Appetizer · Mediterranean · Spanish

Eggplant Fritters with Honey (Berenjenas con miel)

This recipe is typical of Southern Spain. It is best served fresh and hot. It serves 4 people for a Tapas/Appetizer portion. This would be delicious served with a white wine with some minerality such as pinot grigio or an albariño.

This is great during the summer, and is meant to be eaten immediately. However, you do need to have the eggplants soaking for an hour before you intend to fry them up and serve.

You will need:

  • 1 large eggplant, peeled and cut into 1/3 inch discs
  • Flour
  • Honey
  • Olive Oil
  • Salt

Step one:

Peel the eggplant and cut it into circular slices about 1/3 inch thick. Put them in a bowl, add enough milk to cover, and put a small plate on top to hold them down. Let soak for 1 to 2 hours; drain. The purpose of the milk is to draw out any bitterness.

Step two:

Cover a plate with plenty of flour mixed with a sprinkling of salt. Working in batches, turn the eggplant slices in this so that they are entirely covered with flour, then shake them to remove the excess. Deep-fry in sizzling but not too hot oil, turning the slices over as soon as the first side is brown. Drain on paper towels.

Serve hot with a drizzle of honey.

Appetizer · Central American · Italian · Mediterranean · Side dish

How to Eat Your Vegetables

I’ve been thinking a lot about food and improving health, in general. This is a great pastime when I am procrastinating and avoiding my day job, which if I am honest is pretty often. I am sure you are well versed in the benefits of vegetables, so I will spare you. But do consider adding more into your life, because they will make you feel better, and I think returning to basics has been really helpful this year for me, mentally and physically.

I was born in the early 1970’s – a time where convenience and heavily processed food was the norm. This really clashed with how my great grandmothers and grandmothers cooked. Now, we understand the wisdom of eating fresh produce, and food that is in season. But for decades, the idea of microwave or canned food persisted. Do you remember the weird, sadistic trend of disguising vegetables in foods that kids would eat, like brownies?

When I was a kid, I would go to my other friend’s houses, and would always be shocked by the lack of vegetables, or the ones at the table were drowning in velveeta, boiled within an inch of their life, or was simply canned corn thrown in a bowl, like a sad afterthought. The only exception was my neighbors from Taiwan, where beautifully cooked vegetables took center stage. I was fortunate to eat there on a regular basis, because their daughters were close in age to me.

While I don’t want to pass too much judgement (people were busy, it was a different time), I was very lucky to have good practices and habits set in place by family. My rule of thumb when kids were young and I was very busy was to always make sure at least a salad was on the table. Now, I try to have multiple servings and options, especially in spring and summer when vegetables are very fresh. But I do believe that many people aren’t quite sure what to make, or need some inspiration. So I thought it might do some good to list out favorite vegetables side-dishes for you to enjoy and get inspired by. Most of these derive from Italian and Spanish cooking, but the winter vegetables, I picked up from neighbors whose dishes I admired.

Quick and Easy:

  1. Tomatoes & Feta – Heat oven to 350 degrees. Take campari tomatoes or slice a larger fresh tomato and place in a baking dish. Drizzle with olive oil & top with feta. Top with a little salt and ground pepper. Cook for 10-12 minutes.
  2. Cucumbers & Feta – peel, deseed and slice two cucumbers. Slice 1/2 small red onion thinly. Add a little salt and pepper. Mix 2 Tbs red wine vinegar, 1/4 cup olive oil and some fresh mint leaves. Blend to emusify and drizzle over cucumbers and onions. Add feta or goat cheese. *If you don’t have mint, this is also lovely with fresh basil or oregano.
  3. Quick Caprese – slice tomatoes and top with drizzle of a good olive oil and some basalmic vinegar. Grind a little salt and pepper on top. Add a slice of fresh mozzarella and some fresh basil. Top with basalmic glaze, if you have it.
  4. Sliced cucumbers – Peel & Slice 3 peeled cucumbers wafer thin on a mandolin and thin put them in a strainer. Add salt and let it sit in the strainer for 10-20 minutes. Squeeze all moisture out of the cucumbers and place in a bowl with 2 minced cloves of garlic. Add 1 tbs of white vinegar and salt to taste. Dilute with a little water if needed. This is best served chilled.
  5. Curtido This is mostly as a side for pupusas, but we love to use it as an all purpose slaw for barbecue, hot dogs, or crabcakes. I often serve it with fish for some crunch and dimension. We also add chiles, but that is optional.
  6. Grilled zucchini & summer squash – if you have time for the grill, this is fast and easy to put together.

