Monthly Archives: September 2010

A Medley of Silk Road Salads – Part Two: Grilled Eggplant Salad

Okay, so I am a little delayed in adding Part Two of my Medley of Silk Road Salads, but better late than never. This second (of four) salad recipes is one of my favourite summer/fall sides, and it’s inspiration comes from Turkey.

I must confess that I never used to be an eggplant fan. In fact, eggplants were the one vegetable that I tried to avoid at all costs. In retrospect, I think my disdain for the eggplant came from having only ever tried some poor, waspy attempts at making eggplant parmesan, ratatouille or moussaka – where the eggplant was either tough and spongey or bloated and mushy. I used to hate getting a vegetarian meal at a wedding or function and finding eggplant “imposters” in my dish.

So you can imagine it took Michael a whole lot of pushing to get me to order it at a restaurant. We ordered a side of “bademjan salad” (simply put, eggplant salad) at Montfort Restaurant in Oakville one night and it was an instant love affair. Oh eggplant where have you been all my life? The salad (in most Arabic meals, salad refers as well to what we would call ‘dips’) was smooth, silky, and tangy – rich in tomato, olive oil and spices. Spread on piping hot, fresh baked pita, it was out of this world (and still is – I highly recommend ordering it at Montforts!)

Since falling in love with eggplant – prepared correctly – I have ventured much more intrepidly into the world of the aubergine, sampling such famous dishes as Imam Bayildi (the famous stuffed eggplant salad of Turkey), the smokey, smooth eggplant khoresh of Iran, Georgia’s mouth-watering eggplant strips wrapped around garlic – walnut paste, spicy eggplant and pepper stew in Turkestan, and dill and garlic grilled eggplant salad served all over Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Today’s salad is Turkish inspired because of it’s ingredients – paprika and Aleppo pepper – but you could find something quite similar in just about every Central Asian country. Aleppo pepper is a type of red pepper grown in the Aleppo region of  Syria. Rich, red flakes are spicy and aromatic, but lack the bite of the more common red pepper flakes seen in supermarkets across North America. You can just as easily substitute Maras Biber (a pepper grown in the Maras region of Turkey) or Isot Biber (a pepper grown in the Urfa region of Turkey). Now, if you do not happen to have any of these on hand (and chances are you don’t, as it took some pretty dedicated combing of the city to locate all three on our part), here are your options:

1. In the Toronto area, you can go to Ararat Fine Foods, north of Lawrence on Avenue road, and buy your own Aleppo pepper

2. In the Ottawa area, you can go to Istanbul store (and don’t ask me where it is, I can’t remember – except that it is in a strip mall, not to0 far from the MEC) and buy any of the three

3. Visit the Spice Trader on Queen Street near Bathurst (or order online at http://www.thespicetrader.ca) – *very expensive*

4. In the Mississauga area, ask me if I will share some with you, and I will gladly do so

5. Substitute red pepper flakes – but you really wont get the true flavour

6. Make it an Uzbek salad by omitting the Aleppo pepper, and replacing the 2 tbsp of fresh mint with 1/4 cup fresh dill

Finding the appropriate pepper is the hardest part of the recipe. Once you have it, it’s smooth cooking from hereon in

Recipe

Ingredients:

2 Asian eggplants (the long thin kind – if you get the fatter Italian or Sicilian eggplants, you need to salt them for 30 minutes and rinse them after)

1 red bell pepper

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tsp vinegar (red wine or white)

juice from 1/2 lemon

1 tsp sweet paprika (as always, a good quality paprika from a Middle Eastern store works best)

1 tsp Aleppo pepper

1/4 tsp salt

2 tbsp fresh mint, chopped

2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

Instructions:

Slice the eggplant into 0.5 cm thick slices (lengthwise). Salt and rinse if using Sicilian eggplants – skip this step if using Asian eggplants. Chop pepper into about 6 large slices. Heat up barbecue and brush the eggplant slices and peppers with 1 tbsp of the olive oil (just to barely coat). Grill them on the barbecue – eggplant cooks very fast, so don’t leave it; watch it carefully. When lightly charred, remove eggplant and pepper slices and allow to cool. Meanwhile make the dressing by whisking all remaining ingredients together in a bowl (except for the herbs). When eggplants and peppers are cool enough to touch, slice them into bit sized pieces, toss them in the dressing, and adding the herbs last. Allowing the salad to marinade at least an hour is advisable. Serve at room temperature.

