Growing up in Azerbaijan, our summers were spent outside the city, in our “summer home.” I say “summer home” because it’s not like the house you are imaging (no Hamptons or Cape Cod like). But what it lacked in amenities, it more than made up in fresh air, proximity to the Caspian Sea and family getting together. A meal we’ve had at least three times a week is kebab (or shashlik), basically beef, lamb and chicken skewers over open fire in a “mangal” which is a very simplistic grill using wood chips (a lot of the time branches found by kids aka me and my cousins). I unfortunately don’t have a photo of it, but just google it and you’ll see.
As delicious as the meat and potato over open fire was (and I will still take that meal any day over any pizza or steak), my favorite thing was a very simple salad made from charred tomatoes, bell peppers and eggplants. The beauty of this salad is the ingredients cook at the same time as the main dish, so no time lost. It is refreshing, simple and healthy. I make it as an accompaniment to a roasted chicken or steak. Since I live in an apartment and don’t have a grill (YET), I char the eggplants and tomatoes over my gas burner, just like that. Believe it or not, charring the vegetables is the hardest part of this salad. Well, you’ll see.
One large eggplant, charred or grilled. You can also poke holes in the eggplant with a fork, and bake for 45 minutes, until soft. Do not peel the eggplant.
Two or three beefsteak tomatoes, roasted or grilled.
One bell pepper charred or grilled. You can also roast the pepper in the oven for 30 minutes or so. Just rub the pepper with sunflower oil.
One medium sized white or red onion, chopped.
A handful of cilantro or parsley.
Salt and pepper.
2 tbs sunflower oil.
Char all the vegetables, over open fire/ grill, or gas burner. You can also roast all in the oven, each will require a different amount of time.
Keep turning the vegetables until all sides are grilled. If you see char marks on the tomatoes, don’t worry, that’s ok. You can tell the tomatoes are done when they are soft on all sides. The eggplant will “wrinkle” and be soft when squeezed. The vegetables will leak, but that’s normal too.
Once all vegetables cooled, peel the meat of the eggplant best you can from the skin. You can cut it in half and use a spoon to scoop the eggplant out.
Peel the skin off tomatoes.
Chop the eggplants, tomatoes and the peppers roughly. Don’t worry about the cuts being the same size or neat. It is a “rustic” salad.
Place all in a large bowl.
Chop the onion and add to the vegetables.
Roughly chop the cilantro and add to the bowl.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Add sunflower oil and mix the salad.
Let sit for a while, in the fridge so it absorbs all the flavor.
Enjoy with pita bread, or as a side to any protein!
I have only recently perfected my stuffed cabbage recipe…I tell ya, cabbage is really hard to work with. For a newbie especially. Having the perfect consistency of the leaves is crucial: you need to be able to tear the leaves off the cabbage and wrap your meat in it. Finally, I found a solution: savoy cabbage. The leaves are loose enough to come apart and soft enough to wrap. Of course, boiling is still required for the added softness. This dish requires butter, or meat with higher content of fat, because otherwise you have boiled ground beef with boiled cabbage. Not good. Adding “fat”, will ensure the flavors are great. This dish is best served with yogurt or sour cream. And bread, lotsa bread for dipping.
So I deviate a lot from plans. Mostly when it comes to food. I mean, I think I know what I want to make, plan the menu, but then something happens, like I come across an ingredient in a store that I just have to make, or something like and event throws the whole menu off. So where is this going? Very simple, I made an addition to my last week’s menu: I made pot roast. Initially, I made it for the wrong reasons: it was easy to make, it was not a lot of prep, I had little time blah blah.HOWEVER, it was the coziest, most satisfying dish to have on a December afternoon. Also, I love nothing more than a good piece of meat (true story).
So what makes it “fragrant” (sounds weird, but I could not think of a better word), is the herbs. Make sure they are fresh, not dry. It really makes the world of difference. Ultimately, you can also use any vegetables you’d like here (zucchini, squash) or omit the vegetables all-together and serve it with rice (but then make sure you add more broth to the pot, because it’s the vegetables that release some the liquid when they cook).
So the roast: it’s pretty simple and full proof (you could also do this in a slow cooker, hence no oversight at all). For me, the most important is to first fry the roast on all sides to add some crust and color.
Chop the herbs, and rub them all over the roast. Make small cuts in the Roast and stuff the garlic cloves into the holes. Let the Roast rest.
Chop/dice the vegetables and place them in a separate bowl
Heat olive oil in a dutch oven (or another oven safe pot/cast iron pot)
Brown the roast on all sides until brown in color (not too long, about 2-3 minutes each side)
Remove the roast; in the same pot add more oil and toss in the vegetables and sauté
Once the vegetables are done, place the Roast in the pot, moving the veggies around to surround the Roast.
At this point, if desired, you can add a bit of wine and/or beef broth (don’t overdo it, because you don’t want your vegetables to be swimming in water).
Place the pot in the oven and cook for about 2.5-3 hours (depending on the oven you have, mine is electric and cooks things a lot faster, if you have a gas one, it may take longer so the time is an estimate, use your judgment)
Take the Roast out and let rest for a bit. The meat should be falling apart when pulled by a fork, that’s how tender it should be (and it obviously should not bleed).
