Eggplant Moussaka

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In the Mediterranean there are endless versions of moussaka, but the basic principle is layered vegetables alternating with layers of minced meat, tomato sauce and bechamel sauce. Typically the vegetables, be it potatoes or eggplants, are fried and then layered accordingly.

This light and and dairy moussaka is not only vegetarian, but not as heavy and fattening as the classic Greek moussaka. I used eggplants for this casserole and instead of breading and frying it, I brushed it lightly with olive oil and then broiled it. I personally do not like fried eggplants,  because it tends to be a greasy with a pool of oil at the bottom of the dish.

To create the substance of meat in this vegetarian moussaka, I used feta cheese and cottage cheese which gives a rich and filling texture to the layers of eggplants.

In the summer time, serve this dish straight from the oven dish with a fresh leafy salad for a satisfying meal on those long summer evenings. In cooler months, try serving it with homemade potato wedges cooked with chili flakes and olive oil for a filling plate of comfort food.

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Serves 8

INGREDIENTS

1 large eggplants, unpeeled and sliced into 1/4 inch rounds
1/2 teaspoon salt
olive oil, for basting

Cheese Filling
4 ounces cheddar cheese, shredded
8 ounces cottage cheese
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup Gluten Free cereal, crushed
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon chopped parsley
Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
5 tomatoes, diced
1 1/4 cups water
2 tablespoons oil
1 teaspoon garlic powder
2–3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt, scant
1/2 teaspoon pepper


Directions
  1. Sprinkle eggplant slices with salt and let stand ½ hour. Set your oven to broil. Pat dry with a paper towel, baste with olive oil on both sides. You can use a brush to baste. Lightly salt the eggplants and place on tray for the oven. Grill on both sides until golden, about 7 minutes on each side. Make sure the eggplants do not burn.
  2. To prepare filling: mix together cheddar cheese, cottage cheese, feta cheese, beaten egg, gluten free cereal, garlic, and parsley.
  3. To prepare tomato sauce: sauté sliced onion in oil until tender. Add remaining ingredients for sauce and bring to boil. Simmer covered for 20 minutes or until tomatoes have emulsified.
  4. Put a layer of eggplant slices in a greased casserole dish. Place a tablespoonful of filling on each slice and cover with a second slice. Pour tomato sauce over eggplant slices. Cover with aluminum foil and bake at 350° for 15 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 20 minutes.

Fassoulyeh b’Chuderah ~ Syrian Bean Stew with Cinnamon & Tomato

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About a year ago I had the pleasure of having cookbook author and cooking instructor Jennifer Abadi come to home to learn how to make the Afghani Pilau. If you want the recipe, then you’ll just have to buy my book! Jennifer is writing a Sephardi Passover cookbook and she, herself travels all over the tri-state area to people’s homes to learn how to cook their traditional Passover recipes. Here is a photo from that tutorial I gave to Jennifer, who also interviewed me extensively on the history of the dishes for Passover of Afghanistan and Bukhara. We went to the Persian supermarket called A to Z near me and got a full history of the ingredients used in Central Asian cuisine.

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Jennifer, is the author of A Fistful of Lentils, a cookbook memoir about her Syrian Jewish family roots. Obviously, we have something in common. We cook to connect to our past and want the world to learn and taste of these ancient cuisines. Syrian cooking, which is considered Mediterranean and a bit off the beaten track from the Silk Road has certain characteristics that speak Syrian. That is…. beans, tomatoes and cinnamon. Arabs have had a long history with trading spices along the Spice Route. When ever I think of the fall season, for some reason I think of cinnamon. There is something very earthy and warm to cinnamon that just makes me feel grounded and home. Perhaps that is why I ventured out to make this bean stew that oozes cinnamon. The stew falls somewhere between a soup and a stew. It’s completely vegetarian, very satisfying, and–best of all–you may already have all of the ingredients in your pantry!

