eggplant kuku


Last week was all about new experiences, I rescued a baby bird (it turned out to be a wren) from our sidewalk. The bird was sitting on the sidewalk, afraid and shaking. Not having the heart to let it spend the night out in the rain and potentially exposed to the dogs and cats of our neighborhood, I picked him up and brought him home. Since I could not get to the rescue facility, I kept him for a couple of days. I let him out during the day in our garden where I knew he'd be safe. Soon he came to recognize my voice and footsteps and would chirp and try to follow me around. Within a couple of days he was stronger and started to flap his wings to fly. It was time to let him back in the wild and we took him to a nearby park and left him under a bush where we knew he'd be safe. A few hours later we came back to check on him and he had made himself a little nest.  I knew then that he would survive, I really hope he is flying somewhere right now. There was a moment where I'd thought I might just keep him but one pet for now is more than enough. Plus, I don't think Snoopy was too happy with the temporary shift in attention. 


As with new experiences, I experimented in my kitchen this week and I think I might have my new potential brunch favorite, it looks like frittata but is so very different and has its own special charm. It is fragrant and colorful and can be combined with any type of vegetable or meat that you can think of. This baked egg casserole is called a kuku and goes well by itself or as an accompaniment to any meal. For this particular kuku, I used a large eggplant and some fresh herbs that we picked up at the Dupont Circle's Farmer's Market. I mention this later again in the recipe, sometimes eggplants can have a little bitter taste and you can extract the bitter flavor out by soaking the cut vegetable for a couple of minutes with some cold water and salt. Just remember to rinse the eggplant pieces in plain cold water and then wiping them dry before you cook.


You can add almost any type of fresh herb to this casserole, I used dill in this particular kuku but I've also made it with fresh parsley. What makes this delicious kuku different from other stuffed egg casserole dish, is that it uses a little lime juice, flour, and baking soda. I liked the meaty texture of the eggplant with the eggs, they both somehow come together and melt when you take a bite. This is definitely one of my new top additions to my weekend brunch menu and I think you  might want to add it to yours! I adapted this recipe from "Food of Life" by cook and author Najmeih Batmaglij.


eggplant kuku 

ingredients

8 large eggs
1 large eggplant (approximately 2 cups of peeled and diced eggplant)
1 large white onion (approximately 1 cup of diced onion)
2 garlic cloves
1/2 chopped fresh dill/parsley/cilantro
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon dried bread crumbs
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
extra salt to wash the eggplant

1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Heat a 10 inch diameter cast iron skillet on a medium flame and add the olive oil. Peel the eggplant and cut out four thin slices (about 2mm thick), you will use these to garnish the kuku. Keep the eggplant slices aside. Dice the rest of the eggplant into 1/2 inch cubes and let them sit in a cold water and a little salt for 20 minutes. This helps to remove the bitterness of the eggplant. Discard the liquid (it will appear brown), rinse the chopped eggplant under running tap water. Pat them dry with a clean towel.
2. Peel and dice the onion and add it to the hot oil. Cook the onion till it gets golden brown, this should take about. Smash the garlic and peel the skin off, the finely chop the garlic and add it to the onions in the skillet and stir for 2 minutes. Add the chopped and washed eggplant to the onion and garlic mixture. Cook for another 15 minutes till the eggplant is translucent. Transfer the eggplant mix from the skillet into a bowl and let them cool for 10 minutes. 
3. Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl. Chop the dill/parsley/cilantro, the flour, baking powder, turmeric, bread crumbs, lime juice, salt, and pepper. Whisk for about a minute to mix all the ingredients. Make sure that there are no flour clumps in the mixture. Fold the cooled eggplant mix into the whisked egg batter. 
4. Melt the butter in the same iron skillet on a medium flame. Remove the skillet from the gas. Make sure that the melted butter coats the surface of the pan completely. Pour the egg batter into the center of the skillet and place the four eggplant slices (that you cut and kept aside earlier) on the surface of the batter. and transfer the skillet to the heated oven and bake for 40 minutes or until the surface is golden brown and the center is cooked (test the center of the eggs with a skewer, if it comes out clean then the eggs are cooked). Remove the kuku from the oven and allow it to cool for 5 minutes before cutting and serving. It will also be easier to remove the kuku from the bottom of the skillet. Serve warm by itself or with plain rice and yogurt.


chilled mint yogurt soup


It was pretty exciting when one of the editors at the Huffington Post asked to feature my chocolate mint cake on their website, this was a great start to the holidays! With summer in full swing, we slipped away to Fire Island in New York for a week with a couple of friends. We were super lucky to have missed most of the heat wave and the electric shortage that hit D.C. during that entire week. Fire Island is a long and narrow barrier island that is surrounded by the bay with some beautiful beaches and wildlife. Its also a fun summer party spot. Beaches on the North East have waters that are a bit too cool for my liking, so I tend to spend more time on the sand. Fire Island is very interesting, there are boardwalks that connect the entire island, except for golf carts and water taxis you won't find any gas propelled vehicles. The island is also National Park which is where some of these rules stem from. 


