Chinese-style Braised Eggplant with fresh Basil

servingBraised eggplant is one of my favorite Chinese dishes. Our favorite restaurant, King Yen in Berkeley, serves it fragrant with fresh basil. I picked up long Asian eggplants, fresh basil and green onions (scallions) from the farmer’s market. I added red bell peppers for color and Shiitake mushrooms for their wonderful texture and unami flavor. You can use fresh Shiitakes  or soak dried ones in warm water for a more toothsome feel. I’ve also made this successfully with large common (button) mushrooms.

I added a chicken breast for more protein. If you have leftover roasted breast you can chop it in bite sized pieces and add it in with the basil.

Vegetarians and vegans can omit the chicken (or swap it for tofu) and use vegetable broth.

I only add a teaspoon of Sriracha because I can’t handle much heat, but feel free to amp it up, adding it at the end to taste.

I got inspiration for my sauce from Martin Yan’s recipe http://www.yancancook.com/recipes/Spicy-Spicy/selected.php?CHOICE=eggplant_w_garlic_sauce

If you don’t have a wok, you can use a Dutch oven. This is even better the next day, when the basil has a chance to permeate the dish.

Be sure to do all the chopping and sauces prep before you start to cook so you’re not all stressed out while you’re cooking!

Serves 4

ingredients

Ingredients

2 Tb canola oil for frying

1 Chicken breast, about 3/4 pound

1 pound Asian eggplants (long skinny ones)

5 large Shiitake mushrooms or common mushrooms

1 medium or 2 small red or yellow bell peppers

2″ piece of fresh ginger to make 1 Tb grated ginger

5- 6 large cloves of garlic to make 1 Tb grated garlic

2 green onions (scallions). You can mince a slice of regular yellw onion to make 2 Tb if you don’t have green onions.

1/2 bunch fresh Thai or regular basil to make 1 1/2 cups basil leaves

1 can water chestnuts

Sauce:

3/4 cup chicken broth (I use Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup )

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon rice wine or dry sherry

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

2 teaspoons sesame oil

2 teaspoons hoisin sauce

1 teaspoon Sriracha sauce (add more for more heat)

Thickener:

4 teaspoons (1 Tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon) water

2 teaspoons cornstarch

Prep:

shitakeIf using dried mushrooms, soak in warm water for 30 minutes, then rinse

Remove stems from shiitake mushrooms and chop into bite-sized pieces. If using common mushrooms, trim woody ends from stems, then quarter or cut in sixths.

ginger n garlicPeel and grate ginger to make 1 Tablespoon

Peel and grate garlic to make 1 Tablespoon

Chop eggplant at angles into uneven bite-sized pieces. This will prevent it from sticking to the pan.

Slice red peppers into strips

Slice green onions crosswise, Sliver the green parts and reserve for garnish.

Rinse and chop water chestnuts

Chop chicken breast into bite-sized pieces

Pull leaves off of basil stems to make 1 cup of leaves

Mix sauce ingredients together in a bowl

Directions:

stir frying before sauce addedHeat wok and add oil. Stir-fry chicken a few minutes to sear it, then toss with onions and red bell peppers. Add chopped vegetables and water chestnuts and stir-fry a few minutes over high heat.

Mix in ginger, garlic, and sauce with metal spatula to incorporate browned bits of chicken. Heat to simmering, then lower heat and cover wok. Simmer for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally to ensure that vegetables are submerged.

cooking with basilStir in the basil leaves and continue simmering covered for another 3 minutes until eggplant is thoroughly cooked and tender.

Stir in the thickener and bring sauce to a boil until it thickens

Serve over brown rice or on its own. Garnish with a few basil leaves and green onions.

ingredients in sun

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Eggplant Crockpot Pasta Sauce

served with Parmesan and basil

ingeredients

The last 10 minutes of San Francisco’s Heart of the City Farmers Market are filled with vendors shouting “$1 a bag!” which is how I ended up lugging home 2 bags of eggplant and a huge bag of tomatoes home on the Bart train!

