Baba Ganoush

This classic Lebanese eggplant dip (more here) is surprisingly easy to make.  The key is to buy small, skinny eggplants.  You’re roasting these over an open flame and the big, fat, genetically modified monsters you get at the supermarket are too thick to allow the heat to penetrate through the eggplant and cook all of the flesh.  We got ours at Livengood Farms at the Reading Terminal Market– local, organic and totally delicious.  Consider this our first entry in the Philadelphia Local Food Challenge!

Baba Ganoush:

3 eggplants, small and skinny

juice of 1 lemon

4 tbsp tahini

2 tbsp mayonnaise

1 clove chopped garlic (optional)

2 generous pinches of salt

1 small pinch pepper

I’m sorry, but this recipe only works on a gas stove (or a grill).  Put the flame on medium or medium low (you want to do this slowly).  Hold your eggplant with tongs and turn it very slowly over the flame.  Do this until the skins are charred completely black and starting to split.

Once your eggplants are cooked, put them in a shallow dish and cover it with saran wrap. You want to seal this so that the heat left in the eggplants steams up the dish as it escapes and helps to steam the charred skins right off.  You can leave this overnight if you want to.

When you bring out your eggplants, peel off the charred skins.  It’s fine if a few bits get into the baba (it’ll have a nice smoky flavor) but you want to try to peel it as much as you can.  If they’re really charred well, they should peel right off, but if you have any problem try peeling them under cold running water or submerged in cold water.

Mash the eggplant in a bowl with all ingredients.  Serve with pita bread, matzoh or gluten-free crackers (if that’s how you roll).  Healthy, smoky, tangy and snackable.  Makes a great appetizer for Sukkot dinner!

If you keep this in the fridge, cover it with saran wrap and push the wrap all the way down onto the surface of the baba, to keep it from oxidizing.

Thanks to Joe and Leftyprof for these instructions!

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Grilled Chicken with a Chipotle Lime Sauce; Grilled Asparagus with Truffle Oil and Parmesan; Almond Pomegranate Couscous; Chipotle Lime Sauce


I was assigned to dinner and Sarah told me to get creative. I was planning on making some of my chipotle lime sauce to have on hand (see recipe below), so I thought I’d kill some birds (so to speak) and use it in the dinner. I had some nice organic chicken breasts from Trader Joe’s, so I fired up the grill and got to work.First I took some of the chipotle lime sauce (about 1 cup) and mixed it with plain yogurt and some lime juice. I covered the chicken breasts with half of the sauce and let it sit for an hour. When the grill was going full steam, I shook off the extra sauce and placed the breasts on the hottest part of the grill. My aim was not to cook them through but to get a a nice char on them. When this was achieved I removed them from the grill and put them in a small roasting pan. I added the remaining half of the sauce and about a half cup of chardonnay, and put them covered in a 375-degree oven for about 20 minutes to cook through and to absorb the flavors of the sauce and the wine.

While the chicken was in the oven I threw the asparagus on the grill. It only takes a minute or so on each side to get a nice grilled char on them. Remove to a bowl. Toss with white truffle oil, black truffle oil, shaved Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Serve warm to room temperature.

About ten minutes before serving, take one cup of chicken stock, two or three tablespoons of pomegranate syrup and a quarter cup of almonds and bring to a boil. Add one cup of couscous and remove from the heat. Stir and cover and wait about five minutes. Fluff with a fork.

To serve, I put a serving of couscous on the plate, laid some asparagus spears across the couscous and placed the chicken to the side. The chicken should have a bit of a kick to it but the heat should not be overwhelming.

My Chipotle Lime Sauce:

Two whole chipotle peppers

One can of chipotle sauce

Four or five tablespoons of plain yogurt

Juice of one or two limes.

Vegetable oil

In a food processor blend the pepper and the sauce on high until the peppers integrated with the sauce. Add the yogurt and the lime juice. The lime juice will bring out the natural smoked flavor and the yogurt helps to cut the heat a bit. Blend until the sauce turns a light orange color. Add oil while the processor is on low until the sauce is smooth and the consistency that you desire.

Everything but the couscous is gluten-free.

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Five-Spice Grilled Swordfish Steaks with Cherry Tomatoes; Palestinian Olive Oil

It’s been hot in Philly this week, so we decided to go for a light, easy and healthy meal.  This one’s really very simple.

We got swordfish steaks from Trader Joe’s.  I rubbed them with Chinese five-spice powder.  (Those are cinnamon, cloves, anise, nutmeg and mace– all ‘warm’ spices.)   Then we grilled them over hardwood charcoal for four minutes on each side.  We also had some nice ripe local cherry tomatoes, so Joe skewered those and added them to the grill.  As a side dish, we also made our two leftover aloo ki-tikiya (potato patties) in the cast iron pan.

I was very happy with this dish– swordfish is a robust fish that can take some spices without getting overwhelmed, and the warm spices were especially delicious on the charred grill-mark bits.  The spiced skin was also crispy and delicious.  And the tomatoes were really ripe and juicy.  Good, simple summer food.

Also, I just got a tip from a friend about something that combines good food with a good cause– Playgrounds for Palestine, a charity group that sells Palestinian olive oil.  As their site puts it,

The majority of Palestinian farmers use traditional methods in caring for the olive tree. Palestinian olive oil is mostly organic, naturally extra virgin, not processed. The Palestine Fair Trade program supports and encourages the traditional caring methods which produce the highest quality oil and best flavor. The program does not accept oil other than from the indigenous tree under natural care.

