Adventures in Suburbia

Last week, Chris and I retreated to Bay Area Suburbia for a few days. A friend of mine recently moved from the city to the ‘burbs, and when she went out of town for a while, the four cats left behind were in need of a little (okay, a lot of) attention.

Needless to say, we were eager to cheat on our cats and hang out with hers, and the fact that our commute was cut in half for the final part of last week didn’t hurt either.

Of course, cat/housesitting meant that we had to actually get into the house, which proved to be another story; for whatever reason, my key decided to all of a sudden cease to work. Needless to say, had someone been watching us they would have been more than entertained. First, we’d both managed to go to Whole Foods without our wallets, at which point I’d left Chris there to head back and grab mine. At this point, my key wouldn’t work, and so I proceeded back to WF, sans wallet, to pick Chris up so he could make sure I wasn’t completely useless. Though I would have loved to have been wrong, we were most certainly locked out. Thirty minutes later, I’d already left a frantic voicemail, tried the door ten thousand times, and finally, we saw a screen that looked loose. Chris shimmied up the fence, I hoisted his ass into the air, and minutes later (it would have been seconds had a cat not been standing at the window threatening to jump out all the while), we were in.

Still starving, we made our third trip to WF to find our long lost basket of goodies. We grabbed a garage door opener that time. So, if you ever need to break in to your house, or someone else’s, let us know; we can do it in 30 minutes flat ;).

I’d also fooled myself into thinking that biking to work would be fun. You know, like old times when I did it back in Chicago. Mind you, Chicago is f-l-a-t. And while Redwood City isn’t San Francisco in the way of hilliness, it ain’t flat. Needless to say, I finally purchased a much-needed bike rack, some calories got burned, and by Friday I was thankful for the spare car in the garage. Luckily, driving stick is like riding a bike, at least in terms of remembering how to do it, certainly not in difficulty getting through rolling hills.

All things considered, it ended up feeling like a mini-vacation, simply because we were away from the city for a couple of days and instead in a quiet house with plenty of space, a better view, and twice the number of cats. Also, I had a whole new kitchen to cook in, and along with that, plenty of cookbooks to peruse. Of course, now I’ve added a few more things to my wishlist, but I’m ok with that.

One of said wishlist items is Ross Dobson’s Market Vegetarian. It’s no Yottam Ottolenghi cookbook, but it sure has loads of ideas and relatively straightforward recipes. I had my mind set on the cover recipe, and even though I don’t think I’ve eaten eggplant since the Iron Chef challenge (almost 1 year ago!), I was ready to give the ol’ aubergine another go.

So with that, the theme of last week was persistence: persistence gets you in the house (finally), it gets your groceries after three trips to Whole Foods, it gets you to and from work despite the 7 miles of ever-so-gradual hills each way, and it gets you to change your mind about eggplant.

Eggplant, Tomato, & Red Lentil Curry
Adapted from Market Vegetarian; serves 4

printable version

3 T evoo
1 large eggplant, cut into 16 pieces
1 red onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 T finely chopped fresh ginger
8 oz heirloom cherry tomatoes
1 t ground cumin
1 t curry powder
1/2 t chili powder
1 T tomato paste
2/3 c red lentils
1 handful of fresh cilantro, roughly chopped
cooked basmati rice, to serve (optional)

heat 2 T oil in a skillet over high heat. when oil is hot, add the eggplant to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes. the eggplant will absorb the oil, but eventually start to seep out as the eggplant browns. once this happens, remove from skillet and set aside.

add 1 T oil, onions, garlic, and ginger to skillet and cook for 5 minutes. add the cherry tomatoes and cook for 1 minute, just until they soften. fish out tomatoes from the skillet and add to plate of eggplant.

add cumin and curry powder to pan and cook for a couple of minutes until fragrant. add chili powder and tomato paste, 2 cups of water, and lentils and simmer over med-lo heat for 15-20 minutes, until lentils are al dente. stir in eggplant and tomatoes and cook to warm through; add cilantro. spoon over basmati rice, if using.

Battle Eggplant: Holy Heaviness

How persistent of a person would you say you are? Stubborn as an ox? A total pushover? Or maybe somewhere in the middle? Truth be told, I waver depending on the subject. Do I really wanna pick a fight about the best road to take to get home from the grocery store? No, because one way or another, we’ll get there anyway, and what’s five more minutes (and knowing in my head that I was right, whether or not I verbalize that thought)? Do I often times end up emptying out the dishwasher an extra time or two because it’s just easier than the annoyance of piling dishes up at the sink? Sure, but I’m willing to bet I miss a few chores myself, so that probably balances out at some point.

Other times I’m a little more obstinate. My cat will always be prettier than yours (even when she’s resting her head on our dishes), and Eastern NC barbecue sauce will always be better than the clunky stuff they make elsewhere (although I will admit that it doesn’t mean the others taste bad, per se). And when it comes to figuring out a recipe, let’s just say that if it doesn’t go the way I initially planned, I am definitely fit to be tied.

