Eggplants

A summer zucchini soup in a curry-coconut broth

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Today, I leave you with something short.

The first zucchini I ever saw, I killed it with a hoe.”
— John Gould, Monstrous Depravity: A Jeremiad & a Lamentation about Things to Eat, 1963

This soup is one of my favorite dishes. We leave for Guatemala tomorrow and I could not be more excited (stayed toned on a future post featuring.... I don't know... Guatemalan chocolate maybe?). I've been frantically trying to eat up garden produce before we leave. Nothing is sweeter than summer squash straight from the vine (well, maybe summer tomatoes). This dish originally started with making Hedi Swanson's summer squash soup found in her Super Natural Every Day. The first time I made it was when I was living in Charleston, SC. I've been making it for 3 summers now and it has adapted into my own dish. I hope you do the same to yours :).


Recipe (Serve 4 large servings or 6 small)

Curry paste

Turmeric root (fresh) - 2 small numbs, peeled, about 2 - 3 TB

Hot pepper - 1 (deseeded), chopped in half. (I've used every type of hot pepper here. I've tried jalapeño, ghost pepper, habanero, and thai pepper. My favorite is actually the ghost pepper but used whichever pepper you have or to your heat preference.

Garlic - 4 cloves, peeled

Ginger root (fresh) - One small numb, peeled, 1-2 TB

Miso - 2tsp (I used yellow miso)

Soy sauce  - 1 TB (I used tamari)

Shallot - 1 small shallot, peeled  coarsely chopped (I've also used a few TB of red onion when I did not have shallot around)

Lemongrass (fresh) - 1 - 2 small stalks of lemongrass. The papery outer layers discarded. You only want to use the soft/tender inner parts of the lemongrass.

* Place all the curry paste ingredients in a small blender or food processor. I use a small "magic bullet" type blender for this... it just works so well! Blend until smooth & set aside for later.

Soup

Coconut oil - 4.5TB

Vegetable broth - 2.5 cups

Coconut milk - 16 ounce can (I used light but regular would taste wonderful too)

Zucchini - 1 large zucchini, cut into thin half moons

Yellow squash - 1 small, cut into thin half moons

Tofu (extra firm) - pressed & cut into medium chunks

Soy sauce - 1.5 Tb (I used tamari)

Cherry tomatoes - 1 cup, halved

Red onion - 1/4 a small red onion, slivered

Eggplant (optional) - I had a few baby eggplants that I added this time ( 3 baby eggplants), sliced really thin, like 1/8 an inch.

Fresh basil - chopped (any type if basil will work)

Salt - to taste

* Chop up all your ingredients. Place the squashes, eggplant (if using), and red onion in a bowl together. The tofu & cherry tomatoes can remain separate. Place 1.5 Tb of coconut oil in a large skillet and heat on medium heat. Once the oil is hot add all of your squash mixture. Cook over medium heat for 5-8 mins. Until all the vegetables are tender but still have a little crunch. You don't want them too watery & soft. Dump the vegetables back out into a bowl.

Place the skillet back over heat and add 2 TB of coconut oil. Add in your tofu and cook on high, tossing frequently, until the tofu gets brown & crispy. After about 5 - 10 mins of crisping up the tofu add in the soy sauce & toss to combine. Dump out the tofu into the bowl with the squash. Then return the skillet to medium heat & add in your cherry tomatoes. Cook for a min or two until blistered. Then dump into the bowl with the rest of your veggies.

Then get out a medium pot & heat it over medium high heat. Add in your last TB of coconut oil. Once it is hot add in all of your curry paste. Stir to combine & let bubble for 1 min. Then pour in your coconut milk. Stir to combine and let it cook for a min or two, until the coconut milk starts to bubble around the edges. Then add in your veggie broth. Let cook for a few more mins, until the broth is thoroughly heated through & bubbling. Add in your basil (reserve some basil for the top - if desired) & salt to taste (remember the miso & soy sauce is already pretty salty). Distribute the vegetable/ tofu mixture into four bowls. Distribute the brother into the four bowls evenly. Sprinkle basil on top, if using.

Enjoy!

* If you are saving leftovers, I would store the veggies & the broth in separate containers.

