Fish Fragrant Eggplant

eggplant

eggplant

Yesterday afternoon I could be found in my cube, listening to back episodes of Spilled Milk – specifically the eggplant episode, silently shaking with laughter to the point of tears about heirloom eggplant names.

On a related note, I’ve decided to name my next cat “Little Spooky.”

The recipe that followed, Fuchsia Dunlop’s Fish Fragrant Eggplant sounded so delicious I had to make it immediately. Like seriously, I left work early to buy eggplants.

A couple of substitutions (per usual) for weeknight convenience of not having to run out of my way to the Asian market: although I had Chinese black vinegar on hand, I didn’t have the Sichuan chili paste (Google said sambal oelek was comparable so I used that – but since it is straight chili and lacks the fermented beans there was definitely an umamious element missing), and also I used corn starch instead of potato starch which is a more acceptable swap.

This turned out completely silky spicy delicious, I don’t even know if I should make it with the right chili paste because it might blow my mind.

Fish Fragrant Eggplant

Found in Fuchsia Dunlop’s Land of Plenty: A Treasury of Authentic Sichuan Cooking

1 1/4 lbs eggplant (about 2 large or 3 medium eggplants)
salt
oil for deep frying (about 2 cups)
1 1/2 tbsp Sichuan chili bean paste (sambal oelek in a pinch, but I will absolutely get the right stuff next time)
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tbsp grated garlic
2/3 cup chicken stock
2 tsp sugar
3/4 tsp potato flour (or corn starch) mixed with one tbsp cold water
2 tsp Chinkiang vinegar
4 tbsp finely sliced spring onions (green part)

Slice the eggplants lengthwise into 3 thick slices, then into evenly sized batons. Toss them with a good sprinkle of salt and leave in a colander for 30 minutes to drain.

Heat oil in a wok, and fry the eggplant in batches (3-4 minutes until golden). Remove to a paper towel.

Pour off the oil from the wok and add back 3 tbsp. Heat on medium and add the chili paste and stir-fry until the oil is red and fragrant. Add the garlic and ginger and fry for a few minutes (do not burn).

Add stock and sugar and mix. Add the fried eggplant and let simmer gently for a few minutes. Stir starch mixtures, then pour over eggplant and stir gently to thicken the sauce. Season with salt if necessary, but it’s probably salty enough already. Add vinegar and spring onions, stir in and serve with rice.

No fish were harmed in the creation of this fish fragrant dish.

Empanadas and Quinoa Beet Salad

empanadas1

I’ve been bugging my friend for awhile to teach me how to make her famous empanadas (or pastelitos, whichever). She is Ecuadorian and therefore knows what she’s doing. Unfortunately this weekend our plans fell through, but another always adventurous friend, my sister, my husband and I decided to forge ahead anyway and try our hand at it. The results were delicious, and we had a lot of fun muddling through!

empanadas1

One thing we learned is that we need to seal them a little better (and be careful not to let the filling split out the back…oops). This made for splattery oil that threatened to disfigure my sister, and the emapanadas weren’t quite as pretty. But they were still just as delicious, I probably ate the weight of my unborn child in them. Thank goodness for stretchy maternity pants.

We made three kinds – beef, potato, and some little mini guava ones for dessert. ¡Deliciosos!

Empanada Dough

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup masa harina
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 stick butter, melted
3/4 cups water

Mix dry ingredients, stir in butter, and add water to form a dough. Combine well, roll into a ball, and wrap with plastic to refrigerate for one hour.

Divide into 4-8 sections (however much your counter space will allow), and roll as thin as possible. Use a cookie cutter to cut into circles (various sizes, Mariela makes hers big, ours were medium with little bitty baby ones for dessert), and they are ready for filling.

This dough can be baked or fried. We fried – decadent Saturday night! We stuck them in the freezer for a few minutes, then fried them in an inch of oil on medium heat for a few minutes on each side until deep golden brown before removing to paper-towel lined plates.

empanadas3

Suggested Empanada Fillings

We took my friend’s authentic recipe as a base and kind of ran with it. So no guarantees on authenticity, but the fillings turned out really really yummy:

Beef and Pea

Ground beef, sauteed garlic and onions, peas, tomato paste, olives, raisins, boiled egg, lemon, cumin, paprika, salt & pepper, ranchero sauce.