I think we all have our f-ups in the kitchen though, right? I don’t so much mind talking about them, but I certainly don’t feel the need to waste real estate here by posting the recipes, pictures, etc. I hope that’s ok with everyone, but if it’s not, I’m also pretty stubborn about how I feel on this matter, and so arguing about it won’t help you all that much…

Remember when we went to Seattle earlier this year? Remember me talking about all the good food we ate (of course, before Hub’s bout with food poisoning…)? I also briefly mentioned a dish I tried that we had at Poppy – eggplant fries – and sadly that dish was lackluster at best. It’s been lurking in the back of my mind ever since.

And although I like eggplant, it definitely isn’t a veggie I regularly find on my grocery list. Last time I made it was during crazy vegetarian month, but thanks to Hope and her choosing aubergine for the past weekend’s Iron Chef battle, it was time for redemption. Hope may not have been physically present at this Battle, given her recent move (sniff sniff), but she was certainly there in spirit since this was an ingredient truly reminiscent of vegetarian cuisine.

That said, I immediately knew that the eggplant fries would make a comeback, and that this time I’d cut them more thinly and fry them at a consistently high heat to make them somewhat crispy. Round two was much better, but if there is a round three I might even try baking them to reinforce a little crunchiness.

Usually, I spend a relatively significant amount of time searching for the perfect recipe. One may be an inspired dish, or something I’ve been wanting to try, but generally I resort to google, Epicurious, or some cookbooks for the second recipe. This time, I didn’t bother, because no matter how unoriginal it was, I couldn’t think of anything but a classic baba ganoush. As expected, two of us had that thought in mind, but I was ok with that. You may have noticed – food tends to be one thing I don’t waver on much – are you surprised? By the way, that naan from last week is the perfect match with the smoky baba ganoush. Do it.

Anyways, we had a good turnout this time, with three newcomers and 13 dishes laden with eggplant. And with the eggplant came those perfect pairings – carbs, cheese, and tomatoes – enough to weigh that belly down nearly to the point of a food coma, but not quite enough that I couldn’t stomach a few second tastes and a fair share of wine. I mean, really, a girl’s gotta make up for not having dessert this time, right?!


The Top Three:

  1. Becca’s Marinated Eggplant (middle)
  2. Katherine’s Eggplant Gouda Pie (top right)
  3. Jennifer’s Eggplant “Pizza” (top left)

Strangely enough, this is the first time my three favorite dishes have made it to the top three, and placed in the exact order I chose. Newbie Becca’s marinated eggplant was a spoon-sized Asia in a bowl – a perfect combo of chile sauce with lingering heat, fish sauce for the saltiness (at least I think that’s what it was), and the sweetness provided by my favorite item, brown sugar. Newbie Katherine’s pie couldn’t have made me happier – I mean, what’s better than a flaky pie crust with smoky Gouda? And Jennifer’s eggplant pizza? It’s a good thing she lives 6 blocks away instead of 3, or else I might have followed her home and snuck into her fridge that very night for more.

Sadly, this battle of eggplants may have been the last of summer up here in the good ol’ Midwest. While the days seem to be getting a little shorter, the nights a little cooler, and the produce more autumnal, I’m not sure I’m quite ready to give up on Summer. The down side? this is probably one of those battles where persistence is a lost cause, but I might stomp my feet just a little bit longer after all.

Baba Ganoush
Adapted from various sites; serves 12-15

printable version

2 small eggplants (close to 2 lbs)
5 T sesame seeds, toasted
1 lemon, juiced
1 t cumin
2 cloves garlic, minced
smoked sea salt, to taste
cilantro, chopped, for garnish

heat grill to med-hi. slice eggplants in half and run over with oil. grill, flipping occasionally, for 15-20 minutes, until soft. remove from grill and let cool; peel skin off leaving a little of the char for flavor. chop coarsely and add to medium sized bowl.

grind toasted sesame seeds in spice grinder until a paste forms (or, grind by hand in mortar and pestle). add to bowl with eggplant; add remaining ingredients. add smoked sea salt to taste. top with chopped cilantro.

Eggplant Fries
inspired by Poppy, in Seattle

printable version

canola oil, for frying
1 large eggplant
3/4 c ap flour, or ap gluten-free flour
1 T smoked paprika
1/2 T ground ginger
1 T oregano
salt & pepper
sea salt
mint, chopped, for garnish
honey, for drizzling

in a large pot (preferably a Dutch oven), fill canola oil to about 3 inches. bring heat up to 350 F. meanwhile, peel eggplant and slice into thin strips.

in a large bowl, toss together flour and spices, along with salt and pepper. using tongs, toss eggplant fries into flour mixture and then into the oil, once heated. fry by the handful for 3-5 minutes, until golden brown. remove and let drain on paper towel-lined plate. toss with sea salt immediate after removing from oil.

serve on platter, drizzle with honey and garnish with fresh mint.

*Dishes from picture of 9 above, L to R: eggplant pizza, chinese eggplant, eggplant gouda pie, east african eggplant stew, marinated eggplant, baba ganoush, eggplant caponata, eggplant-tomato marmalade, eggplant-crab-shrimp casserole