I know we’re teetering on the edge of eggplant’s departure from the market, but I’ve been tinkering with this recipe for a while, and I wanted to get it right before it landed here.
The non-aubergine portion was lifted from a French-Tunisian family friend, who made it for the Frenchman and me when she came to stay. (She served it with herb-rubbed, falling-off-the-bone chicken thighs. You can too.) It was a luxury to be cooked for, and to be taken care of so well through food. Pine nuts browned sumptuously in butter! The lemon-tinged warmth of sumac and za’atar! Cumin, harissa, and cinnamon, too. It’s actually a perfect inauguration to fall.
I asked for the recipe, and scribbled down the offhand recounting of a cook who has fashioned a dish so often, measurements are not longer consciously considered. I searched google for corroboration of spice quantities, and rice to meat ratios, but quickly realized no consensus: this dish is made, in various forms, across the Levant. Sometimes with lamb, or beef, or chicken. Often it includes peas and carrots, and other spices; almonds too. This rice and meat mixture–helpfully called “mixed rice”–is used judiciously in recipes across the region, frequently to stuff vegetables, wine or cabbage leaves.
What this recipe is not: the quintessential version of Ouzi, which anyway goes by other names and spelling variations. What it is: very tasty. A recipe filtered through this cook’s interpretation of a French-Tunisian-living-in-Cairo’s version of her Palestinian mother-in-law’s cooking, made with ingredients she found in my kitchen, in Jersey City, NJ. That sentence was exhausting, but the point is: make this for someone you care about.
(This dish is equally good, if not better, on the second or third day after cooking.)
This salad comes together in ten minutes–so you can reasonably make it before or after work–and is really satisfying. I’ve eaten it every night this week. I often bring it to work for lunch; it’d be equally great for a picnic.
The order of ingredients allows what needs to marinate to marinate while you prep the next ingredient, so don’t feel as if you need to create a mise en place before you start this recipe. Prep, pour, and stir the ingredients in order; by the time everything is in the bowl, the salad will have melded.
Serve with fresh, crackling bread to mop up the vinaigrette at the bottom of the bowl, or over rice. Use as a vegetarian/vegan taco filling. Or, make ahead and spoon onto crostini for an easy hors d’oeuvre.
Additions/Substitutions: You can add chopped nuts to this salad, like toasted walnuts or crushed pistachios. Or, pepitas. Add cheese: shaved pecorino, cubed mozzarella, diced-and-pan cooked halloumi, fresh goat cheese. Add extra protein in the form of poached chicken or tofu. If you’ve been gifted a fancy oil–I have walnut and butternut squash in my pantry currently–swap it for the olive oil. Read more »
Last Sunday dawned bright and breezy and perfectly spring. The Frenchman and I drove an hour from our apartment to the parking lot of a strip mall. We waited. After a time, a jeep wrangler came careening into the lot, and parked beside us. Inside was my favorite market farmer and his wife. We said good morning, and he joked again that it was time to blindfold us and stuff us into the trunk before the next stage of our operation. Read more »
“I come to a tree so rich with autumn’s golds and reds it makes for a mild ache. I lie down under it, close my eyes, and let my mind wander. I think of all that is happening elsewhere, as I lie here. Nearby, I can hear the sounds of a road crew. Somewhere else, monkeys chatter in trees. A male seahorse becomes pregnant. A diamond forms, a bee dances out directions, a windshield shatters. Somewhere a mother spreads peanut butter for her son’s lunch, a lover sighs, a knitter binds off the edge of a sleeve. Clouds gather to make rain, corn ripens on the stalk, a cancer cell divides, a little league team scores. Somewhere blossoms open, a man pushes a knife in deeper, a painter darkens her blue. A cashier pours new dimes into an outstretched hand, rainbows form and fade, plates in the earth shift and settle. A woman opens a velvet box, male spiders pluck gently on the females’ webs, falcons fall from the sky. Abstracts are real and time is a lie, it cannot be measured when one moment can expand to hold everything. You can want to live and end up choosing death; and you can want to die and end up living. What keeps us here, really? A thread that breaks in a breeze. And yet a thread that cannot be broken.” – Elizabeth Berg, Never Change
The Frenchman is away for the next two weeks, which means I’m puttering around the house after work, staying up way later than I should, both thrilled by the quiet, atypical aloneness, and simultaneously dreading it. I tell myself that I’ll use the luxurious, stretching evening-time to get extra work done, but this plan usually devolves into Netflix-watching pretty quickly.
We spent this past weekend in Phoenicia, NY for the wedding of good friends. Have you been? It’s lovely, quite literally nestled in the Catskill Mountains, with a few-blocks-long main street and a creek running through it. I woke up early both mornings, thanks to the jet lag I try to keep going as long as possible, and it was the need for sweaters–more than the multitudinous appearance of apples and grapes at the market–that finally made me realize that fall is on its way.
For now though, this in-between time means that I can still eat reckless quantities of peaches and tomatoes, but also that the subway platform doesn’t feel like a sauna sponsored by Hades. It means that, while I’m still hanging on to summer produce, I’m transitioning from raw preparations to heat coaxed ones: folding slumping fruit into cakes, baking zucchini with rice and cheese, simmering fresh beans until soft and soupy. And making these tomatoes.
In about an hour, we’re due to leave for the airport. We’re off to France to visit the Frenchman’s family, but also–to have a second, French wedding. We’re trading wedding cake for piècemontée, vanilla extract wedding favors for dragée, and the city for the seaside. I’m wearing the same dress because come on, but I did buy new earrings and lipstick.
Have you ever taken a wedding dress in a now very-puffy garment bag on a plane? Me neither, but here we go.
For reasons both mundane but also exciting-I-can’t-mention-yet, work feels especially crushing at the moment, which makes me a bit nervous for this trip. I’m worried that relaxing will feel irresponsible. If anyone has advice for overcoming this feeling/really enjoying time off when it’s presented, instead of obsessing over all the things you could be doing, I’m all ears.
Lastly for the moment–in my never ending search for exercise I actually enjoy–I’ve been taking this class. I’m by far and away the least fashionable/flat-stomached/coordinated person in there, but it’s so hard, and so much fun.
In the summertime, when the Frenchman and I (sporadically) have access to a grill, we often grill pizza. It’s especially good for feeding a crowd: it’s pleasing to every palate, can be adjusted for special diets, involves just the right amount of group participation, and makes a great breakfast the next morning. All the ingredients (dough and toppings) are prepared ahead of time, which makes it easy to pull off outdoors, or in a kitchen not your own. I usually choose toppings based on what’s in season at the moment.
Two general rules: You can load pizza made on the grill a little more heavily than pizza made in an oven. Also, you’ll want all toppings to be pre-cooked or pre-prepared, since once on the pizza they’ll cook for just a few minutes–basically, only long enough for the cheese to melt.
A grandfather is explaining to his grandson about the internal battles that every person will face in their life. He says that there are two wolves inside each one of us. One wolf is evil – full of anger, jealousy, regret, greed, and arrogance. The other wolf is good – filled with love, peace, forgiveness, and humility. So the boy asks, “Which wolf will win?” And the wise man replies, “The one you feed.”
– Two Wolves, a Cherokee legend
This salad benefits from some time to relax, time for the dressing to permeate the potatoes. (I like to overcook the potatoes, so they sort of fall apart in the vinaigrette, but that’s a personal preference.)
You can make this salad several hours before you serve it. (If you choose the egg version, make sure to refrigerate it in the interim.) You can easily double or triple the recipe, if you’re feeding a crowd. The salad is good for up to 3 days in the fridge.