did you say veg·e·tar·i·an? a simple {green} dinner for a gathering of friends: curried vegetable rice & fire roasted eggplant salad

peppers stuffed with mozzarella

recipe at the bottom of this post

recently i found myself planning yet another vegetarian menu for a small gathering of friends. in an effort not to be predictably boring (falling back on the usual options), i decided against the mushroom ragout, quinoa lentil salad, orzo with roasted vegetables and pesto, couscous with grilled vegetables, or the very delicious vegetarian lasagna and instead opted for a very spicy curried vegetable

liquid amber in san diego

the famous liquid amber tree outside my house

steamed rice (much like my spicy shrimp rice sans shrimp), a delicious grilled eggplant and tomato salad (russian style according to my dad who’s recipe it is), small marinated yellow peppers stuffed with mozzarella, and a huge bib & blue salad with lots of fresh dill. dessert was chewy crunchy meringue topped with whipped crème fraîche & lots of pomegranate seeds. as usual, by the time dessert rolled around (and i’d consumed a glass of vino or two), i forgot to take pictures of the dessert. yet again. next time. as i write this i’m sitting by my window looking out at the liquid amber tree (only tree in this area that actually loses its leaves, i think)-it is quite a sight to see! a few old brownish leaves desperately clinging on to dear life among the oh-so beautiful fresh bright green leaves just coming in-and all i can think of is yipeeeee!!! spring is coming! a fresh start. a new beginning. admittedly, we’re very lucky weather-wise in California-so no complaining on that front! having said that, the coming of spring still means that longer days are just around the corner. we are happily springing forward, and for that, i am grateful on this beautiful day.

for spicy persian style spiced vegetable steamed rice (4-6 good portions)spicy persian saffron rice

  • 2-3 cups basmati rice, rinsed in water several times until the water runs clear
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes (or 3-4 roma tomatoes), finely cubed
  • 1 medium onion, finely cubed (or 2-3 leeks)
  • 1 cup peas (frozen or fresh)
  • 1 cup mushrooms cut in small cubes
  • 1 cup red bell pepper cut in small cubes
  • 1 cup eggplant (or zucchini) cut in small cubes
  • 1/4 -1/2 cup vegetable oil (avocado)
  • 3-4 tsp of my grandma’s spice mixture: equal parts cinnamon, toasted cumin seeds, rose petals (gol-e-sorkh)
  • 1-2 tsp finely ground saffron
  • cayenne pepper (to taste for spiciness) or a jalapeño pepper, very finely chopped (remember the curry powder is typically spicy)
  • 3-4 tsp good curry powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric

    tah-deeg!

    tah-deeg!

  1. in a deep (non-stick) pot, bring salted water to a boil, then add the cleaned rice and boil (rolling boil) for about 7-9 minutes until the rice looks just tender. drain the rice in a mesh colander, then run cold water over it and allow it to drain.
  2. heat 2 tbs of vegetable oil in a skillet, then add onions and fry for 2-3 minutes on high heat. add the other vegetables (except tomatoes), curry powder, turmeric, cayenne, sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste and stir fry on high heat until vegetable are browned and softened (about 5-8 minutes or so). taste and adjust seasoning. set aside.
  3. add 2 tbs vegetable oil, 1/2 tsp ground saffron, and 2 tbs water to bottom of the pot and heat them together briefly (1-2 minutes on high). remove from heat. start with a few large spoonfuls of rice at the bottom, followed by a thin layering of the vegetables (carefully mix it up a little with a spatula), a  layering of freshly cubed tomatoes, and a sprinkle of spice mixture. keep building a pyramid with your ingredient in the same order (fire roasted eggplant saladwider at the bottom and rounder at the top) until you have used up all the ingredients.
  4. poke 2-3 holes into the rice pyramid you have created with the handle of the spatula. sprinkle the remaining saffron over the very top of the rice dome evenly. pour 2-3 tbs of vegetable oil (or melted butter) over the rice evenly (using a squirt bottle or slotted spoon helps). pour about 3-4 tbs of water into the holes you’ve created. close the lid tightly over a clean kitchen towel or paper towel. put the pot on the stove on high heat for about 5-7 minutes (this will help with the tah-deeg or crispy rice at the bottom). do not move away from the stove! after about 7 minutes, reduce the heat to med/low and allow the rice to steam for about 45 minutes to an hour. The rice and crispy delightful tag-deeg bottom are ready to be served!