Ingredients

1 lb (2 1/2 cups) dried cannelini or navy beans
3 tablespoons vegetable oil or olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (about 2 1/2 cups)
2 Tablespoons minced garlic
1 (6 oz) can tomato paste
1 (14oz) can diced tomatoes with juice
4 cups cold water or broth
1 tablespoon lightly packed brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
cooked rice, for serving

Directions

  1. Cover the beans with cold water and remove any rocks, dirt, or other debris from the surface of the water. Let soak for 12 hours. Drain water and transfer to a 4-quart saucepan. Cover with water, bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer vigorously until beans are just cooked but not soft, about 45 minutes. Drain water and reserve beans.
  2. Heat the oil in a heavy soup pot over medium-high heat. Cook the onions, stirring, until translucent, about 7-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook 1 additional minute; do not burn. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, about 2 minutes. Add diced tomatoes, water, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Return to a boil, then reduce heat, cover, and simmer over medium-low heat until beans are very soft and liquid has thickened considerably, about 1 1/2-2 hours.
  3. Serve in bowls over basmati rice.

Matboucha – Israeli Roasted Tomato Salad

Cooking a medley of tomatoes and red peppers for the Matboucha

I miss Israel. I was there this past summer for many happy occasions in my family. The main attraction was that my Italian cousin Jonny got married to Leor, whose an English Israeli. The common ground location for a wedding was naturally…. Israel.

Among the guests were my cousins from around the globe who came for the wedding – Thailand, Hong Kong, Italy, England, Los Angeles… and the list goes on. Seems like when God commanded his people to be fruitful and multiply, they took it literally. My family thought it meant to multiply in every part of the world, but what ever…. I digress.

A small fraction of my family that could fit into this photo. By the sunset. I am the one whose hand is on the man on the ground (my husband)

The other attractions were that we celebrated many big bash birthday parties in August. Seems like everyone was born in August. Again another reference to be fruitful…. There was my Italian cousin Suzanna’s Birthday party on the beach, then there was my Italian cousin Ronen’s Birthday party in a Hall where he pulled off a show for us. Like what I mean is that, he was the SHOW! He entertained us and sang to an audience of 200 people for 1 1/2 hours. And not to mention my Dad’s Birthday, or so we think. Back when he was born there were no birth certificates, so most likely his parents just made up a day. Sure, he was born in August. Why not, the weather is nice, nice time for outdoor parties. So…

The Ronen Show

With all this movement, the common meeting ground every morning for us 60 cousins that were OCCUPYING HILTON, was the Hilton Tel Aviv Breakfast. I promise you that you have never seen anything like this. Gourmet food – buffet style – non stop. There were every single kind off egg concoction you could think of, waffles, pancakes, seasonal fruits, granola, Israeli yogurts and cheeses, croissants…. got the idea. There was a lot of food.

Honey for breakfast… honey?

Among the list was my breakfast staple… Matboucha. May sound like throw up, but it’s actually so not. Matboucha is a mezze dish usually found in a plate with chummus and techina – Middle Eastern staples. Through out the years, Matboucha has become known as an Israeli dish of roasted red peppers and tomatoes. It is served cold and is considered a salad although I use that term loosely. It can be a base for many other dishes… like Shakshuka – another Middle Eastern favorite, Tomato Sauce, spread for a sandwich… just use your imagination.

So when my husband and I came back from Israel, nostalgic,  my good dutiful husband brought Israel to me. He fired up the gill and made us a matboucha. You can forgo the grill and just use the stovetop to grill the tomatoes and red peppers. The roasted caramelized flavors of the two just bring out the sweetness for this matboucha salad.

Ingredients

2 lbs Tomatoes
1 lb red bell pepper
3 garlic cloves, quartered
3 dried chilies (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons hot paprika
1/3 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Place bell peppers on a cookie sheet and roast in the oven at 350°F until the skins have browned. Alternatively grill them or use the stovetop and place them on the grills.
  2. Submerge tomatoes in boiling hot water for 10 minutes or until the skin falls off.
  3. Cut tomatoes in half and squeeze out the juice and seeds.
  4. Cut tomatoes in chunks.
  5. Peel the skin from the bell peppers and remove the seeds and stem.
  6. Cut bell peppers in chunks.
  7. Add all ingredients to a soup pot and pour oil over top.
  8. Bring contents to a boil, then turn down to a medium heat.
  9. Cook covered for 2 hours.
  10. Remove cover and cook uncovered until most of the liquid has evaporated.
  11. Stir occasionally to prevent burning.
  12. Refrigerate and serve cold.

