Eggplant Braised with Cherry Tomatoes and Garlic

For those who love to cook, there is possibly no outing quite as enjoyable as a trip to the farmers’ market. Getting to see what’s at its peak and speak with the people who grew it feels like a privilege in comparison to shopping at the grocery store.

I like to go without a plan, grab whatever looks best and then spend my walk home daydreaming about what I can make. While I have a terrible memory when it comes to things like names, my brain has a crystal clear index of every recipe I’ve ever read, most of the ingredients within it and where I can find it. It also catalogs all food images from places like Instagram and food magazines.

This week, when I scored the most beautiful, deeply purple eggplants with taut, shiny skin and cherry tomatoes so sweet I could have popped an entire pint as if they were berries, I was reminded of a picture I’d seen on Canal House’s Instagram feed.

These days, I prefer to cook from pictures rather than recipes. The former allows for creativity and spontaneity, while the latter is time consuming (re-referring to the written word) and/or disappointing (I usually know how to produce the flavors I prefer). As the famous Italian chef Lidia Bastianich said in a recent interview, “Release yourself from the recipe!”

So, with that in mind, I hit my kitchen to make a braised eggplant dish sweet with cherry tomatoes, rich with olive oil, and spicy with garlic and red pepper flakes. Chris and I sat down to dinner with the dutch oven between us, a fresh ball of burrata cheese, sliced crosswise and drizzled with our best Italian extra virgin olive oil, and pan-fried and garlic-rubbed peasant bread to serve as a bed for it all. I also made a shaved fennel and arugula salad showered with plenty of lemon juice and more olive oil because I always like to have something bright to cut through something so rich.

This is the rustic fair that dreams are made of.

EGGPLANT BRAISED WITH CHERRY TOMATOES AND GARLIC

Ingredients
2 small to medium eggplant
4 cloved garlic, thinly sliced
¼ tsp red chile flakes
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 pints cherry tomatoes, left whole
Several handfuls of basil, torn
1 ball burrata or a couple of balls of fresh mozzarella (optional)
Grilled or pan-fried and bread rubbed with garlic (peasant loaf, ciabatta, or any other bread you like)
Salt and pepper

Directions
Prep the eggplant: Peel long strips down the eggplant from stem to end, leaving them with a zebra print. Next, make a partial slit lengthwise down the center of the eggplant but try not to cut all the way through. This is just so the flavorful broth has an easier time penetrating the eggplant. Season them lightly with salt and freshly ground pepper, massaging them into the eggplant a bit.

Preheat a braising pot over medium heat. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once hot, pan fry the eggplants, turning them every two minutes until they are well-browned on all sides. Remove them to a plate.

Add remaining two tablespoons olive oil and add 4 thinly sliced garlic cloves and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes. Once garlic is very lightly golden, add in the 2 pint whole cherry tomatoes, a generous pinch of salt and a few grinds of black pepper, and stir to combine. Place top on braising pot and let it do its thing over medium-low heat.

After about 20 minutes, most of the cherry tomatoes will have popped open, producing a juicy liquid. Taste it and correct seasoning with more salt if necessary. Carefully add the eggplant into the juicy tomatoes, slit side up and ladle a little of the braising liquid inside the eggplant. Add a sprig of basil, pushing it into the liquid, cover and continue to braise for 20 minutes. At this point, the eggplant will be meltingly tender and flavorful.

To serve, remove the sprig of basil and add a fresh shower of leaves over the braise. Present the whole pot on the table with several spoons to dig in, grilled garlic-rubbed bread and burrata or sliced fresh mozzarella. Enjoy!

Serves 4 (Any leftovers can be smashed into a delicious pasta sauce for later in the week!)

Celebrating Summer Produce This 4th of July

Nothing says great 4th of July party like a busy grill, packed to maximum capacity with juicy burgers, hot dogs and their ever-so-slightly burnt accompanying buns.

It’s festive, it’s fun and it’s worth it. It’s red meat, gluten, dairy and beer. It’s a whole bunch of condiments made who knows when, containing who knows what. And you know what? That’s okay! It’s important to make room for moments like these.

But just because there’s red meat and gluten on your plate doesn’t mean there’s not room for veggies, too. A healthy lifestyle is just that; a lifestyle. It’s sustainable, balanced living.

Besides, it’s summer! The beginning of the season marks an exciting turning point in our food lives, and it’s not only because of cold beers and burgers.