Potato and Corn

Boiled potatoes, sauteed garlic and onions, corn, cilantro, olives, boiled egg, lime, sazón, ranchero sauce.

Guava and Cream Cheese

Cream cheese and guava paste.

Feel free to get creative; if the filling is tasty, you really can’t go wrong!

empanadas2

To accompany our empanadas I made a lovely quinoa and beet salad, which turned out the obscene magenta color I love and left me with leftovers for work lunches this week. Apologies for no exact measurements, I will probably revisit this one to make a proper recipe.

Quinoa and Beet Salad

Quinoa, roasted beets, and toasted walnuts dressed with lemon juice, olive oil and dijon mustard, tossed with arugula and topped with sliced avocado and pickled shallots.

Salty Sweet Roasted Butternut Squash

miso-molasses-orange-butternut-squash

For those of you who, like me, have a salty sweet tooth, this is the perfect combination. The flavors of miso, molasses, and fresh orange juice contrast perfectly and make a fantastic glaze for roasted squash.

Peeling squash is kind of a pain. Butternut squash isn’t the worst though, and with a little technique it’s not too bad. I think I’ve talked about this before but here it is again. Boil it first in a pot of water for two minutes on each side, allow it to cool. Cut off the top and the bottom so that it can stand flat, and you can remove the rest of the skin with a vegetable peeler. Cut the “neck” off the “bulb” (technical terms), then slice both in half vertically. Scoop out the seeds, then go about chopping it into cubes.

Salty Sweet Roasted Butternut Squash

1 butternut squash, peeled and cubed
2 tbsp miso
2 tbsp molasses
1 1/2 tbsp olive oil
zest and juice of one large orange
cilantro to garnish

Preheat oven to 400°. Spread squash in a roasting pan. Whisk together miso, molasses, olive oil, orange zest and orange juice and toss together with squash (it will be liquidy at first, but as it roasts it will thicken into a glaze). Roast squash until soft, about 30 minutes, stirring/flipping a couple of times.

Pile in a bowl and garnish with cilantro.

Lentil and Kale Fritters with Tamarind Sauce

lentil-fritters

I Lentils.

I make a pot almost every week, and I make it different every time (one of my recent experiments was lentils with pumpkin and coconut flakes – delicious!). And they get reinvented every meal until they’re gone: lentils over rice. Lentils over greens. A spoon of lentils in my miso soup.

The last of this week’s pot – I made my East Indian Lentils, only I used little white urad dal instead of split red lentils – got reborn as lentil fritters. Zoeya was a fan. Kids love when you take something nice and healthy and fry it! Not that I’m recommending that for every day, but this was a nice treat, and I think she accidentally ate some kale which she normally complains about if it’s not in chip form.

What takes this up a few thousand notches is the tamarind sauce. I just adore the fresh tartness, which turns my mouth inside out and contrasts perfectly with starchy bites, like aloo tikki (potato fritters), chickpea or potato samosas, or pakoras. Yep, I’m the chick at the Indian buffet sneaking two or three little bowlfuls.

Lentil and Kale Fritters with Tamarind Sauce

For the fritters:
leftover lentils – any kind you want, I have several easy recipes
handful cilantro, chopped
handful kale, stems removed and chopped
You can also add: diced onion, chopped garlic, lemon juice, or whatever else you are in the mood for
enough bread crumbs to hold them together
vegetable oil (or some less evil oil) for frying

If you’re using stewy lentils, you don’t need to bother with draining them, but if you’re using lentil soup you will probably want to drain some of the liquid before you get started.

Heat a quarter inch of oil and combine the rest of the ingredients. Roll into small balls and flatten. Fry a few minutes on each side until golden brown, remove to a paper towel lined plate.

For the tamarind sauce:
1 tbsp tamarind concentrate
juice of 1 lemon
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 tbsp water
generous sprinkle salt & pepper

Whisk together all ingredients. Put in a pretty little bowl for dipping!

While I’m cooking, Zoeya is often hanging out in the kitchen with me playing with her magnetic letters. She knows how to spell her name, forwards and apparently also backwards. Shan and I didn’t notice this until the next morning, it cracked us up. Cutest thing ever.

Persephone Salad

persephone-salad

Whenever my husband and his friends are putting dinner together, they always put me in charge of salad. I guess salad is a girly thing to make so I get it by default, but maybe it’s also because I can be artful in diving into the depths of the produce drawer and pantry and emerging with interesting salad ingredients and the means for a homemade vinaigrette.

