The old saying proves true: you can’t judge a book by it’s cover.
I was given the recipe for Eggplant-Tomato Stir-Fry years ago when my husband and I were in a gourmet group. Looking at the ingredients, I was completely unimpressed. However, when I made and tasted it, I was completely IMpressed by how well the flavors blended.
As with most stir-frys, it’s all about the prep. With Eggplant-Tomato Stir-Fry, you wash and chop the veggies, and the cooking goes quickly. Yes, at the end, you do need to cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes, but that’s hands-off.
- 2 T vegetable oil
- 1 onion, cut into bite-sized slices
- 1 medium eggplant, unpeeled and 1″ cubed
- 1 red pepper, cut into slices or cubes
- 3 cloves garlic, pressed
- 3½ oz (3½cups) fresh spinach leaves, chopped (or 1 frozen 10 oz package chopped)
- 1 zucchini, sliced lengthwise then cut into half moons
- 2 tomatoes, cut into bite sized pieces
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp black pepper
Heat oil in large skillet – I used a 14″ stainless steel pan. When oil is shimmering, add onions and sauté over medium/high for 2 minutes. One by one, continue to add eggplant, red pepper, garlic & spinach together, zucchini, and finally the tomatoes, cooking each 2 minutes before adding the next. Stir in the salt and pepper.
Cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer for 10-15 minutes, until veggies are tender but not mushy. Taste for seasoning, adjusting as needed.
This is probably the easiest meal you’ll ever make. Simply chop the onion, cilantro, and red pepper, then throw everything into the pot and cook for 30 minutes.
This recipe is a lovely combination of subtle flavors. Try not to leave out any of the spices – I know most are only 1/8 tsp, but they’re important for the overall effect.
NOTE: Belizean Rice & Beans is super good topped with Avocado Sauce!
BELIZEAN RICE AND BEANS – makes about 5 cups
- 1 15-oz can pinto beans, including liquid
- 1 cup onions, chopped
- 2 T fresh cilantro, chopped
- 4 T butter
- 1 15-oz can coconut milk (or 1/2 cup powdered coconut milk plus enough water to make 15 oz)
- 1 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
- 1 red pepper, chopped
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/8 tsp chili powder
- 1/8 tsp celery seed
- 1/8 tsp coriander
- 1/8 tsp nutmeg
- 1/8 tsp onion powder
- 1/8 tsp paprika
- 1/8 tsp garlic powder
Mix all ingredients in a 2-quart saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook over low heat for a total of 30 minutes. At first, stir now and then – until it’s been cooking for about 20 minutes. At this point most of the liquid will have been absorbed into the rice. Stir more often now to prevent burning. If all the liquid has been incorporated before the 30 minutes is up, turn off the heat and let the covered pot sit on the hot burner. This is to make sure the rice is completely cooked. Eat as is, or do something crazy (like I do) and serve as an open faced sandwich on a homemade English Muffin or arepa, topped with avocado. Yummmm!
When asked to attend a potluck, my Spicy Macaroni Salad is often specifically requested. Unlike the usual bland pasta salads, this recipe will wake up your mouth…in a good way!
It’s super easy to make and does well with being made in advance so the flavors have time to blend.
SPICY MACARONI SALAD
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 1/2 cup mayonnaise
- 1 T lemon juice
- 2 tsp salt
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tsp garlic, pressed or minced
- 3/4 tsp ground black pepper
- 1/8 tsp Tabasco (or other hot sauce)
- 8 oz small elbow macaroni
- 1 cup shredded carrots
- 1/2 cup chopped radishes
- 1 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1/4 cup scallions
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley
- 1 T dried dill (or 3 T fresh)
In a large bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, mayonnaise, lemon juice, salt, Dijon, garlic, pepper, and Tabasco. Stir the carrots, radishes, cucumber, scallions, parsley, and dill into the dressing. Mix well and chill.Cook pasta in salted water until just tender. Rinse with cold water to stop the cooking (don’t worry, it will continue to soften when mixed with the dressing) and drain. Mix into the dressing. Chill at least an hour to allow the flavors to penetrate the pasta.
Avocado Sauce is a quick and easy topping for tacos, salads, quesadillas, or anything else you want. As opposed to guacamole, which is usually chunkier, it’s meant to pour – thus covering more territory.
Queen of Freeze Bonus: This sauce can be successfully frozen!!! So take advantage of avocados when they’re at bargain prices in the market (or if you’re lucky enough to have your own tree). Make up large batches (make sure you try the recipe first) and freeze in portion sized containers.
