Roasted Beet and Ricotta Salad

Transforming ricotta: Just whip it.

Roasted Beet and Whipped Ricotta Salad

I am little late to the ricotta party. For a long while, this Italian whey cheese was relegated solely to lasagnas and other filled pasta dishes. Aside from that, ricotta did not play a role in much of my cooking. This is likely due to unfortunate first impressions, the ho-hum results of part-skim varieties, that tend to be watery, grainy, and lacking in character. More recently, however, I began to dabble with using fresh ricotta, and it was revelatory. The difference between a skimmed and watered down version versus a high quality whole-milk ricotta or a hand-dipped artisan ricotta (besides a few extra dollars) is a worlds-apart creamy, sweet and milky cheese, urging consumption. To which I obliged, and started experimenting with different recipes.

And then I whipped it.

Apparently, whipped ricotta has been a thing, but, as mentioned, I am late to the party. Thank goodness I arrived. Whipping ricotta transforms this creamy, slightly grainy, cheese into an ethereal spreadable wonder, which is sweet and mild and very receptive to additional ingredients, such as olive oil, honey, fresh herbs, salt, and pepper. It’s a protein-rich alternative to whipped cream, crème fraiche, yogurt, sour cream, and even a dollop of ice cream on top of dessert.

To whip ricotta, use a dense, creamy whole-milk ricotta that smells dairy fresh and tastes milky and mildly sweet. Avoid watery, grainy, part-skim ricotta and any ricotta that has a funky aroma.

Sweet Whipped Ricotta
Makes 1 cup

Combine 1 cup whole-milk ricotta, 1 tablespoon honey, 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice and an optional pinch of lemon zest in a food processor and process until light and smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more honey if desired. Serve as a substitute for whipped cream, crème fraiche, or ice cream with fresh fruit and baked desserts. 

Savory Whipped Ricotta
Makes 1 cup

Combine 1 cup whole-milk ricotta, 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a grind or two of black pepper in a food processor. Process until light and smooth and taste for seasoning. If you like, add a generous pinch of finely grated fresh lemon zest. Spread the ricotta in a bowl and use as a dip for crudités and bread. Stir it into cooked pasta dishes as a creamy sauce. Smear it on bruschetta or garlic toasts and top with sliced figs or stone fruit, a drizzle of honey and lemon zest, or your other favorite toppings. Spoon a dollop on cooked pizzas, roasted vegetables, and salads, such as the following beet salad.

Roasted Beet and Spring Green Salad with Whipped Ricotta

The beets will release their juices while roasting, which will mix with the olive oil to create the base for the vinaigrette.

Serves 4
Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes, plus cooling time

3 bunches small or baby beets, 10 to 12, ends and stems trimmed, scrubbed clean
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
4 ounces mixed spring greens, such as arugula, mache, baby spinach, miners lettuce, frisée
1 cup Savory Whipped Ricotta
Lemon zest, for garnish

1. Heat the oven to 400°F.
2. Place the beets in a large Dutch oven. Pour in the oil, stir to coat, and lightly season with salt. Cover the pot, transfer to the oven, and roast the beets until tender when pierced with a knife, about 1 hour. Remove and cool, uncovered, in the pot.
3. When cool enough to handle, peel the beets and cut into large bite-size chunks. Do not discard the oil from the pot. Place the beets in a bowl with 1 tablespoon of the cooking oil, and lightly season with salt and pepper. Cool to room temperature or refrigerate until chilled (the beets may be prepared up to one day in advance).
4. Pour the remaining cooking oil into a bowl (through a strainer if desired). Whisk in the vinegar, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt to taste.
5. To assemble the salad, arrange a layer of mixed spring greens on serving plates. Lightly drizzle with some of the vinaigrette. Mound the beets on the greens and top with a dollop of the whipped ricotta. Garnish with lemon zest and black pepper. Serve with the remaining vinaigrette for drizzling.

Triple Onion Dip

It’s time for a dip.

Let’s be honest. Life has been a little stressful of late. In times of anxiety and uncertainty, some self-care is warranted. I am not talking cleanses and fasts, folks, I am talking indulgences, because, well, we deserve it.

