This is cauliflower that deserves a spot at your table when you have special guests for dinner. Amazing that we can now write such a phrase after a couple of years of social isolation. I go as far as saying that even cauliflower haters will be pleasantly surprised. The sun-dried tomatoes add richness and the olives and balsamic vinegar that acidity that lightens things up. Absolutely delicious. And, by the way, it is vegan-friendly.
CAULIFLOWER WITH SUN-DRIED TOMATOES AND OLIVES (inspired by Crossroads)
1 head cauliflower, florets only, chopped in pieces 2 tablespoons olive oil (for oven roasting) or olive oil spray for air-frying Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced 1 shallot, minced 1/2 cup Castelvetrano olives, pitted and coarsely chopped 8 sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and coarsely chopped 2 tablespoons capers 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar zest and juice of 1/2 lemon slivered almonds, slightly toasted, to taste
If roasting the cauliflower in an oven, drizzle the florets with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and roast in 425F oven for about 30 minutes. If using the air-fryer, spray the florets with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and air-fry for 15 to 20 minutes, until golden. Reserve. The cauliflower can be roasted hours in advance or even the day before.
Put a large saute pan over medium-heat and add 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the celery and shallots, season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook for a couple of minutes, add the olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and capers and cook for a few minutes longer, stirring often. Add the reserved cauliflower, the balsamic vinegar, adjust seasoning. Right before serving, add lemon zest and juice, and top with the toasted slivered almonds.
Comments: I don’t know which ingredient elevates this recipe, it is a tight match between the sun-dried tomatoes and the green olives. At any rate, it was an outstanding side dish. I highly recommend it. We enjoyed it with grilled chicken breasts, super simple. Just a marinade with olive oil, Garam masala and salt.
Another recipe that should not compete for looks, but gets high grades in the taste department… So easy to put together that it almost qualifies for my Incredibly Simple category. I used store-bought hummus. We like Sabra brand but any brand will likely work. Of course, you can make your own for added bliss.
1 medium eggplant, cut vertically in 1/2 inch slices 1/3 cup olive oil juice of 1/2 lemon salt and pepper to taste hummus (I used Sabra traditional) 6 sheets of phyllo dough (3 per roll) olive oil spray
Whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Brush that mixture on the eggplant slices and use a grill pan to lightly cook it, no more than a couple of minutes per side. You can use an outside grill, but don’t let the eggplant overcook and get mushy. Let the slices cool before proceeding with the recipe.
Lay one sheet of phyllo on the surface, spray olive oil lightly. Lay two more sheets on top, spraying olive oil each time. Lay two slices of eggplant overlapping (as shown in the picture after the recipe). Spread some hummus on top. Fold the phyllo over the eggplant, forming a long strip that totally encloses the eggplant. Gently roll. Place on a roasting pan and bake for 35 minutes at 375F.
Comments: The main thing to keep in mind is that the eggplant will cook in the rolls for 35 minutes, so make sure not to overcook it in the first step, and do not cut it too thin. Phil wants to have a variation with eggplant and mushrooms together, so I will definitely try that soon, but I already leave the idea for you. I also think adding a couple of thin slices of roasted red bell pepper would be delicious.
If I am going to have a salad, my preference is a salad with substance, and a variety of textures and colors. No need to go all the way into a Chicken Caesar or a Steak Salad, but the addition of grains is more than welcome. I used quick-cooking kamut, but any type will work, just pay attention to the timing. Also, any other will be fine: barley, cracked wheat, or the beautiful farro.
KAMUT & BROCCOLI SALAD (adapted from many sources)
1 cup cooked kamut, or amount to taste 2 broccoli heads, or amount to taste 1/2 cup roasted, salted cashews 1/4 cup raisins 1/2 apple, cut in pieces (I used Pink Lady) 1/4 cup olive oil juice and zest of 1 lemon grated ginger to taste salt and pepper to taste
The kamut can be prepared a day in advance if you like. Make sure it is cold when you make the salad. If you make it in advance, drizzle just a touch of olive oil to prevent the grains from sticking together. Separate the broccoli into florets and steam them for 3 minutes. Immediately run very cold water to stop the cooking. Cut the steamed broccoli into pieces. Reserve.
Make the dressing by whisking the olive oil with lemon juice, add ginger, salt and pepper.
In a large serving bowl, add all the ingredients for the salad, pour the dressing and mix gently. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed. Allow the salad to sit for 30 minutes before serving, if possible.
Comments: The main inspiration for this recipe came from a cookbook I own, but that version served the broccoli raw and passed by the food processor. The pieces of raw broccoli were very small and lost in the middle of the grain, all acquiring the same green color. The way I chose to make it, was barely steaming the broccoli. This simple step tames its raw sharpness. Next, I cut the pieces with a knife, in small chunks. In my opinion, this makes the final product much more appealing not only visually, but as far as texture goes.
The apples and raisins are a must, and the cashews give that extra crunchiness that will leave you smiling… peanuts, walnuts, or pecans, can be used instead.
The added bonus of this salad: it holds quite well in the fridge. I made such a big portion that in fact it lasted two days, and on the second day I decided to warm it in the microwave for a minute. Perfect! A light lunch that needed absolutely nothing else to go with it.
