Festive Flatbread

Festive Flatbread

Festive Flatbread is as pretty as it is delicious – and it’s riffable! Since my husband retired he has gotten into doing some cooking, much to my delight. He now bakes the best challah, using my recipe, and is branching out to pita, pizzas and other flatbreads, with the occasional curry or stir-fry. The Festive Flatbread is named for the myriad grilled vegetables with all of their beautiful rich colors and flavors. It makes full use of summer’s bounty.

This recipe evolved because I was trying to clean out my vegetable drawer, and has become a favorite dinner for the two of us. We use just a shmear of homemade pesto sauce on the base, but you could also just brush it with a flavored olive oil. There is just a dusting of cheese, which could be left off if you wanted to keep this vegan. However you choose to make this wonderful flatbread just remember that sometimes less is more. Make sure that each element has the best flavors and don’t overdo it.

The shaping is kind of freeform so don’t fret if it isn’t a perfect circle or rectangle. And while we eat this as a dinner for two, if cut into smaller squares, this flatbread would also be a lovely appetizer with a beer or nice glass of wine. The version shown uses zucchini, red pepper, Portobello mushroom, corn and grape tomatoes topped with arugula. It’s a great combination and the Portobello mushrooms give off less liquid than some other mushrooms. But if you have eggplant or other kinds of peppers, use them. Caramelized onion – yummmmm! Even thinly sliced potato would be great. Let your imagination and vegetable drawer rule the results!

We did use the same basic flatbread recipe with a red sauce, pepperoni and cheese for a very thin crust pizza. And while it was delicious, the veggie version remains our favorite.

For other thin crust pizza/flatbreads:

Butternut Squash and Arugula Pizza

Butternut Squash Pizza

I’m going to turn the blog over to my husband now since this is really his handiwork.

Festive Flatbread

In Andrew’s words

Hi! It’s me again, Lisa’s husband, the guy who just recently started learning how to bake and cook. The recipe I’m sharing with you I adapted from Laura Vitale’s Grilled Veggie Flatbread, and it’s a wonderful summer dish, fresh, light, and flavorful.

Interested in my thoughts about learning to cook? Then keep reading.

Not so much? Then skip to the next section. My feelings won’t be hurt.

But I also want to share with you how my attitude about recipes and cooking changed over time. Here’s the thing: I started out knowing almost nothing about cooking, so when I’d watch a YouTube video where the presenter talked about “options” or was vague about some of the details, I’d get really nervous. How exactly am I supposed to cook this dish? What’s being left out that everyone else apparently already knows how to do?

This flatbread recipe is a good example. After I made it a few times I started to understand that you could make it slightly differently, or with different ingredients, and it would still be good. Or the next time I made it I could adjust it to what Lisa and I liked better (e.g. less pesto). So I’ll do things both ways: I’ll highlight how the basic idea of the recipe is simple, allowing you to make changes based on what you like or what vegetables you have on hand that night. But in the photos and descriptions I’ll also describe exactly how I made it, trying to be as simple and specific as possible. OK, on to the recipe!

Recipe

Yield: Dinner for 2 or 4 to 6 as an appetizer

Ingredients

Festive Flatbread

For Flatbread dough

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

    ½ tsp active dry yeast

    ½ tsp granulated sugar

    1 tsp kosher salt

    ½ cup warm water

    ½ tbsp olive oil

For the topping

    1 zucchini or 1/2 of a green and 1/2 of a yellow

    1 red/orange pepper

    1 ear of lightly-cooked corn

    1 large portobello mushroom

    7 cherry or grape tomatoes

    Parmigiano cheese, grated

    Mozzarella cheese, shredded

    baby arugula

    fresh basil leaves

Instructions for those who are more experienced cooks

1. You grill some summer vegetables you have on hand

(You slice them up, toss them in a bowl with some oil, salt, pepper and some thyme or oregano, then put them on a grill and cook them until they start showing some char marks. Then take them off the grill and set them aside.)

2. You partially bake a simple flatbread. The instructions are below.

3. You put some basil pesto (or maybe some flavored olive oil) on top and sprinkle with grated Parmigiano. You put on those delicious vegetables, some oil, some Mozzarella and then pop it back into the oven.

4. After about 5 minutes you take it out, top it with baby arugula and basil leaves and a drizzle of oil. You put it back in the oven for a minute, then take it out, cut it into pieces and serve.

Step by Step Instructions

Place the yeast, sugar, and water in a small bowl. Mix, cover, then let sit for about 5-10 minutes. The yeast should look slightly foamy, showing that it is working. (If you instead used instant yeast you don’t need to proof the yeast.)

