There’s something to be said and commemorated about the inherent elevation of vegetables; leaving them as close to their natural form while sneaking in the magic and meliorism of creativity, tradition, and high-quality olive oil. Located in the heart of Washington, DC’s Penn Quarter, Zaytinya, under the direction of chef José Andrés, Head Chef Michael Costa, and the ThinkFoodGroup team, offers a small plate, communally focused menu honoring and further exploring the culinary traditions of Greek, Turkish, and Lebanese cuisine. A celebration of the traditional with a distinct air of inventiveness and seasonal consciousness, Zaytinya’s extensive, pseudo exotic fare only enhances the pure magic found in sky high ceilings, intimate tables, and the transportive nature of the fluffiest (albeit not vegan) pita.
With a small plate menu rich with vegetable, seafood, meat and poultry mezze, options range from ouzo-battered local wild blue catfish to house made Autumn Olive Farm pork sausage. A frequent guest for special occasions and the casual cocktail, I’ve always found myself most drawn towards Zaytinya’s Piyaz, a warm giant bean salad with kale and oven roasted tomatoes. Almost stew like, this simple bean salad is not only rich and delightfully savory, but finds a depth of flavor worthy of ordering over (and over!) again. The Grape-Leaf Dolmades stuffed with pine nuts, rice, and fennel are a longtime favorite as well as Zaytinya’s Fava Santorini spread (available as an ‘off menu’ order), and Cauliflower Tiganites with tahini and saltanas. Tables typically order 2-3 mezze plates per diner, ranging from $6-$14 each.
Zaytinya’s Piyaz Recipe [makes 8 servings]
To Make Ladolemono
1 tablespoon honey, raw + local if possible
2 ounces freshly squeezed lemon juice
¾ cup extra virgin olive oil
Whisk together the honey and lemon juice. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil while continuing to whisk to make a creamy emulsion. Alternately, use a hand held immersion blender.
To Make Preserved Cherry Tomatoes
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced
2 sprigs thyme
salt, sugar & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
Plunge the tomatoes in the boiling water, a few at a time, for 10 seconds to loosen the skin so they can be peeled easily.
Peel the tomatoes. Cut them in half and toss them in a bowl with the garlic and thyme and season them with sugar and black pepper. Do not salt them before roasting; they will purge a lot of liquid and break down.
Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes or until they shrivel slightly. Remove from the oven, season with salt and cover them with the extra virgin olive oil.
To Cook The Beans + Assemble Piyaz
4 cups Greek Gigantes beans, soaked overnight in cold water*
1 parsnip, peeled and quartered
1 potato, scrubbed and quartered
1 Spanish onion, peeled and quartered
2 ribs celery
2 bunches kale, ribs removed and washed well
2 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
½ red onion, thinly sliced
2 ounces canola oil
bunch of fresh dill
salt, to taste
Drain the beans; place them in a pot large enough to hold them with the parsnips, onions, potatoes and celery. Cover with water.
Bring to a very gentle simmer, skimming any foam that rises to the top. Simmer the beans gently until tender, usually about 1 hour but up to 2 hours depending on how old the beans are. When they are tender season with salt lightly, keeping in mind that the cooking liquid to complete the dish.
In a large pot, heat the canola oil over medium heat. When hot, add the garlic and red onion and cook until lightly caramelized. Add the kale and cook until it just starts to wilt. Add the beans with enough of the cooking liquid to make a loose, fluid stew. Cook until kale and beans are tender. Season, to taste, with salt.
Meanwhile, chop the dill. Remove the tomatoes from the oil (this oil makes an incredible vinaigrette with a little red wine vinegar) and add to the stew along with half of the chopped dill.
Spoon the stew into bowls and dress generously with ladolemono and any of the remaining dill. Enjoy!
*Note: Gigantes are available online or retail through Prima Foods in Baltimore.
Zaytinya is located at: 701 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001. www.zaytinya.com/