Creole Black Bean Soup

Creole Black Bean1

Autumn is truly a transitional season in Chicago. One day it is summer temperatures and humid and the next may be crisp and bright or chilly and damp. I enjoy soup at any time of the year, but this season requires a little more thought when deciding just what soup to make. I clearly don’t want a cold soup if the next time I go to serve left-overs it is now in the 50’s and raining and I don’t want a super hearty soup if the temperatures are climbing into the upper 70’s. This black bean soup seems the perfect compromise. It is rich and satisfying yet not overly heavy. I found the recipe in an older cookbook of mine and with a few adjustments, it was a delicious make-ahead Sunday meal accompanied by a salad and crisp bread. After a long walk along our beautiful lakefront, it was good to come home to this simple and homey meal.

Creole Black Bean Soup from The Peasant Kitchen by Perla Meyers

Yield: 6-8 servings  Creole Black Bean2


1 pound of dried black beans (2 cups)

1 pound of thick-cut or slab bacon (you can use any kind – turkey, duck, lamb, beef or pork; it is the smoked flavor that you want) cut into 2-inch pieces

About 1 pound of smoked meat (I like smoked turkey legs but ham hocks or any other good smoked meat will work)

2 Tablespoons EVOO

2 large onions, peeled and chopped in small dice

5 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

2 large leeks, well-washed, trimmed and thinly sliced (include some of the lighter green)

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 teaspoon dried oregano

1 teaspoon ground coriander

Kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste

8 cups of chicken or vegetable stock

1/2 cup dark rum OR 1 cup of Madeira (I used the rum) (This is NOT optional!)

2-3 Tablespoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice


  1. Soak the beans overnight. Drain them the next day.
  2. In a heavy stockpot or Dutch oven large enough to hold everything, add your bacon and brown the pieces until almost crisp. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked bacon to a strainer or plate lined with paper towels.
  3. Wipe out the pot leaving just a shimmer of fat. Add the EVOO and heat on medium high heat. Add the onion, leeks and garlic and cook the mixture until it has softened and just begun to brown. Add the herbs, beans and smoked meats. Add the stock and bring the mixture to a boil, skimming any of the scum that may rise to the top. Once you have removed most of the scum (a little bit left won’t matter), reduce the heat to a simmer and cover the pot tightly. Simmer at a very low heat for 4 hours.
  4. At the end of the four hours and after the soup has cooled enough to easily handle it, remove the turkey leg or other smoked meat and pick out the meat, discarding the skin, bones and any other detritus. Using an immersion blender, coarsely blend the soup in the pot. You don’t want a perfectly smooth end product; you just want to puree some of the soup, leaving chunky bits of bacon, vegetables and beans. Add the meat back to the mixture and taste. Add your salt, pepper, rum and lemon juice.
  5. To serve, gently reheat the soup. DO NOT allow it to come to a full boil! It can be served with cooked rice, but I preferred a fresh, warm country-style bread with a good crust.  IMG_3667


Another Brisket


Brisket is my go-to dish when I am feeding a crowd, especially for the holidays. I usually buy a whole brisket weighing in at between 8 and 9 pounds since left-overs are always welcome. The beauty is that it can (and actually should) be made ahead, freezes and reheats wonderfully. It makes great sandwiches and I even grind up the bits and pieces to stuff into dumplings or mix with eggs. I’ve even used the meat mixed in with ground meat for burgers or meatloaf and half placed some meat on top of pizza. My favorite recipe uses onion soup mix, Bennett’s Chili Sauce and Coca Cola. I know that sounds awful but it is actually incredibly delicious. You do have to buy the real Coca Cola – preferably made with sugar instead of corn syrup – none of this diet stuff. It is the sugar that caramelizes the meat as it cooks and no one would ever guess the ingredient. But as much of a crowd-pleaser as that version is, I get bored making it. I can do it in my sleep. So this past weekend I bought a first-cut piece of brisket weighing a little over 4 pounds and decided to experiment since it is only my husband and me at home right now. Here’s what I came up with. It might not replace my holiday brisket, but sometimes it’s nice for a change.

