cheese

Tackling A Classic: Eggplant Parmesan

I recently bought ready-made eggplant parmesan from a small (and authentic) grocery that stocks fresh pasta made in-store by the Italian owners. The parm was delicious. There is everything to love in the two main ingredients – eggplant and cheese! Unfortunately, my new health app registered the accompanying high number of calories which forced me to attempt a healthier version of the classic.

Eggplants are notorious for absorbing unhealthy amounts of oil, and by baking eggplants, my version cuts out frying the eggplant altogether. Cutting this step also eliminates both the eggs and breadcrumbs that coat the eggplant; these add to the amount of oil absorbed, as well as to the dish’s total calories. All that was left to do was to combine good tomato sauce (thickened with celery, carrots, onions, and garlic), fresh basil, and cheese, and bake. The toasted breadcrumbs that were sprinkled in between layers added crunch, but they are not essential.

Tomato sauce

San Marzano tomatoes (28 oz) can – 2

Tomato paste – 1½ tbsp

Onion – 1 medium, sliced

Carrots – 2, diced

Celery – 1 ½ stalks, chopped

Garlic cloves – 6-8, minced

Olive oil – 1 ½ tbsp

Salt – to taste

Chili pepper flakes – 1½ tsp

Pepper – 1 tsp

  • Heat the oil in a pan.
  • Add onions to the hot oil, and sauté until translucent.
  • Add garlic and stir-fry, until light brown.
  • Add carrots, celery and cook for about five minutes or until softened.
  • Remove the mixture from heat, and mix in the food processor to a grainy texture.
  • Add the mixture back to the pan. Start to heat the pan, adding tomatoes and tomato paste to the mixture. Cook the juice down, mashing up the tomato pieces.
  • Add the salt, pepper, and chili flakes. Adjust the seasonings to taste.
  • Keep 3 cups aside, and boil it down until it is a thick liquid.
  • Freeze the rest of the sauce to use later. I often serve with meatballs, spiralized zucchini “noodles,” and grilled shrimp.

Eggplant

Eggplant – 2 medium sized, peeled and cut lengthwise into ¼-inch strips (10-12 strips in total)

Olive oil – 1 tbsp

  • Heat the oven at 400°F.
  • Place the eggplant slices on aluminum foil and brush lightly with oil.
  • Cook for about 35-40 minutes, turning slices halfway through, until just soft. Keep aside.

For The Assembly Line:

Toasted breadcrumbs or panko – ½ cup

Mozzarella cheese – 12 oz, thinly sliced

Parmesan cheese – 4 oz, freshly grated

Fresh basil leaves – 12-15 leaves

Tomato sauce – see above

Baked eggplant – see above

  • Lightly grease a loaf pan or Pyrex dish.
  • Divide the ingredients in the following order for three layers: sauce, breadcrumbs, overlapping eggplant slices, cheese (parmesan and mozzarella), and basil. Repeat, until you have formed 3 layers.
  • Bake at 350°F for 40 minutes. Set under a broiler for 5 minutes at the end for a crisp topping.
  • Once cooled, the baked eggplant parmesan will be firm. Loosen the slides by sliding a knife along the edges. Flip over on to a serving plate.

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Note: Reduce the tomato sauce, so that there is no excess liquid. Otherwise, your layers will not be firm.

 

Raclette Grill

I posted several communal food blogs over this past year, and all of the featured meals worked well when friends and family visited. As we all gathered around one pot, the kitchen buzzed with collaborative activity and commotion. Each person took charge of one aspect of assembling the necessary ingredients around the main event. It seemed appropriate to usher in the New Year with a communal meal, working with a familiar theme and a favorite ingredient – cheese.

My niece’s Christmas present, a raclette grill, inspired me to borrow a German New Year’s Eve tradition to usher in 2016. The raclette grill is a combination of a table-top hot plate and small spade-like pans called coupelles. Many more people can hover around a raclette grill than a fondue pot, while melting individual pans of cheese and interspersing them with fondue favorite accompaniments of boiled potatoes, green beans, and pickled onions. Fresh tomatoes and peppers were reintroduced, as they added color and contrasting texture. New additions, such as kielbasa, bratwurst sausages, and shrimp sizzled on the hotplate. Some of us scattered raclette cheese on the accompaniments to set under the grill, while others preferred to slide the melted cheese right off the coupelles on to the dinner plate. Whatever our choices, going into the New Year was remarkably easy.

