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Posts Tagged ‘Main Dishes’

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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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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Vintage Bollywood poster. Bollywood movies are popular in the Middle East.

I adore dinner parties. Love giving them, love attending them, and love, of course, all of that wonderful eating and socializing. Dinner parties are such a civilized way to re-connect in our GO GO GO world. But let’s face it–dinner parties can be WORK.

My friend Khat and I at her brother's traditional Afghan wedding in April. She will be at my Bollywood dinner party. Her dress is a traditional Afghan getup, while mine's a more Bollywood style outfit.

I’m having one in a few days, and this time, I’ve resolved to let it come together in the most chill way possible. A little pre-planning will go a long way. I hope ;- )

It will be a Bollywood Night, complete with a campy Bollywood movie and optional glittery costumes (if anyone is so inclined to go there, wardrobe-wise. I know I am, having a couple of shimmery Bollywood style outfits I’m eager to debut).

In the spirit of keeping things chill, I have to say, “Sorry, guests, but no homemade cheese and bread from this kitchen, at least not this time.”  To combat the summer heat, our spread will be seasonal, with invigorating and cooling recipes and  influences from both Persian and South Asian cuisines.

Why South Asian specifically, besides the obvious Bollywood theme? Well, first of all, I just love the cuisines of India, Pakistan, and the many other countries in that whole amazing part of the world. Middle Eastern cuisine and South Asian cuisine have many elements in common, and have exerted their respective influences on one another for centuries. Plus, these cuisines have many wonderful recipes that are cooling. Perfect for steamy summer heat!

Plus, we happen to have a very fun Desilicous dance party to attend after our Civilized Dinner Par-tay. A Gay-Themed Bollywood party, if you will, all in honor of Gay Pride Week. Yes, love my gays. They kinda own my heart 🙂

Here’s what I have planned for our menu:

My Watermelon and Mint Cooler. Like a slushy, but much better for you, and better tasting.

A pre-dinner Cocktail (and Mocktail) Hour with my Watermelon Mint Cooler as the star.

A to-be-determined app, for which one of my friends has signed up to provide. (Key component of dinner parties: let others share in the fun, by either contributing an item of food or drink, or, if they’re so inclined, helping with light food prep or selecting music or lighting candles, etc. Keeps things interactive and who knows, it’s interesting to see what novel ideas our guests have about music or lighting or how to slice a scallion).

Salad of roasted golden beets on a bed of arugula with cucumbers and whatever goodies look appealing that day. Perhaps a yogurt or tahini based dressing. Something very simple, elegant,  and cool.

A summery Chilled Avocado Soup I haven’t tried this recipe out, but I simply can’t wait, as I’m in love with avocados and no longer afraid of the good fat they so generously provide!

Summer squash kuku sabzi, an Iranian omelette. Love this Persian souflee sans drama!

My Summertime Squash Kuku (Perfect for dinner parties, because it tastes great at any temperatures. Any late arrivals will feel well-fed, not deprived.)

Dessert will be So Delicious coconut-milk based ice creams. Because I’m seriously addicted to this stuff, it has that cooling, South Asian vibe thanks to the hint of coconut, and the company was nice enough to send me coupons to sample some of their product line. Thanks, So Delicious. You’ve just made my dinner party a heck of a lot easier, creamier,  and tastier.

I’ll be sure to snap some pictures of our festivities, and report back. Don’t wait up, my loves!

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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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