- 8 oz tomatillos
- 1 avocado
- 1 jalapeño pepper
- 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
- 1 T lime juice
- 1 tsp garlic, pressed
- 3/4 tsp salt
Remove and discard papery wrap from tomatillos. Wash thoroughly and cut into quarters. Place all ingredients in food processor.Pulse until creamy – scraping down sides as needed. Adjust seasoning to your preference.
Mexican Rice is one of those foods that can be both a side dish and an ingredient in something else. For example, Monday night you might want a side dish with a bit of a kick to perk up a main course, and then on Tuesday it can become part of a burrito or taco. One preparation, two meals! Love it!!!
- 2 large tomatoes or 4 Roma, coarsely chopped
- 1½ cups onion, coarsely chopped (about 1 large onion)
- about 1 cup vegetable stock or water
- 2 cups uncooked white rice – medium or long grain
- 1/3 cup vegetable oil
- 2 jalapeño chilis, remove seeds and mince
- 4 garlic cloves, pressed
- 1½ tsp salt
- 2 T tomato paste
- 1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
- about 2 T lime juice
Preheat oven to 350º Fahrenheit.
In a food processor, purée the chopped tomatoes and onions. Empty into a large measuring cup and add enough stock or water (both work fine) to add up to 4 cups total. Set aside.Put uncooked rice in a sieve and rinse well to remove excess starch. In a saucepan, heat oil. Add rinsed rice and sauté 6 minutes. Stir in the tomato purée, garlic, salt, jalapeños, and tomato paste. Pour into casserole dish. Cover and bake at 350º F 30-40 minutes, stirring halfway through, until rice is fully cooked. (Make sure rice is fully cooked – it won’t continue to soften off-heat.) Add in cilantro and lime juice to taste. If you want more kick, stir in another minced jalapeño.
Apple season is upon us. While there are a plethora of pie, tart, and bread recipes made from these red beauties, I decided to try something a little different: APPLE-SWEET POTATO HASH. The combination of apples, sweet potatoes, and onions works surprisingly well.
Besides being tasty, it’s extremely easy and fast to make. Just chop and fry!
Note: Choose an apple variety that’s crisp and tangy such as Gala, Fuji, or Honey Crisp.
APPLE-SWEET POTATO HASH – makes about 4 cups
- 1/2 T vegetable oil
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 large sweet potato, unpeeled and cubed into 1/2″ pieces
- 2 apples (I use Gala), unpeeled and cubed into 1/2″ pieces
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp dried dill
- 1 tsp lemon juice
In a 12″ nonstick skillet (you can probably use cast iron, although I haven’t tried that since my cast iron skillet is only 10″), heat oil over medium/high. Add in onions and sweet potato. Sauté 3 minutes, uncovered, stirring now and then. Cover, decrease heat to low, and cook for 8 minutes. Check to see if sweet potato is easily pierced by a sharp knife. If not, cover and let cook a little longer. When cooked, add in apples, cinnamon, salt, and dill. Increase heat to medium/high and sauté until browned, stirring now and then. Add in lemon juice. Adjust seasoning, if needed.
Picnics and potlucks nearly always have a macaroni salad or two. Often it’s store-bought and kind of a watery mush. People eat it because it’s there.
But I believe if you’re going to eat something, you should really enjoy it. Here’s a flavorful macaroni salad that’s easy to prepare.
MACARONI SALAD – makes about 6½ cups
- 1 lb small elbow macaroni with ridges (the ridges hold the dressing)
- 1/2 cup shallots, minced
- 2/3 cup celery (1 good-sized stalk), chopped
- 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley, chopped
- 2 T lemon juice
- 1 T Dijon mustard
- 1/8 tsp garlic powder
- 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1½ cups mayonnaise
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
In a large pot, bring 4 quarts water to full boil. Add in 1 T salt and the pasta. Cook for about 5 minutes – until al dente. Drain and cool by running cold water over it. Pour into a large bowl.
Stir in the shallots, celery, parsley, lemon juice, Dijon, garlic powder, and cayenne. Let sit for 3 minutes to absorb flavors.
Mix in the mayonnaise, cover, and refrigerate until mayo is absorbed. Season with salt and pepper, adjusting as necessary.
Grits. Just the word has always made me want to rinse out my mouth. I could never understand why anyone would want to eat them…and like them! Until now.
Of course, the key is to cook the cornmeal so it’s not actually gritty. Add in some cheese and seasoning and YUMMMM! I couldn’t stop eating it!
Note: I made this recipe using both coarse-grind cornmeal and polenta (the degerminated enriched kind) to compare. It’s really a toss-up – they both worked well.
