Will’s Grilled Fish

July 9, 2019

Will and his grilled fish

My grandson, Will, wanted to grill a fish. It had to be a whole fish with both a head and a tail. No nude little fillet would do. We decided on a nice sized, farmed trout and prepped it for the fire.  First we gave it a short brine to add flavor and keep it moist. We stuffed the belly cavity with herbs and lemon slices and rubbed the fish well with oil. To hold it intact we tied three strings of kitchen twine at intervals around the fish and set out to light the charcoal.

Before starting the cooking, however, we’d need a sauce of some sort since this fish would be rather bland.  With garden basil in lush leaf, a lemony pesto (without cheese which isn’t advised with fish) would be a quick fix. I pulled out the grinding stone, bashed a few cashews, a clove of garlic, ground in grated rind of half a lemon and a cup of torn basil leaves. After several turns of the pestle (hence pesto) we had a deep green mash ready to take in a couple tablespoons of olive oil. Just before serving a good squeeze of lemon juice would ring this little salsa into a savory condiment.

pesto ingredients

pesto ready

pesto wrapped


Once the charcoal was glowing in the chimney, I dumped the hot coals onto the grate, set in the rack, popped on the lid and waited for the temperature to reach 400°. In order to make the fish easier to lift off the fire, we placed it on an oval rack from the turkey roaster. Six minutes on a side, a lift off and a brief rest before loosening the skin with a spatula, flipping the fish over using the string ties and another six minutes on the uncooked side proved just right—a crisp skin and an internal temperature of 160°.

We carried the grilled fish inside, slid it onto a board where Will snipped the twine and pulled off the string ties. *Next for the anatomy lesson: I cut out the dorsal fin and used a kitchen shears to snip through the skin at the top of the back. Then loosening the skin around the tail, I grasped the tail and wriggled it  gently pulling out the back bone all the way to the neck for another clip of the shears.  We opened the fish like a book, removed the herbs, lemon and lifted away the remaining rib bones.

Will was eager to cut the fish into pieces that went onto our plates with a nice dollop of fresh basil and lemon pesto. Summer Sunday supper on the patio.

A Grilled Trout

A large whole trout, 1 ¼-1 ½ pounds

1 tablespoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon sugar

32 oz. water (4 cups)

fresh herbs (thyme, marjoram, parsley mint)

3 lemon slices

olive oil

Prepare the brine by dissolving the salt and sugar in 4 cups of water in a rectangular baking tin. Add the fish and brine for 10 minutes on a side.

fish in brine

Drain and wipe the fish dry with paper towels. Place the fish on a cutting board, fill the belly with herbs and lemon slices. Tie the belly closed with three lengths of cotton string. Rub the fish well on both sides with oil and oil a roasting rack the size of the fish.

fish and herbs

fish tied up

ready to cook

When a kettle grill reaches 400°, open the lid, place in the fish on it’s rack, cover and roast for 6 minutes. Lift the lid, remove the fish and its rack to a side tray. Allow it to rest a few seconds before loosening the skin with a thin spatula blade. Holding the string ties, flip the fish over and return to the covered grill. Cook another 6 minutes.  Remove the fish and rack to a tray; Touch it for doneness or test with an instant read thermometer.  Take care not to overcook a delicate fish.

Bring the fish inside, slide it onto a cutting board, snip the string ties and remove. Follow directions from * in headnote to debone the fish.  Serves 2-3

Basil Lemon Pesto for Fish

5 cashew nuts (roasted OK)

1 large clove garlic

grated rind half lemon

1 oz. basil leaves (1 cup loose)


1-2 oz. olive oil (2-4 tablespoons)

lemon juice to taste

If you have a large mortar and pestle, please use it. It’s a more natural way to make pesto; it’s fast and much easier to wash up. Though muscle free, the food processor tends to heat the pesto which infringes on the flavor. Making pesto the old fashioned way is good exercise.

First crush the nuts to a paste; next grind the garlic with a pinch of salt. Work in the lemon rind and then crush and grind the basil into a dense paste. Swirl in the olive oil in a thin stream keeping the mixture emulsified. If you’ve made the pesto ahead, scrape it into a small bowl, cover with plastic wrap, pushing the wrap onto the face of the pesto to prevent browning. Refrigerate. Just before serving, stir in lemon juice to taste, 1-2 teaspoons. Makes 4-5 tablespoons



Asparagus Frittata

May 28, 2019

Asparagus Frittata ready to wrap for lunch

Asparagus is up and running. Purple and green bundles stack across our farmer’s market tables; I’m thrilled to bring home several pounds each week. Fresh, local asparagus is worth waiting for. There’s no comparison with the empty flavor of shipped in asparagus found in supermarkets at other seasons. Sage advice: eat your fill now; indulge until you’re asparagused out, then wait until next year.

