Sunday, July 31, 2011

The First Dish of Kitchen 2.0: Sauteed Seitan with Mushrooms and Kale

You might have noticed a lack of actual cooking posts recently.  There's a good reason for that.  We've been reorganizing our kitchen, washing, assembling and putting away our culinary wedding gifts and packing up our old cookware and accessories to donate.  (Mom, I know you're reading this - I finished the thank you notes today).  So, for the past week, the kitchen has been essentially a construction zone, which meant no cooking for moi.

But, today, the last of everything was put away, which mean the kitchen is back open for business!  I decided to inaugurate Kitchen 2.0 with something special, but not so special that my husband,  who has spent the whole week washing dishes, wouldn't have a pile of dishes in the sink when I was done.

Over the weekend, I had picked up a copy of Veganomicon, which bills itself as "The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook."  Veganomicon contains over 250 vegan recipes, as well as 70 pages of basic preparation and cooking techniques for fruits, veggies and grains, as well as suggestions for kitchen accessories for the vegan kitchen. 

I've been wanting to make something with seitan other than my vegan cheesesteak.  There are a number of good vegan recipes in Veganomicon.  I was torn tonight between page 174's "Seitan Piccata" and page 186's "Sauteed Seitan with Mushrooms and Spinach."  In my meat eating days, I loved a good piccata.  However, piccata involves dredging in flour, which meant more dishes and a mess.  So, I turned to the Sauteed Seitan recipe, which was billed as "how Julia Child would have cooked if she was a vegan."

I did decide to make some swaps.  The recipe called for onions, but I've been dying to make something with leeks lately, so I decided to use those.  I used cremini mushrooms rather than white.  And, since our local market has some incredible kale and grape tomatoes, I decided to incorporate those as well.  And, in honor of the piccata, I decided to use a little lemon.

Soaking sliced leeks prior to cooking.
If you're not familiar with leeks, here's a quick primer.  Leeks are a member of the onion family.  They look like a green onion on steroids, but have a milder flavor than their tiny cousin.  They also should be cooked, rather than eaten raw.  Since dirt gets trapped in their layers as they grow, you want to clean leeks after you slice them, rather than before.  An easy way to do this is to soak them in a bowl of water, breaking up the slices with your fingers to ensure all the hidden grit escapes. 

To slice all the veg, I used our new santoku knife.  Santoku loosely translates from Japanese to English as "'three virtues' or 'three uses', a reference to the three cutting tasks the knife performs well: slicing; dicing; and mincing."  It alleges to provide more balance than a typical chef's knife, especially when prepping veg.  True to the promise of the Santoku, I was able to get thin, precise slices of everything with minimal effort.

The original recipe called for something with a good lid, so I decided to prepare everything in our new french oven, which can be used both stovetop and in the oven.  I also was so excited to have a french oven that I decided to use it, despite never having cooked with one before.  You're not supposed to use this type of cookware with "dry" cooking, so I made sure to use plenty of olive oil so as not to damage the enamel prior to adding the vegetable broth and wine.  I did panic a little when the seitan and leeks started to stick to the bottom of the cookware, but the nice brown bits came right up when I incorporated the liquid and scraped them gently with a wooden spoon.

Hooray for not destroying the good cookware!
I was glad to make the extra effort of using the sauce and broth, as well as some fresh lemon juice.  It added an extra flavor dimension.  But, in my "oh crap, I broke my big girl cookware" moment, I may have added a little bit too much broth, which overwhelmed the wine a bit.  I also think it would have benefited from being served over some brown rice, farro or barley.  I may add some when I reheat the leftovers, which would soak up the leftover broth quite well.  But otherwise, a filling, hearty dish!

Friday, July 29, 2011

An Evening with Gene Baur

Tonight, I had the pleasure of hearing Gene Baur, the president and co-founder of Farm Sanctuary speak at Tranquil Space's Benefit for the Animals. Gene spoke about his decision to become a vegan, the work he does with mistreated farm animals and how we can inspire others to eat healthier and with more compassion.  I purchased a copy of Gene's book, Farm Sanctuary, and I very much look forward to reading it!

I talk more about the process of preparing food here than food philosophy, and that's by design.  When I started my vegetarian adventures, I promised myself not to become holier than thou about my eating lifestyle.  After a lot of research and reading books like Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals, I decided I didn't want to support the current system that provides beef, chicken, pork and fish for consumption.  It was my personal decision, and I recognize that it's not for everyone.