Use lotsa bread to dip, and enjoy with a glass of wine!
There is nothing more cozy on a cold December day than a bowl of hot soup. To me, even cozier is a bowl of Pelmeni (or Dushbere in Azerbaijan, except back home we serve it as a soup, with the water). These are pieces of heaven (ok fine, dough) stuffed with a delicious meat mixture, boiled in hot water, served with butta (ha ha), sour cream or yogurt and just a tad of herbs. If you can get past the annoying process of making the dough and stuffing each little circle and wrapping it, then you are in for a delicious meal. Sadly, I cannot get over it so I only make it once in a blue moon. Like today. I should have bene studying for my law school finals, but alas, cooking seemed like a better way to spend my day (don’t you worry, I will pay for this).
Handful of Parsley (you can add Dill also, I didn’t have any)
Peel and cut the onion into quarters
Peel the garlic
Wash the parsley/dill
Add everything into a food processor or blender and blend until becomes mushy.
Add everything to the ground meat and mix; the mixture should become soft and watery
Herb and onion mixture
Meat mixture ready to go
For the dough:
2 cups of flour
1/2 cup of cold water
pinch of salt
Add the flour and salt to a food processor and mix
Add the egg and the water and process some more
if the mixture is too watery, add more flour little bit at a time; be careful not to over-flour
Alternatively, dump everything on a board or counter covered with flour and knead until the dough comes together and is soft. Be careful not to add too much flour, the dough will become hard.
Let the dough rest for 20-30 minutes.
This is what the dough should look like
Divide the dough into 4 parts
Take each part and roll out as much as you can, not too thin, you don’t want the Pelmeni to rip
Take a class or anything else you have at home that can cut out small circles and press it into the rolled out dough over and over again.
Take the circles, roll it out again (just run a rolling pin over it once) and put about a teaspoon or so of meat filling into it.
Now close the circle, pinch the corners very well
You should now end up with a half moon shape; now take the ends and pinch them together.
What I used for the circles
At the end your Pelmeni should look like this:
Bring a pot of water to boil; salt it, add a little bit of olive oil to it
Slowly submerge Pelmeni into the water.
As soon as they come up to the top of the pot, they are read. If you are hesitant, wait about 5 minutes and take out with a slotted spoon carefully or drain the whole pot.
Once in your plate, top the Pelmeni with butter, sour cream or yogurt and any herbs you wish (dill, parsley, garlic).
As always, enjoy!
See how the dough is not too thin or thick, it cooked through and held the meat in. If you made too much and feel that you won’t eat it all in one sitting, don’t boil it all at once. Put it in the freezer and save it for next time. No such luck for me, my husband devours food so I had to play it safe and cook it all -_-
Here is two ways to eat it: with butter and herbs, or butter and yogurt. You can go crazy and do all three: butter, herbs and yogurt. I promise you can’t go wrong!
I am adding something new here. I always struggle during the week with what to cook. One thing that has helped me is creating a menu that I can follow. This lets me add items that pop into my head that I would want to cook and also gives me an easy reference list when I am out of ideas. I will be posting my “weekly menu” items here every weekend and each week you will get one of those recipes here on the blog. Here’s to hoping it sticks 😀
Menu for this week:
Oven roasted salmon with mashed potatoes
Chicken roasted with green beans and couscous
Pelmeni (sorta like tortellini)
Cake “Belka” (Squirrel) -this one is a hard one to make, so hopefully I have time sometime next week. Also dawned on me that I have not posted a Dessert item to this date, so this would be a good opportunity for that .
I was at a restaurant the other day for lunch and saw something extremely interesting on the menu: Bacon Feta and Tomato sandwich (B.F.T). Now come one, I had to try it. I mean, I love bacon. I love sandwiches. I love love love Feta. Done deal. And so it was probably one of the best sandwiches I have ever tried. The bacon was smoky beyond belief, the bread was sourdough and toasted and the tomato honestly just got lost in the mix, but added a good palate cleanser. So of course, after having an almost orgasmic sandwich experience, I had to try one at home. I was pleasantly surprised. It’s easy to make. All you need to cook is the bacon. And since I love bacon, I piled it on high. It ended up being more of an open faced sandwich with lotsa bacon, but still worth it.
Beautiful right. I know. I suppose you could also put some Arugula on their for even more freshness. Oh and those are heirloom tomatoes from Trader Joe’s. Not sure how I lived this long without them in my life.
When I think salad I don’t necessarily think “entree”. That’s not true thought, is it. Many restaurants serve salads as entrees and done right, salads can be filling and satisfying. For me, the most important part of a salad is the PROTEIN. I am biased, because I cannot go one day (or one dinner) without protein, be it chicken, beef or fish. It’s a must for me, as simple as that. My whole family is like that. We are meat eaters. So when I found this recipe I was delighted.
Don’t get me wrong, I love eating salads for lunch. But I always put either chicken breast, tuna or eggs in it. It’s just not satisfying to me without it.
This is really a very simple recipe. Minimal cooking (if you go the rotisserie chicken route that I do everytime), just some chopping and mixing.