Roasted Eggplant Stew

The chill of a Chicago November is really something to be reckoned with; the cold here has claws. We’re going on three years in the Midwest and I haven’t acclimated at all. I’m beginning to think I’ll never get used to this. At least the frost motivates me to get in the kitchen, fire up the oven and heat the apartment with the steam of bubbling pots, the warmth of baking bread. This eggplant stew is a bit labor intensive, but it will warm you to the core.

Roasted Eggplant Stew
2 large eggplants
2 Tblsp unsalted butter
1 small onion, minced
2 small celery stalks, minced
3-4 garlic cloves, minced
2tsp cumin
1 tsp smoked paprika
Black pepper to taste
Cayenne pepper to taste
1-2 bay leaves
1-2 tsp sea salt
6-8 cups water or stock
1/4 cup sour cream or plain yogurt

Start with two, large, firm eggplants peeled and cubed. Sprinkle with sea salt and olive oil and roast for 35-40mins at 400F. Sure, I could just stew the eggplant in a pot, but roasting beforehand imparts a deep, smoky flavor.

Next, mash the roasted eggplant to a fine pulp. This step isn’t necessary if you’re planning on using a hand blender. Since I don’t have one and I prefer to limit the electric appliances, I hand mash with a potato masher.

Now, in a 6quart pot, over medium heat, melt the butter until hot. Add the minced onions, celery and garlic. Cook until softened. Then add your spices, stock, and eggplant puree and sour cream/yogurt. Simmer for 15-20mins to allow the flavors to come together.

The cumin, garlic and cayenne give a wonderful warming quality. I prefer a spicy tingle to my stew and use the cayenne liberally.

Here’s to the long winter ahead. We can get through this!


Cucumber and Mint

Crisp and refreshing, those are the words I want to describe every meal I make from now until September.
I’ve lost my appetite for just about anything heated, as I sit in my sweltering living room and try to survive the 90 degree temps without air conditioning.

It’s salads and sandwiches for us, with maybe a popsicle or two for good measure.

When I think of cool and refreshing summer dishes, I think a nice, chilled cucumber and mint soup.
How can you go wrong? Not only is it fast to whip up, it tastes like something you spent all day slaving over. Big on flavor, low on labor. That’s my favorite kind of summer “cooking.”

Chilled Cucumber Soup
2 large English cucumbers (the long, thin variety)
1/4 small red onion
6oz fresh mint
1 cup chilled water
Juice of 1 lemon
Sea salt to taste
Dollop of yogurt

Peel and de-seed cucumbers, cut into 1/2 inch chunks. Set aside in large bowl. Dice onions and add to cucumbers. Roughly chop the mint and add to cucumbers. Pour water and lemon juice into large blender, add about 1/4 of the cuke mixture. Blend until only slightly chunky. Keep adding cucumber/onion/mint mixture until all is finely blended. I like a slightly pulpy texture to the final product. Add sea salt to taste (I put in about 1/2 tsp).
Top with a dollop of yogurt.

That’s all.
That’s it.
You can whip this up and serve as a refreshing appetizer for your BBQ or your cocktail party.
There’s no way you can eat this and not feel refreshed.

Surviving the Winter with Black Bean Soup

The winter doldrums have officially set in. My tiny apartment chills to freezing due to my inability to invest in insulated curtains for the many large window panes surrounding the living room. I spend my days off from work shivering on the couch, clothed in thermals and wrapped up in a blanket. Someday, I swear, I’m going to get curtains. The Chicago cold finds its way into every nook, every conceivable crevice, every chattering bone; which is why firing up the stove and cooking up a pot of hot, simmering soup is almost a necessity.

I grew up in the sweltering heat of Phoenix, Arizona, the parched desert, the valley of the sun, a place devoid of humidity and perpetually sunny.
I absolutely hated it.
The summers would be so arid and sweltering that I would almost collapse from heat exhaustion on the way to the mailbox and back. During college I moved to the high mountains, where snow fell in abundance during the winter months but quickly melted with the ever present sun. My time in the snowy mountains, however, did not prepare me for the kind of cold found in the Midwest. The cold here is unwavering, blistering, unforgiving. It’s a good thing I know a thing or two about soup. The cold here requires a body to rigorously heat from within just to maintain homeostasis. Soup to the rescue!

I prefer a spicy soup to get my blood flowing and clear out the nasal passages. My time in the Southwest has certainly influenced my tastebuds. I love and miss the robust flavors of Sonora, chili, lime, garlic, cilantro. One of my best friends, Maribel, used to bring me plates of her mother’s delectable tamales steamed in banana leaves. I still crave the zippy, salty-sour Mexican candies flavored with tamarind and chilies.

In the dead of the Midwest winter, this soup whisks me back to a sunnier, warmer time that makes the gray of winter a little more tolerable.

Southwest Black Bean Soup with Fried Plantains
4 cups black beans (equiv. to about two cans, I cook the beans from dried in a pressure cooker)
Approx. 10-12 cups stock (I always wing it and add stock until the soup is the right consistency)
1-2 Tbsp
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1-2 carrots, sliced
1 small onion, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1-2 poblano peppers (scorch the skins and peel before dicing)
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 small jalapeno (leave the seeds in for kick)
1-2 heaping tblsp of chili powder

2-3 plantains
Plantains are related to bananas, but are starchy and savory. You can add them directly to the soup and cook them as potatoes.
I like frying them and serving on the side. They have a faint banana flavor and crisp up nicely.

In a large soup pot, saute the vegetables in the oil with the chili powder until slightly browned. Add the black beans, stock and lime juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and then simmer for 45mins to an hour. About ten minutes before serving, add the cilantro.

When the soup is ready, peel and slice the plantains at an angle. Plantains are more starchy when unripe, so buy them when green for this dish. I don’t like to deep fry foods, so I add just a tablespoon of safflower oil to a pan and cook over medium high heat until the plantains are crispy and brown.