As green salads are just as much about texture as they are about flavor, here is the formula: something fresh (possibly fruity!), something creamy, something crunchy. And this salad fits perfectly.

This particular salad concept is based on the Arugula, Pear and Goat Cheese Salad with Pomegranate Vinaigrette (from where else, Food52, pretty much my favorite food resource on the web). I made it a couple years ago for Thanksgiving, and I’ve made variations on it ever since – including for Thanksgiving this year, and now for Zoeya’s holiday potluck.

The ingredients are very autumnal, but the pomegranate seeds like little ruby jewels look gorgeously Christmassy as well. This is not so much a recipe as a concept with lots of options (and I’m not going to be fussy with amounts). The only absolutely essential ingredient are the pomegranate seeds, which is what makes this so lovely and appropriate for the dark months.

Persephone Salad

For the salad:
greens, such as arugula, mesclun, spinach
a green apple or pear
seeds from half a pomegranate
blue cheese or goat cheese
walnuts, almonds, pecans, or pumpkin seeds (I used pumpkin seeds in this latest rendition, it’s a great options if you’re serving to people with nut allergies)

For the vinaigrette:
pomegranate molasses (instructions below) – this is your best option, but if you don’t have it you can use honey or jam or jelly. Maybe like that yummy lingonberry stuff they have at IKEA.
sherry or balsamic vinegar
olive oil or walnut oil
salt & pepper
a thinly sliced shallot, pickled in the vinegar, is nice

To make pomegranate molasses, take a small bottle of pomegranate juice and heat it slowly in a saucepan, stirring, until it is thick enough to coat a spoon. Be careful not to burn.

To assemble everything, just toss the greens and the apple or pear with some of the vinaigrette (enough to lightly coat, not to drench). Sprinkle all the rest of the ingredients on top, along with another drizzle of vinaigrette.

Roasted Sesame Acorn Squash

acorn-squash

Three year old Zoeya is going through an adorable phase where she’s really into acorns. Every day she scavenges for them on the playground at school and collects them in her little pockets (she’s also really into pockets, and putting things in them). She proudly presents them to me at home, and then leaves them laying around, and later I’ll find Quentin the cat batting them around on the floor.

Zoeya likes many vegetables, but squash is not one of them, I’m guessing because of the texture. I tried to take advantage of her affinity for acorns while roasting up this yummy sweet and salty acorn squash.

She turned up her nose when I served it to her, but showed some interest when I told her it was acorn squash. She took a bite, but ended up spitting it out.

At least she tried it. Oh well, more for me.

Roasted Sesame Acorn Squash

2 medium smallish acorn squash, quartered and seeds scraped (save the seeds for pepitas!)
olive oil
sea salt & pepper
1 tbsp sesame seeds, lightly toasted
1 1/2 tbsp demerara sugar
1/2 tbsp sesame oil

Heat oven to 400°.

Place squash quarters face up on a foil-covered baking sheet or glass dish. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until fork pierces the flesh easily. Remove from oven.

Stir sesame oil into the sugar and spread over surfaces of squash. Sprinkle with sesame seeds, and return to the oven for another 10 minutes. And to be honest, next time I might crank it up to a broil and try to get a better crust.

I just loved this, but since it wasn’t so popular I’m thinking to puree and strain the leftovers, then thin with broth for a soup. I think little Z will like that.

Kale Chips

Kale chips were pretty trendy last year; I finally got around to making them and all I can say is what in the world took me so long?! Yum! They couldn’t be easier to make and they really are as crispy and delicious as everyone promised they would be.

To give credit where it’s due, I referenced the recipe on Smitten Kitchen, adding a chaat masala zing.

Zoeya loved them as you can see. We munched on them last Friday evening, a complete treat for her – snacks…on the couch (yay! Eating on the couch is fun!)…watching a movie (Coraline!)…staying up late!

Kale Chips

1 bunch kale – the curly kind
olive oil to lightly coat
sea salt
chaat masala (optional)

Wash the kale and dry thoroughly. Trim away the stalks and rip into “chip-sized” pieces. Arrange in one layer on a couple of cookie sheets, toss with olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt, and bake at 300° for about 20 minutes or until crispy.

