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Posts Tagged ‘Main Dishes’

At my recent Yoga retreat, quinoa was on the menu, but we ended up not making it. We had so many other delicious things, so it fell out of the rotation. I didn’t miss it, because I thought I didn’t really like it. Until now. You will, too, I bet. You could even take this to any Fourth of July festivities you might be celebrating this weekend. It’s easy to make and travels well.

I used white, also known as yellow, quinoa in my recipe. Look for it in the rice/grain section part of your store. Technically, it's not a grain. It's a seed. And it's gluten-free and very high in protein as well. Photo via wikipedia.

Back to my quinoa breakthrough. Imagine, cooking quinoa according the package directions, and it turning out awesome? Who’d have known? Certainly not me, as I’m not always one for following directions. I can barely make my own recipe the same way twice, much less another person’s. Ha!

I stumbled upon this recipe the other night when “shopping in my cabinets.” I decided to do something novel for me and made the quinoa according to the package directions (fry a cup of quinoa for 20 seconds in butter or oil, add two cups of boiling water, cover, simmer for 20 minutes, covered, over a low heat).

Happy Birthday, America. You're 235, you say? Well, you're forever 21 to me.

As it cooked, I chopped up a bunch of veggies that were hanging around unused: some roasted red peppers, celery, a couple of artichoke hearts. I added a can of (drained) white beans. Then I mixed this all into the fluffy quinoa, along with a couple of drizzles of olive oil, some ground cumin, and some Trader Joe’s 21 Salute seasoning (salt-free and very versatile!) I threw in some nutritional yeast, too.

It was a hit, and a new summer staple was born. It tastes lovely hot, cold, or at room temp. It travels well, and it’s light yet filling. It’s a flexible recipe: vary the veggies and spices and come up with  your own combos. Plus, quinoa is high in protein; along with the beans and veggies, you have a balanced one-dish meal or side.

Quinoa, I’m sorry for my past indifference and for leaving you out of the retreat festivities. I promise I’ll make it up to you somehow, someday!

Fluffy Summer Quinoa Salad

Ingredients to serve 4 as a side, 2 as a main dish:

  • 1 cup quinoa
  • oil or butter of choice
  • water
  • veggies of choice (such as peas, peppers, onions, artichoke hearts, asparagus, olive chunks, scallions, whatever you desire/have on hand)
  • 1 can of bean of choice, drained (I used white beans)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • spice blend of choice (I used Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute)
  • ground cumin (couple of pinches)
  • nutritional yeast or parmesean cheese, grated (optional)

1. Cook quinoa according to package directions.

2. As quinoa cooks, chops up veggies, drain beans, and gather spices.

3. Once quinoa is done (takes about 20 minutes), remove from heat.  Fluff with a fork, add spices. Lightly stir. Add oil. Fluff a bit again. Add veggies and beans and stir again. Taste and adjust seasoning, oil, and veggies amounts if   needed. That’s IT!

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A kale stalk grows in Brooklyn. No, seriously. I snapped this pic at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden recently.

Some people have a way with words. I, apparently, have a way with kale.

Three very unexpected individuals went slightly crazy over this kale recipe:

  • A friend who isn’t much of a veggie eater at all. To the point that I always bring a green salad or a side to contribute to dinner at her place, because otherwise, we’re green-free; to her credit, she’s gracious about this habit of mine, and she loves this kale).
  • Another friend who isn’t a big food person at all, much less a fan of greens. The friend who says, “I don’t eat sides.”  Ha!
  • And my cat.

Yes, you read right. My cat loves this kale. At first I thought he was simply licking the chicken sausage juice off of the plate. But no, the little boy started eating the tiny leftover pieces of greens. With gusto. We’re talking purring and coming back to look for seconds gusto. I trust my cat’s taste in food. He’s quite the foodie, actually. He enjoys hanging out in the kitchen with me, likes chicken only when it’s prepped a certain way, and loves coconut yogurt by So Delicious. He’s got great taste, that one.

Grainy Blackberry picture of my cat :-), whose name is Bise. (Rhymes with the last syllable of resume).

The recipe is so simple. And good!

Simple Skillet Kale Saute with Chicken Sausage

Note: Feel free to leave out the chicken. The kale still tastes fabulous without it.

Ingredients to serve 2:

  • 2 or 3 links chicken sausage, cut into ovals
  • 1 bunch of kale
  • cooking oil of choice, up to 2 tablespoons
  • Seasoning blend of your choice (I’ve been using Trader Joe’s “Everyday Seasoning” for my kale lately)
  • Salt (ONLY if seasoning blend is unsalted)
  • Nutritional yeast or grated cheese of choice (optiona)
  • 2 Tablespoons sundried tomatoes, slivered (optional)
  • Splash of pomegranate molasses (optional)
  • Splash of water or broth of choice (might not need)

1. In a roomy skillet or Dutch oven, heat the oil over low heat. Once the oil is warm, add chicken sausage and allow to brown on one side (check after about a minute).

