Friday, November 7, 2014

Bok choy salad with sticky grilled eggplant, baby corn & miso garlic chicken

We spent last weekend in the Blue Mountains with friends (see pic at the end of this post), and had a great time going on long bushwalks through the gum trees then coming back to our Airbnb house to cook up a big meal over beers and old fashioneds. My friend Kate made the most amazing seared kangaroo salad on our first night-- check out her blog The Katechen for more delicious food outta Melbourne. We'll definitely be trying *roo salad* at home soon, but tonight we stuck to our favorite version of summer salad (marinated, grilled chicken thighs over an Asian-inspired base), topping it with sticky grilled eggplant slices inspired by Laura over at The First Mess.
baby bok choy salad topped with grilled sticky eggplant and baby corn
The basil and mint keep things tasting light, while the grilled eggplant and chicken make this dish go a long way to satisfy big appetites. If you can't easily source baby bok choy, any lettuce (romaine, oak leaf, etc) will do, or try a combo of thinly sliced Napa (Chinese) cabbage and purple cabbage. If you're cooking for vegetarians, just serve the grilled chicken separately, alongside the salad.
salad topped with miso garlic grilled chicken
These eggplant slices would also be delicious as a side on their own, or added to a burger/wrap situation. File this one away for the summer months, northern hemisphere mates. And a shout out to my little brother, whose birthday is today! Can't wait to toast the last year of your twenties with an old fashioned when we're back in the same country, bro. 
full of flavor: salad with grilled veg & chicken
Bok choy salad with sticky grilled eggplant, baby corn & miso garlic chicken
Serves 3-4

Bok choy salad
3 bunches baby bok choy, separated, washed, and thinly sliced
1/2 of a red bell pepper (capsicum), thinly sliced
4-5 button mushrooms, thinly sliced
small handful of fresh mint, roughly chopped
large handful of fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon reserved eggplant marinade (recipe below)

Toss the baby bok choy, bell pepper, mushrooms, mint, and basil together in a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the reserved eggplant marinade with olive oil and mirin. Pour the marinade dressing over the salad, and toss to coat. Set aside to serve straight from the bowl, or transfer the salad to a flat serving plate to serve. 

Sticky grilled eggplant and baby corn (inspired by this recipe at The First Mess)
1 large eggplant, sliced into 1cm-wide slices
fat pinch of ground sea salt
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
1/2 inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 of a brown or purple onion, thinly sliced 
big pinch of freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon miso
1 tablespoon mirin
handful of baby corn, sliced in half lengthwise

Lay the eggplant slices in a single layer on a sheet of aluminum foil or a baking tray, and sprinkle with with sea salt on both sides. Leave the eggplant to sit while you make the marinade.

In a small saucepan, combine the balsamic vinegar, honey, ginger, onion, and pepper. Bring the mixture to a boil, then turn down the heat to medium and simmer for 6-8 minutes, until the mixture has reduced by about half and is thickened. Remove from heat, and stir in the miso and mirin. Set aside one tablespoon of the marinade mixture to use in the bok choy salad dressing (see above). 

Generously brush the eggplant slices on one side with the marinade (you won't use all of it, save the remainder to use while you're grilling). Leave the eggplant to marinate while you prepare the chicken (eggplant needs only about 10 minutes to soak up the flavors of the marinade).

When you're ready to grill, heat an outdoor barbeque or an indoor stovetop grill to high heat. Brush the grill with oil. Place the eggplant slices, marinated side down, onto the grill, and immediately brush the tops with the remaining marinade mixture. Place the sliced baby corn on the grill, too. 

Grill the eggplant slices for about 3-5 minutes on each side, until char marks appear and eggplant softens. Toss the baby corn around on the grill every couple of minutes, removing after the corn begins to develop a little char, about 6-8 minutes total. Remove the eggplant and corn and set aside to cool for a few minutes before arranging them on top of the bok choy salad.  

Miso garlic chicken
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil (or toasted sesame oil if you have it)
1 tablespoon mirin
1 teaspoon miso
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs

In a large glass or ceramic dish, mix the fish, sauce, oil, mirin, miso, and garlic. Place the chicken thighs into the mixture and turn them over a few times to coat evenly. Place the dish in the fridge for 15 minutes as you grill the eggplant (or, alternatively, marinate chicken, covered in the fridge, for up to 8 hours or overnight). 

