vegetables

Meatless Monday Gets Chefs to Dish for Thanksgiving

IF YOU’RE STILL LOOKING FOR IDEAS for the un-meat part of your Thanksgiving meal, Meatless Monday has invited its favorite chefs and cooks to share their favorite recipes. How about Mario Batali’s Sicilian rice balls, Martha Rose Shulman’s cranberry orange relish, or Dino Mash from Kim O’Donnel’s The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook? Check out all the recipes here. 

Move Over, Turkey

MUCH AS I LIKE ROAST TURKEY at Thanksgiving, I’ve always liked the side dishes even more, especially when combined in a crazy spill-off-the-plate sort of way. Now Tara Parker-Pope has a great series going, over at her Well blog at NYTimes.com: A Vegetarian Thanksgiving. Vegetables (and fruit) are the stars in dozens of fabulous recipes, some homey, some knock-your-socks-off chef’s masterpieces. She’ll add new dishes daily until Thanksgiving. Lots for Mediterraneanista to like here. How about Martha Rose Shulman’s Orange-Scented Sweet Potato and Fruit Gratin or Tom Colicchio’s Caramelized Tomato Tarts? The recipes are all so tempting, I think Thanksgiving will have to be a month-long celebration this year. That’s OK— I do have quite a lot to be thankful for. What about you? 

 

Husbands Who Make Soup Are, Well, Just Wonderful

I DON’T KNOW HOW Mr. Mediterraneanista (or BC, as he prefers to be called) got to Food52. Maybe he saw it mentioned on politico/foodie Ezra Klein’s blog, but that’s beside the point. One day last week I was tapping away at my computer, vaguely aware of kitchen rustle in the distance. An hour or so later, voilà—I’m being invited for a beautiful bowl of sweet potato soup for lunch. Olive oil, infused with zaatar—an eastern Mediterranean spice blend of sesame seeds, thyme and sumac—is drizzled on top. When I dip my spoon in I find crumbled feta is in the mix, too. What a wonderful combination of sweet and aromatic flavors. And what style (must be that two-careers-ago design training).
 
I don’t mean to imply that having BC cook a meal is something like the 8th wonder of the world. It’s not. He went through a long bread-baking phase in the 90s when our boys were little, and then there was the madeleine making period (we all really liked that) and the ceviche-as-school-project-with-kids experiments. Plus he’s certainly done his share of better-get-dinner-on-the-table-the kids-are-cranky. For the last while, he’s been the go-to pizza maker in our house. Mediterraneanista especially likes that. And if I can ever take a photo of one that does it any justice, I’ll definitely share. In the meantime, I’m just loving this surprise soup lunch development.
 
 

At the Market This Week

JUST LIKE HAVING KIDS makes you feel the years pass in a particularly poignant way, so do weekly visits to the farmers’ market. I was feeling downright sad last week as the tomatoes dwindled and I had to face it, summer was over. But this Saturday, a visit to Union Square Greenmarket reminded me that fall has its pleasures, too. Not only did I find a few pounds of nice end-of-season San Marzano plum tomatoes at Cherry Lane Farms, but the whole market was a riot of color and productiveness. Peppers sweet and hot, winter squash, glorious specimens of savoy cabbage, carrots, beets, kale and collard greens, broccoli. It was hard to know where to start—or stop. 

RECIPE: Eggplant Slices, Pomegranate, Yogurt and Tahini

THESE BAKED EGGPLANT SLICES are excellent on their own, but add the pomegranate vinaigrette and the cool yogurt sauce, with its tastes of garlic and tahini, and the dish has some of those big-flavor contrasts that make Mediterranean cooking so interesting. Pomegranate molasses is made by boiling down the juice into a syrup; it’s used in quite a few Eastern Mediterranean dishes to add depth and a tart-sweet flavor. This is the first recipe I’ve used it for—I look forward to trying others. I found it (and the tahini) quite easily by heading straight for Kalustyans on Lexington Avenue between 28th and 29th Street in Manhattan. You should be able to find it at any Middle Eastern or Mediterranean grocer. 

Serves 4-6, as appetizer or side dish
 
4 medium eggplants, cut into ½" rounds
1 tbs pomegranate molasses
1
 tbs red or white wine vinegar

2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing eggplant 
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt

(I use half Greek strained yogurt, half regular yogurt; either works fine)
1 clove garlic, minced

2 tbs tahini
¼ cup pomegranate seeds

 
Preheat oven to 475°F.
 
Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with olive oil and lightly salt them. Place on an oiled baking sheet and bake, turning once, until they're tender and a little brown, about 30 minutes. Arrange on a large plate.
 
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the pomegranate molasses, vinegar and 2 tbs olive oil.
 
In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, minced garlic and tahini. 
 
Brush the top of the cooked eggplant slices with the pomegranate vinaigrette, then spoon yogurt sauce over them and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.
 
Adapted from Claudia Roden, Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon 

 

Meatless Monday: Eggplant Emergency

 
A FRIEND CALLED TO SAY that house guests had come laden with farmstand fare this weekend, and the whole crowd had eaten lovely meals from it. Trouble is, not enough lovely meals, because now Monday was here and she still had a small boatload of eggplants sitting on her kitchen counter. What to do?
 
