Olive Oil Roasted Baby Eggplant w/ Red Pepper Salsa & Ricotta Cheese

I love fresh vegetarian dishes.  Last weekend, I went to the international grocery store, where I get most of my not so easy to find Lebanese ingredients.  I found the most beautiful baby eggplant that are often used in Lebanese cuisine, whether stuffed, fried, or roasted, and made into some wonderful dishes.  This time, I decided to make them into a lighter dish, something that can be part of a Mediterranean lunch or brunch … or even a side dish.

OLIVE OIL ROASTED BABY EGGPLANT WITH RED PEPPER SALSA AND RICOTTA CHEESE

10 baby Eggplant
3 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 teaspoon Salt
15 oz whole milk Ricotta Cheese
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon Black Pepper

SALSA
2 Red Bell Peppers – fire or oven roasted
1/2 cup Cilantro – finely chopped
2 tablespoons Garlic – finely minced
1/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Lemon – zested
Pinch Salt
Few fresh Black Pepper grinds

Begin by washing and drying the baby eggplant, red peppers, cilantro, and lemon.  Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the red peppers on a baking sheet and into the oven for 35 to 40 minutes.  While the peppers are roasting in the oven, start working on the eggplant.

On a clean cutting board, cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, and place them in a large bowl.  (I remove part of the eggplant stem that might burn in the oven.  See pic above.)  Add 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Mix well.  Place the oiled eggplant cut side down on a baking sheet.

If the red peppers are done roasting, remove them, and place them in a bowl.  Cover them with plastic wrap for 10 minutes to keep the steam inside the bowl.  This will help remove the peel instantly.

Bring the oven temperature down to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and place the eggplant in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes.

Finely chop the cilantro and finely mince the garlic.  Place them in a small bowl with the zest of one lemon, a pinch of salt and pepper, and 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil.  Remove the plastic wrap from covering the red peppers.  Peel and deseed the peppers.  Slice them into cubes, and place them into the bowl.  Stir the salsa to combine all the ingredients.

In another bowl, add the Ricotta cheese, and stir in 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper.

When the baby eggplant slices are out of the oven, serve them in small plates or in one large serving plate.  If you choose to serve them into individual sides, as I did, then place a few baby eggplant in one small dish.  Make a quenelle, or football shaped dollop, out of a large spoonful of Ricotta cheese, and place it in between the eggplant slices.  Drizzle one or two small spoonfuls of the red pepper salsa over the eggplant slices.  With the assertively zesty and fresh flavor of the salsa, the mild flavor and creaminess of the Ricotta works well to bring balance to this delicious side dish.

 


Pommes Anna

In the last two posts, I told you about the Seared Rack of Lamb with Salsa Verde and the Asparagus with Tomato and Garlic Confit.  Now is the time to talk about a delicious potato dish from France, Pommes Anna.  A classic Pommes Anna has potatoes, of course, butter, salt, and a bit of pepper.  My version has garlic and thyme added to the ingredients, just because garlic, thyme, and butter make for very fabulously delicious potatoes.  I, also, make and serve this dish in individualized portions.  In my opinion, that makes it prettier to serve.

POMMES ANNA

5 large Yukon Gold Potatoes
1 stick organic Butter (8 tablespoons)
2 large Garlic cloves
16 sprigs Thyme
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper

After rinsing and drying the potatoes, slice them into uniform thin slices using a mandoline.  Make sure to dry them thoroughly, as they will be a little wet.  In a small sauce pan, melt the butter on low heat.  Finely mince the garlic, and add it to the melted butter.  Pick the thyme leaves off the sprigs, and add them to the garlic and butter.  When the butter, garlic, and thyme become fragrant, remove them from the heat, and add them to the potatoes, along with the salt and pepper.  Toss the potato slices with the butter concoction, until the slices are thoroughly coated.


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Lightly grease a baking pan / sheet.  Take a handful of buttered potato slices, and gently stack them onto the baking sheet. Do so, until all the potatoes are stacked in individual little towers.  Top them with a couple of thyme leaves and freshly ground black pepper.  Place the baking sheet in the oven for about 40 – 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through, and the edges are golden and crispy.  Serve alongside you favorite main dish.  I served it with my seared lamb and salsa verde.  It was very delicious!  Bon Appétit!


