Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Thai-Inspired Green Curry With Eggplant and Peppers

Our favorite gardener, TV host, and author P. Allen Smith (see us cook with him last summer here and here!) issued us a challenge at the beginning of this summer: grow a collection of vegetables and herbs in one pot and at harvest time, use it all to make one cohesive dish. We came to refer to it as the Patio to Plate Challenge. It was so fun to start from the most elemental point and see it all the way through for, you know, that certain type of heady and pride-filled locavore experience.

We started in the garden center, where we found a just-big-enough container that measured about 2 feet across and also procured some organic gardening soil. We then picked out our Bonnie Plants vegetables and herbs: 2 sweet basil plants, 1 bunch of white onions, 1 Italian oregano, 2 white Gretel eggplants, and 2 Big Bertha bell pepper plants.

Back at the house, we planted the taller eggplants in the center and the shorter peppers and herbs on the outside; this allowed the oregano to spill over the side and followed Allen's classic rules for an attractive container garden.

We did run into a few bumps in the road. We might've needed to pick a deeper container than this one, which was so shallow it required watering every day that it didn't rain. Also, if you'd like to try the challenge out yourself, make certain you have a sunny enough spot! Once we recognized that we didn't, we moved our Patio to Plate container garden from mostly sunny to full sun -- and then it really flourished!

The recipe was a no-brainer for us. We both love green curry from places like Bhan Thai and Jasmine here in Memphis, so we wanted to create our own version that was flavorful and delicious. As a bonus, this dish is fast, gluten-free, and vegan. Feel free to add a fried egg or crispy tofu if you'd like, but it's still great as is. 

So, readers, what would you grow in your own Patio to Plate garden?

                                               Thai-Inspired Green Curry With Eggplant and Peppers

2 cups fresh basil leaves (more for garnish)

2 portions of rice noodles (for serving)
1 sprig oregano (stem discarded)
1-inch knob ginger
1 clove garlic

1 teaspoon sambal 
1 lime 
1 can full-fat coconut milk
1 teaspoon champagne or rice vinegar
2 cups sliced Japanese eggplant (1/4 inch slices)
2 cups sliced green bell peppers 
(1/4 inch slices)
1/2 cup sliced green onion (white and green parts)
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric

Kosher salt and black pepper (to taste)
1 tablespoon olive oil (or coconut oil)

The secret to the bright green curry sauce is blanching the basil. Don't skip this step or you'll have a black sauce. Get a large pot of salted water up to a boil. You'll use this both to blanch the basil and to cook the rice noodles. With a bowl of ice water at the ready, drop the basil into the boiling, salted water and wait for it to turn a bright green -- this only takes a few seconds. Using a spider tool, fish the basil out and drop it into the ice water. Once it's cooled, collect the basil and squeeze it dry.

Cook the noodles according to package directions. Drizzle drained noodles with olive or coconut oil to prevent sticking, cover, and set aside until ready to serve.

Make the green curry sauce by blending the blanched basil, oregano, ginger, garlic, sambal, the zest of the lime, can of coconut milk, and vinegar together until smooth. Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix together the sliced eggplant, peppers, and onion with the coriander, cumin, and turmeric. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Next, get a wok or large sauté pan smoking hot. Add the oil and allow it to smoke. Once it starts smoking, carefully add the vegetable mixture and be sure to toss it every minute to allow it to brown evenly. Add the green curry sauce and allow it to heat through. Once it's hot, place the curry in a serving bowl and garnish with a few basil leaves and lime wedges before serving. (Serves 2 to 4.)

Monday, September 22, 2014

Beaujolais-Poached Pears with Spiced Pumpkin Seed Granola and Honey-Lemon Ricotta

Arguably, the best part about fall is the fruit, and we celebrate it two times over by poaching fresh pears in Beaujolais and topping that with honey-lemon ricotta and crunchy spiced pumpkin seed granola. 