Suddenly, we’re going to the local green market and filling our totes to the brim with corn, arugula and strawberries, munching as we go. Packing picnics consisting of nothing but heirloom tomatoes, butter and bread, and loving every bite. Enjoying perfectly ripe and juicy stone fruit at pretty much every moment possible.

In other words, we’re beginning to enjoy a whole lot of healthy, raw fruits and vegetables. Our gravitational pull towards the stovetop is less strong; we crave chilled soups, made in the Vitamix and served straight out the refrigerator. We become reacquainted with big salads full of shaved veggies and herbs.

When we do cook, we try to do it outdoors, at night and with a cold glass of rose in hand. And the shopping list is often minimal. A good selection of vegetables and a few cuts of meat is all we need to entertain our palettes, as well as those of our friends.

So, this 4th of July, let’s not forget how lucky we are to be enjoying this new crop of ingredients. There’s so much to work with, and the list of possibilities extends far beyond holiday classics like corn on the cob, potato salads and slaws.

If you’re going to a party or throwing one of your own, why not try to add some umph to the selection of vegetable sides and salads? It doesn’t need to overshadow the other fun stuff, but we think it deserves some love, too!

Not sure what to make? We’ve left you with some loose inspiration below.

Happy cooking!

xo, Emily

Corn and Nectarine Salad

Toss grilled corn with fresh nectarines, some torn basil and a bit of goat or Cojita cheese. I think this would be delicious tossed with lime juice and olive oil, but Bon Appetit makes it with a toasted spiced vinaigrette. I have to admit, it looks absolutely delicious!

Grilled Asparagus

Take grilled asparagus one step further by tossing it with some olive oil, lemon juice and minced garlic. And we doubt anyone would complain if you topped it with some shaved parmesan, too.

Tomato and Peach Salad

Toss heirloom and cherry tomatoes with peaches. Add a bit of torn basil and thinly sliced red onion into the mix, and dress well with olive oil and sherry vinegar. Optionally, top with crumbled feta, torn mozzarella or goat cheese.

Cold Pasta Salad with Edible Flowers, Veggies and Herbs

Make summer produce the star of your pasta salad by adding lots of fresh, raw veggies, herbs and edible flowers into the mix. Almost anything goes here! My mom used to make this with tortellini, bell peppers of every color, whatever herbs she was growing (usually tons of basil, parsley and chives) and nasturtiums. It was totally simple, but always a big hit! The key here is a heavy hand with the produce. And don’t forget to dress well with a good glug of olive oil and some red wine vinegar.

And don’t miss our Grilled Corn, Quinoa and Halloumi Salad (Pictured Above)

Get to Know It: Chickpea Flour

Socca, an unleavened pancake made from chickpea flour and water.

Chickpeas are an ingredient we know and love. They’re satiating and a great source of plant-based protein. And, like most legumes, they provide an excellent canvas for flavor. You can really dress them up in any way you like.

We eat them chilled in our summer bean salads, warm in our winter stews. Pureed in our hummus, fried in our falafel. We love to roast them to crispy, baked perfection. To munch on them as a snack, to include them in our kitchen sink salads. Basically, we love to consume chickpeas pretty much any way, at pretty much any time.

But how often do you find yourself cooking with chickpea flour? If you’re anything like me, the answer is probably not too often.

Chickpea flourtraditionally made by grinding raw chickpeasis gluten free and nutrient dense. Like whole chickpeas, it’s a fantastic source of protein, and one that doesn’t come with an ominous use-by date. It has a really nice flavor and a rather dense texture, so it holds up well during cooking and tastes delicious once it’s done.

You can use chickpea flour in many ways, most of which are easy, fast, healthy and economical. Read: this is an ingredient worth getting to know.

Not sure where to begin? I can’t think of a better way to break the ice than by making socca.

Socca, native to France, is an unleavened pancake that can be made from equal parts chickpea flour and water. The process will seem friendly to even the most novice cooks. It requires little more than whisking flour and water, heating a lightly oiled pan and cooking a pancake. Isn’t that lovely?

But there’s room for adventure, too.

For instance, you could amp up your socca with egg a la this genius recipe for “cromlet”, a chickpea-omelette hybrid developed at Bon Appetit and beloved by the team here at WWE.

Or perhaps you’d like to use it as a gluten and dairy free roux in your next vegan sauce, as Lindsey Love, a fellow chickpea flour evangelist, suggests.

Love also wrote this recipe for za’tar spiced chickpea crackers, which look to be delicious, healthful and minimalist all at once. They consist of little more than chickpea flour, olive oil and water.

