Pickled Red Onions

As it turns out, pickling food can be rather simple! If you are anything like me, you too must love the vinegary snap of a freshly pickled red onion on tacos, salads, sandwiches, mole…. the list goes on and on. So with my first gander into the art of pickling, this was the end product… crisp red onions mingling with the flavors of allspice, cloves, bay leaves and dried chilies.

Eggs and pickled red onions should be the name of a Dr. Suess book since they really are a match made in heaven. Go on… put them on anything. Everything. Or just dig into the jar with your grubby little fingers and enjoy the sweet tartness of this vibrant and tasty magic meal sprucer upper.

3/4 cup white vinegar
3 tablespoons sugar
pinch of salt
1 bay leaf
5 allspice berries
5 whole cloves
a small, dried chile pepper
1 large red onion, peeled, and thinly sliced into half moons

In a small, non-reactive saucepan, heat the vinegar, sugar, salt, seasonings and chile until boiling. Add the onion slices and lower heat, then simmer gently for 30 seconds. Remove from heat and let cool completely. Transfer the onions and the liquid into a jar then refrigerate until ready to use.

*Storage: The onions will keep for several months.

Sugar Snap Pea Salad

Looking at my latest Bon Appétit magazine, I was overcome by the desire to make EVERYTHING in it immediately! With great haste and much enthusiasm, I cooked up a delicious menu for the week jam packed with lots of fresh veggies, grilled meats and vibrant flavors of lemon and spices. Since Judd and I are avid vegetable consumers, this light and fresh sugar snap pea salad seemed the perfect side dish to a summertime dinner. I say summertime, because technically it IS summer…. although, for those of you that live in the Bay Area… I really mean, cold, dreary and winter-like.

Tucked away within our apartment, we leisurely prepared a delicious meal that just begged to be eaten outside… at a BBQ. If it wasn’t for my bundled clothing and cozy slippers, I would have thought it was a gorgeous June evening the moment I dug into this light and refreshing dish. The sugar snap peas explode with color and crunch, while the radishes, feta cheese and mint transport your taste buds to the warm Mediterranean. A simple dressing of olive oil and lemon juice make each bite burst with citrusy flavor. Yum!

Done is under 10 minutes, this dish is perfect for a Forth of July barbeque. Picture this… cold drink in one hand, seared meat cooking on the grill and a zesty vegetable salad that makes you blissfully happy it’s summertime….

Makes 6-8 servings

1 1/2 pounds sugar snap peas, trimmed, stringed, cut in half on diagonal
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon (or more) fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon sumac plus more for garnish
1 bunch radishes (about 6 ounces), trimmed, thinly sliced
4 ounces ricotta salata or feta, crumbled
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh mint

Fill a large bowl with ice water; set aside. Cook peas in a large pot of boiling salted water until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes.  Drain; transfer to bowl with ice water to cool. Drain peas; transfer to a kitchen towel-lined baking sheet to dry. Whisk oil, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, vinegar, and 1/2 teaspoon sumac in a small bowl. Toss peas, radishes, and cheese in a large bowl.

DO AHEAD Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover dressing and salad separately and chill.
Add dressing to salad and toss to coat. Season salad with salt, pepper, and more lemon juice, if desired. Garnish with mint and sprinkle with sumac.

Salmon in Lemon Brodetto with Pea Purée

Last night Judd and I celebrated our 2nd anniversary with a delicious home cooked meal! We just got back from a visit to New York in which we ate the obligatory slice of pizza, bagels, pastrami on rye, as well as a Peter Luger’s burger (I could taste the butter oozing out of the meat), rich Italian food and an AMAZING meal at Momofuku Ssäm Bar (my personal favorite). So, suffice it to say… we stuffed ourselves REAL good and thought it might be time for a slightly lighter meal.

After many years of watching Giada de Laurentiis cook simple food with a giant goofy smile on her face, I thought… hey, it might be time to actually try one of her recipes. Turns out that woman can cook! This dish is full of unexpected and delicious flavors that absolutely surprised me. Peas puréed with mint, garlic, olive oil and parmesan create a lucious and fresh side dish that embodies the flavors of springtime. Top off the purée with a silken broth of sautéed shallots, chicken stock, mint and the zest and juice of a lemon. The mint and lemon flavors are the perfect compliment to a fillet of expertly cooked salmon (let’s all give Judd a round of applause) seasoned with only salt and pepper.

What’s better than cooking a lovely meal with my lovely fiancé on our anniversary? Nothing. This dish was pure bliss and left us both with big smiles on our faces… just like Giada’s!

