Posts tagged side-dish
Sunday, September 13, 2009

pomegranate molasses glazed eggplant

pomegranate molasses glazed eggplant

I got so excited cooking this, that I almost completely forgot to take the prep pictures. Which should tell you that you should, if you’re an eggplant fan, go ahead and make this right away. Consider it a direct missive. Waste no time – it is eggplant season and will be such through October.

This was borne out of, well, instinct, really. I was making dinner for a friend on Friday night and our initial plan was to make a stir-fry with vegetables and tofu and serve it over brown rice. But we got carried away – we made that along with leek confit, blackberry pie, and this pomegranate molasses glazed eggplant. What started out as a simple Friday night meal turned into a feast of sorts. And this was the surprise hit.

I wasn’t prepared to cook eggplant and when my friend picked it up, I automatically nodded, but did I have a plan? No.

In fact, I was all shades of disappointment with myself because I didn’t have pie crust waiting for me in the freezer, as I normally do, because I happen to get crazy last-minute urges to bake pies. Then again, it’s safe to say that I happen to have an abnormal love of pie. In fact, I have pies I’ve recently made lined up in the queue that I need to write about and I’m embarrassingly behind.

pomegranate molasses glazed eggplant

In any case, when I was amidst baking the pie (with pre-made crust, see I’m not above it!), prepping the stir-fry, and caramelizing leeks, I suddenly had an idea; I was going to bake the eggplant in an olive oil and pomegranate molasses glaze. I was going to add a spoonful of chopped ginger, a clove of garlic and a sprinkle of salt. And then, I was going to let it cook until the eggplant would get soft and impossibly buttery. That, was my plan and that’s what I stuck with.

I was a bit worried because, the whole dish was concocted in mere seconds. I had a flash of inspiration, but I had no idea what the results were going to be. But after my friend ate the near entirety of the dish, while I managed to only get a couple of forkfuls, I knew this improvisation was a hit. I loved my forkfuls and clearly, so did he.

The next day, I got to thinking about how sometimes when we improvise in the kitchen – we succeed. And other times – we fail. Both are good and necessary processes by which we learn, and yet somehow we get burned and scarred by our failures. My first-ever pie crust, an epic fail, caused me to avoid making my own crust for years. But once I got to do it again, I haven’t looked back since. Time and time again, I have to remind myself that should one of the dishes fail, all we have to do is move on, try it again and just realize that sometimes, our tempered eggs will cook, our soufflés might not rise, our cakes might sink.

The worst thing – is that we try it all over again. And if that gets us back into the kitchen, is that really quite so bad?

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Wednesday, September 2, 2009

vinegret – russian beet salad

venigret - russian beet salad

Okay, so clearly, I’ve a bit of a problem sticking with a writing schedule. I’ve been meaning to post this last week. But, you see, I’m becoming a regular at MGH, which isn’t particularly a good thing, and that place just takes the wind out of my sail. I’d like to think a hospital is not the kind of place you want to be recognized, unless you work there.

By now, you are all probably tired of hearing that I had yet another curve ball thrown my way, but that’s kind of what happened. And because I associate food with happiness and pleasant thoughts and joy, it’s difficult to write, never mind conceive of a way to connect this story to your senses, when you are thinking about things ending in “noma” and traipsing around various oncology wings in a hospital. When it rains, it pours. And let me hand it to you, dear 2009, you’re going down in my history as “la deluge”. In fact, I suggest we have an early break-up. You know, where I get to see other years? You haven’t been kind to me and I’m not the kind of woman who takes abuse sitting down.

carrots and potatoes

I won’t beat around the bush. Another family member of mine, this time my other grandmother, and my only remaining grandparent had to show up at the hospital to meet with her oncologist about a breast cancer diagnosis, so I went down to Boston to support her. The bad news is that this was another emotional hit for our family and we all took it pretty hard. But when the dust settled and once we met with the doctor, the good news came out. Short surgery. Self-dissolving stitches. Outpatient procedure. Allowed to shower the following day. In fact, the surgery should take about half an hour and then the extracted lump gets sent to a pathologist who’ll determine if radiation therapy is necessary. And, we were told, most likely, it will not be. So, bad diagnosis, but as good of an outcome as you can get given the circumstances.

