Thursday, September 23, 2010

Eggplant Overload

With 20 pounds of tomatoes that I've been getting every week lately, one might assume that I might be overwhelmed by all those tomatoes. And although that is starting to be true, it's really the eggplant that's getting to me. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that tomatoes can be processed in bulk: you can easily throw ten pounds of tomatoes into a pot or into the oven and make sauce. But eggplant?  Not really.  At least not in this household.  But at least I've come up with four dishes that, in theory, people might eat. These include Baba Ganoush, Eggplant Caviar, Eggplant in Garlic Sauce, and Eggplant Parmesan.

I am crazy for baba ganoush and I've gotten some other family members into it too, including my mother who doesn't like eggplant at all. There is a middle eastern restaurant somewhere in Brooklyn (wish I remembered its name) that serves the most delicious baba ganoush. It is super smoky and intense. You either love it or you hate it. I happen to love anything really smoky so this eggplant dish is like catnip to me. The more I smell and taste it, the more I crave it. So the minute I first got eggplant, I wanted to try making my own. The most promising recipe for super smoky baba ganoush comes from David Lebovitz, whom I admire. So I tried it. The first batch came out so well that there was no time to photograph it before it disappeared.  The only problem with it was that it was not smoky at all.

This is what happened: I am blessed with a gas stove so I turned it on and set my eggplants on top of the flame. The eggplant just sat there, not really charring while flames jumped and singed the cap part of the eggplant. I turned it and tried to do other sides. Ten minutes later, there was hardly any char on the outside of it. I got impatient and also began to worry about burning down my house so I stuck the eggplant under the broiler instead. That charred it much faster. But here's the thing: how is the smoke flavor supposed to get into the eggplant dish? Once you char it, you take the skin off and you're left with the soft interior that is not smoky. If I owned a grill, I would most likely char the eggplant on the grill to get the effect I'm after but without it, I just have the stove and oven.

For the second batch (pictured here), I skipped the charring step altogether. The taste was different but good in its own way. I also reduced the amount of parsley as it was overwhelming in the first batch. The reduction of parsley was still not enough so if I make this again, I might even drop the parsley altogether. I also reduced the amount of garlic and skipped the chile powder. You want the taste of the eggplant to come through and not the other ingredients. If you try this recipe, let me know if you can get it smoky (if that is what you like).

Baba Ganoush
(Adapted from David Lebovitz)
(Print this recipe)

3 medium eggplants
1/2 cup tahini paste
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 cloves garlic
1-2 tsp. salt (to taste)
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
1-2 sprigs of parsley, finely chopped (optional)

1. Wash, dry and prick the eggplant all over. Place it under the broiler for 10 minutes or so until the outside is charred. You can turn it midway through cooking. Turn off the broiler and heat the oven to 375 degrees.

2. Move the eggplant to a baking dish and roast in the oven for 30 minutes or so until soft. Pull out and let cool.

3. Once cool enough to handle, split the eggplants open and scrape the pulp into a food processor. Puree together with the other ingredients. Taste and adjust seasonings. Refrigerate for a few hours to let the flavors mix. Serve with pita, on bread, or even as a dip for veggies.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


You know the old saying, "When life gives you tomatoes, make tomato sauce."

Well, maybe not quite.

But that is what I've been doing with the pounds and pounds of tomatoes from the farm. There are slicing tomatoes--eight pounds today, and heirloom tomatoes--another eight pounds, and plum tomatoes, and grape tomatoes, and itty bitty yellow tomatoes the size of currants. They are all so good. And even though they are overflowing my counters--thank goodness they don't need refrigeration--I am not one to turn tomatoes away. Most of the large tomatoes have been sliced and used on burgers and sandwiches. The heirloom tomatoes have been chopped and made into salads; the itty bitty tomatoes have been consumed by my son who was tickled pink that they were so tiny and delicious.

But that still leaves, oh, about 30 more pounds of tomatoes. And they just keep coming. So. There is only one thing to do with so much goodness: make tomato sauce. I've never made tomato sauce before because frankly, jarred tomato sauce is cheap and requires so little work. And even if you don't like prepared tomato sauce, regular canned tomatoes cooked with some herbs and spices are cheaper than buying fresh tomatoes by the pound and making your own. If I weren't receiving pounds and pounds of tomatoes from my CSA, I wouldn't spend $20 on tomatoes just to make one quart of sauce.

But here I am, making sauce. Last week, before I went on vacation, I had about six pounds of grape tomatoes. Now, grape tomatoes aren't normally used for making sauce since you usually blanch the tomatoes and then peel the skin. Can you imagine peeling 300 grape tomatoes? I think not. There is a different way and I found it in a book called, Can I Freeze It?. It's so easy and comes out really well.

