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There wasn't much of this Persian Eggplant Dip left to photograph, but I did my best.

Sometimes the best recipes are the simplest. Here’s a recipe my dad shared with me verbally on a recent visit. It was inspired, in part, by the eggplants then growing in the family garden.

Our conversation went something  like this:

Dad: “You know what you can do with this eggplant? Take a whole eggplant and roast it in  the oven.”

Me: “Do you have to poke holes in it? You know, to let the steam escape?”

Dad: “No, just let it roast really well until it starts to cave in on itself. You might have to turn it over once.

Then cook some onions in a pan on the stove for a few minutes. Then you add in some garlic. . .”

Me: “Do you add any spices to the onions and garlic?”

This is the type of eggplant growing in the family garden, and this is the type I used back in New York to make the Persian Eggplant Dip recipe my dad had shared with me on a visit this summer. Photo courtesy of Stock.xchng

Dad: “No, just salt and pepper. Anyways, you cook the onions and garlic until they’re soft. Then you can add in a little bit tomato and cook that for a minute.

Then you cut the eggplant, take out everything, and mix it in with the onion and garlic. Cook it until. . .let it get warm.

You can eat this like a dip with some cheese and bread [My dad loves cheese and bread. To the point that they make their own].

Or you can even have this as dinner. You can eat it cold, too. “

Me: “Wow, that sounds really easy and healthy. But like it would be really satisfying too. “

Dad nods in agreement, and I’m thinking, “New blog post. Score!”

So yes, that’s the recipe. I suspect that second to leaning recipes by doing, the verbal passing down of recipes is historically the second most common way recipes are passed down through the generations.

More specs:

Oven roasting temp? 400-425 F worked well for me.

Length of roasting time? For 2 medium eggplants, start with half an hour. Turn them over at 15 minutes.

Goats on the farm. There's only one goat who my dad milks, because she is no longer nursing but still producing milk. That one goat yields about a gallon of milk a day. Udderly ridiculous. They use the milk to make yogurt and goat cheese.

How long to cook the onions? 10 to 15 minutes. Add the garlic in the last few minutes so that it doesn’t get bitter or burn. Alternately, you can smash is pre-roasted garlic at the last minute if you have some on hand.

Optional Extras? Garnish with fresh herbs of your choice. I mixed in a few dollops of goat cheese in a fromage homage to the goats my fam keeps. They make their own goat cheese from their milk.  I avoid dairy for the most part, but definitely enjoy a few smidges of goat cheese when I visit the fam. It’s sooooo good and fresh!

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Baby eggplants stuffed with lean ground chicken, pine nuts, scallions, and walnuts. Topped with a warm sour-cherry pomegranate sauce.

Maybe I”m too easily amused, but a trip to the farmer’s market is one of the highlights of my week. I’m quite obsessed with farmer’s markets, really. To the point that I’ll always try to hit up the local markets when I travel. It’s a cool way to get a feel for a city or town. The vibe, the people, the types of food that grow there. It’s informative, fresh, and chill.

Mini eggplants at my neighborhood farmer's market. A steal at $1.50 per pound.

Right now, eggplant is in season in my corner of the world. In particular, those precious baby aubergines, with hues ranging from lavender to deep purple. They were just begging me to buy them and stuff them silly.

Full disclosure moment: Today’s recipe is a total riff on something Joumana of Taste of Beirut did recently.  Her Eggplant in Walnut and Pomegranate sauce was too tempting to pass up. The first time around, I honored her recipe and it was fabulous. Then I decided to experiment and make a meat-stuffed eggplant with a sour cherry pomegranate sauce.

Fairytale eggplant, to the left. Yes, they're really called that. These petite beauties are delicious stuffed.

The eggplants are left unpeeled, then baked, and finally stuffed with a mixture of ground chicken, ground walnuts, scallions, and pine nuts. Then they’re sauced with a simple mixture of sour cherry preserves (or juice), pomegranate paste, and chili pepper. It’s a meal that’s satisfying without being heavy, and it’s pretty darn good for you too.