Another Brisket

Yield: 8 servings


4-5 pound first-cut brisket

1 Tablespoon unsweetened, Dutch-process cocoa

1 packet Onion Soup mix (8 Tablespoons)

15 ounce can, dark, sweet pitted cherries in syrup

6 ounces dark porter (I used a chocolate porter. Drink the remainder – you probably deserve it! A nice stout should work as well.)

1/2 cup strong, black coffee

1 Tablespoon tamarind paste

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)

1/2 Tablespoon chili powder

2 Tablespoons dark brown sugar


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. In a baking dish that is large enough to hold the brisket laid out flat with room for the other ingredients, place the brisket fat-side up. Add all of the other ingredients and smush them over and under the brisket. Cover the pan with parchment and a tight-fitting lid or foil.
  3. Place on a baking sheet in the oven and bake for 3.25 hours. No peaking.
  4. At the end of the baking time, allow the brisket to cool enough until it is easy to handle. Remove the brisket (I use my hands!) allowing the liquid to drip into the pan and place on a large cutting board. Pour the liquid into a large saucepan. Bring the liquid to a boil and boil the sauce until it is reduced by about half. It should nicely coat a spoon at this point. Remove the sauce from the heat and using an immersion blender, puree the sauce.
  5. Meanwhile, using a long, sharp knife, slice the brisket against the grain into slices that are about 3/8 inch thick. At this point, either place the slices in containers to use later or in a baking dish if you plan on serving it that day. Cover the meat with sauce. You will have plenty!
  6. When you are ready to eat the brisket, it can be re-warmed in a 325 degree F oven for 30 minutes or can even be microwaved. Serve it with a favorite starch – polenta, noodles or potatoes for example – and a salad or veg.

Harissa Chicken with Leeks, Potatoes and Yogurt


I really love meals that I can prep a day ahead – especially when everything is cooked on one pan that I cover with foil, making clean-up a breeze. Sheet pan meals are all the rage now and I have been trying a few of them out, including a Honey-Sesame Tofu with Green Beans that I now have my husband making. I came across this chicken recipe in the Parade Magazine that accompanies my Sunday newspaper. Its provenance is from a new cookbook by New York Times Columnist Melissa Clark called Dinner: Changing the Game. I made a couple of small changes but the biggest change came because my husband ended up having to work late last night so everything was prepped yesterday and marinated in the fridge for a day. I can only believe that it improved the wonderful flavors and made tonight’s dinner a snap.

Harissa is a North African-style chili paste that is now available in many supermarkets and online. There is both red harissa and green harissa. Either would work here, but I used the red. How much you use will be a matter of personal taste as well as the heat of the particular brand of harissa that you are using. I like a lot of flavor, but I don’t like my food so hot that all I am tasting is heat and nothing else. The 2 Tablespoons of harissa that I used produced an intensely flavorful dish with just a little heat. You could easily increase the amounts to make this for a crowd. You must use fresh herbs here and a good Greek yogurt. This recipe is definitely a keeper and one that will appear on our rotation many times. I only added a simple salad to complete the meal.  IMG_3047

Harissa Chicken with Leeks, Potatoes and Yogurt IMG_3044

Yield: 4 servings


4-6 chicken thighs (depending on size – about 2 pounds) on the bone and with the skin

1.5 pounds of fingerling potatoes, sliced in half lengthwise

2 teaspoons Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (You can use cracked black but I really encourage you to buy the flavorful, citrusy Aleppo pepper)

3 Tablespoons EVOO

2 Tablespoons harissa or to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (Grind your own if you can!)

2 leeks (white and light green parts only) washed, trimmed, sliced in half lengthwise and then thinly sliced