When our sheltering days are clocked by changes of clothing from morning PJs to home-office athleisure attire, to a return to our PJs (wash and repeat). When our weekly schedule requires setting an alarm to remember that it’s in fact a Monday, or to clarify that the weekend follows Friday and, sadly, not the aforementioned Monday. When we realize that the entire last year has atrophied any semblance of learned social skills (no small feat for introverts), while our voracious consumption of screen time has effectively cancelled any parental authority in managing that department, it’s important not to judge. Rather, it’s time to be kind to ourselves, to embrace comfort in the form of simple pleasures, and to mark the end of yet another sheltered day with non-anxiety provoking rewards (and cue the moment it’s OK to change back into our PJs).

Which leads me to this bowl of dip (as I said, simple pleasures). I confess that I called this dinner when I made it – no one in my family objected – and I regret nothing. In defense, it’s a homemade dip. It conjures childhood memories of additive and salt-packed instant onion dips, while, in these modern times, it’s made from scratch with real ingredients. It’s also easy to put together, risking no inflection in your anxiety level. And since I am feeling a little light-hearted these days, I have even provided two ways to make this dip. The first is a basic onion-packed dip, and the second is the same dip dressed up with a little extra bling, because, as mentioned, we deserve it. And while it’s not an evening at the theater or a festive party (so 2019), the bling adds a tiny hint of sparkle that we can enjoy on a Monday – oops, Tuesday – night in our PJs.

Triple Onion Dip

Active Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes plus cooling time
Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 large yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced
3 shallots, halved and thinly sliced
2 scallions, white and green parts divided, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 cup sour cream
1/4 cup cream cheese, softened
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper or to taste, plus more for garnish

Optional bling:
1 to 2 teaspoons drained jarred horseradish
Salmon roe for sprinkling
Dill sprigs for garnish

1. Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onion, shallots, and white scallions. Cook over medium heat until very soft and tinged golden in spots, about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in the lemon juice, then remove and cool to room temperature. When cool enough to handle, chop the onions and transfer to a bowl.
2. Whisk the cream cheese until light and smooth, then stir in the sour cream, Worcestershire sauce, and garlic powder to blend. Mix in the onions, salt, and black pepper and taste for seasoning. Garnish with the green scallions if not adding the optional dill.
3. Optional: Mix in 1 to 2 teaspoons drained jarred horseradish, to taste, with the onions. Garnish with the salmon roe and dill sprigs.
4. Serve with potato chips, pita chips, or crudités.

Delicata and Radicchio Salad

Bring on the layers when it’s cold outside. And before you reach for your fleece or parka, let’s be perfectly clear: we’re talking about salads. That’s right, salads have a place in the fall and winter, and when the brisk seasons invite layering hefty, nourishing ingredients into our meals, this principle also applies to salads. They can handle it.

This vibrant salad is a perfect example. It’s layered with nutty black rice, crisp radicchio leaves, and spice-roasted delicata squash rings. Each ingredient brings flavor, texture, and nutrients to the salad party, and when composed together in a serving bowl and drizzled with a thick balsamic vinaigrette, they produce a unified and highly decorative salad, that will please and wow everyone at the dinner and holiday table.

Delicata squash is a winter squash that is often by-passed for the ubiquitous butternut squash. Delicata is a small oblong squash with green and yellow striated skin that is edible, so there is no need to peel it. It cooks quickly, and roasting is an easy method which amplifies its mildly sweet and creamy flavor. The squash can be halved lengthwise and roasted, or, better yet, sliced into thin rings, which resemble decorative flower shapes.

If you need any further encouragement to make this salad, note that it can be easily prepped ahead of serving, since the rice and squash rings should be cooked and cooled to room temperature. The final assembly takes minutes, which is a cook’s gift during the busy holiday season.