Summer pizzas. A basil + pumpkin seed pesto with cherry tomatoes & a baba ganoush inspired pizza with sweet pepers & arugula

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So much has happened in the last few weeks that it is hard to know where to begin. In short, I was living in Denver, CO, spent a week wandering the desert, drove across the country, and now I'm back living on the east coast in Charlottesville, VA where my current surroundings resemble a rainforest. Things have been dramatically nomadic and I've been absent from this space for too long. Perhaps I am still not ready to explain everything, well, at least my emotions of coming back to the east coast, my mind is still deciding how I feel about it. I can however provide you with some delicious pizza recipes I have been sitting on for a few weeks (sitting on the recipe that is... sitting on pizza for that long would be, erm, um, gross). I figure you need to make these before all our beloved summer veggies disappear. The first pizza, the basil pesto one, was inspired by happyolks, she is a love and so are her recipes. I made my own version of it recalling the beautiful photos in her post. The second was concocted from a desire to use some garden eggplants and my love for baba ganoush (a spread related to hummus but with eggplant instead of chickpeas). The eggplant pizza is amazing, my definite favorite of the two, but... why do you have to pick when you can make both?

I do want to share with you the experience of camping in the desert for a week. The harshness and beauties of the desert are so extreme that I barely feel as if it happened. While you are there, the intensity of emotion and feeling is so strong, that when you look around and there is no one else in sight for miles, you kind of have to question if it is reality.

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The first day was spent driving through western Colorado and pretty much, all of Utah. Utah is a drastically changing landscape. It is as if Utah decided to mimic a rubrics cube throwing on various faces of mountain, desert, farmland, and forests as easily as shifting squares of color. We ended our tour de Utah when we reached Zion National Park, but since we arrived so late in the day all the walk-in tent sites were full. In the state of Utah you can camp anywhere on public land for free and we cozied up on some BLM land near Zion. The skies were beautiful and streaked with meteors during the peak of Perseid meteor shower. Out there the skies are so huge, it appears as if the meteors last longer, their tails slowly fading out instead of quick flicks across the sky. The next day we hiked around Zion and up several miles into the canyon carved out by the Virgin River. Wading up the shaded canyon in the cool waters felt like paradise contrasting against the heat of the desert sun soaked into our skin. I couldn't help but think of pottery while rubbing my hand across the sandstone walls, layers of minerals deposited in a most unique glaze. The Virgin River: master sculptor. 

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WIld buffalo grazing, painted skies, and lush aspen forests were in our future at the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. Did you know the north rim is heavily forested? You could be lost in there for days never guessing you were in Arizona. The Grand Canyon is unbelievable... read it the way some people pronounce it with emphasis... un-be-liev-a-ble. It really is. Standing there the canyon does not only smack you with beauty but with questions of history and expanse of time. I couldn't help but envision the landscape as relatively flat with the snake of blue Colorado River flowing through it and then watch it carve and chip away the layers of earth into the vision I was seeing before me. The temperature was a pleasant 77 degrees and dipped down to 40 during the night as we slept huddled under the branches of aspen and pine, watching shadowy figures of deer grazing nearby through the window of the tent. 

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While driving to Glen Canyon we got sent on a very long, unexpected detour through Arizona. We will call it 'taking the scenic route.' When we reached Glen Canyon we grabbed a forest road map and picked a road the headed towards the water. The road was an unpaved dirt road that criss-crossed over several dry washes and through mini-canyons and opened up to a sandy bank. As the only ones out there; we spilled out of the car and headed straight for the water where we spent the rest of the afternoon. The sky faded into brilliant color over the lake, reflecting a perfect image of the horizon's beauty right back up to the sky as if she were admiring herself in the mirror. We decided to camp out there since we found campfire rings left behind from previous folk. We wished for no rain for the road getting back would be flooded and we'd be stuck until it dried out, and fortunately, luck was on our side. All night long I heard the excited yipping, yapping, and howling of coyotes hunting for rabbits and birds. They get especially loud after making a kill. I've camped and lived around coyotes, hearing them in the night is not a new thing for me, but I've never heard them that closely before or ever that many. I never get tired of listening to them, they are beautiful. 