Frittata ingredients

Use a volley of cooking methods to keep the vegetable interesting— blanching in boiling salted water, gentle grilling, sautéing, roasting, quick braising, using for soup or tucked into a stew at the last minute. The key to asparagus deliciousness is light cooking, and light saucing. I love the classic hollandaise, aioli, vinaigrettes, fresh mint pesto, raita or a warm sorrel cream. Each day of its season invites a new asparagus adventure.

My asparagus of choice is the purple variety.  This culitvar imported from Italy is sweeter than the green, contains antioxidant  anthocyanin, and shimmers into a purplish green shade when cooked. It’s stunning on the plate and delectable to taste.

Cut Asparagus

The other day I was looking for an asparagus lunch I could make up the evening before, wrap in wax paper, tuck into a

bag and eat on the go or on a bench in the park. Ideas kept coming up frittata, frittata, but I found the suggestions too eggy. I was looking for a savory asparagus cake with just enough egg to hold it all together rather than a bland omelet with a hint of asparagus.  Most frittatas have you begin them in a skillet and finish in the oven. To crank up a whole oven for a 10 minute flash of the pan is a waste of energy in my book, so I’d cook mine totally in a frying pan—

the old world way before everyone had an oven.  As it turns out, my frittata is more of like a Spanish tortilla. It’s light, super tasty and a quick, handy trick to have up yoursleeve.  Time for picnic food.

Choose a frying pan

Asparagus Frittata

8 oz. trimmed asparagus, purple suggested, (2 scant cups sliced)

2 tablespoons olive oil

chopped veg

1 medium/small potato (6 oz)

½ medium onion (3-4 oz. peeled, heaping half cup chopped)

2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped (optional)

1 tablespoon chopped fresh herbs (thyme, mint, marjoram or parsley)

3 large farm fresh eggs

2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Romano cheese (optional)


Slice the asparagus into ½ inch pieces, leaving the tips

saute under butter papers

whole up to an inch. Cook the asparagus in 3 cups of boiling, well salted water for 2-3 minutes or until tender. Immediately pour into a colander and spread out to cool.

Meanwhile sauté the chopped onion, garlic and potato in 1 tablespoon olive oil. Use low heat to prevent browning. Cover with butter papers to encourage steaming. Cook until the potato and onion are tender. Stir in chopped herbs and season with salt.  Scrape the onion mixture out of the paninto a bowl and combine with the cooked asparagus. Taste for seasoning.

Wipe out the frying pan with a paper towel, making sure the surface is spotlessly smooth and return the pan to high/moderate heat.

Beat three eggs in a bowl and season with salt. Combine the

Frittata cooking

beaten eggs and the warm, cooked asparagus mixture.

When the frying pan is hot, swirl in 1 scant tablespoon olive oil.  Immediately pour in half of the egg mixture. Sprinkle over the grated cheese and top with the remaining veg/egg mix.

Shake the frying pan to prevent sticking, reduce heat to moderate and continue to cook shaking the pan from time to time for 4-5 minutes. Use a palate knife to loosen the edge of the frittata, shake to loosen and top the frying pan

with a wide plate. Place one hand on the bottom of the plate and holding the pan handle with the other hand, invert the frittata onto the plate.

Return frying pan to heat; wipe clean with paper towel; swirl

Ready to flip

in few more drops of olive oil and slide in the frittata, uncooked side down. Use the palate knife to tuck in any stray bits. Shake the pan and cook for another 2-3 minutes or until browned on the other side Slip onto a plate. Cool and cut into pie shaped wedges. If at all possible, store out of the fridge for best flavor; fine to hold at room temperature for a full day. Serves 2-4

P S The cooking method may seem somewhat complex, but once you have a go at it, it’s quick and easy.




Flipped Frittata



Aioli Secret

April 27, 2019


In the midst of a spring snowstorm, our farmers’ market opened today. There wasn’t any fresh produce available from local farms outside of some cold storage Michigan apples; however, Jake’s Country Meats brought well-stocked coolers and fresh eggs from pastured hens. I look forward to the farm eggs, always better than even the organics sold in supermarkets. I’m ready for raw egg homemade mayo, hollandaise, aioli, lemon mousse, and always feel more trusting of farm eggs than those sitting in market refrigeration for weeks.  Local asparagus will be with us in a week or two, and there’s nothing better to adorn it than homemade hollandaise sauce or aioli.

