Chili Eggplant with Lentils, Parsley, and Lemon

19 01 2012

For lovers of eggplant and lentils, I bring you Eggplant and Lentils.

Given that you love these two elements – but of course you do – the remaining finer points of of this weeknight-for-one recipe just serve to highlight how sublime they both can be when coddled into their element. The eggplant is doused in olive oil and blackened, crunchy and delectably burnt crust hoarding creamy veggie bliss within. I simmered the lentils in homemade chicken stock until al dente like I like ’em; I also allowed the pot to dry and the lentils to stick from time to time, infusing them with a similarly darkened flavor palette, plus slightly crispy edges. The freshness of lemon and parsley enthusiastically lift up each of our star players here, the chile sings soft and warm in the background, and the cherry ‘maters are just beautiful. Aren’t they?

Chili Eggplant with Lentils, Parsley, and Lemon

olive oil
2-3 bird chiles OR red pepper flakes OR fresh chiles of your choosing
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 eggplant, diced. Peel it if you hate the skin; I love it.
handful cherry tomatoes, halved
salt n pepper
handful parsley, chopped roughly
~1/2 c lentils, cooked, in homemade stock should you have it on hand
fresh lemon juice

1. Heat chile and garlic in olive oil until fragrant; add diced eggplant and salt/pepper. Sautée until eggplant is golden and blackened on a few sides, as you like, then add tomatoes and heat through. Turn off the heat and mix in chopped parsley.

2. Put the lentils in a bowl and mix with a fat squeeze of lemon juice. Add the eggplant and tomatoes and serve.

Ratatouille-style Ratatouille

3 01 2012

This dish got my dad to eat eggplant. That rodent totally knew what he was doing.

This is a massive upgrade to already hearty, healthy traditional ratatouille simply because it is pretty. Look at it! Have you ever before known such an aesthetically pleasing Meatless Monday?

Ratatouille-style Ratatouille
from smitten kitchen.

1/2 onion, finely diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 can tomato sauce
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 small eggplant
1 smallish zucchini
1 smallish yellow squash
1 longish red bell pepper
Few sprigs fresh thyme
Salt and pepper
Few tablespoons soft goat cheese, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 375°F/190°C. Pour tomato puree into bottom of an oval baking dish, approximately 10 inches across the long way. Drop the sliced garlic cloves and chopped onion into the sauce. Stir in one tablespoon of the olive oil and season the sauce generously with salt and pepper – if you’re me, especially generously with the pepper.

2. Trim the ends off the eggplant, zucchini and yellow squash. As carefully as you can, trim the ends off the red pepper and remove the core, leaving the edges intact, like a tube. With a very sharp knife, cut the veggies into very thin slices, approximately 1/16-inch thick.

3. Atop the tomato sauce, arrange slices of prepared vegetables concentrically from the outer edge to the inside of the baking dish, overlapping so just a smidgen of each flat surface is visible, alternating vegetables. You may have a handful leftover that do not fit.

4. Drizzle the remaining tablespoon olive oil over the vegetables and season them generously with salt and pepper. Remove the leaves from the thyme sprigs with your fingertips, running them down the stem. Sprinkle the fresh thyme over the dish.

5. Cover dish with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit inside. Bake at 375°F/190°C for approximately 45 to 55 minutes, until vegetables have released their liquid and are clearly cooked, but with some structure left so they are not totally limp. They should not be brown at the edges, and you should see that the tomato sauce is bubbling up around them.

6. Serve with a dab of soft goat cheese on top, perhaps with some crusty French bread, or atop quinoa if you’re partial to trendy complete-protein seeds (I am).

Best Baba Ghanoush

13 12 2011

This is what you’re going to bring to your next potluck dinner. This is what you’re going to have on hand for your unexpected guests. This is healthy, vegan, gluten free, low fat, slow carb, quick, simple, customizable, tastes complex, and gets better with age. This is David Lebovitz’s baba ghanoush, and this is my go-to recipe to easily impress.

The secret is pictured here – you roast the everliving shit out of the unassuming eggplant directly over open flame. This enchants the innards with some kind of complicated chemical magic (we’re talking way beyond wingardium leviosa here), inundating them with Essence of Char. The eggplant sweats it, but you don’t have to. Burn these beauties into brilliance, then pop them in the oven to further cream them from within.

Unf. Yeah, eggplant’s sexy.

Best Baba Ghanoush
adapted a bit from David Lebovitz.
enough for six for pickin’.

2 medium-sized eggplants
1/4 cup (130g) tahini
salt to taste
freshly-squeezed lemon juice to taste
2 cloves garlic, peeled and smashed
1/8 teaspoon chile powder*
1/4 teaspoon cumin*
1/8 teaspoon pimentón de la vera*
1/8 teaspoon cayenne*
1 tablespoon olive oil
optional and amazing: za’atar

1. Preheat the oven to 375F/190C.

2. Prick each eggplant a few times, then char the outside of the eggplants by placing them directly on the flame of a gas burner, and, as the skin chars, turn them until the eggplants are uniformly-charred on the outside.

3. Place the eggplants on a baking sheet and roast in the oven for 20 to 30 minutes, until they’re completely soft; you should be able to easily poke a paring knife into them and meet no resistance.

4. Remove from oven and let cool.

5. Split the eggplant and scrape out the pulp. Puree the pulp in a blender or food processor with the other ingredients until smooth. Immersion blenders work wonders here.

6. Taste, and season with additional salt and lemon juice, if necessary. Chill for a few hours before serving. Serve sprinkled with za’atar with an olive oil well in the center, accompanied by pita chips, or carrot and bell pepper crudités.

