Island Born and Unicorns

The heat was on us like five bullies, even in the shade of the tree in the front yard. But the line-up of little sluggers didn’t seem to care. They were waiting to take their swings at the unicorn piñata hanging from the lowest branch. As the final blow spilled erasers, glow sticks, kazoos, and temporary tattoos onto the lawn, one of the grown-ups yelled out, “Call Alex Cora, we have a new slugger the Sox need!”

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But let’s back up a month, when our younger daughter, Beatrix, turned 4. June is a crazy month for us, full of birthdays, Father’s Days, and our anniversary. So the 4th birthday party was put off to mid-July. Little did we know it was going to be in the middle of the first heat wave of the summer.

It’s actually fitting that it was so hot that day because the theme for the party was inspired by Bea’s favorite book, Island Born by Junot Diaz. It’s a beautiful book about a little girl named Lola who goes to a school where all the students are from somewhere else.

Lola’s class assignment is to draw a picture of where they are originally from. Lola is from “the Island” (the Dominican Republic) but left before she could remember. She goes through her neighborhood asking everyone what they remember. She discovers the sun “can be as hot as five bullies.” She eats crispy empanadas and waxes poetic about mangoes. She learns about the music, the vivid colors, and finally, why her family left the Island.

I took the idea of a Dominican-themed birthday party as a challenge. I convinced a local restaurant to fry up a batch of crispy, vegetarian empanadas. I’m not sure Big Papi would have approved, but they were quite delicious even without meat. Dominican mangoes were magically on sale at the international store this week. We also served agua de cocoa, agua fresca, and pizza for the kids.

It wasn’t all on theme. Using this week’s CSA I made a massaged kale salad with grated carrot, dried cherries, sunflower seeds, and cucumber, and dressed it with a fresh lemon thyme dressing. I also made a corn salad that was more Mexican than Dominican, with pickled onions, grape tomatoes, avocadoes, radish, topped with Cotija cheese, and dressed with a cumin lime dressing.

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At some point in the home stretch the party morphed slightly with some last minute rainbow-unicorn purchases: a massive balloon, wading pool, and the aforementioned piñata. The pool paired nicely with the used bouncy castle I found online for a hundred bucks late this spring. When they weren’t hiding from the heat in the house, the kids dashed between the pool and the bounce house.

But really, I’m here to talk about the dessert bar Bea and I devised. Rich says now that if he knew what I was up to, he would have put a stop to it, or at least thrown himself in front of the train. But last week I received an offer I couldn’t refuse. Nellie’s Free Range Eggs reached out to me and asked if I wanted to try out their products. Even better, they offered me a gift card to help pay for the groceries.

I try to eat local eggs and dairy, so the first thing I checked was where these eggs were coming from. New Hampshire is close enough for me. Then I learned the hens live on free-range, small family-run farms, and are Certified Humane. This was just what I needed, especially because my colleague who I usually get my eggs from is on vacation this month.

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For the dessert bar I baked:

(When I type it out in bullets, it does seem like a bit much.)

These blondies were inspired by a recipe I made a few weeks back for blondies with rhubarb and white chips. I had read about a recipe from Sister Pie, which we got to visit last summer when we went to Detroit. I don’t actually own that cookbook, so I used my own blondie recipe and enhanced it. Those blondies are great, but I’m guessing most of you don’t have a pound of rhubarb squirreled away in your downstairs freezer like I do. On the other hand, it is cherry season right now.

Whether you use rhubarb or cherries, the secret to this recipe browning the butter, which lends a butterscotch flavor to the final blondies. It takes just a few more minutes than if you’re melting a stick of butter in a small saucepan. Stand by it and watch as it goes from yellow to brown but make sure to stop it before it burns. I timed it, and it took about 7 minutes to brown on my induction stove.

Rich bought me an olive pitter years ago that does double duty during cherry season. I still pit my girls’ cherries before I serve them. It also came in handy for a clafloutis that I made last week. If you don’t have one, you can just halve the cherries to de-pit them, or just squeeze the pits out by hand if you don’t mind getting cherry-stained fingers.

