Tag Archives: Salad

SWEET-AND-SOUR EGGPLANT SALAD

Here I am, back with yet another recipe that brings together the tasty trio of eggplant, tomatoes and pomegranate molasses.  It is also one of those dishes that, as its name implies, is a Side Dish, but that with just a little help can become a nice light main course.

This is not my own recipe, but is taken from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Rodin.  This cookbook will show up frequently here, as I have only it and one other cookbook.  Really, I prefer to try and learn cooking from my neighbors, but I am thankful for people like Ms. Rodin who have put the time and energy into researching, testing, revising, and finally writing cookbooks.  It must be a very daunting job, particularly when trying to cover a topic as broad as “Middle Eastern Food.”  My own time in this region has shown that the same dish may have six or seven different names, or that one name may be applied to six or seven different dishes.  And let’s not even get started on the babaghanouj vs. mutabbal debate.

SWEET-AND-SOUR EGGPLANT SALAD

  • 1 1/2 lb. eggplants, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • Salt
  • 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large Spanish onion, coarsely chopped
  • 2-5 cloves garlic, chopped (okay, the recipe only calls for 2 cloves of garlic, but I really like garlic and think it’s nice to add more)
  • 1 lb. tomatoes, peeled and chopped (I didn’t peel and it turned out fine for me)
  • 4 Tbsp. finely chopped parsley
  • 1 Tbsp. dried mint
  • 3 Tbsp. wine vinegar OR 2-3 Tbsp. pomegranate molasses (trust me, the pomegranate molasses is the better option here)
  • 1 Tbsp. sugar
  • Pepper or a good pinch ground chili pepper to taste

Sprinkle the eggplant cubes with salt and leave in a colander for about 1/2 hour for the juices to drain away.  Then rinse and dry.

Cover the bottom of a heavy pan with olive oil.  Fry the onion in this until it is soft and golden.  Add the eggplants, and stir, turning them over, for about 5 minutes.  Add the garlic and stir, until it begins to color.  Add the tomatoes, with their juice, the parsley, mint, vinegar/pomegranate molasses, sugar, and pepper/chili pepper.  Cook over very low heat for about 20 minutes, or until the eggplants are soft.  Serve cold.

My notes: This tastes pretty good hot, too.  To turn this into a main course, I add about 1 lb. of cooked chickpeas for the final few minutes of cooking, and I serve the salad over a bed of toasted Arabic bread, which soaks up the delicious sauce.

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CAN I CALL THIS SALAD?

We returned from our trip Over The River yesterday evening, so dinner last night and tonight necessitated quick and easy as well as minimal ingredients, as I’ve yet to go to market.  Fortunately (kind of)* I have a small stock of various canned, dry and frozen goods and had left some zucchini in the refrigerator while we travelled, hoping it would stay good.  And it did, because this refrigerator is golden and takes care of its contents.

So I pulled out the rice and the frozen molokheyya.  (Molokheyya post forthcoming; you’re in for a treat with that one!)  But it didn’t seem colorful enough to be the entire meal, and lacked any protein.  Also, although the weather is cooling down, it’s still too hot to eat only hot foods.  The answer?  A simple mix, semi-inspired by the results of a Google search for “white beans corn zucchini” and using the standard Mediterranean/Middle Eastern yoghurt salad as a dressing.

To be honest, I wasn’t that excited when I first tasted the beans and vegetables together, but once that yoghurt dressing was drizzled on, this salad was transformed into something summery and zingy and well worth the little effort it required.

White Bean, Corn and Zucchini Salad

  • 1 can white beans, drained and rinsed well
  • 1 can corn, drained (or about 1 1/2 c. fresh corn, barely boiled/steamed until tender, if you’re so lucky to have it!)
  • 2 small zucchini, diced
  • 1 very small onion, diced
  • 1 cup yoghurt
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • big pinch of mint and salt

Mix beans and vegetables.

Mix yoghurt, garlic, mint and salt.  Drizzle over vegetables.

See, isn’t that easy?  And so many things you can add or substitute…black beans instead of white, red or green bell peppers, cilantro instead of mint, tomatoes…

*I have ambivalent feelings about canned and frozen foods.  Generally they are more expensive than their fresh counterparts, and I wonder about the preservatives, loss of nutrients over time, and the environmental impact of transporting food around the world.  (For instance, the can of corn I used tonight came from Thailand; I wonder what its carbon footprint would be.)  But sometimes convenience wins.

