Vegan Stuffed Vegetables Mediterranean Style

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I recently returned from a wonderful week in Israel and I’m finally over my jet-lag. It seems to get more difficult every year, especially on the return. I am inspired by many things when I am in Israel – not least of which is the food. The fruits and vegetables are always so fresh and there seem to be seemingly infinite ways to create salads and cooked vegetable creations. As soon as I returned I had essentially three things to do that couldn’t wait: 1) take a really long shower; 2) wash clothes and 3) go to the grocery store. As it happens, Matthew and Frances were in town for a friend’s wedding and while they were not able to share many meals together, Frances very kindly made sure that my husband did not have to fend for himself. She cooked and baked and even made sure that there were left-overs so that my first night home I neither had to order in nor cook. One of the little treasures that Frances left me was Baharat. This is a Middle Eastern spice blend and it generally includes:

There are all kinds of variations, including a Turkish version that uses mint and of course the proportions change according to taste and tradition. I’m not totally sure what mix Frances used and you can also buy it premixed in a good spice store, but it smelled wonderful and I didn’t want it to go to waste.

I shopped at a local produce market and was seduced into buying lovely, dark and shapely eggplants, sweet red peppers and zucchini. Another left-over from Frances that I discovered was some cooked Basmati rice so I knew that I was going to make stuffed vegetables after a bit of concocting. Here is the result. My version is actually vegetarian since I used Ghee and some goat cheese crumbles, but this could easily be vegan by only using EVOO and eliminating the cheese. The prep took me about an hour, but the result is delicious and only needs a green salad and some bread to make a satisfying meal.

While I was in Israel I got addicted to the after dinner drink of hot water with loads of fresh mint and lemon steeped for several minutes. Some people add black tea and sugar, but I like it as is. I also have a ripe honeydew melon so my dinner is ready when I am. After a lovely long walk along Chicago’s beautiful lakefront, we are ready to sit down to a delicious dinner in about 20 minutes.

Vegan Stuffed Vegetables Mediterranean Style

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

3 cups cooked rice (any kind will do – if I had a rice lentil pilaf, I would have used that)

2 smallish regular eggplants

2 sweet red bell peppers

1 large or 2 small zucchini

1 large shallot or about 1/2 cup of chopped onions

1/4 cup pine nuts

6 ounces of raisins (dark, light or a mixture)

1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

2 Tablespoons EVOO (or Ghee) plus more for drizzling

~28 ounces chopped tomatoes (I like the kind in the box and they come in slightly under that amount)

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic

Kosher Salt and Pepper to taste (I used Aleppo pepper but fresh cracked black pepper is fine)

1.5 teaspoons Baharat

Goat cheese crumbles (optional) You can use feta, Bulgarian cheese or almost any relatively mild goat cheese.

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Cover a baking sheet with sides in foil. Drizzle with EVOO.
  2. Split the eggplants lengthwise and score the flesh without piercing the skin. Lay the eggplant on the foil flesh down. Split the zucchini lengthwise and also place it on the foil-covered pan, flesh-side down. Split the bell peppers, remove the seeds and pith and lay them down on the pan, cut-side down. IMG_1800
  3. Place the pan in the hot oven and cook for 15 minutes. Remove the peppers and set aside. Turn the eggplants and zucchini over and return to the oven for about 10 more minutes.
  4. Carefully remove the eggplants and zucchini from the pan and allow them to cool enough for you to handle. Using a melon baller or spoon, carefully scoop out the flesh without tearing the skins. Chop up the flesh and set aside.

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  5. Meanwhile, add the rice to a large bowl and mix with 1/2 teaspoon Baharat. In a saute pan, add the 2 Tablespoons of EVOO or Ghee and heat on medium high. Add the shallots or onions and saute for 1-2 minutes.  Now add the raisins and the pine nuts, about 1/2 teaspoon Baharat, 1/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Saute for about 3 minutes. Add it to the rice in the bowl and mix through. Add the chopped parsley.IMG_1820
  6. In the same pan, add a drizzle of EVOO, the garlic and the chopped eggplant and zucchini and saute for about 3 minutes – until everything is well mixed and the excess liquid has evaporated. IMG_1840Add this to the rice mixture and mix through.
  7. In a shallow (I needed 2 pans) heavy pan (like Le Creuset) add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste. Season with salt, pepper and 1/2 teaspoon Baharat. Mix thoroughly. Take about 1/3 of a cup of this sauce and add it to the rice mixture and stir through.
  8. Carefully take the vegetable skins and bell peppers and stuff them generously with the rice mixture. Transfer them to the pan(s) with the tomato sauce. If desired, you can sprinkle crumbled goat cheese on top and then drizzle with EVOO. This can be made ahead up to this point and reheated/browned later when you are ready to serve it.IMG_0010
  9. When you are ready to serve, heat your oven to 375 degrees F. and place the pan(s) in the oven uncovered. Bake for 20 minutes or until heated through and the tops are browned.