Delicata, Radicchio, and Black Rice Salad

Serves 4
Active Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes, plus rice cooking and cooling time

Dressing:
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Salad:
1 cup black rice, rinsed
Salt
1 large delicate squash, scrubbed clean
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 large head radicchio, cored, leaves torn into shards
3 scallions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley leaves
2 tablespoons pumpkins seeds (or pomegranate arils)

1. Whisk the dressing ingredients in a small bowl.
2. Cook the rice until tender, according to package instructions. Season to taste with salt and set aside to cool to lukewarm or room temperature.
3. Heat the oven to 400°F.
4. Cut the squash crosswise in 1/3-inch thick slices, and scoop out the seeds. Place the rings in a large bowl. Add the oil, 1 teaspoon salt, the cumin, paprika, and black pepper and toss to coat. Arrange the squash rings on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Transfer to the oven and roast until golden brown in spots and tender, about 25 minutes, flipping once. Remove from the oven and lightly brush with the dressing. Cool to lukewarm or room temperature.
5. Spread the radicchio in a wide shallow serving bowl. Stir the scallions into the rice and then spoon the rice over and around the radicchio. Arrange the delicata rings around the salad, tucking some of the rings under the radicchio leaves. Sprinkle the parsley and pumpkins seeds (or pomegranate arils) over the salad. Drizzle with the remaining dressing.

Tomatillo Salsa and Chicken Stew

If you’ve had a green salsa or salsa verde, then you’ve had a tomatillo.

For a long while I steered clear of tomatillos, not because I had an aversion – I simply didn’t know what do with them. Well, I am here to tell you that tomatillos are easy to use and a delight to eat. Their flavor is tart and vegetal with a hint of fruit, and they add pucker-y brightness to salsas and stews.

Tomatillos are in fact classified as a fruit (like tomatoes) and are a member of the nightshade family. They are wrapped in a papery husk, which, when removed, reveals a crab apple-sized green fruit that resembles a tomato. Tomatillos are native to Central America, which helps to explain why they are a prominent ingredient in salsas.

A fresh tomatillo should be firm, unblemished, and bright green in color. They can be eaten raw or cooked. When eaten raw, their tartness will be pronounced. Roasting tempers their acidity, coaxing out their natural sweetness, while adding a smoky charred note. To prepare a tomatillo, remove the paper husk and wash the fruit to remove the sticky film that coats the surface. When roasting, halve the tomatillos crosswise and broil, cut side down (or grill skin-side up) to get a light char on the skins. You want those skins in the salsa for the extra flavor.

The salsa in this recipe can be enjoyed straight up on a chip, spooned over tacos and casseroles, and dolloped over grilled meat, fish, poultry, and vegetables. In this recipe it’s the base for a simple and bright chicken stew. For extra depth of flavor, I’ve marinated the chicken in citrus and herbs to amplify the salsa.

Tomatillo Chicken Stew

Active Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour, plus marinating time
Serves: 4 to 6

Marinade:
3 garlic cloves
1/2 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs, halved

Salsa:
1 pound tomatillos
1 to 2 jalapeño peppers, seeded, halved lengthwise
2 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small white onion, coarsely chopped
1 small poblano pepper, seeded, coarsely chopped
1 cup packed cilantro leaves and tender stems
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 tablespoon olive oil
Cooked long grain rice
2 scallions, white and green parts thinly sliced
Chopped cilantro for garnish

1. Marinate the chicken: Whisk the marinade ingredients in a large bowl. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Cover the bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 24 hours.
2. Make the salsa: Remove the papery husks from the tomatillos. Rinse the tomatillos to remove the sticky film. Halve the tomatillos cross-wise and arrange with the jalapeños, cut-sides down, on a rimmed baking sheet. Place under the oven broiler and broil until the skins are lightly charred, about 5 minutes. Cool slightly and then combine the tomatillos, jalapeños, and the remaining salsa ingredients in a food processor and pulse to achieve a salsa consistency.
3. Heat the oven to 350°F.
4. Heat the oil in a large skillet. Remove the chicken from the marinade and discard the marinade. In batches, cook the chicken on both sides to give them a little color, 3 to 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate.
5. Pour the salsa into the pan, scraping up any brown bits. Nestle the chicken into the salsa. Transfer the skillet to the oven and cook until the chicken is cooked through, about 25 minutes.
6. To serve, ladle the chicken and sauce over the rice. Serve garnished with the scallions and cilantro.

