Kitchen Helper

“What’s your house like?” asked a little girl Lilli was on a playdate with. “It’s…messy. Really messy.” I’d actually found myself in a similar conversation with a rabbi I’m working with days before. There are always projects going on — not renovations, more like this morning’s empty milk carton is about to become a robot’s head. And used toilet paper and paper towel rolls are clearly supposed to be arms and legs of figurines waiting to be made. Empty pizza boxes are dragons’ mouths; close your eyes and you can practically already see their teeth.

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And then, of course, are the kitchen projects. Nowadays Lilli is always by my side, armed with a butter knife, ready to cut anything soft enough. Ripe stone fruit work. So do tomatoes and some cheeses. And then there is the veggie sausage she cut for the vegan jambalaya, made with the okra Lilli and I would hand pick at the farm each week. That sausage came from a Western Mass company called LightLife, which invited me to enjoy some of their vegan sausages and hot dogs this summer.

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They also sent us a cute little portable grill, with a case that doubles as a cooler; a very handsome set of grilling tools, and Sir Kensington condiments. Beatrix, as it turned out, is a Lightlife hot dog fanatic. She gobbles them up, then asks for more while smashing her hands to sign “more” to hammer home the message. I ended up sending cut up pieces of the fake dogs in her lunch box this summer.

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I can report that Rich grilled the hot dogs successfully on the tiny grill, though he felt slight ridiculous with his Weber kettle standing at the ready. But let’s talk about this jambalaya recipe I developed this summer and love making. It starts with New Orleans Holy Trinity flavor base of onions, green peppers and celery. I add a healthy dose of tomato paste, which I keep flattened in a plastic Zip Loc in the freezer, to bolster the flavor.

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Once the veggies are softened, I browned the sausage, then added the okra, a small can of tomato sauce, then stock or water. My personal choice is water and the vegetarian Better Than Bouillon. To keep things simple, I use a can of black beans, drained. And instead of rice, which is totally fine to use, I tend to reach for the 10 Minute Farro from Trader Joe’s. That really cuts down on the prep time, making this an easy weeknight dinner. Because there is always squash in the fridge, I’ll sometimes quarter one and add it to the pot when I add the okra.

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This makes an immense amount of food. It can serve four adults as a main, with leftovers for days. It also freezes well; I have some in the freezer now.

Vegan Jambalaya

Ingredients

1 package Lightlife sausages, cut into ½ inch pieces

1 green pepper, seeded and chopped

1 small white onion, chopped

1 celery stalk, chopped

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

8 fresh okra, chopped or 1 cup frozen

1 small yellow summer squash, quartered

1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce

1 14.5 oz can of black beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup Trader Joe’s 10 minute farro or 1 cup brown rice

2 cups vegetable stock (I use Better Than Bouillon)

Salt

Directions:

In a very large, lidded skillet with sides, soften the pepper, onion and celery in the tomato paste. Sprinkle liberally with Kosher salt.

Once softened, add the chopped sausage; brown it. Add the okra and summer squash; cook until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato sauce, black beans, farro and stock. Stir and salt. Bring to boil. Reduce to simmer.

Cook the stew until the farro or brown rice has softened. If you’re using the Farro, check it in 15 minutes. If you’re using the brown rice, it will be closer to an hour.

Check to see if the farro has cooked. Serve.

This post was sponsored by Lightlife. Opinions are my own.

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A New Favorite

We’ve had so much snow here in Boston that we’re now using sports figures as units of measurement. For those keeping track, we’re up to nearly a Gronk of snow. That’s about six and a half feet in less than two weeks. There’ve been multiple weekly school cancellations; the T, our mass transit system, has completely shut down several times; sidewalks are nearly impossible to navigate; parking etiquette has devolved to Lord of Flies level. We’re really lucky to own a driveway, although we’ve barely shoveled out room for our car, so no visitors, please.

do you want to build a snow man

The Super Bowl party we were invited to was canceled due to lack of parking, so we threw together our own party and hosted close friends who live around the block. We had leftovers for a few days, including a half-eaten bag of tortilla chips. But that’s OK, because it means I get to make my new favorite go-to weeknight dinner: Nacho Pie.

Found the culprit

I saw this recipe on an episode of Sara Moulton’s Weeknight Meals I had on in the background one weekend this fall. When she opened the show by saying the episode was devoted to pantry meals, she had my attention. The first dish was a pasta with beans and Kalamata olives. I have no recollection what the third dish was because all I could think about was the Nacho Pie in the middle.

You probably have everything on hand in your pantry already: can of black beans, can of corn, jar of your favorite salsa, an onion, and the dregs at the bottom of a bag of tortilla chips. In terms of fresh things, you’ll need a chopped up green pepper and some shredded cheese. There was once a time when I groaned when all I had in the house was a green pepper. But now that means I can make shakshuka, eetch or nacho pie, all terrific pantry meals.