Vegetable Spreads:

  1. Caponata – this is best made ahead and chilled. This is salty, sour, sweet, and decadent, all at the same time.
  2. Pisto Manchego – like Caponata, this is great spread onto a bread. Has roasted flavors & cumin notes.
  3. Roasted Red pepper Dip – this is great with pita and one I used to always bring to the break room.
  4. Romesco – this is probably my favorite staple, and is often in fridge and ready to go for eggs, bread, or fish.

Takes a little time, but worth it:

  1. Greek salad – this is a favorite in our family, and we make it on a weekly basis in summer. We always bring it to cookouts.
  2. Ciambottathis is favorite of our children. They used to call it pizza vegetables, and had no idea they were eating so many vegetables.
  3. Eggplants and honey – you have to soak the eggplants for an hour, but once they are ready. these are quick and easy to make.
  4. Grilled chile-lime corn – Preheat your grill. Partially shuck your corn and remove the corn silk. Put the husks back and dunk in cold water for ten minutes. Shake water off, and rub corn with butter and if you want some spice i.e. chili-lime seasoning or elote seasoning. Place husks back over the cobs, and grill for ten minutes. If you don’t want spice, salt, pepper and paprika will do.

In the winter:

  1. Maple sweet potatoes – this is so delicious in the dead of winter.
  2. Roasted potatoes, brusell sprouts and asparagus I often make this in fall in a large baking sheet.

Appetizer · Italian · Mediterranean

Caponata

Caponata is an awesome summer dish native to Sicily and Southern Italy. It is a prime example of something that does not look very appealing, but tastes like gold. Ideally, you make a large batch and then keep in the fridge, to chill. It is far better chilled on a hot summer day. Spread it on your bread while you socialize with family and friends and wait for dinner. Although recipes vary, as all good ones do, I love it with a lot of capers.

This is a recipe that I have enjoyed over the years, but didn’t have family knowledge to know exactly how to make. Years ago, I tried out a few, and found this one was close to what I was looking for.

  • 1 ½ pounds eggplant (1 large), roasted
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 3 large garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 red bell peppers, diced
  •  Salt to taste
  • 1 pound ripe tomatoes, (preferably romas), or 1 14-ounce can crushed tomatoes (in puree)
  • 3 heaped tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
  • 3 tablespoons coarsely chopped pitted green olives
  • 2 tablespoons plus a pinch of sugar
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (more to taste)
  •  freshly ground pepper to taste

Steps:

  1. Roast the eggplant in the oven, allow to cool and chop coarsely.
  2. Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat in a large, heavy nonstick skillet and add the onion and celery. Cook, stirring, until the onion softens, about 5 minutes, and add the garlic. Cook together for a minute, until the garlic begins to smell fragrant, and add the peppers and 1/2 teaspoon of salt. Cook, stirring, until just about tender, about 8 minutes. Add another tablespoon of oil and the eggplant, and stir together for another 5 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. The eggplant will fall apart, which is fine. Season to taste.
  3. Add the tomatoes to the pan with about 1/2 teaspoon salt and a pinch of sugar. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan often, for 5 to 10 minutes, until the tomatoes have cooked down somewhat and they smell fragrant. Add the capers, olives, remaining sugar, and vinegar. Turn the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, for 20 to 30 minutes, until the vegetables are thoroughly tender and the mixture is quite thick, sweet, and fragrant. Season to taste with salt and pepper and remove from the heat. Allow to cool to room temperature. If possible, cover and chill overnight. Serve at room temperature.

Adapted from: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1016445-caponata

Italian · Mediterranean · Recipes

Asiago & Spinach Steak

This is a great recipe for those who love steak and spinach. With the exception of tying the meat, the recipe is very quick to throw together and to cook overall.

Although I prefer Asiago cheese for this recipe, you can certainly substitute Pecorino-Romano or Parmesan if you prefer.

You will need:

  • 2 packages frozen, chopped spinach – thawed and drained (10 oz each).
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley
  • 1/4 cup fresh grated Asiago cheese
  • 2 Tbs capers, rinsed and drained
  • 2 tbs balsamic vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 small flank steak (1 lb)
  • 1 tsp olive oil
  • twine

Step one:

Line baking sheet with aluminum foil. Heat broiler with rack set 4 inches from heat source. Place spinach in a kitchen towel and squeeze out excess moisture.

Step two:

In a medium boil, mix spinach, capers, garlic, cheese, parsley, balsamic vinegar, and red pepper. Season with salt and pepper and mix to combine.