Fiesta Shrimp Salsa

When Salsa is the Party

This bright and festive starter is part-salsa, part-ceviche. It’s not meant to be a simple dab to complete a chip, but rather a command to attention with a jumble of shrimp in a kaleidoscope of colorful ingredients. In this concoction, sweet and briny shrimp are lightly poached and steeped in a bright citrusy sauce that continues to “cook” and infuse the shrimp with flavor. A whole bunch of fresh ingredients, are added to the mix, including chile peppers, tomato, and corn, which add substance and round out the flavors with juicy sweetness and heat. Serve the salsa with tortilla chips for scooping, or simply spoon it over garden greens and call it a salad. You can also wrap the salsa lettuce leaves for fun finger food (just pass the napkins). No matter how you serve it, it’s guaranteed to steal the show.

Fiesta Shrimp Salsa

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes, plus chilling time
Serves 6 as an appetizer

1 pound medium shrimp, shelled, deveined
2 roma (plum) tomatoes, seeded, diced
1 poblano pepper, finely chopped
Corn kernels from one ear of yellow corn
1/2 red bell pepper, finely chopped
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped, about 1/2 cup
1 jalapeño chile pepper, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chipotle chile powder
1 cup cilantro leaves and tender stems, chopped

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the shrimp, cover the pot and remove from the heat. Let the shrimp poach until bright in color and just cooked through, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain and cool the shrimp to the touch, then coarsely chop.
2. Combine all of the remaining ingredients, except the cilantro, in a large bowl. Add the shrimp and mix well to combine. Taste for seasoning.
3. Cover and refrigerate the salsa for at least 2 hours or up to 6 hours, stirring occasionally. Stir in the cilantro before serving.

Butter and Garlic Clams

Butter Clams

When summer fades and the season tilts to autumn, this steamy bowl of buttery clams hits the spot.

I experienced a bowl like this one day last fall. I was researching a travel story on the northern coast of the Olympic peninsula in Washington. If there’s a furthermost corner of the northwest U.S., then this is it. The peninsula is dominated by the Olympic National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, which sprawls several ecosystems, including mountainous peaks and old-growth forests. Numerous cultural, archeological, and historic sites are woven throughout the landscape, spanning millennia of human occupation from indigenous first cultures to more recent histories of exploration, homesteading, and community development.

On this trip of discovery, the weather was gray, foggy, and misty with intermittent (i.e. frequent) rain showers in true Pacific Northwest form. Yes, it was seasonally wet (the fall season brings the rain). It was also magical, mystical, and magnificent. The horizon loomed with teetering mountains, shrouded in swirls of clouds and fog and bedecked with garlands of waterfalls cascading into serpentine lakes. It was desolate, due in part to the weather and also the season. I had the roads to myself snaking through canyons, interrupted occasionally by logging trucks barreling past and shocking me out of my reverie. I hiked to a ridge, rain be damned, with distant views to British Columbia, through a mist-laden rain forest lush with moss. I traced a river to a roaring crescendo of water tumbling from a precipitous ledge, and I saw salmon spawn.

By the end of the day, cold, soggy, and famished, I returned to sea level to a small fishing town anchoring the mountains to the sea. There were no restaurants open at 4 pm, but for one lone storefront illuminated in the drizzle, with a fish market that provided counter service, where I ordered a simple bowl of garlicky clams steamed in wine and swimming in their buttery juices, buttressed with slabs of garlic bread for soaking up the sweet broth. The singular accompaniment was an icy glass of snappy local riesling. It was perfect.

Since then, I’ve recreated this dish at home a number of times. It’s simple and consistently rewarding. The only thing missing is the weather.

Butter and Garlic Clams

Littleneck clams are my preferred type of clam for this recipe. They are the smallest Quahog clam with sweet and tender meat. Depending on their size, one pound yields 8 to 12 clams. When cleaning clams, discard any opened clams or clams with broken shells before washing. Rinse the clams under cold water, gently scrubbing them clean. Once cooked, discard any unopened clams before serving.

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Serves 2 to 4

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 1/2 cups un-oaked white wine
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 pounds littleneck clams, about 24, rinsed and scrubbed clean
1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley leaves
Lemon wedges for serving

1. In a large deep skillet with a lid melt the butter with the oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until soft and fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the wine, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt and black pepper. Bring to a simmer and add the clams. Cover the pan, reduce the heat to medium-low, and steam the clams until the shells have opened, shaking the pan from time to time, 6 to 8 minutes, depending on the size of the clams.