We’re in the middle of one of those rare but scorching Bay Area heat spells, so I decided to use my Crockpot to cook the eggplant and veggies instead of roasting them in the oven. Although not as toothsome as roasting, they came out tasty and ready to mix with penne or rigatoni pasta.

chopped vegetables

Ingredients:
A very large bag of tomatoes. It’s fine if they’re a little soft, and that’s what you’re going to get with bargain bag tomatoes anyway.
5 long Italian eggplants and 4 small globe eggplants
1 ½ small onions, (or one large onion)
2 bell peppers (or a bag of frozen sliced bell peppers).
5 large mushrooms
6 spicy chicken Italian sausages (you can use sweet if that’s too spicy for you)
8 garlic cloves, smashed and chopped
Parmesan rind
4 bay leaves,
Sprig of rosemary
1 Tb oregano
1 ½ tsp salt
A few grinds black pepper
1 Tb of olive oil
1 Tb red wine
1 Tb of sugar

Add after cooking sauce:
1 can artichoke hearts
1 fresh bunch of basil
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

2/3 pound of penne or rigatoni pasta

Chop the vegetables and sausage and add the other ingredients in the first list to the Crockpot. I went to the trouble of dipping the tomatoes in boiling water and peeling them, but it’s not really necessary to do that.

in the crock pot

Cooked sauce in the Crockpot

I started the sauce after work and let it cook all night. (You can also start yours in the morning and cook it all day.) I was a little worried that there wouldn’t be enough liquid to cook it properly, but in the morning I realized that the vegetables had released plenty of liquid. I removed the Parmesan rind, which had given up its flavor to the sauce.

I added a can of chopped artichoke hearts. I chopped half the bunch of fresh basil I had bought at the farmers market and stirred it in with the freshly grated Parmesan. I let it sit in the fridge until dinner time so the flavors would develop.

At dinnertime, I boiled 2/3 of a pound box rigatoni pasta  and mixed it together with the sauce. I chopped up the rest of the fresh basil and sprinkled it on top with more Parmesan. This made 9 meals. Yay for leftovers!

layered with Parmesan

layered sauce with Parmesan

Roasted fingerling potatoes with garlic and thyme

roasted fingerling potatoes

Springtime brings new potatoes, and they are addictive when roasted in a bit of olive oil with fresh thyme and garlic and sprinkled with salt. I like to roast these miniature potatoes which are called fingerlings, ’cause, well, they look like fingers! The yellow ones are Russian fingerlings and the red ones are French fingerlings. These French ones here are freshly dug new potatoes that I got at the farmer’s market and their skin is very thin.

garlic and thyme in pot

I adapted this recipe from Alice Water’s wonderful cookbook “Chez Pannisse Vegetables”.

Preheat oven to 400

Soak potatoes in salt water for about 10 minutes or so, then scrub the skins. Dry with paper towels.

garlic thyme in olive oil

Select a shallow baking dish that the potatoes can fit  snugly in one layer, Cover bottom of the baking dish with 2 Tb olive oil. Sprinkle about 8 small sprigs of fresh thyme leaves. Halve a bulb of garlic crosswise and separate the cloves, (you don’t need to peel them), and place them in the dish.

fingerling potatoes before roasting

Toss the potatoes in the oil then sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.  Arrange the potatoes so they fit snugly in the dish in one layer, and the garlic and thyme are evenly disbursed. Add 1/4 cup of water for a 8″ square baking dish, less for a smaller one. Tightly cover with a lid or foil.

Bake at 400 for 40 minutes. Uncover dish and bake for another 5 minutes or so until potatoes are dry and a fork easily pierces them. Sprinkle with more salt and serve hot.

Camarones al Mojo de Ajo – Garlic Shrimp

On our first date, my husband and I cooked Camarones al mojo de ajo. We’ve been in love ever since.

I love the Spanish word for garlic clove: diente, which also means tooth. And there is some resemblance, come to think about it.

serves 4

1 ½ lbs large raw shrimp
1 head of garlic
¼ cup dry white wine  such as Chardonnay
2 Tb olive oil
sea salt to taste

Defrost shrimp in a colander under cold running water for 7 minutes.

Smash the garlic head in a molcajete (mortar and pestle made of volcanic rock). This will loosen the peel, separate the dientes, and smash the garlic to release the flavor. Discard the garlic peel and finely mince the garlic.

Heat olive oil in a wok or large heavy frying pan.  Add garlic and the shrimp. Squeeze in a large lime and add wine. Stir until the shrimp turn completely pink. Salt to taste. I used a few grinds of smoked sea salt.

Serve with Rainbow Roasted Vegetables, tortillas and .

