All Friends on Deck

By Jolyon Helterman | Boston Home |

The slab of lamb being shuttled from grill to cutting board is ready for its close-up—it’s a handsomely crusted, still-sizzling vision from a carnivore’s dream. Our hostess, however, looks worried. "I’m afraid I overcooked it a little," mourns Azita Bina-Seibel, loosely shrouding the evidence with foil. She sighs, then smiles, before rejoining her guests on the terrace, two more bottles of Bin 26 Solare (a juicy Umbrian red she imports herself) in hand.

A dining-industry vet, Bina-Seibel has learned not to sweat the small stuff. She doesn’t have much time for it, especially now that the chef and co-owner of eateries Lala Rokh and Bin 26 Enoteca has added another dining hot spot to her juggling act: Bina Osteria, a glitzy Italian restaurant and lounge ensconced in the Ritz-Carlton Residences building.


Unlike captains of other industries, who can spend weekends playing on the Cape and Islands, chefs are at their busiest Friday through Sunday, and tend to socialize with friends and family closer to home. So when Bina-Seibel and her husband, manuscript dealer Elmar Seibel, purchased their five-floor, 6,700-square-foot, 19th-century Back Bay brownstone in 2000, they tapped architecture firm Office dA (which also designed the interiors of Bin 26 and Bina) to make sure the aging townhouse could handle the couple’s appetite for entertaining. Now a souped-up prep kitchen and two cleverly designed decks make hosting a breeze.

Or, in the case of tonight’s gathering, a warm, balmy breeze; as guests arrive, Bina-Seibel hands out cantaloupe "refreshers," brilliant-orange thirst quenchers made from ultra-ripe fruit. Although she sometimes spikes the beverages with vodka or wine, Bina-Seibel is keeping these booze-free. With multiple courses in the offing, the night is still young. "You don’t want them to get too drunk…at the beginning," she explains. "I like to start with a nonalcoholic drink, then move on to the wines."

The festivities begin on the back deck, just off her 15-year-old son Kian’s fourth-floor bedroom. Guests step onto an oasis of purple flowers and cascading ivy; wood and wrought iron railings; and gray-metal furniture covered in white-canvas all-weather cushions. Here, the blue sky seems even prettier than at the coast, framed as it is by rusting metal fire escapes, jutting ladders, and brick, brick, and more brick. Overhead, the iconic Prudential Tower looms in the distance.

Bina-Seibel passes a spread of fresh, simple finger foods—striped French radishes, marinated olives in assorted hues and shapes. "You shouldn’t make things too complicated," she advises, handing a dish of salty pistachios to a new arrival. As virgin cocktails give way to sparkling wine, the party scoops toasted lavash into a bowl of mirza ghasemi, a savory Persian dip of grilled eggplant, tomatoes, and roasted garlic.  

An hour before sundown, Bina-Seibel ushers guests one flight up, to another terrace that juts out over Marlborough Street. A long table sits a few feet away from a three-burner grill, conveniently tethered to a natural-gas line. Window boxes hold more flowers, and a retractable awning provides protection from too much sun (or rain).

The wine flows, and Bina-Seibel darts nimbly between the grill and a small prep kitchen located just inside the sliding glass doors, delivering platter after platter of spectacular edibles: grilled whole sardines, served on charred Tuscan toast. A cold cucumber soup with currants, walnuts, and dried rose petals. Tender rice- and lamb-stuffed tomatoes and yellow peppers.

Soon, the aforementioned lamb is ready for slicing. Turns out, Bina-Seibel’s anxiety was unwarranted: The meat is cooked to a perfect medium-rare. As the party tucks in, there’s a toast. Then another. And one more. At meal’s end, Bina-Seibel whips up crêpes topped with peach compote and mascarpone whipped cream.

Says the consummate hostess: "At the end of the day, the menu is less important than the guest list. Entertaining is about sharing time with family and friends. The food and drink are secondary."

Go on to the next page for Bina-Seibel’s recipes…


Cantaloupe Refresher  

The secret to this recipe is using very ripe fruit. (Hint: Look for an orange—not green—hue beneath the webby rind.) Do not use a blender, as it makes the drink’s consistency too thick.

[sidebar]4    medium cantaloupes (3 to 4 pounds
    each), seeds removed
4    oz. simple syrup*
1    bunch fresh mint
8    oz. vodka or white wine, like a pinot
    grigio or a sweeter riesling (optional)

Using a fork, scrape cantaloupe flesh into a bowl, making sure it is not too chunky. Sweeten with simple syrup, 1 ounce at a time, to taste. Using a muddler or the end of a wooden spoon, smash sweetened cantaloupe mixture with mint leaves, add liquor (if desired), and pour into tall glasses filled halfway with ice. Garnish with mint sprigs. Serves 8.