Asparagus w/ Tomato & Garlic Confit

This weekend was my husband’s birthday.  Every year, on his birthday, I make him a special meal followed by a dessert of his choice.  For this meal, I made him a Seared Rack of Lamb with Salsa Verde, Asparagus with Tomato and Garlic Confit, Pommes Anna, and Rebecca Rather’s Tropical Carrot Cake with Coconut Cream Frosting, Kevin’s favorite.  I got up early on Saturday to get started on all those delicious dishes.  The next few posts will contain the recipes from my husband’s birthday meal.

ASPARAGUS WITH TOMATO AND GARLIC CONFIT

3 lbs Asparagus
1 pint Cherry  Tomatoes
1 head Garlic
4 sprigs Thyme
1 to 1 1/3 cups Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
3 quarts boiling Water
3 tablespoons Salt

In a small sauce pan on low heat, pour in the olive oil and add the peeled garlic, tomatoes, and thyme sprigs.  Let the tomatoes and garlic cook or confit for about 2 hours, or until the garlic is very soft.  Remove them from the heat, and remove the thyme sprigs.  You may go ahead and remove the tomatoes and garlic from the confit oil.  Make sure to reserve some of the confit oil for the asparagus, and the rest for another dish or bread dipping.

Meanwhile, clean the asparagus and remove their wooden ends.  Slice them diagonally into 3 or 4 equal segments.  In another pot, bring 3 quarts of water to a boil, add 3 tablespoons of salt, then add the sliced asparagus.  Parboil the asparagus for 4 minutes, then place them in ice water.  This process stops the cooking process, as you don’t want the asparagus to be overcooked or mushy, while retaining their deep green color.  After a couple of minutes or so, remove the asparagus from the ice water and dry them thoroughly.

In a sauté pan over medium heat, pour 3 tablespoons of the reserved confit olive oil, then add the sliced asparagus, half the salt and pepper.  After the asparagus have warmed up, gently toss in the tomatoes and garlic with the rest of the salt and pepper.  Gently mix everything together, then place them in a serving dish.  This is a very delicious and bright side dish.  It goes very well with meat and fish dishes.  In this instance, the main dish is lamb, which will be featured in the next post.  I hope you enjoy this very yummy side dish!


Mustard & Olive Oil Roasted Potatoes

I love making different kinds of oven roasted potatoes.  Anyone who knows me can tell you that most of my brunches and dinners contain a roasted potato dish of some kind.  So, for Kevin’s Father’s Day dinner, I made these mustard and olive oil roasted potatoes as another side to the char grilled pork chops.  They were amazing!  What gave these potatoes an edge was that they were yukon gold potatoes.  Their natural buttery flavor and sturdy low starch texture make them the perfect potatoes for roasting, as they retain their shape during the roasting (and any cooking) process.  You may use any other potato you would like, but I believe that once you try the Yukon gold potatoes, you will tend to stick to them.

MUSTARD AND OLIVE OIL ROASTED POTATOES

6 large Yukon Gold Potatoes
2 tablespoons Grainy Mustard
4 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 White Onion
1 teaspoon Salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper
2 tablespoons flat leaf (Italian) Parsley – finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Begin by dicing the potatoes into medium wedges, and slicing the onions lengthwise.  Place them in large bowl.  In a separate small bowl, whisk together the grainy mustard, extra virgin olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Pour them over the potatoes and onion slices, and stir to coat everything evenly.  Place the coated potatoes and onion slices on a baking sheet, and bake in the oven for 45 minutes to an hour.  While in the oven, you may want to toss them around occasionally, to get them to brown more evenly.

When they are soft and golden brown, remove them from the oven, and plate them on a serving platter.  Garnish with the finely chopped flat leaf parsley.  I hope you love them as much as my family and I do.


