Are you looking for something more interesting than a simple lemonade? Check out this fabulous drink with its unexpected twist … the sweet berries and the refreshing lemons are mixed with fragrant basil … ahhh just the perfect drink for the summer…
Last summer, when we were on vacation, I ventured into getting a drink called blueberry lemonade with basil. I had never heard of this drink before but it sounded interesting so I ended up ordering it … and it was a pleasant surprise, something I had never had before. So I tried to recreate it at home and here is what I came up with.
juice and the peel/rind of 1 fresh lemon juice
1 cup of fresh blueberries, frozen is fine (blackberries or raspberries would work too)
handful of torn fresh basil leaves
1-3 tablespoons granulated sugar or honey (depending on your taste)
3 cups of water, I used carbonated water
Ice for serving (0ptional)
In a pitcher, combine all the ingredients together ex the ice and lemon slices for serving.
Let it stand overnight or at least for a few hours in the refrigerator.
Strain off the large pieces.
If you wish, serve with fresh basil leaves, blueberries, lemon slices and ice.
We just celebrated the Summer Solstice so summer is definitely here. Zucchini is one of the first summer vegetables that appears at the farmers’ market. Fritatta is a popular Italian dish and also is my favorite way to prepare zucchini. Italians often make it for ‘lunch on the go’ because it tastes good as it is … it does not have to be reheated and is an interesting and unique dish. If you have eggs, cheese, onions, zucchini and olive oil you can make zucchini frittata. The secret is in the preparation.
So let’s look at those secrets … no worries it is not a difficult dish to make. The main secret is to cook it slowly. It is kind of a ‘slow food’ meaning that it is cooked slowly on low heat starting in cold olive oil. This was rather a hard concept for me at first because I always heat the oil before I put onions in a pot … but once you taste the dish, you will understand. Also, it prevents the olive oil from burning- I’m guessing. Another secret is to not dry it out so basically don’t over-cook the eggs. And that is about it other than the usual, use good ingredients.
The recipe is from Marcella Hazan’s cookbook Essentials of Clasic Italian Cooking.
So let’s look at why we should incorpoate zucchini in our summer diet. The watery zucchini is cooling and refreshing and is great to overcome the summer heat. It has a tender texture with a slightly sweet flavor and pairs nice with something a little more robust like eggs and cheese. It is also packed with nutients and is rich in calcium, magnesium, iron, vitamin B and C.
Oh and I can’t forget about the basil, the other main ingredient. It is in the mint family along with the other remarkable Mediterreanian herbs like oregano, mint, rosemary. It is not an accident that Mediterreanian chefs use basil on a regular basis. The aromatic basil is used in cooking for making food taste better and has numerous health benefits. For more information on basil, please check out this article.
1/4 cup of cold pressed olive oil, divided
1 large onion (1 cup), finally chopped
2-3 medium sized zucchini
5 large eggs
1 Tbsp dried oregano
a handfull of fresh basil leaves
2/3 cup of freshly graded Parmesan cheese
salt and black pepper
2 Tbsp of butter
Put half of the cold oil, and the onion in a large pan. Turn heat onto low heat, (not simmer) and cover. Cook until the onion wilts and becomes greatly diminished in bulk for about 20-30 minutes. Then uncover and continue cooking until the onion gets a nice golden brown color. I turn the heat a notch up here. This is going to be a lengthy process but it is an importamt part of the dish.
Meanwhile, prepare the zucchini. Soak them in cold water for 20 minutes to loosen the dirt. Scrub and wash off any dirt. Cut off both ends. Slice them thin.
When the onion is nice and golden brown, add salt and the sliced zucchini. You can put the sliced bacon in here if you plan on using it. Turn heat up to medium high and cook them until they are softened and have a light nut brown color. Stir frequently.
