Eggplant & Mango Soba Noodles

For Cookbook Club this month, we’re cooking Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi. I love Ottolenghi… he’s one of my favorite chefs to follow on social media and I find his recipes universally delicious! I was introduced to him several years back when my sister gave me the cookbook Jerusalem that he co-authored with Sami Tamimi. It remains one of my favorite cookbooks. The pictures are gorgeous and the recipes are wonderful. While most of Ottolenghi recipes fall squarely into my comfort zone (mmmm… Middle Eastern food!), Plenty is a little bit outside it. The entire cookbook is vegetable-based! We love veggies here, but it’s rare that we eat truly vegetarian – especially our main dishes. I’m looking forward to embracing the challenge!

This first recipe caught my eye right off the bat, because the combination of ingredients seemed so unique to me. Who ever heard of combining mango and eggplant?? But as a thought about it, I figured it would probably be delicious. So here we are. And I was right – it IS a delicious combo. The dressing and the mango are sweet & sour, the eggplant is earthy, and the pepper and onions give it just a little bite! It’s also very easy to make – definitely doable on a weeknight or for a lunch.


Eggplant & Mango Soba Noodles

(Adapted from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi)
Ingredients:
  • 1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp
  • 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp sesame oil
  • 1/4 cup onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 lime, zested & juiced
  • 1 cup oil (for frying)
  • 1/2 of a large eggplant, chopped into bite-sized chunks
  • 4 oz soba noodles
  • 1 mango, chopped into bite-sized chunks
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Instructions:
  1. Warm the vinegar, sugar, and salt in a small pot, just for a minute or two, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in the Aleppo pepper, garlic, and sesame oil.
  2. Once cool, add the onions, lime zest, and juice from about 1/2 the lime. Set aside.
  3. Heat the oil in a tall-sided pan. Shallow fry the eggplant pieces in batches, removing when golden-brown, about 3-4 minutes. Place in a colander, sprinkle with salt, and allow them to drain off excess oil and water.
  4. Meanwhile cook the soba noodles in a pot of salted water, for 6-8 minutes, until al dente. Once cooked, rinse under cold running water.
  5. Once all the ingredients are cooled and dried, combine everything (dressing, eggplant, noodles, mango, and herbs) in a large bowl. Toss well. Serve cool.
Serves 2

Ballpark Stuffed Peppers

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This isn’t the first time we’d tried a riff on stuffed peppers around here. I loved our last creation – Chicken & Couscous Stuffed Peppers, probably because I like anything with pearl couscous. This variation goes pretty much the opposite direction and is stuffed full of rice, cheese, and the American classic – hot dog. Think of it like a reverse loaded hot dog! A delicious, messy ballpark hotdog, stuffed inside a pepper instead.

We use Stadium/Ballpark mustard in our recipe (and pretty much anytime we need mustard). It’s a Cleveland thing – a mild brown mustard that has been used at the Cleveland Indians ballpark for decades. Apparently there’s a controversy about it – here’s the story. When Selim moved to the Mid-Atlantic, he was mildly appalled that he couldn’t find it in stores and that I had never heard of this miraculous substance. I was a bit skeptical, but he was right. Stadium mustard is definitely a family favorite for both of us now. We bring home a few bottles of Bertman’s every time we go to Cleveland.

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Ballpark Stuffed Peppers

Ingredients:
  • 3 large bell peppers
  • 1/2 cup rice
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1/2 small onion, finely diced
  • 3 hot dogs, chopped
  • 1 tbsp mustard (see above for our favorite)
  • 1 tsp hot sauce
  • 1/2 cup + cheddar cheese
Instructions:
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Prepare the rice – in a small saucepan, cover rice with 1 cup of water and bring to a boil. After it’s boiled, reduce heat to low and cover until water is absorbed & rice fluffy.
  3. Meanwhile, heat 1 tsp of oil over medium heat. Add the onions and toss with the oil. Then add the hot dogs to the dish and cover. Continue cooking for 10 minutes, until the hot dog pieces have crisped up a bit and the onions are soft and fragrant.
  4. Once cooked, stir the onions and hot dogs into the rice, along with the cheese, mustard, and hot sauce.
  5. Stuff the rice mixture into the peppers.
  6. Place the peppers upright in high-edged oven-safe dish. Add a thin layer of water to cover the bottom of the dish. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  7. Serve topped with an additional sprinkle of cheese if desired.
Serves 2.

