ROASTED EGGPLANT SALAD

Sometimes I am not easy to live with.


I can be incredibly bossy, defensive, and quick to judge.  I like to leave cabinets open and used teabags in the sink.  I get really attached to my idea of how I think things should be; I over-schedule; I make big messes in the kitchen when I cook.

Somehow, Jill is tolerant of all of these things, an incredibly loving and patient spouse who good-naturedly handles all that comes with me.  Recently, though, she got a little more insistent about one of my particularly frustrating habits: “Do you have to bake so much?”

This may not seem like the kind of thing a spouse would gripe about, but when you are trying to be healthy (as we are), my proclivity to bake/issue a dessert for any occasion can get in the way.  Jill & I are different in almost every way, but we share at least one trait; if baked goods are present, we will eat them.  So, in an attempt to support us both, I’m trying to make “good” stuff and only bake for special occasions.

Last night I even did something I did not think was possible—I made and thoroughly enjoyed a meal that contained no pasta, grain, bread, noodle, or potato.  I know, right?  I’m very proud of myself.  Along with a stir-fry of ground pork, celery, leeks, & snow peas (served on its own), we enjoyed this Asian-style eggplant so much that Jill gamely salvaged our leftovers into the lovely photographs you see here.  “I think this is my favorite way to eat eggplant ever,” she said.  That good AND good for us; we had to share.

ROASTED EGGPLANT SALAD
from Melissa Clark

I’m realizing that not everyone may still have access to the wonderfully sweet, late summer/early fall cherry tomatoes that we do.  If you can’t find any, I think this salad would still be delicious without them, or you might try some sweet peppers instead, tossed into the oven for the last few minutes to roast alongside the eggplant.

1 large eggplant, sliced into wedges
olive oil
salt
¼ cup peanut or canola oil
2 scallions, thinly sliced (or substitute a bit of minced white onion)
2 tsp. grated ginger
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tsp. sesame oil
1 tsp. rice wine or white wine vinegar
1 tsp. (or more) Sriracha—I used homemade
½ cup cherry tomatoes
¼ cup fresh basil leaves

oven: 400°F

On a baking sheet, toss the eggplant with generous amounts of olive oil, then sprinkle with salt.  Roast until tender, approximately 25-30 minutes.

While the eggplant is in the oven, whisk together the dressing: oils, scallions, ginger, garlic, Sriracha, & vinegar.

Using tongs, transfer the roasted eggplant to a platter; sprinkle tomatoes on top.  Pour the dressing on top, garnishing with torn basil leaves.

POPPY SEED CAKE

Anticipating the arrival of Rosh Hashanah, I sorted through the recipes I had bookmarked to try and asked Jill: “Apple cake, honey cake, or poppy seed cake?”  She voted poppy seed, and here we are.

As many of you know, I have the pleasure of teaching at a Jewish school, living inside of a culture that isn’t my own but is very close to my heart.  The rich food traditions associated with Jewish holidays are especially resonant for me, coming from another religious tradition (Hinduism) that buffets its celebrations and rituals with food.

Since Rosh Hashanah is the Jewish New Year, it’s traditional to eat sweet things to usher in a sweet new year, hence the apples and honey.  Some Sephardic families, as I understand it, even go so far as to eschew salt in the preparation of the entire Rosh Hashanah meal, and for a month thereafter.

Poppy seeds, though not sweet by themselves, are a traditional Eastern European ingredient and add beautiful flavor and texture to desserts.  They are said to symbolize the manna sent by God to the Israelites as they wandered in the desert, a reminder of God’s promise and goodness.  L’Shana Tovah!

POPPY SEED CAKE RECIPE
take from this fascinating New York Times article about the Strawbery Banke restoration, a living museum “set” in 1919

The original recipe calls for 2 cups of sugar; I cut the amount down by 1/3 cup in order to make this a good afternoon-with-tea cake, but by all means, go with the full two cups if you want something more dessert-y.  And instead of dusting with powdered sugar, you could make a glaze with, say, orange or lemon juice or even some melted chocolate.  The addition of almond extract is mine; I think it adds just a leetle something extra, but you can certainly omit it if you don’t have any on hand.