Let’s get the V word in the open right away: vegan. This is vegan. And also very tasty. If you are not too fond of mayonnaise, this cole slaw will have your name written all over. Low in saturated fat, high in flavor. I did not add red cabbage because I wanted to keep a milder texture but consider including some if you prefer more crunch.
for the dressing: ½ cup blanched, slivered almonds 1/2 cup water ½ teaspoon salt 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard 1 tablespoon agave nectar 2 tablespoons grapeseed oil juice of 1 lemon water as needed to adjust consistency
for the coleslaw: 1 small head of cabbage, cored and very thinly sliced 3 large carrots, shredded in the food processor 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded, cut into matchsticks 1/3 cup fresh parsley, minced 1/2 tsp dried dill salt and pepper to taste fresh lemon juice, to serve
Combine the almonds with ½ cup water and a pinch of salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over high heat, cover, remove from the heat, and let the almonds soak for 20 minutes. In a blender, combine the almonds with their soaking water, vinegar, lemon juice, mustard, agave, salt,, and oil. Blend until creamy, adding water if needed to bring the consistency to that of mayonnaise or a little thinner. Reserve.
Add the cabbage, carrot and yellow pepper pepper to a large bowl and toss with the dressing. Fold in the parsley and dill, season with salt and pepper, and serve with a fresh squeeze of lemon juice all over.
Comments: I was very intrigued by this dressing, which goes in the direction of the cashew cream, but using almonds instead. I advise you to make the dressing a little thinner than mayo, because it tends to get drier as it sits. Leftovers lasted for two days without getting soggy – maybe everything turned slightly softer but not by much. The flavor actually intensified a bit.
The vegan aspect of our meal was destroyed by associating the coleslaw with grilled pork tenderloin. Of course, if you are vegetarian, pick other dishes to enjoy with this delicious slaw. We don’t eat mayo, some versions we like use yogurt instead, but for my personal taste, this is the best alternative dressing for coleslaw we’ve had so far.
Am I breaking my own rule of never ever stating that a recipe is the best ever? Apologies for the convoluted phrase. But to answer my own question, no I am not. Because I was NOT the one who chose the name. It was published as such in Saveur magazine. You can read the interesting article clicking here. My beloved husband found it, showed it to me and said “we should probably give it a try.” Even though we alternate cooking dinner – one day he cooks, next day I do – he thinks I should be the one venturing in new territories. Which is totally fine with me. The problem with this recipe is that it will have you fry countless slices of breaded eggplant. It seemed like an ordeal and with a high chance of disappointment in the end: a heavy portion of greasy eggplant loaded with cheese. But after reading the article, I decided to humor the husband and give it a go. I tell you one thing: I was wrong. This was one OUTSTANDING eggplant parmigiana, and worth all the work.
For the sauce: 2 (28-oz.) cans plum tomatoes with their juices 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil 6 large garlic cloves, peeled (I used finely minced celery in its place) Kosher salt Freshly ground black pepper
For the eggplant: 3 large eggs Kosher salt 1¼ cups dried plain fine bread crumbs 1 Tbsp. dried Italian seasoning, or equal parts dried basil, dried rosemary, and dried oregano 3 medium eggplants (about 3 lb. total), mostly peeled except for a few strips of skin, sliced into thin rounds slightly thinner than ¼ in. About 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1½ cups (about 10½ oz.) shredded mozzarella cheese (not fresh) 3 Tbsp. finely grated Pecorino Romano
Make the sauce: In a blender, pulse the tomatoes and their juices until just slightly chunky. In a pot over medium-low heat, add the oil and garlic (or celery), and cook, stirring occasionally, for a couple of minutes. Pour in the puréed tomato mixture and season with a generous pinch each of salt and pepper. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened slightly, at least 1 to 1½ hours. The sauce can be cooled and refrigerated for up to 2 days.
Bread the eggplant: In a wide shallow bowl, beat the eggs with 1 tablespoon water. Season with a generous pinch of salt. In a second baking dish or bowl, stir together the bread crumbs, Italian seasoning, and 1⁄2 teaspoon salt. Working with one or two at a time, dredge the eggplant slices in the egg wash and let the excess drip back into the bowl. Transfer to the bread crumbs and coat very lightly on each side. Line a large baking sheet with a few layers of paper towels and set by the stove. In a large high-sided skillet over medium-high heat, heat ½ cup oil until shimmering. Turn the heat down to medium and add some eggplant slices in a single layer until the skillet is full. Cook, turning once, until well browned on each side, about 6 minutes total. Transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining eggplant, working in batches as needed and adding a little more oil every other batch, or as needed.
Heat the oven to 400F.
In a 9-by-13-inch baking dish, ladle ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons sauce into the bottom. Cover the sauce with a single layer of eggplant (start with the thickest ones on the bottom and save the prettiest slices for the top). Ladle another ½ cup sauce on top, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle with about 1⁄3 cup plus 2 tablespoons mozzarella and 1 tablespoon Pecorino. Add another layer of eggplant and repeat this process until you’ve reached the final layer of eggplant. Top this layer only with ½ cup sauce, a final thin layer of mozzarella, and some Pecorino. (Reserve any remaining sauce for another use.) At this point, the eggplant parmigiana can be refrigerated, covered, for up to 1 day.
Bake, uncovered, until the cheese is melted and bronzed in places and the sauce is bubbling around the edges, about 20 minutes (add about 10 minutes if your dish was previously assembled and chilled). Remove and let cool slightly. Slice into squares and serve warm.
Comments: I am normally a lot more lax when I follow a recipe, and don’t worry about careful measurements (unless it is baking). But in this particular case I decided to follow it to a T and measured every component. Once the baking dish was fully assembled with the eggplant, sauce and cheese, I was quite skeptical about the outcome, because it did not look luscious enough. But I have to agree, when you follow the recommended amounts of sauce and cheese, and deal with the eggplant slices exactly as advised, the final dish is pretty amazing. The taste of the eggplant comes through without being “suffocated” by sauce and cheese. It is satisfying but not heavy. We are still talking about how good it was. Added bonus: leftovers kept frozen for a week tasted almost better with a slow defrost in the fridge and a brief warming in a low oven…
If you have a vegetarian friend to entertain, look no further. The main dish of your menu is decided!