Wednesday, April 26, 2017

A Touch of Spice: Beef Kebabs #FoodNFlix

I decided to join the Food n' Flix Club, where monthly, bloggers watch a selected movie and then cook something inspired by it.  This month's host is Culinary Envy (the invitation is here and the full round up is here) and she chose a Greek movie called A Touch of Spice.

I'd not only never seen this movie which was released in 2003, I'd never heard of it.  But they had me at "Greek", and since I was unable to find it at our library or for streaming, I went ahead and bought it.  I was a little intimidated -this is is subtitled, which I often find challenging.

But I actually forgot that I wasn't understanding the spoken language and the words and imagery were so lyrically beautiful, I found it easy to stay engaged.

In fact, I'm not sure I've ever been so frustrated to discover that a movie was not based on a book, because it seemed as if it should be (preferably one with a few recipes tossed in).

The composition is set up like chapters in a cookbook,  and the pacing and flow of the story is complex and well structured, with frequent flashbacks and thematic repetitions.

A Touch of Spice tackles the impact of being a child of Greek and Turkish heritage in early 1960s Constantinople, during a period of political conflict where Greeks in Turkey were forcibly deported to Athens.

Food is everything to this story - it is memory, solace, an expression of pain and of will, and it is the glue that holds together one's personal and cultural identity when home is no longer home, and the very definition of home is redefined by nationalism and politics.

Mostly, though, food is love - the love between a boy and his grandfather, and between the boy and the girl he knew as a child.

It is the love between his parents, who carry on an ongoing bit of lighthearted bickering as they tie together food and their memories of historic moments they've shared, and the aunts and uncles who cook, eat and share memories together.

It is the love for all those who would share your table, and those who are never able  to, and finally - and especially - love for oneself and the acceptance of who you are whether or not those who love you understand you. And of course, it is the love of food itself, and the process of preparing it.

It's a lot to unpack, yes?  This is why I so much wish this were a novel.  Even so, I managed to catch and savor a few delicious passages while keeping notes.

There were so many bits I love, from the umbrella that appears in so many scenes, to the explanation that men go to steambaths to discuss difficult things with each other because, there, they can open their souls, like steamed mussels.

The movie is divided into three parts, each with explanations of that portion's theme. I'm going to leave the plot details out of this because I recommend watching it!

Appetizers - "Appetizers tell of faraway places and prepare you for an adventurous journey." 
The Main Course - "Main Courses take us back to childhood."
Dessert  - "...the desserts are the epilogue of every fairy tale."

The movie carries not just a touch of spice and a beautiful look at a period of history seen through a love of food and family, but also a good dash of humor; I recommend it highly.  There is even a pinch of magical realism, where cinnamon, used at the right, or wrong, moment can make a person look you in the eyes and truly see you, and where spices hold correspondences to the dance of the universe.

I expect to watch this again and again, each time uncovering new tastes of all the many layers this movie has to offer.

So now - what did I decide to cook?  I wanted to make a hybrid meal to reflect the variations as well as the shared foods of these two cultures.

We are very lucky to have a great little Greek restaurant less than a block away - so we picked up some Rice Pilaf, Pita Bread, and an order of Greek Village Salad as sides, and I made some beef kebabs with a spice-rich marinade to go along with it - Greeks would make souvlaki, although generally with chicken, pork or lamb.

I don't claim anything authentic about the marinade - I've made kebabs for years in a doubtless American fashion. But I did select several of the spices because they were a key metaphor in the movie, or because they reflect the Turkish and Greek cultures.

Touch of Spice Beef Kebabs
(serves 4-6)

1/2 cup olive oil
2 Tblsp balsamic vinegar
2 Tblsp lemon
1 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ancho chile powder

1.5 lb beef steak, cut into 3/4" cubes
onion or pearl onions
pint cherry tomatoes
button mushrooms
bell pepper (assortment of colors if desired)

Greek yogurt

*Note: I can't eat bell peppers, so I left them off - but if you like them, please add for flavor and color!)

 Whisk together marinade.  Place cubed meat in a sealable container that can be flipped over. Pour marinade over meat, seal and marinate in refrigerator for up to a day, flipping the container over occasionally.