2. Meanwhile, prep kale (rinse, cut or tear into pieces)

3. Flip chicken sausage. Now add kale to skillet and on one side for a minute or two. Then turn it to coat with oil and sausage juices, then add spices, plus sundried tomato slivers. Turn and cook the kale on for another minute or so. Taste kale for texture (I like mine tender-crisp), and adjust spices, including salt, if desired. Add a drizzle of pomegranate molasses, if using. (If at any point the kale becomes too dry in the pan, add a bit or water or broth of choice)

4. Remove from skillet, sprinkle with nutritional yeast or grated cheese (if using), and serve warm. It can also travel well and makes a tasty cold salad or side dish.

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Oven fried chicken nuggets stay moist thanks to a coating of nut butter, and crunchy courtesy of panko crumbs. Early-season broccoli rabe is my veggie side, and Trader Joe's Mango Ginger Chutney serves as the dipping sauce du jour.

I love chicken nuggets. I know, really sophisticated of me? Ha!

Edited to Add: I was born and (mostly) grew up in Texas, where fried chicken was on the weekly menu rotation, at least in my earliest years. I’ve always loved it. Just the smell of it makes me nostalgic. But I can’t always eat it, for obvious reasons. These flavorful nuggets satisfy the crunchy, chicken-y craving, and aren’t as messy and hot as frying up a batch of chicken. Plus, my fried chicken never seems to taste quite as good as my mom’s.

Luckily, I’ve figured out how to give chicken nugget morsels a healthy, grown-up, and tasty upgrade.

The key ingredients? Nut butter plus panko bread crumbs (that stuff that makes tempura so crunchy and awesome at your favorite Japanese spot. Panko bread crumbs have become increasingly common in regular grocery stores in recent years. Progresso brand makes them, as does Roland. Roland is the brand I used in this recipe. I paid about $1.25 on sale for my 7 ounce bag, which will last awhile).

Yum!

Coating chicken chunks with the nut butter of your choice is a great way to get crunchy panko crumbs to stick, and stick well, to the chicken pieces. Then just pop them in the oven for 15-20 minutes, and you have an irresistible nugget delight. The nut butter gives them another boost of flavor, and keeps the breast meat, which often tends to dry out, nice and juicy.

No panko crumbs? Try regular breadcrumbs from the store. Gluten free needed? Then coat the nuggets in nut butter, followed by a dusting of the ground nuts of your choice.

You can use the nut butter of your choice. I’ve tried this with almond butter, peanut butter, and sunflower seed butter. All work equally well, as does pistachio nut butter, which I made a batch of recently. Here’s the recipe link to Pistachio Honey Nut Butter:

Pistachio nut butter. Easy to make at home and a worthwhile option to coat your chicken nuggets in before dredging them in panko bread crumb awesomeness.

Bonus Tip: Prep extra nuggets and freeze them in a single layer, covered well. When it’s time to eat, just remove them from the freezer and bake them according to the directions below. No thawing necessary.

Baked Nut Butter Chicken Nuggets

Ingredients to make 2-4 servings (2 as entree, 4 as an appetizer):

  • 1 pound of chicken breast, cut into chunks
  • Seasoning blend of your choice
  • Salt (ONLY if seasoning blend is unsalted)
  • 1/2 cup nut butter of choice, more if necessary
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs (or alternatively,bread crumbs from a can, or ground nuts)
  • Splash of water (might not need)

1. Preheat oven to 450 F.

2. Season the chicken with the seasoning blend, adding salt if necessary.

3. Spoon nut butter into a mixing bowl.  Mix well. If it seems a bit dry, put in a tiny bit of water to loosen it up (it should be a texture that is slightly thinner than honey).

4. Place chicken chunks in nut butter and toss to coat, using your hands or a spoon to coat all sides.

5. Throw panko crumbs on top of chicken and mix well. If necessary, press crumbs into the chicken so they adhere. Make sure all sides of the chicken are coated with crumbs. Shake off excess crumbs.

6. On a baking sheet, in a single layer, bake the nuggets for 15 to 20 minutes.You don’t even need to turn them!

7. Serve with the side/s and or dipping sauce of your choice.

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Ginger, garlic, and chile are the foundations of this simple soup. I used chipotles that were pre-cooked in adobo sauce, but you could use other peppers if that's easier for your. Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

What’s that old saying?  “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans.”

