Mirza Ghasemi.

A few months ago a very sweet student in one of the labs at work phoned his grandmother in Iran to get me a recipe, which he then translated from Farsi but maybe not very well. I knew he could cook, and I had wondered if he ever made mirza ghasemi, a dish of grilled eggplant and tomatoes mashed together with olive oil and spices and garlic and topped with fried egg. I had recently fallen in love with the dish at a Persian restaurant, but wasn’t sure exactly what was in it – there was no description on the restaurant menu, and sometimes Google lies. He knew it, but he didn’t make it, so he asked if I could wait a few days and then called home.

It wasn’t eggplant season then, but it is now, so I pulled his recipe out of my inbox and realized there were a few things lost (or exaggerated) in translation – the ratio of eggs to eggplants was way off. A promising neuroscience student, he was hired away to Germany in the meantime so I can’t ask him my questions; this is a loose adaptation of his grandmother’s recipe, a dish from northern Iran that transforms bitter eggplant into a smoky dip for sangak or regular old white bread (toasted to within in an inch of its life for optimal sopping). The eggs make it a meal for two, or a hearty appetizer or snack for four.

I have given directions for this dish using the oven and stove, but please note that if it is a hot day and you have a side burner on your outdoor grill, you can make this entirely outside using roughly the same instructions and it will be that much better. Serve with bread and lemon quarters

Mirza Ghasemi

(Makes 2 to 4 servings.)

  • 2 lbs eggplants
  • 1 lb tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp. + 1/4 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 onion, finely chopped
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1 tsp. Kosher salt
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1/2 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 lemon, juiced
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tbsp. roasted shelled pistachios, roughly chopped
  • 2 tsp. fresh thyme, roughly chopped

Heat oven (or grill) to 400°F.

Using a fork or a toothpick, poke holes into eggplants and tomatoes all over. Drizzle one tablespoon of olive oil over whole eggplants and tomatoes.

Roast or grill eggplants and tomatoes for 20 minutes, until charred in places and softened – eggplants should appear to slump. Remove eggplants and tomatoes to a glass bowl, and cover with plastic wrap. Cool for at least 15 minutes, or until you can handle them comfortably with bare hands. Eggplants and tomatoes can be roasted or grilled up to 24 hours in advance – just store in the fridge until you’re ready.

If you roast your veggies ahead of time, return your grill or oven to 400°F before proceeding.

Gently remove skins from tomatoes and eggplants. If you like a smooth puree, you can use a food mill to slough off the skins and stuff. I prefer to mash the veggies’ innards with a fork or potato masher until they form a chunky mush. Reserve any liquids that have accumulated at the bottom of the bowl you cooled your veggies in.

Heat remaining olive oil in a 12″ skillet or cast iron pan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add onion, and cook for about three minutes, until translucent but not browned. Add garlic, cumin, salt, paprika, turmeric, pepper, and pepper flakes, and cook for another minute, until the spices are fragrant.

Add eggplant-tomato mush, and any remaining liquids, and simmer for about six minutes, until the liquid has evaporated and the mixture looks a bit dry and sticky, like it would burn to the bottom of the pan if you’d let it. Add lemon juice, stir, and taste. Adjust seasonings as needed.

Using a spoon, create four little holes in the eggplant mixture, then crack an egg into each hole. Place the pan in the oven, and bake until the eggs have set to your liking, five to 10 minutes.

Sprinkle the finished dish with fresh thyme leaves and chopped pistachios.

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Tempeh with tomatoes and eggplant.

tempeh with tomatoes and eggplant

If you like ratatouille, I think you’ll be into this. It’s got all that deep tomato flavour, but with a touch of smoke and a bit more texture, thanks to the tempeh, and the flavours are sweet and sour and spicy all at once. It also comes together in about half an hour, so it is in many ways a perfect cloudy summer day dish, nourishing and flavourful but not a huge pain in the ass to pull together on a weeknight.

Tempeh is a fermented soy product that originated in Indonesia, where it’s very popular in Bali – the soybeans are bound together by a mold that sort of resembles the white rind on a wheel of brie. It’s a living food that’s very high in protein and fibre, and it’s got a mild flavour and firm texture that has allowed me to pass it off as chicken nuggets to some of our less discerning family members. Tempeh is often found near the tofu in the market; if you can’t find it, you can use extra firm tofu.