Place the flour and salt into the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix together. Add the yeast/water mixture and the oil, attach the dough hook and run at medium speed for about 4 minutes. The result should be a smooth, supple dough.

Take out the dough, knead it slightly into a ball. Place it into an oiled bowl and cover. Leave the bowl in a draft-free spot in the kitchen. I like to use the microwave. Let it rise for 1 hour or until doubled. How quickly it rises will depend on how warm your kitchen is.

Now (or even earlier) prepare the vegetables: slice the zucchini into rounds about ¼” thick; slice open the pepper, discard the seeds and stem, chop into 1” pieces; slice the Portobello into strips about ½” thick; leave the corn on the cob; slice the cherry tomatoes in half.

Put all the vegetables in a bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, dried thyme or oregano, toss all together. Place the vegetables on a hot grill, or on a stove-top grill pan, one layer at a time. Turn them when you see char marks. (Alternatively the vegetables could be cooked in a skillet or even in a 425 degree F oven.)

Place your pizza steel (or stone or upside-down baking sheet) into the oven.

Preheat oven to 485°F

On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough until it is about 3/8 to ¼” thick.

Transfer it to a parchment-covered pizza peel or upside-down baking sheet. Slide it onto the heated pizza steel (or stone or upside-down baking sheet) and let it bake. Use a sharp knife to pop any large bubbles you see forming.

After 5 minutes take it out. It is partially baked.

Lightly brush the flatbread with pesto sauce or flavored EVOO, then sprinkle some grated Parmigiano cheese on top, if using.

Layer the grilled vegetables on top, but leave the cherry tomatoes for later. (Slice the corn kernels off of the cob first!)

Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle a pinch of salt, then top with shredded Mozzarella (see photos).

Put it back in the oven for about 5 minutes.

Take it out of the oven, add the halved cherry tomatoes, baby arugula, fresh basil leaves, and fresh oregano.

Turn off the oven and put the flatbread back in just to warm up the topping. Keep an eye on it – the baby arugula wilts very fast. Then take it out and serve.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad is sweet, smoky, savory and utterly addictive. Personally I have never understood someone who says they won’t eat eggplant (aubergine). There must be literally hundreds, if not thousands of ways to prepare it. And it comes in many shapes, colors and varieties. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful and sensuous of vegetables. Although technically a fruit, in everyday usage we refer to it as a vegetable. I haven’t discovered a way yet that I don’t simply love it.

However, if you are one of those people – and you know who you are – this recipe just might make a convert out of even you. This salad is beloved in Israel and is a star at the restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia. Zahav (meaning “gold” in Hebrew) is the brainchild of award-winning Chef Michael Solomonov, who has a cookbook of the same name.

As I have mentioned many times in my blog, Mediterranean food in general and Middle Eastern food specifically, is my very favorite of cuisines. I could, and often do, eat it every day. This cuisine is very veg-forward and makes liberal use of fresh herbs and spices. Whenever possible, I try to grind my spices fresh for both this cuisine and when I make Indian food. The difference is incredible. And with an inexpensive spice or coffee grinder, you can have fresh spices in seconds.

Chef Solomonov is an exciting chef and a charming raconteur. His cookbook is a great read and has some wonderful and vivid food photos, but the recipes or at least the directions are inexact. They don’t always even correspond to the accompanying photos. So it was good when I was thinking of making this recipe that I happened to watch him on YouTube first.

Below is Michael Solomonov’s recipe with my clarifications. It’s a wonderful salad that would be just one of many at any Israeli meal. Salatim is a hallmark of Israeli cuisine and are eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes, I make a meal simply of salatim and a good pita or laffa.

Salatim

The eggplant salad will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days, although I think is most flavorful at room temperature. So take it out of the fridge about an hour before you plan to serve it.

You won’t need a lot of ingredients for this recipe. I would use either “Italian” Eggplant or a “Graffiti” Eggplant. Italian is the standard one that most grocery stores carry. You want to choose eggplants that are firm, weigh about 1 pound and have unblemished skins.