Making the fritatta. Melt the butter gently, add the whisked eggs with the torn-up basil, freshly ground black pepper and the cheese. Cook carefully until the eggs have set and thickened and the bottom has a light brown color (not burnt) and only the top is runny. Turn the broiler on. I use the low broiler for 3 minutes.
These cookies are made to honor the Summer Solctice. Summer Solstice is the celebration of the longest day of the year, really the celebration of the Sun. It is a ceremony done especially in places that have long days of darkness and cold. It is surely a huge event in the Northern European countries but you can enjoy it in your own backyard wherever you live. Gather some edible flowers and make these delicious cookies to celebrate this beatiful time of the year!
IMPORTANT! You can use any flowers that your heart desires just make sure they are edible. Many of the flowers sold in stores are cultivated versions of wild plants and might not be suitable for eating but even in the wild, not every plant is edible. Of course, do not pick from areas that have been sprayed. If you don’t have edible flowers, no worries. You can still make the cookies with the icing and just use the flowers for decorations on the side.
Having said this here is a list of flowers that might be helpful for deciding which ones to use: calendula, chamomile, clovers, native echinacea, wild iris, wild daisies, dandelions, lavender, wild roses, St John’s wort, rosemary, thyme, sage. I ended up using flowers that are growing in my garden right now. These were petals of chamomile, calendula, clovers, lavender and leaves of rosemary.
These are tasty sugar cookies and the icing works well with the cookies as well … it will harden in about an hour or so after you put it on. Also, the icing recipe uses some milk. I don’t think the milk is a big issue if you have the cookies out for a couple of hours but they should be refrigerated otherwise for storage. Of course, you can make these cookies without the flowers for a fun summer dessert, too.
1 & 3/4 cups of all purpose flour
¾ cup (12 Tbsp) softened butter at room temperature
¼ cup honey
¼ cup brown or cane sugar
1-3 teaspoon minced organic thyme
1-3 teaspoon minced organic lavender buds
1-3 teaspoon minced organic rosemary
1-3 teaspoon minced organic sage
a few crushed cardamom seeds
pinch of salt
edible flowers (please see note above)
3 teaspoons milk
1 cup of powdered sugar
grated rind of 1 lemon. ( I also added lavender buds to the second batch of icing)
For colouring, I used store-bought natural food yellow dye or you can use turmeric or St John’s wort tinture too.
Combine your milk and icing sugar. Slowly add in your colouring and mix until you find the desired colour/consistency.
Preheat Oven to 300 F for 20 minutes before you start baking.
Beat flour, sugar, herbs (levendar, thyme, sage, rosemary, crushed cardamom seeds) and soft butter together until creamy. I did it by hand easily but you can use a food processor.
Slowly drizzle in honey while beating until mixture pulls together. I did this part by hand, it was very easy. The dough should make a ball.
Divide into four smaller balls and chill for an hour or so.
Roll out on a floured surface and cut into round shapes. Add flour as needed.
Bake at 300 for 10-15 minutes. I baked the cookies for 12 minutes until the bottoms were nice and golden brown. The cookies will harden after you take them out.
Spread a small amount of the icing (recipe above) on the top of the cookies evenly. Do them in batches of 10 as the icing can harden.
Decorate using the flowers and herbs of the sun: Please note above on how to choose flowers.
Salsa is one of my favorite sauces. It is easy to make as it takes less than 10 minutes to prepare. You can spice up many dishes with it and it can be made of course as spicy as you like it.
The most important ingredient is the tomato. You will need ripe, soft and tasty tomatoes. My favorite heirloom tomatoes are not ready yet but I find the hydroponic tomatoes a nice alternative. If you don’t have fresh tomatoes, you can use canned tomatoes, of course the results will not be the same. Also, I personally just use the tomatoes as they are and don’t remove the skin or the seeds.
