Warm Eggplant and Zucchini Salad

Cooked eggplant and zucchini salad topped with beetroot hummus, Greek yogurt and chilies. The salad is in a large white bowl, garnished with a sprig of mint, and laid out on a black and white striped tablecloth.

This gorgeous summery recipe is the very definition of food flexibility; it can be a warm, silky soft salad or a rustic, satisfyingly chunky dip. Eggplant and zucchini are sliced into fat rounds and pan-fried in a hot cast iron pan or, for all my lucky readers who have access to a barbecue, grilled outdoors. Add plenty of fresh herbs, pickled red onions, capers, and a zesty red wine vinegar dressing and the result you’re left with is a dish that’s equally perfect for lazily eating at a beach picnic or for picking away at while anxiously watching Sharp Objects in the dark (literally to prevent bugs from flying into my apartment and metaphorically, just how is this show going to wrap up without any loose ends?) What this recipe does require is time; time to let the vegetables reach the warmish side of room temperature, time to let the flavours mingle, and time to decide what you’re going to serve with this salad. In the picture above I’m leaning towards a more salad-like interpretation of the recipe, serving it with a generous dollop of Greek yogurt and beetroot hummus. If you’re planning on using this recipe as a warm eggplant and zucchini dip I gently (but fervently) urge you to buy the freshest pita bread you can find (or make your own if you’re a fan of homemade baking projects) to use for scooping up big piles of the stuff.

warm eggplant and zucchini salad:

1/4 cup (plus a little bit more) olive oil

1 Japanese eggplant, sliced into 1/2″ rounds on the diagonal*

2 zucchini, sliced into 1/2″ rounds on the diagonal*

1/2 large red onion, cut into thin half-moon slices

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

1/2 cup fresh mint, loosely torn

1/2 cup fresh basil, loosely torn

2 Tbsp. capers, roughly chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

Pinch dried red chili flakes

Kosher or Maldon salt, to taste

Freshly cracked pepper, to taste

*Slicing the vegetables on the diagonal will create more surface area for them to cook.

  1. Add 1/4 cup of olive oil to a large cast-iron or stainless steel skillet. Warm over medium-high heat until the oil just begins to sizzle.
  2. Working in batches, pan-fry the sliced eggplant and zucchini until golden brown on each side. The eggplant will soak up a lot of oil, so you may need to add extra in between batches. Don’t crowd the skillet, the eggplant and zucchini pieces shouldn’t touch each other. Remove the vegetables from the hot oil and drain on pieces of paper towel.
  3. In a large bowl, toss together the red onion slices and red wine vinegar. Set aside.
  4. When the eggplant and zucchini are cool enough to handle, cut them into a rough dice. Add them to the red onion and red wine vinegar mixture.
  5. Gently fold in the rest of the ingredients, tasting for seasoning before and after the salad has had a chance to sit. Let the salad marinate for at least 20 minutes and up to 24 hours before eating.

So we went to see Beach House on Sunday night at The Orpheum (my favourite concert venue in town!) and I’m SO glad we got there early enough to catch the opener, Sound of Ceres. In fact, I think I preferred the Sound of Ceres show out of the two performances; the visuals, the sound, and the vibe were 100 percent gorgeous. They reminded me of so many of my loves: Broadcast, Slowdive, Elizabeth Fraser, The Ruby Suns, and Royksöpp. If you love ethereal, space-aged dream pop then give everything else they’ve made a listen, it’s a total pleasure and a treat.

Sound of Ceres – Ember Age

Halloumi Salad with Roasted Red and Jalapeño Peppers, Pickled Red Onions, and Mint

Halloumi Salad with Roasted Red and Jalapeño Peppers, Pickled Red Onions, and Mint in a long, white serving dish on a white background.

