Month: July 2010

You Say Aubergine, I Say Roly, Poly Eggplant

As a kid, I loathed eggplant. No wonder. My first taste of it came in the form of a bland and watery eggplant Parmesan. One bite of the floppy, cheese-coated, sauce-logged vegetable and I wrote it off for good. Or so I thought. A decade later eggplant landed on my plate again. This time, though, it looked far more palatable. In fact, it looked downright delicious. Sliced into strips and then seasoned with olive oil, salt and black pepper, it had been grilled until slightly charred around the edges. A tentative taste left me hooked on its mild tang and supple, melting texture. With that my hatred of the purplish-black, teardrop-shaped veg ended and my love affair with eggplant began. Known in Great Britain and France as an aubergine, the eggplant – along with the tomato and potato – is a member of the flower-bearing nightshade family. Reputedly originating in China, it first hit European shores during the 13th century. There it became the backbone of such renowned dishes as French ratatouille, Greek moussaka, Spanish …

More Hot Days, More Cold Soups

Last week I moaned about the prospect of cooking in the oppressive heat. This week it’s the humidity that keeps me from hanging out in the kitchen. Thanks to a sultry summer, I’m still fixated on soothing, cold soups. For lunch today I enjoyed a bowl of the crimson, Andalusian version of gazpacho. Originating in southern Spain, this red soup resulted from the 16th century introduction of tomatoes from the New World. Unlike Spain’s other chilled soup, ajo blanco, gazpacho features a puree of tomatoes, sweet bell peppers, cucumbers, garlic, vinegar and olive oil. Some cooks add diced onions, celery, lemon juice, fresh herbs, tomato juice or hot sauce. Others slip in breadcrumbs to thicken the soup. When serving this dish at home, I occasionally strain the pureed vegetables and ladle out a velvety smooth soup. Other nights I leave in the veggies and dish out a chunky, hearty meal. That’s the beauty of Andalusian gazpacho – one recipe, two different results. Serve it the first night as a thick, vegetable-studded stew. Strain and present …

Beat the Heat with Soup

As East Coast temperatures top 100 degrees and I’m convinced that I really could fry an egg on the sidewalk, I’ve started to reconsider my dinner options. While tired of take-out, I’m far from thrilled by the prospect of standing over a hot stove in my simmering kitchen. As refreshing as that half-gallon of rocky road ice cream in my freezer seems, I doubt that it will tide me over until morning. Around the time that I reach for a box of breakfast cereal, I remember two magical words – cold soup. Sometimes referred to as “liquid salads,” chilled vegetable soups provide the perfect way to cool off on sultry summer nights. From Spain comes icy gazpacho. Introduced by Arab occupiers sometime between the eighth and thirteenth centuries, this familiar crimson soup began as a cream colored, garlic- and bread-based peasant food. To make the original gazpacho, cooks would pound stale bread, garlic, olive oil, and salt together in a mortar. They then added water to reach the desired consistency and splashed in vinegar for …

Top It Off

With Independence Day and a long weekend of picnics and BBQs just around the corner, it seems like the perfect time to talk about condiments. Whether sweet, sour, spicy or a tad salty, these toppings have added flavor and flare to food for centuries. While ketchup, mustard and mayonnaise still reign supreme, there are plenty of unusual dressings to spice up your summer meals. Love some heat with your meat? Spoon on the fiery, North African condiment harissa. This crimson sauce consists of hot chilies, garlic, cumin, caraway seeds and sea salt. As an indicator of just how spicy it can be, commercially produced harissa comes in cans decorated with erupting volcanoes. Usually harissa accompanies couscous. In Tunisia, though, it’s used as a sandwich spread. It also gives an extra kick to vegetables and seafood. Some cooks add a little yogurt to their harissa and offer it as a dip. If harissa sounds too searing, try the milder North African chermoula. It starts with a base of cilantro, parsley, garlic, lemon juice and olive oil …