Makes 4 servings

Lemon Brodetto
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 shallot, diced
2 lemons, juiced
1 lemon, zested
2 cups chicken broth
1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves

Pea Puree
2 cups frozen peas, thawed (about 10 ounces)
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1 clove garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmesan

Salmon
1/4 cup olive oil
4 (4 to 6-ounce) pieces salmon
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

To make the Lemon Brodetto, warm the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the shallots and saute until tender, about 7 minutes. Add the lemon juice, zest, and broth. Bring to a simmer, and keep warm, covered, over low heat.

To make the Pea Puree, combine the peas, mint, garlic, salt, and pepper in a food processor and puree. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a steady drizzle. Transfer the pea puree to a small bowl and stir in the Parmesan. Set aside.

To make the Salmon, warm the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over high heat. Season the salmon pieces with salt and pepper. Sear the salmon until a golden crust forms, about 4 to 5 minutes on the first side. Flip the fish and continue cooking until medium-rare, about 2 minutes more depending on the thickness of the fish.

To assemble the dish, add the tablespoon chopped mint to the Lemon Brodetto and divide between 4 shallow dishes. Place a large spoonful of Pea Puree into the center of each bowl. Place a salmon piece atop each mound of Pea Puree. Serve immediately.

Stuffed Indian Eggplant

Sometimes random food items appear in our house in the whirlwind that is grocery shopping. Last week we ended up with these adorable little eggplants. With no plan, other then to expand our culinary vocabulary, Judd reminded me that we had these mini purple veggies patiently waiting for us to eat them in the fridge.

Quickly scanning the internet, I came across this Mark Bittman concoction that looked ever so promising and easy to whip up on a Wednesday night. It’s official, these are now my new party trick. Easy to make and ridiciously delicious, these Stuffed Indian Eggplants are brimming with warm eastern spices and rich flavors. Toasted sesame seeds and pine nuts (the original recipe calls for peanuts) blended together in the food processor alongside brown sugar, cayenne, turmeric, garlic and fresh cilantro, create a wonderfully aromatic paste. Now for the hard part… right?, wrong. Stuffing the eggplants requires the basic skills of a caveman. By cutting an x on the nose of the vegetable, you will be able to stuff the delicious mixture into the eggplant without a hitch. Give them a light saute and a brief steam and you got yourself tender bundles of AWESOME!

Serves 4

1/4 cup toasted white (hulled) sesame seeds
1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts (we used pine nuts)
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1 teaspoon minced or crushed garlic
1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro leaves
2 teaspoons water
10 Indian eggplants, or 6 small Italian or Japanese eggplants (1 1/2 pounds total)
3 to 4 tablespoons canola oil
1/4 cup water

For the filling, use a mini food processor to grind the sesame seeds, peanuts, sugar, salt, turmeric and cayenne to a crumbly texture. Transfer to a bowl and mix in the cilantro and water to create a compact, spreadable mixture. Set aside.

Use scissors to trim the eggplant stems so that they are about 1/2 inch long. Use your fingers to remove the green pointy flaps of the eggplant caps. Make a deep cross incision in each eggplant, stopping 1/2-inch short of the stem. To do that, position each one on its side on your cutting board. Hold it down with one hand while you wield the knife with the other hand to make the first horizontal cut. Roll the eggplant 90 degrees and make the second horizontal cut.

Use a teaspoon to stuff each eggplant with about 1/8 of the filling. Gently pry open the eggplant, stuff in the filling. Make sure there is filling between each of the cuts. Gently squeeze the eggplant to make the filling sticks and fills the crevices.

Pour the oil into a large nonstick skillet over medium heat to film the bottom. When hot, add the eggplants in a single layer. Fry the eggplants for 3 to 4 minutes, turning frequently, to brown them on two sides. Don’t fret when some of the filling spills out. Add the remaining 1/4 cup water, cover with a lid or foil, and turn the heat to low. Cook for 10 to 15 minutes, turning halfway through, until tender. Pierce with the tip of a knife to test. There will be filling in the skillet bottom. If you want to crisp those bits and serve them with the eggplant, increase the heat to medium high and fry for 1 to 2 minutes, until crisp. Remove from the heat, let the sizzling subside, then transfer to a plate and serve hot or warm.

Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad

This recipe is AMAZING! No seriously… it’s amazing.

I feel like I have recently discovered barley and its many applications. Recipes containing barley pop out at me like they never have before. This might have been a chance encounter since I was actually searching for eggplant recipes (we had purchased perhaps the world’s largest purple vegetable and needed creative ways to consume it). Nevertheless, this hearty mediterranean eggplant and barley salad became an instant favorite in our house and later took a baby shower by storm. When a group of women like something… they tell you.