As some of you may already know, I love halloumi cheese. This halloumi salad is, in fact, a natural progression from my recipe for Slow Roasted Sweet Pepper and Baked Halloumi Salad with Oregano and Chilies. This version adds smokey-sweet roasted jalapeño peppers, bright pink pickled red onions, and lots of fresh mint and basil to bring the salad together. Just in case you’re wondering, “is it ludicrous to add feta cheese to a baked cheese salad?” I’ll admit that you’d be correct in thinking this is too much cheese but for this recipe I use ultra-creamy (and only mildly salty) Macedonian feta. Surprisingly, the addition of creamy feta really brings the whole salad together (you can also use chèvre if you prefer.) If you have access to a barbecue on this fine Canada Day weekend (which I sadly do not) you can grill the peppers and halloumi, just make sure to brush everything with some oil before you begin. I like to let this halloumi salad sit for a good 30 minutes before serving at room temperature, this gives all the separate ingredients the chance to mingle and develop while you have a much-needed glass of wine or a cold beer. This halloumi salad recipe stands on its own as a main dish or you can serve it the way I prefer, with plenty of other dishes (think corn on the cob, a big green salad, olives, roasted chicken, marinated artichokes, potato salad, etc.)

halloumi salad with roasted red and jalapeño peppers, pickled red onions, and mint:

4 large sweet peppers

4 jalapeño peppers

1 + 1 Tbsp. grapeseed oil

1 medium-sized red onion, cut in half and then into thin slices

Juice of 2 limes

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

2 packages of halloumi

1/2 cup fresh mint, roughly chopped

 1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped

1/2 cup crumbled Macedonian feta

Freshly cracked pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Add the red onion slices to a bowl and toss with the juice of 2 limes and 2 tablespoons of red wine vinegar.
  3. Pierce each pepper with a sharp paring knife (both sweet and spicy), this will prevent any accidental pepper explosions in your oven. Rub the peppers with 1 tablespoon of grapeseed oil and evenly spread out on a baking sheet.
  4. Roast the whole peppers, turning occasionally, for 45 minutes. They should be evenly charred on the outside.
  5. Carefully remove the peppers from the oven and transfer them to a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a large plate. Set aside.
  6. Slice the halloumi lengthwise into pieces that are about 1-2 centimetres thick (or about the thickness of your pinky finger.) Add the remaining grapeseed oil to a large rimmed baking sheet.
  7. Cover the halloumi slices with the oil in baking sheet, turning once or twice to evenly coat.
  8. Bake the halloumi in the same hot oven as the peppers for 10-15 minutes, turning once. The cheese should soften and spread only slightly, halloumi will keep its shape when heated. Remove the halloumi from the oven and set aside.
  9. Go back to the roasted peppers. Remove the plastic wrap or plate and carefully peel away the charred skin (it should come off easily, use gloves if you feel more comfortable.) Using a sharp knife, cut the peppers into large thirds or halves and lay flat.
  10. To assemble the salad alternate slices of halloumi, roasted peppers, and pickled onion. I like to do this on a flat, narrow serving platter but any serving dish will work.
  11. Drizzle the remaining red onion pickling liquid over the layered salad. Top with crumbled Macedonian feta, fresh mint and basil, and freshly cracked pepper.
  12. Allow the salad to sit for 30 minutes before serving at room temperature.

Halloumi Salad with Roasted Red and Jalapeño Peppers, Pickled Red Onions, and Mint in a narrow white serving dish on a white tablecloth.

There’s something really calming about Kurt Vile’s music, it’s almost like listening to someone talk to themselves for a prolonged amount of time (and I talk to myself all day long since I work from home, alone.) It’s good, twangy summer music, too; even on a cold rainy day like today. At the very least it makes me feel like there’s a warm end in sight (and I hope that’s true, because I really want to go to the beach!)

Kurt Vile – Was All Talk

 

 

 

Minced Pork with Fiery Chilies and Fresh Herbs

Round white bowl with white rice, minced pork, chili sauce, and fresh herbs.