Aioli ingredients

Aioli’s first on my list this year due to a recent discovery—mashed potato. With each new cookbook that comes onto my table for intense study, there are not only tempting new recipes but usually one surprising gem. As I’ve worked my way through Dorie Greenspan’s new book, Everyday Dorie, one evening I landed on Rosa Jackson’s Bourride and there it was. . .the best aioli ever.  (Bourride is a French fish and vegetable stew enriched at the finish with aioli.) Although I’ve made numerous renditions of aioli over the years, I’d never added the bit of mashed potato recommended in this recipe and I found it the ideal trick to keep the aioli thickly emulsified (without including Dijon mustard). With the tiny potato addition, the sauce doesn’t even suggest splitting and it keeps well in the fridge for several days.  I enjoy making aioli with a mortar and pestle, but for a larger amount or when in a hurry, it will blitz together in seconds using a hand held immersion blender.

Beginning Aioli

One note on the garlic for aioli, which is after all, garlic mayonnaise.At this time of year when most garlic has been in storage, it is advisable to remove the green germ at the center of the garlic clove.  (You will see the green bits removed in the ingredients photo.) It doesn’t seem to be necessary to remove the germ in cooked dishes, but for a delicate sauce such as aioli that may be held for a few days, removing the germ will improve the flavor.

Aioli is delicious on baked potatoes or steamed cauliflower, it’s lovely with boiled eggs and sour dough toast. Spread it over a burger or use it with almost anything grilled. Aioli may be flavored with chopped fresh chives, parsley or mint; it may be perked up with a dab of harissa or chipotle in adobo. Homemade aioli is easy peasy, will keep for a week in a glass jar in your fridge and will deliver flavor over and above anything you can purchase prepared.


An appetizer plate

1 baby potato (1 oz.)

2-3 garlic cloves

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

1 farm fresh egg yolk

2 fl. oz. extra virgin olive oil (1/4 cup)

2 fl. oz. canola or sunflower oil (1/4 cup)

2-3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

2-3 teaspoons water

In a small saucepan, boil the potato until tender. Remove the skin and mash on a saucer. There should be 1½ tablespoons mashed potato.

Split garlic cloves in half lengthwise and remove the green germ. Crush garlic with salt in a mortar and pestle or chop the garlic, sprinkle with salt and crush on a board with the tip of a chef’s knife.

In the mortar bowl or a glass bowl, combine the egg yolk, mashed garlic and cooled potato. Blend well.  Place the mortar or bowl on a damp cloth to hold it steady and gradually dribble in the oil using the pestle or a whisk stirring in a circular motion to create an emulsion. (Within a few turns, you will notice that the emulsion ”takes” into a creamy, lightly colored mass.) When the mixture becomes thick, begin adding lemon juice, ½ teaspoon at a time. Alternate the oil and lemon juice until you have the tartness desired. As the sauce continues to thicken, add water ½ teaspoon at a time until you have a desired consistency. Add more salt if needed. Makes ¾ cup.

If by any chance your mixture splits and you cannot get the oil back into the emulsified state, reach for the immersion blender and instantly you’ll find a fix.

Mary Jo’s Cookbook
available on Amazon


Irish Potato Gratin

March 14, 2019

Cheddar and Parsley Gratin

When you go to Ireland, you’ll find the best potatoes. Beloved tuber, the mainstay of many culinary traditions, the humble potato has taken a bad rap of late. I hear people say “eat no white food”, avoid carbs and the precious potato is unwelcome in the keto community.  I read all this and recall the hundreds of years that the lowly spud sustained generations across northern Europe and South America. The potato is a treasure trove of goodness, high in potassium, vitamin C and energy. In the right climate conditions, it’s not difficult to grow and produces abundantly. It’s comforting food; easy to digest, and when feeling a bit under the weather, nothing sounds better than a warm, boiled potato with salt and butter.

gratin baking dishes

Granted the poor potato has been tortured into submission for the junk food industry. They’re soaked, dried, fried and heavily salted to produce to produce those tempting, perfect French fries, chips, tots and such. This not only decimates good food, but presents wasted calories and money for the consumer.