Grated zest of one lemon

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

1.5 Tablespoons EVOO

1 cup plain Greek yogurt

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1 garlic clove

1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground sumac (optional but really good)

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1 cup chopped fresh herbs, divided in 2 (I used a combination of dill, mint and parsley)

Juice of 1/2 lemon


  1. Place the first seven (7) ingredients in a one gallon freezer bag along. Seal the bag well and gently smush everything around to distribute the seasonings. If you are anxious (I was) place the bag inside of a second freezer bag and put it in the fridge for at least 4 hours and as much as one day.
  2.  Place the next 4 ingredients in a one quart freezer bag and seal it well. Gently smush the leeks around to distribute the zest, salt and EVOO. Refrigerate along side the chicken.
  3. When you are ready to cook, cover a sheet pan with 2-inch sides with heavy duty aluminum foil. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F.
  4. Place the chicken and potatoes on the pan in a single layer along with any liquid. Roast for about 20 minutes. Then scatter the leeks over the chicken and potatoes and roast for an additional 20 minutes or until everything is golden and slightly crispy.
  5. In a small bowl combine the yogurt and all ingredients (Only half of the fresh herbs) keeping the final 1/2 lemon and the other half of the herbs for garnish. Stir with a small whisk or fork.

Baked Pasta in Eggplant: Pasta Incaciata


It probably wasn’t my brightest idea to make this dish when I had no one available to help me and I’m still recovering from hand surgery. However, the fact that I could proves that it is not too difficult. This recipe is based on one from the Extra Virgin Cookbook by Gabriele Corcos and Debbie Mazar. It is actually pretty flexible and could even be made as a vegetarian entree if you preferred. The presentation has that wow factor that turns relatively mundane ingredients into a dish that you could be proud to serve to company. Just add crusty bread, a green salad and a good bottle of red wine. Please consider the ingredients as a jumping off point for your own creativity. And one real advantage of this dish is that you can prepare the elements separately as befits your schedule and then assemble them when you are ready.

Baked Pasta in Eggplant: Pasta Incaciata

Yield: 8-12 servings


Softened butter for greasing the pan

2-3 eggplants (about 3 pounds total weight)

1/4 cup plus 2 Tablespoons dried seasoned breadcrumbs (I used crumbs that had Italian seasonings, but you could use plain and add your own oregano and basil)

4 Tablespoons freshly grated Pecorino Romano, Asiago or Parmigiano cheese plus more for topping

1 pound fresh, uncooked Italian sausage (sweet or “hot”), removed from its casing

3 large garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup full-bodied red wine (use whatever you will be drinking for dinner)

About 4 cups of Red Sauce (Either a good quality bought sauce or make the Butter Roasted Tomato Sauce). You do not want the pasta to be drowning in sauce or it will never hold together.

1 pound ziti or penne, cooked al dente according to package instructions

1 pound of fontina or fresh mozzarella cheese, shredded, plus more for the topping

EVOO or Grapeseed Oil

Aquafaba (optional – see note below under frying eggplant)

Kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste (Go easy on the salt since the cheese is very salty.)

Red pepper flakes (optional)