So thank you, Joumana and to my local farmers market for providing the inspiration for today’s dish.

So delicious, so healthy!

Stuffed Baby Eggplant with Sour Cherry Pomegranate Sauce

If you can’t find small eggplants, you can use bigger eggplants instead. Adjust cooking time accordingly. Sour (tart) cherry or pomegranate juices/jams can be used interchangeably for the sauce. Good to know in case you don’t have easy access to one or the other.

Ingredients:

  • 24 baby eggplants
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2/3 pound of ground chicken (can use turkey, lamb, beef if you prefer)
  • 1 Tablespoon Arabic spice blend
  • 1 Tablespoon sage
  • 2 Tablespoons za’atar (optional)
  • 1/2 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped or even grated
  • 1/2 cup ground walnuts (optional)
  • 1/4 cup of pine nuts
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Sour Cherry Pomegranate Sauce

  • 2 Tablespoons sour cherry preserves OR 1/2 cup tart cherry juice
  • 2/3 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1/2 dried chili pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • pinch turmeric

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 425. As oven preheats, wash and pat dry baby eggplants. Line your baking pans or dishes with foil. Place baby eggplants on baking sheet or dish. Do not overcrowd. Bake for 30 minutes on the middle oven rack, testing for doneness at 25 minutes.

2. As eggplants roast, make filling. Warm olive oil in a skillet. Once it’s shimmery, add chicken, breaking up the ground chicken as you move it around the pan. When chicken is approximately half cooked (you’ll be able to tell parts of it are still raw), add in spices, including za’atar, if using,  plus scallions and garlic. Cook chicken until done. Next, add in scallions, pine nuts, ground walnuts, and stir. Add in tomato paste and splash of water if mixture is getting dry. Stir again, taste, and adjust seasoning to taste. Cook another minute or two more, then turn off heat.

3. Remove eggplants from the oven. With a fork or knife, test for doneness (fork or knife should slide easily through the eggplants). Place eggplants in a safe place and allow to cool.

4. As the eggplants cool, make the sour cherry pomegranate sauce. Simply mix all of the ingredients together, and cook over a LOW heat for 5-10 minutes, until desired consistency is reached. (If you want the sauce syrupy, feel free to cook for more than 10 minutes).

5. Now split each baby eggplant down the middle. Stuff each with a spoonful of the chicken mixture. If you have leftover scallions, use them for garnish. Or garnish with fresh chopped parsley. Spoon sauce over eggplants, plate, and enjoy!

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Sweet, simple, no-bake version of Gazelle's Horns cookies. Two cups of tea served in coffee cups I found cute. Yes, I enjoy drinking tea from coffee mugs. Go figure.

A heart filled with desire for

sweetness and tender souls

must not waste itself with unsavory matters

—-Rumi

The above is quoted from a ghazal poem by Rumi (the famous Persian poet).

The words above speak to me especially now, in light of recent events and changes in my life. More and more I’m learning to stand up for myself, to listen to that inner voice of wisdom and peace. To feel more comfortable and at ease in my own skin, and in this world. To set boundaries and let go of relationships, situations and thought patterns that no longer serve me or the greater good.

You can play around with the shape of these cookies. They're quite malleable. Kinda like Play-Doh.

After all, Yoga  and many religious faiths teach us about non-violence and forgiveness, but we sometimes forget that we can be violent and unforgiving to ourselves, even if only mentally or in our own hearts. So in my desire for only sweetness and tender souls, I’m letting go of unsavory matters whenever possible. I’m giving mental violence the boot and allowing my heart to open a bit more to love and forgiveness.

With spiritual reflection and sweetness on my mind, some cookies sounded about right. Ha, I’m easily pleased! Today’s cookies are Gazelle’s Horns, popular especially during Ramadan.

Ramadam kareem!