Unfortunately it’s not easy to buy good potatoes in supermarkets. Most potatoes in our markets have been washed to look perfect, stored in conditions that are too cool and have lost a lot of flavor. The best potatoes are organically or at least locally grown, and packed with some dirt still on in paper bags. Excess dirt may be brushed off but washing potatoes removes their natural keeping quality, plastic suffocates, and storage that is too cool turns the starch to sugar. Definitely do not store potatoes in the fridge.

gratin ingredients

Once you find some exceptional spuds (the potato’s informal name came from the original digging tool, a spudde), enjoy them in moderation and keep the preparations simple.

We’re close to St. Patrick’s Day and need a potato dish to serve a crowd for a church supper. With its rolling green meadows, Ireland is a great dairying country, making a gratin a good choice. We’ll add fresh parsley for the green, use cheddar, the common Irish cheese, and keep the potatoes moist with milk and cream. This is something we can put together in the afternoon and serve in the evening. A potato gratin can be a main dish in itself with a green vegetable or a salad, but it also complements roast chicken, sausages or a braise. For the luck of the Irish, remember St. Paddy and enjoy a potato.

Cheddar and Parsley Potato Gratin

ready to bake
dish too small

1 lb. russet or baking potatoes (generous 3 cups peeled and sliced)

2-3 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 large clove garlic, chopped

1 ½ oz. grated white cheddar cheese (½ cup)

4 fl. oz. milk (½ cup)*

2 fl. oz. cream (1/4 cup)*

1 oz. butter (2 tablespoons)

Salt and (white) pepper

*Or use 6 fl. oz (3/4 cup) half and half

Butter a 6-cup baking dish. Preheat oven to 425º or 400º convection.

catch the run over drips

Heat the milk, cream and butter almost to boiling.

Reserve ¼ of the cheese. Layer the sliced potatoes, parsley, garlic and remaining cheese in the buttered dish, adding salt and pepper as you go.  Pour over the hot milk mixture, sprinkle on the last of the cheese and pop the dish into the preheated oven.

(If you use a baking dish smaller than 6 cups (like I did in the photo), you will need to place a baking sheet underneath to catch any drips that will smoke up your oven.)

Bake for 30-45 minutes or until nicely browned and the potatoes test tender when pierced with a fork. Allow the gratin to settle for 10 minutes out of the oven. Serves 4.




Saucepan Brownies

February 13, 2019


Valentine Brownies

brownie ingredients

Valentine’s Day beckons with hearts, roses and everything chocolate. For many of us in the midst of bitter winter, it’s a time to reach out and lift our spirits with a bit of frivolity. Off the diet, off the regime, off the track for just a day to indulge in a little extravagance. We don’t do it often, and we’ll be happier to go back to work the next morning having lit some candles and enjoyed a bit of sweetness.

As we look around, everything’s coming up chocolate. If you have a box of unsweetened cocoa powder in your pantry and a stick of butter in your fridge, you can beat out Godiva in sensational flavor with just a short stir-up of these fabulous saucepan brownies. Here’s your chance for a last minute gift to give the ones you love something from the heart, something homemade.

butter, sugar, cocoa, eggs

I first came to this recipe as one my young twin granddaughters could make, but they’ve been such a hit, they’re now standard stock, and my 5-year old grandson thinks his packed lunch is incomplete without one of these brownies.

Take a break:  get offline, forget about ordering expensive flowers, stir up a pan of brownies and give the memorable best—home baking.

 Saucepan Brownies

 4 oz. unsalted butter (1 stick)

7 oz. sugar (1 cup)

2 oz. cocoa powder (unsweetened) (2/3 cup)

ready for oven

2 eggs

2 oz. all purpose flour (rounded 1/3 cup)

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)

¼ teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon water

3 oz. chocolate chips or broken walnuts (1/2 cup)

Line an 8 by 8 inch baking tin with parchment. Preheat oven to 325º

Melt butter in a heavy saucepan. Stir in sugar and cocoa.

brownies baked

Remove from heat, cool 5 minutes. Beat in eggs one at a time, followed by the vanilla and water. Tip in the flour with cinnamon and salt and beat with a wooden spoon for 60 strokes (good work for the abs!). Stir in the chocolate chips or nuts and spread the batter in the parchment-lined tin. Place in preheated oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until puffed and glistening on the top. Take care not to over bake.

Cool, remove from baking tin, peel down parchment an cut into squares, 16 or 32 depending on size.