* Change these as you please.

Luchana CouchSurfers – September

27 09 2011

For some, too much is never enough: my enormous flat bulges at the seams with its ten international residents, plus their various and frequent guests, yet at the beginning of the month we collectively elect to open our couches to travelers passing through the city using the CouchSurfing website. I’ve had an account since just before I moved to Thailand, where I used it not only in terms of surfing and hosting, but also as a means to establish an ever-dynamic social base. CouchSurfers are all over the map, coming from every country and camino, sharing a passion for meeting other travelers and swapping stories.

After introducing the idea and the website to the uninitiated of the Luchana house, we collectively decide to give it a go; I use my account to filter and organize incoming requests, posting the schedule of anticipated guests on a calendar print-out in the living room. September turns out to be particularly high-traffic, owing to the frequent presence of two further guests occupying the other sofas:

1) Gio, Columbian photographer/videographer and previous resident of my very own room in the house, has just returned from months of solo travel through Spain and Portugal. He’s a Luchana institution by this point, ever the wanderer but always returning to beloved Madrid, picking up new kitchen skills in the process.

2) Max, German-American bartender/egg-eater/entrepreneur, is suddenly one of my longest-standing friends: we met six years ago living on the Earlham Wellness Hall, of all places. Philosophies have since shifted, and Max has spent the past while bartending in his hometown of Madison, Wisconsin. He’s got his sights set on ambition, however, and I like to think I was a large part of convincing him to apply for the Madrid auxiliar program, which he’ll be beginning along with me next week (although not in the same Instituto).

Apart from couch-crashers Gio and Max, Luchana has racked up five official CouchSurfers during the month of September:

1) Viktor, Mexican currently studying Latin and Greek in Romania, inaugurates the CouchSurfing experiment the very next day; he notices my profile proclaiming me “Online Now!” and inquires as to whether he might be able to stay that same night. I waver just a moment before responding positively, deciding that getting the ball rolling immediately is the best way to keep enthusiasm high.

Viktor arrives in the afternoon and we set out for a stroll, during which he teaches me much more about Spanish history as reflected in the city statues and structures than I think I ever managed to glean from SPAN 402: Histories of Spain. He is linguist, writer, and philosopher; together we successfully complete a mission to locate blank sheets of paper, his preferred tool of the trade. Over rooftop cañas, we discuss the Meaning of Meaning, singularity vs. author vs. reader, and the above pictured Vaso de la Libertad.

Upon departure, Viktor leaves the house a lengthy letter of thanks pegged to the living room wall, complete with verbal flourishes in antiquated Spanish. He’s an ideal introduction, and has extended an invitation to visit Romania that I may just accept.

2) David, Brit touring the country by thumb, arrives shortly after my return from Berlin. He’s on the quiet side, and unfortunately we don’t end up coinciding a great deal, to the extent that I even lack a proper photo of the guy. He crashes here for a couple nights, then heads out.

3) Alessandra, Napolitan living in London for the past year, is quickly revealed to be a kindred foodie heart; we sample sardine-stuffed olives at El Mercado de San Miguel and whiskey-topped tinto de verano at La Paca. Neighborhood touring takes us further south to calle Argumosa in Lavapiés, where we talk ex-punk phases and living with mainly males. We share a lively ensalada mixta and grilled squid dinner with Max and Gio at a traditional-style Spanish spot in Malasaña.

The following evening we reconvene over a bottle of La Rioja’s best Alessandra’s thoughtfully brought to the house, and I whip up an extra-large batch of palak paneer as a spicy accompaniment. New housemate Miguel joins in the feasting, which is followed by a miniature art exhibition on the sofa consisting of of work of the present creative types. Longtime Luchanero Eugenio reveals himself to be of multiple talents.

4) Sylvain, French computer engineer brought to the city by his company, elects to extend his stay in Spain over the weekend as well. We share morcilla, pimientos de Padrón, pan de jamón y tomate, bacalao, and fried eggplant with salmorejo, along with a glass or two of cool white wine at nearby Lateral. Around 1AM, post-stuffing ourselves well beyond the point of sheer gluttony, we venture back to the piso to check out the party that’s surely happening. We enter into darkness and silence – shit! Looks like the piso’s taking the night off. However, Max arrives soon after, followed by CouchSurfer Eddie and his hosts Kaeli and Fernando, who I’ve invited to the assumed party at my place. The plan quickly shifts to checking out the Malasaña scene, and we kick it in funky Tupperware. The night wraps up with absolutely all present breaking it down on the dance floor to early 90s hip hop jams.

5) Eddie, born in Ukraine with roots in Israel and high-school experience in Boston, is currently working for CERN in Geneva, Switzerland. He’s a major player in the get-down-stay-down that goes-down Friday night in Tupperware, and the beat refuses to go out for the count; next up is a daytrip to Toledo, in which I rediscover the best asadillo Manchego in España. Nighttime brings the much-anticipated piso party, including guest appearances by Kaeli and Fernando, and all proceed to boogie their pants off into some wee corner of the nearly-morning.

The next day brings gastronomic experimentation even for me; Eddie’s heard tell that they enjoy pig ear ’round these parts, and of course I’m game. Supercutre Bar El Jamón in Lavapiés has the porky goods, and I sample glutinous, vaguely meaty oreja for the first and last time. The pimientos de Padrón go down much easier, so much so that I’m beginning to think they may be a new obsession. Evening wanderings include an attempt to take part in a swing event that leads us instead to talking public art at La Tabacalera, then meeting up with Max for red wine plus caviar-flecked ensalada de mariscos at La Buga del Lobo.