From the Chronicle Kitchen
This week’s guest blogger is Vanessa Barrington, co-author of Heirloom Beans, and author of the recently released D.I.Y. Delicious. With its 75 recipes and more than 50 step-by-step color photographs, D.I.Y. Delicious leads the way to outfitting a scratch pantry that uses fewer ingredients to make delicious staples at a much lower cost.
Let us know what you think of this recipe—is it appealing? Seem too hard? What would you change? What do you love about it? Leave a comment and you’ll be eligible to win copy we’ll give away to a random poster next week.
Ajvar is a wonderfully versatile eggplant spread for sandwiches and impromptu appetizers, and a handy cooking ingredient. It’s often found in specialty stores and I’ve always loved it. For years I assumed it was Middle Eastern, but I recently found out it’s Serbian. Since I’m Serbian on my mother’s side, and many of the recipes in this book originate in the house where she grew up, I love ajvar even more. Still, its unmistakable Middle Eastern character has me convinced that it came to the Balkans with the Turks. I don’t remember eating this as a child, so I’m happy to bring it back into the fold.
With the markets full of different varieties of eggplants and peppers, I’ve been making this dip for get-togethers and book events at least once a week. I never tire of it and even self-described “eggplant haters” have conceded that it’s quite delicious. If you take the time to really char the eggplant on a gas stovetop, you’ll be rewarded with a bold smokiness that serves as a nice counterpoint to the sweet peppers and pungent garlic. Easy and streamlined, this recipe only takes 30 minutes of active cooking. For a simple appetizer, serve with Whole Wheat Sesame Crackers (recipe also below). In the unlikely event that you have leftovers, whisk a little into white wine to make a marinade for grilled or baked fish.
Time Required: 30 minutes active; 30 minutes passive
Yield: about 2 cups
1 globe eggplant, about 1 pound
2 red bell peppers
2 garlic cloves, peeled
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon ground Aleppo pepper or paprika
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Wash the eggplant and poke it with the tines of a fork in several places. If you have a gas burner, lay it right on top of the grate, turn the burner to high, and roast until blackened all over, turning often with tongs, about 15 minutes. Alternatively, you can do this step under the broiler in your oven, but it won’t yield quite the same charred character. Transfer the eggplant to a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Roast the peppers the same way and transfer them to the sheet as well.
Put the charred peppers and eggplant in the oven and roast until completely soft, about 10 minutes for the peppers and 20 to 30 minutes for the eggplant. Remove the peppers to a bowl, and cover with a plate so the peppers can steam. Leave the eggplant in the oven until it is very soft all the way to the center. Test it with a fork to be sure.
Once the peppers are cool enough to handle, peel them, and remove the seeds and stems. Transfer the flesh to a food processor. In a mortar and pestle, pound the garlic with a pinch of salt until you have a smooth paste. Add it to the food processor with the peppers and pulse until chunky smooth.
When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, scrape the flesh from the skin and remove as many of the seeds as it is easy to do, without worrying too much about removing all of them. Transfer the eggplant to the processor with the peppers and garlic. Add the lemon juice, and Aleppo pepper and pulse a few times. Add the oil slowly while pulsing. Season with salt and black pepper. Serve immediately or refrigerate, well covered, for up to 10 days.
Whole Wheat Sesame Crackers
When you first start making crackers, you might notice that your crackers taste great, but there will be something different that you can’t put your finger on. It’s the lack of sugar. Read the labels on even some of the “healthier” brands of store-bought crackers, and you’ll find that most of them contain sugar—or worse, high fructose corn syrup. It’s sad how our tastes have become accustomed to industrialized food “products.” I happen to think crackers don’t need sugar, and when you taste these and the Cornmeal, Parmesan, and Poppy Seed Crackers, I think you’ll agree. Plus, they’re both fun and easy to make for pennies!
Time Required: about 15 minutes active; 45 minutes passive
Yield: 12 ounces
2 cups whole-wheat flour, plus more as needed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
Salt for topping (Use flaky fleur de sel or other fancy salt if you have some; otherwise, kosher is fine.)
Put the 2 cups flour, 3/4 cup cool water, the oil, kosher salt, and baking powder in a food processor and process until the mixture forms a ball, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the processor, cover with a towel to prevent drying, and let the dough rest at room temperature for at least 30 minutes and up to 2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. If you have a pizza stone, preheat that as well. If not, a baking sheet will work fine, but there’s no need to preheat it.
Divide the dough into two equal portions. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out the dough very thinly and evenly, flipping it over and continuing to roll while adding more flour as needed if the dough sticks. Stop rolling just short of 1/8 inch thick. Sprinkle the dough lightly with the sesame seeds and flaky salt and continue to roll just to embed the salt and seeds into the dough. Cut into strips about 2 inches wide and poke the strips evenly in several places with the tines of a fork. Using both hands, pick up either end of each strip carefully and lay it down on the heated pizza stone. Bake until the crackers begin to brown and become crisp, keeping in mind that they will continue to crisp up as they cool. If they don’t crisp up properly after they cool slightly, you can put them back in the oven for a few minutes. Total baking time takes about 10 minutes on a stone and 15 minutes on a baking sheet. You will need to bake in two or three batches.
Let the crackers cool completely and break them into irregular shards of the desired size and shape. Store in an airtight container. They will stay crisp for at least 2 weeks at room temperature.
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