One last note: if the first step of boiling and soaking the poppy seeds seems fussy, don’t skip it.  This allows them to soften and crack just a little, making their flavor more prominent and enhances the texture of the cake as well.

ingredients:

1 cup poppy seeds
1 cup milk or soy milk
1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter or pareve margarine, plus more for greasing pan
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting pan
1 2/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs, separated
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 1/2 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. almond extract
½ tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. salt

powdered sugar, for dusting

Combine the poppy seeds and milk in a small saucepan and bring the mixture to a boil.  Immediately remove from heat and allow the mixture to cool, about 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  Grease a large pan (I used a Bundt, but you could use a couple of large loaf pans or a tube pan) with butter/margarine and lightly flour the inside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter/margarine and sugar.  Add the egg yolks, vanilla & almond extracts, and poppy seed-milk mixture, then beat until smooth.  Slowly add the flour, baking powder, & salt.  Mix well, then scrape out into a large bowl.

Clean the bowl of your stand mixer, then fit it with the whisk attachment and whisk the egg whites until they are stiff.  Fold them into the reserved batter and turn into the pan.  Bake until a tester inserted into the cake comes out clean—about 1 hour for a large pan, 35 minutes for smaller shapes.  Cool, then dust with powdered sugar.

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INDIAN-STYLE TOMATO RICE

Things that are rocking my world these days:


1.    Late summer tomatoes.

2.    Being on maternity leave.

3.    This coconut chai.

4.    Tiny, Beautiful Things, a collection of advice columns written by the very wise, compassionate, authentic, and funny Cheryl Strayed (of Wild fame).  Less advice columns and more paeans to the human condition, in all of its weird, messy, thrilling, sacred glory.

5.    Minnesota Vikings kicker Chris Kluwe’s profane & awesome letter in support of gay marriage.

6.    Getting emails from my students (I miss them!), long letters from friends who live far away, & the small but oh-so-welcome drop in temperature we’ve had around here.  It’s been cool enough for outdoor runs & feeding the baby al fresco & writing in the morning next to open windows.

7.    And the fact that our little guy has taken to grinning.

This recipe for Indian tomato rice is perfect for the aforementioned late summer tomatoes we’re still getting down here; the heat from the chili pepper and earthiness of the sambar powder play nicely against their candy sweetness.  Best of all, this dish, like fried rice, makes perfect use of that leftover rice you never know what to do with.

Like so many of the best dishes on Blue Jean Gourmet, this one was cribbed from my mom, who generously shares her effortlessly good recipes.  This tomato rice was a staple of my middle school lunchbox; I have many fond memories of sharing it with friends who coveted the “exotic” contents of my lunches (a far cry from a bologna sandwich, this.)  True to form, my mom started packing extra on the days she packed tomato rice so that my friends could have their own servings.   She’s pretty swell like that.

INDIAN TOMATO RICE RECIPE


ingredients:

1 ½ cups cooked basmati rice
1 ½ cups large-dice tomatoes (halved if you’re using cherry/grape tomatoes)
1 small-to-medium yellow onion, thinly sliced
6 curry leaves, chopped
1 ½ T minced fresh ginger
1 tsp. sambar powder
1 tsp. mustard seeds
1 dried red chili pepper of your choice
¼ tsp. asafetida
salt to taste
vegetable oil

optional: 1 cup of fresh or frozen vegetables such as peas, okra, butternut squash, carrots, bell pepper, etc.

garnish: toasted cashews & chopped cilantro

In a deep saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium-high heat.  After five minutes, add the mustard seeds—they should turn white and pop.  (If not, start again).  Add the asafetida, then turn the heat down to medium and toss in the ginger, chili pepper, & curry leaves.  Cook for a minute or two.  Add frozen mixed vegetables, and/or sliced onion, 1 tsp. sambar powder, and let cook.

Add tomatoes, smush while cooking to form gravy.  Toss in rice & turn off heat.  Add garnishes and serve!

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FIGS & BALSAMIC, TWO WAYS

From  a very young age, I have always known two things very distinctly to be true: that, someday, I wanted to parent a child, and that, someday, I wanted to write a book.