Brown Butter Blondies with Fresh Cherries and White Chocolate Chips

Ingredients

½ cup melted butter

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup light brown sugar

2 eggs, preferably Nellie’s Free Range Eggs

½ teaspoon salt

1 ½ cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon vanilla

1/2  cup fresh cherries, pitted and quartered

1/2 cup white chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Butter a 9×13-inch cake pan.

Melt a half cup (one stick) of butter in a small saucepan. In about seven minutes, the yellow butter will develop brown spots as it turns from frothy to brown. Watch carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn.

Mix all of the ingredients together, in order of appearance in the recipe, combining them well. Spread in the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until dry on top and almost firm to the touch. Let cool for 10-15 minutes, then cut into small squares.

This post was in part sponsored by Nellie’s Free Range Eggs, now in partnership with the Boston Red Sox!

Carpe Diem

Let’s see, it’s been a month since we celebrated Lilli’s birthday party, and I have just a few weeks before Passover starts. Apologies for those expecting a gluten-free recipe for the holiday, but I’ve wanted to share these whole-wheat chocolate chip cookies for years on the blog. It’s 6:51 am, and it’s the weekend. Carpe Diem, my friends.

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This year Lilli made it clear she did not want a cake, but rather these cookies by Kim Boyce that made the rounds, let’s see, oh, nine years ago. We baked dozens and froze them two weeks before the party, along with these spectacular and very simple blondies. We also made these halva tahini brownies that were so simple, and so so delicious, that really, the only thing you should be doing right now is melting some chocolate into olive oil.

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But yes, these cookies. They are a fan favorite. The whole wheat makes for a deeper, nuttier taste. The butter remains cold so you don’t have to plan in advance to made them as you do with most cookie recipes that call for softened butter. I promised my friend Ben a care package, and I do plan on mailing some to him. We got up early the day of Lilli’s party and made the smaller sized ones into ice cream sandwiches because, well, Carpe Diem, my friends.

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We had about 50 people in total to the house that day. A mix of current kindergarten friends, friends from PreK, friends from my Hebrew school class that Lilli comes to every Sunday with me, and a few pals from around town. Parents were invited to drop off or stay. Most stayed once they saw the spread in the kitchen.

This year I served: Michael Solomonov’s hummus (we used the Instapot for the first time to (intentionally) overcook the chickpeas; caramelized onion dip;  butternut squash and chickpea salad (which was kind of eh); Brussels sprouts with leeks, parmesan and chestnuts; Vietnamese tofu; peanut butter noodles; farro with dried apricots, mushrooms and hazelnuts; marinated roasted red peppers served with fresh mozzarella and crusty bread. You know, the usual fare for a six-year-old’s party

There was also the usual chips, dip, Pirate’s Booty, Lilli’s stuffed dates, pizza, and crudite for nibblers.

The kids clearly had a blast playing dress-up, doing art projects, and for some of the boys, playing tag inside the house. There may have been a lightsaber that needed confiscation.

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We sang happy birthday and enjoyed the aforementioned desserts, along with a Panda chocolate chip cookie cake by Papa, and some melon. It was a great party. And I still have about a dozen cookies in the downstairs freezer, despite Rich’s best efforts to finish them.