While the Zahav recipe calls for sherry vinegar, almost any vinegar can be used. And while I love sherry vinegar, it can be pricey. So feel free to swap it out for a white vinegar or decent red wine vinegar.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

For some other eggplant dishes (‘Cuz I know that I’m gonna make a fan out of you yet!):

Oven “Fried” Eggplant

Eggplant and Tomato Bake

Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Eggplant and Tomatoes

Baked Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Bulghur

Eggplant Pâté (Bharta)

Baked Pasta in Eggplant: Pasta Incaciata

Eggplant stuffed with Ground Lamb

Eggplant Raita Middle Eastern Style

Eggplant and Beef Albondigas

Lamb and Eggplant Casserole

Greek Eggplant Dip: Melitzanosalata

Savory Galette with Eggplant, Zucchini and Feta

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Mixed Veg

Recipe

Yield: About 5 cups

Ingredients

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

2 Medium eggplants, peeled and cut into thick rounds

2 Tablespoons kosher salt

About 6 Tablespoons Canola Oil (You can use Olive Oil but it has a lower smoke-point and will burn more easily)

1 cup chopped red, yellow or orange bell pepper

1 cup chopped onion

1 Tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika

1/4 cup vinegar (Sherry is ideal but any decent vinegar will do)

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

A few cracks of black pepper

Directions

Sprinkle both sides of the eggplant rounds with the kosher salt. Place them on a rack over a tray or on top of paper towels to absorb the bitter liquid as it drains. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes but up to overnight.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Add oil to film the bottom of a large, heavy skillet. I didn’t have non-stick, which is preferable, but you can use well-seasoned cast iron. Set over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering but not smoking, add the eggplant rounds. (Blot off any liquid first!) Avoid over-crowding the pan and work in batches if necessary. Cook until almost black on the first side, about 10 minutes. Turn and repeat on the second side, adding more oil if necessary. Remove the eggplant to a plate. As you can see, mine aren’t perfect, but you are going for the round in the bottom right foreground. Yep, that one!

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Either in the same pan or in a largish saucepan, add 2 Tablespoons of oil. You could use Canola here as well, but olive oil would be the better choice. You are no longer frying anything so the high smoke point isn’t essential and the olive oil lends a better flavor.

Add the bell pepper, onion and spices and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft but not brown – about 10 minutes.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Now add the eggplant back to the pan along with the vinegar. Using a wooden spoon, mash up the eggplant coarsely as it cooks until everything combines. Continue to cook until the vinegar has evaporated. This takes about 8 minutes.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Turn the heat off and add the lemon juice and parsley and mix through. You shouldn’t need any additional salt since we never rinsed the salt off of the eggplants in the beginning. But a few cracks of black pepper never went amiss.

Oven “Fried” Eggplant

Oven “Fried” Eggplant

Like many people, I can be seduced by fried foods. And I love nothing more than a slice of eggplant, well seasoned, lightly breaded and fried to perfection. But the truth is that I hate actually frying anything. Aside from the oil spatter (which I have to clean up – yuck!) the house always smells for days and then I am stuck with oil to discard safely. And the extra calories. Don’t even get me started on greasy fried foods cooked in oil that wasn’t quite hot enough or was burned because the oil was too hot. But this Oven “Fried” Eggplant is everything that I love and nothing that I hate about fried food.

What is really great about this Oven “Fried Eggplant” – aside from the results – is that it teaches you a method which you can almost endlessly riff on to please your palate. The seasonings I used are Italian-leaning, but you could just as easily sub in Indian or even Asian spices. And my husband and I ate this as a light supper with a delicious salad and a simple tomato sauce to dab on top. However, let your imagination be your guide rather than your limit. Layer the slices in a stack with slices of fresh mozzarella and thick slices of tomato and serve with arugula tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette.

These wonderful Oven “Fried” Eggplant slices would make a great layer stuffed into a pita with slices of hard-boiled egg, hummus and Israeli salad or pickle for a delicious take on a Sabich sandwich.

Are you a fan of chutney or raita or tzatziki? Think how amazing this Oven “Fried” Eggplant would be with these instead of a tomato sauce? You could even make this as an appetizer with a variety of sauces and allow your guests (remember them?) to choose their favorite.

Eggplant
Oven “Fried” Eggplant

The key to making this work is two-fold – well maybe three-fold: 1) You have to slice your eggplant just the right thickness. Too thin and the eggplant will burn. Too thick and it won’t cook through before the breading burns. 2) You need to have a broiler and a shallow, heavy aluminum pan. 3) You have to watch it. If you have a convection oven, which I don’t, there is no need to turn the pan – only the eggplant needs to be turned over once. But without a convection oven, I rotated my pan halfway through each side. This really wasn’t difficult or even a big deal and the total cooking time is only about 16 minutes. But it’s not a great time to get busy with something else.

So enough chatter. Let’s cook up some Oven “Fried” Eggplant! This recipe comes from a wonderful cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene. Frances and I have made many recipes from here, and they are always accurate. ANd it’s an interesting read.