If you’re in Vancouver, check out Tempea Foods tempeh, which is made locally and often available at the Vancouver Farmer’s Markets. I am in love with this product (I don’t get paid to say that, so it’s earnest).

For the recipe that follows, if you’re not able to find tamarind paste, use cooking molasses. If you’re not able to find lime leaves, use the zest and juice of an additional lime. Look for fresh lime leaves in Asian grocery stores or in the Asian ingredients section of your market’s produce section; you can often find dried or frozen lime leaves in Asian markets as well.

An aside: Why The Name ‘Kaffir Lime’ Is Wildly Offensive To Many.

IMG_6540Tempeh with tomatoes and eggplant

(Makes four servings.)

  • 3 tbsp. canola or vegetable oil, divided
  • 2 shallots, roughly chopped
  • 6 garlic gloves
  • 1″ (2.5 cm) piece ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 stalk lemongrass
  • 3 tbsp. brown sugar
  • 2 tbsp. sambal oelek
  • 1 tbsp. tamarind paste
  • 1 tbsp. fish sauce
  • 1 tsp. ground turmeric
  • 1 lime leaf
  • Zest and juice one one lime
  • 7 oz. (200 g) block tempeh, cut into inch-wide squares
  • 1/2 lb. (225 g) Japanese eggplant, halved lengthwise and cut into inch-wide pieces
  • 1 1/2 lbs. (680 g)  tomatoes, quartered lengthwise and then widthwise into 8 pieces
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup toasted cashews
  • Finely chopped scallions, for garnish

Heat one tablespoon of oil in a large pan over medium-high heat. Add the shallots, garlic, ginger, and lemongrass, and cook – stirring occasionally – until browned and slightly charred in places, about three minutes. Pour this mixture into a blender.

To the blender, add brown sugar, sambal oelek, tamarind paste or molasses, fish sauce, ground turmeric, lime leaf (if using), and lime zest and juice. Blend until pureed. Set aside.

Add the pan back to medium-high heat and add another tablespoon of oil.

Cook the tempeh for about two minutes per side, until browned and charred in places. Remove tempeh to a plate lined with paper towel.

Add the final tablespoon of oil to the pan. Cook the eggplant in a manner similar to the tempeh – until browned and charred in bits. Another two minutes.

Add the tomatoes to the pan, and add the tempeh back. Reduce heat to medium. Add the reserved blender mixture. Add salt and pepper. Stir the mixture together and cook – stirring occasionally – until the tomatoes and eggplant have expressed most of their liquid and the sauce has thickened, another 10 to 12 minutes. The mixture should resemble a chunky tomato sauce.

Stir cashews into the pan, and then sprinkle with scallions. Serve over rice.

 

 

Stewed short ribs.

I’ve been singing this song, dazedly, replacing the lusty words with worky ones, for the past couple of weeks. I’m … tired. Work is exhausting and unrelenting, the baby is crawling and into everything, and I haven’t watched a new episode of Adventure Time or read anything interesting in far too long. In the interest of adapting as best I can to a new normal, I am throwing myself into Crock Pot cookery – we WILL have a meal at the end of the day that doesn’t start off with a package of instant ramen and an egg. We WON’T just eat take-out sushi every day until our toes web and our backs sprout fins.

It is a wonderful thing to come home to a meal already made, and to an apartment that smells of herbs and garlic instead of stale cat food and yesterday’s dishes. It’s nice to hear from a friend on the weekend and invite him to dinner on Monday night because there will be short ribs, which is a pretty good excuse to blow off work for the night. And if he offers to bring a selection of interesting craft beers to try, all the better.

Did I tell you we’re going to move across town at the end of the month? Good lord, it never ends. But I’m fed, and ultimately that’s what matters the most. You may get quite a few Crock Pot recipes out of me yet – I’m doing a lot of big-batch feelings-eating.