fire roasted eggplant & tomato salad for 4-6:

rosemary crostini

  • 6-7 medium to large talian eggplants
  • 3 large rip tomatoes (or 4-5 roma tomatoes)
  • 1 small shallot, very finely minced (or 4-5 scallions, thinly sliced)
  • 1-2 tbs sherry vinegar (or red wine)
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • red pepper flakes (optional to taste)
  • 3-4 tbs good quality extra virgin olive oil
  1. put the eggplants and tomatoes directly on the grill (can be done inside on a gas burner) and allow them to roast  while occasionally turning when necessary until the skins are almost burned and flaky but the insides are soft and cooked through. set aside and allow them to cool off.
  2. carefully remove the roasted eggplant and tomatoes from the outer skins and add to a bowl (mush the eggplants and tomatoes up with a fork creating a smooth consistency) with very finely minced shallots (1-2 tsp), olive oil, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, and vinegar. taste and adjust seasoning. (add a touch of fresh lemon juice if you’d like it to taste more citrusy).
  3. refrigerate for at least 30 minutes prior to serving. drizzle with olive oil. serve with oven roasted homemade rosemary crostini : thinly sliced baguette, olive oil, sea salt, chopped fresh rosemary, good parmesan cheese-in the oven at 350 degrees for about 15-20 minutes (keep an eye on them).

mozzarella stuffed small yellow peppers:

  • about 12 marinated yellow (or red) small peppers (buy them at the store usually near the olives)
  • 12 small fresh mozzarella balls (or cut a larger one to small bites)
  • a small bunch of fresh parsley, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt & red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon zest

combine parsley, garlic, sea salt & pepper, lemon zest, and olive oil in a bowl. add mozzarella cheese, allow it to marinate for at least 1 hour, and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. stuff the drained peppers carefully with the marinated cheese balls just before serving.

 

 

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we {finally} got a grill: a deliciously easy grilled (london briol) dinner

easy grilled london broil dinnersometimes all you (or i) really want for dinner is a nice piece of grilled meat. something about meat cooked on the outdoor grill that makes it just that much better. which brings me to the grill. i’m so happy to have one again! it’s opened up a world of new (culinary) options. we’d been planning to get one ever since our move a few months ago, but somehow it seemed complicated (as in we were being lazy)  and we basically procrastinated until the heat wave (it is literally in the 80’s and 90’s in san diego right now) hit-that’s when we had no choice but to get one-and fast. it would be a big shame not to take advantage of

rosemary marinated london broil

the unusually warm (even though san diego probably has the best climate, anywhere, the nights tend to be pretty cold year round) nights for grilling outdoors and dining al fresco. so we (or he, i should say) went out and finally got one, and there it was all shiny and new and ready to be put to good use-and we have been: we’ve had persian style chicken kabobs, grass fed new york strip steaks, tons of grilled tomatoes (because we all know how much i love those), and a spicy fire roasted eggplant salad. then this: rosemary grilled london broil, spaghetti aglio e olio with fresh tomatoes and basil, and a side of quick fired broccolini. tell me it doesn’t sound like an amazing dinner? all you need to make this meal a success  is really good  ingredients-quality organic (in this case local) grass fed beef, juicy ripe tomatoes, fresh vegetables & herbs. marinating the beef ahead of time helps. and you’re good to go:

sliced grilled london broil

 

for the marinade:

 

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • fresh rosemary
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper
  • a touch of worcestershire sauce
  • red pepper flakes

make sure the grill is super hot before you start cooking. place the beef on the hot grill (on high heat) and sear one side (about 2-3 minutes) then the other. reduce the heat to medium and close the lid. allow beef to cook (cooking time depends on the size of meat and your serving preferences). ours was a smaller, thinner piece and cooked very quickly-it was served medium and slightly pink inside.

