Baba Ghanoush

We just finished a 30 day pescatarian diet with no dairy, carbohydrates, or sugar.  Oh.  My.  Word.  That was an incredibly hard challenge.  It was harder than our 30 day vegan challenge!  The no dairy thing wasn’t the issue.  It was the no carbohydrates or sugar that I had a hard time with.  We used fruit as a way to satiate our cravings for an after-dinner dessert, but that only lasted for a little while.  By the end of the second week, I was jonesing for bread and butter, frozen yogurt, cookies, and chocolate.  And do you know what was the worst tease?  My work place had a Strawberry Day event with all things strawberry desserts, and a few going away parties with the best cake from my favorite bakery, and I couldn’t have a lick of it.  Ugh.  I think I was drooling as I watched my coworkers eat cake, pies, tortes, strawberry punch, and cookies.  Such a tease.  Sigh.  The diet was worth it, I guess :)

To celebrate our first day of eating carbohydrates, I decided on a Middle Eastern and Greek meal centered around a filthy amount of pita bread.  Yes.  I said it.  I am a glutton for pita bread.  Okay.  So, honestly, we only ate one pita bread for the vegan seitan gyro sandwich, alongside a few wedges of pita dipped in some baba ghanoush.  But nonetheless, I still heart carbohydrates.

Baba Ghanoush

3 medium globe eggplants, cut lengthwise (about 2 pounds)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons tahini
2 cloves garlic, mashed into a paste
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice, plus more to your liking
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Brush cut side of eggplants with extra virgin olive oil. Place eggplants cut-side down on baking sheet and roast until until very tender, about 40 minutes.

Scoop the eggplant flesh into a large bowl, and discard skin. Mash the eggplant with a fork until it is smooth, but still has some texture. Stir in the olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, paprika, cayenne, and cumin. Season with salt and pepper.

Serve with pita, pita chips, vegetables, or however you fancy baby ghanoush :)

Ratatouille’s Rat • a • too • ee

We were in Portland, Oregon, a few weeks ago and while ordering coffee and pastries for breakfast at Little T American Bakery, our eyes gazed over towards their lunch menu.  Low and behold, there was a ratatouille panini sandwich with goat cheese.  My mouth began to salivate.  A lot.  If only it was lunch time, as I thought to myself.  I’m pretty sure that thought was mutual between the both of us.  Before we left with our coffee and breakfast, I muttered under my breath that I had to HAVE that.  Well, unfortunately, we never had a chance to make it back to Little T’s for lunch.  But it’s been on my mind ever since.

I was feeling inspired to make ratatouille when we were perusing all the different varieties of squash, eggplant, and bell peppers that the farmer’s market had to offer.  I mean, how hard could it be to make ratatouille?  If a rat can do it, then so can I! ;)

This was really fun and easy to make.  I only wish I had a better mandoline.  I purchased a Pamper Chef mandoline a few years ago only because a friend swore by hers.  I have yet to find it useful.  It’s the most clumsiest kitchen tool that I own.  Ugh.  I tried to use it again today, but after a minute of frustration, I decided to slice the vegetables with a knife.  It came out fine, but the vegetables were a little uneven.  And being the most anal person that I am, it bugged me that they weren’t all exactly the same thickness.  In fact, it still bugs me.  But I’m trying to get over it.  Anyhow, this dish has reminded me to get rid of the Pampered Chef mandoline, and to invest in a REAL mandoline.  Basically, I love any reason to buy new kitchen toys… I mean, tools :)

[p.s. Try to buy vegetables all within the same diameter.  As you can see in the picture, the zucchini I used was a lot smaller in diameter when compared to the rest of the vegetables.  So I had to use three zucchini in place of one medium to large zucchini.]

[p.p.s. if you like ratatouille, you should try my roasted ratatouille bisque with parmesan crisps… I’m know, such a shameless plug.]

Ratatouille’s Rat • a • too • ee (slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

1/2 small yellow onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup tomato puree (such as Pomi)
1 medium Italian eggplant (small in diameter)
1 medium zucchini (small in diameter)
1 medium yellow squash (small in diameter)
1 longish red bell pepper
1 (15-ounce) can San Marzano Tomato Puree
Extra virgin olive oil
Few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves removed, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper
Few tablespoons soft goat cheese, for serving

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Pour tomato puree into bottom of an oval [or whatever you have on hand… I used a square baking dish] baking dish. Drop the minced garlic and chopped onion into the sauce, stir in one tablespoon of the olive oil and season the sauce generously with salt and pepper.

Trim the ends off the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash. As carefully as you can, trim the ends off the red pepper and remove the core, leaving the shape intact.

