a lesson in {yummy} restrictions: vegetarian lettuce rolls with oyster mushrooms, chinese eggplants, and shishito peppers

cooking minette's salad rollsyes, i’ve been away for a little while now, but i have a perfectly good excuse-i’ve been challenging myself of late to {enjoy} a lighter, healthier diet, and have said goodbye to many of the fun stuff (for the moment)-the grains, sugar, and generally pesky carbohydrates i hate to admit i love so much. not quite sure how long this phase will last, but i’m determined to give it a good old try. can you imagine how hard this is for someone who likes to think

wok fired oyster mushrooms

about, talk about, and experiment with (as in EAT) food all the time? well, it was hard for the first few days, but i’ve fallen into a good rhythm of sorts (which means i’m beginning to like it AND the way it makes me feel)- i’ve learned to carry good snacks with me: bananas, almonds, awfully delicious (and somewhat sweet, although unsweetened) coconut flakes, berries in a bag (yes, they do get mushy sometimes), roasted seaweed. it also helps to keep the fridge packed with lots of fresh vegetables and greens, (the aforementioned) berries (although they are out of season and i feel slightly guilty), cooked quinoa (hopefully not really considered a grain-looked it up: quinoa is the seed of the chenopodium or goosefoot plant-interesting quinoa article), hardboiled eggs, and greek yogurt (latest obsession). keeping in line with the new diet, i thought i’d treat the family to a fun (and surprisingly satisfying) dinner a few nights ago-it turned out to be one of the best dinners we’ve had in a long while: salad rolls made (rolled) with all sorts of delicious goodies courtesy of the lovely korean market. basically, i set up a {salad roll} “bar” with lots of fresh and wok fired veggies and one amazing peanut sauce (recipe below). everyone then made their own delicious little bundles the way they liked them (slightly less work for me). after we had devoured several rolls a piece, my husband declared that this really was (is) the way to eat! i smiled wide knowing how easy and fun the well appreciated meal had been to prepare. one happy mina :)

for wok fired shishito peppers, eggplants, & oyster mushrooms:

  • in a wok, heat 1-2 tsp of vequick fired shishito peppersgetable oil (i used virgin unfiltered  coconut) and 1 tsp  of toasted sesame oil. add the peppers (do each item separately, same method) to the hot wok and stir fry on high for just a few minutes (3-5), then add a splash of soy sauce (or a sprinkle of seasalt), and sprinkle with toasted sesame seeds.
  • eggplants: cut them in evenly sized pieces and repeat the process above-eggplants may need slightly more oil, and time.

 

cooking minette salad rolls

delicious spicy peanut sauce:

  • 2-3 tbs organic peanut butter (use peanut butter that is peanuts only-no additives, and chunky works well)
  • about 1/4 cup (more or less) coconut milk
  • 1-2 tsp sriracha sauce (or other favorite hot sauce or cayenne pepper will do)
  • 1-2 tbs soy sauce,  2-3 tsp fish sauce (optional)
  • 1-2 tsp fresh lime juice
  • 1-2 tsp brown sugar or raw honey (or omit the sugar altogether)

**another good sauce option: spicy green cilantro sauce aka green sauce at our house.**

  • other ingredients you will need (give or take): sprouts (bean sprouts and radish sprouts here), organic lettuce, basil, mint, or cilantro leaves (i had none this time), and optionally rice paper wraps (see this other recipe).

wok fired chinese eggplants

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kookoo {vegetarian herb omelette or frittata}

kookoo

we’ve been enjoying kookoo (i know, bit of a funny name) or the persian version of  a frittata-omelette-quiche in my family ever since I can remember. when i say we, i have to admit that for years I only observed it being made (there are all kinds of variations of kookoo) and eaten by others. starting off in life as a bit of a picky eater, i eventually learned to appreciate a good kookoo (among other things) as i discovered what (real  food) eating was all about. i can still see my grandma’s skillful hands meticulously chopping the herbs, then ever so care carefully pouring the green “batter” in to the pan. herb (green) kookoo is best in the spring when all the fresh herbs it calls for are in  abundance. as i prepare my shopping list for our upcoming (persian) new year’s celebration (no rouz -spring equinox), it becomes clear that herb kookoo contains a  perfectly healthy and good for you combination of ingredients-a rarity for such deliciousness! it is a great vegetarian option, and can be served warm as a side (such as during no rouz where it is served alongside the traditional herbed rice & fish dish, sabzi polo mahi), or as an appetizer (at room temperature) served with yogurt and flat bread. i left this beautiful one whole, and served it sliced like a pie with a yogurt-cucumber-dill sauce.  it was a big hit.

 

kookoo recipe: 

finely clean and chop (herbs should be chopped finely so that they can mix well with the other ingredients) one large organic bunch (1 cup chopped) each of: 

– cilantro, flat leaf parsley, and spinach (about 1 to 1 and 1/2 cup each chopped)

– 2 bunches sliced green onions or chives.

     combine the herbs in a bowl with:

  • 1/4 cup chopped walnuts
  • 3-4 organic eggs
  • 2-3 tbs flour  
  • 2 tsp turmeric
  • a touch of cinnamon-about 1 tsp (if you like it)
  • sea salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2-3 tbs barberries (optional)

1. heat 2-3 tbs vegetable oil in a deep skillet, then carefully pour in the egg mixture and pat it down tightly with a spatula and allow  it cook on one side on med/low heat for about 20-25 minutes (with the lid on).
2. carefully flip the kookoo with the help of a round platter (this can be tricky, but is doable-trust me), and cook the other side for another 20-25. flip the kookoo (it should be crisp on the outside) out on to a platter, and let it sit a few minutes prior to serving. you can also cut the kookoo  in to small sized squares and serve as an appetizer with a side of yogurt. 

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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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a {round} table gathering of friends with homemade hummus, fresh cut vegetables, and other such goodies

home made hummus with tahini and heirloom tomatoes

last night we had another book(food) club gathering (#almostatherapysession).  it was a good-good night. we had home made hummus with tahini and lots of citrus topped with chopped heirloom tomatoes served with fresh cut vegetables, a simple arugula salad, minty taboulé (latest obsession), olives, grilled tomatoes, goat cheese stuffed little red peppers,  (ohsogood) feta cheese with honey and walnuts, poirs au sirop (fancy way of saying pears in syrup-recipe to follow soon), and ice cream. there was a big basket of fresh breads (yes, we were bad). come to think of it, there aren’t many things more satisfying than sitting around (a round) table with good friends, enjoying freshly made simple food and (just a few) drinks (or more) while sharing stories and exchanging ideas. It is truly therapeutic and necessary for the soul. all of it: the company of true friends. laughter. (good)food. lots of it. new ideas. old stories. new ones too. more laughter. encouragement. support. a warm slice of bread dipped into a deliciously balanced homemade hummus. a sip or two of rosé. every few minutes. warm chatter. dirty dishes. leftovers. hugs and kisses. another good night come and gone. good memories remain. and leftovers.

poirs au sirop

cooking minhummus with tahini photo

grlled tomatoes and spring onions

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