3 medium sized tomatoes, cored
1/2 of a small red onion, chopped or 3 scalions, chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
juice of 1 lime or lemon or 2 Tbsp white vinegar
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp salt
handful of cilantro,chopped
1/2-1 fresh chili pepper or jalapeño pepper, chopped or to taste
Chop up the tomatoes. I prefer using a very sharp knife. You can use a food processor but your salsa will be more liquidy and IMO not as strong tasting.
In the United States and Europe, rhubarb is known as the pie plant and in fact we tend to use it in sweet dishes; however, in Asia, it is more used in savory dishes. Today, I’m presenting a savory dish that was inspired by a blog. The rhubarb gives the sour taste that is balanced out nicely with the sweet and hot Chinese sauce and the bitter bamboo shoots. I chose broccoli as the main vegetable for the dish. If you prefer a vegetarian alternative, please check out my previous recipe that is a similaly made with tofu.
Rhubarb is everywhere here in the Midwest right now. It is almost ready in my garden but it has been available for a few weeks at the farmers’ market for sure. It is actually a healthy plant. Rhubarb has favorable health effects in the spring and the summer as it is cooling and detoxifying to the liver. The stems are good source of antioxidants, vitamin K and fiber. The Chinese also use the roots for its medicinal properties. In fact, it is so important for the Chinese that they consider it to be one of the ten most important herbs for healing.
So what’s up with the ketchup? Is it Chinese? … I think of American cooking when I hear the word ketchup but in fact it originated from China. It is basically a sweet and tangy sauce made with tomatoes, sugar, vinegar and spices. It actually means fish sauce as they traditionally addded fermented fish sauce. For this recipe we just need the basic ketchup, so go ahead and just use store-bought ketchup – unless of course you want to make it yourself.
This is a very tasty dish! I really wanted to make a dinner with rhubarb and I found this recipe. I made a few changes to suit my taste. I cut the pork into long strips instead of squares. I replaced the green peppers with broccoli. Also, I wanted to bring in more of the bitter flavor so I added bamboo shoots to offset the sourness of the rhubarb. And for garnishing, I also added peanuts to get a bit of crunchyness. I think this is a fabulous recipe with an interesting twist to the usual sweet and sour pork dish that is served in restaurants with pineapples.
300g pork fillet, cut into thin long stipes or 1 inch cubes
About 3 medium stems of rhubarb (200g) cut into 1 inch batons – please use a scale
1 Tbsp brown sugar
1 large onion, peeled, halved and cut into thin slivers
2 heads of broccoli
1 thumb of ginger, peeled and chopped (1 Tbsp)
sesame oils, for frying
1 small can of bamboo shoots
2 cups of raw rice (or rice noodles)
1 Tbsp soy sauce
3 Tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp honey
1 fat clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
1 small thumb of ginger, peeled and grated
1 Tbsp of corn starch
2 Tbsp tomato ketchup
4 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tsp honey
1 Tbsp sesame oil
2 Tbsp soy sauce
1 Tbsp cornstarch
1 cup of water
5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 spring onion, finely sliced
1/2 mild red chilli pepper (optional), finely chopped
handfull of chopped peanuts
Prepare rice according to its instructions. I used rice noodle last time.
Cut the pork pieces into longer (2 inches) thin (half inch) stripes. You can do squares too but the Chinese do long stripes traditionally.
Whisk together the marinade ingredients, add the pork, cover well and set aside for at least a half an hour or up to a couple of hours.
In another bowl, whisk together the sauce ingredients. Cover and put aside.
Heat oil in a large frying pan and add the rhubarb batons in a single layer. Cook for about a minute and a half and keeping them moving. Add a heaped tablespoon of soft light brown sugar, toss and cook for about minute more. You want them to have tenderised but still to have some bite. If they start breaking up, you’ve gone too far. Whip them off the heat immediately. Scoop into a bowl and set aside.
Take the pork out of the refrigerator, pour off the marinade and dry with a towel.
Put a tablespoon of vegetable oil, I used sesame oil in a wok and stir-fry the pork on a medium-high heat for three or four minutes, until golden brown. Remove and keep to one side.