I am sharing some of my favorite random moments on this holiday. A life-size Superman adorned the entrance to a house on the boardwalk. You always run into deer on the island that are neutralized to humans (which does not mean you should feed or touch them), they will walk right next to you and go about their business. Its fascinating bit a bit unnerving. Since there are no lights at night, it does get pretty dark, we almost walked into a doe on the boardwalk but thankfully it was smarter and crossed over to the side and let us pass. I was secretly hoping to see some foxes but unfortunately either I missed them or they missed me. 


The house we rented was wonderful. You could see the bay and watch the sun traverse its way across the horizon. There aren't too many restaurants to eat at Fire Island, so you tend to cook a lot. The kitchen had all the basic amenities and we grilled and barbecued almost every day. I got a chance to cook some fresh scallops and shrimp and there is nothing better than fresh seafood with a glass of wine. The week passed us by so quickly and by the time we were back in D.C. we were greeted by temperatures over 106F and high humidity levels! I was still glad to be back since I began to miss Snoopy and his licks. We spent the rest of our weekend readjusting (recovery and rest) before we got back into the grind. Snoopy was exhausted from playing at his daycare and slept all weekend. It looks like everyone had a good time!


This is the perfect recipe for a hot day when you don't feel like spending too much time in the kitchen and need something soothing and light to cool you down. Though you do need to chill the soup for at least two hours. If you are running short on time, you can rest the soup bowl into a larger bowl containing crushed ice to chill it down faster. Inspired by middle eastern cuisine, this recipe uses refreshing mint in both dried and fresh forms to brighten up the flavors of the soup. Garlic adds a little bit of a kick to the soup. Sometimes, if I feel that the garlic might be too strong (especially if we plan to go out later - the dreaded garlic breath), I will tone the intensity of the garlic down by sautéing it gently with some olive oil. However, if you prefer you can use the garlic directly in the soup without cooking it.


chilled yogurt soup

yields: 4-6 servings

ingredients

1 large persian cucumber (about 1 1/2- 2 cups)
3 cups plain non-fat yogurt
2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon dried ancho chili powder
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried mint 

1. Coarsely grate the cucumber, squeeze the liquid and keep aside. 
2. In a mixing bowl, whisk the yogurt gently for a minute. Finely mince the garlic and sauté it gently for 20 seconds with half of the olive oil on medium-high flame in a small saucepan. Add the garlic, cucumber, fresh mint, ancho chili, and vinegar in a large mixing bowl. Season with salt and pepper. 
3. Chill the soup for at least two hours before serving. Garnish with the dried mint and drizzle with extra virgin olive oil. Serve with warm pita bread.


persian khoresht of chicken and herbs


I am still savoring my "high" fueled by the Broadway production of Billy Elliot that we went to see last Sunday evening at the Kennedy Center. If you've seen the movie then you must see the musical. The show had a great cast and the songs and of course dancing were spectacular.Someone is keeping an eye on me while I post this and does not seem too happy without the attention.


While sticking with my theme on personal highs this holiday season, I am still on my Persian food kick. This recipe is for a delicious Persian stew or Khoresht that uses spinach and lemons for the base with a bunch of aromatic herbs that add a fresh and fragrant flavor to the chicken and garbanzo beans. You can substitute any type of beans in this recipe, red kidney beans would be delicious too due their meaty texture. Stews or Khoreshts are so versatile in Persian cuisine and amazingly easy and delicious to prepare. They can  be served with plain rice (especially Basmati) or you can try my previous post on Persian rice with green Lentils, raisins and dates or even  a stack of warm pita breads.


persian khoresht of chicken and herbs

ingredients

4 lean chicken breasts
1 cup chopped red onion
8 cups fresh spinach leaves
2 lemons
1 cup water
2 cups of garbanzo beans soaked overnight in water
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon unsalted butter
salt and pepper to taste