But, I did want to pass along some of the things that Gene mentioned in terms of misconceptions about vegetarianism and veganism.  I know a lot of people are concerned about plant based diets not providing enough protein and nutrients to maintain an active lifestyle.  I'm no pro-athlete, but I'm fairly active, and my energy levels have been great since I went veg (I do, as recommended, take a B-12 supplement).  But, if you're looking for pro-athletes that have excelled as vegans, you can look to Prince Fielder, who "feels amazing" without eating meat,  and Carl Lewis, who attributes his success to a vegan diet.  While not an athlete, Russell Simmons is a pretty busy guy who is a yogi and a vegan.

One thing that Gene mentioned tonight that really struck me was "Don't let perfect be the enemy of good."  I am so guilty of abandoning things that are hard for me (Exhibit A - driving).  Rather than making my veg journey all or nothing, I phased things out gradually.  I do the best that I can when my meals are not under my control. So, I am going to try and remember to do my best to "do good" rather than "be perfect" as I work to phase dairy out of my regular diet.  In February, when I gave up fish, it was because I felt ready.  I'm getting that feeling about dairy, especially when I'm eating out and I don't know what process it went through to get to my plate.  Between Gene's talk &  Forks Over Knives and some other things I've been reading, I want to give it a shot.  It may not happen overnight, but I'd like to see where it leads. 

So, you might start seeing more vegan cooking experiments here, and reviews of vegan options at restaurants.  We'll see where things lead.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Vegetarian Sushi at Oh Fish!

I know most people think "fish" when they hear sushi, but I rather enjoy a good vegetarian roll, especially in the summer.  It's light, fresh and wholesome food.  You can usually get an avocado roll or a cucumber roll wherever you go, but I really appreciate sushi restaurants that have creative vegetarian options.  Tono Sushi in Woodley Park has an excellent Veggie Delight roll that's colorful and delicious. I alslo like Kaz Sushi Bistro's vegetarian options, which include an asparagus and roasted red pepper roll and a portabello and sun dried tomato roll.  It may not be traditional sushi, but these specialty veggie rolls make a great cold lunch option when you want something other than a sandwich or salad.

So, as you can imagine, I was excited to see that a spin-off of Kaz, Oh Fish!, was opening near my office.  At Oh Fish!, you create your own Maki Sushi roll  from a variety of ingredients.   The vegetarian roll is $7.50, and you get to pick five veg ingredients, choosing from a list that ranges from kimchi to basil to carrots.  You can then add an "extra flavor," such as shiso, sesame seeds or rice crackers, as well as various soy sauces and wasabi mayos.  After putting in your order at the register, your roll is made to order.

I elected to make my roll up from avocado, carrot, pickled red onion, asparagus and cilantro with a sprinkle of sesame seeds, skipping the sauce options to avoid soy.  The veggies were just the right texture and the pickled onion had a nice kick. A dainty eater I am not, so I am glad I ordered the larger roll, which was just the right portion size for me.

If you don't want to make your own roll, there are some house rolls you can order off the menu.  There's also edamame, miso soup and seaweed soup available as sides.  A few tables are available for those who wish to dine in, but carry-out was super easy.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Double Blog: Book Review and Comet Ping Pong

Today, husband and I were back in my old neighborhood, circa 1999, for a reading of Don't Kill The Birthday Girl at Politics & Prose.  Whether or not you have experiences with food allergies, I encourage you to check out this book.  Sandra Beasley, who has a number of life threatening food allergies, recounts her life with humor and grace, as well as sheds some light on the science behind allergic reactions.  I'm fortunate that my allergies only result in severe unpleasantness, rather than something that would land me in an ER, but I sympathize with ruined special days (who else has spent part of their honeymoon sleeping off an allergy attack after an ill chosen lunch entree?), feeling the awkwardness of interrogating a waiter or the host or hostess of your dinner party and having to read food labels with the scrutiny usually reserved for legal contracts.

Post reading, we headed to Comet Ping Pong, which I'd been to once before a few years ago in my pre-vegetarian days and was eager to try out again.   Comet makes individual pizzas with neat toppings like broccoli rabe and arugula.  While it's not a vegetarian restaurant, they are definitely friendly to vegetarians and vegans.  A number of the pizzas, such the Districto Federal, have notes like "no beef, just beans . . . sure" under their descriptions.  There's also make your own pie options that include vegan friendly soy-cheese.