Happy Valentine’s Day

Comfort Dal

January 12, 2019

yellow Dal soup

Here we are in mid January, a few weeks out from the holidays–cold outside and snow forecast for tonight.  Though there are a few broken Christmas cookies left in the tin, most days now, I’m ready for simple fare.

dal package

When I first tried Floyd Cardoz’s Yellow Dal from his book Flavorwalla, I never thought it would become a staple. I’ve taken his basic recipe and made it more of a soup that makes a restorative lunch on busy days and an addictive snack spooned cold right out of the jar. This simplest of dals takes only about 30 minutes to cook, is very inexpensive, highly nourishing and satisfying. The following recipe uses no fancy spice mix or exotic seasonings, but it has just enough of a lift to keep you spooning on. This is not a


recipe that needs to be exact. Follow the basic plan; use what you like and what you have on hand.

Indian dals or lentils have long been staples in my kitchen ever since Asian friends in Tanzania introduced them to me decades ago.  Even in dusty single-shop East African villages, there’d be bins or gunny bags of lentils to be weighed out and wrapped in newspaper cones, along with rice and salt. The name Dal comes from a Sanskrit world meaning “to split”

and dals are always split pulses—

softened onions and garlic

beans, peas or lentils. For example “chanas” are chick peas, and “chana dal” is the same bean peeled and split.  All lentils are high in protein, quick cooking and take well to seasoning. Plain brown lentils may be found in every American grocery store, but when you see the small, pink Masoor lentils or split red lentils, snatch them up to keep in your pantry. I buy them in a four-pound bag in the Asian section where they cost around a dollar a pound. They’re also often in the bulk area of

cooked dal

natural food markets. They fit into any nutrition plan, and most of all they are delicious.

Warm yourself with a bowl of this dal garnished with a dollop of plain yogurt and crusty sour dough toast along with a cup of chai masala and you’ll feel at peace with winter.

Yellow Dal

1 cup (7 ounces) Masoor dal, pink lentils

2 tablespoons butter, ghee, coconut oil or olive oil

½ medium onion cut in small dice

2-3 cloves garlic minced

½ Serrano chili sliced

½ cup chopped tomato, fresh or canned

½ teaspoon turmeric

4 cups water


handful of baby spinach, blanched, chopped kale or broccoli rabe (optional)

handful chopped cilantro or parsley (optional)

Most lentils today are well cleaned, but it’s wise to look them over for bits of chaff or a rare pebble by running your fingers through the dry lentils.

Warm the butter or oil in a medium soup pot. Saute the onion and garlic until softened and transparent. Add the lentils, chili, tomato, turmeric and water. Stir, bring to a boil and simmer covered until the lentils are mushy tender (20-30 minutes). Test by mashing a few lentils between your fingers. Season with salt and for a pureed soup texture, stir quickly with a whisk or a rotary beater.

While still hot, add the blanched, chopped greens and cilantro.

Taste for seasonings adding more salt if needed. You could also add a pinch of cayenne for added chili and a squeeze of lime juice if desired.

yellow Dal soup

Makes 6 generous cups of soup.

Gougeres–Nibbles for Holiday Cheer

December 2, 2018


Gougeres for party nibbles

There’s a stretch of white slush covering my lawn, but the leaf blowers are gone.  Finally the engines of mowers, clippers and blowers are silent and for the quiet spell of winter; like Carl Sandberg’s buffalos, they’re gone. As the cold pushes us inside, it’s good to have the oven on sending good smells of baking through the house.  The holiday season is upon us with party food on order– time to make sure there’s a bag of crisp, cheesy puffs in the freezer to pull out at a moment’s notice.

puff ingredients

My mother didn’t care much for cooking, but we had farm produce around needing to be used, so basically everyone had to know how to cook. With our family Jersey providing quarts of rich cream for the fridge, my mom became an expert with cream puffs. We seldom see them anymore, but what a treat they were—those crisp egg-rich golden globes filled with lightly sweetened whipped cream and a dusting of powdered sugar. Cream puffs were our go-to dessert for company or Sunday dinners. So as Cleo whipped up cream puffs, so I, too, learned to take the preparation of the classic pate a choux for granted. Once you dive in, you’ll see it’s a snap.

