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Food & Entertaining

Spring Soirée Recipes

Author: Sydney Dye
Issue: May, 2014, Page 148

Spring in the Desert Southwest calls for supper outdoors. A bucolic olive garden serves as an apropos setting for Chef Sydney Dye’s global-themed feast, showcasing the season’s bounty. Easy dishes—some that can be made ahead, some store-bought—ensure that even the chef has a good time. Although the recipes are simple, their flavors are not. Complex and well-layered, the tastes are sure to delight. Buon appetito!

Each recipe serves 8.

Greek Cucumber, Mint and Feta Salad & Za’atar spiced Flatbread

INGREDIENTS (Greek Cucumber, Mint and Feta Salad)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup red wine vinegar
Juice from 2 lemons
1/2 cup olive oil
3 English cucumbers, peeled in strips and cut into 1/2 disks
8 ounces feta cheese, cut into 1/2" pieces
1/2 cup each of fresh mint and parsley, finely chopped
Kosher salt

INGREDIENTS (Za’atar spiced Flatbread)
8 large flatbread or pita bread
Za’atar spice
Extra-virgin olive oil
DIRECTIONS (Greek Cucumber, Mint and Feta Salad)
SOAK onion slices in red wine vinegar for 10 minutes.   
DRAIN onions, reserving vinegar for dressing.
ADD reserved vinegar and lemon juice to a small bowl and whisk in olive oil.
PLACE cucumbers and feta cheese in a shallow serving bowl and sprinkle with onion slices, chopped mint and parsley.
DRIZZLE with dressing before serving and salt to taste.

DIRECTIONS (Za’atar spiced Flatbread)
PREHEAT oven broiler.
TOAST bottom side of flatbread or pita; turn over and brush top lightly with olive oil;  sprinkle generously with za’atar.
RETURN to oven, watching closely until just golden brown (1 to 2 minutes).
REMOVE from oven and cut into triangles and serve immediately.

Grilled Vegetables


1/2 cup olive oil
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 eggplant, unpeeled and sliced crosswise into 1/2" pieces
1 zucchini, unpeeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/2" pieces
1 yellow squash, unpeeled and sliced lengthwise into 1/2" pieces
1 each: yellow, red and orange bell peppers, with top and bottoms removed, and cut lengthwise into quarters; remove seeds and ribs
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

COMBINE olive oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a small bowl. Let sit while you prepare the vegetables.
PREHEAT the grill to medium-high heat.
BRUSH vegetables on both sides with olive oil mixture, and sprinkle with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper.
GRILL vegetables until they are cooked through and have nice grill marks (about 5 to 7 minutes). Dish and serve.

Moroccan Spice-Rubbed Lamb Chops & Couscous With Pan-Fried ChickPeas - Chickpeas have a thin skin, and it is worth the extra step of removing this layer. To do so, gently rub the chickpeas with a kitchen towel and dry them before pan-frying so that they quickly crisp up.

INGREDIENTS (Moroccan Spice-Rubbed Lamb Chops)

2 tablespoons each of the following:
Ground ginger
4 pounds lamb chops, bone-in rack
1/4 cup olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

INGREDIENTS (Couscous With Pan-Fried ChickPeas)
2 tablespoons smoked paprika
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 10-ounce box couscous
Zest from 1-2 lemons
2-3 tablespoons fresh mint and parsley, roughly chopped
Pomegranate seeds
DIRECTIONS (Moroccan Spice-Rubbed Lamb Chops)
COMBINE spices in a small bowl to create a rub.
TRIM excess fat from lamb chops and pat them dry to remove any moisture; then brush or rub with olive oil and sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper. 
COAT sides of chops with spice mixture. Refrigerate with spice rub for a minimum of 2 hours.
REMOVE chops from refrigerator and let them come to room temperature before baking.
PREHEAT oven to 475°. Place lamb chops on a roasting rack that has been placed atop a sheet pan (some pans come with the roasting rack). Put the pan in the oven and bake for 30 minutes, until medium rare. Turn tray midway through cooking. Do not overcook.
REMOVE from the oven and let rest for 10 minutes.
SLICE lamb chops into individual chops and serve over couscous.

DIRECTIONS (Couscous With Pan-Fried ChickPeas)
COMBINE paprika, chili powder, salt and pepper in a medium-size bowl. Set aside.
POUR enough vegetable oil into a medium sauté pan to coat the bottom. Heat over medium-high heat until the oil begins to shimmer. Add the chickpeas and sauté until golden brown (about 3 minutes).
REMOVE chickpeas from the oil with a slotted spoon and place on a plate lined with a paper towel. Allow to cool slightly; while still warm, transfer them to the bowl with the spice mixture. Toss to coat.
PREPARE the couscous according to the package directions.
SPREAD cooked couscous on a large serving platter; then garnish with lemon zest. Place chickpeas on top and arrange sliced lamb chops down the center of the platter.
GARNISH with mint, parsley and a sprinkling of pomegranate seeds.

Middle-Eastern Date Diamonds


2 cups walnuts, roughly chopped
2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
1 pound fresh dates, pitted and chopped
2 tablespoons butter

PREHEAT oven to 350° and toast walnuts in the oven until barely brown (3 to 5 minutes). Set aside.
TOAST sesame seeds in a small frying pan over medium heat until barely brown (3 to 5 minutes). Set aside to cool.  
LINE a small square metal or glass pan with parchment paper. Place chopped dates and butter in a medium saucepan. Stirring often, cook over low heat until dates have broken down and butter is absorbed (about 15 minutes).
SPREAD half of the cooked dates in a 7"-square cake pan (glass or metal), and add walnuts; then spread remaining date mixture over the top of the walnuts. Smooth date mixture with wet hands. Sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
CHILL in refrigerator. When cool, cut the mixture into small diamond-shaped pieces and serve with mint tea.

Table Setting

Set the table with a simple cotton tablecloth, woven rattan chargers (for added texture) and white dishes. For centerpieces, arrange store-bought sunflowers mixed with clippings of rosemary and olive branches from the garden (if you have them) in simple white pitchers. Include a place card with each guest’s name tied to a bag of white Jordan almonds for a party favor.

Hors d’Oeuvres
Because nearly everything on the platter is store-bought, you can devote your time to the presentation. Serving the hors d’oeuvres on a single large tray is best for visual impact. The hummus and tapenade should be placed in pretty serving dishes. To brighten up the hummus, give it a drizzle of olive oil, as well as sprinkles of paprika, lemon zest and freshly chopped parsley.

The caprese (served on a separate platter) is made by alternating sliced fresh mozzarella cheese and fresh tomatoes and then sprinkling them with chopped fresh basil. Finish the dish off with some kosher salt and a drizzle of dressing made with lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

Grilling Vegetables
The secret to perfectly grilled vegetables is uniform cuts. There will be less chance of overcooking the vegetables if you cut them all to the same thickness. It also is important to keep the heat on medium so as not to overcook the veggies. Feel free to grill whatever vegetables are in season. Consider acorn squash, baby bok choy, red onions, green onions, and steamed artichokes (cut in quarters, with thistles removed).
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