Tomato Sauce
(adapted from Can I Freeze It? by Susie Theodorou)

6-8 pounds of tomatoes (cherry or grape)
6 Tbsp. water

1. Put the cherry or grape tomatoes in a big pot. Add 6 tablespoons of water. Take a piece of parchment paper, crumple it and wet it. Smooth is out a bit and place directly on top of the tomatoes so that it's touching them. Cover. Set the heat to low and let them simmer for 30-60 minutes. They're done when a bunch of them have split. Drain and let cool a bit.

2. Puree in a blender or food processor.

3. Take a fine-meshed sieve and set it over a bowl. Working in small batches, pour the puree into the sieve and use a large spoon to force the puree through the sieve. I started doing this with a spoon but then switched to a ladle and the work went much faster. A regular spoon is fairly useless so get something really big. After pressing a bit, scrape the tomato sauce from underneath the sieve periodically to get as much as possible. After there's no more left to press, what you will have left in the sieve are the skins and seeds. You can dump those out.

4. Use immediately or freeze for later use. You can freeze in two-cup batches in quart-sized freezer bags or in larger batches in gallon bags. If you use it immediately, put the sauce in a pot and simmer with herbs and spices of your choice.

Since all I've done is freeze my sauce, I haven't yet tried making a pasta sauce out of it. I'm sure I will soon though!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Garlic Green Beans

Week 14's take included zucchini, cucumber, basil, eggplant, tomatoes, peppers, a melon and two watermelons. I also got to pick some blackberries, hot peppers and some snap beans.

Snap beans--or, green beans as I know them--are a staple of school lunches and seem the quintessential American vegetable of the 1950's. You know: meatloaf, mashed potatoes and green beans. At least that is how I picture a typical American dinner from the 1950's. And whenever I've come across them in school or at a salad bar, they've always been clipped at the ends and have had that greenish gray color. Needless to say, nothing about this image endeared me to green beans and they've essentially been invisible to me in the supermarket.

But after going through the effort of picking a quart or two of these beans in the heat, it was mandatory that I make something with them. When cooked properly, what an unexpected delight they are. The recipe I found seemed easy and contained ingredients that I liked so I gave it a try. All I can say is, wow. I really couldn't stop eating these. This simple dish added so much flavor to a recent dinner of sticky ribs. This vegetable will be added to my repertoire.

Garlic Green Beans
(Adapted from a New York Times recipe)
(Print this recipe)

1 1/4 pound green beans, cleaned and trimmed
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1 tsp. lemon zest, grated
3 Tbsp. chopped or slivered almonds
Additional chopped almonds
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and when boiling, drop beans into the water. Boil for 3-5 minutes, depending on how crisp you want them to be. Drain and drop the beans into ice water to stop the cooking. Drain and dry off as best you can.

2. Heat olive oil in a pan on medium heat and sauté the garlic until fragrant, about 30-60 seconds. Stir in the beans and sauté for another minute. Then add the parsley, lemon zest and almonds. Mix thoroughly and season with salt and pepper.

3. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the additional almonds.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Zucchini Fries

So it's Week 13, which is the halfway mark. I can't believe how quickly time is going but I'm also pleased with how many things I've managed to accomplish in this time. This week brought me lots and lots of tomatoes (which is how I like it), zucchini, eggplant, cucumbers, chard, watermelon, dill, cilantro, blackberries, and snap beans.

It was a little quiet on this blog in the last two weeks. It wasn't because I wasn't cooking; I had created a number of dishes that didn't quite make the cut for the blog. Since one of my goals is to make my daughter eat vegetables, I tried out some vegetable recipes that I thought she might actually eat. Since fried foods are toddler favorites (no surprise there), I experimented with some zucchini pancakes. The recipe I got was simple enough: julienned zucchini, flour, water, salt. Mix it all together and fry as little zucchini pancakes (sort of like latkes). Well, my husband and I enjoyed them enough but they could have been a little tastier (and thus, I didn't post the recipe or results). They didn't quite crisp up on the outside like you would expect and the interior was too soft. My daughter, fooled by the sight of a crispy pancake, did give one a try but it didn't work for her. After some more experimentation with zucchini pancakes using different proportions and such, I've given up on that recipe for the time being. It has potential but it needs more work. Instead, I tried making zucchini fries. This recipe was a success for at least the three of us. We ate it up, dipping it in some ranch dressing.