I sprinkled mine with chaat masala (a little spicy, a little tangy) and left Zoeya’s plain.

Green Beans with Dijon Vinaigrette

It’s springtime, and I’m definitey in the mood for fresh green veggies. These green beans are cooked al dente and dressed with a lovely tangy vinaigrette. It’s Monday night; I made this as lazily as humanly possible and you can barely call this a salad, but you can call it beautiful in it’s simplicity.

Green Beans with Dijon Vinaigrette

1 shallot, thinly sliced
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
1 tsp honey
salt & pepper
1/2 lb green beans, trimmed
1 tsp dijon mustard
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Combine shallot with vinegar, honey, salt and pepper. Let sit and pickle for at least 20 minutes. Add dijon mustard and olive oil, mix well.

Meanwhile, blanche green beans in salted boiling water. Drain and cool to room temp on a tea towel. Toss with vinaigrette and serve.

Take this up a couple notches by adding red potatoes and cherry tomatoes – fit for a dinner party!

Hummus with Cucumber and Tomato Salad

I have ventured back to the kitchen and am very much enjoying cooking again. Unfortunately, my morning-sicky reluctance to cook meat persists. I tried to bake my normally delicious chicken shawarma in the oven so I didn’t have to look at it, and it spitefully turned out dry and tasteless.

Fortunately, the accompanying hummus and cucumber and tomato salad more than made up for it, and the three together tucked inside a warm whole wheat pita made for a tasty meal. I know for sure this little stinker enjoyed it:

I’ve made hummus forever, lazily, from chickpeas in a can. This is the first time I made it from dried chickpeas, and I am never going back. NEVER! So creamy! So flavorful! And with the help of the crockpot, even though they take a lot more time to cook they don’t take a lot more effort.

Hummus

Note: This made an enormous batch, we will be eating hummus with every meal for a week. Next time I’ll probably split this recipe in two.

2 cups dried chickpeas

To cook:
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
water to cover by several inches

To season:
juice of 2 lemons
2 cloves of garlic, grated or finely chopped
2/3 c water, more if needed
1/2 c tahini (sesame seed paste)
salt to taste
1/2 c olive oil, plus more to garnish

Combine the dried chickpeas, water, salt and baking soda in the crockpot and cook on low for 8 hours, turning up to high in moments of impatience.
Drain and transfer to a food processor. Combine with lemon juice, garlic, water, tahini and salt, thinning with more water if your food processor is having a hard time. Slowly drizzle in olive oil while blending. Serve with warm pita, crisp veggies, as a spread for sandwiches, etc.

This salad is so summery, crisp and refreshing. Sumac is a lemony Middle Eastern spice and can be found in Middle Eastern markets, but if you don’t have any you can substitute the juice of half a lemon or a little extra vinegar.

Cucumber and Tomato Salad

1 large cucumber
3 roma tomatoes
small handful of mint
2-3 tbsp olive oil
2 tsp cider vinegar
1 tsp sumac
salt

Slice and combine cucumbers and tomatoes. Toss with chopped mint (reserve a little for garnish). Whisk together olive oil, vinegar, sumac and salt and dress salad.

Roasted Red Pepper Salad with Almonds and Shallots

This is the little black dress of salads, the salad I so often go to because it goes with everything – Italian, Spanish, but don’t stop there – and is perfect for every occasion. It’s very simple with a couple of snappy tricks I love.

Roasted Red Pepper Salad with Almonds and Shallots

(or…Little Black Dress Salad)

1 shallot, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons balsamic or sherry vinegar
1 tsp honey
salt, pepper
3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
one red pepper
spring greens
handful sliced almonds, toasted

Go ahead and do two things early: wash and dry your red pepper and pop it in the oven, straight on the rack, at about 450°. Then thinly slice your shallot and mix with vinegar, honey, salt and pepper in a small bowl or coffee cup. Go about preparing your main dish while the pepper is roasting (flip once as the skin gets black) and your shallot pickles.

When the pepper is nicely roasted, partly blackened and blistered, remove it to a plate to cool. Whisk olive oil into your vinegar and shallot mixture. Fill a large bowl half full with greens, and toss with your vinaigrette – save the shallot to spoon on top. Remove the skin, seeds, and stem from your red pepper, thinly slice, and arrange on top of greens. Sprinkle with almonds.