Make sure you’ve prepped all the vegetables before you start cooking the main event, because they will cook fast.
Saute the sliced onion until translucent. Add the ginger and the broccoli and continue sauteing for about 5 minutes or until it is crunchy on medium high heat. Give the sauce (from above) a quick whisk, then pour it into the pan. Add the rhubarb and the bamboo shoots and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for three or four minutes until thick. Add the pork and toss and coat well until the pork is warm.
Add soy sauce and chilli pepper if needed.
Serve over rice, garnished with the sliced spring onion , cilantro, nuts.
Here is the season that we had been waiting for since the winter! We have been witnessing the buds emerging on the plants and maturing into full grown plants … oh and the days getting longer and warmer. Now finally we can appreciate what nature can give: warmth, light and food. This is a great time to get outside, socialize, travel, eat the abundant fruits and vegetables or just have fun. We can take an advantage of all the gorgeous flowers blooming outside and bring them inside.
In Chinese Medicine, each season is associated with a natural element so summer is associated with Fire. Also, each element has corresponding western organs. The western organs of the Fire element are the Heart and the Small Intestines and in addition, the Pericardium and the Triple Warmer are included. Also, this element contains the Mind, a rather difficult concept for Westerners. (I capitalized the organs because in Chinese Medicine, it is more like an organ is considered to be the organ itself and its energetic functions)
One of the elements in nature is Fire, in fact, it is probably the most important one for our survival. Fire or warmth is essential to keep the body going, our metabolism and our whole body depends on it. According to Karl Jung, Fire is needed to have clear perception. Also, “psychotherapists believe that ‘cooking’ is important for meaningful changes to occur in their patients”. In fact, “throughtout the history of humankind, the symbol of Fire has always been synonymus with life”.
In Chinese Medicine, the heart, the Emperor of our body, is not necessarly treated directly as it depends on other organs for its nourishment. Basically, you are to take care of your body in order to keep the heart healthy. For prevention, we are supposed to attend to all the other organs all year around to help the heart function properly. There are several foods that are beneficial for the Heart but this list is pretty short. So this could be a quick write-up if I just wanted to list these foods but there is so much to this element and it is quite fascinating.
It is believed that if the heart is not happy, nobody is happy. So let’s see what would be ideal for a happy heart. The heart needs to be warm, neither cold or hot. So avoid getting overheated during the summer and getting too cold during the winter. Another factor that can influence our heart is our emotions. Emotions out of balance can negatively effect the heart. Furthermore, the heart’s energy tends to move downward that the bitter flavored foods support.The heart also enjoys nourishing foods.
The heart’s ‘partner’, the Small Intestine is responsible for sorting out the pure from impure, separating the wheat from the chaff. It absorbs the usable food for assimilation and gets rid of the useless material through the colon. This is also true not only at the physical level but at the spiritual level, too. The Small Intestine helps the body sort through important information and toxic information. So the healthy Small Intestine helps us in letting go of unneeded things in our life and by the same token an unhealthy Small Intestine will accumulate toxins leading to the pollution of our body, mind and spirit.
We can certainly nourish the small intestines with food. It is part of the elimination system so food would be important. Fiber rich foods will make the intestines work more efficiently and hence result in a more efficient absorption of nutrients. Foods like nuts and seeds can supply this necessary protein and fiber. Of course, any kind of whole grain is helpful as well in providing fiber. In addition, it is summer, so we can take an advantage of all the fruits and vegetables, they are an excellent source of fiber. Probiotics such lactobacilus and bifidobacterium can be beneficial for the small intestines as well which can be found in yoghurt, kefir, fermented foods etc.
The biggest issue during the summer months is the heat. So all cooling foods especially the brightly colored fruits and vegetables are great. In Chinese Medicine, the red color is associated with the Fire element. It is believed that consuming foods that are red (watermelon, strawberries, red beans, goji berries, red peppers, chili peppers, hibiscous flower) and heart shaped (chickpeas) are beneficial for the heart.
