Eggplant and Black Lentil Salad

Two of my favorite ingredients, eggplants and lentils, are combined together in this interesting Turkish salad I found in an Israeli magazine. You may add this salad to a bed of lettuce to create a salad meal, or you can use it as a side dish. I ate it as my main dish as it already has the protein in it (lentils). I added some cooked veggies and a nice piece of homemade bread and I was a very happy camper. I discovered that this salad tastes best the following day. And oh, yeah, the cherry on the icing is crumbling some feta cheese (vegan in my case) on top when serving the salad.IMG_7925

Ingredients:
2 medium eggplants, cut into 1 inch cubes
4 tbs oil
1 cup black lentils
2 ½ cups water
10 cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
½ cup mint leaves, chopped
½ cup raisins or dried cranberries
Juice from ½  lemon
1 tsp apple vinegar
Salt
Pepper

Preparation:
Heat an oven to 400F.

In a bowl mix the eggplant cubes with oil, salt and pepper. Spread them on a baking sheet and bake in the preheated oven until eggplants are nicely browned. Remove from the oven and cool.

Place the lentils and the water in a pot, bring to a boil and cook for about 25 minutes, until lentils are soft but not mushy. Drain of excess water and let cool.

In a large bowl, combine the lentils, eggplants, tomatoes, mint, raisins, onion, lemon juice and vinegar. Mix well and add salt and pepper to taste.

Keep refrigerated.

The salad tastes better the next day, as the flavors get absorbed.IMG_7918

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Turkish Salad

In Israel, this salad is known as Turkish salad and is sold in every supermarket under this name. I’m not sure that this salad actually originated in Turkey, since I haven’t found any supporting evidence for it when looking for recipes. However, I don’t know what else to call it, so I’ll just go with the name I know.

We make many different salads at home on a regular basis but Turkish salad wasn’t one of them. For no good reason, really. But we did eat it every time we dined in Middle Eastern grill restaurants in Israel. And my kids loved it. So I decided to look for the recipe and make it at home. As I’m sure you know, as with any recipe, there are so many different versions and I wasn’t sure which one to try. And then I met this Israeli woman who owns a bakery/grocery store in Boca Raton, where I buy really good pita bread. She also makes her own salads, one of them was this Turkish salad. When I asked her how she makes it, she gave me the recipe without hesitation, which I thought was very nice of her. And this is the recipe I use. It tasted pretty good to us, so we stuck with it. It is a salsa-like salad, and is a great accompaniment to main dishes or on sandwiches. We especially enjoy it with good pita bread or a fresh homemade challah. Hope you like it, too.

Ingredients:
4 tbs oil
3 red bell peppers, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 can tomato paste
½ cup water
1 tsp cumin
½ tsp sweet paprika
½ tsp salt
½ tsp sugar
1 medium onion, diced
1 cup thinly chopped cilantro
½ cup thinly chopped parsley

Preparation:
In a medium saucepan, heat the oil and sauté the peppers for 3 minutes on medium high heat.

Add the garlic and keep sautéing for 2 more minutes.

Add the tomato paste, mix it in well and cook for 1 minute contently stirring it so that it doesn’t burn.

Add the water and the spices, lower the heat to medium and cook for 10 minutes.

Add the onion, cook for 2 more minute, then remove the pot from the heat.

Add the cilantro and parsley and mix well.

Homemade Shawarma

Yesterday, I took out some boneless chicken thighs from the freezer, to cook for lunch today (lunch at our house is the main meal of the day). This morning I looked at the meat for a while, debating if I wanted to marinate it in something, but couldn’t come up with anything that didn’t involve a bunch of dirty dishes.

Then, out of the blue, I was thinking that boneless thighs are the perfect meat for shawarma, a Middle Eastern street food originated in Turkey. Shawarma is basically a sandwich composed of meat (chicken, turkey, or lamb) that is grilled and then eaten shredded in pita bread. The traditional way of making shawarma requires a special skewer, on which the meat is layered together with fat and spices. The skewer is positioned vertically in front of a grill that slowly cooks the meat, while the skewer turns. The meat is then sliced thinly as it cooks, and put in pita bread with different vegetables and condiments.

Shawarma is not one of the dishes people usually make at home, although shawarma spice mix is something you can find in every supermarket in Israel. I’ve tried to make it at home a few times, or more accurately, I used the right meat and the right spices, but that’s where the resemblance ended. I would sauté a lot of onion in a pan and then add the meat that I cut into little cubes and the spices, and let is cook covered on very low heat. The result was very yummy, but it wasn’t real shawarma.

This morning, though, I had an epiphany. Real shawarma requires chicken thighs, some animal fat, and shawarma spice mix. Well, I had chicken thighs that were super fatty with all the fat on them. And I had the spice mix. But this time, I wanted to try and roast or bake the thighs, so that they become like the real deal.

I sprinkled the thighs with shawarma mix (you can make on your own ahead of time) and salt, and placed them on a baking sheet covered with tin foil. I preheated the oven to convection bake at 375F, and baked the thighs for 30 minutes on one side. Then flipped them over and baked for 5 more minutes. Perfection!! This is exactly what I was hoping to get!!

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I got so excited that I decided to go for it all the way. I sliced each thigh thinly, warmed up some frozen pita bread, made fresh tahini (takes 2 minutes to make), sliced some tomatoes, onion and parsley, and called everyone to the table. The kids couldn’t believe how authentic it tasted and finished everything to the last bite.

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Doron also enjoyed it very much, in his paleo way.

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Homemade Shawarma

Ingredients:
2 lb boneless chicken thighs, fat on
Shawarma spice mix
4 pita bread
Tahini paste
2 tomatoes, sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4-5 sprigs flat parsley, leaves only
Sumac for sprinkling

Preparation:
Cover a baking sheet with tin foil, and preheat oven to 375F.

