BHARTHA & BITTER MELON

This happens to me a lot: things that I never ate/couldn’t stand the sight of as a kid become my favorites as an adult.  Please see: avocadoes, pie, oatmeal, and both of the dishes below.

{blistered eggplant cooked with tomatoes, fava beans, & yogurt}

{caramelized bitter melon with onions & fennel seeds}


There’s a fair chance that few of you will make or are interested in making either one of those things—but I am at the mercy of this bossy but admittedly accurate tweet.  So I set about remedying the recent lack of Indian food posts on this side.  In doing so, I noticed that I have not  posted my method for “proper Indian girl rice” before, nor have I covered any Indian breads or my (sorta) famous Indian stuffed okra.  Forgive me; I’ll get right on that!

I don’t mind requests (er, demands) at all, because I love knowing that I am posting something that someone, even if it’s just Misha, will actually make, and hopefully enjoy.

BAINGAN BHARTA, MY WAY

This is one of those nearly ubiquitous dishes, North Indian in origin, that finds its way onto lots of Indian food menus.  Luckily, it’s quite easy to make at home and very adaptable to your tastes—I’ve made it here with raw fava beans, because I LURVE them & they are in season now, but you could use good ole fashioned frozen peas (the way my mom made this dish all growing up) or substitute any fully cooked pea or bean (lima would be nice).

Also, you can cook the eggplant a couple of different ways.  Note: I tend to use conventional “globe” eggplants (American, Italian, & Indian all have a similar shape, though vary in size) for this recipe, not the longer, skinny Japanese or Asian eggplants.  Not to say it wouldn’t work with those, I’ve just never tried.

•    Halve the eggplant(s) and coat with vegetable oil.  Place cut-side down on a foil-lined baking sheet and slide the baking sheet onto a rack in the top third of your oven.  Set the oven to broil and allow the eggplant skins to char for approximately 15-20 minutes, depending on the size of your eggplants.  Wearing gloves, carefully check to see if the inside flesh of the eggplant has become very soft.  If not, cook longer until the flesh is scoop-able with a spoon.  Cool the eggplants before handling.

•    If you have a charcoal grill, you could do something similar to the above broiling method, without heating up your house; halve eggplant, coat with oil, and wrap in foil, allowing the eggplants to smolder on the grill until the flesh is soft.

•    If you have a gas grill or a grill pan, you can slice your eggplant into rounds, coat with oil, and grill the slices until they are soft.  Alternately, you can start the eggplant on the grill or in the grill pan to achieve some char, and then transfer to a 400° oven until the flesh yields easily when poked with a fork.

•    If you have a gas stove (lucky duck), I’m betting you could char the eggplant directly over a low flame, turning carefully with tongs until the skin is charred.  But this is simply an educated guess, so if you try it, let me know how it turns out!

Once your eggplant has been cooked and cooled, carefully remove the skin and mash the flesh with the back of a fork—doesn’t have to be smooth, just try to homogenize a little.  It will all work out when you cook it, I promise.

Now for the actual recipe.  You’ll see that my recipe calls for some smoked paprika or chipotle chili powder—not exactly conventional Indian ingredients, but either will add smokiness that works well with the eggplant.  If you happen to have smoked salt, you could use that instead.

ingredients:

approximately 2 cups’ worth of eggplant flesh
-I usually get enough from one big giant eggplant or two smaller ones
1 cup of chopped red onion
3 small-to-medium tomatoes, cored and chunked
-OR 1 small can tomato sauce
½ cup plain yogurt, preferably full-fat
½ cup shelled fava beans
¼ cup fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
¼ cup fresh ginger, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small Serrano or other hot green pepper, minced
-AND/OR ¼ tsp. cayenne pepper (optional—for heat!)
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. ground coriander
½ tsp. ground cumin
½ tsp. smoked paprika OR chipotle chili powder
salt, to taste
vegetable oil

In a deep saucepan, heat a few tablespoons of oil on medium until it just starts to shimmer.  Add the cumin seeds and immediately turn down the heat a bit, swirling the pan to keep the seeds from burning.  The seeds should sizzle and start to crack, but if they don’t you’ll need to try again (otherwise they will taste bitter).