Well, in case any of you have had a similar culinary challenge (haven’t we all?), here are some ideas:
 
Think Turkish. Turks love eggplant and have dozens of different ways to cook it, many involving olive oil and tomatoes. One of the most famous dishes is imam bayildi, or the imam fainted, which is eggplant stuffed with tomatoes and onions. Clifford Wright, author of The Mediterranean Feast, gives the scoop on the name—and a recipe—here. Perfect for Meatless Monday. Or any other day for that matter.
 
Another famous Turkish eggplant dish is karniyarik, also a stuffed eggplant. I’ve made it quite a few times recently but I’ll go into that more another day because there’s too much to talk about already and besides, one of its ingredients is lamb.
 
So, back to Meatless Monday. As the eggplant rush gathered force at the end of the summer, I began making a dish with pomegranate, yogurt and tahini. I found the recipe one day when I was in the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library, browsing through some of the many cookbooks I don’t own. They have quite a collection, and what a splendid setting it is for transporting yourself to other places. The Lebanese eggplant recipe is from Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon, by Claudia Roden, an Egyptian-born cookbook writer who is credited with having revolutionized Western attitudes to Middle Eastern cooking with her classic, A Book of Middle Eastern Food, published in 1968. She’s a lively passionate writer, so I look forward to delving more deeply into all her books.
 

Today’s Meatless Monday treat at our house is this Algerian Eggplant Jam, from Joanne Weir’s From Tapas to Meze: Small Plates from the MediterraneanIt makes a delicious snack or appetizer on crostini (toasted baguette) or crusty bread.
 
Of course, one of Mediterraneanista’s enduring favorites when it comes to eggplant is ratatouille. I usually make a big pot, because there’s nothing tastier or easier for quick lunches or dinners, and you can always mix it up, so to speak, by serving it with grilled Italian sausage one day and couscous the next. Or you can try one of ratatouille’s many cousins, each with its own distinctive style.
 
Finally, you can never go wrong with Martha Rose Shulman’s suggestions in her Recipes for Health column at NYTimes.com. The recipes are conveniently organized by ingredient, and she often spends a week on different ways to prepare a single vegetable or grain. Here’s some of her eggplant repertoire to the rescue. 

Does Your Market Have Live Opera?

MUCH AS I LOVE NEW YORK CITY’S GREENMARKETS, the farmers’ market closest to my heart will probably always be Montreal’s Jean-Talon Market, perhaps because it’s the first one I got to know as a grownup doing her own cooking. I’d learned the farmers’ market habit early from my parents: Most Saturday mornings we headed to the market in the small southern Ontario town where I grew up. When I lived in Montreal I don’t think I realized how special Jean-Talon Market was, although I loved shopping there.
 
Marché Jean-Talon is located in Montreal’s Little Italy. Perhaps that helps explain this.
 
 
Thanks to Bruce for passing this on. And to the Opéra de Montréal for the fine performances.
 
The market has been operating since 1933 and in summer it has some 300 vendors, mostly farmers from the surrounding country. But it’s open year-round, thanks to enclosed sheds, with shops selling cheeses, spices and all the beautiful products of the Québec terroir—fish from the Gaspé, organic meat and game, mushrooms, you name it. (The market has a long tradition of selling organic products.) Definitely worth a visit if you’re traveling that way.
 
 
Some imported produce is sold at the market, too. (Those winters get long.)
 
 
When you go, don’t overlook the neighborhood’s Italian coffee bars and shops. And be sure to book dinner at Kitchen Galerie, a tiny and very special restaurant overlooking the market, whose chefs prepare the meal from what they’ve found at the market that day, doing all the shopping, cooking and serving themselves. Délicieux! (Sorry, no pictures—I was too busy eating.)
 
Jean-Talon Market
7070 Henri-Julien Street, between Saint-Denis and Saint-Laurent
Montréal, Québec
 
Kitchen Galerie
60 Rue Jean Talon Est
Montréal, Québec
514.315.8994
 
 
 
 

Tomato Sauce, Batch 2

LAST WEEK READER JOHN FROM TORONTO passed on his great you-can-do-this method for making tomato sauce, which he learned from a Sicilian friend in London. He made another batch this week and sent some photos. The tomatoes he’s using look so beautiful and not at all like the giant hard waxed Romas you often come across in grocery stores. (I learned this week that Italian families in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, source their Romas in central New Jersey. Need to tap into that pipeline!)
 

Now doesn’t this make you want to stop everything and make tomato sauce? 

Eat Less Meat: Sure, But How Do You Get There from Here?

 
BY EATING THE TRADITIONAL MEDITERRANEAN WAY, of course. By now Mediterraneanista’s loyal readers know that the Mediterranean diet includes a lot less meat than many of us are used to. And we know it makes sense, this eating less meat, for all sorts of good health and environmental reasons. But what is less? And how do you get there from here?
 
