Category Archives: Vegetable Side

Not a salad or a soup, but vegetables that would typically be served along with a main dish.

Mediterranean Dinner, Part 2

I’m a little delayed in getting to this, but here is a description of the other treats that I prepared as part of a Mediterranean dinner I hosted last month. As you’ll recall from the previous post, the main dish was a beef and lamb stew served over creamy eggplant.

I started the meal with a beet and lentil soup, recipe online here – I made it without the dumplings since it was for an appetizer.


Along with the main dish, I also served a warm zucchini and yogurt salad, recipe online here.


And for dessert, I used shredded phyllo dough, or kataifi, to make a dessert from “Baking at Home” cookbook by the Culinary Institute of America. You can find kataifi at some middle eastern grocery stories (including Neomonde here locally in Raleigh). Out of the box it basically looks like fresh vermicelli noodles.

kataifi box

The dessert started with a classic pastry cream. Dates and pistachios were folded in, and the filling was rolled into a kataifi crust and baked until crisp. It was served on a plate with a light lemon sauce, which added a nice tang.

filled kataifi

It was a fun and unique meal, and I think everyone enjoyed it!  I know I had fun putting together the recipes, and I always appreciate guests who are willing to be guinea pigs for some new concoctions :)

dinner guests


Creamy Eggplant – Mediterranean Dinner, part 1

Every year, our church has a fundraiser auction to raise money for our youth group. This year, I planned a Mediterranean 3-course dinner and auctioned off seats for five guests to join me for the meal.  I’ll share the menu in two parts.

I’m going to start with the new main dish that I learned from this meal, called Sultan’s Delight – a creamy eggplant base topped with lamb stew.

This is a different way of cooking eggplant, and it made a wonderful creamy puree that everyone loved. It was probably the most talked-about part of the meal. This dish could sway even those folks out there who don’t think they like eggplant.  I followed the recipe on a blog called Almost Turkish Recipes, the only change that I made was in the preparation of the eggplant after roasting. Where it called to mash the eggplant with a fork, mine was pretty stringy so I went ahead and pureed it in a blender, which resulted in a very smooth end product.

eggplant bechamel

After roasting and mashing/pureeing the eggplant, you make a creamy bechamel sauce and mix it in with the eggplant.  The other addition is a turkish cheese called kashkaval. I was able to find this cheese at our local Lebanese restaurant & grocery, Neomonde. It is a sheep’s milk cheese, very mild flavored and soft enough to melt into the dish.

In Sultan’s Delight, this creamy eggplant puree is topped with a tomato lamb stew.  I need to find a better place to buy lamb meat, but what I found this time was a stew meat.  Unfortunately, there was very little meat on the bone. I also found the stew as listed on the blog linked above to be less flavorful than I wanted. So I made some adjustments, here’s a summary (I don’t have amounts, since I was just making it up as I went, sorry!).

I browned the lamb meat, onions and green pepper, and added the tomatoes, tomato paste and water to stew the lamb for 1 hour as described in the other blog. Then I extracted the meat and cooled it down so that I could pick off the meat. When I saw that there was not enough meat and it didn’t seem tomato-y enough, I started over by browning beef chunks. To this, I added more tomato paste and added back the rich lamb broth (bones do add a lovely depth of flavor) and the bit of lamb meat that I had extracted. It was stewed down for awhile and then reheated the day of the dinner, which resulted in a tender and flavorful topping for the eggplant.

sultan's delight

Black-eyed Peas in Coconut milk

Black-eyed peas are one of those overlooked ingredients that I rarely cook with but always enjoy. Here’s another adaptation of a dish from Marcus Samuelsson’s “The Soul of a New Cuisine”.  Starting with dried beans makes this an economical side dish, and I’m eating it with pork and collard greens for the full ‘Southern’ effect :)

black eyed peas
Coconut Black-Eyed Peas

1 cup dried black-eyed peas
1/4 cup butter or spiced butter (niter kibbeh)
1/2 white onion, chopped
3-4 Roma tomatoes, seeded and diced
1 green chile pepper or jalapeno, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1 cup coconut milk
2 tsp. Berbere spice (or 1 1/2 tsp. chili powder + 1/2 tsp. ground cumin)
1 cup chicken or vegetable stock
1/2 tsp. salt, plus more to taste
Cilantro, to garnish

Soak the dried black-eyed peas in cold water for 8 hours or overnight. Drain the black-eyed peas, add new water and simmer for 45 minutes until tender. Drain and set aside.