We enjoyed a fruit plate that had white peaches and red and yellow plums that we devoured.  For my pizza, I had a hard time deciding, but I ultimately chose The Drive, which was topped with "Broccoli Rabe, garlic, Whitmore Farm Egg, melted onion,  and Pecorino Romano."  While it was a teensy bit salty, the crust was great and the toppings were super fresh. 

We finished our meal splitting the salted caramel praline ice cream, which was "scrape and lick the bowl" good.  Definitely worth a return visit!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Choosing Ingredients: Why This Tomato and That Onion

Farro with zucchini, red onion, red and yellow tomatoes and goat cheese.
Since I like to throw together a quick dinner, I often feel like I cook without really thinking.  But, as I prepared tonight's dish, it occurs to me that I do put a lot of thought into which ingredients I choose, but I just don't articulate that process.  So, I decided to talk about each ingredient in tonight's concoction and why I chose it.

I started by mincing a red onion.  I gravitate towards red onions versus white or yellow for a few reasons.  Mainly, I like the color contrast of purple in my dishes.  I also think it has a more interesting flavor.  Tonight, I chose to mince, rather than slice or dice so that the onion would integrate better into the dish.  If you are looking for quick tips on knife skills for onion, or if you'd like what mincing looks like, this video from is a great resource.

Once my onion was minced, I heated olive oil in a large saute pan.  Sauteing food in a large pot means a quicker cooking time than using the oven, a firmer texture for your veggies, and a cooler kitchen (crucial for when you're in a heat wave like we are!).   Get a big saute pan and cook everything in it - less clean-up than making your veg in separate pots and pans!

When you're sauteing food, it helps to have some sort of oil or butter in the pan to prevent sticking, get your veggies to brown or caramelize and add flavor to the dish.  Cooking spray is fine if you're concerned about calories, but I don't think it does you any favors flavor wise.  Butter can add richness to vegetable dishes, but I prefer olive oil.  Not only is it lighter (and easier on the stomach), but it, in moderation, can help with lowering cholesterol levels and controlling blood sugar.  Also, healthy fats help your body absorb fat soluble vitamins such as A, D, E and K.  It also has nice shelf life (though we go through it very quickly!). 

I always like to have something green in my dish.  I like the color contrast the green provides with any sort of grain base.  Kale and spinach are often favorites, but tonight, I was craving something more substantial that I could dice, so I went with zucchini.  In addition to having a nice crunchy texture when sauteed, zucchini has a number of nutritional benefits, including good amounts of folate, potassium and vitamin A.

I almost always cook with fresh tomatoes, which I keep on my counter to preserve their texture and flavor.  For me, I find fresh tomatoes to have more visual appeal and a more interesting texture than canned diced.  Crushed or diced tomatoes make a good sauce in a pinch, but if fresh tomatoes are available, grab 'em!  For cooking, I tend to use grape tomatoes.  The small size of these tomatoes means less chopping, but also additional visual interest for the dish.  I usually halve them or quarter them.  You can also get grape tomatoesin a variety of colors.  Tonight, I used red and yellow, but you can also now find brown, purple and green ones, as well as multi-color assortments, at your local market or farmers' market.  From prior experience, the brown ones tend to turn first, so if you buy an assortment, use the brown ones sooner rather than later.

I talked about the virtues of farro earlier this week.  I gravitate towards whole grains for the health reasons, of course: fiber, less spiking of blood sugar, etc.  But, frankly, they taste more interesting than refined grains like plain pasta and white rice.  There's a chewiness and a nuttiness there that's not present in refined grain products.  If I didn't have farro, I might have gone with an israeli couscous (larger grain than plain couscous),  quinoa, or a wild rice blend.

Seasoning is another thing that's key to me enjoying a dish.  I tend to gravitate towards Italian or Mexican flavors, though you've seen me experimenting with some middle eastern flavors like za'atar.  Tonight, I went with dried oregano and basil.  I prefer fresh basil, but we didn't have any handy.   And, regardless of the flavor direction I'm headed for, I always use salt, pepper and freshly minced garlic in savory dishes.  Salt and pepper help enhance the natural flavors of the vegetables, and fresh garlic adds a nice oomph to foods.  When I want to kick the heat up, my go to is red pepper flakes, which are crushed, dried chilies. Just a few shakes add some good heat that won't overwhelm the rest of your dish.