This salad serves four as a side dish, 2 as a main dish. It doubles quite well.

Grilled eggplant salad

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A medley of Silk Road Salads – Part One

Have you ever tasted an Armenian apricot? Chances are, if you haven’t been to Armenia, you haven’t. This summer I tasted a fresh-off-the-tree Armenian apricot and it changed my world. Never in my life have I experienced such an intense explosion of flavour in a fruit; I almost cried. It was sweet. It was firm but juicy at the same time. It was rich, it was delicate – it was amazing. The rich, volcanic soils of the Ararat plain give rise to some incredibly flavourful produce – all of it organic by default, since pesticides and herbicides are too expensive and generally frowned upon as “cheating”. Apricots are but one of the fruits borne in the shadows of the Holy mountain; cherries, pomegranates, tomatoes, walnuts, cucumber, peaches…the list goes on. After that colourful description, I must confess this post has nothing to do with apricots – but I used it as my lead in to be able to illustrate the magic of the Ararat plain. I do intend, however, to share a simple, healthy salad that endeared itself to us over our 8 days in Armenia – a salad relying completely on rich, red juicy tomatoes (which happen to be in season right now), crisp mini cucumbers and fresh herbs. Over the next week, I will add to my salad repertoire with a number of other salads inspired by our journeys along the Silk Road – so stay tuned! But for now, I bring you the Armenian salad.

The simplicity of this salad and the intensity of its flavour (provided you use fresh, local produce) will surprise you. This salad was served with just about every meal in Armenia, and I never got sick of it. I remember in particular one restaurant that was situated on a river. Their home baked fresh-from-the-clay-oven lavash bread was served with a plate of mixed herbs, a bowl of thickened yoghurt (madzhoon – similar to Lebanese labneh), a plate of feta (which in Armenia is similar to Persian or Turkish feta – neither as salty nor as hard as the Greek version but rather soft and spreadable) and sparkling Jermuk mineral water. You never left a meal in Armenia feeling as though you had sinned against the diet gods – everything was fresh, organic and healthy.

It’s very important that you use fresh herbs in the following recipe – dried herbs do not work. Although we use olive oil, most Armenians do not have a taste for olives or olive oil and you will find that for the most part, they use vegetable oil. The cheese we use is called Tressé. It’s a salty white cheese in strings – I heard it compared to mozzarella cheese strings, but it is really not like that at all, except maybe in texture. Tressé, which I assume comes from the French word meaning “braided” is a braided ball of salted cheese with generous amounts of nigella (or black cumin) enmeshed within it. Known sometimes as “Armenian String Cheese” it is also eaten widely in Lebanon and Syria. On it’s own, it’s initially overwhelming in its saltiness, but leaves behind a very appealing taste; in this salad it provides exactly enough salt to contrast with the sweetness of the tomatoes and the sourness of the red wine vinegar. Tressé can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores (look for a big ball of ‘stringy’ looking cheese) and, of course, at Highland Farms (what doesn’t that place have, anyway?!) If you don’t want to buy a big ball of tressé, you could just as easily add feta. But if you like the salad, do make it your goal to try it with the tressé sometime!

Ingredients:

3 baby cucumbers, thickly diced (peeled if you want, but I never do)

8-10 campari tomatoes (or other sweet, ripe tomato)

a generous handful of purple basil (this can be hard to find; if you can’t find it, you can substitute regular basil)

A generous handful of cilantro

A slightly smaller handful of dill

About 60 g of tressé cheese, pulled apart

1 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp red wine vinegar

1/4 tsp fleur de sel

pepper to taste

Chop the campari tomatoes in halves or quarters; mix with the diced cucumbers. Roughly chop the herbs, add to the salad, top with the tresse, drizzle the olive oil and vinegar over top, season with salt and pepper and prepare to enjoy the wonderfully simple summer flavours of Armenia.