French Green Beans w/ Garlic Infused Olive Oil

This Father’s Day, to go along with the brined and char grilled pork chops, I made a side of garlic infused olive oiled green beans.  They were so good!  This is a very easy dish to make, as it calls for 6 ingredients, two of which are salt and pepper.

FRENCH GREEN BEANS WITH GARLIC INFUSED OLIVE OIL

2 lbs French Green Beans
1/2 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
8 – 10 large Garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon Red Chili Flakes
1 teaspoon Sea Salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground Black Pepper

Begin by washing and de-stringing the green beans.  I love using French green beans, because they tend to be much more tender and have less strings than regular green beans.  You may snap off the jagged top and any strings you find.  Blanch the prepped green beans in a large pot of boiling salted water for about 3 to 5 minutes.  The green beans should be a bit tender, while retaining a slight crunch.  Drain the beans immediately, and immerse them in a large bowl of icy water.  This allows the green beans to stop cooking, while maintaining their beautiful green color.

After the green beans have cooled in their icy bath, drain them, and make sure to dry them thoroughly.

Meanwhile, thinly slice the garlic cloves, and place them in a small sauce pan with the extra virgin olive oil and red chili flakes.  Cook on low heat for about 30 minutes, then turn up the heat to medium high, and allow the garlic to crisp and get to a golden color.  Immediately as the garlic becomes golden in color, turn off the heat, remove the cloves, and place them in a small bowl to the side.

In a large sauté pan on medium heat, add the garlic and red chili flake infused oil, the green beans, salt, and pepper.  Toss until all the green beans are evenly coated.  Leave on the heat and toss occasionally to warm the beans.  Check the seasoning and adjust accordingly.  Turn the heat off, add the golden garlic slices to the green beans, and toss.  Gently ladle or scoop the French green beans into a serving platter … bon appétit!


Traditional Lebanese Hommos – Hummus

Here we are again, discussing a traditional Lebanese food that is becoming very popular in the West.  I have blogged about the Lebanese mezze / mezza quite a few times in the past (tabboulehftayer bi sbanekh, baba ghannouj, and kibbeh).  As Lebanese cuisine becomes more and more popular in the United States, more and more people are finding out about what constitutes a traditional mezze spread.  There are so many Lebanese restaurants popping up all over Dallas.  This is very exciting to me!  However, the only area of concern is do these restaurants cater to the masses, or do they remain true to the traditional cuisine of Lebanon?  I have to say that for the most part, most cater to the masses … to my slight disappointment.  Hommos is one of those foods that people seem to make into many variations.  Interesting as that may be, there is nothing quite like the traditional and original version.  Authentic and traditional Lebanese hommos does not vary from the following ingredients: garbanzo beans, tahini, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and extra virgin olive oil.  For to us, traditional hommos is king of the Lebanese mezze.

TRADITIONAL LEBANESE HOMMOS (or HUMMUS)

1 cup dried Garbanzo Beans (or 3 cups canned)
2 cloves Garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
2 large Lemons (about 8 tablespoons)
1/4 cup Tahini (Sesame paste)
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil – plus more for garnish
2-4 tablespoons cooking liquid (optional)
1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian Parsley – for garnish
1/2 teaspoon Paprika – for garnish

Begin the night before by soaking the dried garbanzo beans in cold water overnight.  The next day, place the rehydrated beans with 6 – 8 cups of cold water in a large pot, and cook them until the beans are soft.  Drain the beans, reserving some of the cooking liquid, in case you need to thin out the hommos later.  If you are using canned garbanzo beans, make sure to rinse them thoroughly in cold water, and drain them.

Place the beans in a food processor, along with the salt.  Grate the garlic with a microplane, or mash it with a mortar and pestle, then add it to the beans.  Run the food processor to roughly chop the beans.  Add the tahini and lemon juice to the chopped beans, then run the food processor again.  While it is still running, drizzle the extra virgin olive oil, until everything is thoroughly combined.  If the hommos is too thick to your liking, add a couple of tablespoons of the cooking liquid and process, until you reach the desired consistency.