Beaujolais-Poached Pears with Spiced Pumpkin Seed Granola and Honey-Lemon Ricotta

4 pears (peeled, halved, and cored)
1 bottle Beaujolais wine 
1/3 cup honey
8 dried juniper berries
2 cinnamon sticks
1 bay leaf
knob of ginger (about one inch, sliced)
pinch of kosher salt
Spiced Pumpkin Seed Granola (recipe follows)
Honey-Lemon Ricotta (recipe follows)

Place pear halves cut-side-down into a 12-inch stainless steel frying pan. Pour in the bottle of wine and the honey. Add juniper, cinnamon, bay, ginger, and salt. Place frying pan on the stovetop over medium heat and allow liquid to begin to reduce. Cook for 45 minutes;  be sure to flip the pears halfway through this cooking time. When the liquid is syrupy and coats the back of a spoon, remove the pan from the heat. Place pear halves on a serving dish and strain the wine syrup. Reserve the syrup for serving. 
To serve, place a heaping tablespoon of Honey-Lemon Ricotta into the cored section of each pear. Add Spiced Pumpkin Seed Granola on top. Drizzle with the wine syrup. (Serves 4-6.)

Spiced Pumpkin Seed Granola

2 tablespoons brown rice syrup
2 1/2 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon light brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup rolled oats
3/4 cup raw pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, whisk the brown rice syrup, oil, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt until well-incorporated. Pour in the oats and pumpkin seeds and mix until well-coated. Spread granola mixture into a thin layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes; be sure to take out the granola and turn and stir it up halfway through the baking time. Place granola on a plate to cool. 

Honey-Lemon Ricotta

1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
zest of 1 lemon
pinch of kosher salt

In a medium bowl, whisk ricotta, honey, vanilla, lemon zest, and salt until well-incorporated. Set aside until ready to serve. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Roast Beast: A Vegetarian Holiday Main Dish That'll Steal the Show

You never know what the weather will be like during the holidays in the South. One year we’ll be huddled up inside around our family dining table and hoping the temps rise above freezing, and then the next year, the nephews and nieces will be running barefoot around the backyard while the grown-ups soak up the sun on the patio. On the years when it’s nice out -- and please let’s all keep our fingers crossed for 2014! -- it’s a crying shame to be stuck inside cooking the same old thing. So we’ve created a lightened-up and super-easy main that can be prepared outdoors on the grill. 

We call it Roast Beast. We took inspiration from the infamous turducken. What in the world would be a vegetable version of that be? we pondered. What we came up with was a giant and flavorful stack of meaty vegetables with a presentation that bests the turkey or ham or whatever it is everybody else is eating. 

Roast Beast

(Special equipment: 3 large metal skewers)

2 large red bell peppers (roasted and peeled)
1/2 cup olive oil
1 head garlic (peeled, about 10 cloves, smashed)
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
2 cups parsley (about one bunch)
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
4 large portobello mushrooms
1 medium Italian eggplant (sliced into 1/2-inch rounds)
1 large white onion
4 slices of provolone cheese
1 1/2 cups cooked orzo
Balsamic vinegar (for drizzling)

Preheat your outdoor grill to high. Prepare the roasted red peppers by charring the skins, letting them rest, then peeling and seeding them. Set aside until ready to assemble the dish.

In a small frying pan over the grill grates or on your side burner, heat the olive oil and add the smashed garlic. Cook until just browned. Into the work bowl of your food processor add the olive oil, garlic, pine nuts, parsley, and vinegar. To make the pesto, process ingredients until well-incorporated, but still a little chunky. In a large bowl, toss the portobello and eggplant in with the pesto until well-coated. Reserve the pesto left in the bottom of the bowl.

Add salt and pepper to taste to all ingredients. Thread the vegetables onto a skewer: start with a mushroom and then add a slice of eggplant, half of a roasted red pepper, a slice of provolone, and a slice of onion. (You basically will be making a giant kabob.) Repeat this pattern four times. Press the stack tightly together and pierce it at an angle with the two other skewers.

Grill on a rack positioned slightly above the grill grates for 40 minutes and turn every 10 minutes. Some of the cheese will drip out, but that’s fine. Much of it will melt into the vegetables and add a ton of flavor.

Remove the Roast Beast and allow it to rest for 10 minutes while tented in foil. Serve on top of a bed of orzo. Drizzle with the leftover pesto and some balsamic vinegar. (Serves 4 to 6 as a main dish.)