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

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!

Fresh Cannellini Bean Salad

Shelling Cannellini Beans

In summer, making beans doesn’t have to require planning the day before and cooking for long periods of time. And, no, I’m not talking about popping open a can. These fresh cannellini beans were easy to prepare and the uses are endless. I decided to use half to make a bean salad and saved the other half for another use (or, since it was so delicious, maybe more of the same) later this week.

I’m a big fan of beans but rarely cook them because they require soaking the night before and then a fairly long cook time on the stove. So, I was very excited to discover that Good Eggs is currently selling fresh cannellini beans from Dirty Girl Produce in Santa Cruz. I quickly signed up for two pounds (comes out to about 2 cups shelled) in this week’s delivery and now wish I had purchased more!

One of my favorite parts of preparing fresh beans (and peas too) is the shelling process. It’s simple and relaxing. In some ways, it reminds me of knitting or other repetitive tasks that can become almost meditative. Sometimes, I shell them while watching TV or chatting on the phone. Other times, it’s a welcome break from screen time and an opportunity for some quiet reflection.

Boil Cannellini Beans

After giving the beans a quick rinse in the colander, set them on the stove, with some water, over medium to medium-high heat to just bring them up to a boil. Once boiling, lower the temperature and simmer them for about 20-30 minutes. Cooking time will vary based on the freshness of the bean (if it’s older, it’ll be drier and take longer) and also on personal preference.

Cooked Cannellini Beans

I tend to like my beans soft and squishy. So, I cook them until I see some of them start to break apart. After straining in a colander, they’re ready to use!

Other Bean Salad Ingredients

While the beans cook, you’ll have more than enough time to prepare the other bean salad ingredients:

  • half of a small red onion, chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic, pressed or chopped
  • a small handful of cilantro (basil or parsley work great too), chopped
  • 15-20 “sweet 100” or other small cherry tomatoes, cut in half
  • 1 stalk of celery, chopped
  • a generous pour of olive oil
  • a few splashes of red wine vinegar
  • a liberal sprinkle of salt
  • cayenne pepper, to taste

and, of course,

  • 1 cup of cooked cannellini beans

I like to stir the beans in with the rest of the ingredients while they’re still hot. I’ve noticed that this helps the flavors combine faster and also helps to mellow the raw garlic and onion flavors. These quantities yield enough for two people enjoying this as a main course or for four, as a side dish. Serve at room temperature with some toasted or grilled ciabatta bread.

Cannellini Bean Salad

Feasting on Fresh Figs

Kadota Figs

I grew up eating dried chewy figs from Greece or Turkey that were sold in small pressed round wheels. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered the pleasure of a fresh ripe fig. These kadota figs from a local farm require no special preparation or fancy pairing. You could have some creamy camembert and toast or some nicely aged manchego with these gems but, really, even a knife is optional…

kadota fig

 

Blackberry-Lemon Sour Cream Cake

Blackberry-Lemon Sour Cream Cake

It’s the season to bake with berries! I couldn’t find a recipe I liked for today and so I decided to improvise my own.

  • 1 1/2 cups unbleached white flour, 1 tablespoon for the berries
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 3 extra-large eggs
  • 3 large lemons (grate zest and juice lemons, set aside separately)
  • 3/4 cup sugar for cake, 4 teaspoons sugar for syrup
  • 1 cup fresh blackberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a 9.5″ glass baking dish (or other type of baking pan of your choosing). Rinse the blackberries, shake off excess water, and lightly coat with 1 tablespoon of flour. Set these aside.

Whisk together the olive oil, sour cream, eggs, lemon zest, and sugar. Many people like to combine the dry ingredients and then incorporate them into wet. I prefer to wash only one bowl and have not noticed a difference. So, I encourage you to just mix the salt and baking powder into the wet ingredients and then, lastly, whisk in the flour until combined.

After the batter is ready, gently fold in the blackberries and pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until lightly browned on top and cooked in the center.

While the cake bakes, cook the reserved sugar and lemon juice in a small pot on the stove until the sugar has fully dissolved and then set it aside. After removing the cake from the oven, pierce the top in several spots with a toothpick. This will allow the lemon syrup to soak into the cake more consistently. Pour the lemon syrup slowly over the top and, if you see it pool on the edges, lift the cake slightly to allow it to drip beneath the cake. Use as much or as little as you like. My lemons were particularly juicy and so I did not use all of the lemon syrup. In fact, in future attempts, I may omit it entirely because the zest really makes it lemony enough for me.

Allow the cake to cool, slice, and serve with a generous dollop of freshly whipped cream.

Blackberry-Lemon Sour Cream Cake 2

Summertime Panzanella

Panzanella

This is our summertime go-to dinner. This time of year, the farmers’ market is teeming with fresh produce, the tomatoes are ripe and oh-so-juicy, and the weather is hot enough that you really don’t want to turn on the stove or oven. Even though we have these salads all the time, my husband basically begs for panzanella anytime he sees tomatoes on the counter. Tonight he said, “it looks really good and it tastes a lot better than it looks.”

Tonight’s panzanella featured heirloom tomatoes, avocado, red onion, cilantro, red radishes, crusty “country” bread from Tartine Bakery, a generous pour of olive oil, a drizzle of balsamic vinegar, and a pinch of salt. After mixing these ingredients and letting the bread soak up the juices from the bottom of the bowl, I sprinkled some Point Reyes blue cheese on top.

One of my favorite things about panzanella salad is that you can make it with any combination of fresh produce that suits you. Other ingredients that often appear in my summertime panzanellas are: cucumbers, yellow peppers, raw fennel, scallions, basil, sheep’s milk feta cheese, hard boiled eggs, celery, green garlic, and anything else that appealed to me at the farmers’ market and made its way into my refrigerator or onto my counter.

What might you put in your summertime panzanella?