Papucaki

Papucaki

Papucaki is a Greek word meaning “small slippers”.  This is another traditional Greek recipe that I learned many years ago from my aunt, whose husband is Greek.  Like her recipe for Greek Green Beans, which I shared a couple of weeks ago, this one is simple, focusing on 3 main ingredients.  I find that the key to success for making recipes with few ingredients is to use the best quality available to you, and if the recipe involves produce, to use items that are in-season.

To make papucaki, you only need tomatoes, onions and eggplants.  It sounds simple, but the flavor of the final dish evokes complexity.  The elements work so well together that the product is more than the sum of its parts.  So go ahead and give it a try!

eggplant

tomatoes and onions

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tomatoes and onions

Papucaki

Papucaki

Print Recipe
Papucaki
This is a delicious, melt-in-your-mouth dish that can stand on its own for dinner. Depending on your appetite, 2 large eggplants will be enough to satisfy a family of 4. However, sometimes I will serve this dish with a salad or rice on the side to satisfy everyone’s preferences.
Papucaki
Servings
Ingredients
  • 4 small eggplants or 2 large eggplants
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 onions sliced
  • 4– 6 tomatoes depending on their size, chopped
  • ½ cup vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Servings
Ingredients
  • 4 small eggplants or 2 large eggplants
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 3 onions sliced
  • 4– 6 tomatoes depending on their size, chopped
  • ½ cup vegetable stock
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Papucaki
Instructions
  1. Cut the eggplant in half lengthwise, salt and place upside down in a colander for 20 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 400F.
  3. Rinse the eggplant and scoop out the flesh to create a hollow that can then be filled. Reserve the flesh that is scooped out. (Don’t forget this step, like I did. It’s messy if you do!)
  4. Liberally brush the eggplant with oil and place on baking sheet.
  5. Bake for 40 minutes, until soft throughout. Pierced with a fork, it should offer no resistance.
  6. While the eggplant is baking, heat the remaining oil in a skillet on medium heat and fry onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and season with salt and pepper. Continue to cook to mixture for 5 more minutes.
  7. Once the eggplants are cooked, remove them from the oven and evenly divide the filling among the eggplants. Into the now empty skillet, add the vegetable stock and scrape up any remaining and stuck bits, then spoon the liquid over the eggplants.
  8. Bake for 30 minutes. Serve hot.


Black Bean and Green Tomato Chili (Vegan)

Black Bean and Green Tomato Chili (Vegan)

The first chili of the season is always such a treat. Using the last of our farm‘s tomatoes, it’s warming on a cool autumn evening.  It serves as a sweet reminder that it’s time to say goodbye to summer, with windows open day and night, and the warm sun, and a welcoming yet cautious hello to colder temperatures, with cozy warmth  and hearty winter soups inside.

This recipe is simple, and I have made it many times.  It started when one day I was determined to make a chili, but did not have any peppers on hand and substituted green tomatoes.  It was a big hit and Black Bean and Green Tomato chili became a fall staple for us (I still add peppers when I have them on hand).  Another reason to head out into the fields and pick a few more green tomatoes off the vines.

 

green tomatoes

Black Bean and Green Tomato Chili (Vegan)

Black Bean and Green Tomato Chili (Vegan)

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Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew

Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew

In the early fall, when for a few weeks tomatoes, potatoes, and green beans overlap at our farm, I always make this recipe.  It contains nothing but those vegetables, plus an onion, olive oil, salt, and pepper.  It makes a stand-alone dinner that is stew-like and hearty (thanks to all that olive oil, see recipe below). It can be served warm on a cold day and cold on a warm day. And when you make it, you will definitely want some bread on hand to sop up the last remaining juices in your bowl.

I learned this recipe from my aunt, whose husband is Greek, but my online research yielded Turkish versions of it.  And, while discussing my dinner plans with a neighbor of Lebanese descent, the neighbor said she grew up eating this meal as well, and she thought of it as Lebanese.  The recipe seems to be a tradition in countries surrounding the western Mediterranean sea.  The variations are minor, such as adding lamb or chicken, adding spices, with the basic recipe remaining the same across the region.

Interestingly, both the potato and tomato are of South and Central American descent where they have been cultivated for at least 2500 years (in the case of potatoes, 8000 years; McGee, Smith).  They did not spread to other areas of the world until after the 1500’s, when the Spanish colonized the Americas.  Once they started being cultivated in Western Europe, tomatoes took to the climate around the Mediterranean so well that they became a staple in many cuisines.