Speaking of Ramadan, a belated Ramadan Kareem to  everyone who is observing the fast.  I admire you so very much.  I’ve so been meaning to do a Ramadan shout-out since the holiday started, but kept waiting for that perfect moment. Then I realized that there is no perfect moment, at least not always. So a big, respectful acknowledgment to all of you out there who are fasting.Your mental and physical strength are simply amazing.

Try this simple cookie recipe some evening. You’re sure to enjoy its ease of prep. This is based on a recipe posted by Nisrine of Dinners and Dreams who in turn based her on a recipe presented by this site, which is in French.  I’ve had these cookies before during travels in Syria, and also here in NYC. They’re quiet satisfying and delicious. Imagine my delight when I learned they’re also gluten-free, and easily veganizable as well.

Did I mention they’re also no bake? Yes, indeed they are. There is another version that is baked–I’ll probably try that after the August heat has gone away, and report back then.

Isn't she lovely? A gazelle! One of my favorite animals, and super popular creature of myth and imagination in the Middle East. Poems and cookies are named after this animal. An exceedingly beautiful woman is sometimes nicknames a gazelle. How sweet! Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.com.

And in case I got a bit too deep for you earlier with my musings, let’s not forget my sly sense of humor lives on, no matter what changes are afoot in my life. I have fun, maybe too much fun,  with the name of these cookies. Like I said, they’re known as Gazelle’s Horns. Sometimes I make a really lame, junior high joke and call these Horny Gazelle Cookies. Because I’m sophisticated like that, yanno.

No Bake Gazelle’s Horns Cookies

I used Bob’s Red Mill Finely Ground Almond Meal/Flour in this recipe. Coconut oil was courtesy of Tropical Traditions.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups almond meal (ground, blanched almonds)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon mahlab (optional)
  • Pinch salt
  • 2 tablespoons coconut oil or unsalted butter or non-dairy “butter” (like Earth Balance)
  • 5 Tablespoons of honey (or agave for vegan option)
  • 2 teaspoons orange blossom water (or rose water, if you prefer that taste)

1. In a large bowl, combine the almond meal, mahlab, cinnamon and salt. Mix. Get rid of any lumps in the almond meal by using a fork to break lumps up.

2. Stir in the wet ingredients: coconut oil, honey and orange blossom or rose water.

3. If the mixture is too wet to shape with your bare hands, add a bit more almond flour and/or chill the mixture for up to half an hour.

4. Shape into half moon-shaped cookies. From here, you can leave the shape as is, or make it into more of an elongated “S” shape to simulate a different gazelle’s horn shape.

5. Enjoy immediately with tea or coffee, or refrigerate.

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A quick snap of the quick veggie curry I enjoyed for dinner recently.

So you guys know that I mainly focus on Middle Eastern cuisine here on this blog, with an emphasis on Persian food and also Arabic food of the Levant region. Or, if you’re new to this blog, now you know ;-)

That being said, a little bit of curry never hurt anyone. So let’s take a detour, just for today. Today’s quick curry is fast, fresh, and useful. Useful? Yes, especially if you have an abundance of summer vegetables around and you’re wondering what the heck to do with them all.

That’s exactly what happened to me recently. A friend hooked me up with not one, but two big batches of organic farmer’s market veggies. Verdant emerald zucchini, sunny yellow squash, lavender hued eggplants, ruby red sweet peppers, and more. I was grateful, excited, and nervous, all at the same time, because I wanted to make excellent use of the goodies, and not let anything go to waste.

Eggplants were part of the haul of fresh summer produce gifted to me.

I made a few dishes–grilled veggie subs, pesto with pasta and fresh veggies, chickpeas with, you guessed it, more of the fresh veggies. I dipped the raw veggies in hummus and smeared sunflower seed butter on them, too. Then one night, I was in a big hurry to get dinner on the table (who am I kidding–that’s every night!) I remembered a fast curry my friend Erica once showed me when I visited her in Florida.

