This August, my friend B is getting married, and I couldn't be more excited for her. I love it when my friends are in love! To celebrate, my friend L and I hosted a bridal shower for her last weekend. Last year B and I threw L a bridal shower, and this year L gets to return the favor. Some day, they will both need to throw me a party, but from the looks of my current dating record, it won't be any day soon...
L and I were excited to plan it together, and after discussing the details, we decided she would handle the games and prizes, and I would handle the food. I generally tend to be a bit of a control freak when I have a creative vision, so L is a saint for working with me on planning this party, I think. When coming up with a menu, my mind immediately went to Middle Eastern food. Years ago, back when B, L, and I all lived together in Uptown, we used to frequent this awesome place called Felafel King (you can guess their specialty), regularly gorging ourselves on felafel and hummus and tabouli. Middle Eastern cuisine seemed like the perfect choice for all of us, it is ideal for summer, and it is easy to make allergy-friendly. Astute readers may recall that my friend B was recently diagnosed with multiple food allergies, and I've been helping give her ideas on how to transition her diet. She has settled in swimmingly, and is baking gluten-free goodies that would even delight the likes of Martha Stewart.
I built up a delicious menu using seasonal finds like fresh grape leaves and herbs from my garden, produce from the farmers market, and other classic Middle Eastern staples like sheep feta, olives, and fresh pita bread to appease the gluten-eating masses. Add a fresh fruit tart for dessert, along with a tofu chocolate pudding pie made by the future bride herself, and we had a wonderful feast. I only snapped a few photos with my little Powershot, so the photographic evidence of the party is less than breathtaking - these photos don't do the food or the presentation justice!
Middle Eastern-inspired Bridal Shower menu:
- homemade dolmades stuffed with quinoa, millet, and herbs
- white bean salad with peppers and herbs
- baba ganoush
- fresh pita from a local Middle Eastern bakery
- Bulgarian sheep milk feta drizzled with olive oil and peppercorns
- Hungarian sheep milk feta drizzled with Ames Farm Dandelion honey
- a wide assortment of olives
- roasted baby zucchini, garlic, and red spring onions
- raw cashews
- fresh fruit tart with homegrown berries and honey lemon cashew cream
- tofu chocolate pudding pie, made by the bride-to-be (she made me a mini tofu-free avocado pudding pie - bless her!)
- spearmint-limeade "cocktail"
It was a totally vegetarian feast (sorry vegans, there was honey involved and those luscious blocks of feta cheese), and with the exception of the pita, everything was gluten-free. It was also rice-free, since B is allergic to rice, and there wasn't a speck of cane sugar to be found anywhere. L, my mom, aunt, grandma, and me all had a great time preparing food the night before. We laughed and joked together in the kitchen for hours; most of the time was spent blanching grape leaves and stuffing them for dolmades (I'll be writing a post soon on how to do this). My grandma had never eaten a grape leaf before, so it was a new kitchen experience for her! Because we prepared most of the food in advance, all I had to do the morning of the party was cut the crudités, decorate the fresh fruit tart, and plate the food.
My big excitement of the day was that I did indulge in a bit of of sheep feta - my first cheese in over a year - without any negative effects. I couldn't resist the urge to eat a tiny, teeny little bit, because these feta cheeses are nothing like that rather generic feta you buy at the grocery store in the little plastic tubs. On the occasion I need feta for something, I head over to a local market in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis called Bill's Imported Foods. They have anything you could ever need for authentic Middle Eastern culinary adventure, from ground sumac to mastic to pomegranate molasses to halvah, as well as what I think is the best feta cheese and olives in all of Minneapolis. Their deli counter displays big tub after tub of feta, varieties made from goat, cow, and sheep milk. I chose two for the party, both made of sheep milk: Hungarian-style and Bulgarian-style. The Hungarian feta is creamy and soft, almost the consistency of cream cheese, and just a little bit sweet. The Bulgarian is more crumbly and has a sharper bite. I drizzled them with honey and olive oil respectively, and they were totally decadent.
The menu was a hit. Guests went back for seconds and thirds, greedily ate the desserts, and enjoyed the summery "cocktail". Although everything was delicious, I want to share the recipe for the white bean salad, a refreshing, light, and totally simple recipe that is perfectly suited for the many potlucks and parties of summer. Bright, light, and crunchy, this salad has a wonderful blend of sweet, spicy, and salty flavors. It is laced with mint and basil, with crunchy, sweet yellow bell peppers, a hint of spice from red pepper flakes, and salty capers. I added chopped cucumber to some of the leftovers, and it was very delicious, so feel free to add that as well if you so choose. For fellow American readers, this salad would be perfect for a 4th of July barbeque, accompanied by grilled vegetable kabobs, quinoa tabouli, and lamb burgers or kofta!
B really loved the shower, and we all shared in a great afternoon of laughter, love, celebration, and delicious food. L and I were really pleased with how everything turned out. I love it when my friends get married, especially if it means I get to cook for people. The whole thing made me want to start my own catering company. Another dream to add to the ever-growing stack!
White Bean Salad with Peppers and Herbs
serves 12 // adapted from this recipe by Jessica Bard
Bright, light, and crunchy, this salad has a wonderful blend of sweet, spicy, and salty flavors, which gets better the longer is sits and marinates. For added color, sub one of the yellow bell peppers with a sweet red, orange, or purple bell pepper. If you eat cheese, sprinkle with a bit of high-quality crumbled feta for a fun and delicious twist. This recipe makes a very large batch, so feel free to cut the recipe in half if you want a smaller portion.
4 15-oz cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed (or other white bean)
2 red spring onions, finely chopped (or 1/2 small red onion)
3/4 cup roughly chopped fresh spearmint, packed
3/4 cup roughly chopped fresh basil, packed
2 yellow bell peppers, cored and chopped
optional: 1 medium regular cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped, or 1/2 large English cucumber, chopped
3 Tbsp capers, rinsed and patted dry (salt-packed or vinegar packed), coarsely chopped
juice and zest of 1 large lemon OR 1/2-3/4 tsp vitamin C crystals + 1/4 cup water
extra virgin olive oil
1/2-1 tsp red pepper flakes
Mix together beans, onion, herbs, bell peppers, cucumber (if using) and capers in a large bowl. Add lemon juice and zest, a big glug of olive oil, and stir. Season to taste with sea salt and red pepper flakes, adding more olive oil if necessary if too dry. For best flavor let marinate for at least an hour, or better yet, over night, and remove from refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving to let warm to room temperature. The flavors are most potent with it is not extremely cold.