Beef Barley Soup

A lot of our family and friends think because we have this food blog and enjoy ‘fancy’ dinner date nights, that we only eat complex, homemade dishes for every single meal. Hate to burst the bubble, but that is far from the truth. We obviously do love experimenting with new recipes and tend to take a little longer to prepare some complicated dishes than others might… but this is not every single day for us. We have a deep love for boxed Kraft mac & cheese, get giddy about our occasional trips to Taco Bell, and eat Trader Joe’s frozen pizza roughly once a week. And I (Ally) love Campbell’s canned soups. Go ahead, judge me, I don’t care. One of my all time favorite Campbell’s soups is Beef Barley. Since it’s getting to be quite chilly around here – it’s been below freezing a few mornings this past week! – I decided we definitely needed soup for dinner tonight. Beef barley just sounds so hearty, warm, and filling to combat the chill today!

Beef Barley Soup

(Adapted from several sources: Campbell’s, this blog, & this one)
Ingredients: 
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1 1/2 lb stew beef, cubed
  • Salt & pepper
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 4 large carrots, sliced into rounds
  • 1 large potato, shredded
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 2 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 8 cups beef broth
  • 1 cup peas
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 cup quick pearl barley
Instructions: 
  1. Season the beef cubes with salt and pepper.
  2. Heat the oil in a large pot to a bit above medium. Once hot, sear the beef cubes, in batches if needed. Remove the beef to the side once seared on all sides.
  3. Add the garlic, onions, and carrots to the pot. Cook, stirring occasionally for 5-6 minutes, until fragrant and softened a bit.
  4. Shred the potato into the pot, followed by all of the remaining ingredients, except the barley, and including the set-aside beef. Bring to a boil and then lower to a light simmer.
  5. Cook for ~ 2 hours. Then add the barley and increase to a slightly more vigorous simmer for ~20-30 minutes until the barley is cooked.

Serves 6-8 as a main dish; more as a side

Dinner Salad with a Poached Egg

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In my mid-to-late 20s, there was this salad I used to make myself all the time. I’m talking maybe two or three times a week for months to years. (Katie & Terry probably remember this phase of my life well 😂🤣). I saw it originally in a magazine somewhere I think, though I can’t remember where. I got away from making it when Selim and I started dating, probably for two reasons. One, I stopped cooking for just one person and this is the perfect dinner for one. And two, Selim is morally opposed to anything trendy, and for awhile there everyone was putting an egg on top of everything! Happily, the thought popped into my head to make it for my dinner tonight, and now we have the recipe to share here. It’s really easy to throw together, easily modified, and simultaneously healthy and filling. The salad portion itself can be whatever you want it to be – I generally use mixed greens as the base, with carrots, cucumbers, and bell peppers for additional veggies. The consistent components are a poached egg, balsamic vinegar, and lots of fresh pepper. When you break the poached egg open, the runny yolk combines with the balsamic vinegar to essentially create an eggy vinaigrette. The thick fat of the egg yolk replaces the oil of a normal vinaigrette.

As I was writing this post, I figured out that the original recipe inspiration for this salad is likely the Salade Lyonnaise – which is a classic French bistro salad with a bed of frisée, bacon, a poached egg, and a vinaigrette. Sounds familiar… I like my salad just how it is, though I’m sure many people would happily take the additional bacon.

