Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Eggplant Crostini

When seasonal dishes collide with beautiful presentation, the combination gets my attention every time. In Simple Fare: Spring and Summer, that beauty of presentation extends to the book itself with a clean, modern layout and large, stunning photographs reminiscent of the style of Donna Hay. As I read my review copy, I quickly fell for this simplicity that comes packed with special touches. The author, Karen Mordechai, believes “food should capture your spirit.” What you cook and what you’re drawn to evolves as you do, and food “is at the foundation of our cultures.” By sourcing the best of the current season and sharing meals with family and friends, “we help sustain a beautiful cycle of goodness.” The Burnt Carrots dish is just carrots roasted with a coating of maple syrup and olive oil, but it’s served with marinated labneh, toasted hazelnuts, and nigella seeds. The Ricotta Gnudi is plated with an easy mix of brown butter and purple basil leaves, but the dumplings are made with a mix of plain, homemade if possible, ricotta and smoked ricotta. The Cured Eggs are shown with two variations. They can be pickled with a beet to turn the outside pink or with saffron to turn it yellow, and the pink option looks lovely in the bowl of White Miso Soup. There’s nothing too complex or time-consuming about these dishes, but they all offer nice, added touches. For instance, for the Eggplant Crostini shown here, there’s a flavorful tahini spread that holds everything in place on the toasted bread, a tangy black garlic dressing, and toppings of pickled red onion, toasted pine nuts, and fresh basil. I had just brought home some farm-fresh eggplant that was perfect for it. 

Wedges of eggplants were cut and tossed with olive oil, salt, and pepper before being roasted until browned and crisp. The tahini spread was made by mixing tahini with a minced garlic clove, some lemon juice, and olive oil. Next, the dressing was made by pureeing black garlic cloves with pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, sumac, cocoa powder, salt, and olive oil. I had made the pickled red onion in advance by thinly slicing an onion and covering the slices with a brine of white vinegar, lime juice, and salt with a bay leaf. The roasted eggplant wedges were tossed with some of the dressing before building the toasts. To put it all together, toasted bread was spread with the tahini mixture, the dressed eggplant wedges were nestled into the spread, more dressing was drizzled on top, and garnishes of pickled red onion, toasted pine nuts, and basil leaves were added. 

I love a composition that’s put together well like this. The tahini spread is an excellent glue to keep everything in place as you pick up each piece of bread. A great punch of flavor is delivered here by the black garlic dressing. The sweet and funky, fermented garlic combined with pomegranate molasses, lemon, and sumac made the roasted eggplant sing. Simple, fresh food with interesting details, that’s as pretty as it is tasty, never goes out of style.  

Eggplant Crostini
Recipe reprinted with publisher's permission from Simple Fare: Spring and Summer. 


This eggplant dish is warm and bright. It works well as a starter or as a light meal, served with a side of greens. The roasting technique is inspired by a method from London-based chef Yotam Ottolenghi. 

For the eggplant 
3 to 4 (about 31⁄2 pounds/1.6 kg total) eggplants 
4 tablespoons (60 ml) olive oil 
1⁄2 tablespoon salt 
Freshly ground black pepper 

For the tahini spread 
3⁄4 cup (180 ml) tahini 
1⁄2 garlic clove 
Juice of 1 lemon 
4 tablespoons (60 ml) olive oil 

For the black garlic dressing 
3 black garlic cloves, peeled 
1 teaspoon black sesame paste 
1 teaspoon pomegranate molasses 
Juice of 1⁄2 lemon 
1⁄2 teaspoon sumac 
1⁄2 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder 
1⁄4 teaspoon salt 
3 tablespoons olive oil 

For the toast 
1 loaf miche, cut into slices 1⁄2 inch (12 mm) thick 
1⁄4 cup (60 ml) olive oil 
1⁄2 cup (75 g) Pickled Red Onion 
1⁄4 cup (35g) pine nuts, toasted 
1⁄4 cup (10 g) fresh basil leaves, torn 

Preheat the oven to 400oF (205oC). Cut each eggplant into half lengthwise, and cut each half into half widthwise. Cut each quarter into thirds to create thick wedges. In a large bowl, toss the wedges with the olive oil, salt, and some pepper. Arrange the wedges on two parchment-lined baking sheets and roast until golden and slightly crisp, but not dry, 35 to 40 minutes. 

For the tahini spread: Combine the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil in a food processor and blend until smooth. The mixture should be spreadable, but not overly thick. If you wish to thin your tahini, add a thin stream of up to 1⁄2 cup (120 ml) ice water to the mixture with the motor running until your desired consistency is reached. Set aside. 

For the black garlic dressing: Pulse the garlic, sesame paste, molasses, lemon juice, sumac, cocoa powder, and salt in a food processor to form a paste. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a slow and steady stream until completely incorporated. Remove the eggplant from the oven and, while still warm, gently toss it in a large bowl with the black garlic dressing until completely coated. Set it aside to let the flavors meld. 