Coconut milk is the base. Don’t worry, the fat in coconut milk, while saturated, is GOOD for you.  You dump in the veggies and spices of your choice into the silky coco milk, and heat everything up for just a few minutes. The variations are endless. For added flavor, cook the onions, fresh ginger, and spices together for a moment. You can garnish as you wish, swap out the veggies to your heart’s content, and play around with the spicing. Here’s what I threw together the other night:

Curry in a Hurry (Quick Summer Veggie Curry)

Coconut milk is the base of this simple curry. Feel free to get creative with the veggies, the spicing, and the garnishes.

Ingredients:

  • 1 Tablespoon coconut oil, or neutral cooking oil of choice
  • 1/2 of a medium onion, sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly grated ginger
  • Curry spice mix of choice (I used Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pie spice, plus 2 teaspoons of turmeric, and a half teaspoon each of cardamom, coriander, and cumin)
  • 1 14-16 ounce can coconut milk (can use light)
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 2 pounds veggies of choice (I used zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and mild red peppers)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Heat oil over a low heat in a large, deep skillet or Dutch oven. As oil heats, clean and chop all veggies into chunks. Leave the peels on if you like to save time and add fiber.

2. To the oil, add the onion pieces and fresh ginger. Cook to soften over the low heat for about 2 minutes. Then add in the curry spices of your choice, mix well and cook for another 30 seconds to 1 minute (you should smell the spices).

3. Immediately add in the coconut milk, veggies, and water. Stir thoroughly. Add in a bit of salt and bring to a boil. As soon as the curry begins to boil, drop the heat to low and cook for 2-5 minutes, until veggies reach the desired texture. (You can test veggies with a fork or knife). I don’t like mushy veggies, so I cook mine around 3 minutes. Depending on your preference, you may shorten or extend the cooking time. Taste, and adjust the seasoning.

4. Serve over cooked rice or other grain of  your choice, with garnish if desired. Some garnish ideas: fresh cilantro, fried onions, raw scallions, a red hot sauce.

Serves 4.

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Chopped okra, fresh from the farmer's market. Okra has to be one of my favorite vegs, especially when done up in the simple way my Mama taught me. Blackberry photo of questionable quality. Beauty shots another day, my loves.

Hello again, everyone. I hope your summer is treating you well. One of my favorite things about summer is the bounty of fresh fruits and veggies just bursting out of every garden, field, tree, and, luckily for me, farmer’s market bin. One of my absolute favorite vegetables has got to be okra. Love those emerald pods! I talked about okra here and here. Boy did I feel like I won the lotto when okra was on offer recently at my local farmer’s market. I bought a pound and cooked it that very same day, using today’s recipe.

Only in Texas, ya'll. For some reason I found this sign hilarious. Read it and you'll see why. It offers the pecan pie Blizzard of the month, plus free Wi-Fi. Who could ask for anything more? After all, "This is DQ Country!"

And I promised to eventually share the very recipe for okra that my mom taught me back in the day. In fact, when I went to Texas recently, it was quite possibly the most delicious thing I ate my entire time there. That’s saying a lot, considering what deliciousness abounds in the Great Lone Star State.  As Mom  made it for me, I hovered around like a hungry baby bird, but an observant little bird, because I was mentally noting how she made the stuff so I could execute it perfectly and smoothly back in New York.

Speaking of New York, it’s been hot, hot, hot here. I was lucky enough to get to cool off in the Hamptons a couple of weekends ago at my friends Denise and Rich’s engagement party. Here’s a snap of my friend Jenny and I partying it up:

In the Hamptons (me, left), and my darling friend Jenny, right.That's me, pre-tan. I have a bit of color now. Not too much; I do my sunning in moderation. And when time permits. Which seems like never lately, but I digress.

So back to the okra convo. The Persian and Arabic okra methods are generally stewed. The typical Southern method is deep fried. Neither sound like appealing cooking techniques for hot summer days. Plus, I know fried vegetables are delicious (I enjoy from time to time, I can admit it), but it’s kinda like, “What’s the point?”  So that’s another way my mom’s recipe is brilliant–it’s on the lighter side. It lets the okra’s true flavor shine.