Wash all vegetables.  If not using pearl onions, cut each onion in half and each half into quarters. Cut zucchini into 1/2" thick rounds, Cut the woody end of the mushroom and either leave whole or cut in half, depending on size. Leave tomatoes whole. Stem and seed peppers and chop into chunks about the size of the other veggies.

Two options here if you're not using an outdoor grill, and either will work - you can either thread the meat and vegetables on metal skewers together (which is definitely the prettiest presentation) or, if you are using shorter, wooden skewers or like your vegetables a little more evenly cooked, thread the meat by itself (with perhaps some tomato to help flavor the meat and a splash of balsamic or teriyaki sauce) and let the vegetables cook unskewered separately.

Our broiler where we live now is a tiny thing underneath the oven near the ground and it's very difficult to access - so I chose to broil the meat and roast the veggies with olive oil, salt, and some lemon pepper. Definitely a compromise, but it worked.

Once everything's done, serve with love and Greek yogurt, rice pilaf, and whatever other dishes remind you of home, however you define it, and those things that matter even when you can't see them.

Next month's Food n' Flix movie is the Princess Bride, which is an old favorite of mine!  If you'd like to join in, head over to see how to join the fun!


  1. Your kebabs sound scrumptious, that marinade is full of life and spice (that whole plate looks incredible). So happy that you joined us for Food 'n Flix club - welcome!

  2. Kebabs are one of my family's favorite summer meals!

  3. The film sounds wonderful, the basis of the story sounds so true for so many people who have moved away from their home land.
    Thank you for bringing your post and your aromatic kebabs to this week's Fiesta Friday :)

  4. I love Kabobs on the grill and guess what I am making this weekend thanks to you!!! #ProductReviewParty

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  6. Welcome to FoodnFlix Lynda. I am so happy you decided to join our group. You hit the nail right on the head with your review of this movie and your kebabs sound fantastic.

  7. I love all the spices in your marinade and your kabobs look very tempting. Welcome to Food 'n Flix--I hope you join in next month, I'm hosting! ;-)

  8. What a fun idea and that meal looks delicious!

  9. Lovely inspiration from the film. I love your description of the film being set up into cookbook chapters.

  10. What a fun idea! I have not heard of this movie, but the kebobs look simply delicious. Thanks for sharing with SYC.

  11. Thank you Lynda for linking up at the #BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty. I shared this post on Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, and Twitter.

  12. I love the movie theme idea! Your recipe looks SO good. Thanks for linking up at the Home Matters Link Party! We hope to see you again next week:) #HomeMattersParty

  13. The movie sounds touching and the recipe looks mouth watering. Thanks for sharing with us on #TastyTuesdays

  14. Thank you for sharing with #BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty. I’ve shared your post on social media.

  15. Now I want to see that movie. The choice of food is excellent! It has everything I love. Found you on #BloggingGrandmothers.

  16. My hubby will be all over these! I would love you to share this at Smell Good Sunday

  17. Sounds so good - yum! Thank you for sharing at BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty. I've shared on social media.

  18. I've never heard of Food N Fix Club. How fun, and the food you fixed looks delicious. Thanks for linking up at #BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty. I've shared on social media.

  19. I’m back again! These look tasty, will have to try them.

  20. The beef kebabs look amazing!
    Thank you for sharing this at #BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty!
    We look forward to seeing you again at the next link up!

  21. What an intriguing movie and the recipe you picked looks delish! I love the Princess Bride!

    Thanks for linking up at The Blended Blog!

  22. What a fun thing to do. I've never heard of the movie, but thank you for the recommendation. The Greek inspired dish looks delicious!! Thank you for sharing with us this week!

  23. Looks delicious! Thank you for sharing at #BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty. I'm sharing your post on social media.

  24. Yum! I love eating Greek food! I haven't heard of this movie either, but it sounds like it is a good movie to watch, although it's subtitled.


  25. Going to have to try these :) Thank you for attending the #WednesdayAIMLinkParty. I shared your post.

  26. This is certainly a movie I would not have chosen to see. Thanks for the review and also the delicious photos! Great to have you link up with us at #BloggingGrandmothersLinkParty. I've shared.

  27. This meal looks so delicious. I may have to make it for myself.

  28. Thanks for joining us at Family Joy Blog linkup.