Monthly Archives: September 2010

EGGPLANT WITH SWEET-AND-SOUR TOMATO SAUCE

I got some very distressing news today, courtesy of Agrigirl‘s latest post on her family’s revolt against eating eggplant.  Apparently, eggplant is very low in nutritional value.  I have loved eggplant for a long, long time and always felt proud of having it in my regular vegetable routine, especially now that I’ve found so many wonderful Middle Eastern ways to prepare it, so it was very sad to me that it may just be the purple equivalent of iceberg lettuce. I’m still going to eat it, though…

Coupled with this recent article from The New York Times, which has got me in a tizzy about whether or not I eat enough vegetables, today was one of those throw-my-hands-in-the-air-and-say-WHO-CARES sorts of moments.  Trying to stay on top of all the pronouncements regarding healthy eating is enough to make me think about giving up food entirely.  Fortunately I had a chocolate bar in the refrigerator, which brought me back to my senses.

EGGPLANT WITH SWEET-AND-SOUR TOMATO SAUCE

  • 1 large eggplant or 2 medium (about 1 kilo/2lbs. total), sliced about 1/2″ thick
  • Olive oil
  • 4 cloves of garlic, mashed
  • 1 1/2 lbs. tomatoes, peeled and chopped (I used pre-peeled and chopped, because my skin has developed a sensitivity to tomato juice recently)
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. vinegar (the original recipe called for red wine or white wine vinegar, but I used plain white and it seemed fine to me)
  • 2 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses
  • Chili pepper to taste (I used one fresh green chili pepper, very finely diced)
  • 1/3 c. parsley (I didn’t use this because I was not in a parsley mood)
  • Salt and pepper

  1. Broil your eggplant in a 400F oven, turning once so that it browns on both sides.  When done, remove from the oven and let cool.
  2. In a large pan, fry the garlic (and if you’re using fresh diced pepper, put it in now as well) until aromatic.  Add the remaining ingredients (except parsley) and simmer gently for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it has reduced to a thick sauce.  Turn off heat, adjust seasonings, and let cool.
  3. To serve, pour the sauce over the eggplant and sprinkle with parsley.

BAKING POWDER BISCUITS

It starts off well..

I know it is fall.  The thermometer may (rightly) insist the high temperatures are still in the 90s, but something has definitely shifted.  Three indisputable proofs:

  1. My kitchen has suddenly been overrun by an invincible army of ants.  I kill them, there’s already more coming.  I clean my counters and sink 17 times a day, so they make their way into the cupboards.  And the silverware drawer.  And my (closed) food processor, too–how do they do that?!?  Outdoor critters moving inside is a sure sign of approaching coldness.
  2. For three days, the sky was overcast, the wind blew and we had dust storms requiring multiple house cleanings.  Yes, it was still hot, but it even rained once.  There is a saying that, literally translated from Arabic, is, “September’s tail is wet.”  Meaning: it rains at the end of September.  After the first fall rain is when the olive harvest traditionally starts, although for the past several years much of the region has been suffering a drought causing the harvest to come later.
  3. I have an incurable desire to bake.  I am so done with salads and fruit and tangy yoghurt dressings.  I want things with wheat and butter.  Preferably wheat, butter and chocolate, but I do manage to restrain myself.  Occasionally.  Still, my body is going into winter fat storage mode.  This time of year I am less of a hummingbird and more like a bear preparing for a long hibernation.

Seems like everything is under control...

So the aforementioned Roasted Pumpkin Soup was accompanied by my traditional Baking Powder Biscuits, which is one of those things everyone should know how to make.  I attempted to jazz them up with some corn and caramelized onion, which turned out to be a good idea but was poorly executed.  The sad result?  Some serious burnage that rendered the entire batch inedible, although Hungry Husband gamely tried to rescue them with a spoonful of cinnamon syrup.  It’s not a combination I would have though of, but he’s brave that way, and even more of a stickler than I am about the evils of wasting food.  He said it was “better” with the syrup; however, in the end even he passed on seconds and they went into the trash.

Lesson learned: set the timer!

BAKING POWDER BISCUITS

  • 3/4 c. milk
  • 2 c. flour
  • 4 Tbsp. vegetable oil or melted butter
  • 4 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt

Sift the dry ingredients together.  Cut in the shortening, and then add the milk slowly, stirring.  It is a sticky batter but knead it lightly, to the best of your abilities.  Drop the batter in spoonfuls on a cookie sheet and bake for 12-15 minutes in a preheated 475F oven.

ROASTED PUMPKIN SOUP

It all started with this: a sick friend, ruminating on the blessings of soup fairies (my words, not hers).  I would like to be a soup fairy, but there are 10 time zones between us that prevent me from hand-delivering, and I doubt that DHL would get it to her hot.  Recent experience has shown them to be rather slower than the average magical creature, not to mention apparently lacking in GPS systems for their drivers…

But I did think that perhaps I could send her a few recipes, which I have yet to do, because not only am I not a soup fairy, I am occasionally lame about putting action to my ideas.  So Kristin, if you are ever well enough to read this blog, ask your mom or sister to make you this amazing soup.  And if you’re not Kristin, maybe you should consider getting sick so that you too can have soup fairies deposit steaming bowls of goodness on your doorstep.  Or just make the soup yourself, because it’s so stinkin’ easy and perfect for fall.

 

Roasted Vegetables, perfect any time of the year!

 

Lacking sweet potatoes, a key ingredient in the aforementioned soup delight, but having joyfully bought a wedge of pumpkin on my last trip to the market, I had to aim myself for something different.  More pumpkiny.  A little inspiration thanks to the Google machine, and I was on my way.