It also has a bit of poignant story behind it. Growing up in rural Texas, my mom and her siblings were sort of latch-key kids. Well, latch-key kids long before the term was coined. And actually, I dunno if they locked their doors back then, but you get my drift.  Sometimes they had to make their own meals. Okra was plentiful, but they didn’t really know how to fry it. (Thankfully; can you say safety hazard?) So they developed this stir frying technique that gives it some crunch, takes away the dreaded sliminess of okra, and preserves that gorgeous emerald color. It’s fast, satisfying, and not at all heavy on the belly. Brilliant, I tell ya!

Mom’s Quick Stir-Fried Okra

A simple, fast, and lighter way to enjoy okra. Cornbread mix can be substituted for cornmeal. If you do use cornbread mix, use less salt when seasoning the okra pods.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound fresh okra pods, washed and excess moisture dabbed away with a towel
  • 1/4 of a medium onion
  • 3 ounces of cornmeal OR 3 ounces (about half a package) of dry cornbread mix
  • 2 Tablespoons oil for (I used coconut oil, but use whatever neutral oil you have on hand. I’d skip olive oil here–too dominating of a flavor. The coconut oil smells coconutty at first, but the flavor disappears).
  • 1 or 2 fresh tomatoes
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

1. Chop okra into bite size pieces. They’ll look like cute little stars.

2. Heat oil over medium low heat in a ten to twelve inch skillet. Chop onion into bite-sized pieces as well.

3. As oil heats, bust out a paper or plastic bag. Dump cornmeal or cornbread mix into it. Add okra and onions. Close the bag firmly, and give it a good shake/toss to coat the okra and onions with the cornmeal.

4.  Add okra to oil in a single layer in the skillet. You might have to do this recipe in two batches. Do NOT overcrowd the pan. That way we can get an actual stir fry, rather than steamed okra. Increase heat to medium and let the pods cook for about two minutes.  As the pods cook, resist the urge to hover and overstir. In fact, go cut up that tomato into whatever types of slices you fancy.

5. Gently stir the pods to flip them (don’t be a perfectionist and try to flip them one at a time!), and cook another minute or two. Take a pod and test for doneness. The raw taste should be gone. The pod should be tender, with maybe the slightest hint of crisp. In other words, not mushy. The cornmeal will give it a nice crunch. Salt and pepper the okra to taste.

6. Plate, and served with the fresh tomato slices.

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This fast, fresh, and delicous avocado tabouli salad is a snap to make on the go. Take the avocado with you and mix the tabouli salad and avo together.

Hey Guys! I’ve been totally MIA, I’m well aware of this. For me, so-called “Summer Hours” involve working two jobs, so it’s not like I’ve been living a life of leisure in, say, the Caribbean. I WISH.

A random snap of morning glories in Harlem. Hmm, "Morning Glories in Harlem" sounds like the name of a play or something. Pic snapped this past weekend on a long walk.

So for days when I’m on the go, this avocado tabouli salad is a quick solution. It’s so simple, I’m not gonna even write out a full recipe. I just pack the avocado with me, keep the tabouli salad in an airtight container (after I’ve bought if from my fave Middle Eastern deli/falafel shack). When it’s time to eat, I bust out a butter knife, cut and slice the avocado, scoop it out, and mix the tabouli and avocado together. Sometimes I sprinkle with all or some of the following:

  • salt and pepper
  • olive oil
  • fresh lemon juice

That’s it! A fast, fresh, and mostly raw meal. I’ll be posting my own tabouli recipe at some point down the line–full of parsley, mint, and a surprise secret ingredient or two, but first, let me get to the point where I can actually make tabouli again. Not gonna lie–it’s a bit of a process, and I don’t have time at the moment.

In the meantime, enjoy this energizing and filling recipe, and I’ll see you all around again soon. Xoxo!

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Avocados are the foundation for today's recipe, a smooth, cooling, and creamy no-cook chilled soup.

