Kashk-e Bademjaan (Iranian Eggplant Dip)

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Note: This entry also appeared at my friend Sherisa de Groot’s blog, L’élephant Rose. L’élephant Rose is a collection of jewelry designed by Sherisa, based in Amsterdam. It’s also the name of her blog about design, music, green living, food, and fashion.

It’s eggplant season! Eggplant is ubiquitous in Iranian cuisine, and luckily for me, it’s in season in the Bay Area right now. I’ve been buying pounds and pounds of it to cook kashk-e bademjaan. A favorite at Persian gatherings, this dip is garlicy, minty, and slightly piquant, thanks to kashk, a thick condiment similar to whey that’s used in Persian cooking. Served with naan or a similar flatbread, kashk-e bademjaan is the perfect way to make use of the eggplant bounty.

This recipe is adapted from two sources: my mom’s guidance over the phone as I hurriedly cooked this the first time for a dinner party, and Najmieh Batmanglij’s definitive English-language cookbook on Iranian cuisine: Food of Life. (Sidenote: Batmanglij’s son, Rostam, is a member of Vampire Weekend and Discovery. Guess what I listen to when I’m cooking from Najmieh’s cookbook?)

Kashk-e bademjaan

Ingredients:

2 medium eggplants
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/2 cup liquid whey (kashk)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

For the garnish:
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons dried mint
2 tablespoons liquid whey (kashk)
1/4 teaspoon ground saffron, dissolved in 1 tablespoon hot water

1. Peel eggplants and cut into 4 slices lengthwise. Place in a colander and sprinkle with 2 teaspoons salt to remove bitterness and excess moisture. Let stand for 30 minutes, then pat dry.

2. Brown the eggplants in a non-stick skillet with 1/4 cup of oil. Add onions and garlic and brown for an additional two minutes, adding another tablespoon of oil if needed. Add 1 cup of water, cover, and cook over medium heat for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and mash in a food processor. Add 1/2 cup of whey, salt, and pepper, and mix well.

3. Just before serving, saute minced garlic in remaining 2 tablespoons oil at low heat, until golden. Remove skillet from heat, add dried mint, and mix well.

4. Place the eggplant in a serving bowl and garnish with 2 tablespoons whey, the garlic and mint mixture, and a few drops of saffron water. Serve with flatbread and fresh herbs.

Spicy Pickled Okra

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It’s dead in the middle of winter and there are no fresh okra at the market these days. Or so I thought. They’re around, albeit pricier than usual, and who knows where they came from, but I found them at the store last week and this recipe immediately came to mind. If you know me, you know I love pickles and I love okra too, so this condiment-slash-side dish is just perfect.

These are probably better pickled during the summer months, when okra are actually in season, but making these garlicy spears now is fine if you’re craving a taste of summer. Just make sure to use fresh, not frozen okra. They’re excellent alongside sandwiches or as a cocktail garnish. Oh, and straight out of the jar works too.

Spicy Pickled Okra

Ingredients:

1 1/2 pounds okra
4 garlic cloves
2 cups cider vinegar
1 3/4 cups water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 1/2 tablespoons mustard seeds
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1. Divide okra and garlic evenly among 2 (2-pint) jars.

2. Combine vinegar and remaining ingredients in a saucepan; bring to a boil. Cook 1 minute or until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat; let stand 5 minutes. Carefully pour vinegar mixture into jars, leaving about 1/4 inch at top. Seal jars; refrigerate at least 3 days and up to 1 month before serving.

Greek Salad

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Greek salad is so basic that I almost decided not to write about it. There are enough variations on this classic salad though that it warrants a post, and this one is my version.

I like my salads acidic, so I’ve upped the lemon content, and thrown in a few extra pepperoncinis and capers for good measure. Although I question the Greek authenticity of this salad, it’s become one of my favorites.

Greek Salad

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice (preferably from Meyer lemons)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
salt and pepper
2 tomatoes, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 cucumber, peeled, halved and cut into 1/2-inch dice
12 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
6 pepperoncini, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons drained capers
1 cup crumbled feta cheese

1. In a large serving bowl, whisk the olive oil with the oregano and lemon juice; season with salt and pepper.

2. Add the tomatoes, red onion, cucumber, olives, pepperoncini, capers and feta and toss.

Zucchini ‘Pappardelle’ with Tomatoes and Feta

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Contrary to what the name suggests, this dish does not include any pasta. Instead, thin strips of zucchini are created with a mandoline and then lightly broiled to create translucent, pasta-like sheets. Mixed with tomatoes and feta cheese, result is a healthy melange of vegetables tossed in a light citric dressing. This recipe is adapted from an old issue of Food & Wine, one of my favorite food magazines.

If you don’t own a mandoline, a vegetable peeler will work well to create the thin slices of zucchini. Once out of the oven, handle the slices with care so that they don’t tear.

Zucchini 'Pappardelle' with Tomatoes and Feta

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
salt and pepper
4 1/2 pounds zucchini
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon chopped thyme
1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 tomatoes, chopped
6 ounces feta cheese, cut into small dice
3/4 cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped

1. Preheat the broiler. In a bowl, mix 2 tablespoons of the olive oil with the lemon juice, mustard, honey and lemon zest and season the dressing with salt and pepper.

2. Using a mandoline or vegetable peeler, slice the zucchini lengthwise into 1/8-inch-thick “pappardelle,” turning the zucchini and slicing on 4 sides only until the seeds in the central portion are reached.

3. In another bowl, combine the garlic with the thyme, rosemary, crushed red pepper and the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Spread the zucchini slices on a large rimmed baking sheet and brush them with the garlic and herb oil. Broil for about 3 minutes, or until the zucchini is browned on top.

4. Spread the tomatoes on another baking sheet and broil for about 1 minute, or until they are lightly browned on top.

5. Add the tomatoes, olives and feta to the zucchini and drizzle with the mustard dressing. Toss the vegetables well and transfer to plates or a platter.

Tunisian Fried Tuna Pastries with Egg

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I can’t attest to the authenticity of these savory pastries, which are called brik in Tunisia, briouat in Morocco and burak in Algeria. I doubt that egg roll wrappers are used to make these in North Africa, but they work perfectly well in this version, encasing a spicy filling of tuna and runny egg yolk. The trick is to make sure you fry the pastries just long enough – too little and the egg white will be undercooked, too long and the egg yolk will harden.

Tunisian fried tuna pastries with egg

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon oil, plus more for deep frying
1/2 onion, chopped
12 ounces canned tuna, drained and flaked
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt and black pepper
pinch of cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and chopped
8 sheets egg roll wrappers
8 eggs

1. In a medium pan, heat 1 tablespoon oil over medium heat. Saute the onion until soft, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and transfer onions to a large bowl. Mix in the tuna, parsley, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste, cayenne pepper and capers.

2. Place equal parts of tuna filling on each egg roll wrapper, spoon a depression into the filling, and break an egg into each depression. Carefully fold the top and bottom of the wrapper over the filling, then fold over right and left sides.

3. In a frying pan, heat two inches of oil to medium-high heat. Deep-fry the pastries in batches until crisp and golden, about 3 minutes for each side. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to paper towels to drain. Serve warm.