Curried Coconut Tomato Soup

As the tomatoes in the farmers market or your homegrown ones start to proliferate, this soup will make good use of those fresh tomatoes. Alternatively, you can use whole can tomatoes, preferably fire roasted. Make sure you get canned tomatoes that have the BPA-free liners. What makes this soup different from the ones you would find in a restaurant, is that it’s influence is from India – with some hot flakes of chili and a cool down of coconut milk. Simple, quick and a perfect summer soup on those hot nights. Inspired and adapted from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now.

Curried Coconut Tomato Soup

Ingredients

4 tablespoons olive oil, or coconut oil
2 medium yellow onions, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, plus more to taste
3 teaspoons curry powder
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon chile flakes
2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes or 20 peeled tomatoes*

          6 cups (1.5 L) of water
          1 (14-ounce can) coconut milk

Directions

  1. Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onions and salt, and cook, stirring occasionally, until the onions really soften up – 10 minutes or so.
  2. Stir in the curry powder, coriander, cumin, and chile flakes, and cook just until the spices are fragrant and toasty – stirring constantly at this point. Just 30 seconds or so.
  3. Stir in the tomatoes, the juices from the cans, and water. Simmer for fifteen minutes or so, then puree with a hand blender until smooth. Pour in the coconut milk. Taste and adjust with more salt to taste.

* To peel fresh tomatoes, the easiest method is over a gas flame. Remove any stems that are still attached to your tomatoes. Rinse the tomatoes clean and pat dry. Spear the tomato with a fork at the top, where the stem core is visible. Turn the stovetop flame to medium high. Hold the tomato an inch over the flame, turning slowly, until the skin begins to split and blister. It should take about 15-25 seconds for the skin to loosen all the way around the tomato. Don’t hold it over the flame too long or it will start to cook the tomato. Place the tomato on a smooth surface and let it cool off enough for you to comfortably touch it. Begin peeling the skin where it split, making your way all around the tomato till all the skin is peeled off.

Best Shakshuka (Sunny side eggs in Fresh Tomato Sauce)

When you think of Sunday brunch, what images conjure up in your mind? Pancakes, eggs and some kind of bread?? Pancakes are a large part of the American Sunday breakfast/brunch. The carb thing is like a blob that takes up more space then you anticipate, and you wobble around Sunday in a daze. No wander Sunday football  exists, so that men can just sit around in a euphoric carb bomb like Al Bundy with hand in pants.  If you want to try something lighter and more tasteful, then try the quintessential Middle Eastern breakfast, Shakshuka.

On the other side of the Atlantic, in much of the Middle East, Shakshuka, a dish of eggs poached in a sauce of tomatoes, chili peppers, onions, often spiced with cumin and traditionally served up in a cast iron pan is the breakfast of choice. I suppose they make do with their local, ripe tomatoes and  cage free eggs. No bread is needed for this dish, but you may just want to mop up the sauce with a pita (gluten free bread).

When I am feeling extra hungry I add some broad beans to the dish and a tickle of feta cheese. Try it, it will not disappoint and is so filling. My husband found this recipe online and modified it a bit. We garnished it with a side of spinach leaves, chummus, cherry tomatoes and baby grapes for a little punch.

Happy Husband Enjoying Sunday Brunch

Shakshuka (Sunny side eggs in Fresh Tomato Sauce)

Serves 5-6

Ingredients

1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, peeled and diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 medium green or red bell pepper, chopped
4 cups ripe diced tomatoes, or 2 cans (14 oz. each) diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon chili powder (mild)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
Pinch of cayenne pepper (or more to taste– HOT!)
Pinch of sugar, to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
5-6 eggs
1/2 tbsp fresh chopped parsley (optional, for garnish)