I’m totally enamoured with the combination of cooling mint and scorching chili heat that so often pops up in Southeast Asian food. Admittedly, I seem to have an affinity for anything that guarantees a fiery finish but the addition of fresh mint turns the wonderful into the sublime. If I had my way, I’d eat food like this constantly in the summer, although I’m usually not so cruelly forced to make my own version; eating out at Vietnamese restaurants is risky business with a peanut allergy. Because of this risk factor, my versions of traditional restaurants are often bastardized versions of a bastardized version. That is to say, completely inauthentic. This version of Vietnamese pork larb is a joke of a recipe if you’ve tried the original, but let’s just say I had the original loosely floating around in my mind when I first made this. I also don’t usually serve it in lettuce wraps, but on a bed of jasmine rice which I put in my rice cooker before I begin making this recipe. The nice thing about this recipe, if you’re cooking for only one or two people, is that it makes some very handy leftovers for future use. I’ve even gone a step further down the bastardization chain and made a version of Southeast Asian-inspired soft tacos with shredded cabbage, pickled red onions and shredded carrots, Greek yogurt, and heaping handfuls of fresh mint, basil, and cilantro. I also use up leftovers for bright little lunches to tide me over until I can get outside in the sun (or rain, which in some ways I love even more). Whether I make this for dinner and it gets eaten immediately or I pack it up for lunch, I always add several more heaping spoonfuls of Sambal Oelek, although it’s entirely up to you how much extra heat you’d like to add (if any).

minced pork with fiery chilies and fresh herbs:

1 lb. minced pork

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil

3 Tbsp. soy sauce

3-4 cloves of garlic, minced

1-2 tsp. fish sauce

2 Tbsp. Sambal Oelek

Freshly cracked pepper

1 Tbsp. packed brown sugar

Juice of 1-3 fresh limes (use 1 if you’re lucky enough to use a juicy lime, use 3 if they’re duds – or just use bottled lime juice)

3 or more bird’s eye chilies, sliced thinly with the seeds

1-2 bunches of scallions, white and green parts sliced thinly

Lots of roughly chopped fresh mint, cilantro, and Thai basil (regular works just as well)

  1. In a large skillet heat up the vegetable oil over medium heat and add the ground pork or chicken. Break it up a little bit with a spatula and add the soy sauce, garlic, fish sauce, Sambal Oelek, lots of freshly cracked pepper, brown sugar, lime juice, chilies, and scallions.
  2. Allow the meat to cook, stirring occasionally. Let the liquid evaporate almost completely until you have a small amount of sticky and very flavourful sauce left and the meat is fragrant.
  3. Serve over steamed rice or in lettuce wraps, topped with heaping amounts of fresh herbs and extra Sambal Oelek.

DSC_0354

Gosh, I have such a soft spot for 4AD Records! And Ultra Vivid Scene! And Kim Deal! Luckily for me, they’re all together in this happy little song. I’m going through my annual summer obsession with The Breeders, Belly,Lush, and Throwing Muses – I feel right at home in my flower print button up sun dresses and Ultra Vivid Scene playing while I cook and dance around the kitchen.

Ultra Vivid Scene – Special One

Watermelon, Feta and Mint Salad

This past weekend I saw people walking around in winter coats and toques; I live a ten minute walk from this pool and I haven’t even entertained the thought of going for a swim since it opened in May- in short, this has been one freezing cold summer so far. Maybe it’s because I lived right under the Golden Horseshoe but I haven’t even come close to buying the same amount of local produce here in Vancouver than I would be in London right now (then again, London doesn’t have that pool.) The green is so absolutely emerald against the red onions turned deep fuschia after a lime bath, the olives and salty feta tasting that much more piquant in contrast to the sublime crunch of the watermelon. A simpler way to say all that would be that this salad embodies an ideal summer – trips to the beach, swimming in a neighbourhood pool, outdoor parties, etc. Make sure that the watermelon is very cold when you serve this, the other ingredients can be at room temperature. This recipe was originally from Nigella Lawson’s Forever Summer cookbook (my favourite cook book of all time I think, as far as visual presentation and readability goes.)

watermelon, feta and mint salad:

Juice of 4 limes

1 medium red onion, sliced into thin half-moons

1 mini watermelon, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 bunch of mint, roughly chopped

1 generous cup of crumbled feta, I use cow’s milk feta but you might like goat or sheep’s milk feta

1/2 cup of black olives, left whole or sliced

3 Tbsp. light tasting olive oil

Black pepper

1. Combine the red onions and lime juice in a small bowl, allow them to marinate anywhere from 1 to 5 hours.

2. Place all of the ingredients in a large bowl or on a platter. Gently toss to combine and let sit for about 15 minutes before serving.