  1. Generously grease a 9-inch spring-form pan with the softened butter. In a small bowl combine 1/4 cup of the dried breadcrumbs with 2 Tablespoons of the grated Pecorino Romano. Scatter the mixture evenly over the sides and bottom of the pan, discarding any crumbs that do not adhere to the butter. I only ended up using about half of this mixture but used the rest after I added the eggplant.
  2. In a large skillet, brown the sausage, breaking it up so that you end up with crumbled meat rather than big chunks. There should be enough fat in the meat that it doesn’t require any additional oil, but if you are concerned about it sticking or burning, add a little EVOO. When it begins to brown but is not completely cooked through, add the garlic and parsley and continue cooking until the meat is cooked through and the garlic is fragrant. (If you seem to have a lot of excess fat in the pan, carefully drain most of it off before the next step.) Now add the red wine and cook until the wine has become almost syrupy. Add the red sauce, simmering for about 5 minutes, while mixing everything through. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Mix the sauce and the shredded cheese through the cooked pasta and then set the mixture aside. This part even be made a day ahead.
  4. Trim the ends off of the eggplants and cut them lengthwise into 1/4-inch planks. Generously salt the eggplant pieces and allow them to sit for 30 minutes. This will remove any bitterness that you might get from the seeds of bigger eggplants. After 30 minutes, rinse the pieces very well under cold water and dry each piece with paper towels.
  5. In a large skillet, heat 3-4 Tablespoons of EVOO or Grapeseed Oil. (NOTE: I found that if I brushed each piece of eggplant with a bit of aquafaba that I had lightly whisked with a fork until frothy, that the eggplant used much less oil.) Place the eggplant slices into the hot oil and cook until browned, turning once so both sides are done. Transfer the cooked slices to a baking sheet lined with paper towels to absorb any excess oil. You can lightly salt and pepper the eggplant slices to taste if you wish.
  6. When you are ready to assemble the eggplant “cake” take one slice of eggplant and place the wider end in the middle of the prepared pan. Carefully bring the piece of eggplant up the side of the pan so that the narrowest part of the eggplant overhangs the top of the pan. Continue doing this with all of the eggplant pieces, slightly overlapping where necessary so you have total coverage. You might need to place a smaller piece over the bottom of the pan to cover any gaps and excess pieces will be used on the top once you have added the filling. Sprinkle any excess bread crumb mixture over the eggplants on the bottom of the pan.
  7. Carefully pour the pasta into the pan, mounding it slightly. If you have any excess, it can be baked separately for another dinner or frozen for a later use.
  8. Gently fold the overhanging strips of eggplant over the top of the pasta. Use and extra eggplant slices to fill in any gaps. You want total coverage. IMG_2970
  9. Cover the top with plastic wrap and place a large plate on top with a weight. I used 2 bricks that I keep for this purpose but you could use canned vegetables. The plate should be sitting on the pasta. Keep this weighted for at least 4 hours but I did it overnight in the fridge. (Okay, to be honest, it was cold enough outside that I actually placed it on my terrace. We are high enough up that I don’t have to worry about any critters.)
  10. When you are ready to bake the “cake” preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the weights and the plastic wrap. Sprinkle the top with any additional grated Pecorino Romano, shredded fontina and 2 Tablespoons of seasoned breadcrumbs. Drizzle lightly with EVOO. Cover the “cake” loosely with foil and place on a baking sheet. You might want to cover the baking sheet with foil since there likely will be some oil seepage. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking until the top is browned and bubbling. Remove from the oven and allow it to rest for about 20 minutes Carefully open the latch on the pan and remove the outer ring of the spring-form. Slice wedges as you would a cake and serve. But first allow your guests to ooh and ahhh! IMG_2983

Beef Stew

img_2350My sister has been after me to make my beef stew and since the weather has turned autumnal, I’m happy to comply. I’ve made Julia Child’s Boeuf Bourguignon and frankly, I like this better and it is much less fuss. There is also a lot of built-in flexibility with my version. I happen to like really big chunks of meat and LOTS of vegetables. Sometimes I actually run out of room in my cocotte and I have to leave out the mushrooms. It still is wonderful. I always use wine in my stew but you could use only beef stock and it would still be delicious. The one thing I am adamant about, however, is that the meat you use should be a well-marbled chuck roast. This is cooked “low and slow” and something that is leaner will end up like shoe leather. I buy my chuck roast whole and trim and cut it myself. It really only takes about 15 minutes to cut up yourself and is well-worth the time. Other than peeling the potatoes, there isn’t that much active time with this dish, so take the time and cut the meat yourself. This way you can have lovely large, meaty, moist chunks of beef and who wouldn’t want that?! I have made this in a slow cooker but prefer the results when I make it in the oven. This dish can – and should – be made ahead. The flavors only improve with age and reheating. Purely for aesthetics, I would, therefore, only add my peas just before serving when I am heating the stew through or I add them straight from the freezer into the hot stew after I have turned off the heat when I know that I will be only reheating this once. You can of course, make this and eat it in the same day. It just is even better when made a day in advance.