In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat and add the onion, chile pepper, and tomatoes. Saute for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, ginger, coconut milk and chili powder or Berbere. Stir briefly to combine. Then add the stock and bring to a boil. Simmer uncovered for 20-30 minutes (this can be done while you are cooking the black-eyed peas).

When the sauce is thickened, add the drained black-eyed peas and salt to taste. Simmer for another 20 minutes until the liquid is mostly absorbed and the flavors are well-blended. This could be served as a side dish, or on top of rice for a main dish.

Spiced Semi-mashed Vegetables

I enjoy reading cookbooks, and The Soul of a New Cuisine by Marcus Samuelsson was a fun one this weekend. Samuelsson was born in Ethiopia and raised in Sweden, and brings both of those cultures into his cooking. This cookbook is focused on fusion/modernized recipes stemming from African tradition.

The first one I decided to try was this riff on irio – a mashed potato dish with corn and peas. I really like the idea of a mashed potato that isn’t completely smooth, but has some chunks in it.  And this recipe is even better because it involves spices and uses sweet potato instead of white potato. Here’s my adaptation.

Spiced Semi-mashed Vegetables
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cubed
3 garlic cloves, peeled

Toss with 2 Tbsp. peanut or vegetable oil and roast at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Remove the garlic and continue roasting until sweet potato is tender and just starting to brown – about 25 more minutes. Then add the garlic back.


Mash with a fork or spoon in a bowl. Don’t worry about this getting completely smooth. Set aside.


3 Tbsp. butter (or Ethiopian spiced butter is even better, there are multiple recipes out there on the web)
2 Tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 large carrot, diced
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 jalapeno or other green chile, seeded and minced
1 1/2 cups frozen green beans, thawed briefly in boiling water
1+ tsp. Berbere, Ras el hanout, or any favorite spice blend, to taste
Salt, to taste

Heat the butter in a saute pan over medium heat, add the ginger, carrot, onion, and jalapeno. Stir and saute until onion is translucent and carrot is cooked. Add the green beans and spice blend and continue to cook and stir until everything is cooked. If you like your vegetables well-cooked, you can add a bit of water and simmer to cook further. Personally, I prefer my veggies ‘snappy’, so I didn’t do that step!

Then add the sweet potato mash back into the pan, stir well, and season with salt. This recipe makes enough for 4 hearty servings as a side dish.

final dish

Homemade Kimchi

As I mentioned in a previous post, there are over 150 cataloged different kinds of kimchi. However, the most common, traditional kimchi is the one made with Napa cabbage. Since the process is rather lengthy, the long MLK weekend seemed a good time to attempt it. I’ll share this recipe step-wise with photos.


Step 1 – Cut one large napa cabbage into quarters. Wash it under running water. Sprinkle between all the leafy layers with a total of 1/2 c. coarse sea salt or kosher salt. Place in a large pot or bowl and add water until just covering the cabbage. Top with something heavy to weigh down the cabbage under the liquid. Let it sit for about 8 hours or overnight.

rice paste

Step 2 – Meanwhile, make a rice paste, which is the base for the kimchi paste that flavors the kimchi. Whisk together 1/2 c. sweet rice flour (also called glutinous rice flour, available at Asian markets) with 1 c. water. Whisk continually over high heat until it just begins to thicken, then remove it from the heat, whisk until smooth, and allow to cool.

kimchi paste

Step 3 – Blend together the cooled rice paste with the following;

3/4 c. Korean red pepper flakes
1/4 c. fish sauce
1 tsp. minced fresh ginger
1/4 c. minced garlic
1/4 c. sugar
4 tsp. salt
3 c. water
1/4 c. minced onion

kimchi paste final

Step 4 – Into the seasoned paste, add the following;

2 oz. each mustard greens and watercress, cut into thin ribbons
1 bunch green onions, sliced into small pieces
1 daikon radish, peeled and grated