Well, okay, a word first on choosing your eggplant. The eggplant should weigh about 1 to 1.5 pounds and be firm. If you want to double the recipe, that’s fine, but don’t choose a larger eggplant. Choose two instead. The larger the eggplant, the more the more likely you are to have bitter seeds. And you do NOT want that.

With an eggplant weighing one to 1.5 pounds, you should not need to salt your eggplant first to draw out the bitterness. This would work with almost any type of eggplant that comes in at around this weight. I just wouldn’t use really small ones. And while I did not make mine vegan, you can make this using an egg substitute. To make life easy for yourself, use a good store-bought brand of tomato sauce. You can doctor it with seasonings you like or buy it pre-seasoned. It doesn’t have to be hard to be good!

For other wonderful eggplant recipes:

Baked Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Bulghur

Eggplant Pâté (Bharta)

Greek Eggplant Dip: Melitzanosalata

Moussaka

Baked Pasta in Eggplant: Pasta Incaciata

Eggplant stuffed with Ground Lamb

Eggplant Raita Middle Eastern Style

Eggplant and Tomato Bake

Eggplant and Beef Albondigas

Lamb and Eggplant Casserole

Savory Galette with Eggplant, Zucchini and Feta

Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Eggplant and Tomatoes

Recipe

Yield: About 6 servings as a appetizer or 3 to 4 as a dinner with salad or pasta

Ingredients

Seasoned Breadcrumb Mixture (You can skip this and used purchased Italian Seasoned Breadcrumbs if you are feeling lazy. The herbs and measurements are a suggestion.)

2.5 cups dried bread crumbs (Panko or regular)

1.5 Tablespoons dried parsley flakes

1.5 teaspoons dried onion powder

1.5 teaspoons dried oregano

1 teaspoon dried basil

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/4 teaspoon dried garlic powder

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper (or Aleppo pepper)

Eggplant

1 medium eggplant, about 1 to 1.5 pounds

2 large eggs or 1/2 cup egg substitute

2 Tablespoons Canola oil

Garnish

2 Tablespoons chopped parsley

About 4 ounces of tomato sauce

Directions

Mix all of the ingredients together for the seasoned bread crumbs and place in a dish that will be large enough to hold the largest slice of eggplant.

Lightly oil or coat with non-stick spray (I used EVOO) one large, heavy metal baking sheet. (You could use two but why clean up more than necessary). Set a cooling rack over a second baking sheet or over paper towels or parchment. Set aside.

Cut off and discard the ends of the eggplant. Cut the eggplant into circles that are 3/8-inches thick. Size matters here. Use a ruler for the first one.

Preheat your oven to broil and place your baking rack 5 to 6 inches from the heat source.

Beat the eggs (or egg substitute) with the Canola oil in a dish that is deep enough and large enough around to fit the largest slice of eggplant. (I used a pie plate.)

Dip each slice of eggplant into the egg mixture and allow the excess to drip back into the dish. Immediately coat both sides of the eggplant with the breadcrumb mixture by laying it in flat, applying a small amount of pressure and then turning it over to repeat. Lay out the coated eggplant slices onto the prepared pan.

Broil the eggplant slices for a total of about 12 to 16 minutes. Turn the pan halfway for each side unless you have a convection oven so that you get even browning. Flip the slices halfway through. As soon as the slices are done, place them on the cooling rack to keep them crispy while you continue cooking any remaining slices. I did 2 batches.

When you are finished with all of the slices, arrange them on a platter. Sprinkle chopped parsley, basil or cilantro over the top. I grated a bit of parmesan as well, but honestly, it isn’t necessary.

Oven “Fried” Eggplant

Garlicky Beet Spread

This Garlicky Beet Spread has attitude! The small amount of horseradish lends a delightful piquancy without punching you in the face. Great as a dip and perfect with vegetable fritters or latkes (a crispy oniony potato pancake eaten on Hanukkah). And it’s sooooo pretty! You can whip this up in minutes, especially if you use prepared beets. And let’s face it, why make more work for yourself when there are perfectly good time-savers available?

I LOVE beets in just about any form. In fact, when I was pregnant the only craving I had in nine months was for pickled beets. So when I saw this recipe by Melissa Clark, I knew that I was going to try it. Since I happened to be cooking salmon for my Shabbat dinner, I was able to use this dip as an accompaniment. It did not disappoint. I made a few minor tweaks, both to clarify and suit it to our tastes. With Hanukkah almost here, I just might use this as an alternative to sour cream and applesauce with my latkes. Then again, why mess with tradition!

