Wednesday, September 28, 2011

EGGPLANT SALAD GREEK STYLE (MELITZANOSALATA)

Every summer our love affair with eggplant is renewed.  Grown in backyard gardens and sold at vegetable stands all over the world, eggplants come in various sizes, shapes and colors.  Bake them, stuff them, fry them, grill them, or even make sweet preserves out of them (yes, very small eggplants can be turned into a spoon sweet, a type of Greek dessert).  One of the most popular ways for Greeks to cook eggplants is to turn them into this luscious salad.  It's served as an accompaniment for drinks or as a starter to a meal. You can spread it on a piece of bread or eat it plain.  Either way, it is a heavenly summer treat.  Its texture is that of a spread or a dip, but Greeks simply refer to it as salad.  

There are two types of eggplant salad:  One is really smooth, has a college education, and is made with grilled or roasted eggplant which is pureed with just some olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, and a touch of garlic.  The other type is rustic and has barely made it through high school.  It's totally unpretentious and it's the one I prefer: chunky, country style. Its ingredients depend on regional interpretations.  For example, southern Greece produces a tremendous amount of tomatoes, therefore tomatoes tend to be added to just about anything, including eggplant salad.  In Macedonia, where peppers are really plentiful, roasted peppers are added, and in Thrace, folks like to add walnuts.  You could say that just about every Greek cook has his or her own version of this  salad.  Being descended from Macedonian and Thracian stock, I add peppers and walnuts.  That's how my grandmother and mother made eggplant salad, and I follow suit.
  

The key to making a great tasting salad is to get fresh off the farm eggplants.  Recently I bought some from the supermarket, which wound up tasting like cardboard.  So this time around I drove the two extra miles to a wonderful  farm stand, and there I found some really cute, and as it turned out great tasting baby eggplants.  They were turned into a delicious salad and here is how I made it:

Ingredients:

1/4 cup olive oil
about 3/4 of a teaspoon of salt
some black pepper
1 teaspoon white balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 of a small onion
2 cloves of garlic (or more, if you really love the stuff)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
2 Italian frying peppers or 1 large sweet pepper
2 tablespoons walnuts to make walnut butter
1 tablespoon well crumbled feta cheese 
5 or six baby eggplants

Directions:
  • Prick the eggplants with a fork, set them on a baking sheet and roast them in a 400° F oven, until the skins are wrinkled and the eggplants have collapsed.  This should take about 45 minutes. 
  • During the last half hour place the peppers in the oven and roast them as well. 
 
  • Remove the eggplants and peppers from the oven and allow them to cool until they are safe to handle. 
  • Peel the skin from the peppers and remove the seeds.

  • Slice the eggplants down the middle and remove their flesh. Chop it up, chop up the peppers too, and place everything in a large bowl.
  • Chop the onion, and garlic and throw that in the bowl as well.  Add the parsley, oregano and crumbled feta.
  • Place the walnuts in a food processor and grind them until they are smooth and begin to release their oils.  That's the walnut butter.  Add it to the rest of the ingredients. If you don't want to go to all the trouble of making walnut butter, just chop the walnuts well and use them that way.  I alternate between the two methods, depending on my mood.  If I feel like cleaning the food processor, I'll make walnut butter.  If I want to stay away from suds, I just chop up the walnuts, and that's it!

  • Now add the olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, and salt and pepper. Mix all the ingredients well.  You may need to play around with the amount of oil you're going to use.  Sometimes eggplants want just a bit more oil, sometimes they don't.
  • I hope you love this recipe just as much as we do.  It will keep covered in the refrigerator for about five days.  The longer it stays around, the more potent the taste of garlic becomes, so keep that in mind when you are adding garlic.  If you add more garlic it's best to finish eating the melitzanosalata the same day it's made, or the following day at the most.  It's easy to polish the whole thing off if you're having company.

Friday, September 9, 2011

CREAMY AND CHEESY RICE WITH SPINACH


A cheater's risotto!  That's what this recipe is, boys and girls.  There is no need to stand over the stove and to keep adding liquid as the rice cooks, which is the usual way of making risotto.  The rice is left to cook on its own, and then cream and Gruyère are added to make a good creamy rice.  This is the recipe selected for this week's "French Friday's with Dorie," and below are some details on how it was made.  Oh, by the way, it was very enjoyable to eat.


  • Bring 3 1/2 cups of broth to boil and add a cup of Arborio rice.  Stir, cover the pot, lower the heat and let cook until the liquid is absorbed.  Turn off the heat and set the rice aside.
  • Have a 10 ounce package of frozen chopped spinach thawed and well drained.  Saute the spinach in olive oil along with some chopped onion, and don't forget to add garlic and garlic.  If you like add a tomato that is peeled, seeded and chopped.  Let cook until the onion is soft.  Season with salt and pepper.

  • In a large pot add the rice, spinach mixture, about 1/4 heavy cream and about 1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese.  Mix well, season again with salt and pepper, and there it is, a really creamy, delicious cheesy and risotto type rice.  Easy and quick to make too.   Loved it!

We had it for dinner along with grilled chicken.  That took care of half the rice.  The other half was used to stuff peppers.


Remove and reserve the caps from the peppers.  Wash out the seeds and fill the peppers with rice.  Place the caps on top of the rice and arrange the stuffed peppers in a baking dish where they can fit snuggly.  Peel a nice sized potato and cut it in wedges.  Place the wedges between the peppers.  Pour a little water on top, sprinkle some olive oil and some salt and pepper over everything and bake in a 350°F oven for about 45 minutes, or until the peppers are soft. 


We stuffed and baked the peppers the same day the rice was cooked, but we had them for dinner the following day.  The potatoes were a nice touch.  Rice and potatoes together!  One can never have too much starch.  There is no such thing.