Couldn’t Help Myself

Now that my CSA nightmare has ended, I’m back in charge of deciding what ends up in my crisper and root cellar. I hit up Russo’s on my lunch break this week and piled my basket high with butternut squash, kale and red potatoes. There were also two eggplants, which I wasn’t going to mention because I bought them sort of off-season, but these eggplants were just so gorgeous and on sale that I couldn’t help myself.

Again, I wasn’t going to say anything, but I ended up using this recipe twice in a four-day period, and then this afternoon I found myself reciting it out loud to a complete stranger at a friend’s house who agreed it sounded fantastic.

Lilli and panda at Harvard

It’s called Eggplant with Capers, although I cut down on the amount of capers the recipe called for. (Four tablespoons sounded like too many for one eggplant.) I also skipped the green olives, but that was only because I couldn’t find the enormous jar of them we bought at Costco this summer. How one loses a gallon of olives is beyond me, but I’ll just accept it and move on.

The recipe is from The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas, and according to its cover, I bought it at The Strand in August 2001. The cookbook is so 1970’s, with its browned cover with green and orange accents. It reminds me of Moosewood Cookbook in a lot of ways: cover design, illustrations, an emphasis on eggs and cheese. There’s also a crepe and pancake section, so who am I to judge?

Don’t flinch at using just a tablespoon of tomato sauce – use the rest of the can for a bowl of eetch and all of a sudden you’ll have a very nice meal. As for warming the vinegar and sugar, I heated it for about 15 seconds in a glass in the microwave, or just do it in a small saucepan on the stove. The first round of this eggplant was eaten with starches we had in the fridge – leftover brown rice one night, on top of leftover soba noodles the next day at lunch. The second time I made it, we served it at a dinner party on top of some crusty bread that had dried cranberries, dried figs and sunflower seeds baked into it, also from Russo’s.

I’m treating it like a caponata, because it really is one. It’s vegan, and great hot or cold. Seriously, go make this dish, or at least bookmark it to serve on Thanksgiving.

Eggplant with Capers from The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas

Ingredients

1 large eggplant, cut up in small cubes

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 clove garlic, mined

1 onion, quartered and thinly sliced

½ to ¾ cup chopped celery

1 Tablespoon tomato sauce

Water, as required

2 Tablespoons capers

12 black pitted olives

3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

Lemon slices (optional)

Directions

A large, nonstick skillet with a cover is best for this.

Saute the eggplant in 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil. When it begins to get soft, remove from the pan, and put it aside. Add the third tablespoon of olive oil and saute the garlic and onion until the onion is golden. Then add the celery, the tomato sauce and a few tablespoons of water. Cover, and let this steam for 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add a little water if necessary.

Now, return the eggplant to the pan, add the capers, chop and add the olives. Heat the vinegar with the sugar and add that also. Salt and pepper to taste, and let simmer gently for another 10 to 15 minutes, being careful not to let it burn.

Serve it hot or cold, with slices of lemon.

 

To Market, To Market

Fresh eggs at La Boqueria, Barcelona

The “activities” on my Facebook profile are pretty accurate. I really do enjoy melting cheese on things, experimenting with my pressure cooker, riding my bicycle along the Charles and exploring international grocery stores. Of course, when you’re in another country, every grocery store is an international one, and on our trip I made a point of wandering through markets both famous and quotidian.

La Boqueria in Barcelona has existed in some form since the 13th century, first as a meat market.

They love them some pork in Spain.

Today, vendors still sell meat — everything from pigs’ heads, to hanging charcuterie — but alongside a kaleidoscope of fresh produce, eggs, spices, cheeses, fish, nuts, chocolate and sweets.

Fruity candy...

And fruit as sweet as candy.

I bought marcona almonds at this stand. Shhh, don't tell customs.

La Boqueria is frequented by Barcelona residents, but it’s very touristed as well. In order to see how the natives shopped everyday, we popped into the French grocery store chain Carrefour, three storefronts down Las Ramblas. The refrigerator cases were nowhere near as photogenic, but I got a kick out of the juice boxes of gazpacho and mass-produced Spanish Easter cake offerings.

Although it wasn’t our intention, our visit to medieval Bruges coincided with the town’s weekly market, where local villagers shop for their produce, cheeses, meats, candies and plants.

Tourists dominate in Bruges, but the natives come out for market day.

Gummy smurfs. La la la-la-la-la...

I’ll be quite honest and say that I was not enamored by this quaint, Flemish, walled city. My advice is to rent In Bruges; at least some shots in the film that weren’t overrun with tourists. Despite the entire town being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the place feels Disney-fied.

Our friend Brian told us Bruges was too touristy. We should have listened.

Many of the buildings have been almost too well-restored, as if they exist solely to serve as a backdrop for pictures taken by thousands of tourists who swarm the main square daily to see the belfry and take a canal ride. Rich and I much preferred Antwerp, where medieval castles are integrated into a working city of half a million.