 

Salmon in Bengali Mustard Sauce

Salmon with Mustard SauceFrances and Matthew bought me Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbook, At Home With Madhur Jaffrey, as part of my most recent birthday present. They were both visiting this weekend for a friend’s wedding and tonight is my one night to feed them since they were at parties the rest of the time. It’s very hot today so I thought something a bit spicy would be nice. Normally I believe that if you have really good fish, you don’t hide it under a lot of sauce. However, tonight I’m trying this salmon recipe and was able to buy some lovely, fatty (those great Omega 3’s) King Salmon today  which is so flavorful that it should stand up to this sauce. We will have this along with Jaffrey’s  Moong Dal, Zucchini and Yellow Summer Squash with Cumin and Brown Basmati rice recipes. I thought a fruity, but crisp rose would go well and made my blueberry almond struesel cake for dessert.  Other than changing the serving sizes, I am really not changing much of anything. Maybe when I am more comfortable making these recipes, I will take to tweaking them.

Salmon in Bengali Mustard Sauce

Yield: 4 to 6 Servings

Ingredients

For Fish Rub

2 pounds (net) of a fatty salmon, skinned, boned and cut into 8 pieces

1/2 teaspoon Kosher or Sea salt

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

For Cooking

2 Tablespoons ground mustard (I like Coleman’s)

1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon Kosher or Sea salt

2 Tablespoons EVOO

1/2 teaspoon black or brown mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds

2 fresh hot green or red chilies, slit slightly

Directions

  1. Place the rub spices in a freezer bag and shake to mix. Add the fish pieces, seal the bag well and gently toss to mix. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes but up to 10 hours.
  2. Put the mustard powder, cayenne, turmeric and salt in a medium jar or bowl. Add 2 Tablespoons of cold water and stir through. Then add 3/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons of cold water and mix well. Cover and set aside.
  3. Pour the EVOO into a large, heavy frying pan (cast iron is great) and set over medium-high heat. When it is hot, put in themustard seeds. As soon as they begin to pop, add the cumin and fennel seeds. This happens quickly so have everything ready.
  4. Stir and quickly add in the mustard paste. Add the green/red chilies, stir and bring to a gentle simmer.
  5. Place the fish in the sauce in a single layer. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes or until the fish is cooked through, spooning the sauce over the fish while it cooks. Salmon in panSalmon in pan2

North African Fish Stew

While I love a good, simply roasted salmon, I’ve often wondered what else is out there in the realm of fish dishes and in particular, fancy fish dishes.  I came across this in one of my go-to cookbooks and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was easy to make and tasted very light.

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I’ve never really been one for eating fish steeped in any sauce.  After all, as Matt has frequently told me, “if it’s good fish it doesn’t need anything else!”  However, just poached or searing or baking fish gets kind of old after a while and it’s nice to mix it up with some variety.  Also, this dish somehow managed to keep the fish flavor very intact (where the fish that was chosen – halibut – actually mattered) while melding nicely with all the sauce that it was cooked in.  (It’s kind of hard to see the fish in the photo, probably because we kept the original sauce recipe the same, but with half the fish – we like more sauce!)

In general slow cooking anything with red peppers and tomatoes with a dash of coriander, cumin and cayenne pepper seems to add a nice kick.

Ingredients

1/2 cup olive oil
10 garlic cloves
2 red bell peppers, sliced (or just buy a jar of roasted peppers and slice)
2 fresh red chili peppers, seeded
red chili pepper flakes (1 tsp or to taste depending on your spice appetite)
1 cup fresh cilantro, coarsley chopped
1 cup fresh parsley, also coarsely chopped
2 tbsp sweet paprika
salt to taste
2 cups water
3 6-oz pieces of grouper, halibut or other white-fleshed saltwater fish
1 lemon, cut in wedges

Directions

  1. Heat the olive oil in a large, wide pan.  Add the garlic, bell peppers and fresh chiles and sauté for 2 minutes.  Add the chili pepper flakes, cilantro, parsley, paprika, and salt and sauté for another couple minutes, stirring occasionally.  Pour in the water and bring to a simmer.
  2. Cover and cook for 20 minutes.  Remove the lid and cook for another 5 to 10 minutes, until the sauce thickens.  Taste and adjust the seasoning (once you ad the fish it will be hard to stir the sauce and play with the flavors.)
  3. Carefully add the fish chunks (in one layer), cover, and simmer gently for about 15 minutes.  Turn the fish and cook for 5 more minutes.  Turn off the heat and let stand, covered, for 20 minutes before serving.  Serve with lemon wedges over couscous.

Variation – that I use:

  • If using boneless fillets (which is what I do) cook the sauce without the fish.  When the sauce is ready, add the fillets and cook in the sauce for about 10 minutes.

From Janna Gur, Jewish Soul Food

NOTE FROM LISA: I saw this post and REALLY, REALLY wanted to make this. Unfortunately, unlike Frances, we don’t live on a coast – unless you count the coast of Lake Michigan. Halibut and Sea Bass are currently $30/pound! at my local stores and I simply cannot justify that cost. So while I was disappointed, I was undeterred. For $10 I bought almost 2 pounds of boneless, skinless organic chicken thighs. If I were really cheap, I could have skipped the organic and gotten the chicken thighs for about $3 on sale. I cooked them according to the original recipe and the only addition I made was to add 5 Persian dried limes that I pierced along with the chicken thighs. The result may not be strictly authentic, but it was delicious. I served it over couscous and I have no regrets!