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)
- 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
- 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.
- Once cool, add the onions, lime zest, and juice from about 1/2 the lime. Set aside.
- 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.
- 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.
- Once all the ingredients are cooled and dried, combine everything (dressing, eggplant, noodles, mango, and herbs) in a large bowl. Toss well. Serve cool.
I’ve had this idea for a risotto with dill and goat cheese to yield a dish with a rich and creamy texture like a normal risotto, but with a tangy, less heavy flavor. This is one of the best things about risotto in my opinion – it’s one of those kitchen sink dishes that can be modified in pretty much any way. A blank canvas! We’ve gone several different ways with risotto on the blog before – Risotto Recipes! This is the most in depth dish I’ve made since the baby was born. Baby-wearing is life-saving, let me tell you! Makes chopping a little awkward, but we’re getting it done! I personally think this recipe is better as a side dish than an entree. The flavors are pretty bold to eat a heaping serving and there’s also the lack of vegetables or protein in the dish. Side note, the color of my risotto is due to the richly colored vegetable stock that we use, not an additional secret ingredient it looks like we might have left off the ingredient list.
Dill & Goat Cheese Risotto
- 3 tbsp butter, divided
- 1 large onion, diced
- 6 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 cups arborio rice
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 4+ cups chicken or vegetable stock
- 6oz goat cheese
- 1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
- Salt & pepper
- Place 2 tbsp butter in a large pan over medium heat. Once melted, add the onions to the pan. Season with 1/2 tsp of salt and a few turns of black pepper. Stir to coat in the butter and then cover and sweat for 3 minutes.
- Remove the lid and add the garlic. Cook another 6-8 minutes. Garlic and onions should be soft and fragrant.
- Pour the arborio rice in with the onions and garlic. Toast for just 1-2 minutes, stirring occasionally so the rice doesn’t burn.
- Meanwhile, heat the stock. You can either keep the stock in a small pot on low on an adjacent burner or microwave it.
- Now add the wine. Lower heat of the burner to medium-low
- . Cook stirring almost continuously, until all of the wine has been absorbed by the rice.
- Now add the warm stock, one ladle-full at a time. Continue stirring until all the stock is absorbed. Repeat this pattern until the rice is softened, but still slightly al dente. [This will take at least 30-45 minutes.]
- Add the goat cheese and stir in thoroughly.
- Continue adding ladles of stock until rice is fully cooked. With the last ladle-full, add the dill and remaining tablespoon of butter. Remove from heat and stir until well-combined.
- Season with additional salt and pepper as desired.
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.
Dinner Salad with a Poached Egg
- ~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
- 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.]
- Assemble the salad – greens spread out on the plate, topped with the chopped veggies.
- 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.
- 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!
After making Minty Watermelon, Cucumber & Feta Salad last week, we had some leftover mint. By “some leftover mint,” I really mean, “Did this package of mint grow exponentially more mint?” I feel like it’s pretty much impossible to use all the mint in a package and even more impossible to use all the mint that most people grow. We didn’t want to waste any of the fresh herbs, so I was exploring Pinterest this weekend for a dish that would put these ingredients to good use. After awhile I found this recipe that not only required minimal shopping, using up the mint and feta, but also a mostly hands-off and healthy dinner for tonight! We were really happy with how this turned out. It’s light, but filling and flavorful! Thanks Pinterest (and Live Eat Learn) 🙂
Mint & Feta Topped Eggplant
- 1 large eggplant
- 3 tbsp olive oil, divided
- Fresh ground black pepper
- 3 heaping tbsp fresh mint, chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 tbsp lemon juice
- 1/4 cup feta cheese, chopped
- 1/2 tsp Aleppo pepper
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Slice eggplant in half. Slice through the flesh on the diagonal, creating a cross-hatch pattern. Don’t slice all the way through; stop before reaching the skin.
- Brush the eggplant with 1 tbsp of olive oil and top with a few turns of fresh ground black pepper. Roast for 35 minutes in the oven.
- Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining olive oil, mint, garlic, and lemon juice.
- After the 35 minutes, slide out the eggplant and brush the mint mixture on top. Return to the oven for just another minute or two to warm.
- Serve topped with the chopped feta and sprinkled with Aleppo pepper.
