Tag Archives: Cheese

What do YOU eat in Winter?

Toast slathered with butter.  Couscous porridge with butter and whole fat milk.  Potatoes mashed with butter, whole fat milk, and an entire head of garlic.

See a theme here?  For me, winter is all about fat and carbohydrates.  I have no qualms confessing that my diet is highly influenced by the season; I know I’m not alone here.  Most of humanity begins thinking this way as evening falls earlier and earlier and we all huddle about wondering how to survive another long, cold winter.  We may not be able to hibernate for the entire three or four months, but we can sure eat like we’re preparing to!

Tonight I made a cheesy potato-corn-white bean chowder.  It started out with onion cooked in a large chunk of butter until translucent, then a few minced cloves of garlic, two smallish diced potatoes, and about 2 1/2 cups each chicken broth and fully fat and wonderful milk, brought to a boil and simmered gently.  Oh, it smelled heavenly!  Once the potatoes were tender I added one (drained) can each of corn and white beans, a sprinkling of salt and pepper, and some cubed cheese, maybe 1/3 cup, which led to the only slightly disappointing part of the whole shebang.  In my extreme cheapness, I had forsaken the real cheese and bought processed cheese.  I was thinking Velveeta; what I got instead was a sticky white brick that refused to melt even when cut into very small pieces, meaning that instead of a consistently gooey cheesy broth, I ended up with a milky broth with bursts of cheesy(ish) goodness.

(That’s all the recipe you’re getting for this.  It’s so very simple.  And soup is really something that was made for adaptation and improvisation, so you can take this idea and recreate it yourself in whatever manner works for you.  I would suggest better cheese, though!)

And I ate it out of a mug, because it is a well known fact that soup (umm, or chowder, whatever the difference may be) always tastes best when eaten out of either a mug or a bread bowl.  Bread bowls being in short supply round these parts, I happily grasped my mug in both hands (giving the additional benefit of warm to my chilly little fingers) and soaked up my leftover broth with a warm wheat roll.  (And no, I did not butter the roll.  But I did consider it…)

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ROASTED EGGPLANT SOUP

You may be wondering at the plethora of eggplant-featuring posts lately.  Well, the story is that I went to the market a bit over a week ago, intending to buy just one wee kilo of eggplants.  But I ended up at a stall manned by a boy far too young to be working (as is the case too often in this part of the world), and he very enthusiastically proclaimed that, for the equivalent of about $1.30, he would sell me 5 kilos of eggplant.  That is 11 pounds, for those of you stuck in America’s silly measurement system.  It takes a long time and a lot of dishes for two people to eat 11 pounds of eggplant!  But partly out of pity and partly because I do really like eggplant, I went ahead and bought it, carrying home a black plastic bag with nearly a dozen eggplants inside.

We have finally finished them off, and I must admit I am not likely to buy another eggplant for a week or two.  But when I do, this soup will be very high on my list of considerations.  The idea of an eggplant soup had never crossed my mind until I read about it on Smitten Kitchen.  The original recipe, adapted from Bon Appetit, can be found there, along with Deb’s humorous account of trying to elicit taste memories from her mother.  Following her spice dilemma, I decided to take the basic idea and Middle Eastern-ize the recipe a bit.  I was very, very pleased with the final product, and even more pleased when Hungry Husband, who is generally ambivalent when it comes to soup, declared it very tasty.

ROASTED EGGPLANT SOUP

  • 3 medium tomatoes, halved
  • Eggplant totally about 1 ½ pounds, halved
  • 1 medium onion, halved
  • Olive oil
  • 10 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp. coriander
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 1 ½ tsp. cumin
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • ¼ c. plain yoghurt
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • ½ c. crumbled feta, to garnish

Preheat oven to 400F.  On a roasting pan/cookie sheet/whatever you use, arrange the halved vegetables and drizzle with olive oil.  Roast in the oven for about 45 minutes, until the vegetables are tender.  Remove from the oven, scoop the eggplant flesh out of the skin (but if you leave a little of the skin attached, that will add a nice smoky flavor) and put in a large soup pot.  Add the tomatoes, onion, cumin and broth and bring to a boil.  Simmer for about 45 minutes or until the onion is soft, then remove from heat and let cool slightly.

About 5 minutes before you think the soup will be done simmering, heat the vegetable oil in a small frying pan.  When it is hot, add the garlic, coriander and salt and fry briefly, stirring constantly, until the aroma rises but the garlic has not browned.  Throw this into the soup for the last few minutes of simmering.

When the soup is sufficiently cool, blend it according to the method of your choosing (with an immersion blender or in batches in a stand blender) to your desired consistency.  Return to the soup pot and reheat, adding salt and pepper to taste.  After turning off the heat, add the yoghurt and stir to blend thoroughly.  Serve with crumbled feta cheese to garnish.

Side note: this soup was also really tasty cold the next day, when I felt too lazy to reheat it.

Side note #2: I also added a wee bit of tahini (sesame seed paste) to the leftovers and that was a very lovely addition.  If you wanted to include it, in the full batch I’d suggest adding 2 Tbsp. along with the yoghurt.