Lisa’s Beef Stew

Yield: 6 to 8 servings


4.25 pounds of untrimmed chuck roast (This will yield about 3.75 pounds trimmed)

2 Tablespoons EVOO

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste (don’t be too stingy)

2 cups beef stock

2 cups red wine (Use what you will be drinking – a cabernet or malbec or zinfandel)

28 ounces canned tomatoes, preferably fire roasted

5 Tablespoons Minute Tapioca

1 Tablespoon dried thyme

2 bay leaves

2 teaspoons sugar (brown or white)

1 pound baby carrots

1.5 pounds small red or Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled but left whole

10 ounces pearl onions (Use frozen – it is NOT worth the effort to peel fresh ones. Trust me, I’ve done it!)

10 ounces frozen peas (If you prefer, you could use green beans, cut into thirds, but I always use peas…)

8 ounces of brown mushrooms like a Cremini or Baby Bellas, halved or quartered (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
  2. Trim the roast and cut into large chunks (2 x 2 inches)img_2344img_2345
  3. Toss the meat with salt and pepper
  4. Brown on all sides in a heavy Dutch Oven or Cocotte in the heated EVOO. I did this in two batches. When your last batch has browned, add back all of the meat along with the bay leaves and canned tomatoes.
  5. Sprinkle the Tapioca, sugar and thyme over the meat and mix through. Add the wine and beef stock. Bring to a boil, cover and place in the oven. Cook for 1.5 hours.
  6. After 1.5 hours, add in the carrots, onions and potatoes and gently stir through. Re-cover the pot and place it back in the oven for another hour. If you are using the mushrooms, add them now and cook for another 30 minutes. Otherwise just cook the stew for the additional 30 minutes for a total of 3 hours. Turn off the heat and add in the frozen peas, gently mixing through. Allow the stew to cool, covered. I don’t bother refrigerating it if I am using it the next day but feel free. When you are ready to eat the stew, place it in a 300 degree oven for about 30 – 45 minutes until heated through. Adjust your seasonings if necessary.

Note: Because you are using the Minute Tapioca, there is no need to thicken the sauce or to add a roux. I told you this was easy! Serve this with a crusty bread and a green salad.

Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce

img_2288OMG! I came across this recipe by accident, printed it out and then did nothing with it for months! What a fool I was. This is one of those recipes that doesn’t look like much, but is actually amazing – and it is made with entirely shelf-stable foods – well except for the butter, but I actually consider that shelf stable since it lasts for a long time and I always have it on hand. Don’t get me wrong – olive oil is wonderful and I used it even when years ago they told us it wasn’t good for you, but sometimes butter really is better. The finished product looks deceptively unassuming, but the taste – oh the taste! This is a keeper if for no other reason than your house will smell incredible. The actual sauce can be made up to 4 days ahead.

Bucatini with Butter-Roasted Tomato Sauce by Dawn Perry Bon Appetit

Yield: 4 servings


28 ounces of whole canned tomatoes (use San Marzano please)

8 to 10 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

3 anchovy fillets packed in olive oil (I promise that you won’t see them in the finished product)

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of unsalted butter cut into 8 pieces

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (we found 1/2 teaspoon was a bit spicy for us, but we are not particularly into heat)

Kosher salt and freshly ground cracked black pepper

12 ounces bucatini (if you absolutely can’t find bucatini, use spaghetti)