Kim Boyce’s Whole-Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients

Dry Mix

3 cups whole wheat flour

1 ½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

Wet Mix

8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch pieces

1 cup dark brown sugar

1 cup sugar

2 eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

8 ounces chocolate chips

Directions

  1. Place two racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350°F. Line two baking sheets with parchment. Although you can butter the sheets instead, parchment is useful for these cookies because the large chunks of chocolate can stick to the pan.
  2. Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl, pouring back into the bowl any bits of grain or other ingredients that may remain in the sifter.
  3. Add the butter and the sugars to the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, mix just until the butter and sugars are blended, about 2 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is combined. Mix in the vanilla. Add the flour mixture to the bowl and blend on low speed until the flour is barely combined, about 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.
  4. Add the chocolate all at once to the batter. Mix on low speed until the chocolate is evenly combined. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl, then scrape the batter out onto a work surface, and use your hands to fully incorporate all the ingredients.
  5. Scoop mounds of dough about 3 tablespoons in size onto the baking sheet, leaving 3 inches between them, or about 6 to a sheet.
  6. Bake the cookies for 16 to 20 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through, until the cookies are evenly dark brown. Transfer the cookies, still on the parchment, to the counter to cool, and repeat with the remaining dough. These cookies are best eaten warm from the oven or later that same day. They’ll keep in an airtight container for up to 3 days.

 

Anytime Tofu

I just sat down to share my Rosh Hashana menu from last month, but then had second thoughts because that was 12 dishes, plus three desserts. I will say this about that meal: The unsaid goal of the meal I set for myself was to build up to such a crescendo that by the time dessert was served, the vegans would want to eat the all three cakes served. Mission accomplished.

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Making Chocolate Granola.

But I worry I would bore you with all the details. I will instead, in honor of the vegans who were willing to eat the honey, share this tofu dish which I now have to keep in a Google Doc because people keep asking me for the recipe. It started, as it does quite frequently, at a Tot Shabbat. A little boy enjoyed the tofu so much that he declared that tofu was now his favorite food in the world and demanded his mom track down the recipe. I tripled the recipe at Rosh Hashana and have been pleasing folks right and left, since.

It’s from Saladish, which I wrote about last time I found my way here, and I’m OK still talking about this cookbook because it is such a good one. I marinate my tofu in a gallon-size Ziploc bag for a good three days before roasting and serving it. It’s actually part of a salad that I’ve never completed because I’m so stuck on the tofu.  

20181008_104047.jpgI always skip the sambal oelek to make sure young mouths won’t find it too spicy. I also cut up my tofu before putting it in the marinade, although the recipe is written to soak it whole.

Tofu (From a recipe called “Vietnamese-Style Tofu Salad” from Saladish by Ilene Rosen)

Marinade

2 tablespoons mirin

2 tablespoons sambal oelek (skip this because I skipped it. Too spicy for little ones.)

3 tablespoons seasoned rice vinegar

4 ½ teaspoons flavorless vegetable oil

1 tablespoons tamari

1 tablespoon honey

Directions

Marinate the tofu: Whisk all the ingredients for the marinade together in a bowl. Transfer to a covered container or plastic storage bag. Add the tofu and turn it over several times so it is well coated. Cover or seal and refrigerate for at least 1 day, and up to 5 days – the longer the better – turned the tofu (or bag) occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 425F.

Set the tofu on a sheet pan, reserving any excess marinade. Swipe the tofu around to grease the pan. Cut the tofu horizontally in half, then cut the still stacked halves into quarters. Cut the quarters in half to form triangles and spread them out on the pan. [Or, you can cut the tofu before marinating.]

Baste the tops with the reserved marinade and bake for 10 minutes. Then flip the tofu over and return the oven for another 10 minutes. Let cool, then serve.

Compote Season

Well then. Now that I’m done teaching Hebrew school for the year, I can get back to ye olde blog. But honestly though, March is such a let down in terms of food. Then it was Passover, which I meant to write about, because let me tell you, we ate like kings every day of the holiday. But then April was unusually cold, which meant that the asparagus was late this year. It’s always the first week of May, but it was closer to a week and a half in before stalks started popping in my front yard.

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Rhubarb was also late this year, but has now officially started taking over people’s yards. Someone had so much of the plant that they put out a call on my beloved local Buy Nothing Facebook page, where my finds so far have included a nightstand, a bathroom clock, curtains, pizza, children’s snow pants, and, today, four free duck eggs.

I picked about 2 pounds worth of the ruby and emerald stalks, and was going to make it into a rhubarb compote, then use that to make a rhubarb spoon cake in Rich’s cast-iron skillet. But I only had a quarter cup of flour in the house, so compote was all I made in the end.

