Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Moutabal — A Smoky Aubergine Dip

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I’ve been ranting about the World Cup and raving about the freshly-made baba ganoush I picked up from Moustache Pitza in NYC’s West Village. Priorities, priorities. Truth be told, Moutabal — the Lebanese equivilant of baba ganoush — isn’t a particularly complicated recipe; it just requires time enough for roasting the eggplants to the point of perfection. Perfection, in this case, being a charred skin that lends itself to the dish’s signature smoky flavor.

Belonging to the nightshade family of vegetables, eggplant is chock full of vitamins and minerals, including essential phytonutrients, antioxidants, and brain-boosting flavonoids. Coupled with extra virgin olive oil (always a winner), freshly chopped garlic, tahini, and lemon juice, this dish is great with homemade whole-wheat pita chips, especially when you just can’t seem to look another can of chickpeas in the eyes.


2 large eggplants (Look for those that are deep purple in color, firm but yielding slightly when squeezed, and avoid those with any tarnished spots or scars)

3 tbsp tahini (sesame seed paste)

3 tbsp freshly-squeezed lemon juice

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed

2 tsp kosher salt

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, for garnish

Paprika, for garnish

Place eggplants over an open flame, be it an indoor stove top or an outdoor grill, and roast evenly until skin has become black and cracking. Once eggplants are sufficiently charred, wrap in aluminum foil and set aside to cool. Alternately, you can bake the eggplants in an oven set to 375°F for 20 to 30 minutes or until they have become completely soft.

Once they are cool enough to handle, carefully peel off the charred skin. In a food processor, add eggplant pulp, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and salt, and pulse until well blended. Taste and adjust for salt, tahini, and lemon juice. Chill completely before serving, adding paprika and olive oil at the last minute. Not feeling the paprika? Try substituting with fresh pomegranate seeds (when in season) for a bright pop of color and a sweet crunch.

Monday, June 21, 2010

A Hearty Vegetarian Chili (That Doesn't Require a Slow Cooker...)

Like some of my previous recipes, this recipe came out of many, many miserably failed (and some not-so-miserably-failed) attempts at creating a yummy vegetarian chili that I would actually like to share. It’s really versatile, as a great summer side (or main!) and as a hearty, comforting stew for those colder months. You can also play around with the vegetables, customizing to your own personal tastes.

Vegetarian Chili

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small yellow onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small eggplant, diced

1 small red or green bell pepper, diced

1 rib celery, diced

1 carrot, diced

1 jalapeño, seeded and diced

1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

2 tbsp chili powder

½ tsp ground cumin

1 1/2 cups lentils

1 cup 7-grain mix, such as Rice Select’s Royal Blend

1 cup chickpeas, cooked and rinsed

1 cup black beans, cooked and rinsed

5 cups vegetable broth

Kosher salt (if needed)

Heat the olive oil in a large pot over a medium flame. Add onion and garlic and cook until translucent and slightly starting to brown. Add eggplant, pepper, celery, carrot, jalapeño, tomatoes, chili powder and cumin, stir well and allow to cook for an additional 5 minutes.

Once the vegetables have softened and are beginning to brown, add the lentils, grain mix, chickpeas and black beans, and stir well to ensure even coating. Add broth and mix well, bringing mixture to a boil and then subsequently reducing heat to low and simmering for about 30 minutes. Do a taste test about halfway through, adding salt (or a bit of vegetable bouillon) if needed. There is no need for stirring while the chili is simmering; just make sure to check up on the pot every now to see if you need to add some extra water.

Once the time is up (pencils down!), allow chili to sit and thicken for about 5 minutes before serving. Or, better yet, pack that baby up and serve it next day. Yes, this is one of those dishes that’s even better reheated. And don’t forget to have fun with the toppings! I like mine with shredded sharp Vermont cheddar cheese and chopped scallion greens. Ok, ok, and a dollop of sour cream. Yum!

Thursday, June 10, 2010


If you’re looking for something different to serve up at dinner, take with you to work for lunch, or even to steal a couple of bites from at snack time (that’s delicious and nutritious, of course), whole grains can really add a new dimension of flavor to your typical lineup. A great source of protein, fiber, and complex carbohydrates, whole grains can be an excellent substitute for any white rice dish or even a pasta dish. Their subtle, nutty flavors and wholesome textures can add a fantastic element to any meal.

At first glance, the world of grains might be a little overwhelming. There are many different varieties, ranging from quinoa to wheat berries, and cooking times that can send some running in the opposite direction. Who has time to babysit a pot these days? The truth is, we often forget how important taking the time to cook a well-rounded meal for our families is and, too often, end up forsaking quality for convenience. Thankfully, many companies now offer premixed packages of whole grains, such as Rice Select’s Royal Blend or Kashi’s 7-Grain Pilaf. If you’re new to the world of grains, this is an excellent time to experiment. Over at 101 Cookbooks, über-chic natural chef Heidi Swanson has put together a list of some of her favorite grains, and, frankly, I agree with her choices.

The start of my love affair with whole grains began more with my mother than my father, although my father really refined the recipes. Farro, if you’ve never heard of it, is an ancient grain that is used in many Mediterranean — and, more specifically in our case, Italian — dishes. It has a hearty, earthy flavor, although it must be slow cooked in order to achieve its full potential. It can be used in stews to create heartwarming winter dishes or served cold with freshly grilled vegetables as a light, refreshing summer salad.

Looking to experiment with farro this weekend? Check out Heidi Swanson’s Farro & Herbs recipe before heading over to your local Italian market!

Buon Appetito!


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