cheese prepared

Perhaps it takes a bit of courage to dump the flour all at once into the roiling boil of water and butter then to stir like crazy to form a paste or panade.The next hesitant step may be to crack an egg into the still warm ball of flour paste and again to beat like mad with a wooden spoon.  (Some recipes tell you to transfer the paste to a mixer bowl and beat the egg in that way, but why dirty up more utensils.) Follow tradition, muscle up and beat away with your old wooden spoon. And there you have it: water, butter, salt, flour and eggs. Blobbed onto a

cooked water, butter flour paste

greased sheet pan, parchment or Silpat mats and popped into a hot oven, the pastry bursts into hollow balls. To turn the paste into the classic Burgundian Gougeres or cheese puff, add a dab of mustard and some good Swiss type cheese to the paste before baking and you have a delicious little appetizer. Light, classic and always welcome.

paste after eggs added

A few tips I’ve learned over the years: use strong flour or bread flour in place of all purpose flour if possible for a better puff and stronger shell; cut the cheese into small dice rather than using grated cheese for little melted nuggets; stick with water as the liquid rather than using milk which makes the pastry too tender.


I’ve made thousands of these puffs over the years, so don’t fear giving them a try. No fancy equipment needed. They may be pipped onto the sheet pan using a pastry bag and wide plain tube if you have them, or simply dropped off the edge of a spoon. Make them tiny if you have the patience, or a bit bigger if you’re in a hurry.



8 oz. (1 cup) water

4 oz. (1 stick) butter

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne (optional)

5 oz. (1 cup) flour (bread flour recommended)

4 extra large eggs or 4 ½ large eggs*

1 rounded teaspoon grainy Dijon mustard (optional)

5 ½ oz. (generous cup) Swiss type cheese cut in very small dice or grated

*If using extra large eggs, save 1 generous tablespoon aside for egg wash.

First prepare the cheese, by pulling slices from the wedge with a cheese plane.Stack up the slices and cut into small dice (see photo) or use large holes of a box grater.

Preheat oven to 425º.  Line two sheet pans with parchment or Silpat mats.

In a medium saucepan (not enameled cast iron which retains too much heat when eggs are added), combine the water, butter, salt and cayenne. Cover and bring to a rolling boil. Have the flour and a strong wooden spoon at hand. Once the butter has melted and the boil is rolling, dump in the flour all at once, stir like mad, reduce heat to simmer and beat until the dough comes together into a soft ball.  Stir the paste over low heat for a minute.

ready to bake

Remove the saucepan from the stovetop and place on a damp cloth on the counter. Make a well in the paste and drop in the first egg. Go at it with the wooden spoon again until the egg is fully incorporated into the paste. Continue beating in all 4 large eggs or 3 ½ extra large eggs. The dough should now look silky and shiny; it should feel barely warm (you don’t want the cheese to melt when added). Stir in the mustard and then the diced or grated cheese. Blob the pastry onto the prepared sheet pans using a pastry bag or a teaspoon. Brush

gougeres baked

the tops with egg wash (beaten egg) and pop the sheets into the preheated oven. Bake for 15 minutes, then reverse the sheets, top to bottom. Bake another 10 minutes for small puffs and a bit longer for larger ones. Remove from oven when crisp and brown.

To freeze spread baked puffs on a sheet pan and freeze before storing in a zip lock plastic bag. The puffs may be reheated from freezer to oven for a few minutes before serving. Cheers!


Makes 60 medium puffs or 80-100 small


Butternut Squash and Barley Salad

October 23, 2018

Butternut Squash and Barley Salad

My friend Barbara makes tasty and pretty grain, vegetable salads for potluck suppers. One of her specialties at this time of year combines tender barley kernels and sweet bites of baked butternut squash. Recently there was a nice amount left over and she suggested I take some home. I scooped a few spoonfuls into a bowl and found it delicious for breakfast the next morning.

A savory breakfast is a welcome variation. I remember the first time I sat down to a plate of white tahini, warm pita bread and olives for breakfast in Cairo. Amazing with cups of hot tea. The remains of a lunch or supper salad may equally fill in for a wholesome and interesting breakfast.

Salad Ingredients

Now to the butternut squash, barley salad: The common barley on our grocery shelves is pearled barley. For the salad, the barley needs to be rinsed well to remove excess starch and simmered in plenty of water until swollen and tender. Count on up to 30- 40 minutes to cook the barley. Once the barley is cooked, it should be drained while hot and immediately dressed with vinegar, salt and olive oil.

A shallow baker of lightly oiled, seasoned diced butternut squash

cooked barley

can go in the oven at any time you might be baking something else. It needs to cook gently and thoroughly until it releases most of its moisture and almost seems lightly candied. Seasoned, roasted squash cubes will hold in a covered bowl in the fridge for several days.