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I had visions of popping a car tire on the treacherous roads we drove out on the next day, I worried we would be stuck in the desert waiting for someone to come along and rescue us. We would have to drink the melted ice water in our cooler to stay alive and when that ran out I'd be searching for yucca root and we would be half-dead when someone found us. Dramatic? Yes, but that is what my mind does. It took us 4.5 hours to go 40 miles on this dirt road until we finally reached the highway. In the beginning we drove up sandstone mountains to the top of the plateau, the view was phenomenal and terrifying. We realized it was too late to turn around and we were on this road for the long haul, avoiding loose boulders and sharp rocks. The arid landscape stretched on forever and I became very familiar with the twisted and gnarled trunks of juniper and the skeletons of creeks that resurrect during rain. We spent the day and night at Capitol Reef National Park. This place is so appropriately named, I felt like I was walking through a coral reef of red sandstone flecked with lush green plant life exploding from the river, just like tropical fish pop with colors against the unending blue of the sea. Early mormon settlers came to this place and planted acres of orchards, irrigating them with runnels from the river. It seemed surreal, a weird sort of oasis wandering under the dappled shade of apple, pear, apricot, cherry, and peach trees with the views of dry sandstone desert moving into view at the end of the rows. There is so much life and hidden history of the desert.  Despite how harsh the desert is, it can be so life-bringing, so colorful. The bands and palette of reds, browns, and orange that streak through rock faces in layers. The brilliant papery blooms of flowers, the deep greens of foliage and cactus. The grays and whites of dried juniper trunks. Huge flows of green that kiss alongside the rivers, cutting the red landscape into two pieces. Pristine teals of river water paved in every imaginable color with stones sanded into smooth rounds. The skies at all times of the day; the morning with their soft glows of color, mid-day it is an idealistic sky with blues so bright and clouds billowing as if it was ripped from a storybook page, and the sunsets are vibrant bands of color growing more intense until the sun blinks out and the milky-way emerges with not a single artificial light to compete with it.

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I'm continually amazed at the early Pueblo people and other Native American tribes in the four corners, how brilliant and intuitive these people were/are. At the end of our trip we got to spend time at Mesa Verde, I long to be able to live like that. I'm devastated that those civilizations ended and mystified as to why. I'm even more devastated at the ending of later Native American civilizations, and ashamed as to why that happened as someone who comes from both European and Native American descent (like many of us do). The four corners region, culture and landscape is perhaps, one of the oldest regions in the country, the most amazing, and it still feels like a secret.

 

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Recipe (Makes two pizzas)

Pumpkin seed oil. Ok ya'll, you really should get some of this stuff. Not only does it have amazing benefits, especially good for vegetarians as an omega source, but it tastes awesome. It has a deeper, almost smokier flavor, obviously very reminiscent of pumpkin seeds. I get mine from here Mountain Rose Herbs and theirs is cold pressed, organic, and unrefined. In this pesto recipe you can of course substitute the pumpkin seed oil for olive oil, but if you get around too it, try the pumpkin seed!

Quick Dough (For 2 crusts)

All purpose flour - 4 cups
Ground flaxseed - small handful of ground flaxseed (optional)
Flaxseed - A tablespoon or two of whole seeds for look/texture (optional) 
Salt - 1tsp
Active dry yeast - 3TB
Warm water - generous 1 1/2 Cups between 110 degrees and 115 degrees
Sugar - 1TB
Olive oil - 4TB
 
Place warm water, sugar, and yeast in a bowl and whisk until dissolved. Set it aside for 5-10 minutes until it begins to foam. Meanwhile mix together the flour, flaxseed, and salt. Then add the olive oil into the water/yeast mixture. Make a well in the flour and pour in the water/yeast/oil mixture. Slowly stir together until moist and knead until slightly tacky but not sticky. Adjusting with a little flour or water as needed. Knead with your hands on a floured surface for about 5-10 minutes. Place the ball of dough back into an oiled bowl, cover with a cloth and let sit in a warm place for about 2 hours or until doubled. Meanwhile prepare the pizza toppings. After two hours, turn the dough out, divide it in two. Also, a recommendation is to make the eggplant pizza first, since the eggplant needs to cook first.
 
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Baba Ganoush, sweet pepper, and arugula salad pizza.

Eggplant - 1 small/medium eggplant. 

Lemon juice - 2 lemons

Tahini - 3TB

Olive oil - about 1/4 cup plus extra for drizzling

Salt/pepper - to taste

Sweet peppers - 6-8 sweet peppers chopped into slivers

Fresh cilantro - small handfull

Fresh arugula - 3-4 handfuls

Feta - 4TB (optional) 

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place the whole eggplant in the oven on a baking sheet on the top rack and place another baking sheet filled with hot water on the bottom rack. Bake the eggplant for 30-40 minuets. Meanwhile chop up your sweet peppers into slivers. Remove the eggplant and let it cool until you can handle it. After you take the eggplant out, reset the oven temperature to 500 degrees. Once you can handle the eggplant, peel the skin off and discard the skin except for a few, small pieces. Add in the eggplant and few skin pieces into a food processor or blender along with juice of 1.5 lemons, tahini, and salt. Drizzle in olive oil while blending and stop when it has reached a consistency similar to hummus. 