Slow-stewed short ribs

  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 5-6 lbs. beef or veal short ribs
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 whole head of garlic, cloves smashed and peeled
  • 4 large carrots, peeled and chopped into inch-long pieces
  • 4 stalks celery, chopped into inch-long pieces
  • 2 cups dry, lightly oaked white wine, such as Chardonnay
  • 1 14 oz. can diced tomatoes
  • 1 cup low-sodium or homemade beef stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp. grainy Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 tbsp. coarse salt
  • 1 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. dried marjoram
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Fresh parsley, chopped

In a large pan, over medium-high heat, cook short ribs in olive oil until deeply browned. Place into Crock Pot or slow cooker. To the same pan, add onion, garlic, carrots, and celery. Stir to cover with the oil that remains in the pan.

Add  wine, tomatoes, beef stock, bay leaves, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, salt, rosemary, red pepper flakes, black pepper, basil, oregano, and marjoram, and bring just to a boil. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. When you are satisfied that it is delicious, pour the whole mix over the short ribs in the slow cooker. Stir to ensure even distribution of liquid. Set to low, 9 to 10 hours, and go about your day.

About 30 minutes before serving (if you are so inclined – this step is not mandatory), skim as much fat off the top as you feel you need to, then carefully spoon ribs, veggies and sauce back into your large pan and simmer for another 20 to 30 minutes, until sauce has reduced and thickened slightly. Add lemon juice, taste again, and adjust seasonings as needed. Sprinkle with fresh parsley. Serve over fresh noodles, rice, potatoes, or whatever starchy, filling thing most pleases you. Make sure you have crusty bread to sop up the juices.

If you don’t have a slow cooker but you do have 2 1/2 to 3 hours, you can make this in the oven. Braise the ribs, uncovered, at 325°F until meat is falling-off-the-bone tender. This way will produce a thicker sauce, but you will have to spend more time in the kitchen.

Mushroom and butter bean ragù

By mid-morning, there was chaos. The baby has been sick and only seems able to comfort himself by wailing, though he will pause briefly for food – but only briefly.

The cat needs her nails done but won’t sit still for it, and if she’s not hanging off the seat of my pants by her claws she’s attempting to bury her wet food under the mat in the hall or scratch holes into the garbage bag that’s waiting to go out to the bin. When I finally got the baby down for a nap I came out to find the cat licking my sandwich.

“You’re all a bunch of jerks!” I yelled at no one in particular, and foraged a lunch of stale Bugles and a glass of white wine that may have been sitting out on the coffee table since last night. I glared at the cat but she has made it clear that apologizing to me is beneath her.

Six weeks ago I joined the Learn to Run clinic at the local Running Room, partly to get back into shape. It was not a great idea because I don’t enjoy running – what’s the point unless you’re being chased? It means rushing out of the house on Monday evenings after Nick gets home from work, and we end up eating dinner late while having to juggle laundry and any mess left over from the weekend. I usually dread it but tonight I couldn’t wait to go. These past few days I have come to understand why someone might go out for a pack of cigarettes and just not come back.

So, you know. There are highs and lows. And sometimes there is enough time in the day to linger over the stove, and some days dinner comes together in a few hasty minutes after the kid goes down for the night. Tonight was one of those hasty nights, and I’m calling the result a ragù even though it contains no meat and did not simmer for very long at all – I loaded it up with the kind of things that make it feel like it simmered long (oaky wine, soy sauce, mushrooms, Parmesan cheese), but it was only 15 minutes, while the pasta cooked. I don’t think anyone’s going to argue with me today.

If you can’t find canned butter beans, use one cup fresh or frozen lima beans or any other canned white bean.

Mushroom and butter bean ragù

(Serves 4.)

  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 2 carrots, finely chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, finely chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp. chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. mushrooms, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 cup oaked white wine, such as Chardonnay
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 14 oz./398 mL can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 tbsp. soy sauce
  • 1 14 oz./398 mL butter beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 lb. fettucine

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, sauté shallot, carrot, celery, and garlic in olive oil over medium-high heat until vegetables have begun to sweat. Add rosemary, red pepper flakes, smoked paprika, black pepper, and mushrooms, and cook until mushrooms have released their moisture, about two minutes.

Add wine and bay leaf, scraping the bottom of the pot to ensure no bits have stuck to the bottom. Reduce heat to medium, and simmer until liquid has reduced by half, one to two minutes.