2. Remove the lid and discard any unopened clams. Taste the broth and season with additional salt and pepper if desired. Divide the clams and cooking liquid between serving bowls and garnish with the parsley. Serve immediately with garlic bread or crusty bread.

A Very Green Frittata

Put your carrot tops and beet greens to use in this healthy frittata recipe:

Greens Frittata TasteFood

When I buy beets, carrots, and turnips at the market, they are often presented as bright bunches, crowned with exuberant stalks sprouting a cascade of green leaves. While it may be tempting to chop off the stems and discard the mountain of greens left behind with the trimmings … don’t do that. These greens are delicious on their own, sautéed in olive oil, blitzed into pestos, folded into omelets, and baked in frittatas. Rich in nutrients and ranging from sweet to peppery to earthy in flavor, they are an under-appreciated bonus attached to your roots and crucifers.

Lately, I’ve been on a beet green kick. Yellow or golden beets are sweet, nutty, and less earthy than their red brethren, and their mildness is reflected in the flavor of their leaves. I remove and store the leaves in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, where they can last for up to one week, ready for use in a simple side dish or, in this recipe, a frittata.

Beets Bunch TasteFood

It’s safe to say that this frittata is a very green frittata, with just enough egg to bind the leaves but not dominate. If you prefer a more eggy dish, feel free to add 2 more eggs and 1 additional tablespoon of half and half. You can use just one or any combination of greens, including the tops of beets, carrots, and turnips, as well as chopped kale and chard leaves. (If using kale or chard leaves, remove the stems and ribs before adding them to the mix.) I blanch sturdy greens, such as kale, chard, and beet greens, to wilt them just enough for a quick sauté in olive oil and garlic before adding the eggs. When using more fragile greens such as wispy carrot tops, you can omit the blanching step.

Green Frittata

Active Time: 20 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes
Serves 4 to 6

1 pound greens
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press
1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs, room temperature
1 tablespoon half and half or whole milk
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano cheese, divided
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup Panko (Japanese breadcrumbs)

1. Wash the greens and tear into large pieces. If using kale or chard, remove the ribs.
2. Heat the oven to 350°F.
3. Bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Add the greens and blanch until bright in color, about 1 minute. Drain the greens and press to remove any excess liquid.
4. Whisk the eggs and cream in a bowl and stir in half of the cheese. Mix the remaining cheese and breadcrumbs together in a separate small bowl.
5. Heat the oil in a 10-inch oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and chili flakes and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the greens, season with the salt and black pepper, and sauté until the greens wilt, 2 to 3 minutes.
6. Remove the skillet from the heat. Pour the eggs over the greens, gently nudging the greens around to evenly distribute the eggs. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs evenly over the frittata.
7. Transfer the skillet to the oven and bake until the eggs are set and the top of the frittata is golden brown in spots, 25 to 30 minutes. Let stand for at least 5 minutes before serving. Serve warm or at room temperature.

 

Mad for Mezze

Traveling abroad may be on hold right now, but there’s no reason why we can’t bring the taste and ambiance of travel home to our kitchens and gardens with mezze.

Mezzo Spread TasteFood

Mezze is an appetizer tradition essential to the cuisines of the Middle East, Turkey, and Greece. The word “mezze” derives from the Arabic term t’mazza, which translates as “savor in little bites.” The tradition consists of just that – a sampling of simple and fresh bites enjoyed with a refreshing drink, meant to whet the appetite before a meal. It’s a daily ritual and social tradition enjoyed with family and friends, centered around the table, often al fresco in the warm weather season.

Marinated Feta

This is a tradition we can all get behind. What could be a more convivial and pleasurable way to begin a meal with than with a sampling of mezze accompanied by a glass of something cool and sparkling on a warm summer evening? Mezze can vary from a simple bite or two to a substantial spread. It almost always includes a sampling of dips, such as hummus, tsatsiki, or baba ganoush, along with fresh crudités, pickles, and olives. For a more substantial selection the samplings are endless, including brochettes of meat and keftas (ground meat patties and meatballs), grilled calamari or octopus, simple salads, and dolmas (stuffed vegetables and filled grape leaves.) The portions should be small and be served in stages, encouraging mingling and lingering at the table.