Heat the grill (outdoor barbeque or indoor stovetop grill) to high heat. Add the chicken thighs, and grill for about 5-8 minutes on each side, until chicken is no longer pink in the middle and juices run clear. 

Remove chicken from heat and allow to rest for a couple of minutes before slicing against the grain into thin slices. Arrange the chicken on top of the salad and grilled eggplant and baby corn, or serve the chicken on a separate platter alongside the salad. Enjoy!

view from one of the lookout points near Leura on our Blue Mountains bushwalk last weekend

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino over lentils with swiss chard & mustard

A couple of weeks ago I finally tried a few of the dinner recipes I've been eyeing in Rachel Khoo's wonderful My Little French Kitchen cookbook. In this sequel to My Little Paris Kitchen, Rachel has traveled all around France to gather the quintessential flavors and current food trends of many areas. The result is a beautiful snapshot of the varied French palate, from seaside-inspired dishes to heartier fare from the eastern side of the country. I loved the look of her green bean bundles over lentils, and though we've pretty much cut out legumes over the last few months (along with grains), I gave this one a try.
Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino over lentils with swiss chard & mustard
green beans & pecorino wrapped in prosciutto, served over lentils and swiss chard
The first time around I was very impressed with the green bean bundles, but the lentils were a little lackluster. A week later I revisited the recipe, this time sautéing swiss chard with the onions and thyme, and deglazing the pan with some apple cider vinegar and strong dijon mustard before gently tossing in the lentils. Tangy and delicious, plus another full serving of green vegetables : )  I used canned lentils for ease. If you have dried lentils, measure out 200g (7oz), rinse them, and bring to a slow simmer in 400g (14oz) water, simmering uncovered for 20-30 minutes, until lentils are soft.
Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino over mustardy lentils with swiss chard @ Southern Spoon Blog
tangy apple cider vinegar & dijon mustard lend lots of flavor to swiss chard & lentils
Tonight we're making the green bean bundles for dinner to serve alongside portuguese baked chicken. They are a very tasty side, and I bet these little prosciutto wrapped, cheese stuffed beauties will persuade even the pickiest non-green bean eater (they would also make a beautiful addition to a Thanksgiving table). The lentils could also work on their own as a side, or make them a main dish by stirring through some cooked sausage or crumbled crispy prosciutto. Enjoy, and happy fall to folks in the northern hemisphere!

* Update: if you're making this for a vegetarian or for someone who doesn't eat pork, I've successfully replicated the prosciutto wrapper with thinly shaved slices of carrot. Just take your vegetable peeler, place your carrot on a flat surface, and carefully shave a long slice, moving from the top to the bottom of the carrot (peeling away from yourself... that sounds like a 90s emo song). You might have to shave off a couple layers before you get a nice wide slice-- just wrap this around the green bean & pecorino bundle, and cook in the oven as per the recipe. 

Prosciutto-wrapped green beans & pecorino
serves 4-6 (larger appetites may want 2 bundles)

oil to coat baking tray
400g (or 14oz) green beans, rinsed
100g (or 3.5oz) pecorino (or other hard cheese, such as parmesan)
6 slices prosciutto (or thinly shaved carrot slices for a veg version)

Preheat oven to 190C/ 375F. Line a baking tray with baking paper and spray or brush lightly with oil (foil works, too, but must be oiled very well to avoid sticking). Set aside.

Slice the cheese into 12 sticks, about as long as the beans. Gather about 8-10 green beans, and two pieces of pecorino, and carefully wrap a slice of prosciutto around the bundle (for veg version, wrap a thin carrot slice around the bundle). Place the bundle on the prepared baking pan. Repeat with remaining ingredients. 

Bake the wrapped bundles for 18-25 minutes, until cheese is melted, just beginning to brown at the tips, and the prosciutto is beginning to crisp up. Remove from oven and carefully lift bundles from the baking tray. Serve immediately. 