While I've been trying to cut back on dairy, I do sometimes like to add cheese to my dishes.  Tonight was one of those nights.  Fresh shredded Parmesan (not the powdered kind!), Asiago or Romano cheese are often in my arsenal.  They have a lot of flavor, so you don't need a lot of them to add dimension to a dish. They aren't the moistest of cheeses, however.  Wanting a creamier option for tonight's dish, I used fresh goat cheese.  Goat cheese is creamy and tangy, and can either be stirred into a hot dish a la tonight's concoction, or crumbled on top of a room temp meal.  Tonight's goat cheese came from Vermont Creamery, whose products are all rBST free.

It probably took me longer to write this blog than to make dinner, but there you have it.  In summary, when I cook, I gravitate to meals that involve:
  • Fresh ingredients that taste good and are good for me
  • A variety of colors and textures for visual interest and, for lack of a better phrase, "yummy mouthfeel"
  • A quick cooking technique that doesn't involve a lot of time or pots or baking dishes
  • Seasoning that adds depth and a spicy kick
  • Leftovers that can be easily reheated for lunch or incorporated into a new dish
 So, while I like to experiment with more complex dishes, sometimes it's just as easy to consider the above five bullets, spin through the grocery store and throw together something yummy in about 15-20 minutes.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Adventures in Farro

If you haven't tried farro, you are missing out.  When I googled it to provide you with a definition of this tasty whole grain, I encountered a number of articles that discuss how people often argue about what farro really is.  In my mind, this NY Times Article provides the best description:

Farro is not wheat, but a plant and grain all its own. A grain of farro looks and tastes somewhat like a lighter brown rice. It has a complex, nutty taste with undertones of oats and barley. But lacking the heaviness of many whole-wheat grains, farro tastes more elegant than earnest.

Farro needs to be soaked and then boiled, so if you are planning on including it in a quick dinner, I recommend doing what I did, which is to make a big pot of it on Sunday and stick it in the fridge.  The cooked farro will keep well.

When I got home from yoga, I heated some olive oil in a large saute pan.  When the oil was ready, I added chopped portabello mushrooms, yellow and red cherry tomatoes, pinto beans, minced garlic and kale.  To help the kale along, I put a lid on the saucepan so it would steam down.

I seasoned the dish with a pinch of sea salt, some freshly ground pepper, za'atar and smoked paprika.  I had thought about adding some goat cheese, but after starting my copy of Forks Over Knives on the metro this evening, I asked myself whether or not the dish really needed dairy and decided it would be fine without it.

The result was hearty and filling, with a nice dash of spicy-smokiness.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

A Vegetarian Goes to the Caribbean

Trunk Bay on Beautiful St. John

Fiance (now husband!) and I got married last Sunday and promptly jetted off the following morning to St. Thomas & St. John for a week-long honeymoon.  We hiked, we swam, I (thanks to years of JCC swim lessons) snorkled all over Trunk Bay.  And, of course, we ate!

Now, this is by no means a comprehensive review of all of the vegetarian dining options in the US Virgin Islands.  We were only there for a week, and my first priority was honeymooning, rather than blogging.  But, there were a few food observations I wanted to share.

We stayed at the Morningstar Beach Resort.  The Frenchman's Reef section of the resort was closed for renovation, which may have seemed like a negative, but it meant less guests overall, which meant less crowds on the beach and no waits in the property restaurants.

Food offerings at the Morningstar included the Star Market, where you could get various sundries.  We used it to pick up breakfast - cereal, bagels, fruit - as well as snacks.  Keep in mind that, since you're on an island, almost everything is brought in by container ship or plane.  Ergo, this means than food is going to be expensive.

One of many fresh mango daquir
We also hit two other restaurants, Coco Joe's, a casual/family dining restaurant, and the upscale Havana Blue.  For lunch and a few dinners, we went to Coco Joe's, which has a sit down component, as well as waiter service right on the beach.  There were a number of vegetarian options at Coco Joe's - I particularly enjoyed their mushroom quesadilla, which has a good amount of produce and a decent guac on the side, as well as the veggie burger on brioche with sweet potato fries.  I especially enjoyed that the veggie burger that was delivered to me directly on the beach with a mango daquiri, but who wouldn't?  We had a spinach and artichoke dip that was heavier on the spinach than the dairy, which was actually a pleasant surprise. The mozarella and tomato flatbread fell in the "ok" category - it had a nice, buttery crust, but I think it would have been better with less cheese and more tomatoes.  The drinks were definitely a highlight - I know my mango, and these drinks definitely had fresh mango puree in them!