For other great beet recipes, check these out:

Moroccan Beet and Orange Salad with Pistachios

Beet and Chickpea Quinoa Salad

Moroccan Beet Salad (Barba)

Beet Caviar

And for a dessert option with beets

Fudgy Brownies with Beets and Walnuts

Recipe

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

About 8 to 9 ounces of prepared beets (roasted and peeled)

2 Tablespoons EVOO

1/2 cup of lightly toasted walnuts (See note on toasting)

1 very large clove of garlic or its equivalent

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup of Greek-style yogurt (Use one that is at least 2% fat)

2 Tablespoons of fresh-squeezed lemon juice (1/2 of a juicy lemon)

1 Tablespoon of fresh dill plus more for garnish

1.5 teaspoons of prepared fresh horseradish (I happened to use beet horseradish which only enhanced the color of the dip)

Directions

Using a food processor, grind the walnuts, garlic and salt until very fine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add all of the remaining ingredients. Pulse until mostly smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more lemon or salt, if needed.

Note on toasting nuts

Heat your oven to 350 degrees F. Place the nuts on a sheet pan and toast in the oven for about 12 minutes or until you just begin to smell the nuts. You can shake the pan once during the cooking. Alternatively, you can toast nuts in a dry pan on your stove. Watch them carefully, jiggling every few minutes. Nothing will happen until it does. The second you smell the nuts, remove them from the heat. These methods work with just about any nut. I always toast more than I need and use up extras in salads or for munching.

Gefilte Fish Loaf

It is traditional in Ashkenazi Jewish homes to eat gefilte fish as a first course for Shabbat and most other holidays, including Passover. While it may be heresy, I never was a huge fan of this dish, even when I had it homemade rather than from a jar.

Gefilte literally means “stuffed.” The fish mixture was stuffed back into the skin of the whole fish. It was a great way for thrifty – and often poor – families to enjoy this delicacy. Because the fish was mixed with other inexpensive ingredients like onions and eggs, a little bit of fish could feed an entire family.

It later became popular to make the equivalent of individual fish quenelles. So although the fish was no longer stuffed, the name stuck.

For several years now, I have made Egyptian Fish Balls in a savory tomato sauce. This year, however, I am making both! The Sephardic fish balls for the first Seder and the gefilte fish loaf for the second Seder. My recipe comes from two wonderful cookbooks: The Gefilte Manifesto by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern and The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene.

As long as you start out with good quality, fresh fish, you can’t go wrong with either of these recipes. If you didn’t see this in time for the Seder, remember that there will always be Shabbat!

Recipe

Yield: One 8 x 4-inch loaf (About 8 slices)

Ingredients

1 smallish onion, coarsely chopped

1 medium carrot

1 pound (net) whitefish fillet, skin and large bones removed [Any light-colored fish such as cod, pike, carp or haddock can be used.]

1 Tablespoon vegetable or grapeseed oil

1 large egg

About 3 Tablespoons, coarsely chopped fresh watercress or baby spinach

2 Tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh dill

3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

2 Tablespoons water

1/4 cup matza meal

1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper or fresh cracked black pepper

1 Tablespoon granulated cane sugar

For Garnish

1/2 red, orange, yellow or green pepper (or a mix)

1 small carrot, peeled and cut crosswise into thin circles

Directions

Heat your oven to 350 degrees F.

Oil an 8 x 4-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a rectangle of waxed paper, cut to fit. Then oil the paper.

Using the pepper strips and the carrot circles, create a simple and attractive design on top of the waxed paper in the prepared pan. The design will be inverted when the loaf is turned out of the pan.

Use a food grinder or a food processor fitted with the steel blade to to chop the fish, onion and carrot until they are finely minced. Add the egg, oil, water, matza meal, watercress or baby spinach, dill, salt and pepper. Process until everything is very well combined.

Gently spoon some of the fish mixture around and over the decorative vegetables in the pan, being careful not to disturb the design. Using the back of a spoon or your hands, press the mixture into place, leaving no air spaces. Then add the remaining fish mixture to the pan, spreading it evenly.

Cover the fish mixture with another rectangle of waxed paper that has been oiled on the side that will touch the fish.

Bake the loaf for about 50 minutes or until firm. Remove the pan from the oven and allow it to rest for 10 minutes. Carefully peel off the waxed paper from the top of the loaf. Then run a knife around the sides of the loaf to loosen it. Invert the loaf onto a serving dish and lift off the pan. If the second piece of waxed paper is still attached to the loaf, carefully peel it off and throw it away.

The loaf can be served warm, at room temperature or chilled. Cut into 1-inch thick slices. Serve with prepared horseradish or wasabi sauce.

