The day before, the husband and I had witnessed the lovely wedding of our dear friends’ daughter (who is also a friend and super awesome) in Tennessee, and he talked me into the additional day’s excursion to Asheville. On the way further east, farther away from my kids and all the things I needed to be doing, I made the mistake of taking vitamins too long after the Holiday Inn Express just-passable breakfast of eggs and bacon and such.
The extra day of travel was to visit the Overland Expo East — think Jeeps, Range Rovers and such all decked out for serious long-distance travel, but with wine and cheese rather than meager rations. This is a trade show of sorts, where equipment providers can hawk their spendy wares. But overlanders also camped out, trading stories and tips, making it sort of a Woodstock of high-end adventurers.
I agreed to the excursion. I wasn’t crazy about the extra day away from home, since that would mean my mother having to take kids to school bright and early that Monday. But I knew that overlanders are often gourmet foodies, so I was on a quest to find them.
First, we looked for Overland Gourmet. Although I have but a passing interest in the overlanding experience, I’ve read this blog over my husband’s shoulder (and when he requested one of their recipes) many a time. Turns out they were on the original map of participants but didn’t quite get there. Gah!
I have to say, the travel rigs at the event were pretty cool. I mean, if you’re gonna go driving in the middle of nowhere, why not take along a gourmet kitchen?
Finally, we met the person who made the trip worthwhile (besides my awesome hubs, of course). My overland imzadi.
Allan Karl. This dude is legit. He motorcycled through countries all over the world over the course of three years, breaking bread with folks on five continents. And he wrote a book about it. Readers follow him along as he is led into a jungle, wondering if he is going to be killed (turns out they just wanted to show him something); awaits entry into not-so-friendly countries while border agents deny him and menacingly adjust their guns; and at every turn, finds friendly people who just want to share their food with him.
When we met Allan, he was selling copies of his book, Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine and Connection. The book in front of him fell open to the recipe page from his travels in Syria, a colorful salad with cucumber, olives and feta called fattoush. We were hooked. He said a worker at a gas station there offered it to him, and he wondered if this was going to be a good idea. Turns out it was just the refreshing, nourishing bit of hospitality he needed to move along on his journey.
Not long after we got home, we made our own batch. I don’t have enough adjectives to describe it…garlicky, crisp, refreshing. As the recipe is written, it might be a little strong for some, but you can cut back on the garlic and/or feta if you like. (We dig it.) You could also use black olives in place of the pungent kalamatas, which is what my kids did. We also had to cut out the pita bread, obviously, for lack of time to make a gluten-free version. But next time I’ll use this GF naan recipe and go all the way. I also added some lemon zest, because, why not?
- Make this salad. With a quickness. Double the recipe. We did, and the tiny bit that survived was even better the next day.
- Buy Allan Karl’s book, Forks: A Quest for Culture, Cuisine and Connection. I don’t have any financial benefit in telling you to do so. It’s just really good writing about an amazing adventure, with recipes for every single country he visited, over 35.
- Share something with someone from a different cultural background. The whole book is about that very thing. Even within our own country, there are opportunities to break down borders, which is one thing food is really awesome at doing.
Oh, and when you’re traveling in a weird place, whether it be Syria or the wooded outskirts of Ashville, North Carolina, make sure you eat before taking your vitamins. And keep your eyes open…you never know what you’ll discover in a ratty gas station.
(Recipe courtesy of Allan Karl)
- 1/2 English cucumber, peeled, seeded (if necessary), and cut into 1/4″ dice
- 2 large pitas (preferably pocketless, Mediterranian-style), cut into 3/4″ square pieces
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, premium quality
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, or to taste
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 1/2 medium red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into 1/4″ dice
- 1 vine-ripened tomato, seeded and finely chopped
- 1/4 cup green onions, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons stemmed and finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon stemmed and finely chopped cilantro
- 3 tablespoons stemmed and finely chopped mint leaves (save a few sprigs for garnish)
- Hearts of romaine, hand torn, rinsed and spun dry, for garnish
- 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, preferably from sheep’s milk (optional)
- 1/8 cup pitted kalamata olives (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
- Place the diced cucumber into a strainer, sprinkle with salt and allow to drain for 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, place the pita pieces on a cookie sheet and bake them in the oven until crisp and golden brown, about 20 minutes, shaking the pan 2 or 3 times as they toast. Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly. (Note from Christie: Gluten free folks can use my GF naan recipe in place of the pita.)
- Make the dressing by whisking together the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic, and salt and pepper in a large mixing bowl. (Christie again: I used a food processor; a blender would be great, too.)
- Continue whisking until the dressing is emulsified, then stir in the bell pepper, tomato, green onions, parsley, cilantro, mint, pita strips, and cucumber. Season to taste with more salt and pepper and toss well to coat.
- Gently toss in feta and olives, if using, and transfer to a large platter garnished with the romaine and the mint sprigs. Serve immediately.
(One last Christie note: I added lemon zest to garnish.)