Za’atar Chickpea and Grain Salad

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I always seem to be carrying too much stuff.

I take public transport to work, so everything I need to make my day comfortable, I have to carry on my shoulders. I’ve begun to consider a backpack but there’s part of me that’s too vain to do that. It’s the part of me that used to work at a fashion magazine. She feels shame from even thinking about a backpack.

The other part of me is all, girl, get yourself a backpack and stop complaining!

For now, I’m still rocking my awkward too-heavy leather handbag and extra tote bag combo because I still need all of the things every day.

I need entertainment, so there’s usually a book (please don’t start talking tablets – I like my books with tangible and sometimes pre-owned paper pages.) I need to be protected from the elements and office air conditioning, so there’s always a cardigan and/or scarf, sunglasses and sometimes an umbrella. I need to be hydrated during my 50 minute commute, so there’s usually a water bottle an occasionally a coffee thermos.

And, of course, I need to be well-fed. There are a few decent lunch options around the office, but I prefer to bring my own most days. And snacks. I need the snacks.

voraciousvander

Sometimes organizing a lunch to bring can be annoying in the evening when all I want to do is plant myself on the couch and eat popcorn by the fist full. But most often, I like to see it as an opportunity to get creative with new spices and combinations of vegetables, grains, cooking methods and textures.

This salad was one of those finer combinations. I made a big batch of it on a Sunday night. We had it as a side dish with baked snapper that evening and I had it for lunch the following two days. It held up perfectly.

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Simple Shakshuka

voraciousvander//tomato eggs
I’ve had a busy two weeks since starting my new job.
At the end of each day, my brain is near exhaustion from just trying to remember names, learn new systems and commuting on crowded trains. Stimulation overload!
By the time I get into the kitchen, even the concept of inspiration is foreign to me. I’ve been falling back on easy and tried and true methods like roasting and sauteing for nearly all of my meals. And when all else fails, there are eggs.
shakshouka
So this is what you could call Shaksuka. Which is pretty much a fancy way of saying eggs poached in a rich tomato and pepper sauce.
A simplified version of just tomatoes, garlic and chili used to be my go-to when I was cooking just for myself after work. And I’m bringing it back! Here, there are a few extras like onion, peppers, paprika and cumin – to add some depth and smokiness.
This dish is a hug made of food.
It’s ease. It’s comfort. It’s perfect for one. Or two, if necessary.

Red Lentil Dahl with Kale

voraciousvander -RL dahl

Even in summertime I crave comfort dishes. I’m talking warm, heavily spiced bowls of things that might make you sweat a little when you eat them. I dunno. I’m aware that no one likes to sweat whilst eating, but I’ll take it over eating chilled soup. Gazpacho? I just…can’t. I’m sorry. (Not sorry.)

You know I’m game for a massive minimal-cooking-required salad, but homegirl needs a cooked meal several times a week, regardless of the weather. It’s something about sitting down at night to eat something that has a story. Something that’s been chopped and sautéed and simmered.

I love experimenting with cuisines that I find a little intimidating, it’s like facing your fears in a totally contained and inconsequential way!

Whatta rush.

Since I’ve been cooking, I’ve found Thai and Indian cuisines to be among my favorites to make at home. Mostly because they involve big vats of stew-like concoctions that can be custom-made to involve heaps of vegetables, tons of flavor and spice, and require being mopped up with rice and/or flatbread. (In general, I enjoy mopping my food up with carbs. It’s satisfying and delicious.)

Plus, a good curry paste can’t really let you down.

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Pan Roasted Vegetable Quinoa Salad

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Merry post-Christmas!

You look lovely today, btw.

I could have brought you a cookie recipe but that just seems wrong now. I can’t be bothered to turn on the oven, let alone throw measuring spoons and flour sifting into the mix. Ugh.

For me it was a Christmas filled with warm days, mangoes, pavlova, prosecco mimosas by the pool and lots of ham. Not too shabby.

