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Posts Tagged ‘eggplant’

What’s that, you say? Ajvar? Is it AHJ-VAR? AGG-VAR? How do you say it?? And what the heck is it?!?

It’s delicious, delightful, piquant, sweet and when spread on a toasted pita, a tiny slice of food heaven. The origin is Balkan in nature, and it shares it’s etymology with caviar, although there is no fish roe involved.

And it’s pronounced EYE-VAR. As with most foods that pass through this little blog of mine, it has a story. A pricey one. And it goes like this.

I love ethnic foods, and the more eclectic and unique the ethnicity is, the better I like it. I’m happy to browse any manner of unusual food market I come across, my eyes trailing the shelves, fingering the ingredients found there and trying to determine if I know what is is, first and foremost, and if I can take it home and use it. I am so blessed to live in a very culturally diverse city, and within many channels and pockets of the population one can find amazing stores full of ingredients that will elevate simple home dining. In the middle eastern market that I frequent in Columbia Heights, where the pita bread is often so fresh that the bags are still warm, I came across a jar of a bright red condiment that caught my eye. Roasted red peppers, roasted eggplant, garlic, oil. Oh my, what’s not to love? Despite the hefty price tag, I took one home. Big mistake.


I toasted some of that wonderful pita bread and slipped it through the bowl of bright red Ajvar in front of me, lifting it to my mouth. I was lost. I fell hard and fast for this sweet, somewhat spicy and cool relish. Mixed with a bit of plain yogurt, I could eat it night or day. And I did. I made pilgrimages back to that market for more bread, for more Ajvar. The price always got me, but I forged on. I loved the stuff. But like all good things, bested as they can be by economic downturn, I had to suspend my tastebuds desire for it and stop driving back to that store to buy another jar.

But I didn’t forget. There would be a day to enjoy it again. I was certain of it.

Like for many, that economic downturn hasn’t really let up it’s grip on us, and being the case, I’ve yanked up the bootstraps and found ways to further stretch the dollars and yet not go without some of the foods I really love. But it took coming across a superbly simple recipe for Ajvar to prompt me into actually making this at home.

What could be simpler than roasting vegetables to a nice rich blackened state and running my big knife over them? Because, you know, when looking at this, I yet again get that feeling that I wish I hadn’t waited so long.

Ajvar
recipe source unknown (somewhere in Internet land)

1 large eggplant, sliced in half the long way
2 red bell peppers, split in half and de-seeded
2-4 garlic cloves (optional)

Preheat oven to 450° and adjust one rack to the lowest level in your oven. Cover a baking sheet with foil and spray the foil with cooking spray. Place the vegetables cut side down on the sheet and lightly mist the tops with cooking spray. This is optional, but I find it helps with the charring.

Roast the vegetables on the lowest rack until the tops of the peppers are black and wrinkly, and the eggplant has softened. Depending on your oven, this could take anywhere from 15-30 minutes, or maybe more. Check regularly to monitor. If your house is like mine, you may need to de-activate your smoke detector. This is a fragrant and hot process.

Remove the sheet when the veggies are ready and allow to cool completely. At this point, you can either place them in a food processor to blend, or simply mince them on a cutting board. I used the cutting board and my big chef’s knife. It took me about 2 minutes. Place minced veggies in a bowl, add about 1/4 cup of good quality olive oil, and then season to taste with salt and pepper. If you want it spicy, feel free to add crushed red pepper, or if you can find it,  ground szechuan peppercorns would be amazing in this. I prefer mine on the mild side. It can be served room temperature, but the flavor will develop after a day or two in the fridge.

Eat it with toasted pita, carrots, or spread on hearty crackers. It tastes wonderful when mixed with a little plain yogurt too. I also think it would be delicious served over pasta.

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September in Minnesota really could not have been any more beautiful. The weather was temperate throughout the entire month with warm sunshine and cool, crisp nights. It was also extremely dry. Like desolate and parched, desert-like dry.

desert

By the end of the month, the air was almost caustic, and any amount of wind kicked up rolling dust devils. The few zucchini left on my vine withered in the dryness and the grass, once again, became parched and crackly. And then, just when it seemed the haze that hung in the air would never break up, October came along and with it, a long and much needed drenching rain.

And cold. Those gorgeous September days of upper 70’s and purely blinding sunlight have given way to temps in the 50’s and a lot of clouds. I finally had to give in and turn on the heat when both the cats began fighting over who got to snuggle in my lap for warmth, and a cozy, comforting meal from the oven seemed like just the ticket to usher in a cold, blustery and rain-driven night.

Most any Wednesday finds me eagerly perusing the New York Times Dining and Wine section, skipping over the restaurant news and market talk to find the weekly recipes, eager for some new ammunition to add to my cooking arsenal. Sometimes I fall flat, or I print off an interesting specimen that ends up languishing, forgotten, in a pile somewhere.  But this recipe for Ratatouille and Sausage Pot Pie with Cornmeal Biscuits seemed to be one destined to go from the printer to the prep table in record time. And it did. One day was all it took and it was bubbling on the trivet, my stomach growling in desire as the rain pelted the rapidly darkening windows and the furnace hummed happily.