Grated Parmesan, Pecorino or Asiago for serving


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In a large rectangular baking dish, combine the tomatoes (crushing lightly with your hands), garlic, anchovies, butter and red pepper flakes. Season with a little (about 1/2 teaspoon) of salt and several good cracks of black pepper.
  2. Roast, tossing once halfway through, for about an hour to 1 hour. Using a fork or potato masher, break up the tomatoes and garlic. The consistency should be like loose jam. I cooked my sauce in the morning up to this point, covered it and went out for the day.
  3. 30 minutes before you are ready to eat, warm the sauce, covered in a 350 degree F oven. Meanwhile boil the water for the pasta and cook according to directions.
  4. Just before you pour out the pasta to drain, take 1/2 cup of the starchy water and add it to the tomato mixture, stirring it through.
  5. Drain your pasta and add it to the tomato mixture, mixing it through to coat everything with the sauce. It’s a powerful sauce filled with flavor so don’t get hung up on the fact that it doesn’t look impressive. Serve it topped with cheese and fresh chopped parsley or basil if you want some color.

Note: This sauce would make a wonderful pizza sauce; simply don’t add the pasta water.

Chicken Chasseur (Hunter Stew)

img_2233I enjoy broiled, baked or roasted chicken as much as the next person, but it does get boooooring! While staring at my fridge and pantry hoping for inspiration, I realized that I had all of the makings for chicken chasseur. I’m sure that there are many versions of this dish, some that are more complicated and also fattier. I have nothing against some good old fat – especially butter  or lardons- but this version is based on one by Jacques Pepin from his cookbook Jacques Pepin’s Table. His version calls for chicken thighs on the bone, which are flavorful and less prone to drying out than the breast meat; however, I had boneless chicken breasts in my fridge so that is what I used. I made a couple of other small adjustments to suit personal taste. This version is delicious and simple enough to make on a weeknight and is ready in under an hour.

Chicken Chasseur

Yields: 4 servings


1 Tablespoon EVOO

About 2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken breasts (If they are large, cut them into two pieces each)

1 leek, trimmed, cleaned and thinly sliced (White and light green part only)

1 large shallots, peeled, halved and thinly sliced

1.5 Tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup dry white wine (I happened to have an open dry rose so that was what I used)

1 can (15 ounces) diced tomatoes in their own juice (I like fire-roasted)

6 cloves of garlic, peeled, crushed and finely chopped (about 1 Tablespoon)

12 ounces of small to medium mushrooms, cleaned and trimmed (Cut in half  or even quarters if they are larger)

1 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoons fresh

3/4 teaspoon dried rosemary or 1.5 teaspoon fresh

3/4 teaspoon dried tarragon or 1.5 teaspoons fresh

1 teaspoon Kosher or Sea Salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper


  1. Heat the EVOO in a large non-stick or heavy-bottomed skillet. Add the chicken breasts in one layer and cook them for 5 minutes on each side over medium high heat. Transfer the breasts to a large platter and cover lightly with foil to keep warm.
  2. To the drippings in the pan, add the leek and onion and saute for 1 minute. Add the flour and mix it in well for about 30 seconds. Then pour in the wine and tomatoes and bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat.
  3. Add back the chicken breasts. Stir in the garlic, mushrooms and all of the herbs and seasonings EXCEPT for the tarragon. Bring the mixture to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to low and cook for about 15 minutes more. If you are using chicken on the bone or dark meat, you may have to cook a little longer.
  4. When ready to serve, sprinkle in the tarragon. This is delicious as is but I like to serve it over a flat ribboned pasta like a pappardelle. It only needs a green salad to complete the meal – well and wine, of course!


