosion problems to human nutrition. And yet, how many of us have actually looked at the evidence – which suggests that they might in fact be harmful in large amounts (moderation in all things is still excellent advice!), not just unhelpful, and is at best inconclusive – instead of just buying into the idea that they were good because … all these packages started touting the amount of antioxidants in things like tea (which tastes good, and you should drink it for that reason). If you go back and look closely, you might even notice that these foods don’t even claim that antioxidants are good for you. They just brag about how much they have! Imagine if they started touting the amount of carbon atoms. We might all decide that carbon is particularly good for you.


One Comment leave one →
  1. Steve Patton permalink
    August 16, 2011 8:27 pm

    It’s a proven fact that if you quit eating you die in relatively short order. You are also likely to be very trim and thin and probably not going to have to worry about a lot of the other crap that will kill you, since you can only die once. The evidence also suggests that if you eat you can delay the final outcome although most foods will kill you and you will also likely die ugly and from something other than being struck by lightening.

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