Best wishes for festive and shared meals in the New Year!

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Finding A Match With Claudia Roden

I learned cooking by experimenting with my mother’s ‘guestimated’ amounts for a recipe – a pinch of coriander powder, a dash of turmeric, or roughly about a ¼ cup of coconut milk. This seemingly casual style of cooking taught me to taste and adjust for individual and overall flavors while preparing a dish.

I relied on this skill recently when wanting to use up some extra zucchini. I began by following a recipe from one of my go-to cookbook authors – Claudia Roden.  A. noted that Roden’s Zucchini Fritters recipe, with its tangy feta cheese and aromatic dill, is a classic food from Turkey. However, without the two key ingredients, feta cheese and dill, I had to shop my refrigerator for equivalent tastes.

Although Roden’s unfussy recipes are precise, the flavors that are eked out from fresh ingredients are easy to replicate. Goat cheese is tangy and crumbly, and although not as strong as feta, the cheese effortlessly folds into the onion-zucchini mixture. The mixture holds together even when fried. Dill, on the other hand, has a distinct flavor, and so replicating its aromatic essence was key. Parsley proved to be a successful swap, providing the aromatics without competing with the mild taste of zucchini.

Zucchini Fritters

Onion – 1, chopped

Vegetable oil – 3+ tbsp for frying

Zucchini – 2 large, chopped

Eggs – 3

Flour – 3 tbsp

Pepper – 1 tsp

Parsley – 3-4 sprigs

Goat cheese – 7 oz

  • Heat 1tbsp oil in a pan at medium heat.
  • Add the shallots and sauté until lightly browned.
  • Add the zucchini and sauté until crisply tender.
  • Beat the eggs in a bowl. Add the flour and mix.
  • Fold the zucchini-shallot mixture and cheese into the egg mixture.
  • Heat a large skillet with enough oil to fry the mixture. Keep the oil at medium heat.
  • Drop in 3-4 generous tablespoon of the mixture into the hot oil leaving enough space between each in the pan.
  • Fry each side for 3 minutes without disturbing to check if done. Browning each side prevents them from disintegrating.
  • Remove and drain the oil on kitchen paper. Makes about 8 fritters. Use immediately.
  • If storing for later use, reheat the fritters when needed in the oven at 350°F.
  • Can also be served as hors d’oeuvres with a dab of wasabi sauce and cooked tuna placed on top.

I would love to hear from you about your go-to cookbooks, and I hope to add them to my “Cook The Book” featured category. I would also like to hear about why a particular ingredient was swapped, and if it added or took away the original flavor.

Note: Zucchini Fritters adapted from Claudia Roden’s Arabesque: a taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon

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Welsh Rarebit: A Becoming Fit between Grilled Cheese and Eggs Benedict

The week ending April 18th holds two perennial favorite comfort food days – April 12th, National Grilled Cheese Sandwich Day and April 16th, Eggs Benedict Day. I could cover both food events with one delicious savory dish, Welsh rabbit or Welsh rarebit.

I used to picture Welsh rabbit as a dish with a small animal in a creamy sauce, and so using its other name, Welsh rarebit, sits better with me. The dish includes many of the food creations from the British Isles – tangy Guinness stout, tart Cheddar cheese, vinegary Worcestershire sauce, and pungent English mustard powder (in that familiar yellow tin). All of the ingredients are mixed with egg yolk, liberally slathered on a hunk of country bread, and broiled. The resulting creamy and substantial dish is a cinch to prepare, while combining in one swoop all of the major comfort foods: bread, cheese, butter, and eggs.