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a deep, large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat. Saute onion for a few minutes until the onion begins to soften. Add garlic and continue to sauté till mixture is fragrant.Your nostrils wont let you down.
  2. Add the bell pepper, sauté for 5-7 minutes until softened.
  3. Add tomatoes and tomato paste to pan, stir till blended. Add spices and sugar, stir well, and allow mixture to simmer over medium heat for 5-7 minutes till it starts to reduce. At this point, you can taste the mixture and spice it according to your preferences. Add salt and pepper to taste, more sugar for a sweeter sauce.
  4. Crack the eggs, one at a time, directly over the tomato mixture, making sure to space them evenly over the sauce. I usually place 4-5 eggs around the outer edge and 1 in the center. The eggs will cook “over easy” style on top of the tomato sauce.
  5. Cover the pan. Allow mixture to simmer for 10-15 minutes, or until the eggs are cooked and the sauce has slightly reduced. Keep an eye on the skillet to make sure that the sauce doesn’t reduce too much, which can lead to burning.
  6. Garnish with the chopped parsley, if desired and serve. 

    Jamie Oliver’s Tomato Salad

    Tomatoes are proliferating the farmer’s markets and particularly my CSA these last few weeks. I have received over 20 pounds of tomatoes in the last month. No Joke.


    In my weekly CSA, there has been a regular sort of three different tomatoes:



















    The Roma tomatoes are a meaty, egg- or pear-shaped tomato that has few seeds and is a good canning and sauce tomato. I did not use those for this salad, but just made a tomato sauce and stored it in the fridge for later use. The orange tomatoes, similar looking to cherry tomatoes taste like starburst candy that just explodes with natural sweetness in your mouth. The Beefsteak tomatoes are the largest from the variety, hence the name. Typically used in sandwiches because of their large slices. Since I am not a sandwich eater, I used the beefsteak tomatoes for this salad.


    Now this is an incredible tomato salad but there are two things to remember if you want to wow your guests with something so simple. The first is that you should try to get a mixture of different, tasty, local (if possible) tomatoes in all different shapes, sizes and colors. Second, the flavor is brought out by salting the tomatoes, so don’t skip this bit. Some people get worried about putting this much salt on their food, but the bulk of it will drip off, leaving you with really beautiful, intensely flavored tomatoes.


    If you can get hold of some dried flowering oregano then do, as it has the most heavenly flavor. Feel free to use the dried stuff that you get in a little container, but it can taste a bit like sawdust when compared to the fruity, fragrant flavor you get from the flowering variety. Oregano is also great to grow in the garden. This salad is from Jamie Oliver’s recipe, called “The Mothership Tomato Salad”


    Ingredients
    • 2 1/4 pounds mixed ripe tomatoes, different shapes and colors

  1. Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  2. A good pinch dried oregano
  3. Red wine or balsamic vinegar
  4. Extra-virgin olive oil
  5. 1 clove garlic, peeled and grated
  6. 1 fresh red chile, seeded and chopped
    1. Depending on the size of your tomatoes, slice some in half, some into quarters and others into uneven chunks. Straightaway this will give you the beginnings of a tomato salad that’s really brave and exciting to look at and eat. Put the tomatoes into a colander and season with a good pinch of sea salt. 
    2. Give them a toss, season again and give a couple more tosses. The salt won’t be drawn into the tomatoes; instead it will draw any excess moisture out, concentrating all the lovely flavors. Leave the tomatoes in the colander on top of a bowl to stand for around 15 minutes, then discard any juice that has come out of them.
    3. Transfer the tomatoes to a large bowl and sprinkle over the oregano. Make a dressing using 1 part vinegar to 3 parts oil, the garlic and the chile. Drizzle the tomatoes with enough dressing to coat everything nicely.
    4. This is a fantastic tomato salad, which is totally delicious to eat on its own. It’s also great served with some balls of mozzarella or some nice, grilled ciabatta bread.


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    Storage Facts: Tomatoes should never be refrigerated until they:
    • have been cooked
    • have been cut or put into a raw dish like a salsa
    • are fully ripe and would spoil if left further at room temperature


    Place tomatoes stem end up, and don’t put them on a sunny windowsill to hasten ripening. Instead, put tomatoes in a sealed paper bag with or without ethylene-producing fruit such as bananas. Ripe tomatoes will hold at room temperature for two or three days. Ripe tomatoes you’ve refrigerated to keep from spoiling will taste better if you bring them to room temperature before eating.