Zucchini Fries
(Adapted from Neely's Fried Zucchini)
(Print this recipe)

2 zucchini, cut into French fry sticks
1/3 cup flour
1 1/2 cups panko bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
1 egg, beaten with a few Tbsp. of water
Salt and pepper
Oil for frying

1. On one plate, spread out the flour. In a wide bowl or pie plate, mix together the panko, Parmesan, parsley and salt and pepper. In a second wide bowl or pie plate, put the egg mixture.

2. Heat a heavy, deep pan on medium-high heat.  Add about 1/2 inch of oil to cover the bottom of the pan.

3. Dredge the zucchini fries in flour, then in egg, then in the panko mixture.

4. Carefully add a few at a time to the hot oil. Be sure not crowd them. When they are brown on the bottom, about 2-3 minutes, flip them over and cook the other side for another minute. Pull out and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle more salt on them while they are still hot, if necessary.

5. Serve with some ranch dressing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Slow Cooker Stuffed Cabbage

Week 11's take included lettuce, beets, cabbage, cilantro, scallions, shallots, zucchini, tomatoes, onions and potatoes. Since I hadn't done anything with cabbage yet, it was time to use it in some way. I adore cabbage but usually don't buy it because it doesn't strike me as a quick-to-make kind of vegetable. When confronted with cabbage, I fall back on Eastern European dishes or coleslaw because I can't think of other uses for it. So this week, I decided to make stuffed cabbage with the intention of freezing some for later. I used a slow cooker to make things easy but you don't have to if you don't have one. A regular pot will work just fine.

I was quite pleased with the result since it tasted just like my mother's golubtsi from childhood.

Stuffed Cabbage
(Print this recipe)

1 large head of cabbage
2-3 carrots, grated
1/2 cup caramelized onions, finely chopped (optional)
butter or olive oil for cooking
1 lb. ground beef (or other ground meat of your choice)
1/2 cup cooked rice
1 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper

1. In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Tip: Put the whole head of cabbage into the empty pot and fill the pot with water to just above the cabbage. Then, remove the cabbage and bring the water to a boil. Why? You don't really want to overfill the pot and have boiling water displaced onto your stove-top once you lower the cabbage in. :)

2. Wash the cabbage and turn it upside down so that the core is facing you. Using a long, sharp knife, cut a channel all the way around the core. If you can succeed in cutting the core out completely, that will be great, but if you can't get it out, don't worry. Scoring should do the trick provided you cut deeply into the cabbage and cut all the way around to create a channel between the core and the leaves. Some recipes tell you to pull the leaves off a fresh cabbage before boiling them but I've never had success with this method because cabbage leaves are tightly packed and they will break if you try to do this.

3. Carefully lower the cabbage head into the boiling water core side down and let it boil for 10 minutes. Hold it down with something heavy if need be (because it will try to float). Once the leaves start to cook a bit, turn off the heat and pull the cabbage head out of the water. Don't drain the boiling water yet just in case the cabbage doesn't cook all the way through.

4. When cool enough to handle, peel the leaves off and let them cool further. If the interior leaves don't seem as cooked as the exterior leaves, feel free to pop the cabbage back into the pot for another few minutes of boiling. The purpose of the boiling is to loosen the leaves so that you can work with them and not to cook the cabbage completely.  Depending on the size of the cabbage, you ought to end up with about 12-15 large leaves. Reserve the smallest leaves for a later step.

5. While the leaves are cooling, heat a pan and add a little butter or olive oil. Sauté the grated carrots until golden, about 5 minutes. Let cool.

6. In a large bowl, mix together the ground beef, rice, half the carrots, the onions (if using), salt and pepper to taste, and 3-4 tablespoons of ketchup.

7. Take a cabbage leaf and lay it out flat with the stem end facing away from you.  If the stem is too hard, you can cut it out to make rolling easier. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the meat mixture at one end of the leaf and roll it up like you would a burrito. Continue making cabbage rolls in this way.

8. In a slow cooker (or a large pot), lay some of the reserved cabbage leaves on the bottom to prevent burning. Place cabbage rolls on top of these leaves. Spread half of the remaining carrot mixture on top of the rolls and add half a can of the crushed tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper. Add a second layer of cabbage rolls on top and again spread the remaining carrots and crushed tomatoes on top. Season well again. Add additional water mixed with more ketchup (several tablespoons) to make enough sauce to cover the rolls.

9. If using your slow cooker, cook on low for 4 hours. If using a regular pot, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for about half an hour. Uncover, turn up the heat, and let the sauce boil away until somewhat reduced, about 5-15 minutes. The leaves should be tender and the meat should be cooked through.

These freeze well so make lots and put some in the freezer for a future meal.