For the toast: Heat a grill to medium-high or a grill pan over medium- high heat. Brush each slice of bread with the olive oil and toast for about 2 minutes on each side, until lightly brown. 

To serve, spread each piece of toast with a bit of the tahini spread and top with a few wedges of warm eggplant. Garnish with pickled red onions, a sprinkling of pine nuts, and basil leaves.

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Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Tacos with Roasted Vegetables in Cascabel Chile Oil with Homemade Queso Fresco, Guajillo Tortillas, and Salsa de Arbol

I do not ever get tired of tacos. It’s not possible. There are infinite combinations when you consider types of tortillas, fillings, cheese or no cheese, and the choice of a salsa or two. I had tacos for breakfast yesterday and will have tacos for dinner tonight. But, the tacos shown here today are special. The tortillas were homemade, the cheese was homemade, the vegetables were roasted in homemade cascabel chile oil, and they were the most delicious tacos I’ve had all year. The recipes are from Nopalito: A Mexican Kitchen , and I received a review copy. I should be clear that this book is so much more than just tacos. It’s a collection of favorite authentic Mexican dishes from Gonzalo Guzman, the chef of Nopalito restaurants in San Francisco. The recipes are true to their origin with inspiration from seasonal, local ingredients in California. Because of Guzman’s upbringing in southern Mexico in Veracruz, corn was “the king of Mexican ingredients.” And, freshly made corn tortillas are key to several dishes. The Basics chapter includes information about nixtamalization, making your own masa, and turning that into fresh tortillas. There’s also a recipe for wheat flour tortillas even though corn is preferred. Then, the chapters take you through small plates, big plates, drinks and desserts, and salsas. The Ensalada de Pepinos y Verdolagas caught my eye because it’s made with purslane and cucumbers and both are in season right now. Also, the dressing is an interesting vinaigrette thickened with pureed pepitas. There are quesadillas, tacos, and tamales with meat, fish, and vegetable fillings. And, there's a lovely looking Huarache de Huitlacoche y Hongos. I’ve never found huitlacoche available locally, but I’d love to try this with all mushrooms instead. The braised meat dishes, adobo-rubbed trout, and enchiladas would all be inviting for parties. And, I have to try the Smashed Shrimp with Eggs and Salsa served with tortillas and refried black beans and the Breaded Chicken Sandwiches on homemade cemitas or sesame rolls. The fresh, bright, and spicy flavors are evident, and I couldn’t wait to jump in and try several things. 

First, I made the Queso Fresco which is similar to making fresh ricotta except the curds are pressed to form a firmer cheese. There is a typo in this recipe, though, as the amount of vinegar listed is too much for the quantity of milk. The milk will over-acidify, separate, and not curdle. Rather than using the amount of vinegar listed, once the milk comes up to about 170 degrees F, turn off the heat and just dribble in a tablespoon of vinegar at a time while stirring until the milk begins to form curds. I used less than one-quarter cup of vinegar for a half gallon of milk. After curdling, the milk was left to sit for 20 minutes before the curds were drained in a cheesecloth-lined strainer. The liquid was squeezed from the cheesecloth, salt was added, and the cheese was weighted down with a bowl to press more liquid from it. It was placed in the refrigerator for eight hours. Next, I made tortillas. I used store-bought masa harina rather than making homemade masa, but I took inspiration from the book for adding pureed, reconstituted dried chiles to the dough. I used guajillos, and they gave the masa a pretty, orange color. Rolling balls of dough and flattening them in a tortilla press is one of the funnest things to do in the kitchen. Just be sure to line the tortilla press with pieces of plastic cut from a storage bag to prevent sticking. The pressed tortillas were cooked for a few minutes per side on a griddle and kept warm wrapped in a kitchen towel. Meanwhile, I also reconstituted some cascabel chiles that were combined with another guajillo and pureed with a clove of garlic and olive oil. That oil was used for roasting vegetables. In the book, the roasted vegetable recipe includes winter vegetables like broccoli and butternut squash, but I used the technique for summer squash, eggplant, sweet peppers, and potato. Chunks of vegetables were coated in the chile oil and seasoned with salt and pepper before roasting in a 400 degree F oven until tender and browned. One last item was the Salsa de Arbol. Dried arbol chiles were heated in a tablespoon of olive oil and then pureed in the blender with canned tomatoes, a chopped tomatillo, a clove of garlic, and some salt. All of these components came together for the freshest, most flavorful tacos. 

The texture and flavor of the homemade queso fresco was on another level in comparison to the store-bought variety. And, the farm-fresh vegetables roasted with chile oil were addictive all by themselves. But, wrapped in the warm, chile-flecked tortillas with the bright, tangy, and not-too-spicy salsa de arbol and dotted with chunks of queso fresco, they were divine. I’m not sure if I’ll be baking cemitas next or gathering everything for a mole sauce, but I’ll be cooking more things from this book. 

I am a member of the Amazon Affiliate Program. 
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