Romanian Eggplant Salad

I guess you could say that I come from a long line of eggplant-loving women. My mother and grandmother both made delicious eggplant salad. They served it a little bit differently. You can decide for yourself if you prefer the tomatoes and onions mixed in, like Grandma used to make (I do!). Traditionally, I think they are generally served separately, the way my mother plated it at home. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Ingredients, yields 4+ servings

  • 2 large eggplants
  • 3/4 cup of olive oil (I don’t measure, just pour until it looks and tastes right but I’d estimate at least half a cup in the mixture plus a little to coat the eggplants at the beginning and for the tomato/onion salad)
  • a few large pinches of salt (again, until it tastes right)
  • a sprinkle of cayenne pepper
  • 2 pints of juicy cherry tomatoes
  • 1 small onion

Start with some fresh eggplant. You want to look for eggplant that still has a vivid green stem and shiny black skin. The fresher you can get it, the sweeter and less bitter it will taste. We got some lovely Black Beauty variety eggplant from a local farm, through Good Eggs.

eggplants

After washing them, prick all over with a fork and coat with olive oil. Place them on a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil, for easier cleanup.

eggplant ready to bake

Roast at 400°F for about 45 minutes or until a knife slides easily into the soft flesh of the eggplant everywhere, including just under the stem area (usually the toughest part and slowest to cook through).

baked eggplant

After removing the eggplant from the oven, cut it open carefully and locate the seed pods. I like to use a fork and knife because the eggplant liquid irritates my skin. This part requires a little patience. You’ll want to take out just the flesh and discard all of the seed sections and skin. It’s okay if a few seeds wander in but you’ll want to get rid of most of them.

open eggplant

In order to drain away the bitter liquid from the cooked eggplant before preparing the salad, find a way to set up a slanted surface in your kitchen. I find that a baking pan, cutting board, and glass create just the right angle to let the juices slowly drip out of the eggplant and onto the absorbent paper towel at the bottom of the cutting board.

on board side

Lay the pieces of eggplant, from which you removed the seeds, in a thin layer across the slanted cutting board and let them drain for an hour or so.

on board front

Once you’re ready to get back to the drained eggplant, lightly blot the pieces with a paper towel to remove any moisture still left, and place them on a cutting board. Then chop and chop and chop some more. You’ll want to go in different directions. It’s fairly easy to do because the texture is so soft. The consistency comes out much better this way than with a food processor or blender. Plus, at the end, you’ll just have to wash the cutting board and knife.

ready to chopchop

 

and chop more

chopped

 

Once the eggplant starts getting a smooth texture add chopped garlic, oil, salt, and cayenne pepper. Chop and mix until thoroughly combined on the cutting board.

garlic

oil

 

After your eggplant salad is done, you can store it in a bowl until ready to use. It’s best eaten at room temperature. So, if you’re planning on refrigerating it, take it out a little while before serving.

eggplant salad, separate

My mother tended to serve it the traditional way, with fresh bread and  a salad of tomatoes, onions, olive oil, and salt. Its high oil content makes it a decadent vegetable dish. At my grandparents house I’d notice grandma relishing her mixing process. She’d lightly smash the tomatoes to get them to release extra juice into the eggplant salad. I remember grandma taking such pleasure in eating this salad and I think I enjoy it even more because of that memory.

eggplant salad, combined

Shiitake Mushroom, Chive, and Feta Frittata

Another favorite egg breakfast at our house is the veggie frittata. I don’t particularly like baked frittatas (though I do like making egg bakes – more on that another day). A pan and a spatula are really enough, especially if you’re not going for perfect appearance. I’m considering buying a frittata pan (or trying the plate method) to make flipping a little cleaner and easier. Until then, an 8″ or 10″ ceramic nonstick pan (we avoid teflon) works well enough and yields an equally delicious frittata.

Ingredients – serves 2

  • 4 eggs
  • 1-2 tbs crème fraîche (Bellwether Farms makes a great one)
  • enough shiitake mushroom caps to cover the bottom of your pan
  • handful of roughly chopped chives
  • 2 tbs crumbled sheep’s milk feta (our favorite is from Marin Cheese Company)
  • drizzle of olive oil to coat the pan
  • small pinch of sea salt (since the feta is also salty)
  • light sprinkle of cayenne pepper
  • generous sprinkle of turmeric
  • buttered toast of your choice (we like Acme’s Pain au Levain)
  • a few slices of heirloom tomato (optional)
  • a few sprigs of cilantro or parsley (optional)

frittata ingredients

After adding olive oil to your ceramic nonstick pan, place the mushroom caps all in the same direction in the pan (I like to start with their tops down). This helps you know which ones you’ve flipped later on. Cook on medium heat until they begin to soften. Flip all of the mushrooms and cook for a moment longer before adding the egg mixture.