Coat the chicken thighs with the shawarma spice and sprinkle some additional salt if needed.

Place the thighs in one layer on the baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Flip the chicken over and bake for another 5 minutes. The chicken should look roasted and dry. If there is still liquid in the pan, keep baking for a little longer. Remove from the oven and let sit for 5 minutes.

Slice the baked thighs into thin strips.

Composing the sandwich:
Cut each pita bread in half, spread with tahini paste, and fill with as much chicken as desired. Top with sliced tomato, parsley and onion. You can also sprinkle some sumac on top, to make it even more authentic.

Yum!!!

Shawarma Spice Mix

Originally, this spice mix is used for shawarma, but it can be used for any grilled, roasted, or braised meat, to give that Middle Eastern flair (one of a few).

This spice mix is easy to make and it uses spices that are easy to find in any supermarket, so no reason for being lazy and not making it at home. In fact, it makes life very easy, because all you have to do is sprinkle the meat with the spice and cook it any way you want. No mess, no time waste, no effort, and delicious – what more do you want?

Ingredients:

2 ½ tablespoons ground cumin
2 ½ tablespoons ground coriander
2 ½ tablespoons garlic powder
1 ½ tablespoons sweet paprika
2 ½ teaspoons ground turmeric
½ teaspoon black pepper
Salt

Mix all spices together and store in an airtight container.

Eggplant in Tomato Sauce – Old World Vs. New World

In Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisines there is a tradition of opening a meal with an assortment of dishes in small plates scattered on the table. In the Middle East it is called Mezze. In Spain they call it Tapas. If you are a little bit familiar with the concept, you probably know that there is a huge selection of dishes that can be served as part of a Mezze, depending on the country and local traditions. Obviously, they are not all served at the same time, which makes the Mezze part of the meal interesting and slightly different every time.

This eggplant dish may be part of a Mezze. I know there are different variations on this dish (the most known to Americans is probably the Italian Caponata), but my first version (out of the two presented here) is the one I learned from my mother and my grandmother. To me, this dish is comfort food. As simple as it is, eggplant in tomato sauce is one of the dishes that make me homesick.

This dish is a great example of how I keep the spirit of an old world dish, while taking a shortcut to match it to my busy Western life. As I mentioned above, this post includes the two versions of the dish. The result is pretty similar, although it’s hard to beat the original recipe.

Eggplant in Tomato Sauce – original version

Ingredients:
1 large eggplant, sliced into 3/8 inch (1 cm) wide rings
Kosher salt
Oil for frying
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ – 1 cup water
3 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
½ teaspoon sugar (optional)

Preparation:
Sprinkle the sliced eggplants with kosher salt on both sides. Place in a colander with a plate underneath and set aside for 30 minutes, to extract the liquids out of the eggplant. Then hold 2-3 slices at a time, facing each other, and gently squeeze them between the palms of your hands, to get more of the liquids out. Be careful not to break the slices while squeezing.

Most people think that the reason for salting the eggplant is to get the bitterness out, which may be true for some eggplants (not all of them are bitter). The main reason, though, is that after salting and squeezing the eggplant, it absorbs much less oil when frying, and it tastes better from the salt.

You may skip the whole salting/squeezing part if you have no time or patience, but know that you will end up with eggplant soaked with oil.

Heat the oil (about ¼ inch high) in a large casserole. When oil is hot, place the squeezed slices of eggplant in it in one layer. You will probably need to make 2-3 batches.

eggplant-frying

Fry the eggplant on one side until it starts browning, about 1 minute. Flip to the other side and do the same. Remove the slices from the pan and place them on a plate covered with paper towel.

When you are done frying all the slices, set the eggplant aside. Discard of the oil in the pan, except for 2-3 tablespoon (you kind of have to eye it).

Return the pot to the stove, add the onion and saute it for one minute. Add the tomato sauce and stir it in quickly and constantly for 30 seconds, so that it doesn’t burn. Add the water, garlic and spices. Mix well to dissolve the tomato paste in the water and cook, covered, on medium low heat, for 5 minutes.

Immerse the eggplant slices in the tomato sauce, one by one. Once all slices are in the pot, shake the pot a little and twirl it to get the sauce all around the eggplants.

Cover the pot and cook covered for 15 minutes.

eggplant-ready

This dish may be served hot, cold, or at room temperature. Serve it as a Mezze, side dish, in a sandwich, or even as pasta sauce.

And now, here is my version to this wonderful dish:

Eggplant in Tomato Sauce – innovated version

Ingredients:
1 large eggplant, cut into ¾ inch cubes
3 tablespoons oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
7 medium tomatoes, pureed in a food processor
3 cloves garlic, sliced
½ teaspoon sugar (optional)
Salt and pepper

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 400F.

Cover a baking sheet with tin foil and spray with cooking oil spray. Spread the eggplant cubes on the baking sheet, sprinkle a little bit of salt on top, and spray the eggplant again with the oil.

eggplant-cubed

Bake in the preheated oven until the eggplant starts to brown and shrink, about 20-30 minutes.

In a large pot, heat 3 tablespoons of oil and saute the onion until golden.

Add the pureed tomatoes, the sliced garlic and the spices. Bring to a boil, cover the pot, lower the heat to medium low, and cook until the eggplants in the oven are ready.

Remove the eggplants from the oven, and add them to the pot with the tomato sauce. Give a stir, cover the pot and cook for 15 more minutes.

cubed-eggplant-cooked

I’ll let you be the judge as to which version is better. Let me know…

And have a great weekend!