Well, when life throws you lemons, you make lemonade, right? Right. In my case, I came into a nice little dowery of locally grown, beautiful beets. Beets. Beets? Really? No? No beets? No, really, come back, don’t go, you’ll like this, I promise you.

lots of picklesloads of beets

I feel like the poor beet is forever maligned in America. I remember mentioning once in middle school (I learned that lesson fast) about how much I loved beets and a boy sitting next to me smirked and said “Figures. All Russians smell like cabbage. Beets are gross.” While I have still no idea what cabbage had to do anything with beets, I’m guessing it was another vegetable he found disgusting. And I understand, beets aren’t easy vegetables to love. They’re oddly, deeply colored and they dye everything in sight a deep shade of magenta. They’ve got curious texture. They’re just not popular. They’re the unpopular kids of the vegetable garden. Like those kids in middle school who weren’t cool, but didn’t know it and ran for Student Council anyway. Beets try hard. They so badly want to be loved. And loved they are, at least in my kitchen anyway. By the way, I do not, nor have I ever (nor has any of my family immediate or extended) smelled like cabbage. Ever.

canned peas

Now, to the point. Vinegret is a Russian beet salad made with potatoes, onions, pickles, carrots and other things. It is hearty. It is filling. It’s got a bite. I was told, and I cannot recall by whom, that vinegret was invented during Soviet times. I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it was a regular staple in our household and it tastes so Russian to me, that I wonder if there was ever a time Russians lived without it. We made it in the summer, when local beets were hitting the market, and we had it in the winter, when vegetable stores seemed to have little to offer by potatoes, carrots and beets. And then you wonder how those three came to be together. What would otherwise be a someone unexciting salad, it gets some edge from pickles and onions and an extra zing from a dash of dill. And while traditionally, you’d think of nothing else but sunflower oil to dress it with, all I had was extra virgin olive oil and it worked beautifully.

venigret - russian beet salad

I’m in such vinegret-loving stage right now that I’m thinking I’ll have to serve this around New Years, to greet 2010, bidding 2009 a farewell forever. And the leftovers (that is if you have any) are even better the next day. Now, that’s something I can look forward to.

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Thursday, June 18, 2009

broccoli slaw

broccoli slaw

You know, I’ve a bone to pick with June. A huge, larger-than-life, we’re -no-longer-BFFs, please-take-your-rainy-self-somewhere-else bone. It’s not just the rain. They say April is the cruelest month? I think if Chaucer was witnessing June, 2009, he might reconsider his claim.

You see, on top of this weather, which would be enough to gripe about, I’ve sustained multiple stress fractures on not one, but two of my toes from running. That’s right – I’m an overachiever even when it comes to fractures. And so in the last week and a half, I’ve been limping and ambling and being generally quite annoyed with my left foot. And the bones in it. Hence lots of bones to pick with June. Get it? Bones? Fractures? Anyone? Anyone? [Deafening silence befalls.]

I know, I have a horrible sense of humor.

At least, when it comes to finding a perfect summer slaw, I can nail it. Jokes–not so much. But picnic ideas–I got that covered.

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

cream braised cabbage with leeks

cream-braised cabbage with leeks

I know it’s a little strange that I’m that I am telling you about another cabbage recipe so soon after the first one, but I can’t help myself. It’s too good to keep from you a moment longer. Doing so would be selfish and wrong. And I’m anything but selfish. Besides in Russia households typically always have a head of cabbage on hand. I know in my family it’s always been the case.

