Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Middle Eastern Kefta

I love me some Middle Eastern food. Fortunately, Jhan does too, or there would be a problem. This was the first time that Jhan's made keftas, though we do Middle Eastern snacky dinners (hummus, pits, etc.) relatively often.

This was one of those shoots where the food tasted way better than I was able to make it look.

Middle Eastern Kefta

The Food (Jhan)

Once again, I found myself trying to satisfy my craving for Middle Eastern food with no cash to head out to the local falafel shop. I looked around the pantry and dove into the freezer and came out with enough ingredients to make a dinner of grilled kefta with flatbread, and homemade tzatziki and tahini sauces.

For the kefta, I added grated onion, a couple cloves of minced garlic, a handful of chopped parsley, salt, pepper and 2 tsps of ground cumin to a pound of ground beef and refrigerated the meat mixture over night. I shaped the burger mix into oval patties, brushed them with EVOO and then cooked them on a charcoal grill. They smelled great while they were cooking and overall they tasted good too. Next time, though, I'll add a little more cumin, garlic and parsley. (Tony and I really like strong spicey flavors.)

One of the surprise hits of the evening though was the tzatziki sauce. I tried a new recipe and it was amazing.
Here it is:
2 of those Persian cucumbers from Trader Joe's - the best cucumbers ever!
1 container of nonfat Greek yogurt
3-4 cloves of garlic minced
3 tbsp finely chopped mint leaves
1 tbsp lemon juice
mint and lemon zest for garnish

Scoop the seedy soft center out of the cucumbers, grate and place in a colander, salt lightly and drain for about 30 minutes.
Mix remaining ingredients together, set aside.
Later, rinse the cucumber and squeeze out water, combine with yogurt mixture and check seasoning. Garnish with mint and a bit of lemon zest

This stuff is thick, tangy, minty and refreshing. It can be paired with meat or veg dishes or served as a dip. The basic recipe is from The Essential Mediterranean Cookbook.

Middle Eastern Kefta

The Plating 

This was one of those shoots where I had no clue what I was doing right from the start. Before Jhan started cooking the keftas, I knew they were going to be very small, so I picked out the smallest square plates I had. But otherwise, I had no idea what to do with them. I was afraid I was going to be plating little brown lumps.

Once the keftas were cooked, they indeed looked like little brown lumps on the plate. I tried putting some tahini sauce under them and sprinkled diced tomato and cucumber, along with some feta cheese on top.

Now they looked like lumps with diced tomato and cucumber, along with some feta cheese on top. I added a slice of flat bread to the plate in a last desperate attempt to draw attention away from the kefta's essential little-brown-lumpiness. Sadly, the flatbread was probably the best looking thing on the plate.

None of this is to say that it wasn't delicious - it was. But delicious doesn't equal photogenic, which is something that this dish - at least plated the way I did it - wasn't.

Middle Eastern Kefta

The Lighting and Photography

From bad plating to worse lighting - that was the theme of this shoot. I was so frustrated with the lighting for this shoot that I didn't even take a photo of it. The main problem? Even though I was using all four of my flashes (including the 550EX I had just purchased from KEH), every shot was coming out 2 stops underexposed. Only the magic of Photoshop saved the shoot from being a total disaster.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I know nothing about flashes, flash metering or any of that. I put my 5D Mk II in manual mode, set the shutter speed to 1/00th and the aperture to something between f/2.8 and f/8, and let the camera, my flashes and my ST-E2 wire flash trigger figure out the right amount of light to put out. How it does all that is a dark and bloody mystery to me. And when it comes out wrong like it did in this shoot, I have no freakin' idea of how to fix it. 

I really wish I had a clue as to what I was doing.


  1. Tony, have you seen the Strobist web site (http://www.strobist.com)? It's got lots of great info about small flash lighting.

  2. Add in my vote for the Strobist blog. Go right back to the start.

    Try using your flashes on manual to understand what the light is doing.