Meanwhile, combine the eggs, crème fraîche, chives, salt, cayenne pepper, and turmeric in a bowl. Beat with a fork or whisk until thoroughly combined and frothy. When the mushroom caps look just about ready, pour this mixture on top and quickly move back the mushroom caps to a relatively even distribution in the pan. At this point, scatter the crumbled feta evenly over the top of the frittata.

raw shiitake

flipped shiitakeadd egg mixtureadd feta

 

Now, the hardest part: wait and don’t touch! Let the frittata set and cook evenly on the bottom. When you see it puff up a little and the edges start to brown ever so slightly, you know it’s time to flip. If, like me, you haven’t yet perfected your egg flip, take the pan over the sink. A little piece of wasted egg is a lot better than having to clean up a mess on the stove. I lift up the entire frittata with a spatula, letting the little bit of extra liquid from the top drip off the sides back into the pan, and then quickly flip the solid part. Don’t worry about cracks or broken pieces, these will mostly close up as the other side cooks.

time to flipflipped

 

After the frittata is cooked and ready, use your spatula to divide it in half. Plate half on each plate with some hot buttered toast, a few slices of heirloom tomatoes, and some sprigs of cilantro (or parsley, if you are cilantro-averse). You can change up the vegetables for many delicious combinations. Shiitake mushrooms and feta cheese are two of our favorite ingredients but you can add other things to them. We like adding spinach, onions, or even squash blossoms when they’re in season. Enjoy!

shiitake mushroom, chive, feta frittata

Adventures in Pie Making: Triple Berry Pie (Huckleberry, Blackberry, Raspberry)

The plan was to make a huckleberry pie. Plans change. I ordered wild huckleberries from Good Eggs and realized only later that the $10 of berries that I purchased was only an 8oz container. Luckily, I had also ordered blackberries and raspberries. So, triple berry pie it became. I was soon to discover that this was only the first bump in the road. This site/blog isn’t about perfection and so I’ll share what I did, how it could have been better, and what I learned along the way.

This is my first foray into the pie-making world. I grew up in a Romanian-American household that often smelled sweetly of delicious desserts but never of American-style pie. So, I was a little intimidated by the prospect of making my own pie crust. I did a little research online and more-or-less followed Smitten Kitchen’s well-written pie crust instructions, both how to prepare and how to roll and crimp. I didn’t want to cut any corners with this first pie and so even latticed the top of the pie.

lattice close

Pie Dough

  • 2.5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 8oz cold butter cut into cubes
  • 1 cup cold water (chill briefly in the freezer or add some ice cubes)

butter flour

dough bowl

dough divideddough fridge

 

Filling

  • 1 cup huckleberries (these were very juicy and might have made the pie too juicy)
  • 1 cup blackberries
  • 1 cup raspberries
  • 1/3 cup sugar (add more if not eating the pie with ice cream)
  • sprinkle of salt
  • 2 teaspoons of corn starch (perhaps add more if your berries are as juicy as mine were this time)
  • zest of one lemon
  • a squeeze of lemon juice (probably about a teaspoon or two)

Huckleberries, Blackberries, Raspberries

Finishing touches

  • 1 tablespoon milk (to brush on top of the pie before baking)
  • 1 teaspoon sugar (to sprinkle on the pie after brushing with milk)

lattice top

The raw pie looked lovely and was ready to bake. I had preheated the oven (we just moved and so this oven was new to me) to 375°F. However, I noticed that it didn’t appear to be cooking very quickly. I actually let it go the full hour before realizing that “preheat” on this oven meant just that. The oven turned off after reaching 375°F. Great. I also noticed some pooling of fruit juices on top and that some had even made its way through the crust (advantage/disadvantage of a glass baking dish). This modern, but less than intuitive, oven told me that it was actually around 200°F. I cranked it back up to the right temperature, this time on “bake,” for another 35 minutes.

triple berry pie

So, our pie came out very juicy. The crust on top was crunchy and buttery. The crust on the bottom did indeed soak through a bit, though it was fully cooked. I also learned that cutting the sugar used in other recipes made a pie that, as my husband said, was “addictive” when combined with ice cream. However, if you want to eat the pie without ice cream, add some extra sugar to the filling before assembling the pie for more a more traditional level of sweetness.

pie with ice cream

So, this is clearly not a perfect pie but it was a fun first try at something new and it still turned out pretty delicious. Have any pie-making tips you’d like to share with a newbie?

 

 

Strawberry Spearmint Coconut Cooler

Strawberry Spearmint Coconut Cooler

 

We just moved into our new home and our housewarming gift to ourselves was a Vitamix 750. We’ve seen this machine in action at our friends’ home in Tucson and loved the delicious smoothies that they created for us. I’m also looking forward to making hummus, soups, and other blended creations with the Vitamix 750.

I’d like to say that I was inspired by the hot summer weather to make this Strawberry Spearmint Coconut Cooler but, in reality, it had more to do with the limited produce in our refrigerator. In the future, there are a few things I’d do differently but, for a first try with the Vitamix, I think it turned out pretty well.

Ingredients

  • 9.5oz bottle of chilled Taste Nirvana Coconut Water with Pulp (if you’re feeling ambitious, you can also crack open a fresh coconut – Taste Nirvana is almost as good but with a lot less work)
  • a dozen fresh strawberries, plus one for garnish
  • a few sprigs of fresh spearmint, plus one for garnish
  • 1-2 teaspoons of maple syrup or agave (optional)
  • shot of rum or tequila (optional, not included here)

Pour the coconut water with pulp into the blending pitcher. Add the rest of the ingredients listed above. Blend to your desired consistency. In retrospect, I would have blended it longer to make it smoother but it depends on personal preference. If you like some texture (from the coconut pulp and strawberries) and want to see the green flecks of mint, blend for less time. If you’d prefer a more consistent texture throughout, blend for longer. Yields about 16oz of cooler, enough for 1-2 people. Multiply as needed.

For us today, this was a breakfast beverage and did not include any alcohol. However, I could imagine serving it at a mocktail at a BBQ or as a cocktail to evening guests. If you’re feeling festive, just add a shot of rum or tequila!

Thanks to Laura and Mihai for introducing us to the Vitamix and encouraging us to get one too. I’m looking forward to using it again soon!