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What a wonderful twist on comfort food, a new definition for an age-old favorite. The recipe calls for italian sausage, but if you’ve got a meat market in your area, one that makes its own artisan sausages, pick a richly flavored one to use in this recipe. A local market near us makes it’s own bratwurst and the Wild Rice variety paired beautifully with this dish. Roasting the vegetables brings out so much sweetness and flavor; both Mike and I were really happy with this dish, the complex flavors and the ultra-comforting way it filled us up.

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Ratatouille and Sausage Pot Pie with Cornmeal Biscuits
From The New York Times Dining section, 9/30/09

For the Biscuits:
1 c. AP flour
1/2 c. cornmeal
2 t. sugar
1-1/2 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/4 t. kosher salt
6 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2″ cubes
3/4 c. sour cream or plain whole milk yogurt

In a medium bowl, stir together flour, cornmeal, sugar, baking powder, soda and salt. With a pastry cutter or two forks, cut in the butter until it resembles coarse crumbs. Add the yogurt or sour cream and fold in gently until mostly combined. Gather the dough with your fingers and press any remaining dry ingredients into it, kneading it lightly until it all comes together. It should be slightly sticky. If too wet, sprinkle with a little more cornmeal. If too dry, add a small amount of milk. Press dough into a ball and place plastic wrap over the top of it. Set aside.

For the Ratatouille:
1 large eggplant, cut to 1″chunks
2-3 medium zucchini, cut to 1″ chunks
1 large red pepper, cut to 1″ chunks
1 large yellow onion, cut to 1″ chunks
3 garlic cloves, peeled and cut in half
3/4# italian sausage, casings removed
2 large tomatoes, cored and rough chopped
4 sprigs fresh thyme
3 sprigs fresh oregano
3-4 large basil leaves, chopped

Oil for roasting, salt and pepper.

Preheat oven to 450°. In a large bowl, place all the vegetables and drizzle them with about 3-4 T. of good quality olive oil. Season with salt and pepper and gently stir to coat. Spread the vegetables on two cookie sheets without crowding them. Roast until golden and browned in spots, about 20-25 minutes. Stir once during roasting.

Meanwhile, in an oven proof skillet with deep sides (or use a regular pan, then a separate baking dish) cook the sausage until browned, breaking up into small pieces. When sausage is cooked, add the tomato and stir gently. Allow to cook for about 5 minutes without disturbing. The tomato should break down slightly, but not too much.  At this point, if the vegetables are not done yet, turn the burner off under the skillet and wait for the vegetables to finish. You don’t want the tomato to become mushy.

When the vegetables are done, scrape them into the skillet with the sausage and tomato, or pour everything into a 2-3 quart baking dish. Divide the cornmeal biscuit dough into five or six workable pieces and flatten them with your palms, placing them on top of the vegetable and sausage mixture, pressing them down slightly. They can be in rounds, or you can cover the top as much as possible with the dough. Reduce the oven temperature to 400°. With a pastry brush, dip into the juices in the pan and brush the tops of the dough with the juices. Bake for approximately 20 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden and the filling is bubbly.

This dish would be just as good without the addition of any meat.


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First, there was a teeny little fun project.
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Then there was dinner.
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There was some good wine…..

Falanghina

and a good book……

F.Scott

It was almost a shame that the evening had to end. Sometimes you get such a perfect balance of simple, well- cooked and seasoned food, with plenty of color and a varied amount of flavor that you wish it could last for hours. It was that good. The night was breezy and warm, a beautiful rendition of mid-August, and the guys were each off on their own pursuits. It was just me and the cats. And it was heaven.

Pickled Radishes
From Epicurious

1/2 c. red wine vinegar
1/4 c. water
1/4 c. white sugar
2 t. kosher salt
1 t. mustard seed
1 t. coriander seed
1/2 t. peppercorns
2 bay leaf
1 bunch radishes, sliced thin

Scrub radishes well with a stiff brush and slice thin, discarding the stem end. Place in a pyrex or other heatproof bowl.  Combine ingredients for the brine in a small saucepan and bring to a slow simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Simmer for about two minutes. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly, then pour over radish slices, stirring to combine. Allow radishes and brine to cool for about 20-30 minutes, then spoon the entire mixture into a glass jar with a lid. Be sure to have sterilized the jar, lid and ring well in hot soapy water or by boiling. Screw on the lid, shake well to combine everything once again, and place jar in refrigerator. These are ready to eat within 3-4 hours. They will get more tang and bite the longer they sit. If you don’t wish to have the pink slices, substitute white wine vinegar for the red. This recipe offers a perfect balance of sweet and tart.

The idea for the dinner came from ————> HERE

The recipe for the Garlicky White Beans is —————> HERE

My method for grilling zucchini and eggplant can be found ———> HERE

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