for quick fired broccolini:

  • wash and dry the broccolini, cut in half (optional)-spread on a baking dish
  • drizzle with 1-2 tbs extra virgin olive oil, move around to make sure oil is evenly distributed
  • sprinkle with sea salt and freshly ground pepper, give it a good shake
  • cook broccolini on the grill in a grill-friendly skillet (my new spiffy grill has a built in skillet option) while the beef cooks-it takes just a few minutes-you’ll have to use a wooden spoon or spatula to stir it a couple of times
  • sprinkle with freshly grated parmesan chess, add a dash of fresh squeezed lemon juice

spaghetti with fresh tomatoes & herbs

for the spaghetti aglio e oli with fresh tomatoes & herbs combine in a bowl (4 servings):

  • easy dinner ideas4-5 ripe tomatoes, cubed
  • a good bunch of fresh basil, leaves rolled carefully together, then thinly sliced (chiffonade)
  • a few sprigs of fresh oregano, leaves separated and roughly chopped
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3-4 garlic cloves

in a bowl combine tomatoes, herbs, sea salt & pepper and allow the mixture to rest for 15-20 minutes. in a small saucepan heat the oil and  garlic together (aglio-e-olio story and recipe here) until the garlic turns just golden before turning off the heat. remove garlic from the oil and pour the hot oil over the bowl of tomatoes & herbs. taste and adjust seasoning. add your just drained choice of pasta cooked al dente (per package instructions) to the sauce and toss. serve right away. don’t forget the freshly grated parmesan cheese! buon appetito!

easy dinner idea

my fragrant garden roses being recycled after wilting in the vase

my fragrant garden roses being recycled after wilting in the vase

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a totally scrumptious salad: green beans with dukkah roasted chickpeas & pesto dressing

dukkah roasted chickpeas in salad

i was so lucky to find myself standing in Yotam Ottolenghi’s wonderful deli in Nottingham this past summer with my Sahar {cousin-love-sister} trying to narrow down (the hardest part) what to order for a quick lunch. we ended up with way more ahhhmazinngly fresh and tasty food than we could possibly consume (and we can certainly consume a good bit) wrapped in beautiful crisp white boxes to go (the only table of 10 in the back was full of people eating happily with no intentions to leave).Ottolenghi deli Notting Hill we sat on a little wall just outside devouring spiced roasted cauliflowers, grilled aubergine with cucumbers and red peppercorns, mixed beans with dill and coriander seeds, and crushed beetroots with labne and grains of paradise. does it sound as simply delicious, uncomplicated yet sophisticated as it was? i haven’t even started on the desserts yet. maybe it’s best i leave it to your imagination. let me just say i have never seen meringue as large, tasty and beautiful. when we were paying for the food my cousin picked up a jar labeled Dukkah *(see below for more on this Egyptian spice blend) and asked if I’d ever cooked with it. i had not. Ottolenghi deli Notting Hillsaid jar was promptly paid for and tossed in my bag. “i’m sure my cousi will find a great way to use it” she said. well, i finally got around to using the Dukkah in a green bean and roasted chickpea (garbanzo) salad inspired by the genius food we’d shared that glorious sunny day in London. it was such a successful dish: pure and simple, filling, good for you, slightly spicy, crunchy, and really full of flavor. it’s been added to the list of favorites. i’m thinking a fresh jar of Dukkah might be just the excuse for another trip to London. i wish. :-)dukkah roasted garbanzo beans

ingredients for 4-6 servings of salad:

  • 1 cup cooked garbanzo beans (see roasted garbanzo bean recipe here-add Dukkah to the beans prior to roasting)-for roasting the beans you will need extra virgin olive oil, spices such as dukkah or cumin and cayenne pepper  for spiciness, sea salt, & pepper (to taste)
  • 2-3 cups cleaned haricots verts (or green beans), cooked for just a few minutes in lightly salted rapidly boiling water (until just tender) and then cooled down in ice bath to retain color and crispness
  • 1 red bell pepper, thinly sliced (julienned)
  • 1 cup sliced (cubed) ripe tomatoes
  • 4-5 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 3-4 tbs home made walnut-parsley easto (recipe below)
  • 1/2 of a small lemon or a lime, freshly juiced
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup or lightly more crumbled french feta cheese

for the walnut-parsley pesto blend together in a blender with a steel blade:

green bean salad with pesto dressing

 