TABBOULEH: FANCY FOOD?

It is impossible to do a blog prominently featuring Arabic food without an entry on tabbouleh, particularly in summer, when the never-ending heat waves make light, cold food a thing of comfort.  Unfortunately for me, tabbouleh as it is commonly eaten these days—heavy on the leaves, light on the bulgur—contains a lot of parsley, which I consider to be a blight in the world of greens.

My first memories of parsley center around trips to fancy restaurants like Denny’s and IHOP.  In my family, eating out was a real rarity, usually reserved for birthdays, when we were treated to Happy Meals at McDonald’s.  Dining at sit-down restaurants did not happen—with four kids, there was the cost to consider, although I suspect it was less about the money than the potential stress and embarrassment to my parents of trying to keep us all from fighting and crawling under the table.  Still, we did occasionally have “formal” meals, and for some reason they always came with a perky sprig of parsley precariously perched on the edge of the plate, or sticking up from the top of my sandwich like a miniature tree.  This being the era of starving Ethiopian children, I was well accustomed to the idea of eating everything on my plate and being grateful for it, but parsley…well, it was flavorless and often had a weird twiggy texture that completely put me off.

Since then, parsley has been in my very small category of inedible things, the garnish of sloppy chefs.  So when it comes to tabbouleh, which is about ¾ chopped parsley, I am saved only by the fact that everything else in the salad has a lot of flavor and provides some texture.  Truth be told, I like tabbouleh as long as I don’t think about its origins while I’m eating it.  I try to console myself with the fact that parsley is pretty healthy; at least, the women here are always telling me how “beneficial” it is, and a quick Google search praises parsley as  “hormone balancing,” “immune-enhancing,” and “a tonic for the blood vessels,” not to mention that it includes actual vitamins and minerals.  Not too shabby; perhaps high schools should consider including in their cafeteria menus…

So, I eat tabbouleh.  Here’s a basic recipe, although if you’re interested in something a little less traditional, check out Taste of Beirut for a variety of more exotic interpretations.

TABBOULEH

Ingredients:

1/2 cup fine- or medium-ground bulgur

Juice of 1-2 lemons, to taste

4 firm ripe tomatoes, diced

Salt and pepper

4 green onions, thinly sliced

2 cups flat-leaf parsley (I think it’s often called “Italian parsley” in America), very finely chopped by hand*

2/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint

1-2 small diced cucumbers (optional, I like to add them)

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Bibb lettuce or Romaine hearts (to be used instead of utensils)

Soak the bulgur in lots of fresh cold water for 10 minutes.  Rinse in a colander and press the excess water out, then put the bulgur in a bowl with the lemon juice and tomatoes to soak for 30 minutes.  Add the rest of the ingredients (except lettuce) and mix gently.  A traditional way of eating tabbouleh is to scoop it up with lettuce leaves.

*It’s important to do the parsley and mint by hand, with a very sharp knife, so that you don’t wind up with bruised leaves.  I tried it once in my food processor, which admittedly is not top-of-the-line, and ended up with a very unsatisfactory mess of smashed leaves.

CABBAGE: THE REAL SUPERFOOD?

Today I threw away a large bowl of salad, the lettuce gone wilty and brown after a mere day.  (In the interest of frugality and nutrition, I picked out all the slices of red pepper, washed them off, and ate them for lunch with hummus.)  The inability of my refrigerator to stay cold enough to keep, oh, ANYTHING from spoiling is a real frustration to me these ridiculously hot days.  I mean, even yoghurt turns watery and bitter after only two days.

So I set out on a quest for something suitable for a salad, but that would last until I had eaten it all.  Everybody Likes Sandwiches has a multitude of interesting coleslaw recipes, some of which seem perfectly suited to the slew of condiments I already have.  I settled on a Tahini Ginger Slaw, and stalked out to the market.  Now, I am not exactly sure when “cabbage season” is, but it doesn’t seem to be right now, as only one stall had a small pile of heads.  (Sounds rather ominous when I say it that way!)  Still, they looked a far cry healthier than the plethora of lettuce, watercress, and parsley I had passed along the way.

This cabbage is crisp, beautifully colored, and still slightly sweet.  Now we just have to see if it will pass the test of time, and prove itself to be a hero in the world of leafy greens.

And, I love the Tahini Ginger Slaw.  You should make it yourself.