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Dinner Salad with a Poached Egg 

Ingredients: 
  • ~3 cups mixed greens
  • Assorted raw crunchy vegetables (carrots, cucumbers, peppers, celery, broccoli, radishes, whatever!), chopped into bite-size pieces
  • 1 egg
  • ~2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Fresh ground black pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Poach the egg. [Many people have different tips and tricks on how this can best be accomplished. This is what I do: bring a small saucepan of water to a light simmer, not a boil; crack the egg into a small ramekin; swirl the water with a spoon to create a vortex in the center of the water; gently pour the egg into the vortex and immediately stop stirring; watch the pot to make sure it doesn’t start simmering and let the egg bathe in the water for about 4 minutes. I do not use vinegar or salt or anything else in the water, but you do you.]
  2. Assemble the salad – greens spread out on the plate, topped with the chopped veggies.
  3. Remove the egg from the water with a slotted spoon and place on a paper towel to dry briefly. Then place it on top of the salad.
  4. Drizzle the balsamic vinegar over top. Crack a lot of fresh black pepper over that. Then break open the egg and toss the salad together!
Serves 1

 

Curried Chicken Salad

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I think I’m an anomaly of my generation. I still love the lunchbox sandwiches of the 90s. Egg salad, chicken salad, tuna salad? Yes please! (Side note, what makes these “salad?”) I think most of my peers either a) ate so many of these sandwiches in childhood that they refuse to even glance at them now or b) are trying to be more healthy in their lunch choices and therefore avoid mayonnaise-based sandwich stuffers. Either way, I pretty much never see people our age munching on a ‘salad’ sandwich in the breakroom anymore. I’m here to say that they’re missing out. I will say, I do make a few changes from whatever the lunch ladies used to offer. I don’t hate mayonnaise but I don’t want gobs of it smothering my chicken either. I just use enough to loosely bind the other ingredients to each other. I also like sneaking the shredded carrot into the mixture for some extra vegetable. Furthermore, I can make a batch of this fairly quickly and then have it ready for sandwiches for the rest of the week’s lunches! #mealprep 🙄

 
Curried Chicken Salad

Ingredients:
  • 2 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (~1.5 lb)
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tbsp (5 tbsp) mayonnaise
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 10 turns fresh ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 large carrot, grated
  • 1 cup halved red grapes
Instructions:
  1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Submerge the chicken breasts and poach at a simmer for 12-15 minutes, until entirely opaque. (Safe chicken internal temp = 165)
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, garlic, ginger, curry powder, paprika salt, & pepper.
  3. Once the chicken is cool enough to handle, chop or shred it. Place in a mixing bowl.
  4. Add the carrots and mayo mixture into the bowl with the chicken. Stir to combine.
  5. Lastly, add the grapes and stir everything together.
  6. Refrigerate until ready to eat.
Makes ~ 3 1/2 – 4 cups

 

Tangy Rice Pot with Chicken and Green Beans

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Let’s talk about sumac. In the US, it’s not a very common ingredient. I’m going to be 100% honest with you, internet… When I first saw a recipe with sumac as an ingredient, I immediately though about poison sumac, the third in the itchy trifecta of poisons ivy, oak, and sumac. Why would anyone want to eat that?? No one wants to and turns out, no one is. Looking into it, I learned that the sumac spice is made of ground Rhus coriaria berries, one of several dozen of plants in that genus. Poison sumac on the other hand is officially Toxicodendron vernix, but it used to be known as Rhus vernix! Hence the colloquial name that matches the other sumacs.

I came to realize that I’ve had sumac many times before, in restaurants and in pre-made spices mixes like za’atar. I just didn’t know what it was! When we started cooking more Turkish dishes since we started this blog, the lack of sumac in my spice cabinet became more noticeable. {Check out our sumac tag for other recipes we’ve made featuring this spice!} It took us a little while to find some, but check out your nearest Middle Eastern or Mediterranean grocer. Now that I’m an experienced sumac consumer, I want to put it on everything! I mean seriously, I have no idea why this spice hasn’t crossed over into mainstream American kitchens yet… It is delicious and can add such a unique flavor to many different dishes. I made up this dinner around the leftover lemon I had in the fridge from making Lemon-Lime Ricotta Cookies, and I thought I’d combine tang with tang and add the sumac. It worked well without being too sour or overpowering. It’s a perfect one pot dish for a weeknight, with fairly minimal hands-on cooking time.