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Welsh Rarebit

Bread (sturdy country loaf) – four chunky slices

Butter – 1½ tbsp

Cheddar cheese (such as Welsh reserve) – ¾ – 1 cup, freshly grated

Mustard powder – ¾ tsp

Paprika – ¼ tsp

Stout (such as Guinness) – 2 tbsp

Worcestershire Sauce – ½ tbsp

Egg yolks – 2, beaten

  • Pre-heat the broiler.
  • Melt the butter in a pan on low heat.
  • Add the mustard powder and paprika to the melting butter. Stir and mix well.
  • Add the stout and the Worcestershire sauce. Stir to mix.
  • Add the grated cheese to the pan, stirring continuously to incorporate into the mixture. Do not let it come to a boil.
  • Remove the pan from the fire and cool until just warm to the touch.
  • In the meanwhile, place the bread under the broiler and broil both sides. Remove.
  • Add the egg yolks to the warm pan and beat until you get a smooth, spreadable mixture.
  • Spread the mixture over the broiled bread and place the bread back under the broiler. Cook for a minute or until the cheese-egg mixture starts to brown and bubble.
  • Serve immediately. There should be enough egg-cheese mixture to top four slices.

 

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Cheese Fondue: Communal Food (Part 1)

Many years ago, a casual remark to a new friend about my dislike of the taste of cheese prompted an immediate invitation to a cheese fondue dinner. A Swiss native, my friend simmered Raclette in the fondue pot, and paired it with trimmings of fresh and pickled vegetables, cubes of bread, and spiced meat. This memorable meal made me a cheese convert, and it also highlighted the potential of a fondue dinner as a collaborative meal.

When A. and N. wanted to taste some of the foods they had missed but saw written up in the blog, I thought about that fondue dinner. Fondue is a good example of a communal meal that showcases a variety of different textures and flavors. Pickled pearl onions and balsamic compound butter can be worked in as accompaniments alongside chunky bread pieces and bite-size sausages to scoop or dip into melted raclette cheese. There is plenty of room for innovation and collaboration when many hands are involved. Some of our new favorites included new potatoes brushed with cumin and coriander and crisp black radish drizzled with melted balsamic butter. These side dishes, along with firm red pickled onions, were a perfect textural contrast to the semi-firm cheese.

For the Fondue:

  • Heat 1 lb of Raclette or Gruyere in a ceramic fondue pot or in a pan.
  • When the cheese has a runny consistency, remove from heat and serve.
  • Continue to stir while warm.
  • Add more cheese as needed.

Suggested Accompaniments:

  • Grilled asparagus spears with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
  • Strips of colorful bell peppers.
  • Green beans drizzled with melted balsamic compound butter.

The beauty of a communal meal lies in the variety of ideas that are presented on the table. I would love to hear about your traditions or thoughts on some of your favorite side dishes.

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Semolina Gnocchi (Part 2)

I had previously written about the semolina grain and how it appears and tastes differently in North African and Middle Eastern couscous and Indian uppamav contexts. The semolina granules used in couscous and uppamav have a distinctive texture. Adding vegetables or meat to the dish make them both substantial meals. Semolina flour, on the other hand, is smooth much like regular flour. It is used to make both bread and pasta.

Semolina flour is made from the inner endosperm of durum wheat which is  yellow in color, and the resulting flour has a pale yellow hue. The flour is commonly used to make gnocchi. As N. is a big fan of gnocchi, I waited for her to come home to make potato gnocchi with semolina flour. The recipe uses rich ingredients resulting in a decadent and creamy gnocchi. Baked gnocchi can  be eaten on its own, warm from the oven! Alternately, serve with fresh tomato sauce.

 

Baked Potato Gnocchi

Potato – 1 large, boiled

Semolina flour – 1 cup, plus ¼ cup for dusting

Milk – 4 cups

Nutmeg powder – ½ tsp

Egg yolks – 2, whisked

Egg – 1, whisked

Butter – ¾ cup, room temperature

Parmigiano Reggiano cheese – ¾ cup + ¼ cup, finely grated

Sage – 10 leaves, finely chopped

Parchment paper

Metal grater

  • Using a metal grater, grate the boiled potato into a large bowl. Keep aside.
  • Bring the milk to a simmer in a large pan.
  • Add the semolina flour and nutmeg to the milk. Mix well, removing lumps with a wooden spoon. The mixture should be smooth. Cook for about 7-8 minutes, stirring continuously so the mixture doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan.
  • Remove from heat. Add the butter, egg yolks, egg, and ¾ cup grated cheese and combine.
  • Add chopped sage and grated potato. Mix with a light touch to form a dough ball. Roll out the dough on parchment paper, about 1 1/2-inch thickness. Refrigerate for an hour.
  • Dust a clean surface with a little flour.
  • Take a small amount of dough and start to roll between your palm and then on the clean surface to make a 4-5-inch-long log. Use a light touch.
  • Cut into small pieces (about 1-inch). Make a small dent (collects the sauce later) in each piece with your pointer finger. Place the small pieces on a parchment paper. Or, use a cookie cutter or a tea strainer to cut out different shapes.
  • If you are not cooking right away, freeze the gnocchi. It can be baked from frozen.
  • Otherwise, sprinkle the remaining grated cheese and bake it at 425°F for 25-30 minutes. The gnocchi should have a light brown crust.
  • Serve immediately.