Once the spluttering dies down, add the onion, garlic, and ginger (plus green pepper if you’re using it), cooking over medium-low until the onion has softened and everything smells fantastic.  Add the eggplant pulp and stir well, adding the ground spices and a little bit of salt to start.  Cover and cook down for approximately 5 minutes.

Remove the lid and add the tomatoes/tomato sauce and fava beans.  Cover and cook another 5 minutes.  You’re not going to over- or under-cook at this point, since the eggplant is already “done,” you’re just looking for the elements of the dish to become combined and incorporated—just make sure the flame is low so your bhartha doesn’t burn at the bottom.

Okay, you’re almost done!  Turn the heat to low and stir in the yogurt and cilantro.  Check for salt and spice, and adjust accordingly.  Once everything has warmed through, you are ready to serve!

serve with: rice, naan or the bread of your choice, even crackers (it makes a fine baba ghanouj-esque dip!)

CARAMELIZED BITTER MELON WITH ONIONS & FENNEL SEEDS

There are a couple of different varieties of the aptly named bitter melon, or karela:  Chinese bitter melon, which is longer and paler green than its Indian cousin, covered with gentle bumps and ridges.  The Indian melon is more bitter, darker green, & incredibly bumpy.  You can use either for this dish—find one or both varieties at your local Asian grocery store, or maybe even your local Farmers Market (summer is the season for bitter melon!)

Fair warning: bitter melon requires a bit of advanced preparation.  For this recipes you must first peel or scrape off the outer green skin.  Some other bitter melon recipes, particularly those in which the vegetable is fried, claim you can leave the skin on, but I’ve never done this.

After peeling, slice the melon into thin rounds—keep the seeds, they’re delicious!  Place the slices in a shallow bowl or dish and cover with generous amounts of coarse salt.  Refrigerate for at least an hour.  Rinse the bitter melon to remove the salt, then squeeze to remove excess moisture and allow the slices to dry on paper towels.  Now, you’re ready!

ingredients:

approximately 2 cups of prepared, sliced bitter melon
-from, say, 3 of the larger Chinese melons or 4-5 of the smaller Indian variety
2 cups sliced red onion
1 tsp. fennel seeds
pinch asafetida
pinch cayenne pepper (optional, for heat)
pinch amchur powder (optional, for a little sourness)
vegetable oil
salt

In a wide skillet, heat a few tablespoons of vegetable oil over medium-high heat.  After a few minutes, add the asafetida—it will sizzle in the pan.  The asafetida adds a very distinctive flavor which I love, but a little goes a long way, so be careful.  Toss in the fennel seeds and just a pinch of salt.  (Do not salt to taste now!  Because the mixture will reduce down considerably during cooking, the salt can become intensified and overwhelming, ruining the dish.)

Immediately add the onions and cook them until they begin to soften, a few minutes.  Add the bitter melon and stir once, then leave the pan alone and let the onions and melon brown over medium to medium-to-high heat.  Walk away from the pan!  If you stir, there will be no browning.  Check back in about four minutes.

Okay, do you see any browning?  If yes, then you may stir a little.  If no, walk away again.  Repeat this cycle, adjusting the heat as necessary, until everything—onions, melon slices, melon seeds—is a nice, dark brown.  The amount of “stuff” in the pan will have reduced a great deal as well, at least by half.

Now do a little taste-test for salt.  Add some if it’s needed, and then add cayenne and/or amchur, if using.

serve with: This dish cries out for cucumber raita—the cooling yogurt dish tempers the strong flavor.  You can also just use plain yogurt, if you’re feeling lazy.

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CHAMPAGNE COCKTAILS

So much to celebrate this week!

Yesterday was my dear friend Megan’s birthday—she is the baby of our college group (I’m the oldest), so we marked her twenty-ninth year with drinks and an Italian dinner.  Saturday is my best friend Rebecca’s wedding, in which Megan and I will be bridesmaids and joyful attendants.  There will be a gorgeous lace dress, a ceremony in a gazebo, dinner, drinks, dancing, and little mini key lime pies and turtle cheesecakes made by yours truly.  I have a pretty blue dress with pockets and I cannot wait to celebrate my friend and the wonderful couple that she and her soon-to-be-husband make.