FIX THIS: ROASTED VEGETABLE MOUSSAKA

I am continuing on in the world of eggplant, although maybe it is no longer eggplant season in America.  Meh.  It seems like it is always eggplant season in the Middle East, so if your world is now devoid of glorious purple orbs, give a little sigh and bookmark for next year any future recipes that seem interesting.

I’m not sure I’d recommend this be a recipe you rush to come next August, although I think it has potential.  It’s from a cookbook called Perfect Mediterranean, one of those little cookbooks that probably has companion versions like Perfect Italian and Perfect Asian.  I think this book concentrates very heavily on the north Mediterranean coast, and this moussaka is definitely closer to the Greek versions than any of the Arab versions I have ever had.

We liked this dish okay but I would make a few changes next time.  My main complaint was that the sauce-to-vegetable ratio was way off; you can see from the pictures the difference between my dish and the cookbook.

In the book...

In my kitchen.

The pieces of vegetable were also annoying large to me, so I’d probably go for chunks rather than slices.  I am going to give you the recipe as is but would suggest doubling the sauce.  I also would add more garlic, because I like garlic, but I would add it to the roasting pan halfway through the process, as leaving it the whole time resulted in burnt garlic.  And I might add potatoes, which are often part of the Arab moussaka, to give it a little more substance.  What would you try to improve this dish?

ROASTED VEGETABLE MOUSSAKA

(from Perfect Mediterranean, Parragon 2008)

  • 1 large eggplant, sliced thickly
  • 2 med. zucchini, sliced thickly
  • 2 onions, cut into small wedges
  • 2 red bell peppers, cored, seeded and chopped coarsely
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped coarsely
  • 5 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp. chopped fresh thyme
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 1 ¼ c. strained plain yoghurt
  • 14 oz. canned chopped tomatoes in juice (I used fresh tomatoes)
  • 2 oz. feta cheese

Put the eggplant, zucchini, onions, bell peppers, and garlic in a roasting pan.  Drizzle over the oil, toss together, and then sprinkle over the thyme and season with salt and pepper.  Roast in a preheated oven, 425 F/220 C, for 3-35 minutes, turning the pan halfway through the cooking, until golden brown and tender.

Meanwhile, beat together the eggs and yoghurt and season with salt and pepper.  When the vegetables are cooked, reduce the oven temperature to 350 F/180 C.

Put half the vegetables in a layer in a large ovenproof dish.  Spoon over the tomatoes and their juice, then add the remaining vegetables.  Pour over the yoghurt mixture and crumble over the feta cheese.  Bake in the oven for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until golden brown.  Serve hot, warm, or cold.

BULGUR WITH CHEESE AND EGGPLANT

Look! Pictures!

One thing about temporary living is that it makes me hesitant to buy much in the way of food products that are not highly multifunctional or will not be consumed fairly quickly.  I hate throwing things away; when we left The Oldest City in the World (our previous residence) and came to Hillside (our current city), I smuggled along over a dozen plastic baggies of spices, a plastic tub of red lentils, and two partially-used bags of bulgur and semolina.  Oh, and the obvious: tea, coffee, and sugar, because in what are already stressful situations like moving, it is best not to upset the body with unnecessary caffeine withdrawals.

Thus, meals that require few ingredients while still meeting my Ideals of Eating (another post for another day) are key.  This lovely vegetarian dish fits the bill perfectly and is easy to make in large batches.  Below is the recipe, as found in The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Ms. Roden, with notes about my modifications and suggestions in italics.

Bulgur with Cheese and Eggplants

  • 1 eggplant, weighing about ¾ pound, cut into 1-inch cubes (If you wanted to up the vegetable intake, I think zucchini and green or red peppers would be nice additions)
  • Salt
  • 1 ½ large onions, sliced
  • Vegetable oil
  • 2 cups coarse-ground bulgur, washed in cold water and drained
  • 3 ¼ cups boiling water or chicken stock
  • Pepper
  • 7-9 ounces halumi cheese, cubed (I couldn’t find halumi, so used kashkaval instead; I think mozzarella would also work fine)

Sprinkle the eggplant generously with salt and leave in a colander for ½ hour to degorge its juices.  Then rinse, and dry with paper towels.

Fry the onions in 2 tablespoons oil till golden.  Add the bulgur and stir.  Pour in the boiling water or stock, season with salt and pepper (I also added about 2 teaspoons allspice), and stir well, then cook on very low heat, with the lid on, for about 15 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed and the bulgur is tender.

Fry the cubed eggplant briefly in hot oil, turning the cubes so that they are lightly colored all over.  Lift out, and drain on paper towels.   (I am terrible at frying food—see the picture below for what happened to half my eggplant cubes.  If you had a functional oven and didn’t mind the heat, I think roasting would be a satisfactory substitution for cooking the eggplant and whatever other vegetables you might choose to include.)

Stir 4 tablespoons oil into the bulgur.  (I didn’t add any extra oil; I think it would make the dish too greasy.) Add the cheese and the eggplant and gently fold them in.  Heat through with the lid on until the cheese is soft.  Serve very hot.

For dessert?  Something cold, of course, and bonus points if it comes in groovy flowered glasses 🙂

That's a Chocolate Banana Milkshake, if you can't tell.