Sriracha Cashews

Sriracha Cashews1The temperatures have peaked in the 90’s and even with air conditioning, I want EASY. I came across these nuts in an otherwise underwhelming recipe that used way too much soy sauce and was more effort than the result warranted. (I may make it again with some major changes, which I will post at a later date.) The nuts were to have been the garnish, but for me, they became the main attraction. And they are so ridiculously easy to make! Fair warning, though, they are addictive. Munch them with drinks – or anytime – and use them as a garnish over a simple stir-fry to take it to the next level. All you need are two ingredients, plus a sheet pan and an oven. The original recipe only made a half cup of nuts, but I have increased it to 2 cups because, let’s face it, a half cup will be gone before they are barely out of the oven. These nuts have just the right amount of spice – not so much that you will blow off the top of your head but just enough to wake up your taste buds.

Sriracha Cashews as part of a recipe for Grilled Soy-basted Chicken Thighs

Yield: 2 cups of nuts

Ingredients

2 cups of raw cashews

1/2 cup of Sriracha sauce

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.
  2. Mix the cashews with the Sriracha sauce in a bowl until all of the nuts are well coated. Pour onto the sheet pan, separating the nuts into a single layer with a little space in between. Don’t go crazy doing this. It’s simple, right?
  3. Bake in the oven, stirring once until the nuts are roasted and dry. The time will vary according to your oven, humidity etc. The original recipe suggested 20 minutes, but mine took about 1 hour to be the way I like them. The color when finished was almost mahogany. Roast them until the nuts are no longer sticky. Allow them to cool and then start munching. Sriracha Cashews

NOTE: If you are making these ahead and they get a little sticky, just pop them onto a sheet pan and put them back in a 300 degree F. oven for about 3-5 minutes to refresh them.

Eggplant Pâté (Bharta)

I have been making the Middle Eastern roasted eggplant pâté, both with and without tahini for years and I love it. However, I saw this recipe in an Indian cookbook and decided to try it for some variety. In Hindi bharta means a mishmash of sorts. This version uses ingredients from the peasant community in the northwest region of India. It is redolent with that smoky eggplant flavor and is wonderful as a side dish or spread on toasted baguette slices to go along with cocktails. Try it over smashed avocado for an even deeper dish. Eggplant Pate8While traditionally made with ghee (clarified butter) it can also be made with a neutral vegetable oil to keep it vegan. No matter how you try it, the result is wonderful and the recipe can easily be doubled or tripled if you are making it for a crowd. My husband LOVED this.

Eggplant Pâté (Bharta) from Indian Cooking Unfolded by Raghavan Iyer

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

1.5 pound firm purple eggplant without blemishes

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

1 rounded Tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger (I admit that I use the stuff from a jar)

1 fresh green chili, stems discarded, finely chopped (The recipe suggests using a Serrano chili, but that is a bit too hot for my taste so I used a jalapeno. Since it was quite large, I only ended up using half of the jalapeno.)

1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 Tablespoon ghee or Canola oil

1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

Juice from 1/2 of a small lime

1 Tablespoon, chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

  1. If you are grilling the eggplant, place it on the grill grate, cover the grill and cook, turning it periodically to ensure even grilling. Cook until the skin is evenly charred, about 25 minutes. If you are broiling the eggplant (which I did since I don’t own a grill), position the broiler rack so the eggplant will be about 6 inches from the heat. Place the eggplant on heavy duty foil directly on top of the rack and broil it, turning it midway until the skin is evenly charred. This takes about 30 minutes.
  2. Place the grilled eggplant in a bowl large enough to easily hold it and cover the bowl with plastic wrap to sweat the eggplant. This will take about 15 minutes. Once the eggplant is cool enough to handle, peel the eggplant skin away over the bowl using a soup spoon, discarding the skin and stem. Retain any of the liquid that has pooled in the bowl. Eggplant Pate6
  3. Smush the eggplant with a potato masher or your hands. Add the onion, ginger, chili, salt and turmeric and stir to mix well.
  4. Heat the oil or ghee in a medium skillet over medium heat. Once the oil or ghee begins to shimmer, sprinkle in the cumin seeds. They will instantly sizzle and perfume the air. This only takes about 5-10 seconds. Add the eggplant mixture and cook, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the skillet to make sure that nothing sticks. Cook for about 15 minutes until the flavors have mingled and are irresistible. Eggplant Pate2
  5. Stir in the lime juice and serve it warm with the chopped cilantro.