Megan, Rebecca, and I have been friends since our freshman year of college, which adds up to over a decade now.   That means I’ve spent a third of my life in friendship with these two, and I could not be more grateful.  They have seen me at my worst and best, have cheered me through the highs, loved me fiercely through the lows, given me advice, made me laugh, gotten me safely into bed after crazy nights, made me think, inspired me, and listened without judgment even when it seemed impossible for anyone to do so.  (The fact that anyone could still love me after the jackass I was at nineteen never ceases to amaze me.)

It’s nothing short of extraordinary—to know where each other has been, to appreciate the person each of us has become, to show up and be family for one another, to inside joke and tease and swell with pride over and love love love the stuffing out of each other—I know I hit the jackpot with these two.   And that is worth celebrating, not just this week but again and again and again.

CHAMPAGNE COCKTAILS OF ALL SORTS

I decided to make a handful of different cocktails on a Friday afternoon, and Jill and I endured the hardship of taste-testing them all for you.  I focused on easy champagne cocktails that called for extra ingredients that were inexpensive, likely to already be part of your bar, or both.  There are many more serious drink-makers out there, with far-better stocked bars than I.

But for summer and/or entertaining, a simple champagne cocktail can’t be beat—book club brunch, backyard happy hour with friends, celebratory dinner, etc. To see other drinks I’m itching to try, check out my Pinterest “for the bar” board.  What cocktails are you stirring up this summer?

Classic Champagne Cocktail

This one is Jill’s favorite—a little something special, but not too sweet, and it yields a lovely color.  Also, it couldn’t be simpler.

1 sugar cube (equivalent to 1 tsp.)
bitters
Champagne

In the bottom of a Champagne flute, douse the sugar in bitters.  After a few minutes, top with Champagne.  Enjoy.

Blueberry-Basil Champagne Cocktail

The original idea called for muddling a few fresh blueberries and a few fresh basil leaves in the bottle of a Champagne glass before topping; that was nice, but didn’t yield a ton of flavor.

If I were going to make these again, I’d do this—make a basil simple syrup*, then puree some fresh blueberries with a little basil simple syrup, then pour 1-2 oz. of that mixture into a Champagne flute, then top with Champagne.

Should you try this, do report back.

**To make, combine one cup of water with one cup of sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Stir to dissolve the sugar, then remove from heat and toss in a handful of fresh basil leaves.  Let the syrup cool, then remove the basil (the longer you leave it in, the stronger basil flavor the syrup will have.)

Lemon-Mint Champagne Cocktail

This idea from Fresh 365 has become a repeat performer in our house, simply because the container of Haagen Dazs lemon sorbet has not yet been used up, and half of our backyard patio has been taken over by mint.  This drink is more like a champagne slushy, at once very playful and very grownup.

Spring of fresh mint plus a few extra leaves
1 oz. gin or vodka
1 cup lemon sorbet
Champagne or sparkling wine, to top

Muddle the mint leaves in the bottom of a wide glass.  Pour in the liquor, then add the lemon sorbet and give it a little stir.  Fill the glass with Champagne and garnish with the spring of mint.

The Moonwalk

According to Saveur, this cocktail is so named because it was the first drink that astronauts Buzz Aldrin & Neil Armstrong had upon returning to Earth; I love stories like that.

This cocktails is kind of like a more nuanced mimosa; I think you could cheat a little in order to make a pitcher of them by mixing and refrigerating the grapefruit juice & orange liqueur ahead of time.  When ready to serve, pour into individual glasses, add a few drops of rose water to each, and top with Champagne.

The rose water really does add a little something to this cocktail—you can easily find an inexpensive bottle of rose water at any Indian or Middle Eastern grocery store.

1 oz. fresh grapefruit juice
1 oz. orange liqueur
2-3 drops rose water
Champagne or other sparkling wine, to top

Shake the grapefruit juice, orange liqueur, and rosewater in an ice-filled cocktail shaker.  Strain into champagne flute and top with bubbles.