Here are two basic mezze recipes you can can make in advance and stash in the refrigerator, ready for serving or last minute guests. Get started with these, then pour yourself a glass and enjoy a moment in the sunshine.

Smoky Eggplant and Chickpea Dip

This recipe is inspired by baba ganoush, which is a traditional Middle Eastern dip made with roasted eggplant, tahini, and lemon. In this version, extra flavor-boosting spices are added, as well as chickpeas for more structure. Select an eggplant that is firm, shiny, and smooth and has a nice heft to its weight.

Active time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 50 minutes, plus draining and cooling time
Makes about 2 cups

1 medium globe eggplant, 1 to 1 1/4 pounds
1 cup cooked chickpeas or canned chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup tahini
3 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for serving
2 large garlic cloves
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3/4 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Chopped Italian parsley leaves for garnish
Pita bread for serving

1. If grilling, prepare the grill for direct and indirect cooking over medium-high heat. Pierce the eggplant all over with a fork. Grill the eggplant over direct medium-high heat first, until charred on all sides. Move to indirect heat and continue to grill until the eggplant is slightly collapsed and very soft when pierced with a knife, about 40 minutes, depending on the size of the eggplant. Remove and cool to the touch, then slice in half.

2. If using an oven, preheat the oven to 450°F. Slice the eggplant in half, lengthwise. Brush with olive oil and arrange cut-side-down on a rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment. Roast in the oven until collapsed and very tender, 35 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the eggplant. Remove and cool to the touch.

3. Scoop the eggplant flesh into a strainer over a bowl and let drain for 30 minutes. Discard the skins.

4. Combine the eggplant and all of the remaining ingredients to the bowl of a food processor and pulse to blend to your desired consistency. Transfer to a bowl and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to let the flavors develop. Serve at room temperature with pita bread and crudités for dipping. The dip may be prepared up to 3 days in advance and refrigerated. The flavors will diminish slightly with time.

Marinated Feta with Lemon

This appetizer is impossibly easy to make and best made ahead of serving. The longer the feta can marinate, the better the flavor.

Active time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes, plus marinating time
Makes about 2 cups

8 ounces feta cheese, rinsed and patted dry, cut in 3/4-inch cubes
Zest of one lemon, peeled with a vegetable peeler
2 to 3 thyme sprigs
2 to 3 oregano sprigs
1 teaspoon cracked black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil, about 1 cup

Thoroughly clean a 16-ounce glass jar with a lid. Layer all of the ingredients, except the olive oil in the jar. Pour in the olive oil to cover. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes for immediate serving, or cover and refrigerate for up to 1 week. Bring to room temperature before serving. Serve with crostini, fresh bread or pita bread.

Note: If you desire to add garlic to the oil for flavor, add 2 thinly sliced garlic cloves to the oil and refrigerate the marinated cheese. Do not store at room temperature or allow to stand at room temperature for more than 2 hours to prevent the potential growth of bacterium. Optionally, stir 1 to 2 minced garlic cloves into the oil mixture when serving.

Falafel Fritters

Pan Fried Falafel

I love falafel, but they can be messy and oily to deep-fry. The solution? Pan-frying. Not only does pan-frying require much less oil, the flattened patties have more surface area to brown. The edges become crumbly and crisp, and the little bits that break off are good enough to eat on their own – just saying.

Pan Fried Falafel

When making your own falafel, you must begin with dried chickpeas, which yield the right crumbly and mealy texture. Falafel should not be mushy, which is what will happen when you use canned chickpeas. So, begin your falafel-making process the night before cooking by soaking the chickpeas overnight in water. That’s all you need to do. The next day, the chickpeas will have tripled in size and will be firm yet tender to the bite. Drain, rinse them well, and pat dry. Then simply blitz them with the remaining ingredients until you have a crumbly, mealy texture.