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However, inspiration struck as I was chopping up the rhubarb, and I added about 2 cups of cleaned and quartered fresh strawberries (bought for and rejected by the girls). I think if I’d had some fresh ginger on hand it would have rocketed this compote out of the stratosphere. All that being said, this brand new compote recipe is divine, and I even got the girls to bed a half hour earlier than usual tonight  because I needed to share this with you that badly.

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The rhubarb compote and spoon bread recipe is from Erin French’s The Lost Kitchen, which I wrote about last summer, because her custard with freshly picked blueberries and basil, remains one of the tastiest and most elegant desserts I have ever served.

I’ve enjoyed this on Greek yogurt (full fat, please) as well as on local vanilla ice cream. Yes, both; don’t judge, it needed to happen. The compote now sitting in a glass jar in my fridge and will last about a week. I mean, the compote will be good for about a week. I don’t see this lasting past Friday.

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Rhubarb and Strawberry Compote

Adapted from Erin French’s The Lost Kitchen

Ingredients

3 cups chopped rhubarb (1-inch pieces)

⅔ cup sugar

Zest of one lemon

Juice of one half lemon

2 teaspoons cornstarch

2 cups cleaned and quartered fresh strawberries

Directions

In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the rhubarb, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Bring to a summer over medium heat, stirring constantly until the rhubarb becomes tender and sauce-like, about 5 minutes. Stir in the cleaned strawberries and cook for about 4 more minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool to room temperature. This will keep in the fridge for up to a week.

Oops.

 

20171210_144218.jpgAnd sometimes you have such an overwhelming week that you accidentally email your food blog subscribers the newest Hebrew School post. My apologies for my subscribers, all 17 of you, half of whom are related to me, for the error. But now you know why posts this season have been fewer; it’s because I’ve been working a second job and tending to a second blog for it.

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Also new this season: we’re using a Winter CSA. The vegetables were so extraordinary from our summertime CSA at Mountain View that we decided to do their Winter CSA, which is biweekly. They promised more than 30 lbs. of root vegetables. I wasn’t expecting nearly 15 lbs. each of carrots, sweet potatoes and potatoes. But sometimes you’ve just got to go with it.

Not that I’m complaining, but I did turn to Facebook last month in hopes of some new carrot ideas. My two best takeaways were roasting them with honey and lots of Aleppo pepper, then drizzling yogurt and sprinkling fresh mint on top. The second was this carrot bread that a Boston friend, Amy, posted straight to my page. She has always served me top notch baked goods, so I took notice and got out the food processor that same night.

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This carrot bread is reminiscent of carrot cake, my favorite cake, so that’s a good thing for me. It’s made with oil, making it dairy-free. If you use Earth Balance to butter the pan it stays that way. It’s great sliced in the morning, with maybe a swipe of cream cheese or butter, but it’s great plain, too. It freezes like a dream. I served this alongside some dried cranberry cream scones, jelly doughnut muffins and cut up pineapple for the parent coffee schmooze at services yesterday morning, and it was very much appreciated.

20171120_201224.jpgThe recipe makes two loaves which means one automatically goes into the freezer. Bake this tomorrow and have one at the ready when friends stop by unexpectedly.

I’ll be back soon with a kale recipe for Chanukah. Yes, really.

Carrot Bread

4 eggs

2 cups sugar

1 ¼ cup oil

3 cups flour

2 teaspoon baking powder

1 ½ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups finely shredded carrots

Beat eggs, add sugar, beat, add oil. Beat. Stir in dry, mix until smooth. Stir in carrots. Bake at 350F for 1 hour until toothpick comes out clean.

Easy As Pie

We live in walking distance of the Florence Pie Bar, which is so quaint and hip and perfect that NPR featured it in their story last month about how hip and full of Hygge pie has become. As adorable as the shop is, with its orange door and seating area the size of a postage stamp, the $5-a-slice price tag keeps our visits infrequent. Lots of people do go; some people hang out there. Just not us.