The third prepared ingredient for this salad, always good to have on hand, is pickled red onion. This is a snap preparation. Thinly slice a medium red onion (use a little Japanese mandoline if you have one), toss it with the juice of 2

Squash ready to bake

limes and pack the juice soaked onion into a glass jar. Watch it turn beautifully fuchsia pink. Pickled onion keeps for weeks in the fridge and will garnish all sorts of salads, or sandwiches.

Since it’s autumn we’ll add some diced tart apples, a sprinkling of currants, some last tender leaves of kale from the garden and feta crumbles when serving.

Butternut Squash and Barley Salad

½ cup pearled barley

Baked squash

2 cups peeled, diced butternut squash (plus oil, turmeric, paprika, salt)

¼ cup chopped pickled red onion* or chopped fresh red onion

1 ½ cups diced tart apple

2 tablespoons currants or pomegranate seeds

1 clove garlic

2 tablespoons sherry or red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses** or balsamic vinegar

4 tablespoons olive oil


few leaves of kale (optional)

Feta cheese crumbles (optional)

* see above for pickled red onion directions

** pomegranate molasses is available in the Middle East food section of most large supermarkets.

Rinse the barley in 3 changes of water. In a medium saucepan combine the barley and 2 cups of water; cover, bring to a simmer and cook 30 to 40 minutes or until fully tender. Drain, shake away excess water and season with salt, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and a tablespoon of olive oil. Mix well and set aside.

Toss the diced squash with salt, pinch each of turmeric and paprika plus a tablespoon of olive oil. Spread it in a single layer in a baking dish and bake for 30-45 minutes in a moderate oven. The squash will shrink and dry but should not get hard.

Prepare the dressing by mashing the garlic clove with a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Whisk in the remaining tablespoon of red wine or sherry vinegar plus the pomegranate molasses or balsamic vinegar and the last 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When both the barley and the squash have cooled to room temperature, add them to a shallow mixing bowl along with the chopped red onion (pickled), diced apple and currants. Drizzle over the dressing, Mix with a rubber spatula and taste for seasoning.

To prepare kale for serving, pull away the tough stems, slice the leaves, knead with a pinch of salt and a few drops of olive oil. Allow the kale a few minutes to wilt and  soften.

Mound the salad on serving plates, sprinkle the kale around and top with feta crumbles, or just enjoy a bowlful with a spoon. Be sure to save some for breakfast.   Enough for 4-6

Salad Mixed




Iman Bayildi or Stuffed Eggplant

August 25, 2018


Long ago and far away in a legendary city by the sea, I bought a little paperback book. The year was 1964; the city-Dar es Salaam (haven of peace) established by Arab traders in the mid 19thcentury; the sea-the Indian Ocean; the book- Round the World in Eighty Dishes by Leslie Blanch. This 4-by 7-inch now tattered and stained book filled with exotic recipes accompanied by fanciful, curlicued drawings brought me delight and inspiration as I set about preparing tasty meals with

cut eggplant

limited provisions in a remote village of Tanzania.

The author, an English artist and novelist, traveled the world with her French diplomat husband and later on her own. She tells intriguing stories about each of the fabled recipes with tantalizing names such as The Emir’s Jewels, Rosy Dawn Dish, Roquebrune Tartine. Fortunately many of the recipes called for vegetables available occasionally in our local village market such as onions, tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Eggplant,

squeezed eggplant

sometimes called garden egg in Africa, brinjal by Hindi speakers, aubergine by the Brits, is beloved by the Indians and Lebanese who often form the merchant class in African cities and villages. The vegetable grew well in small, cultivated gardens or shambas near plentiful water.

Thus eggplant it was when eggplant was in season. We had moussaka with minimal meat, poor man’s caviar (eggplant salad or spread), ratatouille and of course Iman Bayildi meaning the dish that

filling cooked

made the Iman swoon. This vegetarian stuffed eggplant is practically a national dish in Greece, Turkey and around the Middle East.  In Ms. Blanch’s recipe for this fatal eggplant preparation which caused the priest to faint, the vegetables are boiled, stewed and baked over pages of description. Nowadays, we take the same ingredients in a simplified formula and still reach a swoony result.

Iman Bayildi  (Stuffed Eggplant)


open ready

1 12-15 oz. black or purple eggplant

2-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 large onion (8-10 oz.)