The barley is cooked is a savory blend of cumin, coriander, cayenne and scallions that infuses into the grain as it soaks up chicken stock and loads of flavor. Toss in the roasted eggplant and zucchini and this dish seems like it could already be delicious and complete… but wait, there’s more! The cherry tomatoes add a brightness in both flavor and texture, while the kalamata olives (Mmmm) give the salad a kick of vinegar and salt. Dress the entire dish in a vibrant lemony garlic sauce and this salad goes from good to OHHH SO GOOD! Mint, parsley and red onions only heighten the dimensions of flavor that are mingling together in one bowl!

Make this salad as a stellar side dish with fish or simply snack on it for a few days. Either way… you’ll be happy every time you open your fridge and see this Mediterranean delight looking back at you.

Makes 4 (main course) or 8 (side dish) servings

1 1/2 pound eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 pound zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup chopped scallion (from 1 bunch)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1 1/4 cups pearl barley (8 oz)
1 (14-oz) can reduced-sodium chicken broth (1 3/4 cups)
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 pound cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/3 cup Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion, rinsed and drained if desired
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint

Roast eggplant and zucchini:
Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 425°F.

Toss eggplant and zucchini with 5 tablespoons oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl, then spread in 2 oiled large shallow (1-inch-deep) baking pans. Roast vegetables in oven, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until vegetables are golden brown and tender, 20 to 25 minutes total. Combine vegetables in 1 pan and cool, reserving other pan for cooling barley.

Cook barley:
Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook scallion, cumin, coriander, and cayenne, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add barley and cook, stirring until well coated with oil, 2 minutes more. Add broth and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until all of liquid is absorbed and barley is tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Transfer to reserved shallow baking pan and spread to quickly cool, uncovered, to room temperature, about 20 minutes.

Make dressing and assemble salad:
Whisk together lemon juice, garlic, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Add barley, roasted vegetables, and remaining ingredients to bowl with dressing and toss until combined well. Serve with cheese slices.

* Cooks’ note: Salad can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Return to room temperature before serving.

Thai Style Green Beans

Damn tasty and damn easy to make! If you are looking for a new way to dress up your green beans… I believe it has arrived. Peanut butter mixed with hoisin makes these beans sweet and savory all at the same time. The heat of the pepper flakes and ginger add a little punch that will linger on your palette. Serve alongside a spicy curry or piece of grilled meat. Regardless, you’ll be craving these delightful beans for days to come.

Makes 2-4 servings

1 tablespoon soy sauce or tamari
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1 tablespoon creamy peanut butter
1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon chopped shallot
1 teaspoon minced fresh gingerroot
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 pound fresh green beans, trimmed
Minced fresh cilantro, optional

In a small bowl, combine the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, peanut butter and red pepper flakes; set aside. In a medium skillet, saute shallot and ginger in oil over medium heat for 2 minutes or until tender. Add green beans; cook and stir for 3 minutes or until crisp and tender. Add reserved sauce; toss to coat. Sprinkle with cilantro if desired.

Puréed Cauliflower – The Mashed Potato Substitute

Need an AMAZING substitute for mashed potatoes? Look no further. I am quite serious about this… puréed cauliflower has changed the face of dinner in our house. If you like cauliflower and cook it up the usual ways; sautéed on the stove, broiled in the oven or boiled (shudder), then this dish will surely change the vegetable as you know it. If however, you think you dislike cauliflower, here’s your solution!

Recently a friend was over for dinner and being polite (because he is the king of polite) he heaped a spoonful of cauliflower on his plate even though he had just admitted that it was far from the top of his favorite veggie list. By the end of the meal, he had been converted. We have decided to incorporate this new favorite into our Thanksgiving meal. Who needs mashed potatoes when you have creamy, delicious, puréed cauliflower to plop juicy turkey atop?

If you search for other puréed cauliflower recipes you will find they are laden with milk, cream or loads of butter. I say you just simply don’t need those heavy ingredients. The oil olive gives the vegetable enough wetness to blend easily in the food processor while adding a deep richness. Salt and pepper do the usual uplift to the dish, but the garlic powder (you can use roasted garlic if you have the patience to go through the steps) really pushes this mash from good to ‘oh boy oh boy’ so good. So, this turkey day, try something new and watch your guests delightfully declare that they DO like cauliflower after all.

Makes 4 servings

1 head cauliflower, stem trimmed of leaves, florets roughly chopped
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper 

Place cauliflower in a steamer basket in large pot filled with 1-2 inches water. Water should not come higher than the bottom of the steamer. Cover pot with lid and bring to a boil over medium heat. Cook until cauliflower is very tender, about 15-20 minutes. Transfer cauliflower to a food processor or blender using a slotted spoon. Add salt, pepper, garlic powder and a few tablespoons of the olive oil and blend until smooth, about 20 to 30 seconds. Add more oil as needed, and blend 5 to 10 seconds more. Season with more salt, pepper and garlic to taste. Serve hot.

Enjoy tricking the kids into eating their vegetables (or adults for that matter)!