Additional note: A flat whisk works really well with this dish – it allows you to get into the corners easily. (Photo below)
CHEESY GRITS – makes 6 cups
- 2 T butter
- 4 T scallions, white part only (about 4 stalks), sliced thin
- 3¼ cups + 1/4 cup water, divided
- 1 cup milk (any kind – I used nonfat)
- 1/2 tsp hot sauce (I used Tabasco)
- 1/2 tsp black ground pepper
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1 cup degerminated polenta or yellow coarse-grind cornmeal (I’ve used both)
- 1/2 cup corn kernels (frozen, fresh, or canned)
- 4 oz sharp cheddar cheese, shredded
- 4 oz jack cheese, shredded
In a saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Add in scallions and sauté to soften – about 4 minutes. Add in the 3¼ cups water, milk, hot sauce, pepper, and salt. Bring to boil. Whisking continuously, very slowly pour in the polenta (or cornmeal). Decrease heat to maintain a simmer and cook, uncovered, until thickened – about 15 minutes. Stir often, taking care to get into the edges. In a blender, pureé the corn with the remaining 1/4 cup water for about 5 seconds. Pour into the thickened grits, also adding the cheeses, stirring to blend. Cook another 5 minutes or so to thicken. Top servings with scallion green slices, more shredded cheese, and paprika, if desired.
Cooked spinach is not a looker. It wilts down from a giant amount to a small, dark green mound. On its own it tastes…okay. But doctor it up with some flavor, crunch, and color and now you’ve got something.
If you’ve never cooked fresh spinach, prepare for a surprise. You’ll bring home a mass of leaves and think, “this is way too much”. It’s not, believe me.
Note: I like to buy bundled spinach and wash it myself. But that can be time-consuming and is often hard to find. Stores seem to prefer to carry pre-washed spinach in plastic tubs. If you do buy the bundles, make sure you weigh them – some are larger than others.
SPINACH & FETA – makes about 1 cup
- 8½ oz fresh spinach leaves (about 2 bunches)
- 1 T + 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 2 T shallots, chopped (about 1 large)
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 2 T water chestnuts, chopped (I get them canned, in the Asian section)
- 1 oz Feta cheese, crumbled
- 1 T red wine vinegar
- 2 T pistachio nuts, salted, toasted
- 1 Roma tomato, chopped
Steam spinach over boiling water for 1 minute – set a timer! Place spinach in a towel to absorb excess water. Roughly chop. Heat 1 T oil in a skillet over medium/high. Add in shallots and sauté a few minutes, until browned. Stir in the spinach and salt – sauté over medium/high about 2 minutes to evaporate excess moisture. Reduce heat to low and add in the water chestnuts, feta, 1 tsp olive oil, vinegar, and pistachios. Stir over low heat, just to warm everything. Add in tomatoes and serve.
We’re all familiar with the POTATO GNOCCHI – awhile back I even posted a recipe for POTATO GNOCCHI WITH SAGE BUTTER:But gnocchi are merely dumplings that are made from various things besides potatoes, such as wheat flour, cheese, breadcrumbs, cornmeal, and semolina flour – the basis for this Roman Gnocchi recipe.
Roman Gnocchi are fast and easy to make and can be formed ahead of time – I love make-ahead recipes! They can be served as a first, side, or main course, depending on how many one eats.
Note: I store my semolina flour in the freezer since I don’t use it that often.
ROMAN GNOCCHI – makes 12
- 2½ cups milk (use whatever you have)
- 3/4 tsp salt
- pinch nutmeg
- 1 cup semolina flour
- 4 T butter, divided
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1/3 cup Gruyère cheese, shredded
- 1/3 tsp dried crushed rosemary (or 1 tsp fresh chopped)
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 2 T Parmesan cheese, grated
- topping sauce of your choice (marinara, cheese sauce, butter sauce)
In a saucepan over medium heat, bring milk up to simmer. Add in salt and nutmeg. Very slowly pour in semolina, stirring constantly to prevent lumps (a whisk is best for this). Once all the semolina in mixed in, decrease heat to low and cook 3-5 minutes, until it becomes very thick and pulls away from the sides of pan. (Don’t undercook or the gnocchi will taste floury.) Let cool 4 minutes. Cut 3 T of the butter into pieces and stir them into the dough until all butter is melted and incorporated. Mix in the beaten egg, Gruyère, rosemary, and baking powder. With the remaining 1 T butter grease an 8″ x 8″ baking pan (or one of equivalent size). Dip a 1/4 cup measuring cup into water to wet it, then fill it with dough. Empty onto the pan, using your fingers to fix the shape, if needed. Dip measuring cup into water each time – this helps release the dough. You should get around 12 gnocchi. Chill at least 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400º Fahrenheit. Sprinkle Parmesan on top of gnocchi and bake, uncovered, for 30 minutes. Let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.