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Green Tomato Pakoras

30 Sep

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Well, it happened. I’ve been wearing boots for the past week—a very rainy week, I might add—which can only signal that summer is officially over, and it’s time to buckle down and prepare our nests for the long, grey days of autumn and winter. And spring. And part of summer. But who’s counting?

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In anticipation of our summer plans that would keep us away from home for most of July and August, we planted a rather modest vegetable garden this year. Our main garden component was tomatoes, and we were able to harvest a really nice crop after our return, which made for a lovely welcome back home. The tomato plants were still going strong as of about a week and a half ago, but with the cold weather sitting on top of us, it is obvious that the plump green tomatoes holding onto each vine have absolutely no chance of ever ripening. This, of course, is not a bad thing, particularly if you are as big of a fan of green tomatoes as I am.

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I wanted to experiment with more ways to enjoy green tomatoes (aside from the ubiquitous—and delicious—fried green tomatoes), so, as I am wont to do when faced with a challenge, I turned to my Indian roots in the name of experimentation. It took me about five seconds to realize that my crop of green tomatoes was practically begging to be drenched in a spicy besan batter and pan fried into golden and crisp green tomato pakoras. I’ve made a few types of pakoras over the years, and I have to admit, I think these right here are my hands down favorites. In addition to using besan (chickpea flour) in the pakora batter, I added a bit of rice flour for an added lightness and crispness, and, in the interest of pumping up the mild flavor of the green tomatoes, I added a finely diced chile to the batter. The end result is nothing short of dreamy. With a stash of green tomatoes to keep me company, it almost makes me not so sad that summer has come to a close.

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Last Year: Homemade Multigrain CrackersCheddar Apple Cornmeal Bread, and Apple and Toasted Oat Cookies with Penuche Frosting –is anyone else noticing that all of these recipes practically scream “AUTUMN!”?

Green Tomato Pakoras

¾ cup besan (garbanzo bean flour, also called gram flour)

½ cup rice flour

1 tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 small chile, finely minced, seeds removed if you are concerned about spiciness

3 tablespoons minced cilantro leaves

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

¾ to 1 cup water

3 to 4 large to medium-sized green tomatoes, sliced into rounds

vegetable oil

ghee (optional)

In a medium bowl, whisk together besan, rice flour, dried spices, chile, cilantro, and salt. Stir the grated ginger into ¾ of a cup of water, then slowly whisk the water into the besan mixture. You want your pakora batter to be thicker than pancake batter, but not so stiff that it clumps over the tomato slices. If your batter seems to thick, slowly whisk in the remaining ¼ cup of water until the batter lightens up a bit.

In a large, heavy skillet (cast iron works very well here) set over medium high heat, pour in about ¼ inch of vegetable oil, or a mixture of vegetable oil and ghee. Heat the oil until a pinch of batter dropped into it immediately begins to sizzle.

Using your fingers (seriously, don’t even bother with tongs or a fork here—fingers just work so much better), coat three or four tomato slices at a time in the besan batter. Gently place the tomato slices in the hot oil. They should sizzle and bubble immediately. Cook the tomato pakoras for about 3 minutes on each side, give or take, until the batter is deep golden brown and quite crisp. Remove tomato pakoras to a wire rack lined with a double layer of paper towels.

Serve pakoras warm or hot, with chutney or raita.

Serves 4 to 6 people as an appetizer.

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Zucchini and Egg Hash on Brioche Toast

6 Sep

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It is a commonly heard joke that, come the end of summer, you can’t safely answer the knocking at your door without running the risk of being met with an enormous bag of zucchini that someone is trying to trust upon you. If you see a neighbor crossing the street and attempting to flag you down while clutching a suspicious bulge of something or other in the hem of his or her shirt, your gut instinct is to run in the other direction. There is zucchini in that shirt! Run away, before you are made to accept it out of sheer politeness! Except if you are me, of course, in which case you will meet your neighbor halfway across the street, arms outstretched in anticipation of getting your hands on more garden fresh zucchini. Zucchini fritters, zucchini spears with Parmesan, grilled zucchini, zucchini in pakoras, and, of course, all varieties of zucchini bread—I wait all year to have enough zucchini at my disposal that I can cook with it nearly every day.

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We always grow zucchini in our garden, but this summer, what with all of the traveling we were going to be doing, we planted a very small, modest, and manageable garden. This garden consisted of a few tomatoes, a pot or two of herbs, and absolutely no zucchini. When we got back from traveling, I fully anticipated at least one person to begin unloading their garden zucchini spoils on us—in fact, I was very much looking forward to it—but it never happened. I briefly considered turning the tables on my neighbors, knocking on their doors and politely inquiring on the status of their zucchini population, but because I did not want my neighbors to begin thinking of me as, how to put this gently, completely nuts, I quickly abandoned the idea. Thus far, the only zucchini I’ve been gifted has come from my in-laws, two people who know how to grow a great garden.

