Tomorrow: Plague of the plastic containers.

For the second year in a row, I took on the responsibility of feeding the hardworking volunteers who make the Friends of the Library Book Sale happen. Between June 13 and June 26, I helped feed between 25 and 60 people a day, sometimes twice a day (later hours meant an early supper or dinner). For someone who is neither a trained chef nor a caterer, this was a daunting task. I laid awake nights for a two or three months, planning and discarding menus, scrolling through my internal Rollodex for people who might help with food gifts. But we met our fundraising goal, so it was worth it!

Chef friends, acquaintances in the food business and former sources from my days at Honolulu Advertiser food editor contributed to the effort: Zippy’s one of our major sponsors, gave us a generous credit, which we used mainly to feed the plate lunch-loving members of the McKinley and St. Louis football teams who do the grunt work of hauling in all the boxes of books — 150,000 volumes total! Dean Okimoto of Nalo Greens gave us a huge box of his gorgeous fresh salading mixes; those carried us for days.  Box lunches and bentos came from some of my favorite places and people: pastry chef Rodney Weddle of Ba-Le and LaTour Bakery, Dean Mishima of Dean’s Drive-In in Kane’ohe, Nao Iwata of Kahai Street Kitchen, the friendly folks at Tsukenjo and Holly Chun-Ming, who brought Natsunoya Tea House bento one day. Foodland chef Keoni Chang lobbied for us to get a half-price deal on generous sandwich trays. The pastry chefs at Alan Wong’s Restaurant and Chef Mavro made us gourmet cookies. My girlfriends kindly responded to my pleas and contributed immense salads (thanks Bonnie, Jan, Hayley).

The volunteers themselves showered us with treats and desserts. Food just kept flowing through the tiny McKinley High School snack shop kitchen. Turn around and a pizza would appear or a plate of cookies or a couple of loaves of bread.

A few weeks before the event, I was paging through Fine Cooking magazine and came across a recipe for a vegetarian pita bread sandwich. It was a bit complicated, involving roasting vegetables and other steps. But the idea of something different and healthy niggled at me. If I was tired of tuna sandwiches and ham and cheese and chicken salad, wouldn’t they be, too? (You must understand, I have no oven or stove at McKinley, only a fridge. All cooking has to be done at my house and then transported to the school.)

Questions crowded my brain: Would the volunteers (of all ages, from all food backgrounds, some with special needs or allergies) like something this off the beaten path? Where would I find 60 pita breads for a reasonable price? What should I put in them? How should I dress them?

In the end, I pulled a recipe out of my head: stuffed into a pita, a handful of mixed greens, another handful of crisp veggies (cucumbers and tomatoes), sandwich filling leftovers, the lemon-tahini dressing that was one of the first vegetarian dishes I ever learned to make (probably from “The Moosewood Cookbook”). I don’t make it often because it’s rather fat- and calorie-laden — 40-60 calories a tablespoon. It’s high in protein and sesame seeds are rich in vitamin E and healthful ingredients. To trim calories, use less tahini and yogurt and more water. To lower sodium, use Bragg’s Liquid Protein instead of salt and soy sauce.

However it’s made, I will eat it by the serving spoon full for as l ong as there’s any left. Slather some on a piece of naan or other flatbread and I consider myself well fed at any hour of the day.
For Friends of the Library, I made a double batch if lemon-tahini sauce and it was so popular, people drizzled it on their salads for days. They kept asking for it if I put the bottled dressing out. Besides salad dressing and sandwich spread, lemon-tahini sauce is delicious on grilled or fried protein or vegetables or on baked potatoes (it’s particularly nice on a baked tofu slices or steamed broccoli — and you feel so saintly).

Here’s my Friends of the Library technique.

It is imperative with this recipe that you taste as you go. Too potent? Add yogurt. Bland? Add shoyu or salt and a bit more lemon juice. Add garlic one clove at a time so the sauce isn’t too highly flavored for your guests. The texture is important, too, it should be neither grainy nor too thin. Tahini (sesame seed butter) may be found in cans or jars in health food stores and larger conventional grocery stores (near other nut butters or with so-called “health foods”)

Double Batch Lemon Tahini Sauce

3 cups tahini (sesame seed butter)

3 cups plain, natural yogurt (I use whole-fat Mountain High)

2-4 cloves garlic, minced

3/4 to 1 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice

1/2 cup minced flat-leaf parsley

Soy sauce to taste (perhaps a tablespoon)

Dash of salt

Paprika (a generous dash or two)

Warm water to thin to desired consistency

In a bowl, combine tahini and yogurt. Gradually add garlic, lemon juice, parsley, soy and/or salt and paprika, tasting as you go. Stir or whisk, adding water a few drops at a time to desired consistency.

I found expensive pita, nasty dry pita, pita that tasted great (from Agnes’ Portuguese Bakery) but it wouldn’t split and finally gave up. Instead, I used oval whole-grain flatbreads sold in the chillcase at Costco and made the sandwiches into wraps instead of stuffed pitas.

I put all the ingredients and let people build their own.

Ingredients included:

Mixed salad greens (spring or mesclun-type mix)

Peeled and shoestring-sliced cucumbers and chunks of tomato (halved cherry tomatoes OK, too), lightly salted and peppered

Proteins, which might include chopped meats and cheeses (we had leftover roast turkey, leftover tuna salad with capers, crumbled feta), grated Cheddar or other cheese, chunks of pressed tofu (or roasted tofu), crumbled tempeh or meat analogs, kidney or other beans

Layer the ingredients in a wrap or inside a half pita. Top with a generous spoonful or two of lemon-tahini sauce. Roll and savor. Sloppy eating but good and healthful.

To assemble sandwiches:

Stuff into pita halves or roll into flatbread (toothpicks to secure)

Modest handful of mixed greens
Modest handful of mixed shoestring cucumbers and julliened sweet peppers
Chopped bits of poached fish, small fried fish cakes, bits of poached turkey or chicken, slices of deep-fried or pressed and baked tofu
Drizzle the whole with lemon tahini sauce

Though there was some good-natured grumbling from a few steak-and-baked potato lovers, the healthful lunch — one of several I managed — the wraps all disappeared and the after-lunch moochers were out in force.

Tomorrow: Plague of the plastic containers.