That’s what this week feels like. Here I was with big plans to do the following:

  • A thorough, if late, deep housecleaning to prep for Persian New Year (Nowruz).
  • Batches and batches of cookies baked (and photographed and blogged about!)
  • To send out some of said treats as gifts.
  • A delicious Persian New Year feast over the weekend.
  • Oh, and to teach just shy of 20 classes. . .
  • . . . AND to serve as a bridesmaid in my friend’s wedding this weekend.

Yeah, right. That sound you hear? That’s the Universe laughing at my plans.  Loudly. I’m laughing now, too, at myself for thinking I could get all of that stuff done, even under the best of circumstances. You see,  I started feeling not so great late last week, and haven’t been quite able to shake the feeling since. So I scaled back on my ambitions, focusing on resting and working and, quite frankly, just getting through the week. (Don’t worry, I don’t teach with a fever and I’m not doing adjustments this week just to be on the ultra-safe side).

I have so much garlic around my place. It's slightly ridiculous, and no, I don't fear vampires ;-) Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

I also threw everything but the kitchen sink (and the doctor) at this annoying bug. You name it: Vitamin C, immune supplements, kombucha, juices, garlic, ginger, spices, cake, sleep, TV, movies, tea, menthol, baths, books, carbs, probiotics, Swedish bitters, and probably at least a half-dozen more things.

It’s been quite stubborn. Very strange, considering I’m rarely sick.

On the positive side, I did make a soup that truly helps me feel better. I breathe deeper and feel less achey when I eat this. It’s super simple to make, otherwise I never would have made it. Ha! It’s not Persian, not even Middle Eastern. It IS good, though, and I’m so grateful for the simple healing powers of ginger, garlic, and chili. When tossed in my slow cooker, they created some kind of magic:

Spicy Soup with Ginger, Garlic, and Chili Pepper

Ingredients

  • 1 chunk of ginger, peeled (about 2 Tablespoons)
  • As many garlic cloves as you want, peeled (I did about 5)
  • 2 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce (can sub other chiles if that’s easier for you)
  • 1/2 medium onion, in chunks
  • 32 ounces chicken or veggie broth
  • 2 potatoes, cubed
  • 1 cup of baby carrots, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained (14-16 ounces)
  • Slivered scallions for garnish (optional)
  • Avocado as a topper (optional)
  • 1 Teaspoon cumin (optional; if you don’t use chipotles in adobo, use some cumin to pick up that smoky flavor)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. In a blender, combine ginger, garlic, chili, onion, and broth. Blend until smooth.

2. Pour mixture in a slow cooker. Add potatoes and carrots, and cumin, if using. Stir. Cook for 4 hours.

3.  Stir in chickpeas. Taste and adjust seasoning (the broth can be salty, so make sure to taste first before adding salt)

4. Ladle into bowls and serve topped with scallions and/or avocado chunks.

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Fesenjan is a beloved Iranian pomegranate-walnut stew. It can be made with chicken, duck, or without meat. What you see above is a version made with mushrooms and chickpeas, a departure from the classic recipe. Note my greenery "garnish" isn't really edible ;-) This is my fast, 15 minute version of khorest fesenjan.

Yes, you read right. A 15-minute version of beloved Persian koresht fesenjan.

What??????

For the uninitiated, it’s a stew of ground walnuts, pomegrante molasses, and, often, chicken. It has a sweet and sour flavor that might sound weird on paper, but tastes oh-so-good on the palate. It also has a bit of a reputation: a rep as something that takes a good while to cook.

We chatted about this recipe on here before:

But today’s offering is a quickie take on the slow-cooking classic. Over the weekend, a reader, Almaz, and I were chatting on Facebook. She loves the blog and had such kind words of encouragement for me. I was really touched. So I asked her if there was anything in particular she’d like me to post about. She jokingly (I think), said “15 minute fesenjan.” I immediately thought about a slow cooker version, that potentially could have only 15 minutes of hands on time.

Then today, while tinkering around in the kitchen, I realized a truly fast fesenjan, made in 15 minutes from start to finish, IS doable. If you have the following, already ready:

  • Pomegranate PASTE or MOLASSES (pre-thickened, you see!)
  • Ground walnuts.
  • Pre-cooked chicken (if using).
  • Pre-cooked rice (if serving over rice). Or you could use quick cooking rice. (Not as tasty as homemade, but just sayin’)

So here we go. Don’t blink, guys, or else this recipe will be over before you know it:

15-Minute Khoresht Fesenjan (Pomegranate Walnut Stew)

Time: 15 minutes

Yield: Approximately 4-6 servings. ( The nuts make this a very rich dish.)