Moreover, I wish I could tell you that I’m one of those people who cooks a new thing every night, who is constantly craving variety, and is always out trying new things. I don’t. Sometimes I go for weeks without so much as turning on the stove. Embarrassing, but true. So if I find a dish that truly strikes a chord with me – well, I will make it over and over and over. Like this one for instance.

big pile of cabbage - YUM cream-braised cabbage with leeks

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m very open to trying a new dish or a new flavor combination, but I am quite often finding myself ordering the same few things off my regular take-out menus. I could also very well make something and then eat it for several days and sometimes even longer. I’m a creature of habit to a fault. I like schedules and planning. Leftovers are just another way for me to continue eating what I like. Besides so many different things taste that much better the following days when the flavors have a chance to meld together: chili, soup, stew, and believe it or not – this cabbage. That is if it lasts that long in your household.

cream-braised cabbage with leeks

So this cabbage I want to tell you about. Well, I’ve recently fallen in love with braising vegetables in cream. You take something somewhat pedestrian, like cabbage for instance, and you add in some chopped leeks and then you sauté the whole thing for awhile until the leeks start turning yellow-green, closer to yellow; and the cabbage has wilted and began to look a little sad. This is where you swoop in and add some lemon juice, salt and finally cream and thus transform it from sadness into glory, like Cinderella going to a fancy ball. You let it thicken for a few minutes and then scoop it generously onto a plate. And then, as a pièce de résistance, you grate a tiny bit of Grana Padano over it (I know cheese sounds superfluous, but trust me on this one). Just try to have one serving of this and not eat the whole thing. You can consider it an open challenge.

cream-braised cabbage with leeks

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Sunday, February 15, 2009

glazed pearl onions in port

port braised onions

Honestly, if someone told me I had to go and live on a uninhabited island and could bring one vegetable with me, it would be an onion. My kitchen feels oddly empty when I run out, which is why I buy loads of them at once as if the great onion famine is going to set in any day. I always wonder about the folks in the check-out line with a singular onion – why just one? Can’t you just chop up a great deal of them and make caramelized onions, spread them on bread with a little fleur de sel and you have a meal fit for a king?

Consider the onion – it is a humble thing. It’s subterranean, for one, growing in the dirt. It isn’t all sweet and welcoming like a carrot is, for instance. It’s never been serenaded, unlike, say the plum. Songs have not been written about it unlike beans for example. It’s got a smell, a bite, and it makes you cry. It’s cheap, fairly pedestrian and socially maligned (just try ordering a salad for lunch with onions and see what happens). And yet, what sandwich would be complete without it? What soup wouldn’t get more depth if you took on onion out? Making stock? Better have an onion on hand.

port braised onionsport braised onions

And when I say I can be giddy with a piece of hearty bread, topped with slowly caramelized onions and fleur de sel, I’m not lying. As a child, it was one thing my mother could make at any time and I would eat it. All of it. Without leaving so much as a little onion piece behind. I would have turned down chocolate and cookies just to sit down with a bowl of caramelized onions. And I might be the only one out there who swoons at the word “allium” – I once name my goldfish that. Unfortunately the goldfish lived an additional three hours and then decided it was time to go belly up. Perhaps it was offended at the name, but I meant it in the highest of compliments.

port braised onions

So let me just warn you before I give you the recipe for this. If you’re an onion fan and if the thought of slow-cooking an onion gives you weak knees like it does to me, run to the grocery store and get the ingredients to make this. Go now, don’t wait. As a side dish this is perfection. Roasted in port, these are luxurious, earthy, fully developed flavors. While peeling them is time consuming and is a pain, the end result is so worth it. Besides, roasting the onions in port makes the dish anything but pedestrian.

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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

roasted cauliflower with indian spices and yogurt dressing

roasted cauliflower with indian spices and yogurt dip

Sometimes, I operate under the delusion that I have excellent time management skills, that I can multi-task and that no goal is unattainable. Take this roasted cauliflower, for example. I wanted to share it with you before I left for my vacation to L.A., but I got a bit distracted and failed to do much of anything. And then I thought I might even write about this while on my vacation, but who was I kidding? Not that I didn’t have an opportunity – L.A. was rainy for the 4 out of the 6 days. So much for their eternal sunshine.

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