Now, I understand that the overnight soaking defeats any cravings demanding instant gratification – as most cravings do. With this in mind, I recommend soaking more chickpeas than you need. This way, you can refrigerate or freeze any unused chickpeas for later use (no overnight soaking required!) Or make a double batch of the falafel mixture and freeze some of that, instead. Then you will be set the next time the craving for falafel strikes – because you know it will.

Falafel Fritters
Makes about 24 (2-inch) patties

1 pound dried chickpeas
1 small onion, chopped about 1/2 cup
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1 small jalapeño pepper, seeded, chopped
1/2 cup (packed) Italian parsley, leaves and tender stems
1/2 cup (packed) fresh cilantro, leaves and tender stems
1/4 cup (packed) fresh mint leaves
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Grapeseed oil for pan-frying

Yogurt Tahini Sauce:
1 cup whole-milk yogurt
1 tablespoon tahini
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 teaspoons Sriracha
Pinch of salt

1. The night before making, place the chickpeas in a large bowl. Cover with three inches of cold water and let stand overnight. The next day, drain the chickpeas and rinse well, then spread on a kitchen towel and pat dry.
2. Place the chickpeas in the bowl of a food processor. Process until finely chopped with a consistency of coarse sand. Transfer half of the chickpeas to a bowl. Add the remaining ingredients to the food processor bowl and process to form a coarse paste. Add the reserved chickpeas and pulse to finely blend. The overall consistency should be slightly sticky but not mushy, with small pieces of the chickpeas evident. Transfer to a bowl and taste for seasoning. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
3. Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Gather the falafel mixture, about 2 tablespoons at a time, and gently form into 1 1/2 to 2-inch patties. Add to the skillet and gently press in the center and around the edges to compact with a spatula. Pan-fry until the fritters are deep golden in color on both sides, 6 to 8 minutes, using the spatula to carefully flip. Transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel and repeat with the remaining mixture.
4. Whisk the Yogurt Tahini Sauce ingredients in a small bowl. Serve the falafel with the sauce, lemon wedges, and additional Sriracha if desired.

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus with Dukkah

Pantry Cooking: Fire up your hummus with smoke and heat.

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus Dip

Hummus is my go-to appetizer. And while traditional chickpea hummus is always a favorite, it’s fun to riff on this popular Middle Eastern dip with additional ingredients.

This red pepper hummus is my latest favorite, which is smoky, sweet, and fragrant with spice. Using the faithful chickpea as a base, roasted red peppers and fiery harissa paste are added to the mix. It’s garnished with sprinkle of dukkah, which is an essential Middle Eastern condiment made from groundnuts, sesame seeds, and whole spices. It may sound underwhelming, but I assure you it’s not. Dukkah is crunchy and aromatic, and adds extra texture and flavor to an assortment of dishes. It can simply be sprinkled over bread dipped in olive oil, swirled into dips and spreads, scattered over salads, or used as a coating for meat and fish. And the good news is that it stores exceptionally well. You can make a batch of this versatile mix and keep it in the refrigerator for up to 6 months for handy flavoring.

Smoky Red Pepper Hummus with Dukkah

Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 15 minutes
Makes about 1 1/2 cups hummus and 3/4 cup dukkah (both recipes may easily be doubled)

Dukkah:
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/4 cup raw almonds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon sea salt

Hummus:
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained
1 large roasted red bell pepper, drained well if using a jarred pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 teaspoons harissa paste (or Sriracha)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Make the dukkah:
1. Toast the hazelnuts in a skillet over medium heat until fragrant and colored. Remove and pour onto a kitchen towel. Cover with the towel and rub to remove the skins. Cool the hazelnuts.
2. Separately, toast the almonds until golden brown, and toast the sesame seeds until light golden.
3. Add the cumin, coriander, peppercorns, and fennel seeds to a clean skillet and toast until fragrant, about 1 minute.
4. Combine the nuts and seeds in the bowl of a food processor and process until finely ground. Add the salt and taste for seasoning. Use immediately or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 6 months.

Make the hummus:
Combine all of the hummus ingredients in the bowl of a food processor, and process until smooth. If too thick, add additional olive oil or warm water to your desired consistency. Serve the hummus garnished with dukkah and chopped fresh mint and/or cilantro.