*To make simple syrup, bring 1 cup sugar and 1 cup water to boil in small saucepan, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Cool to room temperature.

Mirza Ghasemi (Spiced Eggplant Dip)

The dish’s components can be prepared a few hours ahead and refrigerated, except for the eggs (if using), which should be added just before serving. If refrigerating, reheat gently in a saucepan over low heat. Serve as a dip with flatbread—like toasted lavash—or over rice as a meal.

10 cloves garlic, peeled
1/2 c. olive oil
2    lb. Chinese eggplant
1    lb. ripe plum tomatoes, stems removed
1/4 tsp. turmeric
2    whole eggs (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Brush garlic with 1 teaspoon oil, wrap in foil, and roast in oven until soft, about 25 minutes; carefully remove garlic from the foil, mash with fork, and set aside. Grill eggplant over high heat, turning frequently, until skin is burned and inside is soft, about 20 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut eggplants in half, scrape out flesh with spoon, and set aside, discarding charred peel. Bring 6 cups water to a boil in medium saucepan. Meanwhile, make shallow X-shaped cut into bottom of each tomato. Immerse tomatoes briefly in boiling water until skin starts to peel away, about 30 seconds; remove skin from tomatoes. Dice eggplant pulp and tomatoes and set aside. Heat remaining oil in large skillet over medium heat, and cook garlic, eggplant, and tomato until just heated through. Stir in turmeric and season with salt and pepper to taste. If desired, add beaten eggs before serving, stirring until well incorporated. Serve warm.

Cucumber-Yogurt Soup

The dried rose petals in this cold soup add floral notes and make for a beautiful presentation. (Available at specialty stores. Bina-Seibel recommends Super Hero’s in Watertown.)

2    c. peeled English cucumber (preferably
    seedless), shredded using box grater
3    c. plain yogurt
1    tsp. dried mint
1    tsp. dried oregano
1    tbsp. dried rose petals
1    tbsp. fresh chopped dill
1/2 c. currants (or small raisins)
1/2 c. walnuts, crushed

Place cucumber, yogurt, and 1 cup water in large bowl; whisk until smooth. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. Stir in mint, oregano, ½ tablespoon rose petals, and dill. (If too thick, add more water.) Spoon into bowls and garnish with currants, walnuts, and remaining ½ tablespoon rose petals. Serves 8.

Go on to the next page for more recipes…

Grilled Sardines With Tuscan Bread

The pepper-tomato mixture can be made ahead and refrigerated. Heat gently in the microwave or a saucepan or bring just to room temperature before serving.

8    whole sardines, scaled and cleaned
    (do not use canned)
1    lemon
8    sprigs fresh marjoram
1/4 c. olive oil
2    medium onions, cut into 1-inch pieces
2    red bell peppers, cut into 1-inch pieces
2    medium tomatoes, cut into 1-inch pieces
2    tbsp. capers, drained
Vegetable or canola oil (for grill grate)
2    cloves garlic, smashed
1    loaf  Tuscan or French bread, cut into 8 slices

Rinse sardines under cold water and pat dry with paper towels. Half an hour before grilling, sprinkle sardines generously with kosher salt and pepper; drizzle with lemon juice. Place marjoram sprig in cavity of each fish. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in large skillet over high heat, add onions, and immediately reduce heat to medium. Sauté onions until soft, but not browned. Add peppers and tomatoes, and continue cooking until soft. Remove from heat, stir in capers, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Brush bread slices on both sides with remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil and rub with garlic cloves. Brush grill grate with vegetable or canola oil and grill sardines over high heat, 3 to 4 minutes per side, depending on size. Grill bread slices until slightly charred, about 1 minute per side. Spoon pepper-tomato mixture onto grilled bread slices and place a grilled sardine on each. Serves 8.

Grilled Marinated Lamb Top

This recipe calls for "lamb top," the choicest portion of the leg. Multiple smaller roasts can be used, as long as they’re butterflied to the appropriate thickness (see below). Plan to marinate lamb for at least 6 hours.

4    lb. lamb top, butterflied, about 1 1/2 inches thick
2    c. dry red wine
4    garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1    tbsp. dried onion chips or chopped fresh shallots
2    tsp. paprika
1    tbsp. freshly ground black pepper
1/4 c. olive oil

Trim lamb of visible fat and silverskin (the connective tissue attached to the meat). In large bowl, combine wine, garlic, onion chips (or shallots), paprika, and pepper. Marinate lamb (in refrigerator, covered) 6 to 8 hours. Half an hour before grilling, remove lamb from marinade, brush off excess, and pat dry. When ready to grill, rub lamb with olive oil and sprinkle both sides with kosher salt. Grill over high heat about 5 minutes per side, or until thermometer inserted into thickest part reads 130 degrees (for medium-rare). Put on cutting board, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and let rest 10 minutes. Cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices. Serves 8.