Step 5 – After 8 hours of soaking, remove the cabbage quarters from the salt water and rinse 2 or 3 times under running water to remove salt. Place in a colander to drain for at least 30 minutes. What we’re trying to do here is remove as much water from the cabbage as possible. Mine still ended up getting pretty watery as it fermented, so next time I plan to make sure the water is very salty and let it sit in the salt water for 10-12 hours.

spreading paste

Step 6 – Wearing latex gloves to protect your hands from the pepper sauce, rub the prepared kimchi sauce in between each layer of the cabbage, making sure to cover all the surfaces. A video on the Aerie’s Kitchen website does a good job of showing the process.

final kimchi

Step 7 – The first recipe that I looked at called for a 1-gallon glass jar, or 4 quart jars, but I don’t have that many glass jars. You can buy the quart size in the canning section, but then you have to purchase 12 jars at a time!  So I followed the advice of another recipe that suggested using freezer bags. I packed all four quarters into one gallon-sized freezer bag and zipped it closed, trying to remove as much of the air as possible. Then I double-bagged it just in case there was any leaking.

The recipes suggested to let the kimchi sit at room temperature for 24-36 hours to start the fermentation process. I went with 36 hours since my house is cooler right now in the winter. Then put the kimchi in the refrigerator for another week before opening it up to taste.

Adapted from: Discovering Korean Cuisine, ed. Allisa Park

Update from a few days later:  The plastic freezer bag worked ok, but still allowed the strong smell of the kimchi to permeate the kitchen. I was worried that it would affect the flavor of everything in my refrigerator, so ended up transferring it over to a smaller quart canning jar, a freezer box and a glass bowl with lid (both put into plastic bags too.  This seemed to help contain the smell.

The kimchi itself is pretty tasty though not overly spicy. Now that I know what has gone into it I appreciate it more than I did previously. I’ll be trying a couple of recipes that use kimchi as a main ingredient, and will show you more photos of the final product in that future post.

Beets with cherry sauce (Charkhlis Chogi)

Now I know how many of you were probably turned off already by that first word – beets. But I also know that if the only beets you ever tried are out of a can or sliced real thick and boiled for a couple of hours – you haven’t had REAL beets!  Please — give beets a chance :)

We have an old family photo of my brother as a toddler, his face covered with red beet juice, a testament to how much we loved this vegetable as children. Yet I absolutely hated those imposters they served at the school cafeteria. The trick is in the cooking method. Slicing them up and boiling them for a long time just pulls out all the natural sugars that make this vegetable so delicious. There’s also some kind of weird flavor that develops during that method and the canning process, it’s not good. But I love beets cooked the way my mother would make them for us as children.

Get some fresh beets, peel them and coarsely grate them (as large of a grater setting as you have). Add a bit of water and steam them gently for just a few minutes. With a little butter and salt, you’ll think you’re eating a whole different vegetable! And all those amazing nutrients are still in there too. While you’re at it, make sure you choose a bunch of beets that is fresh enough to have usable beet greens. These are great just sliced up into ribbons and sauteed with onion and a bit of balsamic vinegar.

The other way to cook beets and retain their flavor is by roasting them. Last spring, I posted a great recipe that involved cutting beets into cubes, roasting them in a single layer and then topping with feta cheese. This week, I made one more Georgian vegetable dish, Charkhlis Chogi – beets roasted whole, then peeled and sliced, and topped with a sauce made from tart dried cherries. I decided to use yellow beets because of the color contrast, but also because Whole Foods had some seriously large yellow beets with nice looking greens. Beets are usually sold by the bunch, so I usually go for the large ones – you might think they’d be tough or woody at a larger size, but I haven’t found that to be true, other than perhaps a slightly thicker skin to peel off.

Beets w/Cherry Sauce (Charkhlis Chogi)
1 lb. beets, unpeeled but scrubbed clean (3 or 4 good-sized beets)
1 Tbsp. butter
1 onion, chopped
1/3 c. tart dried cherries
2/3 c. water
1/4 c. minced fresh herbs (dill, cilantro, parsley)
Sea salt, to taste

First, heat the oven to 375F and roast the cleaned beets on a rimmed baking tray. I cut mine in half from root to stem just because they were so large and I wanted to make sure they wouldn’t take forever (placed cut-side down on the tray). Roast for about 1 hour until fork tender.