Olive oil connoisseurs around the world favor Palestinian olive oil. It offers full flavor texture that is very tasty. While Italy is one of the highest producers of olive oil, Italian olive oil connoisseurs are among the highest European importers of Palestinian olive oil.

And the money goes to build playgrounds for children in the Occupied Territories.  The olive oil is currently only available in the Philadelphia area, but they plan to offer nationwide shipping next month.

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Grilled Chicken Nachos

Another totally Americanized dish!  Actually, nachos are border cuisine— at least according to their Wikipedia entry, which credits their invention to one Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, a Mexican chef working at a restaurant in Eagle Pass, Texas.  Both countries have adapted the recipe to their own tastes, and various American regional cuisines have made it their own.  Nachos in the US are also a very common ‘plastic’ food, sold with horrible fake cheese sauce at ballparks and convenience stores everywhere.  (Well, OK, I think it’s horrible.  My dear husband, while agreeing that ‘nacho cheese’ is horrible in principle, totally loves the stuff.) 

But here’s the thing about nachos: they’re a wonderfully customizable dish.  They can be healthy or fatty, organic or chemical-laden, a light snack or a full meal.  And they’re kind of like a stew, in that you can get creative and make use of whatever you happen to have in the refrigerator.

 This version was our dinner a few nights ago, and it surprised us by being really delicious.

Grilled Chicken Nachos:

3 boneless chicken filets

Several generous handfuls of good-quality gluten-free tortilla chips (we used Trader Joe’s)

1 can black beans

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese (we used the white kind from the Amish farmstand)

3 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tbsp roasted, ground cumin

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

Sour cream

Salt and pepper

First, grill the chicken.  We used a cast iron grill on the stovetop– you can do this on a real grill, or just brown them in a pan.  Just rub with salt and pepper, brush the grill with vegetable oil, and brown.  Make sure they stay juicy– don’t overcook!  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Roast the cumin in a dry pan for just a few minutes, until it begins to change color and release its oils.  Grind.  (Or use cumin powder, but trust me, fresh is better.) 

Cook garlic in a little bit of vegetable oil until it just barely starts to brown.  (You could also add a chopped onion or some peppers here, if that’s how you roll.)  Add the canned beans, with their liquid.  Stir in cumin and cayenne and slowly bring to a boil.

Arrange a generous layer of chips in a pie pan.  Slice the chicken into bite-sized pieces and put over the chips.  Add a layer of beans and a layer of cheese.  Heat in oven for 10 minutes.

Add a few dollops of sour cream and serve hot.  Other great additions at this point would be fresh salsa, guacamole, chopped cilantro, raw onions, a garnish of sliced lime, and/or hot sauce.  Best served with cold cerveza.

Grilled steak and new potatoes cooked in their jackets; dessert waffles

It’s summer! We broke out the grill last night. Joe grilled a couple of ribeyes to medium rare while I made these potatoes from the Jaffrey cookbook. These were easy and good, if a bit salty, and we have lots of new potatoes left, so I expect to be making these a few more times in the near future.

Jaffrey says that new potatoes in India tend to be really tiny, less than an inch in diameter. I’ve seen potatoes that tiny at my favorite farmstand at the Reading Market, so I’m going to have to try it with those, but last night I had the standard American new potatoes. We diced them for this recipe. (Don’t peel them, though—that’s where all the nutrients lie!)

In the mini-blender: chopped fresh ginger, turmeric and water.

Incidentally, did you know that turmeric turns bright red if you spray it with an ammonia-based cleaner? I discovered this while cleaning the kitchen this morning. Neat.

Now for the phrase that pops up in every single post on this blog so far: Get your cast iron pan nice and hot. Heat some vegetable oil and toast whole cumin seeds until they change color. Then add the ginger paste and fry for a minute. Add the potatoes and fry them for 5 minutes. Jaffrey says to keep scraping the bottom of the pan during this stage, and trust me, she is not kidding. That ginger really wants to stick, and it probably wants to burn, so you have to use some elbow grease while you’re stirring and scraping. I had Joe stir for a few minutes just to rest my arms. Once it’s been 5 minutes, add the chopped coriander, lower the heat and give it another 5 minutes, scraping all the while.

Then add your magical potion of salt, garam masala, ground coriander seeds, lemon juice, water and cayenne pepper. Cover, put the heat on low and simmer. Jaffrey says 25 minutes, but my potatoes were tender and ready to go at 20.

We served these potatoes as a side with our steaks and drank the last of the Yard’s Saison. They were really tasty, but I thought they were too salty—next time I won’t add as much salt as she recommends. Maybe dicing the potatoes allows them to absorb the salt more easily than if it was on their unbroken skins?

(Things to buy on payday: lamb, spelt flour, whole cardamom pods, fenugreek, tamarind paste, fennel seeds, black onion seeds, and BEER.)

After dinner, as we were relaxing, digesting and watching the Henry Rollins show on IFC, Joe had a brainstorm and raced into the kitchen to make these dessert waffles. (You see why I married this man?)

Gluten-Free Dessert Waffles

2 cups gluten-free flour (I recommend the mix from Mr. Ritt’s GF Bakery in South Philly)
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp GF baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 ¾ cups milk
6 tbsp vegetable oil
2 eggs
Chocolate chips to taste
Chocolate ice cream

Mix well until smooth. Fold in chocolate chips. Let sit for 5 minutes and pour ½ cup of batter onto heated waffle maker. When cooked, serve with two scoops of chocolate ice cream. Garnish with chocolate sauce, powdered sugar, berries, or whatever else turns you on. I recommend splitting this among two or more people; it’s really rich.

Next up: beef roganjosh (I didn’t have lamb), sweet rice and pooris.