Rosemary Gin Fizz

We don’t have pictures of these because I made them for Rebecca’s bachelorette weekend lunch and they disappeared very quickly!  A great drink for a crowd: refreshing & went well with our salad-and-homemade-pizza lunch.  (recipe via A Cup of Jo)

Make the rosemary simple syrup ahead of time, and be sure to add extra slices of lemon and springs of fresh rosemary to the pitcher when serving.

1 cup rosemary simple syrup*
1 cup gin (you could also use vodka)
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
1 bottle of Champagne or Prosecco

Combine ingredients in a punch bowl or pitcher—stir very briefly, then serve.

*To make, combine one cup of water with one cup of sugar in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Stir to dissolve the sugar, then remove from heat and toss in a few fresh rosemary springs.  Let the syrup cool, then remove the rosemary (the longer you leave it in, the stronger rosemary flavor the syrup will have.)

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CORN CAKES

Two of the best things about summer, if you ask me, are fresh corn and sitting in a chair (or on a beach or deck chair or hammock, etc.) and reading uninterrupted for an hour (or two or three).

For a while I have wanted to create a section of this website devoted to book suggestions, putting in one place the smaller lists that have trickled out in various posts over the years: young adult, younger adult, book club favorites, classics, contemporary fiction, contemporary nonfiction.  Each book is linked to its Amazon listing, and comes with my own brief summary/description.  You can also print or email the lists if you like!

Click here for the Reading Lists page (You can also access the page whenever you like by using the “Reading Lists” tab in the website’s header.)

I love few things more than talking about good books, so please leave your own recommendations in the comments!  I am hoping to work through a sizable stack of books this summer, so I promise to update my lists.  Also toying with the idea of adding more categories—any requests?

Happy summer reading, folks!  Don’t forget that sunscreen.

CORN CAKES
adapted from Ezra Pound Cake

makes 12-15 small cakes or 6-8 large ones; recipe doubles easily

Think of these cakes as a riff on a hush puppy—pan fried instead of deep fried, they maintain the crisped-edge lightness of a really good hush puppy, but are substantive enough to make for a lovely little dinner when paired with a salad and some grilled vegetables.  I also think they would be fantastic party appetizers or even work at brunch, perhaps with some pickled or cocktail shrimp.

I essentially made these from things we already had around the house, a quality I love in a recipe.  If you don’t have or like green onions, substitute white or red onion, and feel free to add other herbs if cilantro’s not your thing: basil, parsley, even mint.

ingredients:

2 ears fresh corn
3 stalks green onion, green & white parts chopped
1 egg
¾ cup cornmeal
¼ cup flour
¼ tsp. chopped cilantro
½ tsp. each baking powder & baking soda
½ tsp. smoked paprika
¼ tsp. cayenne
2 T buttermilk (more, if necessary)
2 T melted butter
salt & pepper

for serving: sour cream, chopped tomato & avocado, salt, lemon juice

Heat a large, preferably cast-iron skillet over medium heat.  Add a few inches of canola oil.  (Do this first so you don’t have to wait on it later.)  Place a paper-towel lined cookie sheet in a low oven.

Cut the kernels off of the corn carefully, then place them in a large bowl along with the green onion and cilantro.  This mixture will be fairly wet, so add the dry ingredients to them first, to coat—this will help prevent them from spattering when frying.

I like to mix all of the wet ingredients together in a liquid measuring cup, then pour them into a well in the dry ingredients.  Use a spatula to fold the mixture together, then check the consistency with your fingers to see if the batter will hold up to form patties.  Add more buttermilk or cornmeal, if needed.  You don’t want the mixture to be too dry, otherwise they will fry up dense, but you also don’t want it to be too gloppy or it won’t hold together.

Use spoon to ease the first patty into the hot oil; it should sizzle.  Watch out for splattering oil and adjust the heat as necessary—you want hot enough so the patties will brown quickly, but not so hot that it’s dangerous to stand next to the pan! (I am speaking from experience here).

Use a thin spatula to flip the patties after a minute or minute and a half, depending on size.  Brown on the other side before removing to the oven while you continue to fry the rest.

Serve hot, with any or all of the above suggestions—hot sauce might be nice, too! Cool any leftovers completely before storing in the fridge, then reheat using a toaster oven (or toaster, if your patties are thin enough).

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