 

 

 

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A Gluten-Free Carbohydrate: Cassava Flour and Tapioca Pearls. Part 2

Last week while cooking my favorite root tuber, cassava, I learned that cassava flour (made from cassava starch) is gluten-free. The starch that is extracted from the cassava root is available in two forms – fine white flour or opaque tapioca pearls. When American families and friends with disparate tastes and food allergies gather around the Thanksgiving table, cassava flour and pearls can be incorporated in the meal to include those with gluten sensitivity to the table. The flour and pearls can be used to make cheese bread and dessert (tapioca pudding and falooda), offering simple substitutions to long-established menus.

Gluten is a protein found in grains that give dough its elasticity and bread its texture. Sensitivity to gluten or celiac disease prohibits foods made with many of the traditional grains, such as wheat and rye. Cassava flour is a good alternate for making bread, pancakes, or to thicken gravy. South Americans use cassava flour to make a cheese bread called Pao de Queijo and Chipa – deliciously cheesy with a pleasant chewy bite.

 

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Cheese Bread (Brazil)

Cassava flour – 2 cups

Whole milk – 1 cup

Vegetable oil – ½ cup

Salt – ¾ tsp

Egg – 2, beaten

Parmesan cheese – 1 ½ cup

  • Set the oven to 400°F.
  • Add all the ingredients, except for the cheese, in a large bowl.
  • Mix them together to form dough.
  • Fold in the cheese to the dough mixture.
  • Drop a tablespoon of the dough at a time on to a nonstick pan.
  • Cook the dough balls for 15-20 minutes.

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Tapioca Pudding and Falooda are two easy desserts that use tapioca pearls, the starch made from the cassava root. The pearls are available in a range of diameters (1mm to 6mm) and colors (brown, white, and black). Tapioca pearls need to be soaked in water or cooked in milk to rehydrate them. When cooked in milk, they give tapioca pudding a comforting creamy consistency. The water-soaked tapioca pearls in falooda add a chewy morsel in an otherwise rich and milky South Asian dessert.

 

Tapioca Pudding

Whole milk – 3 cups

Eggs – 2, beaten

Tapioca Pearls (white) – ½ cup

Sugar – ½ cup

Salt – ¼ tsp

Vanilla/rose/cinnamon essence – 1 tsp

  • Mix the whole milk, tapioca pearls and salt in a saucepan and bring it slowly to a boil. Stir continuously so tapioca mixes and thickens as it cooks.
  • When the milk starts to boil, turn the heat down. Add sugar slowly, while stirring continuously so it dissolves.
  • Remove from heat and let the thickened mixture cool for a minute.
  • Add the beaten egg into the mixture (watch it doesn’t curdle).
  • Bring the mixture back to a simmer and let it thicken, about five minutes.
  • Add the essence.
  • Dessert can be eaten warm or cold. Top with berries.

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Falooda

Milk – 1 cup

Translucent noodles (vermicelli) – 1 oz.

Tapioca pearls (black) – 2 tbsp.

Strawberry or raspberry jelly – 1 packet

Rose syrup – 1 tbsp

Vanilla ice cream –1 small tub

  • Make the jelly according to the instructions on the packet
  • Soak the tapioca pearls in water for half-hour to rehydrate them.
  • Cook the noodles according to the instructions on the packet or until soft.
  • Add the drained noodles to half a cup of milk and simmer for five minutes.
  • Have all the ingredients near at hand to assemble the dessert. Keep layers separate for a colorful display. In a tall glass, start with a layer of jelly, followed by the noodles and a tablespoon of milk, 1 tablespoon of tapioca pearls, and two scoops of ice cream. Finally, drizzle  the rose syrup over the ice cream. Serve immediately.

 

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