Dolmeh (Stuffed Tomatoes and Peppers)

To ensure the peppers and tomatoes finish cooking at the same time, use small-to-medium peppers. Extra-large peppers will need 10 to 15 additional minutes.

4    small-to-medium yellow bell peppers
4    medium tomatoes
1/4 c. olive oil
1    medium onion, diced
8    garlic cloves, minced or pressed
1/2 lb. ground beef or lamb
1/4 c. dried yellow split peas
1/2 tsp. saffron
1    tsp. turmeric
3/8 c. uncooked white rice
2    tbsp. tomato paste
1    tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ground cloves

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut tops off peppers and tomatoes. Using paring knife, hollow out bottoms and set aside. Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat. Gently sauté onions and garlic until soft, but not browned. Add ground meat and cook until no longer pink, breaking up clumps with spoon. Rinse peas and add to skillet; stir in saffron, turmeric, 1 teaspoon kosher salt, and 2 cups water. Simmer over low heat until peas are cooked halfway, about 10 minutes. Rinse rice and add to skillet; stir in tomato paste. Continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, over medium-low heat until rice is cooked through, 20–25 minutes, adding more water if mixture gets too dry. Remove from heat and stir in spices. Let cool. Divide cooled filling evenly among tomatoes and peppers, replace their tops, and place in baking dish with 1/2 cup water. Cover with foil and bake 30 minutes. Serve hot.  Serves 8.

Go on to the next page for the dessert crepes recipe…

Crêpes with Peach Compote and Whipped Mascarpone


Allow ample time to prepare the crêpe batter, which must rest for three hours. Unfilled crêpes can be made up to three days ahead. Store in refrigerator layered between sheets of wax paper and wrapped in aluminum foil. Reheat in microwave or dry skillet just before filling and serving. Serves 8.

For peach compote:

8 ripe peaches, peeled, pitted, and cut into 8 slices each
3/4 c. sugar
1/2 c. brandy

In large stock pot, bring peach slices, sugar, and 1/4 c. water to a simmer over medium-low heat. Cook until fruit is soft but not mushy, about 10 minutes. Add brandy and cook 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

For crêpes:

4 1/2 oz. (about 1 cup) unbleached all-purpose flour
3 eggs
3/4 c. milk
2 tbsp. butter, melted
2 1/2 tsp. orange flower water (available at Whole Foods or specialty foods stores)
Zest from half a lemon
1/2 tsp. almond extract
1 1/2 tbsp. confectioner’s sugar
1 tbsp. clarified butter or ghee (available at Whole Foods or specialty foods stores)

In medium bowl, whisk together flour and eggs. In small bowl, combine milk and melted butter. Add orange flower water, almond extract, zest, sugar, and pinch of table salt, and stir to combine. Slowly pour milk mixture into flour-egg mixture, whisking gently until smooth. Strain through sieve into clean bowl to remove lumps. Rest in a cool place for 3 hours.

Preheat small nonstick skillet or crêpe pan over medium heat, brushing with small amount of clarified butter. Stir batter, and pour about 2 1/2 tbsp. into hot pan, swirling pan to distribute batter evenly. Cook until golden brown, about 20 seconds, then flip and cook second side 15 seconds more. Transfer to plate and cover with foil, placing wax paper in between crêpes to prevent sticking. Repeat to make 8 crêpes, wiping pan with paper towels and brushing with butter in between rounds.

For whipped mascarpone cream:

1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
3 1/2 oz. granulated sugar
3/4 c. whipping cream
12 oz. mascarpone cheese
3 egg whites

In medium bowl, whisk vanilla, sugar, and cream until sugar is incorporated. Add mascarpone and whisk until fluffy. In small bowl (or standing mixer fitted with whisk attachment), whisk egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold egg whites into mascarpone mix until just combined.

To serve, spoon peach compote into middle of each crêpe, fold crêpe in thirds (like an omelette), and top with whipped mascarpone.


 Go on to the next page for more information on the purveyors…


Chef Azita Bina-Seibel’s favorite local shopping spots.

Copley Square, Boston

160 Charles St., Boston, 617-723-6328,

509 Mount Auburn St., Watertown, 617-924-4978

181 Cambridge St., Boston, 617-723-0004,

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