Add tomatoes, lemon zest and juice, Parmesan cheese, and soy sauce. Simmer another five minutes, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add fettucine, and cook according to package directions – five to seven minutes – until al denté (or cooked to taste).

Add butter beans to the ragù, and continue to simmer until fetuccine is cooked. Drain pasta, and add to the ragù. Stir well. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Add parsley, and serve.

Rabbit cacciatore.

Yesterday Nick and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary. Kind of. I made a nice dinner, and then we zoned out in front of a bunch of cooking shows on the PVR. This year has kind of been a wash, celebration-wise; we haven’t celebrated any of our milestones properly. Nick turned 30 on Friday and we didn’t have plans, and I was all-day morning-sick on my birthday in April. We’re thinking of putting off Christmas until January. It’s been a busy year.

Fortunately I am a bit of a hoarder, and I figured we’d be all out of energy right around now. I have stocked the freezer, fridge, and pantry with everything we’ll need to eat reasonably satisfying and healthy meals until my employment insurance kicks in, so I was able to put together a luscious rabbit cacciatore while the baby dozed and the cat napped.

Rabbit is a very lean meat and a great alternative to the usual chicken or pork. It’s also a sustainable alternative, as rabbits are small, plentiful, reproduce quickly, and do not have the same impact on the environment as larger or more industrially farmed meats. If you can’t find rabbit at your local market, ask your butcher.

I adapted this recipe from Simply Recipes, adding pancetta, more veggies, a spot of wine, and some different herbs and spices, and it was just fancy enough for an anniversary dinner, but easy enough to put together between feedings and phone calls and commercial breaks.

If you don’t have bunnies in your freezer, you could substitute six to eight chicken thighs for the rabbit pieces. Serve over pasta, polenta, or rice.

Rabbit Cacciatore

(Serves six to eight; adapted from Simply Recipes)

  • 2 heads garlic plus 3 cloves
  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 2- to 3-pound rabbit, cut into six or eight pieces
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 lb. pancetta, diced
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, diced
  • 1 large carrot, diced
  • 1 tbsp. capers, chopped
  • 1 tsp. red chili flakes
  • 1 tsp. dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 large red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/4 lb. mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup red wine, such as Cabernet-Sauvignon
  • 3 cups chopped tomatoes (or 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes including juice)
  • 2 bay leaves
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Chopped parsley

Roast two cloves of garlic in an oven preheated to 350°F for 30 to 45 minutes until golden and tender.

Heat olive oil over medium-high heat. Pour rabbit pieces, flour, and about a teaspoon each salt and pepper into a sturdy plastic bag. Hold or seal the top of the bag, and shake to coat rabbit.

Brown rabbit pieces in olive oil, then remove to a plate. Set aside.

Brown pancetta in same pan. Add onion, three chopped cloves of garlic, celery, and carrot, and cook for three minutes.

Add capers, chili flakes, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. Stir to coat pancetta and veggies, then add bell pepper and mushrooms. Cook an additional two minutes. Add wine and scrape browned bits off the bottom of the pan, then reduce heat to medium. Add tomatoes and roasted garlic and bay leaves. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed.

Add rabbit, pushing the pieces into the pot so that they are submerged. Cover, reduce to medium-low, and cook for 35 minutes, until rabbit is cooked and tender. Remove lid and simmer an additional 10 minutes to reduce sauce. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

Pepper pot.

A friend and I once took a Caribbean cooking class through the Vancouver School Board’s Continuing Education program. I had taken other classes through the same program and they were all taught by professional chefs and I learned some fabulous things, including recipes I still use on a regular basis, so I thought the Caribbean class would be equally useful.

When we got to the first class, the instructor was wearing a lot of red lipstick, some of it on her lips, and a T-shirt printed with a picture of her face. She was no longer allowed to sell her herbs and spices in class – the school board forbade it – so if you wanted to come out to her car after class, she’d sell you spices in Zip-Loc bags. I can imagine how it would look, buying a baggy of dried thyme from the trunk of someone’s car in a south Vancouver high school parking lot, but I guess that’s how she supplemented her income; she would mention her spices two to three times, every time.

She also ran a catering company and would deliver your Christmas turkey or Hanukkah feast, and taught she taught basic cookery to children (I was once handed a recipe for a spaghetti dessert involving raisins, cottage cheese, and cinnamon – I think it was supposed to be Noodle Kugel, but it missed the mark … a bit). The course was four classes long and basically one giant commercial. And the food was terrible.