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My in-laws are also avid cooks, so we often take the opportunity to discuss how we like to experiment with different foods and ingredients. My husband’s mother was telling me about a great way to cook zucchini as a sort of hash, shredded, sautéed, then lightly seasoned. I was immediately interested. I can’t remember who brought up the idea of putting an egg on top of the hash, but I do remember that I was the person responsible for immediately wanting to place the concoction on top of a piece of lightly toasted bread. It only took until the next day before I brought all of the ideas for this dish together: shredded, lightly crisped zucchini with a soft-cooked egg nestled within, placed on a piece of thick-cut brioche, and sprinkled with a generous serving of chopped garden tomatoes. Just in time for the end of summer, it’s the perfect way to celebrate your garden’s crop of delightful excess.

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Last Year: Fruit Crisp Made on the Grill, Grill-Roasted Lemon Rosemary Potatoes, and Pane Coi Sante, Bread of Saints

Zucchini and Egg Hash Over Brioche Toast

2 cups shredded zucchini (from 1 large or 2 small zucchini)

¼ cup thinly sliced onion

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

2 or 3 eggs (2 if your eggs are large, 3 if your eggs are rather small)

2 slices of thick-cut brioche, lightly toasted

1 medium tomato, coarsely chopped

Place zucchini in a clean dishtowel, and squeeze tightly until a great deal of the zucchini’s juice is released. Alternately, you can just grab small handfuls of the zucchini in your hands and squeeze until the juice runs out, but some people may find this method a bit too barbaric (but not me—you have my full permission to proceed as you wish).

Heat olive oil in a medium pan set over medium-high heat. Add sliced onions, and sauté briefly, about 30 seconds, while stirring. When the onions have just started to lose some of their stiffness, add the zucchini, and stir to combine. Reduce the heat to medium, and sauté zucchini and onion, stirring occasionally, until dry and slightly browned, anywhere from 5 to 8 minutes. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper, and stir to incorporate. Form two (or three) small nests within the zucchini, then crack an egg into each nest. Cover the pan, reduce heat to low, and allow the eggs to cook until they reach your desired doneness.

Place a piece of brioche toast on a plate, top with half of the zucchini hash (making sure to include an egg, of course), sprinkle over a bit of chopped tomato, and add a touch more salt and pepper.

Serves 2.

White Bean and Tomato Bruschetta

9 Aug

My best friend recently had a baby, her second, and lately I have been spending a pleasingly large amount of time over at her house. While she readjusts to life with an infant, I stand beside her and offer whatever assistance I can, mainly in the form of handing her things when she runs out of arms to complete the task herself. This dance of ours is not unlike that of a surgeon and the nurse assisting her in surgery. Diaper? Diaper. Extra wipes? Extra wipes. Coffee? Oh, yes. Coffee!

Aside from the coffee (consumed in only moderate amounts, for those of you who might be prone to concern), we have also been taking part in some delightful light lunches. Sitting in the kitchen while her son sleeps, my best friend and I swipe crackers in to hummus, top slices of bread with egg salad, and wrap big leaves of crisp lettuce around chicken salad with chutney. The conversation and company is always wonderful, but the lunches always seem to cement the reason why we are best friends. Nowhere else will you find two other people whose most favorite meal structure happens to be a composition of bits of things piled on top of other bits of things.

It was with my best friend in mind that I made this fresh, summery bruschetta. Grilled bread, brushed with olive oil, then topped with a garlicky combination of white beans, fresh tomatoes, and a handful of herbs, makes for a highly enjoyable meal, whether you are interested in throwing together a simple dinner for two or a light appetizer for a crowd. Serve this with sturdy crackers for dipping and it transforms into an even more casual affair. Mix it up with some orzo and you’ve got a great summer salad on your hands (and in your mouth). Or you can do what I did: take it over to a friend’s house, place it in the refrigerator, then sit around chatting and enjoying each other’s company until  hunger strikes or a certain newborn baby allows for a bit of respite by taking a long afternoon nap (whichever comes first).

Last Year: Tiny Party Sandwiches

White Bean and Tomato Bruschetta Recipe

1 clove of garlic, finely minced

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

1 ½ cups chopped tomato, seeds removed

1 ½ cups cooked white beans (canned, rinsed beans are fine)

2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley

salt and pepper to taste

optional: a sprinkling of finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

1 loaf of crusty bread, cut into slices, brushed with olive oil, and grilled until crisp

In a large bowl, combine minced garlic with olive oil and red wine vinegar. Stir to combine, then set aside while you seed and chop the tomatoes. Add tomatoes to garlic and olive mixture, along with the white beans, chopped herbs, salt and pepper. Stir to combine, then taste for seasoning.

To serve, pile on top of slices of grilled bread, then, if using, sprinkle with a bit of grated cheese.

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