When you’re twelve, these life goals seem a lot simpler and fresher and cleaner in your mind; you imagine yourself breezing through your early twenties and into just the very things you’ve imagined for yourself because you haven’t learned yet that there will be a great deal more to your life than what you are capable of imagining at twelve, or at any given age, for that matter.

Because, you know, my life got messy–and it got awesome.  And pretty much none of it has gone the way I thought it would.  I did not get into Brown, which I was convinced for years was the college of my dreams; I did, however, get into Rice, where I was incredibly happy for four years, and which gave me a very fine education, some even finer friends, and Jill.  Oh, and speaking of Jill; I didn’t see her coming at ALL.  I thought I would have to wait a long, long time to meet someone to love–not that I would meet her my freshman year of college.  Goes to show how much I know.

This summer, when Jill & I got the best email ever–the one that told us about Shiv–I was a few solid days of work away from completing my long-nursed manuscript of essays.  What I had thought: that I would write a book first, and then have a baby, has turned out to be the complete and delightful opposite of every plan I had ever made.

Before Shiv, this would have certainly frustrated and discouraged me to no end–I would have seen the fact that I had not yet accomplished one of my major life goals as a failure, and I would have used that interpretation to berate myself such that no further writing was done (vicious cycle).  But now, as I sit here typing this with the cutest little frog-legged being in my lap, I feel that there could be no better time for me to finish my book than now.  I have a whole new set of perspectives to bring to some unfinished work, and know that the joy of the accomplishment will only be amplified by the fact that I did baby first, then book: reverse order of what I had imagined.

I’m on maternity leave for the month of September, and plan to finish my manuscript by the end of the month!  The book is a collection of essays, some of which have already been published here, but most of which are new.  I plan to self-publish The Pomegranate King and hope to have it up for sale by Thanksgiving.

My thanks to all of you out there who have taken the time to read an essay of mine or drop me a note of support and encouragement.  I can’t wait to share this book with all of you, and hope it will be of value to those of you who choose to read it.

FIGS PICKLED IN BALSAMIC VINEGAR & FIG BALSAMIC

We had a plethora of figs from a neighbor’s tree earlier in the summer–more than we could just eat straight–so I decided to try and capture their flavor in these two ways.

I pickled the firmer figs according to the recipe below and have kept them in jars in the fridge–they are excellent on grilled pork or as an addition to a cheese/nut plate, and I think they would also be great flavor-add-ins to braises or tagines this fall.

With the softer figs, I decided to make a more syrupy balsamic, which is excellent on almost anything: in salad dressings, on ice cream, with pizza or pasta, as a glaze or part of a marinade, drizzled on fresh fruit, etc.  They sell pricey infused vinegars at specialty stores, but why bother with that when you can make your own?  Figs will enjoy a second season through the end of this month, so go for it!

PICKLED FIGS RECIPE
adapted from Food & Wine

ingredients:

1 cup sugar
2 cups water
3/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 pound small firm-but-ripe Black Mission figs

optional: flavoring elements for the jars, such as bay leaves, peppercorns, cinnamon sticks, etc.

Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, combine the sugar, water and balsamic vinegar and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the figs and simmer over low heat, stirring a few times, until they are barely tender, about 10 minutes.

Pack the figs into clean canning jars, along with any other flavoring elements you like, then ladle the hot vinegar on top.   At this point, you can let the jars cool and then store in the fridge, or process the jars for shelf-stable pickles.

 

FIG-INFUSED BALSAMIC VINEGAR RECIPE
adapted from White on Rice Couple

I love the combination of figs and cherries, so I added the latter to the mix.  If you can’t find fresh, you could use dried cherries as well, or you could just leave them out.

If vanilla seems like a strange ingredient here, trust me–it adds a nice rounding note to the bite of the reduced vinegar.

ingredients:

1 cup fig pulp (from approximately 1 dozen ripe figs)
1 cup balsamic vinegar
handful of fresh cherries, pitted and halved
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Simmer the fig pulp, cherries (if using), and balsamic vinegar until reduced by the desired amount, up to half.  Keep in mind, more you reduce mixture, the stronger it will be.  (I reduced mine by about a third).

Allow the mixture to cool, then process in the blender.  Pour through a fine mesh strainer to remove seeds, then stir in the vanilla extract and enjoy!

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