Other intriguing uses: pizza, wraps, baking (it’s a trustworthy binder) and soups, to name a few.

But don’t let me get carried away. If you’re new to chickpea flour, how about a simple, anything-goes, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants Salad Socca? The guidelines are straightforward:

Purchase some chickpea flour (also called garbanzo or gram flour), then head to the farmer’s market and fill your tote with spring produce. Make your way home. Make a salad, then make socca, then top the socca with the salad. Easy, right?

A salad of baby greens, fennel and cucumber.

Below, a bit of inspiration: a recipe for a Salad Socca of my own creation. Let me know what you think of yours. Happy cooking!

 

Salad Socca

1 cup yogurt

1 tablespoon tahini

1 garlic clove, peeled and pressed

1 lemon, juiced and zested

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cups baby greens

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and thinly sliced

1 small cucumber, thinly sliced

Olive oil to taste

½ teaspoon sumac (optional)

1 cup chickpea flour

1 cup water

 

In a small bowl, combine yogurt, tahini, garlic, half of the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste.

Separately, combine greens, fennel and cucumber. Toss well with olive oil, remaining lemon juice, some lemon zest and salt and pepper to taste. Optionally, sprinkle with sumac.

In a medium bowl, combine 1 cup chickpea flour, 1 cup water and a healthy three-finger pinch of salt. Whisk until smooth.

Heat a medium (10-in or so) skillet, then add 1 tablespoon olive oil, or enough to lightly coat surface.

Pour socca batter into skillet and let cook, undisturbed, until golden brown on bottom. It will fill the entire skillet. Flip and repeat on other side.

Once done, top socca with a generous serving of tahini-yogurt. Using the back of a spoon or spatula, spread mixture to evenly coat. Using your hands, top with fennel and cucumber salad. Enjoy.

The Green Goddess

Green goddess dressing.

I’ve known about green goddess dressing for a while now, but I have to admit that up until recently, its ingredients were somewhat of a mystery to me. Herbs, of course, and something creamy, for sure. But was that greek yogurt, or was it buttermilk? Avocado, or just green herbs? A hint of anchovy, or am I just making things up?

I don’t know about you, but when I hear “green goddess” notions of healthy grain bowls, sunny weather and glowing skin come to mind. New Californian cooking. As far as I’m concerned, it sounds like quintessential health food branding. Right?

While many recipes proved my theory correct, featuring fresh, healthful ingredients like herbs, avocado, greek yogurt and lemon, I was surprised to learn that a wholesome green goddess recipe is something of a reformed party girl.

The green goddess got its start in 1920s New York, when a broadway show of the same name premiered and gained popularity. Following its rise, a chef at The Palace Hotel in San Francisco invented a green dressing in its honor.

A green goddess with cilantro, greek yogurt, avocado and lime.

And the original recipe had absolutely nothing to do with health. Think mayonnaise, sour cream, anchovies, tarragon and chives. Delicious? Definitely. Wholesome? Not so much.

That said, this recipe – now nearly a century old – is far from obsolete. Many contemporary green goddesses have decadent, old-school vibes, requesting a heavy hand with rich dairy and classic French herbs.

Personally, I prefer a green goddess with greek yogurt and lots of citrus. To me, these versions are cleaner and brighter.

But that’s what’s great about the green goddess. She’s a chameleon. You can really make this dressing your own. Craving something avocado-forward? Go for it. Need to finish that buttermilk before it goes bad? Use it. Want to make anchovies your star? Sounds great. Forgot them at the grocery store? It will still be delicious!

I suggest preparing a batch of green goddess on Sunday evening to get you through the start of your work week. It’s versatile, so making it doesn’t require committing to one specific dinner idea. You can dress your salads with it, marinate your proteins in it, use it to amp up your grain bowls, or even let it guest star on taco night.

Below, you’ll find a few renditions I know and like. If you’re going to marinate a protein, I suggest following this recipe by Melissa Clark. Otherwise, simply use the ideas below to spark your creativity. After all, that’s what the green goddess is all about.

Green Goddess I

Combine parsley, basil, greek yogurt, garlic, lemon juice and zest, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth.

Green Goddess II

Combine parsley, mint, basil, cilantro, sour cream, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth.

Adapted ever so slightly from Mina Stone’s recipe in Cooking For Artists (p 33).

Green Goddess III

Combine tarragon, chives, greek yogurt, anchovies*, lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Blend until smooth.

*I suggest using 1-2 anchovies. If using, be sure to season less aggressively; anchovies add a lot of salt!