We had one dinner at Havana Blue.  I enjoyed my mango mojito, but was a little underwhelmed by the only vegetarian entree - a vegetable torta.  When I visualized the entree, I thought there would be more crispy elements to it, but it was heavy on the curry puree and light on the seasonal vegetables in the menu description.  If I could go back, I probably would have made a meal of some of the vegetarian sides or tapas that were available.

Off property, we had two meals at the Yacht Haven GrandFat Turtle is a bar popular with sailors docking at Yacht Haven Grand.   I enjoyed a very strong "Shrub Smacker," which was Fat Turtle's take on the island's popular Bushwhacker.  We started with a five-pepper dip and tortilla chips.  The table next to us was gasping for water when they ate the dip, which we, as hot food lovers, found promising.   But for us, it was pleasingly spicy, rather than unpleasantly hot.  When it came to vegetarian entrees, there weren't a lot of choices - a few pizzas, a salad or two and a wrap.  I asked if they would be willing to make me a vegetarian version of the cheesesteak, but, when our server went back to the kitchen to ask, the chef apparently said no.  This, of course, made me wonder if any of the food was made fresh or was just sitting somewhere waiting to be microwaved (have I mentioned I'm obsessed with Kitchen Nightmares).  I ended up going with the wrap, which was ok, but nothing you couldn't get at a to-go counter.

The more pleasant dining experience to be had at Yacht Haven Grand was at Wikked, which, to my surprise, had a whole page of vegetarian options, including whole wheat pasta with seitan and lentil loaf.  I was in the mood for a light dinner, so I went with crispy veggie tacos, which were perfectly portioned and full of fresh produce.  If we had time to go back, I would have definitely tried out some of the more hearty entrees!

We only spent a day on St. John, but, let me tell you, I can't wait to go back!  If St. Thomas was paradise, St. John was heaven on earth.   We were on an excursion through the hotel, so, alas we had to stick to the group's schedule and didn't get to explore restaurants around the island.  We did, however, get to eat at the snack bar at Trunk Bay, which is part of the National Park System.  I worked up a huge appetite on the Trunk Bay Snorkel Trail, and I was nervous that the snack bar wouldn't have any vegetarian options.  But, there were veggie burgers (which I tried) and frozen fruit bars (which I didn't).  The only downside is that the line to the snack bar gets long and moves slowly, so, if you're on an excursion, budget your time or pack a lunch.

One thing to keep in mind there are few vegetarian options at the St. Thomas airport.  It's small, only eight gates, so there's only one place to grab food and a few snack kiosks.  The kiosks' sandwich options were not vegetarian, so we went to the quick serve restaurant, where I had, yet again, a veggie burger.  Since you can't bring produce past customs, if you bring a veggie-friendly sandwich, plan to eat it as you patiently wait to go through customs.  There are also some vegetarian friendly snack mixes in the gift shop.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Four Layer Chocolate Raspberry Cake

This weekend's dessert experiment was a four layer chocolate raspberry cake.  I used the fail-safe Real Simple magazine chocolate cake recipe and chose the chocolate sour cream frosting.  I wanted to do something different with the filling, but wanted to make sure I used a fresh produce item, so I found this recipe for fresh raspberry filling

I split the cake making process into two days so that I wouldn't be running around my kitchen screaming this morning.  Yesterday, I made the cakes and the filling.  I've always read about the need for butter and eggs to be at room temperature for baking, but never bothered to consider why.  Just so you know, according to Joy of Cooking, having butter at room temperature allows for the butter to be properly aerated, which helps with the leavening process.  So, if you want light and fluffy cakes, let your butter and eggs sit out awhile.  Mine hung out on the kitchen counter at least an hour before I started the batter.

Layers, pre-splitting.
While the cakes were baking, I made the raspberry filling.  In hindsight, I didn't need the whole recipe - halving it would have been more than sufficient.  When cooled, both the cakes and the filling went in the fridge overnight.

This morning, I made the chocolate icing.  I melted a package of semi-sweet chocolate chips in a double boiler.  A double boiler is an insert you place over a shallow pan of simmering (not boiling!) water.  This way, you can melt the chocolate without scalding or burning it.  If you don't have a double boiler, you can also use a metal mixing bowl - just be careful lifting it off the pot of hot water.  I'm shocked I've never spilled molten chocolate or 150 degree water on myself pre-double boiler.