This is a song that I listen to when I’m cooking alone in the apartment; I think it’s perfect in a lot of ways and I like to listen to it without any interruption. A year ago I was terrified about moving, walking constantly around my neighbourhood and trying to absorb everything I could to bring with me across the country. I listened to this song a lot when I walked and when I was just alone at home thinking. So in its own way this song is a summer song for me because it left me grounded when I needed comfort and now a year later I’m listening to it in my kitchen here, really close to pretty much everything I’ve ever wanted in a summer.

Animal Collective – Banshee Beat

Simple Greek(ish) Chicken and Vegetables with a Minty Feta Sauce

I call this simple because you can make all of it on one baking sheet (plus  a blender for the sauce), there is minimal and completely imprecise chopping involved, and there is no marinating beforehand (although you certainly could if you are feeling particularly organized the day before.) This recipe is adapted from a chicken kebab recipe found in Martha Stewart’s Everyday Food, an extremely practical and pretty cookbook that I received from my cousin Emily at last year’s not-so-secret Santa family gift exchange. Being what seems eternally without a grill and momentarily out of kebab skewers I left the chicken thigh pieces whole and only roughly chopped up the vegetables. The neighbourhood produce stand was selling tiny sweet peppers for a great price, they look stunning left whole and roasted with the red onions and zucchini, but you could very easily use cut up regular sized sweet peppers, eggplant, yellow squash, cherry tomatoes, or broccoli. The minty feta sauce can be assembled in less than five minutes and tastes divine smothered all over the chicken and vegetables. If you have leftovers try the sauce in a pita with falafel, over lamb, as a crudité dip, in a tomato sandwich – it even makes a unique and delicious salad dressing when thinned with some extra red wine vinegar. For nights when you don’t feel like leaving the house due to hockey riots I cannot recommend simplicity and good taste strongly enough, both assets this recipe carries in spades.

simple greek(ish) chicken and vegetables:

4-6 chicken thighs, bone-in with skin

1 zucchini, cut haphazardly into manageable chunks

1 red onion, cut the same as the zucchini

1 large bunch of miniature sweet peppers

1 Tbsp. dried oregano

2 Tbsp. olive oil

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and cover a large baking sheet with with parchment paper or aluminum foil.

2. In a large mixing bowl combine the oil, vinegar, oregano, salt, and pepper. Add the vegetables all at once and stir to coat with the dressing. Using your hands, scoop the vegetables onto the baking sheet in a single layer. Using the remaining oil and vinegar mixture dredge each chicken thigh before nestling in amongst the vibrant vegetables. Drizzle any leftover dressing over the whole baking sheet.

3. Bake uncovered for about half an hour, give or take a few minutes depending on the size of the chicken thighs. Fifteen minutes into the cooking time make sure to flip the vegetables so they don’t get burned on one side. After a half an hour turn your oven to broil and allow everything to crisp up for about five minutes (be careful here, always keep an eye on the chicken and vegetables as they will brown quickly.) Serve with a minty feta sauce.

minty feta sauce:

1 single serving container of plain yogurt, full or low fat is fine

3 oz. mild feta, I used cow’s milk

1 cup of fresh mint

2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1. Put everything in a blender or food processor and blitz until smooth and creamy.

I listen to Richard Hawley a lot when I’m by myself or when it’s late at night (like right now at 4:00 AM), I couldn’t tell you precisely how his music enriches time spent alone but it does in a way that makes you feel cemented to your immediate state of mind, like the outside world stops existing momentarily. I love to dreamily cook and listen to the album “Late Night Final”, I can make myself a cup of tea afterwards and sit on my balcony in the sort-of sun and read some PG Wodehouse. As I said, it’s incredibly late as I finish this entry but Hawley’s music makes me feel well-insulated instead of abnormal when I need to get things accomplished at odd hours of the night. His music is an effortless combination of  sad, simple, and romantic; this is from my favourite album but I honestly think that they’re all equal in sincerity and beauty.

Richard Hawley – Can You Hear the Rain, Love?