Monday, March 3, 2008

Zucchini with Feta, inspired by Curtis Aikens

We returned home from a trip, and I had to come up with something tasty and satisfying as quick as possible - not an easy task given the almost-empty fridge and a certain degree of exhaustion after packing, airport hassles, flight discomfort etc. Luckily, there was a bag of small zucchini in the bottom shelf, and I decided it would go well with crumbled feta, which I usually have on hand for salads. A bit of Googling produced this wonderful recipe by Curtis Aikens, which I adapted a bit.

Ingredients (serve 2):

1 tablespoon olive oil
4 small zucchini, thinly sliced in rounds
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons crumbled feta
Salt and pepper to taste
Chopped parsley
Handful of pine nuts


Heat the oil on low in a heavy skillet. Add zucchini and garlic. On medium heat, slowly saute them with a little salt, until zucchini are golden and slightly caramelized. It should take about 20 minutes. Season with pepper, mix in parsley. Add feta. Sprinkle with pine nuts and serve.


It was amazing, and simple, too. I always enjoy finding new creative ways to use zucchini, and this recipe is one of the best options.

Monday, February 18, 2008


This is a great and versatile one-pot dish, made with meat and large cuts of layered vegetables. Dimlyama has it origins in Uzbekistan. My friend, who used to live there, gave me this recipe, and I tweaked it a bit. But the beauty of dimlyama is that you can tweak it endlessly, and it would still work great.

To make dimlyama, you'd need a cast iron dutch oven with a lid, meat and vegetables. In Uzbekistan, lamb is considered the only "real" meat, but you can use chicken thighs, as I did, or even fish (never tried that). As for the vegetables, potatoes and carrots are the staples; bell peppers, cabbage, eggplant, yam all work beautifully, too. If you have fresh dill, use as much as you can. If you have Italian parsley on hand, use it, too. You can use almost everything, doubling the ingredients you like more and leaving out something you don't care about.

The original recipe suggests topping the dish with tomatoes for their juice and flavor, but since there is a belief that cast iron doesn't agree with tomatoes, I skipped them and never regretted it.

Ingredients (make 4 big servings in a 5-quart dutch oven):

1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 lb chicken thighs, cut into pieces
1 onion, diced
2 carrots, chopped
1 big potatoe, cut into wedges
1 big yam, cut into wedges
1/2 small cabbage head, cut into stripes
3 red bell peppers, seeded and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
5-6 sprugs of fresh dill, chopped
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice


Ground black pepper
Ground cumin
Freshly ground coriander
Herbes de Provence


Prepare the vegetables.
Using high heat setting, preheat vegetable oil in the dutch oven. Add meat and cook for couple of minutes, stirring constantly, then add onion and spices. Cook, stirring, until the chicken is no longer pink. Reduce heat to low, and add the vegetables - layer upon layer. Every two layers, add salt, spices, and dill. Mince garlic clove between some of the layers.
Bell peppers, as the juiciest of them all, go on top. Again, add salt and spices, pour lemon juice, put the last sprug of dill. Cover, and cook for at least an hour. The exact cooking time depends on the stove: it took an hour and 20 minutes on mine. Use chopstick to check vegetables for doneness; don't stir.

To serve, lay out on a big plate. Let everyone take their share and appreciate this fragrant and flavorful food.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Split Pea and Swiss Chard Soup

I first came upon this recipe from Melissa when I had to find the way to use up a bunch of swiss chard. She recommends using green lentils for the recipe, but split peas work as well, and that's what I use.


1 cup split peas
1 bunch of swiss chard, washed, stemmed, and chopped into stripes
7 cups water
10 cloves garlic, peeled and pressed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 lemon, juiced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil


Put the split peas and water in a large pot and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, add the chopped chard. Do not stir. Reduce the heat to medium.
Cover the pot and let boil for 15 minutes.
Mix the softened chard and the lentils well and cook uncovered for another 45 minutes.
While it cooks, combine the pressed garlic, lemon juice, and a generous pinch of salt in a small bowl. Mix well. Stir in the olive oil.
Add this mixture to the soup.
Season with salt and simmer uncovered for 5 minutes.


This Lebanese soup is delicious, and I like the way it is both filling and refreshing. I couldn't wait until it cooled to make a photo, and then it was too late.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Rolled Cookies

This was the most distinctive feature of my childhood's holidays - rolled cookies, made with my grandmother's recipe. Later on, the cooking marmalade, so necessary for the filling, disappeared from the stores, and that was the end of it. We tried substitutes, like dried apricots with walnuts, but this just was not the same.
However, I do not live in San Francisco for nothing. Thanks to the local specialty stores and farmers markets, I have been able to come up not with one, but with three different substitute options. In Parkside Farmers Market I found dark and gooey bricks of baking dates, and bright-orange sheets of pressed apricots. In Los Gatos Gourmet I've got a brick of quince paste - hard, sweet, and just a little bit tart.