What I did get out of the class, aside from a Certificate of Attendance and a desire for my own face on a T-shirt, was an introduction to some of the basic flavour combinations that comprise Caribbean cooking. What follows is a version of Caribbean Pepper Pot, which I was introduced to in that class, but which has evolved into something less complicated but infinitely more complex.

It is mildly sweet, as spicy as you want it, and full of autumn veggies, which makes it a cozy dinner that’s lovely this time of year. I hope you’ll try it. And no need to follow me out to my car afterward.

Pepper pot

(Serves six to eight)

  • 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
  • 8 chicken thighs, bone in, skin removed
  • 1 medium onion, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp. dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 1/2 lbs. yams or sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped into one-inch pieces
  • 2 cups diced fresh tomatoes
  • 1 to 2 scotch bonnet or habañero peppers, pierced (unless you like it really hot, then chop the peppers finely … but be careful)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 1 14 oz. can coconut milk
  • 1 lime, zest and juice
  • 1/2 lb. okra, chopped into one-inch pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 cup chopped kale, packed
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt and pepper, to taste

Heat the oil in a Dutch oven or other large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium-high heat. Add chicken thighs and brown each side. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add onions and garlic to the pan, scraping up any chicken bits from the bottom. Add bay leaves, brown sugar, thyme, allspice, and cinnamon. Cook until fragrant.

Add tomatoes, sweet potatoes or yams, scotch bonnet or habañero pepper(s), chicken stock, coconut milk, and lime zest and juice. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to medium, and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add okra, red pepper, and kale and simmer for an additional 10 to 15 minutes, until okra is soft. Stir in cilantro. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed. Remove pepper and bay leaves. Serve with rice.

Roasted tomato and garlic soup

Tomato soup is one of those things on the list of “Oh, I thought I didn’t like that,” which has gotten shorter and shorter as I’ve gotten older.

For years I despised tomato soup, because I thought it all tasted like Campbell’s Cream of Tomato, which always tasted tinny on my tongue and then itched in my throat going down.

My Dad liked it though, and our little cat at the time, Truffles, would lap it furiously out of her bowl the instant the bowl was put on the floor (she would coat the wall in orange splatter, unable to wait until it cooled even slightly to dive in), so we always had cans of it in the pantry. I preferred Cream of Mushroom, but I was in the minority.

You don’t need beautiful tomatoes for this; the ruddy, ugly, sort of soft or bruised ones are fine. The secret to good tomato soup is to roast the tomatoes first. Though around here that isn’t such a secret – a friend at work pointed out that roasting is my go-to technique for just about every ingredient. It sounds like I might be a bit predictable. But anyway. Roast the tomatoes. And the garlic. Use too much garlic. This is the future, and we’re okay with that now.

Roasted tomato and garlic soup

(Serves six)

  • 5 medium field tomatoes (2 1/2 to 3 pounds)
  • 3 heads of garlic plus three cloves, peeled
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp. red pepper flakes (or to taste)
  • 1/2 tsp. dried oregano
  • 4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, packed

Lightly grease a 9×13 pan. Preheat your oven to 300°F.

Quarter tomatoes, and line up in the pan. Scatter the peeled cloves from three heads of garlic over top. Drizzle olive oil over the contents of the pan, and sprinkle about a teaspoon of coarse salt over as well. Roast for 90 minutes to two hours, until tomatoes have withered and garlic is deeply golden. (This step you can do in advance; I like to roast a lot of tomatoes and garlic and stick them in freezer bags for easy weeknight dinners during the winter.)

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, heat two tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add three remaining cloves of garlic. Sauté onion until translucent, then add pepper, pepper flakes, and oregano, stirring to coat. Add tomatoes and garlic to the pot, scraping any solids that remain in the pan into the pot. Stir.

Add stock, and reduce heat to medium. Simmer 10 to 15 minutes, until later garlic cloves have softened. Purée using an immersion blender. Taste, adjusting seasonings as needed, then add basil and parsley and purée again. Add water to thin to desired consistency, if needed.

Serve drizzled with olive oil.