 

vegetables

green beans

Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew

Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew

Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew

Print Recipe
Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew
This recipe takes an hour from start to finish. However, active working time is about 20 minutes. The rest of the time is cooking time, and with the anticipation of a cozy meal boiling away at the stove on everyone’s mind, I find it to be a great time to sit with the kids and do homework or relax.
Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew
Servings
people
Ingredients
  • 1 medium yellow onion chopped
  • 1 lb green beans ends removed and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
  • ¾ cup olive oil that’s not a typo!
  • 1 lb potatoes cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 lb tomatoes diced
  • A handful fresh parsley chopped (optional)
Servings
people
Ingredients
  • 1 medium yellow onion chopped
  • 1 lb green beans ends removed and cut into 1 ½ inch pieces
  • ¾ cup olive oil that’s not a typo!
  • 1 lb potatoes cut into 1 inch cubes
  • 1 lb tomatoes diced
  • A handful fresh parsley chopped (optional)
Greek Green Beans with Potatoes in Tomato Stew
Instructions
  1. In a large pot over medium heat, lightly brown the onions. Add the remaining ingredients and stir.
  2. Bring everything to a boil. Then cover and simmer over low heat for 30-40 minutes until the potatoes are done.
  3. Serve either hot or cold, with bread on the side.


Tomatoes with Cheese Soufflé

Tomatoes Filled with Cheese Soufflé

If you have never tried making a soufflé, but are on the fence, this recipe should convince you to give it a try.  Even if you are not on the fence, now is the time. The recipe is simple and foolproof.  There are no tips or tricks to follow, it just works.  It requires making a béchamel with cheese and stirring in some eggs then baking it and the soufflé is done.

If you have made soufflés before, you may be surprised by this unconventional recipe that – unlike most or all other soufflé recipes – does not call for separately beating the yolks and whites.  Rest assured it comes from a trustworthy source, a memoir written by a French born chef Jacques Pepin whom Julia Child once referred to as “the best chef in America”.

That covers the soufflé part of this recipe.  Then there is the business of the tomatoes.  I never tire of tomatoes, even as a wonderfully prolific tomato season is drawing to a close. In this recipe, the tomatoes stand in contrast with the soufflé, with each enhancing the other both in flavor and texture.  The combination to me is reminiscent of a grilled cheese sandwich with a bowl of homemade tomato soup (another favorite!) but with more flare. This is a great recipe for when you have a little more time, and you have exhausted all your standard tomato-based recipes.

Tomatoes

Cheese Souflle

Tomatoes with Cheese Soufflé

Tomatoes with Cheese Soufflé

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Israeli Salad

Israeli Salad with Chickpeas

Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes.  An Israeli salad seems so obvious, it shouldn’t require a recipe.  And yet, it was a revelation to me when I first encountered it in my mid-twenties.  I learned it about from an Israeli friend while we were attending a conference.  Each night for three nights, she made this salad to go along with dinner, each night a little different, but always wonderfully fresh and delicious.  After returning from that trip, the salad became an instant summer staple, and it has changed little over the years.  Eventually (i.e. after the kids came along) I started adding chickpeas, as a convenience, really.  It meant that now I could put a big bowl of salad on the table and call it dinner.  A mother’s dream.

Whatever else you have planned for the weekend, give this salad a try, while the ingredients are still abundant and the evenings are still warm enough to serve salad as dinner without too many explanations.  It travels great, so bring it along to a picnic or barbeque.

Israeli Salad

lemon

chickpeas

Israeli Salad

Israeli Salad

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Roasted Summer Vegetables with Egg

Roasted Summer Vegetables with Egg

During the peak of the vegetable harvest, a simple vegetable roast with an egg on top is enough to satisfy the whole family for dinner.  Sometimes cheese is thrown on top (feta, fresh mozzarella, goat, manchego, fontina, it all works!), sometimes it’s served with pita bread, and sometimes it’s served with tacos.  What remains constant is that I use whatever is most abundant, and I include an egg or two per person, thrown on in the last 7 minutes of roasting, for protein.  And that is it, dinner in a pan with less than 15 minutes of active work.