Spanakopita and Tiropetes with phyllo or puff pastry

These Greek spinach and cheese pies have a complex taste: sharp bite of feta, green spinach, explosion of herbs: mint, dill, oregano, basil, garlic, and green onion, wrapped in a crispy filo dough or buttery puff pastry. My recipe was inspired by my Greek-American friend Margret’s delicious version.

You can make these traditionally with flaky phyllo (filo) dough. I use olive oil spray on the phyllo instead of spreading oil or butter with a pastry brush, to cut down on the fat. I also make tiropetes, which are phyllo filled with feta and ricotta cheese. They are great for breakfast.

On the other end of the calorie range, I recently tried these at a Greek restaurant made from puff pastry. They were rich and delicious! So I made them at home. It’s much less fuss than phyllo, although it has quite a few more fat and calories from the buttery pastry.

Makes 3 logs (about 18 triangles) of phyllo wrapped spanakopita or 8 triangles of puff pastry spanakopita

3/4  package defrosted phyllo dough OR 1 package (2 sheets) puff pastry (defrost for only 10 minutes at room temperature)

Olive oil spray for phyllo dough

Spinach filling: You can make this a day ahead of time.

2 heads fresh spinach, well washed, stems removed and chopped (use a food processor to chop it) OR 1 lb bag of frozen chopped spinach – about 3 cups.

1 tsp olive oil

2 scallions

2 cloves garlic

¼ cup pine nuts

1 Tb finely chopped mint leaves OR 1 tsp dried mint

½ Tb finely chopped fresh dill weed OR ½ tsp dried dill weed

1 Tb finely chopped fresh oregano leaves OR 1 tsp dried oregano

1 Tb finely chopped fresh basil OR 1 tsp dried basil OR 1 cube frozen basil

Several grinds pepper (about ¼ tsp)

1 egg for filling. Another egg if using puff pastry.

6 oz (about 1 cup) crumbled feta cheese

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375’ for filo, or 400’ for puff pastry

Microwave frozen or fresh spinach in a covered casserole bowl about 2 minutes (longer for frozen spinach) until soft. Drain in fine mesh sieve over a bowl.

I place a bowl with a few cans in it on top of the sieve while preparing the other ingredients. Afterward, press on the spinach with a tablespoon for several minutes to squeeze out the liquid. You should have 1 1/2  cups drained spinach.

While spinach is draining, finely mince white and green parts of scallions, garlic, and mint leaves and other fresh herbs, salt and pepper Sauté onion, garlic and pine nuts in olive oil in a heavy skillet. After a couple of minutes, stir in the herbs and heat for another minute.

Finish squeezing the last liquid from the spinach and discard the liquid. Stir the spinach into the onion and herbs.

Beat the first egg and add feta and Parmesan cheeses. Stir in the spinach mixture until well blended.

Tiropetes

1 cup feta cheese

3/4 cup ricotta cheese

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1 egg, beaten

2 Tb minced fresh parsley

Mix ingredients together. Spread on puff pastry or phyllo dough as below.

Assembling Puff Pastry (I used Trader Joe’s), cut both sheets in two. Beat the second egg. Using a pastry brush, paint the egg on each piece. Spoon filling o to fill exactly half the pastry, leaving about 1/2 inch border of dough on the edges. Fold the pastry over the filling, then seal the edges with the back of a teaspoon.

Place on a cookie sheet that you have sprayed with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes at 400’ Let cool, then cut in half diagonally, to make triangles.

Phyllo Dough directions:

For phyllo dough pastries: spread one sheet of defrosted dough on a large wooden board or cutting board. Spray olive oil on top. Spread another sheet on top of it and spray and repeat for a 3rd sheet. Spread a 2 inch line of spinach or cheese filling about 3 inches from the edge of the shorter side of the rectangle. Leave a one inch space between the filling and the sides of the phyllo.

Roll the dough up over the filling, then tuck in the sides, and continue rolling until the end. Spray a little of the oil on the edge to seal it. Place the roll seam side down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Spray a little oil on top of the roll.

Bake at 375’ for 40 minutes until browned.

Let cool, then slice the logs diagonally in each direction into triangle shapes.

Curry Chicken on grill or in clay pot


Here’s a recipe that will curry your favor in both warm weather barbecuing and clay pot oven cooking in the coming cool season. Serve with steamed basmati rice and Chana Dall (yellow Lentils), Punjabi-style Potatoes and Cauliflower, and Indian breads.