Eggplant and Tomato Bake


I have never met an eggplant that I didn’t like and frankly cannot understand when someone tells me they don’t eat eggplants. They can be prepared so many ways! And they are beautiful. So when I saw this recipe for Tian d’Aubergines in last week’s Chicago Tribune I had to try it. Tomatoes are at their most gorgeous now and I was able to pick up some luscious ripe ones at my local market. The only thing I changed from the original recipe was to add garlic because who makes eggplant without garlic?? I also layered my herbs and salt and pepper because – well, layering flavors is just better. This dish can be eaten hot, room temperature or cold. I am serving it at room temperature tonight with some lamb chops and a lovely rosé from Provence. I imagine that leftovers will be eaten with just some crusty bread to soak up all of the delicious liquid and a bright green salad. I did buy some Greek cheese the other day so I might have some sliced on the side. This is one of those wonderfully simple and versatile dishes like a good ratatouille. I was skeptical when I read that it baked for two hours, but the final result is deliciously unctuous so don’t skimp on the baking time.

Eggplant and Tomato Bake from Monique Hanson


Yield: 6 to 8 servings

2 medium yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced

Lots of fresh thyme leaves

3 medium eggplants

4 large ripe tomatoes

5 large cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

4 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard

8 Tablespoons EVOO plus more for drizzling

Kosher or sea salt to taste and fresh ground black pepper or Aleppo pepper if you have it


  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly drizzle oil on the bottom of a heavy rectangular baking dish (mine was 9.5 by 13) large enough to hold everything very snugly (there will be some shrinkage when it bakes). Place the baking dish on a pan since there might be a little spillage when it bakes.
  2. Layer the onions and garlic over the bottom of the pan and sprinkle with lots of fresh thyme leaves, a sprinkling of salt and some pepper.
  3. Cut off both ends of the eggplants and then slice almost all of the way through but not entirely at 1/2 inch intervals. Slice your tomatoes and nestle one slice between the cuts in the eggplant.
  4. Place the stuffed eggplants in the baking pan over the onion and garlic. Don’t worry if you have to squish things a little to force them in. They will bake down. Sprinkle with more thyme, salt and pepper.
  5. In a small bowl, make the vinaigrette. Mix well and drizzle it over the eggplant. Drizzle a little more EVOO and sprinkle a little more salt.
  6. Bake uncovered for 1 hour. Then cover and bake for another hour until the eggplant is cooked through, the house smells amazing and the liquid is bubbling up in the baking dish. Serve at any temperature that you choose.

Braised Curried Chicken with Star Anise


Week-nights it can be difficult to motivate me to cook for just the two of us – especially when I never know exactly when my husband will be home from work. This comforting recipe from The Thousand Recipe Chinese Cookbook by Gloria Bley Miller is a wonderful choice. The recipe doesn’t require a million ingredients, is not expensive and can be made ahead and reheated. This cookbook dates from before ethnic cooking was so widely popular and is a wonderful Chinese cookbook primer. It’s recipes are very flexible and surely everyone can find things they would enjoy. I have adapted this recipe, but the inspiration is definitely from GB Miller. If you are feeling particularly stressed for time, buy pre-chopped garlic and ginger root. My chicken will be served with some fresh, bright green sugar snap peas that I have quickly stir-fried with a little salt, garlic and sugar and a splash of sesame oil before dishing out.

Braised Curried Chicken with Star Anise

Yield: 4-6 servings


6 chicken drumsticks, skin removed

4 chicken thighs, skin removed and cut in half

2 medium onions, chopped

1 Tablespoon finely chopped garlic

1 Tablespoon, finely grated or chopped fresh ginger root

4 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided (I used Canola oil)

1 Tablespoon all-purpose flour

2 Tablespoons curry powder (If you want it spicy, use “hot” curry powder)

1 Tablespoon granulated sugar

2 Tablespoons soy sauce

2 cups chicken stock (I always try to use unsalted stock)

1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt

4 cloves of star anise

1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into large dice (I used red baby bliss but Yukon Gold would also be good)


  1. Heat 2 Tablespoons of the oil in a Dutch oven and stir-fry the onions until they soften. Then add the garlic and stiry-fry for a bout 3 more minutes.
  2. Add the additional 2 Tablespoons of oil, ginger, flour and curry powder and stir through to blend well over a low heat.
  3. Turn the heat up to medium-high and add the chicken. Stir through, turning the chicken to coat.
  4. Add the sugar, soy sauce, salt and star anise. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer, cover and cook for 30 minutes. Then add the potatoes and cook for about 30 more minutes or until the potatoes are tender and the chicken is cooked through
  5. If making ahead, about 35 minutes before serving, gently bring the dish to a simmer and warm through.