Choosing the right Tahini is crucial to the flavor of your hommos.  Most tahini brands have a little bitterness to them, which I do not like.  If the one you have tastes good to you, then use it.  If not, see if you can find a good tahini without any bitterness to it.  I always use a Lebanese brand, Tarazi, that I buy from my local Middle Eastern store.  I love it!

Now that you made the hommos, place it in a covered container and in the refrigerator for a couple of hours.  This will allow the flavors in the hommos to marry, and will make it easier to plate.  Once you are ready to plate, remove the hommos from the refrigerator, and place it in a bowl or a shallow plate.   Garnish with some paprika, finely chopped Italian parsley, and a little extra virgin olive oil.  Serve with Lebanese pita bread as part of a mezze, an appetizer, or a side dish to a lovely meal.


Gratin Dauphinois

Gratin Dauphinois is the French name for scalloped potatoes from the Dauphiné region in southeastern France, or  what is now known as the Grenoble region.  This simple and wonderful side dish is amazingly delicious, whether with a good steak, lamb chops, pork chops, or on its own.  You will definitely notice that as it bakes, the smell emanating from that oven is intoxicating!  I remember making it a couple of years ago for Sunday dinner at my sister’s house.  My parents were visiting from out of town, and  Léna, my sister, made an awesome spread of grilled meats and fish with a zesty salad.  I was in charge of bringing a starchy side dish.  I brought the gratin dauphinois.  It went so well with what Léna prepared.  I even remember my father asking me to leave him all the leftovers … to my husband’s chagrin.

GRATIN DAUPHINOIS

1 tablespoon organic Butter
4 tablespoons Garlic – finely minced
1 – 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh Thyme – finely chopped
7 medium Yukon Gold Potatoes
2 1/2 cups heavy Cream
1 teaspoon Nutmeg – freshly grated
1/2 tablespoon Salt
1 teaspoon Black Pepper – freshly ground
1 cup Gruyère – grated

Begin by washing your potatoes and leaving them to the side, while you mince and chop your garlic and thyme.  Slice the potatoes using a mandolin.  Grease an oven safe baking dish with butter, then place one layer of the potato slices to cover the bottom of the dish.  Sprinkle a pinch of salt, a pinch of freshly ground pepper, a sprinkle of the minced garlic, and a sprinkle of the chopped thyme.  Finish the layer with a fresh grating of nutmeg.  Repeat the layering process until you have layered all the potatoes with the garlic, thyme, salt, pepper, and nutmeg.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.  Gently add the heavy cream to the potato layers, and bake in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the potatoes are cooked through.  Grate the gruyère cheese, and top the potato gratin with it, then place the gratin back in the oven on broil for about 5 – 10 minutes, or until the cheese is melted and golden brown.  The length of time of this last step completely depends on your oven.  So, make sure to watch the gratin, while it is broiling.  You do not want to burn the cheese after all that work you did.  Once you take the gratin our of the oven, leave it to sit and rest for about 5 minutes.  Serve and enjoy.


Baba Ghannouj – Fire Roasted Eggplant Dip

Baba ghannouj is one of my favorite mezza / mezze platters that adorn the Lebanese table.  Its smokey flavor and creamy texture make it unique among the other spreads.  Though it takes some time to make, at least for me, it is all worth it at the end.  I remember the very first time I made it for Kevin; he was not so keen on trying it, as he was not an eggplant fan at the time.  I asked him to try it; he did.  As they say, the rest is history.  These days, I am asked to make it quite often.

BABA GHANNOUJ – Fire Roasted Eggplant Dip

2 large Eggplants
2 Garlic cloves
2 tablespoons Tahini
1 – 1 1/2 teaspoons Salt
1 1/2 large Lemons – juiced
2 tablespoons Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 tablespoon Italian Parsley – finely chopped

It is very important to pick the right eggplant to ensure the good quality of the baba ghannouj.  The eggplant must be smooth and shiny, without any blemishes, bruises, or wrinkles.  The stem must be green, and it should feel heavy for its size.  If the eggplant feels light for its size, do NOT use it.  The smaller the eggplant, the less bitter and less seeds it has.  However, the larger variety is needed to make this Lebanese dip.  I suggest picking the smaller of the large variety.