Also, to help calm the mind and deal with the heat of the summer, it is recommended to eat a more simple diet with light foods and avoiding complicated dishes. Oyster shells, whole grains, mushrooms, barley, oats, cucumber, basil, mulberries, lemon, ghee are especially useful. The flavor of the summer is bitter and it is recommended to eat bitter foods because it brings energy from the brain, the mind down to the body. (Summer bitter foods include all whole grains, bamboo shoots, celery, dill, lettuce).
To work with the summer season, mainly its heat, we need to make some changes to our cooking methods. Of course, most people will eat some raw foods; however, cooking some food is still recommended supplementing the raw foods. Cooking should be quick on high heat using little salt and more water. Add hot, pungent natured foods to your meal and eliminate heavy foods to avoid sluggishness. In hot climates, it is customary to add lots of hot peppers to open up the pores and release the excess heat from the body. (Of course, this should be done with some caution as too much hot pepper can injure the stomach).
In the United States and Europe, rhubarb is known as the pie plant and in fact we tend to use it in sweet dishes. However, in Asia, it is more used in savory main dishes. Today, I’m presenting a savory dish that was inspired by the following blogs: ( blog 1 and blog 2). The rhubarb gives the sour taste that is balanced out nicely with the sweet and hot Chinese sauce and the bitter bamboo shoots. I chose broccoli as the main vegetable for the dish. Traditionally, pork is used but is replaced here with the tofu. In the original recipe, the raw rhubarb is blended in the sauce but I made it more traditionally sautéed like the rest of the vegetables.
The sauce: 5 cloves garlic, 3 Tbsp honey, 3 Tbsp soy sauce, 1 Tbsp ginger, 1/2 tsp red chilli flakes (or to taste).
Vegetables: 200g (3 medium sized) rhubarb stalks, 1 large onion, 2 heads of broccoli, 1 can of bamboo shoots.
Toppings: handful of chopped peanuts, 4 scallions, small handfull coriander, soy sauce and limes.
The rice. Make the rice of your choice. I used sushi rice.
Cut up the tofu so it is about 1 cm / 1/2 inch thick. I made triangular shapes but rectangular or square shapes are fine too.
Mix the ingredients of the marinade in a small bowl and pour it all over the tofu. Cover and put it in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
Make the sauce. Put all the ingredients in a blender and mix to get a nice sauce. Set aside.
Take tofu/marinade out of the fridge and strain off marinade. Pat dry tofu with a towel. Sautee tofu slices in small amount of oil for about 5 minutes on each side. Cover and set aside.
Cut up the vegetables. Thinly slice the onions, cut up the broccoli flowers. Cut rhubarb diagonally in 2-3 inches length. If stalks are bigger, cut them in half first.
In a larger pan or wok, heat seasame oil, add rhubarb batons in a single layer and cook for abot 1-2 minutes while stiring to make sure all sides cook well. Make sure you don’t over cook rhubarb, they should be firm and not mushy. Add 1 Tbsp sugar and cook for 1 minute. Take off heat and set aside.
On medium high heat, sauté the sliced onion for about 10 minutes until translucent. Add the brocololi and continue sautéing on medium high heat for about 5 minutes or until it is soft but still crunchy. Add the sauce made earlier. (Quickly whisk, then pour it into the pan). Add the rhubarb (that was set aside from earlier step) and the bamboo shoots and bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for three or four minutes. Add the tofu and toss and coat well and cook until the fofu is warm.
Serve on rice with chopped cashew nuts, chopped scallions, cilantro, lime wedges and soy sauce.