Step three:

Cut open steak. Rub with olive oil.

Cut several pieces of kitchen twine. Spread spinach mixture down the center of the meat. Roll steak over mixture and press firmly to compact the filling. Tie twine to secure the roll. Cut roll in half crosswise, seam side down. Rub outer part with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Step four:

Broil until browned, 8-10 minutes for medium rare. Let rest for 10 minutes. Remove string and slice steak into 1/2 inc pieces.

Appetizer · Mediterranean · Recipes

Roasted Red Pepper & Feta Dip

I found this recipe in a Mediterranean cookbook, and decided to use it for our annual Oscar party. It was ideal because I was looking for a good dip to use that was vegetarian, but delicious. It is very versatile, and very easy to make. I would definitely use it as a spread for sandwiches, as well.

You will need:

  • 2 red sweet peppers
  • 1 onion cut into wedges
  • 4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup feta cheese
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp fresh oregano
  • 1/4 tsp kosher salt
  • 1/8-1/4 tsp crushed red pepper
  • Serve with pita chips, bread, or vegetables.

Too Busy? 

Instead of roasting the red peppers yourself, use one cup of purchased roasted red sweet peppers, drained

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Cut the peppers in half and deseed and destem. Place the pepper halvess cut side down on the sheet. Arrange the onions and garlic on the baking sheet with the pepper halves. Brush vegetables and garlic with some of the olive oil.
  2. Roast the vegetables for 30 to 35 minutes until the pepper skins are blistered and the onion is tender. Remove them from the oven and wrap the vegetables up in foil. Let them stand for 15 minutes. Peel and discard the skins from the peppers.
  3. Add the peppers and onions to a food processor or blender.  Squeeze the garlic from peels into the blender, as well. Add the remaining olive oil, and all of the remaining ingredients. Blend/pulse until nearly smooth.

I

Italian · Mediterranean · Recipes · Side dish

Orzo & Feta Salad

This is a very refreshing salad to bring to a party or serve at lunchtime. We used to have a grocery store that made an excellent version of this, and the recipe that follows is the inspiration. I also borrowed heavily from a version that Gia DeLaurentis makes. The beauty is you can add or sub in any ingredients you want. For example, there are versions with fresh tomatoes or garbanzo beans – whatever inspires you.

Recipe level: easy

Serves: 6

Time: 20 minutes

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 c. orzo
  • 4 c. Chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup red onion, minced
  • 3/4 cup feta
  • 1/2 cup sweet pepper, chopped fine
  • Sundried tomatoes, chopped fine
  • 1/4 c pitted kalamata olives, quartered

For the dressing:

  • 1/2 c. Red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tsp honey
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 tsp black pepper
  • 1 c. Virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 c. fresh basil
  • 1/4 c. Fresh mint

Step one:

Boil the chicken broth and add the orzo. Make sure to stir, because orzo can get starchy. Cook for about seven minutes and then drain and set aside.

Step two:

Assemble the dressing and then toss with drained orzo.

Step three:

Chill in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

Appetizer · Mediterranean · Recipes

Goat Cheese & Basalmic bread

Here was an experiment that began with a delicious baguette and left over goat cheese. This turned out nicely and we paired it with some Chianti. For this particular situation, I chose to lay it out on a baguette, however slicing and toasting the bread into Crostini would be ideal for a party.

You will need:

  • Fresh baguette
  • 8 oz goat cheese
  • Handful of spinach
  • 1/2 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly
  • 2 tbs olive oil
  • 1 cup mozzarella or fresh sliced mozzarella
  • Basalmic glaze (you can make it or buy it)* recipe below

Step one:

Cut baguette in half and place on a baking pan. Preheat oven to 350. Brush with a little olive oil.

Step two:

Heat olive oil on medium high heat. Cook down onions for at least 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and cook down until onions are caramelized (around 15-20 minutes total).

Step three: 

Add mozzarella on your bread. Add onions and tomatoes. Add goat cheese and fresh cracked pepper. Place in oven and cook for 8 -10 minutes.

Step four:

While bread is cooking in the oven, slice spinach and gently sauté over medium heat using the same pan you used for the onions. Cook until tender and set aside.

Step five:
Sprinkle spinach on top of the bread and drizzle with glaze. Enjoy!

To make a homeade balsamic glaze:

Bring 2 cups balsamic vinegar and 1/2 cup brown sugar to a boil and reduce heat for twenty minutes.