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Still, I follow them on Instagram and last February, when they posted a peanut butter pie topped with a crown of fudgy chocolate, I picked up Lilli (who is perfectly capable of walking) snapped her into her car seat, and zoomed over. You know how I am about the holy marriage of chocolate and peanut butter. The slice was amazing, but that’s the one and only time I’ve been.

But with their slices in my feed, I get a challesh, a hankering, for pie pretty regularly. So when I was flipping through What Can I Bring? Southern Food for Any Occasion Life Serves Up, by Today Show regular Elizabeth Heiskell, I was stopped in my tracks by the Peanut Butter-and-Banana Pudding recipe. Inspiration struck: What if I took just the peanut butter mousse part of the recipe, made myself a pie crust with all the leftover Graham crackers I had in the house from Sukkot art projects, and topped it with ganache? I mean, that’s what cooking and baking is all about, right? Inventing, and reinventing and borrowing, and building off a great idea.

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So that’s exactly what I did. After consulting with Sylvie and my mother who both agreed there needed to be a layer of ganache in between the crust and mousse, to prevent the pie from getting soggy. And it was glorious! Just glorious! Sylvie has been given explicit instructions to serve this at my shiva if I go first (hopefully a very long time from now.) It’s a very rich pie, so a thin slice is all I need to get my fix.

This is a dead simple recipe which takes minutes to put together. You honestly don’t need fancy chocolate for the ganache; I just used the chocolate chips I keep in my freezer. The ratio of heavy cream to chips was 1:1 so it made for a very thick layer – key for me because I do love that combination of chocolate and peanut butter. I have no allegiance to peanut butter brands, but for this recipe don’t use the natural stuff.

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We still have tons of Graham crackers leftover, and I’m still creating new pies. I made this lemon pie that I’ll share with you soon. That was even easier to make, if you don’t think you’ll get sick of eating pie. I don’t think I will!

Buckeye Pie

First, make your Graham cracker crust:

Ingredients

1 sleeve Graham crackers, broken

4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

¼ cup light brown sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F.

In a food processor, pulse the graham cracker into crumbs. Add the melted butter and light brown sugar until crumbs are moistened. Press the crumbs evenly into a 9-inch glass or metal pie plate. Bake the crust for about 10 minutes, just until lightly browned. Let cool.

Make the Peanut Butter Mousse

Ingredients

3 cups creamy peanut butter

8 ounces (1 cup) butter, softened

1 cup (about 4 ounces) powdered sugar

Directions

Beat the peanut butter and butter with an electric mixer on medium high heat until smooth, about 2 minutes. Reduce the speed to low, and slowly add powdered sugar, beating until smooth.

Make the Ganache

Ingredients

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup chopped chocolate (chocolate chips are fine by me)

Directions

Bring heavy cream to simmer on stove top, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes. Turn off heat

Add chocolate chips to the cream. Let them sit, undisturbed, for 5 minutes.

Stir. It will turn velvety. Let cool slightly.

Assemble the Pie

Once your pie crust has cooled down, pour on a thin layer of ganache. Let cool. You should still have ¾ of the ganache left.

Once the ganache has cooled, spread all the peanut butter mousse on top of the chocolate layer, and spread evenly with a spatula.

Pour the remaining ganache on top of the peanut butter mousse.

Place in fridge to firm, about 2 hours.

 

 

 

 

The Mighty Eggplant

 

Israeli food is having a moment. There, yes, but also here. There is (or was) James Beard award winner, Shaya, in New Orleans, the Tatte empire in Boston, not to mention Einat Admony in New York City. And of course, across the pond, Ottolenghi. But maybe the biggest name in American-Israeli food right now is Philadelphia’s Michael Solomonov. Rich and I have been following him since we went to Zahav back in 2010. When we went to Philadelphia for vacation this summer, we ate at his hummus bar Dizengoff with Sylvie and Miriam and Leo, after watching the eclipse at the Franklin Institute. And we brought pretty much everything on the Federal Donuts’ menu to my dear friend Carly’s in the Philly suburbs. (Rich lost his mind when he discovered that she lives three blocks from Tired Hands brewery.)