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Tangy Rice Pot with Chicken & Green Beans

Ingredients: 
  • 1 tbsp+ neutral oil
  • 1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 3 large cloves of garlic, minced
  • 2/3 cup rice, uncooked
  • Juice of 1 large lemon (~3 tbsp)
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • ~1lb fresh green beans, snapped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp sumac
  • Salt & pepper
Instructions: 
  1. Select a saute pan with tall sizes (alternatively, a dutch oven would work). Heat the oil over medium.
  2. Chop the chicken into bite-sized pieces and season with salt & pepper. Once the oil is hot, add the chicken to the pan. Cook for just 3-4 minutes, reducing the translucency, and then remove to the side. (The chicken will not be cooked all the way at this point.)
  3. Add a bit more oil if needed, then cook the garlic and onions. Season with some more pepper. Cook until fragrant and softened, ~5 minutes.
  4. Return the chicken to the pan, along with the rice, stock, spices, and lemon juice. Stir. Make sure rice is submerged in the liquid.
  5. Top with the green beans, pushing them down into the liquid gently. The green beans do not have to be completely submerged.
  6. Bring to a boil and then immediately lower heat to low. Cover, ensuring that the liquid is only lightly simmering.
  7. Cook over low heat for 30-40 minutes. Roughly halfway through, stir and then re-cover.
  8. Watch closely towards the end. Depending on your variety of rice, you may need a little more liquid or a little more or less cooking time.
  9. Season with additional salt as need. Ours definitely needed it, but we also used salt-free chicken stock.
Serves 4.

Persian Spiced Lentil Soup

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Happy first day of spring! Or if you’re of Persian descent, Happy Nowruz! Nowruz literally translates to “new day” and is the name for the Persian new year, which occurs on the vernal (spring) equinox. The holiday has been celebrated for thousands of years and is a holy day from the Zoroastrian tradition, though it is a completely secular celebration for most, especially in the modern day. It has been a long-standing national holiday in Iran and since the collapse of the Soviet Union, many Caucasian and central Asian countries have declared it a national holiday for themselves as well. The holiday welcomes spring with a variety of traditions. Spring cleaning, visiting friends and family, a Santa Claus-like figure called Amu Nowruz with gifts for children, an elaborate table setting called haft seen, other festive decorations, and of course, eating are all parts of the traditional celebration.

This soup isn’t a traditional Nowruz dish, but most of those gorgeous dinners and sweets involve a little more time than we have on this weekday evening! Actually, I’ve found several variations of my source recipe around the internet – apparently they’re attempts to copycat a beloved soup at a Persian restaurant in Chicago called Reza’s. So we’ll consider this soup a stepping stone towards a real Nowruz celebration one of these years coming up! (I really wanted to make ash-e reshteh, but didn’t have all of the ingredients. It seemed like a cop out to fudge on the ingredients of the traditional Nowruz first night soup, so we bailed on that idea. Maybe next year!) We made another lentil soup recently (Turkish Red Lentil Soup), and while there are some similarities to this one, the flavors end being totally different! This soup is hearty and filling (thanks lentils!), but seems like a perfect welcome to spring with its bright and tangy flavors. Consider it the perfect culinary bridge between winter (warm, hearty) and spring (bright flavors)!

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Persian Spiced Lentil Soup

(Adapted from this recipe)
Ingredients:
  • 1 tbsp neutral oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 large carrots, chopped
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 medium tomatoes (or a 15oz can crushed tomatoes)
  • 5 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp (+) sumac
  • 1 tbsp dill
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2/3 cup red lentils
  • Salt & pepper
  • Optional toppings: yogurt, feta cheese, lime wedges
Instructions:
  1. In a medium sized pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Once hot, add the onions, carrots, and garlic. Season with pinch of salt and a few turns of fresh black pepper. Cook until softened and fragrant.
  2. If using fresh tomatoes, chop quarter them and blitz them in a food processor. Then add the tomatoes, along with the stock, herbs, and spices (except for the fresh parsley).
  3. Bring the pot to a simmer. Simmer, partially covered for 20 minutes.
  4. Now add the lentils and return to a simmer for another 15-20 minutes, or until lentils are cooked.
  5. Add the chopped parsley and cook for just another few minutes. Taste and add salt as needed.
  6. Serve with additional sumac, parsley, or a squeeze of lime on top if you like. A dollop of yogurt or a few chunks of feta would also be delicious!
Serves 4 as an entree; ~6-8 as a starter or side