Enjoy this delicious and easy vegetarian eggplant dish. The eggplants are browned and cooked briskly with some tomatoes, pungent spices, onions and garbanzo beans and then served with rice/couscous and yoghurt sauce. It is not exactly the perfect fall dish but I still had some eggplants and the weather is still more summery this week. I also added sweet mama squash that complemented the dish nicely and made it more suitable for this ‘going from the summer into the fall’ time period. With the warming spices and the baked squash, it will be a great meal for the entire week. Not only that it suits the weather but it is delicious … honestly my family can’t get enough of it. I might have to go back to the farmers’ market tomorrow to get more eggplants.
Garbanzo beans. Soak overnight and cook them for 3 hours. You can use a pressure cooker. They need to be cooked slowly for a long time until they are nice and soft. They can take up liquid after they are cooked so add more water if needed. Add 1 tsp salt when done.
Preparing the eggplants. Wash and cut eggplants into cubes. Salt them and put them into a colander for 30 minutes to let the liquid drain. Pat dry.
Frying the eggplants. In a wide skillet, on medium low heat, slowly brown the eggplants in some olive oil for about 20- 30 minutes or until soft. They will not cook any more so make sure they are soft and well cooked before you add it to the sauce. Stir frequently. Make sure they don’t burn. Set aside.
Caramelize the onions. Brown the sliced onions in a separate dish in oil with care, it takes about 30 minutes. Stir frequently. Set aside.
Making the sauce. Crumple the saffron between your thumb and index finger and add hot liquid, stir well (optional). Otherwise you can just put whole saffron strains in the dish. Set aside. On medium high heat warm up 1 Tbsp oil and add the ginger for 5 minutes. Then add the paprika, cumin, garlic and stir for 1 minute to activate the spices. Add the chopped tomatoes and the tomato paste and stir well. You can add a little water here too. Cook the tomatoes for about 5 minutes until they have become ‘saucy’. Add the saffron, cinnamon stick, freshly graded nutmeg and hot pepper. Bring to a boil and turn down the heat. Cook for 10 minutes on low medium heat. Add a little water if needed. Add the browned onions, eggplants and garbanzo beans from eariler. Cook for 5 more minutes covered. Let the dish sit for 15 minutes so the flavors can come together. Take out the cinnamon stick and the hot pepper pieces. Add salt and pepper or anything else that needs to be adjusted.
Serve with cilantro, rice or couscous and yoghurt sauce. I also added some baked sweet mama squash slivers and they nicely complemented each other.
I am excited to present my new recipe the Vegetarian moussaka. It is a vegetarian dish but is not only for vegetarians! I have to admit I was a bit nervous before I started experimenting but it was a fun challenge at the same time. I really like how nicely the soft polenta works with all the other ingredients.
We are going to venture into Europe again on our virtual journey. We think of Greece when we hear the word Moussaka but most likely it originated somewhere in the Middle East. It is a popular dish across all the Balkan countries and can be easily made in the Midwest of the United States. Well, I have to admit I have never been to Greece or the Middle East for that matter but have eaten traditional Moussaka before in Croatia… and it is mouth watering.
When we were in Croatia we happened upon this fabulous dish in Pula at the restaurant Konoba Bocaporta. It sounded really interesting so my husband and I both had to try it, while the kids ate something with seafood from the Mediterranean Sea. We don’t have the recipe but I tried to recreate it here at home. I still feel the flavors in my mouth, I hope you will like it as much as I did.
It is a complete vegetarian dish and all the ingredients seem to work well together. Often when meat is taken out of a dish, the substance and the flavors are removed as well, so when I created the recipe, I tried to make sure that the substance and the flavors were both kept. The meat is replaced with the lentils, mushrooms and the cheese. I replaced the potatoes with the polenta because they work well with the other ingredients. Mushrooms are traditionally used with polenta and they complement each other nicely … and everything is pulled together with the fragrant spices of the region.