Most people out there enjoy a good snack, but on Ally’s mom’s side of her extended family, they really embrace the snacking thing. When they’re together for a holiday or any sort of large gathering, they don’t just have three meals in a day. They add a fourth, solely devoted to snacks. Somewhere along the way, someone named this fourth meal “Dip Thirty.” (The alternate, but less popular name is “Dip O’Clock.”) Dip Thirty occurs between lunch and dinner, somewhere in the mid-afternoon. This allows dinner to be pushed back well into the evening, originally so no one had to waste the last hours of summer sunshine on preparing dinner or listen to whines of “I’m staaaaaaaarving!” Dip Thirty is so successful because with such a large family, everyone feels the need to bring something to contribute… which leads to counter-tops and picnic tables covered with a variety of snacks to sample!
Today we had a just-for-fun family gathering at Ally’s aunt & uncle’s home along the banks of the Potomac River, in Virginia’s Northern Neck. Now, Dip Thirty really isn’t the time to be calorie-counting, but we decided to bring a snack that leaned towards the healthier side of the spectrum, knowing there would be plenty of delicious cheese-packed dips from other family members.
This dish, sabse borani, is an Afghan spread which is more commonly eaten on flatbread. We decided to use it in more of a dip fashion with pita chips. It’s actually quite simple to make, with only a few ingredients, but your result is a lovely and flavorful yogurt-based dip/spread. I see why it’s used as a spread, but it definitely works as a dip too! We made a larger amount to share, but this recipe is easily halved.
Afghani Spinach & Onion Dip (Sabse Borani)
(Adapted from one of my faves – Global Table Adventure, with tips from the rest of the Internet in general)
- 2 cups plain Greek yogurt (or any yogurt, strained)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 2 medium sweet onions, sliced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 heaping cups fresh spinach
- Salt & pepper
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- Heat the olive oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the onions and stir to coat in the oil. Top with a pinch of salt and pepper. Cook for 20+ minutes, until the onions are deeply golden brown, soft, and nearly caramelized. Stir frequently.
- In the last few minutes of the onions cooking, add the garlic so it can soften
- Remove the onions and garlic to a large bowl.
- Lower the heat to a low-medium and then add the spinach to the same pan. Cover and wilt the spinach. Add a splash of water if needed. This only takes a minute or two.
- Allow the spinach and onions to cool and then stir them in with the yogurt.
- Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes if desired. Adjust salt if needed.
Yields ~ 3 1/2 cups
If you peruse our blog, you’ll notice that we try to minimize our usage of prepackaged or canned foods. I think that if you showed Selim a can of cream of <fill-in-the-blank> soup, he’d shrivel up like a vampire exposed to garlic and sunlight. Sometimes it’s unavoidable and sometimes the convenience outweighs all other factors, but we do try to err on the side of fresh ingredients. With that being said, I’m not going to lie. Soaking beans overnight in preparation for cooking them the next day just is not my cup of tea. I know there are many people out there who consider canned beans an anathema, but honestly I don’t think they taste much different and they’re SO convenient and time-saving. So we definitely use them.
Hence our quick version of Cuban black beans here. Certainly, they probably would be better (and certainly more authentic) if we used dried beans, soaked them overnight, and cooked them longer with the herbs and spices. But this quick version provides for a superior flavor to time ratio, in my opinion. You get to jazz up your black beans with just a few additions and barely any active time in the kitchen, allowing you to focus your energy (culinary or otherwise!) elsewhere.
Quick Cuban Black Beans
- 1 tsp neutral oil
- 1/2 small onion, diced
- 1/2 green bell pepper, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 15oz cans of black beans, rinsed & drained
- 1/4 cup of stock (your preference)
- 1 tsp oregano
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1 bay leaf
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Fresh ground black pepper
- In a medium pot, heat the oil over medium heat. Once warm, add the onion, bell pepper, and garlic. Top with a few turns of fresh black pepper. Cook until softened and fragrant, approximately 6 minutes.
- Add the black beans, stock, and spices. Stir together.
- Lower heat to low-medium. Partially cover and cook for at least 10 minutes. With the heat turned quite low, you can cook long and allow the flavors to blend more!
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)!
Persian Spiced Lentil Soup
- 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
- 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.
- 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).
- Bring the pot to a simmer. Simmer, partially covered for 20 minutes.
- Now add the lentils and return to a simmer for another 15-20 minutes, or until lentils are cooked.
- Add the chopped parsley and cook for just another few minutes. Taste and add salt as needed.
- 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