Steamed Artichokes with Tahini Sauce

Steamed Artichokes2Most people think of artichokes only as the hearts that come out of a can or jar or occasionally the freezer. They casually throw them into salad or maybe cook them with chicken and rice. Very little thought is given to the rest of the vegetable. I freely admit that steamed artichokes are an acquired taste – one that I acquired as a very young child. My mother frequently served them with a lemon butter sauce or a simple vinaigrette – both wonderful and something you should consider trying. I recall the fun of peeling off the leaves one by one and dipping them in the sauce while I grabbed that teeny bit of edible green at the bottom between my teeth. I would peel and dip and discard over and over anxiously waiting to get to the prize at the bottom – the artichoke heart. But first I had to winnow the leaves down until I came to the spiny purplish leaves which covered the fibrous choke. The trick then was to dig out the choke without losing even the tiniest bit of the heart. That wonderfully green, firm/tender taste of the heart was the final destination at the end of the journey.

I haven’t made artichokes in years but I saw a recipe in the Sunday Chicago Tribune newspaper by Leah Eskin that reminded me how truly simple they are to prepare and I made up my mind to make some. You want to find nice green, fat globes. They can be eaten warm or cold with a host of sauces. My husband was not a huge fan, but for me – well, it brought back many fond memories and I enjoyed it immensely. Give it a try and make up your own mind.

Steamed Artichokes with Tahini Sauce (I always make extra sauce since left-overs never go unused)

Yield: Makes 2 but can easily be doubled or tripled

Ingredients 

Steamed Artichokes

1 lemon cut in half

1/2 cup tahini

2 cloves of garlic

3/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt plus 2 teaspoons

1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or fresh cracked black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground sumac

2 bay leaves

2 large, fat artichokes

Directions

  1. Trim the stems of the artichokes with a large chef’s knife. You only want about 1/2 inch of stem and the artichoke should be able to sit flat on its bottom. Using the large knife, cut through the top third of the artichoke, discarding the leaves. Pull off any nasty leaves along the bottom of the artichoke. Using a pair of kitchen shears, snip off the sharp points of the remaining visible leaves so that the top of each leaf is flat.
  2. Place the artichokes cut side up in a deep pot that is large enough to hold them in a single layer. Pour in cold water to a depth of about one (1) inch. Place one garlic clove and the bay leaves in the bottom of the pot. Place 2 teaspoons of salt in the pot. Squeeze the juice of the lemon into a dish or measuring cup and set aside. Place the lemon halves (without the juice!) into the pot. Steamed Artichokes3Bring the water to a boil,cover the pot and reduce the temperature to a simmer. Steam until tender, which took 25 minutes for me. When the artichokes are tender (test by piercing a sharp knife into the base) carefully remove them from the water. Either use tongs or a large slotted spoon. Place them cut side down onto a clean dish towel and allow them to drain for at least 10 minutes. Discard everything else. The artichokes can be made up to a day ahead and eaten cold or you can eat them immediately.
  3. While the artichokes are cooking make your sauce. Place the well-stirred tahini into a bowl or measuring cup with the lemon juice. Whisk until well blended. Then add the remaining clove of garlic that has been crushed, the 3/4 teaspoon of salt, the Aleppo pepper and enough cold water to achieve the consistency of sauce that you like. When you serve them, be sure to have a place for people to discard the leaves and individuals bowls of the sauce for dipping. Steamed Artichokes4

Vegetable Fritters with Mango Chutney

Some weeks it is challenging to come up with something that I think is worthy of sharing. I had intended on sharing a recipe for a Neapolitan Curd Tart, (which I am still determined to do – someday…) but while certainly edible, it just wasn’t share-worthy. However, I did come across a vegan recipe for a vegetable fritter that uses red lentils as a binder and I was hooked.

I never really knew my maternal grandmother. She was already fairly old and quite ill by the time I came along. However, I was always told that she had “golden hands.” My grandmother was a wonderful cook and baker and also could sew anything. But getting recipes from her was nearly impossible. She made an ice box cookie that my mother once tried to watch her make in order to write it down. Grandma was always improving recipes and would measure with instructions like “If the flour feels a little heavy in your hand, take a little off” or If it feels a little light, add some more.” I guess even though I never really got to know my grandma, I take after her in some ways.  I’m fairly clever with my hands and I am constitutionally incapable of making a recipe exactly as written. While I am sure that the original recipe is very good (although I never made it that way) I have to say that the version I am presenting here is outstanding. But feel free to improve it yourself. Change the seasonings to suit your taste. And if you prefer sweet potato to regular potato – go for it.