This recipe can easily be made gluten free. Instead of the Béchamel sauce use the yoghurt sauce. This is a pretty authentic replacement as Croatians use a yoghurt sauce for the top. Béchamel sauce is not Greek but is in fact French. The Béchamel sauce was added to Moussaka by the Greek chef Akis Petretzikis in the 1920’s when he was trying to Europeanize Greek cuisine. I actually use this yogurt sauce quite regularly to make simple lentil dishes but the Béchamel sauce is a nice treat for sure.
FUN FACT: One thing all the countries in the Balkan region agree on is that Moussaka is a fabulous dish.
I developed this recipe so if you would like to post it you will have to contact the author at twincitiesherbs.com.
Serves 4-6 people
high quality olive oil
1 medium size eggplant
lots of garlic
1 tomato- canned is fine
1/4 cup tomato sauce
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp oregano
4-8 oz of mushrooms – Portobello mushrooms or any heavier, earthier tasting mushrooms but regular white button or crimini mushrooms would work nicely too
1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 cups of hard cheeses: I used 1 cup gruyere and 1 cup parmesan
1/2 cup of polenta grits
1.5 cup of stock or you can use water with bullion of your choice. ( The chicken stock will give a nice flavor but if you don’t want to use meat, add some bullion).
1 Tbsp butter
1/2 cup of uncooked lentils
red pepper flakes to taste
1/2 cup of flour
1/4 cup of butter ( 1 stick)
2 cups of milk
2 egg yolk
3 fresh springs of thyme
freshly ground black pepper
yoghurt (important part of the dish)
Quick overview of the ingredients as a group
Lentils: 1/2 cup of uncooked lentils, oil, 1 large tomato, 1 Tbsp of tomato paste, 1.5 cups of chicken stock or water, 3 cloves of garlic, 1/2 tsp paprika, bay leaves, 2 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp all spice, smaller stick of cinnamon (about 1 inch), 1 fresh thyme spring, 1 tsp salt and red pepper flakes (optional).
Polenta: 1/2 cup of polenta (corn grits), 1.5 cups of vegetable or chicken stock or water+bullion, 1 tsp salt, freshly ground black pepper, 1 thyme spring, 1 cup of hard cheese ( 1/2 cup of greyere, 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese), 1 Tbsp butter and 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
Mushrooms: Portobello mushrooms or equivalent, oil, crushed garlic and 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar.
Eggplants: 1 medium sized eggplants, 1/4 cup of tomatoes sauce, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp oregano, salt and black pepper.
Béchamel sauce: 1/4 cup of butter, 1 /2 cup of flour, 2 cups of warm milk, 2 egg yolks, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp salt and ground pepper, 1 thyme spring.
Yoghurt sauce in place of Béchamel sauce: 1.5 cups of yoghurt, 1 tsp salt, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 garlic clove, cucumber slices.
Wash the polenta removing any foreign particles. Soak in water for a few hours.
Wash 1/2 cup of lentils and soak for a few hours hours.
Cooking the lentils. Remove soaking liquid and add 1.5 cups cold water or stock. Cook for 1 hour or until lentils are soft. Take off heat and let lentils stay in covered pot for about 20-30 minutes so they can soak up more liquid. Add more liquid if needed. Drain before adding to the polenta. Set aside.
Prepare the sauce for the lentils. Chop up 1 large tomato. Warm up some oil, when warm sautee the onion for 5 minutes. Add 2 tsp oregano, fresh thyme springs, 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp all spice and the crushed garlic. Stir well and quickly add the 1 chopped tomato and 1 Tbsp tomato paste. Cook until tomatoes become ‘saucy’. Add cinamon stick. Bring to a boil and then turn down to medium heat. Cook for 10 more mintes.
Drain the water off the lentils and add the cooked lentils to the tomato sauce. Take out all the larger spice pieces. Set aside.
Preparing the eggplant. Slice the eggplants and pan fry them. Please, check my previous recipe Eggplant Parmesan for directions. (You can also bake the eggplants in the oven if you prefer). Set aside.