ROASTED PUMPKIN SOUP

  • 1 lb. pumpkin, peeled and cubed
  • 4 small onions, quartered
  • 5 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1-2 hot peppers, like a jalapeno (I have no idea what kind of peppers I buy here–they’re long and skinny and green and very hot to me)
  • Olive oil
  • Cumin, Coriander, and Mixed Curry spices, as you like (I used about 2 Tbsp. total)
  • Salt and Pepper
  • Vegetable broth (amount depends on how thick you want your soup)
  • About 1 cup cilantro/fresh coriander

Put your veggies in a roasting tray.  Drizzle with oil, sprinkle the spices over them (like fairy dust!), and stir around so that every veggie piece is evenly coated.  Roasted in a HOT oven (like 400-425 F) until the pumpkin is soft and things are nicely browned.  Remove from oven and let them cool a few minutes so that you don’t risk mortal injury, then put the veggies and remaining ingredients into your blender or food processor and blend to your desired consistency, adding broth as needed.  Pour into a pot and heat through, adjusting spices as necessary.

STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES (EGYPTIAN-STYLE)

Stuffed vegetables, and particularly stuffed grape leaves, are one of the most famous Middle Eastern appetizers.  There hot versions and cold versions, meat-based stuffings and rice-based stuffings, rolls that are short and fat, and rolls that are long and skinny.  Because Hungry Husband particularly favors the style commonly found in Egypt, that’s the recipe I make most often and what I am going to share with you today.

But first, a funny story.

The first year we were in the Middle East, I made a very concerted effort to learn how to cook from my neighbors, and grape leaves were one of the most difficult things.  It was several months of many attempts before I felt like my grape leaves were ready to be presented to anyone, but finally decided to serve them one night when we had guests.  Our friends came over, with their four boys, and I proudly (and nervously) put out plates of stuffed grape leaves, stuffed zucchini and eggplant, macaraoni with béchamel sauce, and a few salads.

One of the boys, who was about 8 years old then, took one look at the table and whispered something to his mother, who burst out laughing, much to her son’s apparent dismay.  He repeated himself, out loud to the rest of us this time, and said, “I want white man’s food!”  Trying to maintain composure, his mother asked, “What is ‘white man’s food’ exactly?”  To which he confidently answered, “Popcorn!”

Turns out he had recently studied the story of the American Thanksgiving tradition in school, and learned that popcorn was one of the featured dishes at that meal, making it (in his mind) a white man’s food.  (I’m pretty sure it was the Native Americans that brought the popcorn.)  So he naturally expected that, if dining at the house of Americans, he would be served popcorn.  Poor guy; he was so traumatized by our laughter that he refused to eat anything that night, and to this day the story still comes up every time we see our friends.

If you are in America, you probably won’t be able to find fresh grape leaves, which is a pity as they are the best, but you can most likely find canned varieties in either the “ethnic foods” aisle or near to the pickles.  Make sure to soak and then rinse these very well in hot water to remove the brine.  Fresh grape leaves are best early in the summer, when they are very tender and somewhat small (about the size of an adult’s palm), and women will buy crates to freeze for use in winter.  Not having had that luxury this year, I too am relegated to purchasing the preserved variety from a grocer.

STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES (EGYPTIAN-STYLE)

  • 1 cup short-grain rice
  • Equal amounts cilantro, flat-leaf parsley, and dill, finely chopped to make about 1 cup total
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 onion, as finely diced as you can get it
  • ½ lb. grape leaves, rinsed well and any stalks removed
  • 2-3 tomatoes, sliced (optional)
  • 5-6 cloves garlic (optional)
  • Enough boiling chicken broth or water to cover rolled-up leaves (amount will vary depending on your pan)

Making the rice: heat the oil in a pan, add the onion and sauté until soft.  Add the tomato paste, chopped greens, a healthy amount of salt and pepper, and stir for a moment.  Add the rice and cook, stirring, for 3 or 4 minutes until all the grains are well-coated and everything is evenly mixed.  Take off the heat and let it cool.

Assembling the grape leaves: I suggest getting your assembly line set up in this particular order (assuming you are right-handed): grape leaves on the left, cutting board or plate directly in front of you, rice mixture behind the cutting board, and cooking pot to the right.  This will make it easy to keep everything in order.  Take a grape leave and put it vein-side up on the cutting board in front of you, with the base of the leaf closest to you.  Take about 1 tsp. of the rice mixture and spread it in a thin horizontal line as pictured:

Then, fold the bottom of the leaf up over the rice.  Next, fold the sides in, and then roll the leaf up from the bottom, tucking in any stray pieces.  You should end up with a tight roll; if it’s loose do it will come apart during cooking so you probably want to re-do it.  I usually use my finger as a guide for how big it should be so that they all turn out approximately the same size.

1: bottoms up!

2: pull those sides in!

3: roll 'er up!

My hand model shot.

Cover the bottom of your cooking pot with any torn pieces of leaves, or, alternatively, slices of tomatoes.  Place the rolls into a deep cooking pot as you make each one, trying to keep them as tightly packed as possible.  I like to place a clove of garlic here and there, a tip I picked up from a neighbor, although I’m honestly not sure it does anything in terms of adding flavor.   Depending on the width of your cooking pot, you may end up with multiple layers, which is fine.  Once they’re all in, place a heavy plate or lid on top of the layers inside the pot to hold them in place; this will help them to not come apart during cooking.  Pour in the boiling water or chicken broth, enough to just barely come up to the top layer of leaves.  Cover the pot and simmer over the lowest heat possible until the leaves are tender and the rice is cooked thoroughly.  Remove the plate/lid weighing down the leaves, and—assuming there is no or very little liquid left at this point—turn the pot upside down onto a plate so that the grape leaves fall out in a nice little pile.  This will save your fingers from the agony of trying to remove each one individually.  Serve hot and with a dressing of yoghurt, garlic and mint on the side.