I made this chicken on skewers to barbecue today. I cut up boneless breasts in 1” cubes and marinated it for several hours. I’ve also made this with either a cut up chicken or breasts, scoring the meat in several places to allow the marinade to penetrate.

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Makes enough marinade for 6 breasts

1 cup plain yogurt (I use nonfat Middle Eastern Karoun yogurt)
1/3 cup lemon juice (2 large lemons)
2 Tb (tablespoon) olive oil
2 Tb melted butter or ghee
1 onion, chopped
2 Tb freshly minced or grated garlic
½ Tb freshly grated ginger OR ½ tsp ginger powder
3 Tb curry powder (or more to taste)
1 Tb garam masala seasoning (optional)
2 Tb cumin (comino) powder
2 tsp sea salt (to taste)
several grinds of black pepper.
2 tsp hot oil (to taste)
6 breasts or chicken pieces
1/4 cup cream for baked chicken
3 cups fresh spinach for baked chicken

Mix all ingredients well. Add cream if baking the chicken. It will make a smooth sauce. Otherwise the yogurt separates when cooked.  Adjust seasonings to taste. Add either cubed chicken or pieces and marinate for 2 – 4 hours.

Remember if using the clay pot, to soak it first for 1/2 hour and put in a cold oven, then turn on the oven to 350′. (You can also make the chicken in a ceramic casserole.) Cook chicken in the marinade for about 1 hour. Stir washed spinach leaves in the marinade for the last 10 minutes. Serve chicken, spinach and sauce over  basmati brown rice.

If using wooden skewers soak them first for at least ½ an hour. This is supposed to stop them from burning, but to tell you the truth, they burn anyway! Thread cubed chicken on skewers with some onion between them. Grill on medium high heat until done, about 15 -20 minutes for skewers, longer for pieces.

Serve cooked chicken garnished with fresh cilantro.

served with eggplant and bbq chicken

Capering about the Kitchen with Chicken Piccata

serving chicken picattaMy son Francisco and I first made this on Mother’s Day when he was a teenager. It’s one of his favorite dishes.

ingredients for chicken piccataIngredients: Makes 6 cutlets

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon salt

Several grinds black pepper

3 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves

1/4 cup (4 Tb) olive oil, divided

1/4 cup dry white wine

½ cup chicken stock Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup

2 medium or 1 1/2 large lemons to make ½  cup fresh lemon juice plus  lemon slices

2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic

1 large shallot, diced

1 tablespoon capers, drained

4 Tb butter (1/2 cube), divided

cutting chickenPrepare chicken cutlets. They will fry better if cut in half width-wise and pounded flat. With your knife parallel to the cutting board, cut each breast as if to butterfly it (although in this case, there’s only only butterfly wing).

Place a cut breast half between two pieces of plastic wrap, then place in a clean plastic bag. Squeeze the air out of the bag, then fold it over.

smashing chickenPound the cutlet several times with a heavy iron skillet so that it is about ½ inch flat. It’s a good way to get out your frustrations after a hard day. Repeat for all the cutlets. Rinse the chicken and dry it with a paper towel. Mix flour, salt and pepper on a plate. Dredge one cutlet at a time in the flour until it’s coated. Pat it gently until it’s just lightly coated with  flour.

frying cutletsHeat 2 Tb oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Stir in 1 Tb of butter. As soon as the butter melts, add 2 chicken cutlets, making sure they do not touch each other. Saute for 5 minutes on each side, or until browned. Turn chicken around while cooking so that they brown evenly on both right and left sides. When chicken is golden brown, place it on a plate and cover it with a large lid or an inverted plate to keep warm. Add another Tb of oil and 1 Tb of butter to the pan before adding the next batch.

saute garlic n leeksWhen all the chicken is fried, add garlic and shallots to the pan and stir a few minutes until they are  fragrant.

whisk saucePour in chicken stock and wine and bring to a boil. Using a metal spatula, scrape the pan to loosen browned bits. Whisk while cooking for  5 minutes. Cut middle slices from lemon for garnish, then squeeze the juice and stir in sauce with capers and a tablespoon of butter. Cook over medium heat for 2-3 minutes.

Return chicken to the skillet and simmer for 5 minutes, turning several times to absorb the sauce. The sauce will be thick.

Serve chicken with sauce and garnish with lemon slices.