Ahhhh summer. The ice in your tea glass melts instantly.  When your inner warmth might just start to feel more like a raging fire inside. And yes, when tempers (and sometimes complexions) flare.

Can you tell summer isn’t my favorite season? ;-)

I suppose I’d like summer much more if I had a cool mountain cabin, or a beach house, or a luscious, breezy  island to escape to. But, alas, I don’t. At least not yet! What do I have instead of a quiet, soothing getaway? Two busy jobs in a sometimes hot, sometimes fetid, and always crowded city.

Enjoying a cooling and refreshing green smoothie, something I do a lot these hot days.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m grateful for my work, enjoy New York City much of the time, and am not immune to summer’s charms. Free concerts in the park, the occasional beach day, the ice cream truck’s passing jingle.  It’s just that for me, making it through the season is a bit of a project. I thrive more in fall, spring, and to a lesser degree, winter. I find winter’s chill refreshing and invigorating, but I don’t necessarily long to spend days on ski slopes or anything like that, if that makes any sense.

For all of the above, I blame/credit my dosha. I’m a Pitta, with a bit of Vata and an even tinier dash of Kapha thrown in. Dosha, you say? Is that some sort of wrap sandwich? Nope, it’s actually our individual constitutions, according to Ayurveda, the sister science of Yoga. Constitution meaning things like energy levels, temperament, skin tone, and body type. Curious to know more? Click here for a quick, easy, free dosha test.

So, with my dosha in mind, one of my strategies in the summer consists of  enjoying yet more smoothies, minty teas, cold, crisp salads, and cold soups. Today’s cooling avocado soup is the perfect antidote for those occasions when you’d like a velvety, cool soup, but prefer not to cook. I served it recently at my Bollywood themed dinner party. It’s rich and creamy without being heavy.  The version I’m sharing today has a bit of a Persian flare, because I added in fenugreek.

And, full disclosure, this is an adaptation of a recipe I got from my new favorite spa/holistic clinic, Pratima, right here in New York City. I just started going there this past week, and already am seeing improvement from my seasonal eczema and breakout flareups. Pratima herself literally wrote the book on Ayurvedic beauty, and uses a holistic, natural approach to healing the skin and entire body. Go see her if you’re in New York. Her presence is powerfully calming and reassuring. If you’re not in NY, never fear; she does phone consults. And no, they did not pay me or compensate me in any way for the enthusiastic shout-out. It comes from my heart :-) They have no idea I even have this here blog.

Ok, so now for the recipe, with my slight tweaks:

Chilled Avocado Soup

Recipe adapted from a recipe by Erica Corte, Ayurvedic therapist and jewelry designer.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 2 ripe avocados, halved, pitted, peeled, and sliced
  • 2 cups fresh carrot juice
  • 1 kirby cucumber, skin on, halved
  • Juice of one lime
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground fenugreek (optional)
  • 1 tbsp Braggs’s amino acids
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 2 cups filtered water
  • 1 tsp maple syrup
  • Celtic or sea salt to taste

Directions:

Put all the ingredients,  in a blender or a food processor fitted with the stainless steel blade. Blend or process until contents are smooth. Season to taste with salt and cover. Chill in a refrigerator for 20 minutes before enjoying. I served mine straight from the blender (classy, I know ;-) ), but feel free to transfer your soup to a serving bowl.

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Green Herb Hummus made with Great Northern beans, fresh farmer's market basil and garlic, plus Celtic sea salt and olive oil.

Today’s recipe isn’t so much a recipe. It’s more of a template, that you can adjust and re-configure to your liking. Motivated by hunger but de-motivated by the heat to cook, I ended up making a really great hummus with what I had on hand, and figured I’d pass along my results to you. By the way, if hummus plus bread sounds too heavy, ditch the bread and dip raw veggie slices into this dip. That’s what I do and prefer.

If you’re bothered by the non-traditional ingredient list and the fact that I’m calling it hummus, feel free to rename it as a bean dip or whatever other moniker rocks your world.

