The warmer weather and longer days put us in the mood for outdoor dining.
The shift in the weather is imperceptible. The day starts cool and grey but warms up a little more quickly and by noon the sun is shimmering and golden. The palm trees stand sentinel, patiently waving their green fronds, silhouetted against a brilliant blue sky. It’s just another perfect June day in the City of Angels.
The seasons might not be as clearly defined in Los Angeles, but we know when summer has arrived. For us, the surest signal is all the wonderful produce that suddenly appears at the market. We love it all—especially the juicy dark red cherries, the soft blushing apricots and the plethora of white and yellow flesh peaches. (We are also suckers for the stunning peonies that show up at Trader Joe’s.)
The warmer weather and longer days put us in the mood for outdoor dining. This week we made easy, exotically spiced grilled kefta kabob served with spicy harissa and amba aioli and sides of grilled peppers and corn on the cob.
Kebab originated in the medieval kitchens of Persia and Anatolia. It is a staple in the cuisines of the Middle East and North Africa. Traditionally made with ground lamb, each region added their unique combination of spices. Our more modern recipe calls for ground beef along with the finely minced onion and fresh chopped Italian parsley that keep the kebab moist.
Whenever my grandmother would make shefta, the Iraqi version of kebab, she always seemed to have a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face. It’s a happy meal.
When Neil and I bought our first home, the first improvement we made was to build a permanent Sukkah. The second was to buy a barbecue. Our entire family celebrated every special occasion with a barbecue. There were Father’s Day barbecues, summer barbecues, midweek barbecues and birthday barbecues. Any excuse for a barbecue.
For many, many years, I never actually touched the barbecue. I would marinate the meat and chicken and fish. I would prepare the vegetables for grilling. And I would wait for Neil to come home from work. One day I got tired of waiting and decided what is the worst that could happen? I admit that there were a few mishaps along the way, like some burnt steak and undercooked chicken.
FOOD JUST TASTES BETTER OFF A REAL FIRE. IT’S MY FAVORITE WAY TO GET A MEAL ON THE TABLE.
Slowly but surely, I’ve become the barbecue master. Food just tastes better off a real fire. It’s my favorite way to get a meal on the table.
We love to grill Kefta on skewers. The meat ends up so tender and juicy. Of course, no middle eastern meal is complete without some grains and some salads. We dreamed up a green salad made with gem lettuce, fresh dill and bitter peppery radicchio. We added crunch and texture with finely shaved fennel, radishes and pepitas (pumpkin seeds), with a light dressing of fresh lemon juice, extra virgin olive, Himalayan salt and freshly cracked black pepper. The contrast of sweetly acidic heirloom cherry tomatoes and nutty tahini makes our tomato tahina salad a must for your al fresco dining.
1 lb ground beef
1 onion, finely chopped
1 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Freshly ground black pepper
- Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.
- Cover and let the meat rest in the refrigerator for one hour.
- Heat the grill. Lightly oil a baking tray.
- Form the meat mixture into a 3 inch long oval, then place on the tray.
- Grill on high heat for 3-5 minutes until nicely browned on all sides.
Tomato Tahina Salad
½ cup tahini paste
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
6 tablespoons water, plus more as needed
1 small garlic clove, grated
½ teaspoon sea salt
In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients with a whisk. Slowly add more water until the Tahina is a thick and creamy consistency. Set aside.
2 Roma tomatoes, diced
1 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes,
cut in half
1 ripe avocado, diced
1 lemon, juiced
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- Mix all the ingredients in a bowl, then set aside.
- On a large flat plate, pour the tahina around the edges to create a thick ring.
- Place the tomato salad over the tahina in the center of the plate.
Sharon Gomperts and Rachel Emquies Sheff have been friends since high school. The Sephardic Spice Girls project has grown from their collaboration on events for the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem. Follow them on Instagram @sephardicspicegirls and on Facebook at Sephardic Spice SEC Food.