Roll out your pizza dough on a flourd surface and transfer to a baking sheet. Spread over the eggplant spread (baba ganoush), top with the slivers of sweet peppers, then sprinkle over feta (omit for vegan), and then sprinkle over cilantro. Rub the crust edges with olive oil and then bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes or until golden. Meanwhile massage the fresh arugula in a bowl with the rest of the lemon juice, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt/pepper. Once the pizza comes out of the oven top it with the fresh arugula. All ready to be eaten!

 
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Summer pesto and tomato pizza

Fresh basil - I packed a 5ounce salad green container with basil from my garden and used that much. So about 5oz weighed.

Arugula - I had a few, large, spicy arugula leaves in my garden so I threw those in. About 1 small handful. (optional)

Garlic - 4 cloves, chopped

Pine nuts - 1/3 cup

Pumpkin seed oil - 1/4 cup plus a little extra for drizzling

Salt/pepper to taste - go light on the salt since you are adding cheese to the pizza, which is salty

Cherry tomatoes - 2cups, generous, sliced in half. Feel free to use more or less.. I just purchased so many. 

Fresh mozzarella - 8ounces or to preference.  

Fresh pepper - cracked over top.

Preheat your oven to 500. Throw the basil, arugula, garlic, pine nuts, and pumpkin seed oil in a food processor or blender. Blend until smooth. Drizzling in a little extra oil as needed. Taste and adjust for salt/pepper. Set the pesto aside and slice your tomatoes. Roll out your pizza dough on a floured surface, I rolled mine out to fit a baking sheet since I did not have my pizza stones in Denver. Transfer your dough to the baking sheet. Spread over the pesto, I was generous with the amount but I had pesto left over. Spread the cherry tomatoes halves evenly and then tops with tears of mozzarella. Rub the crust edges with a little olive oil (optional). Bake in the oven 10-15 minutes until the pizza is golden brown. Crack over some black pepper and enjoy! 

 

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Borrani Banjan

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Heavy air, dew drenched leaves, forests filled with cicadas and fireflies. The east coast can be a magical place. Especially, the south. Salty costal air, wise old mountains covered in blankets of poplar, oak, and pine, summers bring the juiciest tomatoes, crisp pods of okra, and the sweetest peaches. I'm enamored with the world, traveling is a love affair with the experience and the new perspectives it brings. I've been to more continents than I have not, seen many of our states on both sides of the country, and called quite a number of places home. My collection of experiences is far from complete but, slowly, I feel the call and yearning for the east coast. The other day I glanced through a magazine and inside was a set of gorgeous pictures from Charlottesville, VA, the place I was living before Denver. The pictures were taken at the gardens where I use to intern and I remember being there that morning when the photo shoot was in motion. I didn't pay too much attention to the shoot and I glanced through that magazine purely by chance. Yet, it awoke something in me. I took for granted the beautiful views of the rolling mountains fading into a soft blue. I knew I loved it, I just didn't realize how much. 

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This dish, Borrani Banjan, is an Afghan dish that we regularly ordered from our favorite restaurant back in Virginia. An Afghan restaurant called Arianna's. My version is a bit thicker and less oily but still uses a generous amount of oil. It's the perfect dish for my current mood. Something to remind me of home, but also a dish that draws near a foreign culture, balancing a love for home and a love of the afar. Borrani Banjan is traditionally a friend eggplant dish severed in an oily tomato pureé, drizzled with a yogurt sauce and eaten with warm, Afghan bread called Nan. I made a few modifications so it wasn't quite as oily, and I baked the eggplant instead of frying. 

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Now a quick word about oils and fats. Oils and fats are good for you, hear me scream it from the rooftops! You need fats, they are essential for your body to process certain nutrient and proteins, good fats do not increase unhealthy cholesterol. Actually, they help lower you unhealthy cholesterol and increase your good cholesterol (HDL). Good cholesterol is needed to build cells and produce hormones. Oils/fats are all different and since most of us use oil in almost everything we cook, even if it is just a little, you need to pay some attention to what oil you are using. So most cooking oils are in the category of good fats which are monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats although they aren't all equal. I typically always use organic extra virgin olive oil and I look for oils that have been first-pressed and cold-pressed because this oil will have the highest percentage of monounsaturated fat, the good type of fat. I want it cold-pressed because heat breaks down oils turning them rancid and creating free-radicals, which destroy your body, essentially, by aging you. I don't want my oils to have ever been heated before I use them.