Love this stuff! I like to dip raw sticks of summer squash, zucchini, carrots, and celery in it instead of the traditional pita bread dip.

Keep things flexible when making this. Since I didn’t have chickpeas handy (not to worry, I’m properly re-stocked now!), I used Great Northern beans, a white bean I happen to really like.  I was also fresh out of tahini, so I used olive oil as the fat instead. There was a small bunch of farmer’s market basil I needed to use, plus some fresh, pungent garlic picked up recently from that same market that had yet to be put to work. A couple of fat cloves of that garlic really took this dip up a level in my opinion, but if garlic isn’t your thing, feel free to leave it out.

Green Herb Hummus

Ingredients:

1 14-16 ounce can of Great Northern beans (or chickpeas or cannellinis) Basically, choose the light-colored bean of your choice

2 fat cloves of garlic

1 small bunch of fresh basil (or other herb of choice such as cilantro, parsley, sage)

1 Tablespoon (or less) of olive oil

Salt of choice to taste (I used Celtic sea salt. Full of minerals and has a robust flavor)

Water (if needed)

Directions:

1. Drain and rinse beans.

2. Add all ingredients except for basil and water to a blender or food processor and mix, starting on a low setting, gradually increasing to a higher speed.

3. Once ingredients are fairly well-mixed, add in basil leaves and a tiny bit of water if needed to help facilitate the mixing process. Blend until smooth and creamy. Check  and adjust seasoning and serve (or store, airtight, in the fridge.)

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As the seasons shift, so do my eating and cooking habits. Some days I don’t cook at all–relying on smoothies, salads, and chilled soups for sustenance. The “Big Oven” gets the summer off, unless there’s a cake or cookie or entree I just can’t force bake in the toaster oven. With the summer equinox fast approaching, I’d begin to notice the reappearance of gorgeous yellow squashes at the farmer’s markets. Last week, I grabbed a couple, figuring I’d grill them or eat them raw (I like to dip them in hummus). But they sat there for a day or so, beautiful yet uninspiring. Until I read a post on zucchini kuku by my amiga over at My Persian Kitchen.

A closer look!

Kuku, you ask? Why yes, it’s an Iranian omelette that’s a perfect marriage of veggies, spices, and convenience. It’s sort of a cross between a frittata and a souffle. Without, of course, the souffle drama. Because you know that in the kitchen, I do not do drama. Well, at least not deliberately ;-)  I figure there’s enough inherent drama and suspense in cooking and baking as it is.

As for kuku, it’s the perfect summer dish, because it travels well and tastes great hot, warm, or even cold. It’s filling but not heavy.  You can bake it in the oven, or cook it on the stovetop. This time, I used my toaster oven, which worked perfectly and kept the Big Oven out of play, and from heating the house.

So I decided to base my efforts on the recipe from My Persian Kitchen, but with my yellow squash rather than zucchini. And as I was tinkering around in the kitchen, I noticed a lone sweet potato, left over from the colder months, sitting there kind of looking sad. “I wonder if that grating that sweet potato and using it in this kuku would taste good. I bet it would.”

So that’s exactly what I did, and in the process, found a new dish to love. A dish that perfectly straddles the shift between spring and summer, and could easily straddle the shift between summer and fall, for that matter.

Kuku (Iranian Omelette) with Summer Squash and Sweet Potato

2 teaspoons cooking fat of choice (netural oil, ghee, butter, butter substitute, etc)

1 onion, medium dice

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 large garlic cloves, finely grated

2 summer squash, grated (no more than a pound of squash before grating)

1 medium sweet potato, peeled and grated

salt and pepper to taste

5 eggs

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375 F.

2. Add cooking fat to a cold skillet (skillet I used was an 8-inch cast iron skillet by Lodge). Heat over medium low.

3. Add in the onions and saute, stirring often, until translucent (about 5 minutes).  Add turmeric and garlic to onions and saute for another minute or so.