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Greek-Style Vegetable Casserole

I grew up in a house where dinner wasn’t complete unless there was something green on the plate – or at least something colorful and nutrient-dense. Some days it was sautéed spinach or steamed broccoli or roasted bell peppers, but most often it was a salad.

This meal standard has quietly followed me into adulthood (with the exception of a hardcore grilled cheese phase in college) – I find myself always searching for that all-important color on my plate.

Sydney winter has got me craving warm vegetable dishes in the place of the usual salad. This recipe for a baked Greek-style vegetable casserole is perfect for all sorts of vegetables (and for cleaning out the crisper drawer) – topped with feta and dill, it’s comforting and vegetable-packed with a robust Greek flavor.

It makes the perfect side dish for fish or meat, or simply have it as a meal on its own with some crusty bread or rice. A fried egg on top never hurt anyone either.

Greek-Style Vegetable Casserole
adapted from Bon Appetit
Feel free to swap the eggplant for zucchini, the potatoes for sweet potatoes, and add or subtract any vegetables you’d like.

- 1 small-medium eggplant (or half a large one) cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
– 1 small red onion, cut into 1/2-inch (1 cm) wedges
– 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
– salt
– 2 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) wedges
– 1 large carrot, cut into rounds
– 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2 inch (1 cm) strips
– 1 cup green beans, trimmed and cut into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
– 1 14-ounce (400 gram) can peeled whole tomatoes, cut into quarters or cherry tomatoes with juices
– 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
– 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
– 1 tablespoon dried oregano
– 2 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
– 1/4 cup crumbled feta
Heat oven to 450 F/ 230 C
Place eggplant, onion, and 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium bowl; toss to coat. Season with salt. Transfer to a large baking dish (9×13″ or larger) and roast until the eggplant is slightly dried and beginning to turn brown, 12–15 minutes. Set eggplant and onion aside.
While eggplant is cooking, toss remaining 2 tablespoon oil, potatoes, carrot, red pepper, green beans, tomatoes with their juices, garlic, lemon juice, and oregano in a large bowl. Season with salt.
Place mixture in the same baking dish and top with roasted eggplant and onion. Cover with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove foil and stir vegetables. Bake until pan is nearly dry and potatoes are tender and beginning to brown, about 25–35 minutes longer.
Sprinkle dill over the vegetables and let casserole sit for 10 minutes. Garnish with feta and serve.

Tomato and Chorizo Salad and 11 Things I Learned in Sevilla

Mr. F and I spent the beginning of 2011 fulfilling our dream of travelling around Europe. We spent a lot of our time in different parts of Spain – hitting the major cities like Barcelona, Madrid and Valencia and spending a larger chunk of time in Sevilla and San Sebastian.

This time last year we had just arrived for a month-long stay in the Southern city of Sevilla in Andalucía. Not knowing much about the city or the region, our 5 weeks there were full of new discoveries.

11 (mostly food-and-drink-related) Things I Learned in Sevilla:

  1. Sevilla is the hottest city in Europe. Don’t go there in summer, the Old City is essentially an oven and will cook you.
  2. You will never regret spending money on jamón.
  3. Siestas are totally necessary. By 3pm, the sun is at its hottest and the only thing you will want to do is nap. Plus, everyone else is doing it.
  4. Sangria is for tourists. Don’t order it unless you want to drink straight sugar with a hint of cheap wine.
  5. Don Simon pre-made sangria is one of cheapest alcoholic beverages you can buy in a Spanish supermarket.
  6. Shop for food at the mercado not the supermercado.
  7. The tapas crawl is a spectacular invention.
  8. Do not buy Spanish wine that is not D.O. or D.O.C. certified. If it doesn’t have the Denominación de Origen Calificada stamp on it, it is very possible that you are drinking vinegar that may or may not get you drunk.
  9. City-wide bike hire systems are awesome when properly executed. (Sevilla 1, Brisbane 0.)
  10. I can pack a mean picnic.
  11. Chorizo should be involved in most things. (Technically not learned in Sevilla, but reinforced.)