We preferred Antwerp's mix of medieval and modern to Disneyland Bruges. Also, Antwerp had better beer.

My musings on the authenticity of Bruges extended to the produce at the weekly market in the town square. We Americans have an idealized notion of the European market, but I couldn’t help but wonder what Michael Pollan would think of the pallets of Driscoll’s strawberries, straight from the farm… in California.

As in Spain, my market visits in The Netherlands weren’t limited to the photogenic public markets. In Rotterdam we stopped at Albert Heijn, a chain supermarket, to buy provisions for our picnic among the flowers. I enjoyed browsing the jars of pickled vegetables, the prepared salads, the mass-produced chocolate and confections (think Cardullo’s), the cheese case and the deli. (Rich, meanwhile, was agog at the baseline quality of Dutch supermarket beer.)

It turns out the Europeans also like convenience, and the produce section had an entire wall of pre-peeled boiled potatoes and beets, a la Trader Joe’s. I was surprised to see that bagged lettuce is not just an American phenomenon. The Dutch also enjoy that convenience, albeit with their own twist; there you can buy curly-cues of pre-cut, pre-washed Belgian endive.

Belgian endive in its natural habitat.

Our first night in Rotterdam, our hosts served us stampot, a mash of potatoes and endive so common that the recipe is on the back of the bag. It was delicious, especially with the garlic and shallots our friends added to spice up the typically bland Dutch fare. But I had another dish on my mind. “If I could get this at Star Market, there is a salad I would eat every day,” I said dreamily to my hosts. Well, I’ve been back just a few weeks, and although I’ve had to chop my own endive, I’ve already enjoyed this salad three times. And now I share it with you.

Endive Salad with Radish, Crumbled Egg and Anchovy Vinaigrette

Ingredients for Salad

5 heads of endive, cut into 1/4 rounds

6 radishes, thinly sliced

1 hard-boiled egg

A few notes: Sometimes a head of endive is a good four inches thick, sometimes it’s barely two. Last week I was able to produce a salad with five heads of endive that fed four comfortably, but the four heads I had on Friday night barely filled one salad plate. I’ve seen very good prices at Market Basket, but it really does vary from week to week and store to store. If you’re unhappy with what you’ve found, this recipe will also work very well with escarole.

To prepare the endive, peel off the first layer of bitter leaves. With a sharp knife, cut half-moons approximately 1/4 inch thick. Stop when you get to full moons; these rounder pieces are very very bitter.

Place half-moons on an appropriately-sized serving platter, followed by the thin discs of radish. I prefer adding the vinaigrette at this stage, then topping off the salad with a hard boiled egg that I’ve simply crumbled with my hands. Then, if I’m feeling it, I drizzle some more dressing on top of the egg.

Anchovy Vinaigrette

In a small jar, shake together:

3 anchovies, minced

About 2 cloves of garlic, minced

Scant teaspoon of mustard — I use mustard sparingly in my dressings, as I’m not a big fan of the flavor, but it does such a good job emulsifying things. If you like mustard, add more; I’m sure it will taste delicious.

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

6-7 tablespoons olive oil

The vinegar-to-oil ratio is entirely up to you. As I’ve admitted in the past, I love tart things, so I enjoy a little pucker, but I know that’s not the case for most people. I’ve left salt off the ingredients because many people will find the anchovies salty enough, but definitely season to your taste.

Bonus Recipe: I recently came across this anchovy vinaigrette from Rendezvous in Central Square, Cambridge. If you’ve got the ingredients in the house, I say go for it. I’ll freely admit to wanting to drink this straight from the bowl.

Stuck In My Head

Every so often, a really good song gets stuck in my head, and I feel compelled to share it with friends. I know I’m not alone: Martin Scorsese has had the same song stuck in his head for 30 years.

The dish I have to share with you today is like a really good song that’s stuck in my head and I need to share it. It’s a simple salad, really. Nothing special. But it just works so well: Thin discs of crisp, peppery radish, tossed with crumbles of soft, salty feta cheese,  married by a healthy dose of tangy red wine vinegar and speckled with green onion. I’m not talking about fancy Easter egg or watermelon radishes; just your Plain Jane radish, the kind that works well in the early days of spring. It’s the time of year when I’m still wearing a winter coat, but I don’t have to wear my boots anymore. We’ve put away the shovels (although Rich tells me we could get 5 inches Friday) and are anxiously awaiting the first flowers of springtime. Soon enough, we’ll be eating  artichokes and asparagus, but we’re not quite there yet.

This salad has been on repeat the past few weeks. I think a dinner guest summed it up best when he had his first bite and said “Molly, I don’t think I’ve ever really enjoyed a radish until this moment in my life.” It’s that good.