Lentils with swiss chard & mustard
serves 4

1 tablespoon cooking oil (I use rice bran oil)
1 yellow or white onion, coursely chopped
about 10 sprigs thyme, leaves picked from any woodier stems, other thin stems rough chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
3 heaping cups rough chopped swiss chard, cleaned and de-stemmed
2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar (to taste)
1-2 tablespoons strong dijon mustard (to taste), plus additional mustard to serve
freshly ground salt and pepper (to taste)
2 x 400g cans lentils (or 14oz each), drained and rinsed (I used brown, any type will do)

Heat a large skillet or saucepan over medium heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat the pan. Add the onions, and sauté on medium to low heat for about 7-8 minutes, until onions are soft and beginning to brown. 

Add the thyme and garlic to the onions and stir, cooking for 1 minute. Add the swiss chard, stirring to distribute it amongst the onions. Cover and cook at medium-low heat for 7-8 minutes, stirring occasionally to avoid burning. Add the apple cider vinegar and mustard to the pan to deglaze, scraping off any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. 

Add the lentils and salt and pepper to the pan. Stir gently to distribute, then cover and cook on medium-low for 5 minutes, until lentils are heated through. 

Serve immediately, with a little mustard on the side to which people can help themselves. To serve with green bean bundles, arrange the lentils on a serving dish and place the bundles over the top of the lentils, or serve up individually with a mound of lentils on each plate topped with a green bean bundle. 

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Mini Eggplant Pizzas, Julia Childs style

As soon as I saw a pin for mini eggplant pizzas, I immediately began creating the perfect pizza in my head-- spinach mixed with tomato sauce for a hearty base, thinly sliced mushrooms and chunky olives, bit o mozzarella, and some prosciutto or prawns on top. *How* had I never thought of this?! My mom used to make me and my siblings mini pizzas on English muffin halves after school, and these are just as easy and tasty-- but paleofied : )
mini pizzas loaded with spinach and veggies on an eggplant base
Apparently the idea originated with Julia Childs, America's favorite TV chef before TV chefs were a thing. This woman introduced French cooking techniques to the household cook, and we are forever grateful. Eggplant pizzas may not be French, but they are adorable, hearty, veg-based snacks that can easily make a meal. 

I give the recipe for what I made below, but feel free to adapt as you wish. A different protein, such as cooked beef mince (ground beef), turkey mince, or shredded cooked chicken, could be added to the tomato sauce base instead of prawns or prosciutto. Anchovies would also work well. Or go for pineapple and prosciutto if you're feeling Hawaiian. Your imagination is the limit. These would be great to make for a DIY eggplant pizza bar dinner party. Three little pizzas were filling enough for dinner for me, and one each would serve as a nice starter before a main meal. Enjoy!

Mini Eggplant Pizzas
Makes approximately 9 pizzas

1 large eggplant, sliced into 1cm-wide slices
1 14oz (400g) can whole, peeled tomatoes
1/2 cup frozen spinach, cooked (or wilt a few big handfuls of fresh spinach)
1/2 teaspoon dried red chili flakes
1/4 cup thinly sliced mushrooms
2 tablespoons sliced ripe (black) olives
1/3 cup freshly shredded mozzarella cheese
9 raw prawns, peeled, deveined, and butterflied (split almost in half with a knife down the belly of the prawn)

Preheat the oven to 210C/ 410F. Line a large baking tray or cookie sheet with baking paper.

Place the eggplant slices on try baking tray and place them in the preheated oven for 10-12 minutes. 

Meanwhile, discard half of the liquid from the can of peeled tomatoes (or save for another use), and pour the remaining half into a medium sized bowl. Roughly chop chop (or pulse in a blender or food processor) the tomatoes, and add them to the tomato juice. Add the spinach and chili flakes (if using) to the tomatoes and mix well. 

Remove the eggplant from the oven and turn each slice over. On top of each eggplant slice, place a couple of tablespoons of the tomato mixture, spreading evenly over each slice. Next top with the mushroom slices and olives, then sprinkle the mozzarella evenly over each pizza. Top each pizza with a butterflied prawn. 

Bake the pizzas in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes, until the prawns are cooked through and the mozzarella begins to bubble. Serve immediately. 

Pizzas will keep, covered in the fridge, for 2 days.