I typically like to use olive oil on no higher than medium heat so I do not break it down. This brings me to coconut oils, which is a saturated fat. Wait? A saturated fat? Yes, saturated fats typically are bad fats, but tropical oils (coconut oil) do not contain or contribute to LDL (unhealthy cholesterol), they are the exception to the rule. Coconut oil is also solid at room temperature, and it takes a higher heat to break coconut oil down. It is why I tend to use coconut oil for all my high-heat needs. Plus, its really tasty. When looking for coconut oil make sure you do not buy a hydrogenated version, and look for a virgin/organic version. I know, oils can be pricey, but really... this one is all about your health, you use it in everything. The very best coconut oil I have ever had is from Mountain Rose Herbs. It is very fragrant, more fragrant than any coconut oil I've had, and tastes fantastic. There is no comparison to the brands found in the store, plus, for the quantity and quality, the price is better than store versions. After I tried their coconut oil (virgin unrefined), I'll never go back, here is the link to their coconut oils.

Enough of me talking about fats... my fat, your fat, all the fat! yay! 

Now lets get down to business with this Afghan food!  You might want to have the bread made before making the eggplant dish and then reheat before serving. Just lower the oven temperature to 400degrees after making the bread to get ready for the next step.

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Bread (Nan)

I slightly modified the recipe from here . Usually this bread is cooked in a tandoori oven so this is an adaption of the traditional version.

Bread flour - 5 cups

Salt - 2tsp

Active dry yeast - 1TB or 1 packet

Water - 2 cups warm water (between 105-115degrees) 

Olive oil - 5TB

Honey - 2tsp

Dissolve the honey and yeast into the warm water in a bowl and set aside 5-10 minutes, it should start to bubble and froth up.  Meanwhile mix together the flour and salt in a large bowl. After the yeast mixture as frothed up add in the oil. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and add the water/oil mixture gently. Stir the mixture together with a big wooden spoon working from the center out but the mixture is solid enough to work with your hands. Knead for about 10 minutes. Place into a oiled bowl and cover with a cloth and leave in a warm place for 2 hours. Preheat your oven to 500 degrees with a greased baking sheet or stone inside. Punch the dough down, divide dough into six balls, and flour the work surface. Roll each dough into an oil with a rolling pin and stretching with your hands until they are between 1/4inch - 1/2inch thick. If desired you can mist the bread and then sprinkle over some black sesame seeds. Once the oven is hot, remove the pan or stone and place the bread on top and then return the stone to the oven. Cook for about 5 minutes, check, and then cook 5 more minutes. The break should be slightly golden.

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Recipe (Serves 4 as a meal - nice served with a salad) 

Eggplants - 2 small/medium, sliced into very thin rounds

Yellow onion - 1/2, slivered

Tomatoes - 4 medium, chunked

Tomato paste - 6oz can

Garlic - 5 cloves, minced

Coconut oil - 1/4 cup plus extra for brushing

Olive oil - Scant 1/4 cup

Good quality curry powder - 3-4TB I used curry from here if I don't make my own. 

Yogurt - plain, whole fat, about 1/4cup

Mint - fresh, 3-4TB, minced

Salt -  to taste

Chop up all your veggies and have them ready and then mix together the yogurt, 1 clove of minced garlic, mint, and a pinch of salt. Set aside for later.

Heat your oven to 400 degrees. Lay the eggplant slices onto a baking sheet, brushing each side with coconut oil. Bake in the oven for about 8 minutes on each side. Meanwhile, heat the coconut oil on medium high heat in a large, deep, skillet. Add in the rest of the garlic and the onions. Cook for 3-5 minutes until fragrant and beginning to soften. Add in the tomatoes.  Cook for about 10 minutes and then add in the tomato paste. Stir until combined. Cook for several more minutes. Pour the mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Dump back into the skillet on medium heat. Add in the curry powder and generous 1/2tsp of salt. Cook for a few minutes and then taste and adjust for the spices. Drizzle in the olive oil and stir. Add in the baked eggplant and stir to coat. 

Pour the eggplant mixture onto a platter and drizzle over the yogurt sauce and then garnish with a bit more mint, if desired.  Serve spooned over the nan.

Oh-My-Oh-So-Good.

 

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