You can gussy it up with other things on hand. I bought a pile of avocados which were on super sale for $0.88 cents each for the Super Bowl. I threw them in the refrigerator when they were perfectly ripe and we’ve been working our way through them these past few weeks. Add a dollop of sour cream or yogurt, and maybe a squeeze of fresh lime to perk it up.

warm head

This is a great weeknight meal that travels well the next day as leftovers. It’s vegetarian and cheap. I think you’ll love it as much as we do.

Nacho Pie

Ingredients

One medium onion, chopped

One green pepper, chopped

One can of black beans, drained and rinsed

One can of corn, drained and rinsed

One jar of your favorite salsa

Two cups of tortilla chips, divided

Two cups shredded cheese, divided

Enough oil to cover a skillet

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F

Heat oil in a large skillet on medium heat. When hot, add onions. Sprinkle a pinch of salt to help them sweat, and cook them on medium heat for about six minutes.  When they start to soften and become clear, add the green pepper to the onion and continue to soften them for about three minutes more.

While the peppers and onions cook on the stovetop, drain the cans of corn and beans in a colander. Give them a good shake and add them to the skillet. Stir to incorporate. Add the jar of salsa to the mixture and cook it for about one minute more.

In the bottom of an oven-proof dish – I use a soufflé dish – lay a cup of tortilla chips on its bottom. Pile about ¾ cup of shredded cheese on top of the chips. Next, pour the contents of the skillet on top of the cheese and chips. Finish the dish with the remaining chips and the rest of thecheese. Slide into the oven for about 20 minutes.

The crust will get nice and bubbly. Remove from the oven and enjoy.

Do Yourself A Favor

I’ll be frank: I’ve been very disappointed with this summer’s CSA. We used a different farm this year because my new job meant saying goodbye to the Thursday boxes from Ward’s Berry Farm. I had thought my blogging would continue at its normal pace and even spent the past year stockpiling zucchini recipes in anticipation of the summer deluge. As it turned out, our share had four of the fruits the entire summer. And don’t even get me started on the lack of corn.

Eetch

The saving grace of our summer table was the fact that I was a harvester for the horticulture program at my new job at Perkins. With the students away, a few of us year-round staff volunteered to make sure the plants were tended to. This meant I spent every other lunch break picking what was ripe, which translated into pounds of cherry tomatoes, piles of cucumbers and mounds of fresh basil. And that’s basically what we ate all summer long.

Armenian food has also become a regular feature of my lunches this summer. Perkins is in Watertown, which has one of the oldest and largest Armenian communities in all of North America. (Thankfully, it seems to be a Kardashian-free zone.) I’d poke around the shops on my lunch break, refreshing my stash of Aleppo pepper and sampling the different salads. There was one salad in particular that I kept on going back to, called eetch. It took me a few weeks to figure out that what I was enjoying so much was bulgur, or cracked dried wheat.

Lilli in August 2

Smell ya’ later, paleo, I’ve got a new grain in town, and it’s full of gluten. In fact, it is gluten. And it’s great! I went to Whole Foods last month in search of bulgur, and the fellow I asked for help lit up when I requested it. It was like I had spoken the secret password to him and he was able to share how great wheat is. If you don’t have celiac and aren’t gluten intolerant, like my poor Italian co-worker, do yourself a favor and go eat some bulgur. It’s cheap, it’s filling, and it’s incredibly delicious.

This recipe is an original of mine. I started poking around online and read a whole bunch of eetch recipes. It turns out it’s sometimes called a tomato tabouli, a set-it-and-forget-it recipe. Most recipes called for an onion and a fresh green pepper, both of which have become regular features in my lackluster CSA.

The result is so good. It’s vegan, it makes a lot and travels well, so get out your Tupperware and go to town.

Eetch –Armenian Tomato Bulgur Salad

1 medium onion, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1 Tablespoon tomato paste (Save the rest of it in a baggie and toss it into the freezer.)

½ cup olive oil

1 8 oz. can of tomato sauce

8 oz. can of water (just fill the tomato sauce can)

1 ½ cups bulgur

Directions

In a large saucepan, cook the tomato paste, chopped pepper and onion with a very hefty pinch of kosher salt in the olive oil over a medium heat. Cook this down for about a half hour.

When everything has softened, add the can of tomato sauce and the can of water. Bring to a boil. When the mixture is boiling, add the bulgur. Mix everything together until everything is incorporated. Turn off heat and let sit, covered, for 45 minutes.

After 45 minutes the bulgur should have absorbed all the liquid and filled the entire pot.

Fluff with a fork then dig in.

Worth Sharing

I’m not a huge food photo sharer on Facebook. The truth is, there are more photos of my cat on Facebook then there are of meals I’ve enjoyed. (Yes, I’m one of those people that can never get enough photos of cats or people’s children on the Internet. Share a photo of one of those two things, or better yet, together, and you’ll get a “like” from me.)

Tonight I posted a photo of dinner to Facebook with the caption “CSA Shakshuka!” I received a few thumbs up, but also a question as to what shakshuka is. Well, let me tell you about shakshuka.