  • 1 large bunch (1 cup) fresh organic flat leaf parsley
  • 1 small bunch fresh organic basil (about 10-15 leaves)
  • 10-12 raw walnuts
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt
  • freshly ground pepper
  • a few tsp of water may be needed to add to the blender to soften the pesto

build the salad in a shallow bowl starting with the cold (cooked) beans, bell pepper, tomatoes, chives or scallions, and crumbled cheese. top with slightly cooled but still crisp roasted garbanzo beans. dress with pesto dressing and mix just prior to serving. for the dressing combine 4-5 tbs of the pesto with lemon/lime juice and a few more tsp of olive oil if needed, mix well. taste and adjust seasoning. drizzle over the salad just before serving.

*Dukkah is an Egyptian spice mixture often served (marinated in olive oil) with pita bread. to make your own you will need:

  • 3/4 cup sesame seeds
  • 1/4 cup hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup whole coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns

toast the sesame seeds and hazelnuts in the oven (separately), then combine all ingredients and grind in food processor for 3-4 minutes.

 

 

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back to basics: simple zucchini & tomatoes with walnut pesto

a simple dish, a small compromise, and a most beautiful october sunset over the ocean:

La Jolla fall sunsets

in preparation and anticipation of the fast approaching holiday season with all the glorious food consumption it entails (it’s bad! already can’t stop thinking about what sides and pies to serve this thanksgiving) i’ve made the decision to feed us a lighter, simpler, and predominantly vegetarian diet for the next few weeks. after a few nights of different vegetable soups and a nice salad nicoise, it was time for a non liquid meal on the warmer side. lately i’ve been trying to cook with what i have as opposed to shopping for specific recipes, so i wanted to use the beautiful light green zucchinis i had picked up at the farmers market along with a large sweet onion, tomatoes (always abundant in my kitchen), garlic, and fresh basil. the plan was to serve the dish with yogurt and flat bread, sort of in line with a persian “borani kadoo”, but i realized i had a slight problem.

cooking minette's zucchini with tomatoes & pestowe have a dear visitor staying with us, and he doesn’t  like garlic at all, nor basil, for that matter. the dish would survive without the garlic, but my basil was starting to become slightly wilted and had to be used: pesto! dinner would be a simple “borani” (a typical persian appetizer served with yogurt) with an optional drizzle of lemony walnut pesto. everyone was happy. oh, and the sunset picture? i just had to share the magical moment i snapped with my phone a few nights ago-there are few things more beautiful than the special light of an autumn sunset over the pacific!

Image 1

                                          for 4 servings:

  • 4-6 light green zucchinis (peeled or not, your choice), sliced lengthwise in two or three portions
  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced in rounds
  • 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced (or omit and use pesto)
  • sliced ripe tomatoes (amount depends on what type of tomatoes you are using), sliced to about same thickness as zucchini
  • 1 tbs olive or avocado oil (best not to use olive oil for high heat cooking)
  • salt & pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric (optional if serving with yogurt without pesto)
  • for pesto see recipe

borani kadoo with pesto

in a heavy skillet or frying  pan, heat the oil, then add onions and allow them to caramelize (cook while stirring occasionally on med/low heat until they become light brown and glassy) before adding the zucchinis (and turmeric & garlic if using) and frying on both sides (turn carefully with kitchen thongs). season with salt and pepper. cover with tomatoes, and allow them to cook  (stirring very carefully if necessary because the zucchinis break easily- or cut zucchinis in halves before frying ) on medium/low heat for about 15-20 minutes. serve when any liquid from the tomatoes has evaporated and thickened.

 

 

 

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