Jamie Oliver, bless him, prepared this salad in an Andalucian field. I made it in my kitchen and it still turned out pretty well.

For some bonus authenticity: pronounce it choreetho like the Spaniards and Jamie do!

Tomato and Chorizo Salad
adapted just slightly from Jamie Oliver’s recipe.

- 3 cups chopped tomatoes (I used cherry)
– 1 small red onion, finely chopped
– 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
– 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, divided
– 1/4 cup parsley, chopped
– 1/4 cup basil, chopped
– salt and pepper
– 1 chorizo sausage, sliced into rounds
– 2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

Combine chopped tomatoes, onion, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, 1 tablespoon of white wine vinegar, parsley, half of the basil and a bit of salt and pepper in a large bowl. Set aside.

Heat remaining olive oil in a large pan over a high heat. Add chorizo and cook, tossing occasionally until the chorizo it deeply browned and the natural, orange oils have been released. Add the garlic to the pan and toss quickly. Turn off the heat and let the garlic sizzle for about 20-30 seconds. Finish off the pan with the last tablespoon of white wine vinegar and let simmer in the pan for another minute.

With a slotted spoon, remove the chorizo and garlic from the oil and pour over the salad. Reserve oil for later use (Jamie suggests using it with some chicken.) Scatter salad with remaining basil and serve with crusty bread.

Jamie also suggests serving this with a small glass of sherry, I say a large glass of Rioja, D.O.C. of course.

Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille with Rosemary Croutons

Hmm, how can I explain my relationship with my baking trays without sounding like a crazy person?

I just feel like…they’re my best friends of the kitchen.

You know, I see them almost every day and they’re always there to help me with anything I need. Making chocolate bark? Line with baking paper and smooth melted chocolate over one. Cookies? Obviously, they’re the one for the job. Granola, salt and vinegar potatoes, roasting veggies…a baking tray is my partner in crime.

I kind of want to sing the Golden Girls theme song now…but I won’t. That would be legit crazy.

Roasted vegetable ratatouille is a slightly less saucy version of my stove-top favorite but with a way simpler approach. All you need to do is oil up your veg and bake it on our favorite BTs. I made some rosemary croutons to take the whole thing into roasted summer vegetable panzanella territory.

Serve it up on its own or as a side.

Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille with Rosemary Croutons
Ratatouille recipe adapted from Fine Cooking
(serves 4 as a side)

- 1 medium eggplant, cut into 1 inch/2.5 cm cubes
– 1 large red pepper, cut into 1 inch/2.5 cm pieces
– 1-2 medium zucchini, cut into half moons 1/2 inch/1 cm thick
– 1 medium red onion cut into large chunks
– 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
– 8 cherry tomatoes cut in half
– 6-8 cloves of garlic still in their skins
– 4 tablespoons of olive oil, divided
– salt

Preheat oven to 400 F/205 C

Combine eggplant, red pepper, zucchini, onion and rosemary together in a large bowl. Toss with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, marking sure everything is coated well. Spread the vegetables out on a large baking tray and sprinkle with salt.

On another baking tray, spread out tomatoes and cloves of garlic tossed with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and a pinch of salt.

Place baking trays on separate oven racks.

Cook the tomatoes for 25-30 minutes rotating and stirring once halfway. Remove from the oven and set aside.

Let the other vegetables cook for about 40-45 minutes (stirring and rotating the baking tray once or twice.) Let these vegetables cool for about 5 minutes.

Remove garlic cloves from their casings and chop them into smaller pieces.

Combine all the vegetables, tomatoes and garlic in a big bowl and mix well to distribute the garlic. Top with croutons to serve. (Can be served warm, at room temperature or cold.)

Rosemary Croutons
– 1 cup of 1 inch/2.5 cm cubes of stale bread (I used sourdough baguette)
– 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
– 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary

Toss bread with 1 tablespoon olive oil and rosemary. Heat remaining olive oil in a large pan over a medium high heat. Add the bread and cook, turning the pieces of bread over a couple of times, until all sides are golden. About 5 minutes.