Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Tastes like Summer
The massive amount of veggies on my dining room table finally became dinner. It took doing, but it paid off. It became a delicious stew of eggplant, fresh tomatoes, sweet peppers, onions, spinach and feta.
Preplanning has become the only way to get dinner on the table in our household. I work part time (ah, the wonders of high holy day season) and run after two small ones full time, and Dave works more than is humanly possible. So, without thinking ahead, we'd be eating pizza and frozen dinners 5 days a week.
In the morning, I take stock of what ingredients I have in the house while I still have brain cells remaining. Then, I 'cook' in stages throughout the day, whenever time presents itself. On a good day, I pull non-perishable ingredients for dinner as I'm pulling ingredients for breakfast. I prep veggies while Dina is napping and Naomi is eating lunch. I quickly form rolls from dough made a week ago, thanks to Artisan Bread in 5 (can I say again how much I love that book?). The bottom line is, I know my brain often loses the ability to think clearly by 4 or 5 in the afternoon, so I'm inclined to cut myself some slack and plan while I can.
I don't know how well all of this will work once the school year begins again full swing and my work schedule comes out of summer into the holidays at full sprint. I'm sure there will be much more than a crimp or two in my style. On those days, I shall throw up my hands and, sans guilt, order take out.
That being said, over the years of Food Network patronage and love of all thing Alton Brown, I have picked up a technique or two that makes more efficient use of the time that I have. I'm a huge fan of the Rachel Ray's garbage bowl, into which all my compost scraps go. When cutting pepper, instead of cutting them in half and then seeding them, I do a rolling cut. This takes off the outside of the pepper as I go, leaving the seeds and membranes together in one little easy to dispose of package.
For my onions, I cut off the tops, leaving the roots. I then slice them in half, top to bottom. I then pull back the outer wrappings so I that have a handle as I'm cutting. I slice vertically, though not all the way to the roots, then horizontally. The result is a nice, straight forward, fairly even 'chop.' If I want to do a dice, I place the vertical cuts closer together. If the recipe call for a mince, I then run my knife through the final product.
For eggplant, and other misshaped veg, I always slice in half to give myself a flat surface to work with. Once that's done, I'll cut long strips, then chop horizontally for a 1 inch chop. When chopping tomatoes, I work with a paring knife over my garbage bowl or the bowl they're ending up in, depending on how I'm feeling about seeds that day, so that all the juice goes into an appropriate place instead of all over my work surface.
I also let myself have fun and give myself permission to make mistakes. It's zen meditation at its finest. Wax on, wax off, ridiculous combinations and gambles of lemon salt, sugar, fennel seed, and breathe. It's always an adventure. I'll take it and my family will eat it or they won't. If it truly comes out awful, we can always order pizza and call it a day.
This recipe was a complete success. It was a cinch to make, used in season ingredients that I had on hand, and tasted delicious. The flavors were fresh, well balanced and surprisingly savory. If you have time to prep ahead, chop up your eggplant before hand, place it in a colander and sprinkle it with the salt. This will allow some of that eggplant bitterness (the dirty sock factor) to be drawn out. It needs about 40 minutes or so. I left mine for 3 hours with no ill effects. Let me know how it turns out!
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home
2 medium onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
1 T fennel seed
2 T olive oil
1 large eggplant
1 tsp lemon salt (or regular salt)
1 large green or red pepper Note: I used 5 small purple sweet peppers from this past week's CSA share
4 fresh tomatoes with juice, chopped
1/2 cup apple juice
2 tsp dried dill or 2 T fresh
3 cups spinach Note: equivalent of 1 bag spinach from CSA or Hannaford, about 1/2 lb
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1. In large stock pot, saute onions, garlic and fennel seed in olive oil until translucent
2. Chop eggplant and add to pot. Chop peppers and add to pot. Chop tomatoes and add to pot along with apple juice, salt (if eggplant is not pre-salted) and dried dill, if using. Bring to a simmer. Cover and allow to cook until eggplant is tender, stirring frequently, about 15 minutes.
3. Immediately before serving, add spinach, lemon juice and fresh dill, if using. Stir until spinach wilts, but is still bright green. Serve on rice or couscous or with a hearty bread for dipping. Crumble feta cheese over the top. We thought that manchego or ricotta salat might also be excellent additions. Share and enjoy.