Meanwhile, saute the onion in butter for a few minutes until soft and starting to brown. Add water and cherries and reduce to a simmer for about 15 minutes. Remove from heat and blend/puree this together to make the cherry sauce, putting back on the stove for a few minutes to simmer and reduce if it seems too liquid.

When the beets are tender, you may want to let them cool just a little before handling. Peel and slice the beets thinly, then top with cherry sauce and fresh herbs. Grate some fresh sea salt on top, to taste. Or, mix it all together and serve as a salad. This dish seems to have the best flavor at room temperature or even slightly chilled.

Georgia on my Mind

During a quick browse through the library’s cookbook section a couple of days ago, I ran across a book called The Georgian Feast, by Darra Goldstein. Immediately intrigued at how Georgian food might be distinguished from other (formerly) Russian cuisines (which overall I know embarassingly little about…) I started skimming the recipes. I’ve recently been thinking about getting back into Persian cuisine, and these recipes use similar ingredients and spices – and even similar names for some of the dishes, while also drawing heavily from Turkish influence. So I decided to give it a try!

Here’s a description of my first Georgian meal of yogurt soup, broiled salmon with a pickled onion relish, and sauteed cauliflower with egg.

The salmon dish (Uraguli Dzmarshi) was fairly simple – salmon was rubbed with black pepper and crushed bay leaves and left to sit and ‘marinate’ for a few minutes. It was supposed to be grilled, but since it was already dark outside and I haven’t fired up the grill yet this spring, I decided to cook it under a low broiler. Meanwhile, raw chopped onion was simmered for 15 minutes in a mixture of vinegar, water and salt. The fish was cooked briefly in the vinegar after it had reduced and then served with the sour onion relish.

The yogurt soup (Matsvnis Shechamandi) was an easy, vegetarian dish – with very little fat when prepared as I did with nonfat plain yogurt.

Yogurt Soup
2 c. plain yogurt
1 Tbsp. flour
pinch of salt
1 c. water
2 Tbsp. butter or canola oil
1 onion, chopped
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbsp. cilantro, minced
1 Tbsp. mint, minced
1/3 c. cooked rice

Stir together the yogurt, flour and salt until mostly blended. Add the water and whisk briefly to remove any lumps and fully incorporate water.  Saute the onion in butter or oil over medium heat until translucent but not browned. Add the yogurt mixture and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer uncovered for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Carefully whisk some of the hot yogurt mixture into the eggs, and then whisk the egg mixture into the soup. Simmer just a few more minutes, as you can see in the photo this thickens the soup. Immediately before serving, stir in the rice and herbs. Serve warm or at room temperature.

To round out the meal – and this was my favorite dish of the three – I prepared a cauliflower Chirbuli. Chirbuli is described as often involving a variety of vegetables mixed together, with beaten eggs stirred in at the last minute. Goldstein states a preference for focusing on one vegetable at a time, so I decided to try the cauliflower first. It was delicious, especially with the slow caramelization of the onion and cauliflower. I think this technique would be easy to do with any leftover steamed vegetables that don’t already have much flavor added. The original recipe called for a whole stick of butter, but I substituted canola oil for half to keep it just a bit more healthy. The butter taste still shone through nicely.

Cauliflower with Egg
1 lb. cauliflower, cut into small florets
2 onions, chopped
4 Tbsp. butter
4 Tbsp. canola oil
2 Tbsp. cilantro, minced
1/4 c. Italian parsley, minced
2 eggs, beaten
salt and pepper to taste

Steam the cauliflower until starting to get tender, but still crunchy (I did this in the microwave about 5 minutes). Meanwhile, slowly saute onions over medium heat in half the canola oil and butter (2 Tbsp. each), until they are starting to brown nicely. Stir in the steamed cauliflower and remaining butter and oil. Continue slowly cooking and stirring regularly, until cauliflower is just tender, about 10 minutes. Just at the end of cooking, stir in eggs and herbs and continually toss the cauliflower while the eggs cook and coat the vegetables. Don’t overcook or the eggs will get tough. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.