Ingredients

  • Neutral cooking fat of choice (butter, grapeseed oil, etc)
  • 1/2 medium onion
  • 1 cup pre-ground walnuts
  • 1 Tablespoon sumac
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses or pomegranate paste (can find on Amazon)
  • 10 ounces of mushrooms (optional)
  • 1 cup of chicken broth, vegetable broth, or water
  • 1 14-16 ounce can of chickpeas, rinsed (optional)
  • 1 cup of pre-cooked chicken, cut into bite-sized pieces (such as leftover roasted chicken)
  • Honey, sugar, or agave nectar to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Over a low heat, heat oil or butter in a Dutch oven.

2. As fat warms, dice onion.  Add it to the pan and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring periodically. (Chopping the onion very small will help it cook through faster).

3. As the onion cooks, slice mushrooms (if using) and drain and rinse chickpeas (if using).

4. Lower the heat, and add walnuts to the onions. Toast walnuts lightly, turning often, for 30-60 seconds, or until you smell a hint of fragrance. Immediately add in spices, and cook for about 30 seconds more. Turn heat off.

5. Add in the pomegranate molasses/paste, stock or water. Stir well, then add in any of the following that you’re using: chicken, mushrooms, chickpeas. Put the heat back on, then increase heat to high until stew boils. Drop the heat down to low.

6. Cook for 5 minutes more, until mushrooms are cooked through and chicken, if using, is warmed through. (You can cook this dish longer if you wish, up to half an hour, but the shorter cooking time works if you’re in a hurry).

7. Adjust seasonings to your taste. If you want it sweeter, add in sweetener of choice, stir, taste. Repeat until you’ve reached your idea sweet-sour ratio.  Serve over rice of choice and enjoy.

That’s IT!

Enjoy it over rice of your choice.

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I almost always have lemons on hand at home. I feel sort of lost without them. Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

When a dish is quick, easy, and healthy, what’s not to love? I threw this chicken dish together with ingredients I had on hand one recent cold day: boneless, skinless chicken thighs, lemons, pre-sliced mushrooms, zatar, and scallions. It was comforting, flavorful, and simple to make. I’ll be making it again!

I call it “Lazy” because that was how I was feeling that day: lazy, but in need of a home-cooked meal nonetheless.  In the true spirit of laziness, I snapped a pic of the final recipe with my Blackberry, but then didn’t bother to upload it. Oh well, I forgive myself. I hope you can find in it your hearts to forgive me too ;-)

I'm so into mushrooms. Even the plainest, most basic mushrooms have such a beautiful flavor. Photo courtesy of stock.xchng.

Time saving tip: While your chicken is cooking, you could make your starch and/or salad/veggie side. What I did this time was make a couple of portions of this brown rice couscous to go with the meal. I had some pre-made tabouli on hand, so with a little fresh dressing of lemon and olive oil,  the tabouli served as the vegetable side.  The dusting of za’atar herbs on top of the finished dish gives the chicken and ‘shrooms a subtle herbal finish.

Lazy Lemon Mushroom Chicken with Za’atar

Ingredients

Time: Start to Finish, 30 Minutes

  • Olive oil
  • 1 to 2 cups sliced mushrooms
  • 1 Lemon
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • Scallions, sliced (use kitchen scissors to slice them)
  • Zatar for garnish (optional, even though the ingredient is in the title ;-) )

Directions

1. In a saucepan or Dutch oven, warm up to a tablespoon of the the olive oil over a medium low flame. When the oil is shiny, add in the sliced mushrooms.

2. As the mushrooms cook, make a quick marinade for the chicken. In a ceramic or plastic bowl, toss in a few splashes of olive oil, the zest and juice of the lemon, and salt and pepper to your taste. Add the chicken, turning to coat well. Let sit for 5 to 10 minutes as mushrooms cook.

3. As the chicken marinates, turn the mushrooms; let them cook on the other side for 3-5 minutes.

4. Remove mushrooms and set aside.  Add chicken to pan, pouring in about half of the marinade. Discard the rest of the marinade. Cook chicken thighs on one side on medium heat, browning, for 3-4 minutes.  Flip the thighs and cook on the other side, about 3 minutes more.

5. As the chicken browns on the second side, add in the scallions. Cook for another minute, then add in about half a cup of water. Add in the mushrooms. Cover and reduce heat to low. Let the liquid reduce by about half, about 5 minutes more of cook time.

6. Taste the sauce and add salt and/or pepper if needed.

7. Sprinkle with zatar as a garnish. Serve with side dishes of your choice and enjoy.

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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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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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