Egyptian Ground Fish Balls – Bellahat

fish balls on platter with garnish

I have never loved gefilte fish – even when it is homemade – but I wanted a fish first course and this recipe caught my eye. Egyptian Jews make it for holidays, including Shabbat meals. I made it for the first time last year and it was huge hit, so I made it again this year. The key is finding a fish monger with beautiful fresh fish, who will grind it up for you and fresh herbs and spices. You can grind the fish yourself but having someone else do it makes this dish pretty easy to make. Any leftovers make terrific lunches for the rest of the week. Frances has already placed her “order” for her flight home, which unfortunately is tomorrow. These are best made a day ahead so the Bellahat can absorb the flavors of the wonderfully savory sauce. Because I know my audience, I make these flavorful, but not too hot. I have recently discovered the joys and wonder of Aleppo pepper, which is a sweet, savory hot pepper that never overwhelms. I made lavish use of it this Passover, and will make sure that this is now a staple in my spice pantry.

Egyptian Ground Fish Balls with Tomato and Cumin (Bellahat) from Jayne Cohen’s Jewish Holiday Cooking.

Yield: About 8 servings, but can easily be doubled


For the Fish Balls

1.5 pounds (net) of a non-oily white-fleshed fish like flounder, cod, sea bass, snapper or grouper (I used Red Snapper) with the skin and bones removed and finely ground

1/2 cup matza meal

2 large eggs

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Aleppo pepper (or cayenne if you want it really hot) to taste

2 Tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

For the Sauce

1 Tablespoon finely chopped garlic

3 Tablespoons EVOO

One 28 ounce can of San Marzano or other high quality whole tomatoes, with their juice and broken up

NOTE: (You can make this with fresh plum tomatoes and sweet red and yellow peppers, but I try to put my efforts where it really makes a significant difference. And if the plum tomatoes are not in season from a farmer’s market, don’t even bother.)

Kosher salt and more Aleppo Pepper

Juice of one large lemon

Soft-leaf lettuce for serving

Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley or lemon wedges for garnish


  1. I make my sauce first.In a large heavy saute pan or deep skillet, warm the garlic in 2 Tablespoons of EVOO until fragrant but not brown.
  2. Add the tomatoes and their juice, salt and pepper to taste. Cook over moderately high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are broken up and the sauce has thickened.
  3. Stir in the remaining 1 Tablespoon of EVOO and the lemon juice. fish balls adding lemon to tomato baseTurn off the heat while you make the fish balls.
  4. In a food processor or by hand, combine the finely ground fish with all of the other ingredients and either pulse until well-combined or mix thoroughly with your balls after mixing
  5. With hands moistened in cold water, shape the mixture into 16 slightly flattened ovoids, using about a 1/4 cup for each.
  6. Turn the heat on under the sauce and add the fish balls directly into the sauce. fish balls simmering in paella panWhen all of the fish balls are nestled in the sauce, bring the sauce to a simmer on a low heat. Cover the pan and cook the fish balls for 20-25 minutes until the fish balls are firm and cooked through, turning them once. Turn off the heat and adjust any seasonings of the sauce. Allow the fish balls to cool in the sauce and refigerate over night or up to 48 hours.
  7. Serve on a platter or individual plates with the lettuce leaves, the fish balls and sauce and sprinkled with chopped parsley or cilantro.

NOTE: I like a slightly chunky sauce, but if you prefer a smooth one, remove the fish balls from the sauce before serving and using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.