Green Goddess IV

Combine cilantro, avocado, greek yogurt, garlic, lime juice and zest, olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.

The thing about carbs

What We Eat: Whole Grain Salad

The thing about carbohydrates is not all carbohydrates are created equal. (Not all proteins or fats are created equal either, but let’s save that for another blog post.) Carbs come in every variety, from very healthful to very not. That’s why any diet that banishes them entirely will, yes, cut out a good amount of junk food. But it will also lead you to miss out on lots of important nutrients (honestly, the details of which don’t matter), and unnecessarily eliminate foods that are truly enjoyable. So let’s break them down…

What foods contain carbohydrates?

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole Grains
  • Legumes (aka beans and nuts)
  • Dairy (this one surprises people sometimes but lactose is a carb)
  • And every food derived from the above (e.g. juice, sugar derived from the sugar cane plant and all other caloric sweeteners, potato chips, breakfast cereals, snack foods like crackers and cookies, breads from white to whole wheat, pastas, etc.)

“Complex” carbs versus “simple” carbs

We’re often told to choose “complex” carbs (carbs that have three or more sugar units strung together) and to abstain from “simple” carbs (carbs made up of only one or two sugar units). But let me give you an example of why this blanket recommendation doesn’t work. White bread, made up of starch, is technically a “complex” carb. Apples, made up of glucose and fructose, are technically “simple” carbs. Few would argue that white bread is a healthier choice than an apple. It’s not.

White bread is made with white flour. White flour is made by removing the healthiest components of a wheat berry (the fiber and nutrient-filled bran and germ). What is left (the energy-filled endosperm) is then ground into a fine dust. Essentially, even before we take our first bite of toast, a great percentage of our bodies’ digestion has already been completed by outside processing. So the “complex” carbs in white bread are very readily absorbed and quickly converted into sugar in our blood streams (what doctor’s call blood sugar or blood glucose).

An apple is made from, well, an apple. When we eat it, besides the obvious fact that our teeth have more work to do to ready it for swallowing, our GI tracts also have to work harder to separate the “simple” carbs from the fiber, water and other nutrients packaged with them. This, among other reasons, leads to slower absorption and conversion of the “simple” carbs of the apple into blood sugar. Rest assured, our bodies will absorb all of the good stuff, it just takes more time. More time is a good thing.

Why it matters whether our blood sugar increases quickly versus overtime

Blood sugar is what fuels the activity of our bodies’ cells, but it can’t get into them without some help. Insulin, a hormone made by the pancreas, acts as a key to open up cell doors and let blood sugar in. Because our bodies don’t like a ton of sugar hanging out in our blood stream, a surge in it from foods (like white bread) leads the pancreas to release a corresponding surge in insulin. All of the sugar is quickly ushered out of our blood stream and into our cells. Before you know it, the highway that is our blood stream is free of sugar. This wouldn’t seem like a bad thing, but our bodies actually prefer there to be a little blood sugar traffic. If there is no blood sugar available to cells, what would happen if all of a sudden our bodies needed more energy? What if we were attacked by a bear or something?! So, low blood sugar triggers additional hormonal responses in our bodies – hormones that make us hungry. This explains why most of us feel starved only a few hours after having a muffin for breakfast.

Alternatively, when we eat foods (like apples) that are full of nutrients (like fiber) that take longer to break down, our blood sugar rises slowly and steadily overtime. Correspondingly, our pancreas releases insulin slowly and overtime. There is a steady flow of light blood sugar traffic in our blood stream. When insulin moves some blood sugar into our cells, a little more blood sugar merges onto the highway from our GI tract to replace it. This translates to our blood sugar rising and falling slowly and overtime. Why is this so great? Our bodies tell us that they are satisfied for longer.

A better way to think about carbs

So, here is a clearer carb recommendation: Eat carbohydrate foods that have undergone as little processing as possible the majority of the time –

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole Grains
  • Legumes (aka beans and nuts)
  • Low fat milk and yogurt

– and the ones made by processing them –

  • Juice, even smoothies
  • All sugars from white to agave to honey
  • Traditional snack foods like potato chips, pretzels, crackers
  • Bakes goods like cookies, cakes, doughnuts
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Breads from white to whole wheat
  • Pastas and white rice
  • Etc.

– less often. The former are like time-release energy/fullness pills and the latter are like fast-acting energy/hunger-inducing pills. Maybe this means you choose to do an 80/20 split, or 90/10, that’s all up to you. The good news is there’s no good reason to give up carbohydrates.