Once you have picked out the eggplants, roast them on an open flame over your gas stove.  You may also choose to roast them over a charcoal grill for amazing results.  However, if you do not have either option, you may roast them in the oven.  **If you choose to do the latter, you will not have the distinctive smokey flavor for which baba ghannouj is known.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Turn one of your gas stove burners on to medium heat, and place the eggplant on it.  Flip the eggplant on all sides to ensure each side gets charred properly.  Once you are finished with roasting one, place it in an oven proof dish and cover it with foil.  After you have charred both eggplants, and placed them in the oven proof dish covered in foil, place the dish in the oven for 30 minutes to completely steam and roast the eggplants on the inside.

Now that your eggplants are ready, gently peel the skin off and discard.  Cut each eggplant down the middle to inspect for seeds.  If your eggplant has large seeds in it, you MUST remove them, as they will turn bitter.  If a few seeds are left after the removal process, do not worry about it.  You just don’t want a dip full of eggplant seeds.  Take all the flesh of the eggplants and place it in a strainer or cullender for an hour or two.  The eggplant flesh must drain, as it is full of water.  That water will turn your baba ghannouj to a bitter, watery mess.

Once the eggplant seems properly drained, finely dice it and place it in a large enough bowl.  You may use a food processor, but I prefer to finely dice it for the texture.  Mash the garlic in a mortar and pestle, or grate it with a microplane.  Add the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, salt, and extra virgin olive oil to the eggplant and stir enough combine into a paste.  Plate in a nice bowl and make a little well in the middle of it.  Top with more extra virgin olive oil and some finely chopped Italian parsley to garnish.  You may also add a small amount of paprika as a garnish for some color.  Warm up some very thin Lebanese pita bread, and enjoy your freshly made baba ghannouj.


Olive Oil Roasted Brussels Sprouts w/ Pecorino Romano

My husband, Kevin, hates Brussels sprouts; he has hated them, since he was a young boy.  He refuses to eat them, whether we are eating at home or dining at an amazing restaurant.  My sister, Lena, made them once in a secret attempt to entice him.  They were delicious!  He, however, has remained stranded on his lonely island, void of all cruciferous vegetables.  I decided a few days ago that it was time to end his isolation.  I wanted to make a very simple and delicious Brussels sprout dish that resonates with Italian flavors.  Maybe this way, I can get Kevin to join the rest of us.  So, this is what I did …

OLIVE OIL ROASTED BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH PECORINO ROMANO 

2 lbs Brussels Sprouts
1/3 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Pepper – freshly ground
1 tablespoon organic Butter – unsalted
1 Shallot – finely diced
1 cup Pecorino Romano – grated
1 tablespoon Italian Parsley – finely chopped

Begin by cleaning the Brussels sprouts by cutting off the residual stem and removing the outermost leaves.  Rinse in cold water and let them dry.  You may use a salad spinner, if you are limited on time.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.  Either cut the sprouts in half, or quarter them, which ever you prefer, and place them in a bowl.  Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper to the Brussels sprouts and mix to thoroughly coat them.  Place them on a baking sheet and into the oven for 35 minutes or until you achieve the desired color.  Remove them from the oven and let sit.

In a sauté pan, melt 1 tablespoon of butter and add the finely diced shallots.  After they become translucent, turn the heat off and add the roasted Brussels sprouts.  Stir gently, then add the grated Pecorino Romano and stir again.  Be very careful when using this salty sheep’s milk cheese.  Though it is very delicious, you must salt your food very lightly, when using it.  

Put the pan with the roasted sprouts, shallots, and cheese in the still very hot oven for 2 minutes, keep it off.   The residual heat will begin to slightly melt the cheese.  Remove them from the oven and place in a serving dish.  Top with chopped Italian parsley.  You may choose to serve this as a side to grilled or roasted chicken or meat.  Or you may choose to make a vegetarian meal of it by topping some buttered pasta with it.  Either way, I hope you like it.  Let’s hope Kevin likes it …