I don’t know if the name for this affliction is procrastination–hey, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least, she says, eyeing the sinkful of last night’s dishes–but when I need to get things done, I have this bad habit of doing them either right-that-very-moment or pretty much never. When I return from a vacation, I either get every single thing out of that suitcase and into its proper closet or hamper within twenty minutes, or it sits on the floor of the bedroom for weeks, as it has since we’ve returned from Charleston. I return a garment I’ve changed my mind about the very next day, or it sits in a bag, as has a certain Banana Republic blouse, for six (cough, eight) months, my husband looking pointedly at it and then back at me often enough that I just downright ignore that too. Once something leaves my short-term memory, it may as well be lost for good, but in recipes at least, today I am on a rescue mission.
You know, I’ve never been one to malign vegetables or healthy food, but I think that’s exactly what’s happened here. I don’t dive into posts about them the way I do with cakes, frosted, sprinkled, rolled, yeasted, basted, braised and pressed things; the more everyday stuff always ends up backlogged, and then accidentally forgotten. And it’s a shame, because if I had more of this Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad right now, I’d eat it for lunch and then dinner again.
Cubes of eggplant and zucchini are roasted until nicely caramelized, all the while pearled barley is absorbing spicy broth, and then two are tossed together with red onion, Kalamata olives, fresh mint, parsley, cherry tomatoes and mixed with a lemon vinaigrette. Hearty, healthy and so much more complex in flavor than one comes to expect from whole grain salads, I am pretty sure we’ll be coming back to this all summer. I have done you a disservice by not mentioning this for two weeks, as you could have already eaten it twice! Maybe even four times! Tsk-tsk. I assure you, a lesson has been learned.
The next two recipes are Hot Off Teh Blogs, which means I got them from someone who probably doesn’t take months to get around to sharing their finds with other like-minded cooks. Hashed Brussels Sprouts With Poppy Seeds from the Union Square Cafe Cookbook via Molly as well Luisa. Though pan-browning is our usual favorite way to eat these little nutters, that took about 10 minutes beginning to end should not be overlooked. Slices of brussels are sliced and sautéed like the cabbage they are with lemon juice, olive oil, a garlic clove, poppy seeds and then briefly simmered in white wine or vermouth. I’m a sucker for anything speckled, and coupled with their bright lime-green tinge, this dish is a perfect late-winter reminder of the brighter days ahead.
I’m not sure why I never mentioned making Heidi at 101 Cookbook’s Roasted Cauliflower Popcorn–did I just not like my photo? (Wouldn’t be the first time.) I liked the dish, however, um, which is really what this is about. Growing up, we always had cauliflower with bread crumbs, but this is perked up with a hot pepper and two cloves of garlic. Still, it stays on this of mouth searing side of spicy, due to those fresh bread crumbs and the caramelized edges of the cauliflower.
By the end of the winter, when you’re about as sick of the readily-available produce as one can get, there’s no time like the present to find a way to innovate, and both this cauliflower and those brussels did the trick. As always, thanks be to Molly, Luisa and Heidi for the freshest of fresh ideas.
Mediterranean Eggplant and Barley Salad
Gourmet, September 2006
Makes 4 (main course) or 8 (side dish) servings
1 1/2 lb eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
3/4 lb zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
10 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup chopped scallion (from 1 bunch)
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon cayenne (note: I used 1/8 tsp. and it was plenty spicy; adjust to taste)
1 1/4 cups pearl barley (8 oz)
1 (14-oz) can reduced-sodium vegetable or chicken broth (1 3/4 cups)
3/4 cup water
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 lb cherry tomatoes, quartered
1/3 cup Kalamata or other brine-cured black olives, pitted and halved
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion, rinsed and drained if desired
1 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh mint
Accompaniment: 1 (1/2-lb) piece ricotta salata, cut crosswise into thin slices
Roast eggplant and zucchini: Put oven racks in upper and lower thirds of oven and preheat oven to 425°F.
Toss eggplant and zucchini with 5 tablespoons oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt, and 3/4 teaspoon pepper in a bowl, then spread in 2 oiled large shallow (1-inch-deep) baking pans. Roast vegetables in oven, stirring occasionally and switching position of pans halfway through baking, until vegetables are golden brown and tender, 20 to 25 minutes total. Combine vegetables in 1 pan and cool, reserving other pan for cooling barley.
Cook barley: Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a 3- to 4-quart heavy pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking, then cook scallion, cumin, coriander, and cayenne, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add barley and cook, stirring until well coated with oil, 2 minutes more. Add broth and water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until all of liquid is absorbed and barley is tender, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from heat and let stand, covered, 5 minutes. Transfer to reserved shallow baking pan and spread to quickly cool, uncovered, to room temperature, about 20 minutes.
Make dressing and assemble salad: Whisk together lemon juice, garlic, sugar, and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 teaspoon pepper, and 3 tablespoons oil in a large bowl. Add barley, roasted vegetables, and remaining ingredients to bowl with dressing and toss until combined well. Serve with cheese slices.
Do ahead: Salad can be made 1 day ahead and chilled, covered. Return to room temperature before serving.