Preparing the polenta. Pour water off the corn grits and strain. Bring 1.5 cups of liquid to a boil. Add the presoaked polenta slowly while stirring constantly. Add 1 thyme spring and cook for about 20 minutes or until the polenta is creamy. Stir frequently because it can burn easily. When done add 1 Tbsp butter, 1tsp salt, cheese, thyme and stir. Set aside.
Preparing the mushrooms. Slice up mushrooms. Warm up some oil and sauté the mushrooms until soft. At the end, add a little crushed garlic, freshly ground pepper and 1 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar. Stir and turn off heat. Set aside.
Preparing the béchamel sauce. It is not too hard just follow the steps. I used a whisk. Warm up 1 stick of butter on low heat, when melted increase the heat to medium high and add the flour slowly, stirring continuously. Then start adding the milk very slowly, stirring after each addition and wait for a minute to let the flour mixture soak up the milk. When you start seeing bubbles, it is done. Take off heat. Grade some nutmeg. Add 1/4 cup of Gruyere cheese, thyme, salt and 2 egg yolks. Mix well. Set aside.
Yoghurt sauce in place of the Bechamel sauce. This recipe can easily be made gluten free if you you prefer. Instead of the Béchamel sauce use 3 cups of yogurt, 3 lightly beaten eggs, garlic, salt, freshly ground black pepper, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/2-1 cup cheese.
Mix the polenta and the lentils. I believe they will taste better together.
See if you need to add salt, red hot pepper and black pepper to any of the dishes.
From here, everything is easy! Preheat oven to 350 F. I used a 2QT size baking dish (8×11.5×2 in). Coat the bottom of the dish with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Start layering: polenta with the lentils, mushrooms, eggplants, the béchamel sauce or the gluten free yoghurt sauce and parmesan/Gruyere cheese on the top. Put the dish into the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
Wait for a half hour to let the flavors melt into each other if you have time.
Serve hot with yogurt sauce, scallions, parsley.
Seasonings, seasoning and seasoning!!!! This dish needs a lot of seasoning and salt added. Don’t be alarmed when you see the amounts.
The smaller portobello mushrooms are nicer … they are easier to cook and will be tastier in the meal. The crimini mushrooms are very nice too.
Also I find the smaller/medium sized eggplants are easier to cut and are tastier in the dish as well.
This is not a quick dish, it takes a long time to make like any casserole dish but it is not difficult. It is usually made for occasions because of the complexity of the dish but you can treat yourself/family/friends to it anytime.
This is my version but please feel free to experiment and let me know what you did. If you post it, please reference this blog.
Eggplants are still thriving here in the Midwest! So I’d like to take the opportunity to post more recipes of this amazing plant. Before I post my vegetarian moussaka recipe, I would like to have a little preview of what is coming. Eggplant is the main ingredient in moussaka so I can get a head start with this recipe. Also, this makes an easy side dish if you don’t want to make something more elaborate.
1 purple Italian eggplant
2 tsp salt
2 cloves of crushed garlic
1 tsp of oregano
hint of cinnamon
Parmesan cheese for the top
Wash and slice the eggplant. I use a serrated bread knife to make the slices thin but not paper thin. They should be about 1 cm thick.
Soak in cold water with 2 tsp salt for 15 minutes. Putting them in salty water takes away the bitterness and I belive I can work with the eggplants easier.
Take the slices out of the water. Place them into a colander and wait until the water drips down. You can also dry them with a towel but honestly I never do and they come out fine.
Heat up a large frying pan on low medium heat. Add olive oil and a pinch of salt. Be careful, olive oil burns easily as it has a low boiling point. Add the slices. You will most likely have to add more olive oil as eggplant loves to soak it up. Cook for about 10-20 minutes on each side or until they are slightly brown and soft. I keep turning them to make sure they don’t burn. Add the garlic in a little oil on the side, mix for 10 seconds and add the tomato sauces and mix in spices. Sprinkle parmesan cheese, oregano and ground cinnamon on the top.