4. Add in the grated squash and sweet potato. Add salt and pepper and mix.  Cook until softened and the moisture is absorbed.

5.  As the vegetables are cooking, whisk the eggs and baking soda together with either a hand whisk or a fork. If you desire a more yellow color for the egg mixture, add another pinch of turmeric and stir well.

6. Allow the veggie mixture to drain and cool (I used a colander and a bowl to catch the drips underneath, plus patted the mixture several times with a kitchen towel to further push out excess moisture).

7.  Clean out the skillet, regrease with cooking fat or cooking spray of choice. In a large bowl, mix together veggie mixture and eggs, then pour it all into the skillet. Bake at 375 for 20-30 minutes (my kuku was done at 25 minutes, but your mileage may vary due to variation in the moisture of the mix). You’ll know it’s done when a knife or fork inserted into the center comes out clean.

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Try this super easy and refreshing watermelon mint slushie. It will take the edge off of summer's heat for sure.

Today’s chill slushie is the perfect anecdote to hot and dehydrating summer days (and nights)! It’s refreshing and cooling to drink, and beautiful to look at. And one of my favorite ingredients–watermelon, is the base of the drink.

I just adore watermelon. For me, it brings back such happy memories. Some of them are kinda funny memories, too. More on those further down. . .

Watermelon always makes me think of my dad. Hmmmm, and this post is coming out a few days ahead of Father’s Day. Happy coincidence!

My dad and I would have a field day picking the best of the bunch! Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

Anyways, I remember my dad going to the grocery store or farmer’s markets together and picking out the most beautiful, juiciest watermelons money could buy. He has a real talent for picking excellent produce. Oh, yes, that’s a deliberate plural on watermelons–my dad would rather buy extra melons than too few. After all, his reasoning goes, we can always share the extra fruit with others.

Our produce-buying missions were “our” thing as father and daughter–going to what my dad calls “fruit market” and picking out the best and best-priced veggies and fruits available. To this day, I say I learned just about all of the skills about how to pick good produce from my dad. And many of my cooking skills I learned from my mom. Both important parts of the equation–how to pick the best quality produce, and what to do with it once you get it home.

Frothy, delicious, and refreshing. I can't get enough of these lately!

As for the funny melon memories: the time my dad picked what he said was the most amazing watermelon ever–and left it in the shopping cart in the store parking lot of a Fiesta store (Texans know all about Fiesta ;-) ). Or the time we went to the farmer’s market in Houston. At this market, you can buy wholesale.  Why exactly we needed a few dozen watermelons, I’ll never know for sure. At any rate, one of the watermelon vendors quoted my dad one price before loading up the back of the pickup full of melons. Then he quoted him another price when it was time to pay, the truck fully loaded with probably at least two dozen melons. Sneaky jerk thought we’d not want to unload the melons and just pay the higher price.  He was holding us as fruit hostages. My dad was having none of this bait and switch nonsense. Every single melon went back to the display, and you can bet my dad made the guy help offload the heavy fruits.

Gorgeous watermelons are rich in vitamin C and super-hydrating. Photo courtesy of http://www.sxc.hu/

So what makes a good watermelon? My dad taught me that it should be:

  • Heavy for its size.
  • It should have a hollow sound when you thump on it.
  • The stripes should be very green.
  • The skin shouldn’t have any mushy or pitted spots.

If you happen to get a subpar melon, you can salvage it by making this cooler. Of course, a perfect melon would be absolutely delicious blended into this chillaxing drink as well.  Have fun with it and enjoy! Maybe while watching a World Cup match.

Watermelon Mint Cooler/Slushie

Ingredients (enough for at least 2 12 ounce coolers):

2 Cups watermelon, seeds removed

1 Cup almond milk (I prefer unsweetened; you could use rice or even coconut milk here)

Splash of vanilla extract

A few sprigs of mint, saving some for garnish

Ice

Directions: Combine all ingredients in a blender and blend. Drink will be very pink and very cool. Garnish with a sprig of mint and enjoy!

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