Ingredients (for 32+ cookies):
3,5 oz butter or margarine, melted
4 tablespoons sugar
2 eggs
4 tablespoons sour cream
3 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda (mix it into 2nd cup of flour)

For the filling:
baking dates, or pressed apricot sheets, or quince paste


Mix butter and sugar, add eggs and sour cream. Mix well. Gradually add flour. The dough is going to be very hard, so it is better to empty your mixing bowl onto a large cutting board. Knead the dough for a while, form it into a ball. Cover and refrigerate for at least 3 hours, or overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Take the dough out of the refrigerator. Divide the dough ball into 4 parts. Pull out your large cutting board, or just use a table or a counter. Using a rolling pin, roll each part into a round. With a sharp knife or a pizza cutter, cut each round into 8 wedges. I usually roll out each wedge a little bit, to make it thinner. If the wedges' outer ends look rugged, cut off the rugged part - you can use the leftover dough for extra cookies.

Here comes the filling. Basically, you would need stripes of whatever you use - baking dates, or pressed apricot sheets, or quince paste. Put the filling on the wide end of every wedge. Press lightly into dough. Roll wedges from wide to narrow, as you would do with Rugelach cookies.

Arrange cookies on a baking sheet, and bake for 20 minutes, or until golden. The smell would tell you that the cookies are ready!

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Torta di Miele

We were having Italian-themed dinner with friends, and I was set on trying out a recipe from the book I was reading, True Tuscan by Cesare Casella. The author is quick to point out that “Tuscans have never been into sweets the way the other Italians are”. Still, he had to come up with some desserts for the book, because, seriously, how can you have a dessert-less cookbook? So, he claims that the recipes he uses are “both new, yet completely rooted in [Tuscany] traditions”.
My choice was Torta di Miele, honey cake. I was drawn to it by the combination of honey, walnuts, and figs.


12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) butter at room temperature
1 cup sugar
¾ cup honey
2 eggs
1 ½ cups flour
1 cup dried diced figs
½ cup chopped walnuts, toasted


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Butter and flour a 10- by 3½-inch loaf pan.
Using mixer, cream together butter, sugar and honey.
Add eggs, one at a time, and continue beating until they are incorporated.
Add the flour and mix until it is just combined, stopping occasionally to scrap down the sides of the bowl. Fold in dried figs and walnuts. Pour the butter into prepared pan and bake for 40 or 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
You can serve this loaf warm, or let it cool. To store any leftover cake, cover with plastic wrap and keep at room temperature.


I had to bake it for two hours straight, and the edges were slightly burned. But overall, it was a good thing: very sweet and nutty, and even better on the second day. I am not sure that toasting the walnuts was that necessary: I love the taste of them raw.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Moussaka... well, almost

We were dining with out-of-town friends at the Pride of Mediterranean on Fillmore Street. This evening, the restaurant happened to be out of grilled haloumi cheese, which I wanted to try, so I ordered moussaka instead. It was delicious, soft and flavorful. The eggplant was heavenly, and the onion was crunchy and soft at the same time, and it complemented the texture so well. I was so excited, that I didn't even realize how quickly my plate became empty.

How complicated this can be? - I asked myself, when I got home. Well. First of all, it turned out that the real moussaka is made with meat, specifically with lamb. But there was no lamb this evening, I was pretty sure. I googled the vegetarian moussaka recipes. No luck. Lentils? Tofu? Bechamel sauce? There was none of this. In fact, I did remember only two ingredients: eggplant, and onion. Maybe there was some tomato paste, too.

So, time to experiment! Using this recipe from Epicurious as a starting point, I turned on the oven and pulled out the vegetable drawer.


1 large eggplant (I don't think Japanese eggplant would work)
1 large red bell pepper
1 medium yellow sweet onion
2 tablespoons of tomato liquid from the can of Trader Joe's "Whole Tomatoes No Salt Added"
2 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil + some sprayed olive oil


Preheat the oven to 400°F. Cut the eggplant, onion and pepper into wedges, 1 x 1,5 - 2 inches. Spray the large and deep baking pan with olive oil. Arrange vegetables on the baking pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Roast for 40 minutes. I stirred once during this time, but I don't think it was that necessary.
After 40 minutes, take the pan out and pour the tomato liquid over the vegetables. Mix everything and return to the oven. Roast for another 20-25 minutes.


The result had different texture from the restaurant dish. But the taste, the flavors were very close, and this recipe is definitely a keeper. And it is simple, too. No spices, no salt - it tasted great just like that.

Still, something tells me there is much more in the Pride of Mediterranean's moussaka. Next time, I would definitely ask.