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Spelt Bannock with oat bran and dried fruit

We just returned from a canoe trip in what I believe is one of the most beautiful places on earth. Nothing can truly describe this place, just as photographs can never come close to rendering its beauty. You have to be there to smell the air, to feel the angle of the sun on your face, to hear the music your paddle makes as it breaks the lake’s surface, to see your shadow on the deep, azure waters of O.S.A. Lake. I find it simultaneously reassuring and disheartening that most Canadians have never experienced the magic that is Killarney. It’s reassuring because the  stunning lakes and trees and ancient granite are only wild and pristine because most people do not have the ability to reach them – you either have to hike or paddle to get into the heart of the park. It’s disheartening because I don’t think that the average Canadian even has a clue of how majestic and spectacular the Canadian Shield – the world’s oldest exposed rock – truly is.

We are big on the belief that just because you are abandoning civilization for several days does not mean you must abandon good food. We paddled 50 km in three days, and if I hadn’t eaten well, I would have lost steam after 10. Normally we paddle with another couple, and our favourite canoeing couple not only share this food philosophy – they take it to a whole new level! I remember paddling the French River delta with them a few years ago, and after a vicious storm, we set up on an island. Sitting on a drenched log, clad in gore-tex, rain water dripping off our hoods and blackflies and mosquitoes devouring us, Ian surprises us by revealing the reason for his abnormally heavy pack. He pulls out a fantastic South African red from Vintages and we sip wine from collapsible stemware – wine has never tasted so good. It was the next morning  – much sunnier but cooler morning – that we awoke to a wonderful aroma; a sweet, multigrain bannock being cooked on the camp stove.

So on this recent Killarney trip, we wanted to make their multigrain bannock but our journey was planned in such haste, I did not have time to call them. I decided to wing it – following an old, traditional bannock recipe, I just threw in everything that I love…and it worked! It worked so well that Michael begged me to make another batch for his fishing trip. Aren’t I the little domestic housewife?!  it takes, I reminded him, a special kind of woman to make bannock for the guys!

The good news about this recipe is that you don’t have to be in the wilderness to enjoy it. You can cook it in a pan on a stove in your own civilized kitchen. If you want to make it for the trail, simply pack all the dry ingredients in a zip lock bag. If you are making it at home, put it in a bowl.

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups white spelt flour or all-purpose flour

1 cup whole spelt flour

1/2 oat bran

1/4 cup oats

1/4 wheat germ

1 tbsp baking powder

1 Tbsp maple sugar (or brown sugar)

1 tsp cinnamon

4 dried mission figs, finely chopped

6 dried apricots, finely chopped

2 medjool dates

2 tbsp sour cherries, pitted (optional)

2 tbsp slivered almonds

2 tbsp pumpkin seeds

2 tbsp slivered pistachios

2-3 Tbsp butter or ghee

Milk or water

Instructions

Mix all dry ingredients (including fruit) in either a zip lock bag (for camping) or a bowl (home). When you are ready to prepare the bannock, cut in 2 tbsp of the butter (home) or ghee (camping) and mix it in with your fingers until the dough is crumbly. Start adding milk (home) or water (camping) slowly, and mixing with hands. Being with about 1/4 of a cup, and then add in increments of 2 tbsp until you have a dough that is moist but firm (not sticky). Divide the dough into four parts and roll in to a ball. Grease a hot pan (over a stove, camp stove or campfire grill) with remaining butter or ghee. Press the dough ball gently into the pan and cook approximately 2 minutes until golden (watch it closely). Flip and cook on the other side. You might need to repeat this process. The bannock is done when a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Eat it with maple syrup or jam – we enjoyed ours with a jar of fig jam.

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