The first time I’d ever heard of shakshuka was when I lived in Israel. Aleza Eve told me about the dish, a sauce made of peppers and tomatoes with eggs poached on top, and directed me to a spot in the shuk that had the best in town. After classes one afternoon, I found the shop with the famed shakshuka, but found myself drawn to the eggplant salads in the case. (I get very distracted when it comes to eggplant saladschatzeelim, as they say in Israel.) I ate my eggplant in the shade on Mt. Scopus by the Israel Museum, convincing myself I’d get the shakshuka the next time. Well, it turns out there wasn’t a next time, and the only shakshuka I’ve had has been stateside.

I’ve found shakshuka is a great use of the August CSA box which is always full of green peppers and tomatoes. Some people add onions to theirs. I think aleppo would also be nice, maybe a smidge of harissa. I found one hot pepper to be enough for me, but I know others would add at least two more. (And no, this dish is not in the least bit reflux friendly, albeit extremely delicious.) It’s also one of those chameleon dishes that can be served for breakfast, brunch, dinner or anything in between.

Shakshuka

Ingredients

2 green peppers, chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 small hot pepper, chopped into ¼ -inch pieces

5 cloves garlic, slivered

1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes, or one box Pomi (Let’s be real: I rarely cook with my fresh tomatoes. Heck, I barely share mine with Rich.)

1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

Two or three hearty pinches of salt

3 eggs

Directions

In a medium skillet, sauté the peppers, garlic, spices and salt in the olive oil. Cook until they soften, about six minutes. Add the tomato. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes. The sauce should thicken. With the back of a spoon, make three dents in the sauce. Pour the eggs into each of the spots. Cover pan with lid for about four minutes. Some people like yolks that ooze. Others like stiff yolks, which means you should cook the eggs for closer to seven minutes. It’s really up to you.

Serve in low-rimmed bowls with hunks of crusty bread or pita.

It’s What We Do

kosher vegetarian

It must be an August thing, because I’ve been dreaming about eggplant again. A thick purple gem of an aubergine came a few weeks back in my CSA, and I had been tossing around ideas of what I wanted to do with it for days. I knew I wanted it to be a dip perfect for pita — tomatoey, soft with a bit of a shimmer, not too smoky. I also knew I wanted to use the green pepper that came in the same box. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on exactly how I was to execute my vision. I knew that Aleza was coming to town, so I assured the eggplant that its fate would be a lovely one, if it could just hang on a few more days.

In preparation for our visit, we chatted a bit online about my vision, bouncing around flavors from Israel, Persia and Armenia — places that do magical things with eggplant. On a Tuesday morning, Aleza and I hunkered down with slices of leftover blueberry pie in her parents’ kitchen. (Yes, I took a vacation day to cook this eggplant. And I think all mornings should start with slices of leftover blueberry pie.) While digging around the refrigerator, her dad came downstairs and asked us if we needed any help. “Oh no,” we assured him, “we’re all set.” We were just checking to make sure there wasn’t a vegetable we had overlooked who would want to join the eggplant. We ended up taking two smaller eggplants Aleza had picked up at the farmer’s market in Provincetown, to supplement my own.

Although it had been literally a dozen years since Aleza and I cooked and studied together in Israel, it felt just so right to have planned an entire visit around cooking a meal. “It’s what we do,” Aleza summed up to her father.

Eggplant a la Aleza Eve

Ingredients

2 lbs. of eggplant (one very large one will do)

Enough oil to cover a pan

1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds

1 half white onion, chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

1 green pepper, chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper

14 oz. can crushed tomato

Salt to taste

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees

We began the eggplant preparation by placing them one at a time directly on top of a burner on the stove for about 10 minutes, turning them about every two minutes so that the entire eggplant would come into contact with the flame. This blistered its skin and started to soften its flesh. Then we tossed it into a very hot preheated oven and roasted it while we prepared the rest of the dish.

As we discussed relationships, politics, writing, religion, music and tattoos, I chopped the onion while Aleza chopped up the green pepper and garlic. We went with whole cumin seeds, which we added to a pan of hot oil, and watched until they jumped and popped. Then we added the onions and a pinch of salt, which we cooked for about 10 minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon every two minutes or so. Next we added the Aleppo pepper, green pepper and garlic, and cooked that altogether for about 15 more minutes.

(I had to run to the grocery store at this point to pick up black beans for a little protein for the corn salad we had decided to serve with the eggplant, so I didn’t actually witness this next part, but will recreate as best I can.)

A good 40 minutes had passed since we’d added the eggplant to the oven, and Aleza could see it was ready by the way it had completely softened and collapsed in on itself. She knew it was really ready by the way the flesh was easily scraped from its skin with a fork, which she then added to the onion-cumin-pepper mixture on the stove. Then she added about half of a 28 oz. can of crushed tomatoes. She was a little worried that she’d added too much, but it was just what I’d had in mind.

We cooked the dish for another 10 minutes or so, making sure all the flavors melded into each other. As we turned off the stove, Aleza drizzled a little red wine vinegar onto the eggplant, to perk it up. After toasting some pita (which I also purchased on my trip to the grocery store) we enjoyed my eggplant vision in its full glory, drizzling olive oil onto the servings on our plate.