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Ask and Ye Shall Receive

I’d been meaning to post this recipe for a while but kept on forgetting. Then, this past weekend, Rich got this e-mail from his Aunt Kathy:

I guess this message is actually for  Molly… I can’t tell you how much Bob [her husband] has talked about the cabbage dish you prepared for Sheila’s [Rich’s mom] at Christmas….well  he FINALLY bought some cabbage today & is holding out for the perfect Molly recipe! Do you mind sharing it ? He really loved it.

So in honor of Aunt Kathy and Uncle Bob, here is the recipe. It’s a great example of a touch of dried fruit bringing a dish to the next level.

Braised Red Cabbage with Dried Cranberries

Ingredients

Half a 2-3 lb. red cabbage, cut into thin strips
Half a red onion, diced
Red wine vinegar
About a tablespoon and a half of dried cranberries (dried cherries, dried blueberries, or even raisins would also be lovely)
Enough oil to coat a pan

We don't actually eat cats. I promise.

Directions

Heat oil in large pan over medium heat. Add red onion and a pinch of salt to get the onions to sweat and soften. You want the onions to soften, but not brown, so stir them occasionally with a wooden spoon. It should take between 7-10 minutes.

While the onions cook, peel off the first few layers of the red cabbage, and cut it in half, lengthwise. Using a large knife, carefully cut out the white core at the bottom of the head and discard. (Although, Bob tells me he munches on the core as he preps the cabbage.) Rest the cabbage flat on its belly, and slice cabbage crosswise to form thin strips.

When the onion has softened (but not browned) add the cabbage strips to the pan, toss in another dash of salt, and give the cabbage and onions a stir. Cook the cabbage until it softens, stirring every few minutes. I’m not going to lie, it’s going to take some time — at least 20 minutes, probably closer to 30. But it’s totally worth it.

When the cabbage has softened, stir in a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and braise the cabbage for about three minutes. Give it a taste. Does it taste sour enough to your liking? If not, add another half a tablespoon and cook for another three or so minutes. Taste again. Add another half tablespoon more if it’s still not there. I use about two tablespoons red wine vinegar, but I know that might be too puckery for some.

When the flavor is right for you,  stir in the dried cranberries. Give them three minutes or so to soften and become part of the dish.

Remove from heat and enjoy!

Dinner for Two Becomes Dinner for Five

Shabbos dinner somehow grew from just me and Rich to three guests at our table Friday night. In my fridge I had three beets, a head of cabbage, five mushrooms, and a block of feta. We feasted.

I was very silly and didn’t take photos of our food before we supped, so what I have here are leftovers — hooray for leftovers! I have no shots of the cabbage and mushrooms, which turned out to be the hit of the night. I didn’t do anything special to them — just sauteed up an onion for  a good long time until it began to caramelize, tossed in some garlic, then the mushrooms, then the cabbage.  Right before I took it off the flame I added two sage leaves. All I did was cook the cabbage down until it was too exhausted to put up a fight anymore. Limp, molted green and muddy brown, it probably wouldn’t have made very pretty picture, but it tasted great.

The beets took 25 minutes in the pressure cooker.A very simple dish: I cubed the beets, and half a block of feta, then drizzled balsamic vinegar and sprinkled fresh mint (from my container plants outside) on top.

I used the other half of feta for the quinoa, chickpea, and farmers’ market tomato salad. I cooked the chickpeas in the pressure cooker for 11 minutes with some bay leaves, a teaspoon or so of whole black peppercorns and two cloves of garlic, unpeeled. While that was going on, I cooked the quinoa in my rice cooker — no muss, no fuss. Quinoa is a great pantry staple: protein, carbs, fat, calcium, you can get a pound of it for less than $4 in bulk at Harvest Co-op.

As for feta, here’s a tip: If you go the Market Basket in Somerville — which, by the way, has FANTASTIC produce at the some of the best prices in town — head over to the deli counter. On the right hand side up against the wall is a counter fridge. Inside you’ll likely find huge blocks of really decent feta for about $4.

To dress the quinoa salad, I combined:

6 TBS olive oil

3 TBS red wine vinegar (I like my lips to pucker, so I always go 2 to1 with my dressings, while I think most recipes will say 3 to 1)

1 clove of garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon mustard (I’m actually pretty anti-mustard, but it can’t be beat for emulsifying salad dressings)

a pinch of salt

a few grinds of fresh black pepper

2 teaspoons agave nectar (you can do honey, too, but I like the sweetness of agave, and it’s good to have on hand for vegan salad dressings)

2 TBS chopped fresh mint

I put all these together in a glass jar, and shook. That’s all. This is basically the blue print for all my dressings.

Make sure to let the quinoa cool down before you dress it. Otherwise it will soak up everything and you’ll be wondering where all your flavor went. I speak from experience!

Quinoa salad on one of my new plates... thanks Freecycle!