This dish also works great with something from the allium family, be it shallots, leeks, onions – anything really.  My daughter, who is the choosiest eater in our family, loves the roasted alliums and potatoes best of all.  She loves the alliums for their sweetness, and the potatoes because she likes all things potato (aiming to pleases, I will be giving this recipe a try come the fall.)

Members of the allium family store energy in the form of fructose, rather than the more typical starch molecules used by plants for energy storage. The characteristic sweetness of roasted onions results from the breaking down, with heat, of chains of fructose sugars. The extent to which they are broken down depends on the amount of heat and time.   The longer onions cook at low heat, the sweeter they become (It will come as no surprise that my source is McGee)

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Print Recipe
Roasted Summer Vegetables with Egg
The quantities of vegetables are flexible, and you can adjust them to taste. This is a great basic recipe to use up vegetables and be creative. I never make it exactly the same way twice.
Roasted Summer Vegetables with Egg
Servings
Ingredients
  • 1 lb new potatoes halved
  • 1 lb tomatoes chopped
  • 1 lb eggplant chopped and salted, if needed to remove bitterness
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper optional
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 4-8 eggs I calculate 2 eggs per adult, 1 per child
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Servings
Ingredients
  • 1 lb new potatoes halved
  • 1 lb tomatoes chopped
  • 1 lb eggplant chopped and salted, if needed to remove bitterness
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp Cayenne pepper optional
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 4-8 eggs I calculate 2 eggs per adult, 1 per child
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Roasted Summer Vegetables with Egg
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 425F.
  2. Toss the halved potatoes with 1/3 of the oil, salt and pepper and place them in a roasting pan.
  3. Roast for 10 minutes.
  4. While the potatoes are roasting, chop and season the remaining vegetables with the oil, salt pepper and spices.
  5. Add the remaining vegetables to the roasting pan with the potatoes and continue to roast for 15 minutes.
  6. Break the eggs over the roasted vegetables and continue to roast for another 7 minutes (yolks will be runny) 2-4 minutes longer if you prefer firm yolks.

 

pea millet salad

Pea and Millet Salad with Grilled Vegetables and Blue Cheese Dressing

Shelling peas reminds me of visits to my Grandmother’s house, sitting on her balcony with a huge bucket of peas.  I surmise that bucket is huge only in my memory, and likely contained no more peas than our family would eat for supper that night. I liked sitting there, shelling peas, chasing after the peas that got away while pealing.  Back then, eating them was another matter altogether, I was not a picky eater, but peas I did not like.  These days I cannot resist a peas straight of the vine

Peas belong to a very important family of edible plants, the legume family, second in importance only to the grasses the seeds of which give us wheat, maize, and rice.  Legumes are known for their high protein content and are used in many parts of the world as a dietary staple in lieu of animal proteins.  Legumes are good at producing protein due to their symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium, a soil bacterium that invades its roots and fixes nitrogen from the air for the plants use.

Peas have been cultivated for over 9,000 years and are native to the Mediterranean region and East Asia.  Traditionally, peas are eaten when the fruit is fully mature – referred to today as split peas.  Split peas were an important source of protein in Europe during the middle ages, and only during early modern times did the consumption of immature peas become common.  In England, the distinction between garden peas (immature peas) and field peas (mature peas) dates to the 17th century.

What is, to me, by far most interesting about peas is their contribution to our understanding of genetics.  Through the work of Gregor Mendel, we understand the laws that govern how traits are passed down through generations, called the laws of Mendelian inheritance.  Mendel followed 7 different characteristics of peas (such as seed shape and color) through multiple generations to define these laws.

pea

pea

peas

grilled vegetables

grilled vegetables

pea millet salad

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french lentil and kale salad

French Lentil and Kale Salad

July weather has arrived and with it summer cooking.  Now summer cooking means no cooking or baking on the stove or in the oven between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.  We have a single window unit AC for the whole house and it is not powerful enough to overcome the heat generated by the stove.  So for a few days in June, and August, and for most of July we end up eating salads.  Lots and lots of salads, with the occasional grilled meal thrown in.  Most salads contain a starch or grain cooked either early in the morning or after the kids have gone to bed, and then mixed into the salads after they have cooled.