2-3 cloves garlic

2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (thyme, marjoram, basil, parsley, etc)

small pinch crushed red pepper (optional)

2 medium-large ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and diced  (a generous cup)


(reserve the squeezed out tomato juice, strain out seeds)

Salt, pinch sugar

Remove the green cap from the eggplant, halve lengthwise, and cut the flesh into wide cross hatch without piercing the skin. Sprinkle generously with salt and set aside to let the salt draw excess water from the eggplant.

Meanwhile, peel, quarter and thinly slice the onion. Gently sweat the onion in 2 tablespoons olive oil (cover with butter wrappers or

served with yogurt

parchment). As the onion softens add chopped garlic, herbs and red pepper. Once the onion is fully wilted and the garlic fragrant, remove butter papers, add tomatoes, salt, pinch of sugar, and simmer until all the tomato juice has cooked away. Taste for seasoning.

Rinse salt from the eggplant and squeeze away excess moisture. Scrape the tomato mixture from the frying pan. Add another spoon of oil and sauté the eggplant, cut side down over moderate heat for 5 minutes. Turn the eggplant over and sauté for 10 minutes, covered.

served with cherry tomatoes

Lower the heat if it seems to be frying.

Taste the eggplant flesh. If it tastes salty enough, leave them as they are, or sprinkle with salt if needed. Place the eggplant shells in an oiled baking dish cut side up, fill them with the tomato mixture, pour around 2-3 tablespoons reserved tomato juice and bake in a 375º-400ºoven for 30-45 minutes or until very soft, slightly caramelized and temptingly delicious.

The stuffed eggplant may be served warm, but they are best at room temperature preferably with a spoonful of plain, homemade yogurt or a chiffonade of fresh basil and halved cherry tomatoes. Serves 2-4

Peach Crostata

August 5, 2018

Peach Crostata

Sweet, hand-sized fruit pies in the farmers market catch my eye. They tempt with their miniature size, but the crust is thick and fillings ooze pasty rather than juicy.  When I come upon some ripe peaches in the next stall, I imagine  thin, buttery pastry, warm peaches and just a touch of sweet. So how was I going to get to my personal peach pie?

Maybe a Crostata—that Italian free form tart with the pleated edging and fruit mounded center. It might

pie crust

not be glamorous, nor would it hold up for hours in the hot sun, but shortly after it came from the oven or toasted up the next day, it would be perfect.

Two problems faced me: first peach juiciness would make the filling runny. And secondly how could I bump up the peach flavor inside the crust blanket.

I’d solve the first problem by lightly sugaring peeled, sliced peaches until the sugar drew out the juice, which I’d drain off, boil up and add

rolled pastry

as a syrup over the tart when serving.  I’d tackle the second query with a blob of thick, homemade peach jam smeared on the pastry base before mounding in the wilted peach slices.  I’d then pleat up the crust around the peach mound, brush it with cream, sprinkle with sugar and pop the lot into a hot oven.

After 25 minutes I had my quintessential individual peach pie! Though since I had all that oven heat going on, it was wise to make 4 crostatas.  A parchment covered

jam added

baking sheet held my four small pies—ideal summer treats and easy to pack up for a picnic, but they’re best the day they’re baked.

Peach Crostata

For each crostata to serve 2:

4 oz. lightly sweetened, chilled pie crust  https://mjcuisine.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/pie-crust/

peaches added

2 ripe peaches

1 tablespoon sugar

1 ½ tablespoons thick peach jam, homemade if possible

¼ teaspoon cornstarch

sliver of butter

Cream and sugar for the crust

Scald peaches 10 seconds in boiling water to loosen peel. Peel, slice and toss with sugar.  Set aside for 20 minutes as the sugar draws

pastry pleating

juice from the peaches.

Preheat oven to 450º. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Drain peaches in a sieve and save the juice. Roll the dough into a 9-inch circle. Spoon jam into the center of the circle. Sprinkle cornstarch over jam. Mound a cup of wilted sliced peaches over the starch sprinkled jam and begin pleating the dough up around the peaches, leaving the center open. Use a flat, thin plastic scraper to gently slide the filled pastry onto the cookie sheet. (If this seems too tricky, shape the

ready to bake

crostata right on the parchment.) Top with a thin slice of butter. Brush the pastry with cream or milk and sprinkle with sugar. Repeat with as many small pies as will fit on your baking sheet.

Bake the pies 20-25 minutes or until richly browned.  Meanwhile boil up the reserved peach juice to a thick syrup and drizzle over the baked tarts when serving with soft whipped cream. Each pie is enough for 2.


4 pies