Melting chocolate in a double boiler.
One issue I have with recipes featuring sour cream is that we always have some left over, and we rarely, if ever use it.  So, for the icing, I decided to sub something we always have in the house and eat frequently, Fage Greek Yogurt.  The tang and consistency is similar to that of sour cream, so it worked just fine for the icing.  Considering that there were three (yes three) cups of confectioners sugar in the icing, it definitely needed something to cut the sweetness.

Since we had oodles of filling, I decided to split the layers on the cake.  To do this, I used a cake leveler.  I've split layers with a bread knife before, but a cake leveler gives you much more precision, and it's only $3.29.  So, if you think you'll be baking a decent amount, it's not a bad investment.  You can also use it to level out the tops of a cake if you are putting a lot of care into decorating it, but, given that it takes all of my precision not to drop the frosting on the floor before it gets to the cake, I don't bother.  I did make one of the layers much thinner than I intended, but once it's in the middle of the cake and iced, no one needs to know . . .

Cake in cross section.
One smarty pants thing I did this time, per the suggestion on the packaging for the cake leveler, was to put some waxed paper under the edges of the cake as I filled and iced it.  When I was done, I removed the wax paper and there was no evidence of my usual dripping and spattering.

I garnished the cake with fresh raspberries and stuck it in the fridge for awhile so it could handle the car ride and being out on the table.

The verdict - nice and chocolately, but not overly sweet.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Roasted Vegetable Pasta Salad

If you haven't guessed by now, I am a huge fan of anything with roasted veggies, so I jumped at the chance to make the Roasted Vegetable Pasta salad from the newest edition of Clean Eating Magazine.  (It's on Page 48 if you're a subscriber).

For those of you who aren't familiar with the magazine, it's chock full of recipes that eschew refined carbohydrates, added sugars, high amounts of saturated fats and processed foods containing lots of additives and preservatives.  Each issue comes with a food budget planner and a monthly meal plan.  While not all the recipes are veg, they're full of fresh fruits and vegetables, and it's often easy to sub or modify to make the dishes veg friendly.

This recipe calls for roasted peppers, onions, tomatoes and zucchini, and a vinaigrette chock full of garlic and fresh herbs.  It also calls for goat cheese, but it can be made vegan by omitting the cheese. I thought it would be perfect to take to tomorrow's Fourth of July BBQ. 

I did make some subs to this recipe for a variety of reasons.  First, as much as I love eggplant, we're taking this to a party at my brother & sister-in-law's house, and as she is allergic to eggplant, I omitted it from the recipe.  To make up for it, I added some navy beans and an orange pepper in addition to the red, yellow and green.  Second, although I was dying to try kamut pasta, it wasn't available at Balducci's (and their whole grain pasta offerings were scant, in my opinion).  Since we had enough errands to run yesterday without another stop, I ended up going with some nicer traditional macaroni. 

Another sub I made was the verjus, which is made from the juice of unripe grapes. They did have that at Balducci's, but only in a large-ish bottle.  A quick google search revealed that red wine vinegar was an okay sub, so I used that and fresh lemon juice.   And, finally, I doubled the whole recipe, which serves eight as it's written in the magazine.

My mother always told me that pasta salad tastes better the second day, so the whole thing is marinating as we speak.  I'll bring the goat cheese along and plan to toss it in right before we serve it.  We'll see how it tastes tomorrow!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Roasted Eggplant and Tomatoes with Chickpeas

I, along with the fiance, am a big fan of eggplant.  In addition to having a good amount of fiber, minerals and vitamins, it also is incredibly versatile and lends itself particularly well to filling vegetarian dishes.

A nice way to prepare eggplant is to roast it - it can give the flesh a nice creamy texture.  Tonight, I tossed a whole cubed eggplant (unpeeled, but peel if you wish) with two handfuls of quartered grape tomatoes with three tablespoons of olive oil.  After I spread the mixture on a baking sheet, I sprinkled it with 3/4 of a tablespoon of za'atar, and then a few pinches of freshly ground pepper and kosher salt.  I let it roast in a 450 degree oven for about thirty five minutes.

When there was about ten minutes to go, I minced half a bulb of garlic and sauteed it in more olive oil, and stirred in some leftover chickpeas and roughly chopped baby spinach.  I then tossed in the roasted eggplant and tomatoes.  After turning off the heat, I stirred in a generous handful of chopped fresh parsley.

I did add a touch of mozzarella daiya to my first serving, but I also had a second scoopful without the daiya that was also delicious.  And if you prefer real cheese, a smoked mozzarella might be quite nice with this.