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So when I read that Solomonov had a documentary about Israeli cuisine on Netflix, it zoomed to the top of our watch list. (Yes, even over the new season of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend; don’t worry, we’re caught up.) But the documentary, In Search of Israeli Food, is Solomonov’s very personal tour of Israeli cuisine. He visits some of the big chefs, farmers, and producers in Israeli food now. It also had a fair amount about the history of Israeli food, which we found fascinating.

One of the debates among the talking heads near the beginning of the movie was, is there even such a thing as an Israeli cuisine? The country, after all, is only 65 years old, and over that time it’s been melding together the existing cuisines of the region with everything that the Jewish diaspora brought back as they migrated there: from Sephardi nations like Iraq, Syria, Turkey and Yemen to Ashkenazi Central and Eastern Europe.

The film does a good job of covering all these different strands, although we detected a preference for super-local approach of the chefs featured early in the documentary. But having eaten at Solomonov’s restaurants, it was very interesting to see the original influences that he is referring back to.

There’s a great scene where Solomonov visits an established Israeli chef at home, who starts charring an eggplant on a burner almost as soon they come into his kitchen. “It seems like so many Israeli recipes start with a burnt eggplant,” Solomonov quips.

Which brings us to this week’s recipe: I think I have finally created the creamy baba ganoush of my dreams, I think you still know what I’m talking about. Smoky, creamy, thick with tahini, it’s all there, and it’s exciting for me considering I’m still not happy with my hummus. The source is Gil Marks, considered by many to be the godfather of the history of Jewish cooking. When we lived in Boston, Marks gave a lecture at our synagogue and I missed it. Not more than a year later he passed away. One of my biggest regrets is not going to hear him talk.

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My favorite baba of all time was sold at a place at 69th and Jewel in Queens, and this is as close as I’ve come in my home kitchen to making it. It’s a far cry from when I tried making it in my parents’ kitchen when I was 12 years old. I added 6 heads of garlic, rather than 6 cloves.

This version takes a while, but nearly all of it is hands-off time. You have to roast the eggplants for a good chunk of time in a hot, hot oven, and then you have to drain the flesh in a colander for another half hour. I tend to steam roast some beets while I do the eggplant. That way I feel accomplished while having done very little.

About this recipe: Marks explains the Indian eggplant was introduced the Middle East by the Persians about 4th Century CE. It then traveled through Europe into Russia and Ukraine. Versions of this eggplant salad also have made their way into ikra (vegetable caviar in the Baltics), salata batinjan and caviar d’aubergines (eggplant cavier) in the Middle East. They are common from India to Morocco. The most famous variation is the Lebanese baba ghanouj – baba is the Arabic word for “Father” as well as a term of endearment; ghanouj means “indulged.” (And who isn’t thinking about Skinny Legs and All right now?) I borrow the tahini from this version and add it to the Israeli version, and it makes me so happy.

We’re still getting eggplants in our weekly CSA and I can’t stop making this dish. Ours are small, so I usually roast four at a time, rather than the two that Marks calls for. I suggest making this, finding some good pita, and snacking on it while you watch the Solomonov documentary.

Israeli Eggplant Spread (Salat Chatzilim) from Gil Marks’ Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World

Ingredients

2 eggplants

About ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

¼ cup chopped fresh parsley

3 to 4 garlic cloves

2 to 4 Tablespoons tahini

1 ¼ teaspoons table salt or 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Ground black pepper to taste

Directions

Roast the eggplant by placing them on a baking sheet and slide them into a preheated 400F oven until very tender, about 50 minutes. Let stand long enough so that you can handle. Peel the eggplant, being careful not to leave any skin. Place in a colander and let drain for about 30 minutes. Coarsely chop on a cutting board; do not puree.

Using the tip of a heavy knife or with a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic and salt into a paste. In a medium bowl combine all the ingredients. Let stand at room temperature to allow the flavors to meld, or refrigerate for up to 3 days. Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.