On a mandoline, adjustable-blade slicer or with a very sharp knife, cut the eggplant, zucchini, yellow squash and red pepper into very thin slices, approximately 1/16-inch thick.

Atop the tomato sauce, arrange slices of prepared vegetables concentrically from the outer edge to the inside of the baking dish, overlapping so just a smidgen of each flat surface is visible, alternating vegetables. [If you have a handful of sliced vegetables left over, don’t fret… just make another ratatouille! Trust me. You’ll want leftovers!]

Drizzle the remaining tablespoon olive oil over the vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the fresh thyme over the dish.

Cover dish with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside [or over it, which is what I did. I didn’t have the patience to cut the parchment paper to fit and it came out just fine.]

Bake for approximately 45 to 50 minutes, until vegetables have released their liquid and are clearly cooked, but with some structure left so they are not totally limp. They should not be brown at the edges, and you should see that the tomato sauce is bubbling up around them.

Serve with a dab of soft goat cheese on top, alone with a little tomato sauce drizzled around the plate, on pasta, or pressed into a panini sandwich with some good crusty bread. Yum.

Eggplant Parmesan with Smoked Mozzarella

We’ve been trying to practice what we’ve learned from watching Food, Inc., a few weeks ago and have been trying to buy local things.  So we’ve been dedicating our Saturday mornings to buying produce from our local farmer’s market.  We have two farmer’s markets on Saturday mornings… one downtown and one in the more posh side of town.  The problem with the latter is how ridiculously expensive the items are.  I might as well go to Whole Foods if I want to pay that kind of price.  And the thing is that it’s not even organic.  I think people are paying more for the location, and the idea of buying from a farmer’s market.  There are also too many stands that only sell chocolate, coffee, pastries, and honey.  Now, don’t get me wrong, there isn’t anything wrong with that.  In fact, it’s great to be able to purchase those items, but what I want are more produce stands!!  Because in the end, I still end up at a grocery store to finish off my grocery list.  It’s also too overcrowded.  People bumping into you without saying “excuse me.”  People pushing you aside to grab the plentiful squash that you are picking through.  Large crowds irritate me.

So we found a downtown farmer’s market that has really, really fresh produce for way lot less.  The stands offer a large variety of produce.  And it isn’t too crowded.  It’s FABULOUS!  We walked away with 3 pounds of tomatoes, 3 pounds of apricots, a flat of strawberries, 4 large bunches of spinach, 2 pounds of squash, 6 lemons, 6 limes, 3 green chiles, 4 pounds of small cucumbers, 1 ginger root, 4 large eggplants, and 1 pound of sugar peas for $20.  Yes.  That’s a good deal.  And the only thing that I needed from my grocery list that I couldn’t purchase at the farmer’s market was cumin seeds, and green onion.  That made me happy.

Eggplant Parmesan with Smoked Mozzarella

1 large eggplant
1 1/2 cups flour
1 egg
2 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups panko
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
8 ounces fresh smoked mozzarella cheese, sliced
6 cups homemade marinara sauce
Fresh basil leaves

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Lightly grease a baking sheet with cooking spray.

Slice the eggplant horizontally into 8 thick slices. Sprinkle a little a salt onto both sides of the eggplant slices. Place it on a rack over a baking sheet to draw out excess water, about 30 minutes. Rinse eggplants, and pat dry with a paper towel. Set aside.

Place flour and one teaspoon of salt on a shallow plate, and combine well. In another shallow plate, pour the panko onto it.

In a separate shallow dish, whisk together the egg and water.

Take one eggplant slice and lightly dredge each side in flour. Next dip it in the egg, and then to the panko. Generously coat the eggplant with panko. Place panko’ed eggplant onto baking sheet. Repeat for the remaining seven slices of the eggplant.

Place baking sheet into the oven and bake for about 6 to 8 minutes, until the panko has turned golden to golden brown and the eggplant is soft. Flip onto the other side, and repeat the same baking process. Turn the broiler on, and remove the baking sheet from the oven. Sprinkle each slice with parmesan cheese and top with sliced smoked mozzarella, and place it back into the oven. Allow the cheese the melt and brown a bit before removing from oven, about 2 minutes. Pay close attention to the eggplant and cheese so that it doesn’t burn. Remove from oven.

Ladle 1/3 cup of your favorite marinara sauce onto a small plate. Place one slice of eggplant on top of the marinara sauce, then spoon a little marinara sauce over it. Repeat with a second layer of sliced eggplant, and spoon over a little marinara sauce. Top with fresh basil leaves. Repeat entire process with the rest of the sliced eggplant.

Makes 4 servings.

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