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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by popular demand: khoresh bademjan (persian eggplant stew)

{this one requires quite a bit of time and attention, but it’s well worth it}! i’m sitting here with a big splint on my right forefinger (looking awfully funny typing) thinking of how quickly you can hurt yourself if you’re not careful…i cut my hand yesterday with my (beautiful) japanese knife while washing it-but no hard feelings, i still love it-just be careful with those sharp knives! good news is i had already prepared this post pre cut finger which can’t cook (we’ll be having take out tonight)— let me start by saying that khoresh bademjan is an all time favorite of mine-it’s one of those basic (but oh so good) dishes that are served in iran (mostly at big family lunches) almost weekly in many households. it’s the ultimate-as in super satisfying, beyond delicious, and filling….each and every time. i couldn’t eat eggplants when i was a kid-they made my mouth feel funny, so i had avoided one of my favorite dishes until the age of about twelve, when i (thankfully) discovered it in the late afternoon of a ladies luncheon at our house. my sister and i got home form school tired and famished and found the remains of the feast waiting for us at room temperature-that’s when kb (khoresh bademjan) and i bonded for life. you can make this dish with braised veal (or lamb) shanks, with good (grass fed) stew  beef, with chicken, or without meat as a vegetarian dish. it’s your choice. the meat is cooked separately before it’s combined with the the rest of the components, so if you want to prepare it as a vegetarian dish, just leave it out. when i make this dish, i make extra portions-the leftovers might just be better tasting than the original.

you will need:

  • 1.5 to 2 pounds grass fed organic beef (or veal) for stewing, cubed
  • 2 onions (1 for cooking meat, 1 for the fried onion (piaz dagh)
  • 10-12 eggplants
  • 2-3 tsp turmeric (for beef, and for fried onions)
  • sea salt & pepper (to taste)
  • 3 ripe roma (or other) tomatoes
  • 1 cup (preferably not canned) stewed or strained tomatoes (get them in a jar, or parmalat brand)
  • 1 tsp ground saffron (or a few strands seeped in hot water)
  • 1/4 cup sour grapes (frozen at middle eastern stores) and/or juice of 2 limes
  • about 5-7 tbsp olive, safflower, or grape seed oil
for the (braised) meat:

1.if you are adding beef, lamb, or chicken, start braising it first because you’ll need a good 1.5 hours to cook it properly. look at my braised chicken recipe here and use the same method for braising: fry the thinly sliced onions (with 1 tbsp oil) until slightly golden and softened, add meat, turmeric, salt and pepper, then sear (or brown on all sides) for about 5-8 minutes on high, reduce heat, add very little (1/4 cup) water, and braise (lid on) on med/low for  one and a half hours at least. the meat will need to have a good amount of good thickened juices left after it has cooked for use in the stew, so add water little by little if you have to-if you keep the temperature steady and the lid on it should be fine.


{continued below}

fried onions, or “piaz dagh”:
for persian stews you need fried onions or “piaz dagh”:
2. we often make the fried onions ahead of time in bulk and freeze for use any time we need it. you make “piaz dagh” which translates to hot onion (you can find it in the frozen section of the middle eastern stores in california if you don’t want your whole house to smell like onions!) by frying the thinly sliced onions (often with a touch of turmeric) in several tbsp of hot vegetable oil until golden brown and translucent. remove from oil with a slotted spoon, let the extra oil drain, and set aside on paper towel.
3. you will need to fry the eggplants (i buy italian eggplants that are on the smaller side, fry them whole and peeled with their end caps left on). peel the eggplants, salt them, and let them sweat (and drain) for 1/2 to 1 hour. slowly (on medium heat ) fry them on all sides-i will leave the amount of oil up to you, but typically you need a good amount-lately i’ve been using much less oil and getting away with it, but it’s not as good. ideally, your eggplants should look like the fried ones above.
4. once you have all your components ready you can start putting the stew together. in a deep baking dish, start with a portion of the stewed tomatoes at the bottom, then add your cooked meat (with all the good juices), some fried onions (scattered evenly), a squeeze of lime juice, a touch of your saffron (diluted in a tsp or two of hot water), a touch of salt, then surround the beef with the fried eggplants. add more of the stewed tomatoes, fried onions, the saffron, and another squeeze of lemon juice (about 1 lime total if you have sour grapes-otherwise 2). slice your tomatoes in halves or quarters and add them to the top (skin on top) along with a scattering of sour grapes.
5. i cook mostly by instinct, and i’m trying to share my process with you. you are now ready to bake-or keep it (refrigerated) for baking later (even the next day). cover with foil (or lid) and bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes to an hour. serve with white steamed basmati rice. see my recipe for persian steamed rice -follow the recipe, leaving out all the spices except the saffron. enjoy. we did…
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