Since I am not actually a vegan, I served this with a simple Greek yogurt that I flavored with Major Grey’s Chutney. If you wish to remain vegan you could stir the chutney into a good quality vegan mayonnaise or use it as is or you could make a tahini sauce instead. If you don’t like Indian flavorings (really?!!) you could season with pretty much any herbs or spices you like. These would make a wonderful appetizer or a summer dinner served over some peppery watercress or arugula with a nice glass of Chardonnay or a Rose and some fresh melon for dessert.

Vegetable Fritters with Mango Chutney by Sina from Vegan Heaven and seriously adapted by me

Vegetable Fritters with Mango Chutney

Yield: About 2 dozen 3-inch fritters

Ingredients

3/4 cup red lentils, well-rinsed and cooked until very soft (I used masoor dal, which are split red lentils, but any red lentil will do. Cook according to the package since the time and amount of water will vary with the type of lentil used.)

1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped (Any kind of onion will do; I used a yellow onion.)

2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

2 medium raw potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated (I used golden potatoes but a Russet would also work.)

1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely grated

1 ear of corn with kernels removed OR 1/2 cup of canned or frozen kernels

5 Tablespoons of flour (I used Besan or Gram flour made from chickpeas which adds flavor and protein, but you can use all-purpose flour if that is all you have.)

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika

1 generous teaspoon of Garam Masala

1 scant teaspoon of Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

Oil for frying (I used Grapeseed oil)

Directions

  1. Cook the red lentils according to the package or until very mushy. Drain any excess liquid and set aside to cool.
  2. Mix together all of the remaining ingredients (except for the oil!) in a large bowl. Vegetable Fritters with Mango Chutney3
  3. Heat a shallow layer of oil in a non-stick or cast-iron skillet until hot but not smoking. Add about 1.5 Tablespoons of the mixture into the pan. I used a cookie scoop to make it easy. Using the back of a spatula, slightly flatten the fritters. Fry until browned on one side and then turn to brown on the other side. The whole process takes about 6-8 minutes. How crispy you like them is a matter of personal preference and since there is no raw egg you don’t have to worry about under cooking the fritters.  Vegetable Fritters with Mango Chutney4I placed browned fritters on a Silpat covered sheet pan in a warm oven while I continued frying. Alternatively you can place them on a plate lined with paper towels and serve immediately.  Vegetable Fritters with Mango Chutney2Any left-overs can be refrigerated and reheated the next day in the oven or in a frying pan.
  4. Serve with any sauce you wish, although, honestly, these are also good just as is.

NOTE of CAUTION: Be a little careful of popping corn kernels if they are in the oil for too long!

Carrot, Orange, Ginger and Walnut Dip

Carrot, Orange, Ginger and Walnut dip

I’m always looking for something that my guests can nibble on with drinks that will stimulate their appetite but which won’t overwhelm my main meal. I came across this dip which is adapted from Feasts: Middle Eastern Food to Savor and Share by Sabrina Ghayour. While I haven’t explored the actual book or any other recipes, based on this I am anxious to see what else Ms. Ghayour has in store.

I made this dip for Passover but it would be excellent anytime. And since it is vegan, it can be used at any meal if you observe food restrictions for whatever reason. If you are unfamiliar with nigella seeds, they are definitely worth trying. They can be found at any decent spice store or online and will be used in Indian as well as Middle Eastern recipes. Nigella is also known as black caraway, black cumin or fennel or kalonji seeds. Any left-over dip will easily last a week in the refrigerator.

Carrot, Orange, Ginger and Walnut Dip 

Yield: 8-10 servings

Ingredients

1 pound carrots, peeled and very roughly chopped

5.3 ounces of walnut pieces, very lightly toasted in a dry pan on the stove (As soon as you begin to smell the nut, remove it immediately from the heat!)

1 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

1 well-rounded teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

4-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and finely grated

3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

2 Tablespoons of Agave syrup or honey

Zest and juice of 2 large unwaxed oranges

About 4 Tablespoons (1/4 cup) EVOO

3 Tablespoons nigella seeds

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Garnish

Coarsely chopped cilantro

Whole walnuts

Directions

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add the carrots. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the carrots are just tender (about 10 minutes). When a sharp knife inserted into a carrot chunk comes out without any resistance, the carrot is done. Immediately drain under cold water to halt the cooking.
  2. In a food processor combine all of the ingredients up through the EVOO. You want a course puree. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle in a little more EVOO if you prefer a slightly looser consistency. I did not. Pulse through the nigella seeds and serve with a whole walnut and/or some coarsely chopped cilantro on top.