In late January and February, when the days are still short and cold, and it seems like winter will never end, and summer never return, I look forward to summer cooking.  Because summer cooking is really all about the vegetables.  It is as fresh as it gets, with vegetables picked only hours or days before they end up on our plates.  It really is a good time of year for cooking!

Kale originates in the Mediterranean region and is a cultivar of the Brassica oleracea species, which among others includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussel sprouts.  While growing, kale leaves do not form a tight head (think cabbage and Brussel sprouts) and kale is thought to be more closely related to wild cabbage than some of the other cultivars in the Brassica oleracea species.  Kale is thought to be the first cultivar of the wild cabbage to have originated.  Kale originated sometime in the 5th century BC, following many generations of selective breeding of for ever larger leaves on the ancestral wild cabbage.  For a fascinating read on the history of the entire cabbage family, check out the University of Saskatchewan website.

kale

kale

kale stems veins

french lentil and kale salad

french lentil and kale salad

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Tofu Chard Coconut Lime

Tofu and Chard in Coconut-Lime Sauce

My CSA farm share has started and it is nice to see those deep, dark greens in the farm shed once again, fresh from the fields and ready to take home and cook!  This week we received chard, arugula, bok choy, kale, and radishes.  Opening the refrigerator and contemplating the possibilities brings great joy to my daily “what are we having for dinner?” decision.

It’s fun to share this recipe with you, which has been part of my repertoire since 2003, when I first made it with friends.  Minor modifications have crept in over the years.  The original recipe was for a soup, but for us it works much better as sauce served over rice or millet.  Here I add chard, but any hardy, mild green would work well with the coconut and lime, the dominant flavors in the sauce.

Chard is a subspecies of the common garden beet, Beta vularis and its wild ancestor, the sea beet. Sea beets are native to much of the Mediterranean region and southern Asia.  Unlike beets, which have been selected to produce flavorful roots, chard is selected to produce large tender leaves and thick, meaty stalks.  Some heirloom varieties available today go back to the 16th century (Harold McGee). I find that the more colorful the chard stalks, the more the flavor resembles that of beets.

chard

ingredients

Tofu Chard Coconut Lime

Tofu Chard Coconut Lime

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Chili Garlic Sesame Pasta Tofu Sugar Snap Peas

Chili, Garlic, and Sesame Pasta with Tofu and Sugar Snap Peas

Only recently was I introduced to this five ingredient sauce, but I already know this sauce and I will be together forever.  Why you ask?

  1. It is versatile.  The first time I was introduced to it, it was being served with scallion pancakes as the dipping sauce.  Here I pour it over pasta.  And of course I look forward to marinating some chicken with it one of these afternoons to throw on the grill.
  2. It is so simple to make and if you frequently cook with Asian flavors, it is likely you already have all the ingredients on hand.
  3. The flavor combination is just perfect! The garlic, chili, and sesame work wonderfully together.

What gives chili its characteristic pungency or burning sensation in the mouth is a lipohilic chemical called capsaicin.  There are two theories on why capsaicin may have evolved in chilies: 1) as a defense from mammals, and 2) as a defense against fungi.   When mammals eat the chili fruit, the seeds are ground up by molars, and after passing through the digestive tract the seeds are no longer able to germinate.  Birds do not have the necessary proteins to respond to capsaicin and generally swallow the seeds whole, which are then still able to germinate after passing through the avian digestive tract.  In this manner, birds are a mechanism through which the plant disperses its seeds.  With respect to the second theory, there is a fungus, Fusarium, which can infect chili plants, resulting in wilting of the plant, which in turn affects fruit production and reduces viability of the seeds.  This fungus is deterred by capsaicin.

Chili plants were domesticated over 5000 years ago in South America (Harold McGee).  After Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, the plants quickly spread throughout the world, and today are common in traditional cuisines all over the world.  Chilies belong to the genus Capsicum and there are 5 species within this genus which have been domesticated, although most chilies that one can find at the supermarket are derived from only a single species, Capsicum annuum.  Through breeding, the pungency of chilies can be altered, and some have been bread to be mild enough to eat as vegetables.  All unripe chilies are green, and during the ripening process they obtain their characteristic colors from yellow to red, orange, and purple.

 

ingredients

tofu

scallions

sugar snap peas

Chili Garlic Sesame Pasta Tofu Sugar Snap Peas

Chili Garlic Sesame Pasta Tofu Sugar Snap Peas

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