I remember as a business editor one of the many managerial concepts that floated across my desk was “chunking”—a strategy for managing a big project by, well, breaking it into chunks. If you’re an enthusiastic meat eater who’s interested in moving in the direction of a more Mediterranean diet, “chunking” may be a concept worth reviving. Let’s face it, many of us have eating habits that were formed in households where the dinner menu was Meat Plus (you fill in the blanks, but it often involved potatoes). We may need a little aide-mémoire to adopt a different way.
 
 
So here are some chunks to get you closer to the Mediterranean way:
 
Meatless Monday, which I’ve written about here before, is a great example of a manageable chunk. You have six days to plan for one day of meatless eating. Since standard dietary recommendations call for no more than 18 oz. of meat a week, Meatless Monday works out perfectly. Three ounces a day, which is a portion or serving size, plus one day off. And you get the week off to a good start. (The Meatless Monday organization reports that “studies suggest that we are more likely to maintain behaviors begun on Monday throughout the week.”)
 
Learn to cook two or three meatless main dishes you love, so they become second nature, just the way the Meat-Plus concept once was. Most important, this flips the idea around from denying yourself meat to treating yourself to a different kind of delicious meal—a joy-of-eating concept Mediterraneanista likes a lot. I didn’t start out with the goal of “eating less meat.” I just became seduced by the adventure of discovering just how delicious and satisfying the traditional Mediterranean way of eating could be. Roast vegetables is one of my simplest favorites. If you enter “vegetarian” in the Mediterraneanista search box at right, you’ll find others.
 
Be a vegetarian before dinner. Over the long term, this is much easier to keep top of mind than tracking your meat intake meal by meal. (I don’t know about you, but I find the whole tracking thing gets tiresome pretty quickly, although it can be useful as a way to learn exactly what you are eating or spending now.) Cookbook author and New York Times columnist Mark Bittman has written about how a mostly-vegan until dinner approach works for him in Food Matters: A Guide to Conscious Eating. He’s never doctrinaire about it, and makes it seem doable and adaptable.
 
Chef Mario Batali, who offers vegetarian dishes for Meatless Monday at all his restaurants, recently surprised a few people when he said he was working on a vegetarian cookbook and is now “vegetarian all day until dinner, and I try to eat no meat whatsoever on Monday and Tuesday.” Perhaps that helps explain why there’s 45 pounds less of him—and counting. Actually, his cookbook Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking very much reflects a traditional Mediterranean table and includes a lot of fabulous meatless dishes in it already.
 
Make meat a secondary ingredient on your plate, not the centerpiece. That helps the portion size make a lot more sense. Because, yep, as I wrote yesterday, 3-4 oz. is actually the suggested serving of meat to be eaten at a meal. That’s a piece about the size of a pack of cards, a useful way to visualize it, I find, when I’m eyeballing meat purchases for a family dinner or dinner party. Some of you are probably thinking, 3 ounces of meat could look pretty lonely in the middle of a plate. True, if it’s at the center of that plate. Instead, think of a stir-fry, for instance, that’s three parts vegetables, one part meat. Or a whole-grain rice pilaf for four in which ½ pound of ground lamb adds fabulous meat flavor. Last week, I made a Turkish eggplant dish (more about that soon) that used ½ pound of lamb in the stuffing for four eggplants. Delicious!
 
Use legumes—beans, lentils—and grains like farro to give some of the textural and nutritional satisfaction of meat—they’re high in fiber and protein. Throw them in soup or salads or stews. I’ll write soon about how to make this super easy. I’m branching out from my favorite farro salad to learn more ways of incorporating this incredibly tasty grain into more meals, and I’ll keep you posted on that, too. 

Bon appetit—Mediterranean style! 

RECIPE: Fresh Cherry Tomatoes with Pasta

Serves 4 (unless you’re carbo-loading for a bike ride and then all bets are off)
 
WHAT COULD BE SIMPLER than a dish that requires no cooking except boiling pasta? With a raw sauce like this, the key is to choose the best ingredients—tomatoes at their absolute ripest and sweetest, fresh-picked tangy arugula and herbs. Chopping the greens (and other ingredients) helps make sure they’ll be evenly distributed throughout the dish. Small pasta shapes, such as orrechiette and fusilli, seem to work best. 
  
1 pint ripe cherry tomatoes
2 garlic cloves (or 1 large), minced
4 tbs basil leaves, chopped or slivered
1 packed cup wild arugula, roughly chopped
sea salt
3 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp balsamic vinegar (optional)
¾ lb pasta (I particularly like orrechiette, which like wild arugula, is typical of Puglia)
¼ cup grated Parmesan (or more)
 
Cut the cherry tomatoes in half (cool time-saving trick here) and put in a beautiful bowl (yes, that's part of the recipe) big enough to hold the vegetables and pasta. Add the minced garlic cloves, basil leaves, wild arugula and olive oil. Mix and let sit at room temperature for 20 minutes or more. Taste and adjust seasonings.
 
Cook pasta al dente, drain and toss with the tomato mixture. Sprinkle cheese on top.
 
Variations:
Add 1/4 cup of olives cut in half.
Add 4 scallions chopped thinly.
Use mint instead of basil.
And so on...
 
Adapted from The Very Best of Recipes for Health, by Martha Rose Shulman. 
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