Pat the chicken breasts between paper towels. Trim off any excess fat from the chicken and discard. Cube the breasts into 2 inch cubes and keep aside. Heat the oil in a large skillet and saute the onions and garlic till golden brown. Add the chicken cubes and brown on each side. Add all the cinnamon, greens and beans to the skillet. Squeeze the juice from the two lemons and add the water. Bring the broth to a boil and then reduce to the flame to a simmer and cook for about 45 minutes or till the chicken is tender and begins to fall apart. The sauce of the broth will thicken as it cooks. Serve this hot or warm with pita bread, naan or rice.


persian rice with green lentils, raisins and dates


I don't drive to work but these days the traffic in the city is a "daymare"/nightmare. It takes more than an hour to get to work and back home. The only advantage to this is taking naps or reading a book on the D.C. Circulator bus, provided I get a seat. I wish I could do something more fruitful with these wasted hours traveling, though naps are most welcome.


During these long bus trips, I've been hankering a craving for Persian food. It is a nice change from all the Holiday themed meals around me. Part of my craving, lies in a new cookbook that I am reading while killing time on the bus and the other half of it lies in the basmati rice dishes that are served at the Persian restaurants I've eaten at. Basmati rice is one of the most fragrant and long-grained rice of the rice family. A staple of Indian cooking for centuries, this Indian grain is widely used in several Middle Eastern and sometimes Mediterranean dishes. There aren't too many Persian restaurants in D.C. that I am aware of but I have tried some delicious offerings at Shamshiry in Tyson's Corner in Virginia. Another interesting fact about basmati rice relative to other rice grains is its low glycemic index that ranges from 43 to 60 whereas other varieties of rice are generally between 72 to 98, make this a healthy option for diabetics. I would recommend buying Basmati rice at an Indian grocery store or a brand that has a made in India label on it, simply because the difference in taste and quality is striking.



To soothe my cravings, I figured that a foray into Persian cooking might just be what the doctor ordered. This particular rice dish, Adas polo, I think is deliciously fruity yet wholesome. Sweet and tangy flavors complement the basmati rice making this a wholesome vegetarian meal by itself. This dish reminded me of the Indian pilafs that are so equally hearty and flavorful.Quite a few ingredients could be potentially substituted in this dish, craisins for the raisins or even beluga lentils for the green lentils. This recipe was adapted from New Persian Cooking by Jila Dana -Haeri with Shahrzad Ghorashian. A side note with this dish, a crust might form at the bottom of the dish when the rice is being fluffed at the final stage of cooking. This crispy layer is a highly prized crust or tahdig that many Persians love. This dish can be accompanied by a light salad and or cold Greek yogurt.



persian rice with green lentils, raisins and dates

ingredients

1 cup green lentils/lentils du puy
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 medium onion finely diced
1/2 cup packed raisins or sultanas
2 teaspoons turmeric
1/4 cup dates, pitted and chopped
3 cups basmati rice (soaked in cold water for at least 2 hours)
3 tablespoons salt
1 liter water
1 teaspoon saffron
2 tablespoons butter

In a saucepan, add 2 cups of water and the lentils and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let the lentils cook till al dente. Drain the lentils and keep aside. Heat the oil in a large skillet and saute the onions till golden brown. Reduce the flame, and saute the raisins and the dates. Add the lentils to the skillet along with 1 teaspoon of turmeric. Add salt to taste and keep aside. 
Bring the water to boil, add salt and oil. Drain the rice and add the rice to the boiling water. Leave to simmer, uncovered on medium heat for approximately 10 minutes. Drain any excess water from the rice. In a separate shallow dish (flame proof dish, as this will be put back on the stove), add all the rice and reserve 1/2 cup of the cooked rice. Gently fold the lentil mixture into the rice, taking care that none of the rice grains break during this process. The rice will pick up the turmeric color and turn yellow. Layer the reserved white rice grains on top of the lentil rice mixture in the dish. Cover the dish with a tight lid and let the rice steam on a medium flame for about 50 minutes till the rice fluffs up. The tahdig or crust will form at the bottom of the dish. To release it easily immerse the bottom of your dish in cold water. Remove the top rice and lentil mixture into a serving bowl, fluffing it while you remove the rice. Detach and break the plain rice tahdig from the bottom of the pan and serve it with the rice. Serve the rice warm or hot and fluff the rice before serving.