Tag Archives: appetizer

Pita Crisps

25 Sep

Somewhere en-route between Ralph’s and home yesterday, I suffered a massive brain injury. It became evident when I plopped down all those grocery bags on our kitchen counter and, halfway through unpacking, devoured a 1,713 calorie bag of pita chips in 0.46 seconds flat. I confess I may also have eaten 3 large spoonful’s of Nutella. I plead the fifth. Seriously, I’m blaming it entirely on acute onset PMS. If Mother Nature was a person, I’d invite her over for British tea and explain that this type of physiological shenanigans won’t do…. and then I’d punch her. (And possibly cry)

My descend into the pit of mindless eating wasn’t so much disturbing because I wolfed that bag down in record time, but more so because that was a family-size bag that cost me $5.95. We won’t even mention all that hummus & baba ghanoush that is now forced to live on in my fridge without any real purpose. ** insert a moment of silence. **

Just as I tossed the empty bag into the trash and started to feel partially guilty, Ina Garten popped up on TV, as by Divine Intervention. Complete with overly starched blouse and that trademark “I live in the Hamptons and you don’t” smile. She and her trusted bob-hairdo were entertaining a fellow Hamptonian, and she whipped up a platter of Greek deliciousness accompanied by house-baked pita chips. How easy is that? Of course, I don’t have access to artisan stone-milled wheat to handcraft my own pita bread, but she assured me store-bought is fine.

At an average cost of $0.99-$2.00 for a package of 6 pita bread rounds, home-baked pita chips are the fraction of the cost of those from Stacy’s popular brands. They are super easy to make, don’t require a lot of time-commitment and I think this could be a fun kid project too because, let’s face it, who doesn’t relish the idea of their 6-year old playing with a brush and olive oil?!

Once baked & cooled, I typically keep them in a Ziplock bag in our breadbasket for a few weeks, although they usually don’t last that long. You can sprinkle them with sea salt & herbs, or season them up with cinnamon sugar, or even cheese popcorn sprinkle… The choice truly is yours.

PITA CHIPS
(Courtesy of Ms. Garten & her bob hairdo… and a touch of Hungry Belgian)

– 6 pita bread rounds, or however many you want to bake
– olive oil
– seasonings of your choice

Preheat oven to 350F.

Cut pita bread rounds in half, and cut each half in half again.

Take each quarter, and cut it in half again, so you end up with small pita bread triangles.

Brush each triangle lightly with olive oil front & back, and place in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Sprinkle with sea salt, or any savory seasoning of your choice. (on one side only is fine). For sweet crisps, bake without seasoning and toss in cinnamon sugar after the baking process, when the chips are partially cooled but still a tad warm.

Bake for approx. 10-15 min on 1 side, then flip each triangle and bake for an additional 5 minutes on the other side. Keep an eye on them, as they can burn quickly. You want them to be crisp and golden on both sides.

Let cool completely, then store in an airtight container or ziplock bag, in a cool dry place.

Warm Blue Cheese Sriracha Corn Dip

9 Jan

I confess that I know nothing about American football. Well, almost nothing. I know that the Minnesota Vikings’ uniform colors are purple and GOLD!, not yellow. It looks pretty yellow to me, but who am I to judge?! I also know that you’re not supposed to hold a conversation during the game for longer than, say, 30 seconds. Commercials is when your verbal diarrhea is tolerated. And I know that you’re not supposed to jump up with arms extended and a loud ‘HELL YEAH!!!’ when there’s a flag against your team. A flag is evil… and a tat effeminate, if you ask me, but I’ll hold my vile tongue.

I have no clue what all the conferences mean, let alone how they stack up against each other. I’m truly a lost atom in the football vortex. I understand just about as much from football as I would from any scientific debate in Norwegian, and that notion is aggravated by the fact that I can’t even keep football and baseball straight. I kid you not, 90% of the time, I still think the Red Socks are a football team! Ouch.

The kicker is (ain’t that a nice pun?!), I actually enjoy watching football. Very much like the cats. I don’t per se lounge on the ottoman like a jezebel and elaborately start grooming my nether regions, but – like the resident felines – I’m pleasantly entertained by the movement on the screen. I like seeing all the pretty colors. And then there is Mr. Farklepants too, with his spontaneous loud outbursts of approval and/or animated annoyance about certain referee calls. Watching him watch football, amuses me. I’ll come right out saying that there is no specific team I’m a fan of, and as such, I mostly root for the team wearing the prettiest colors the team that pleases my visual cortex the most. Contrary to what I just stated (I am female after all), the Seahawks will always have my vote because a) I have very dear friends in Seattle and feel a misplaced loyalty to their team, b) Seattle is quite possibly the coolest city in the USA and c) Pike Place Market. Enough said there.

What I like best about the ‘Super Bowl’, though, is that it comes with a widely accepted ‘diet pardon’ that makes it OK to stuff your face with chips dipped in whatever melts into a tasty homogenized blob in the oven. A while ago, I found a recipe for a hot blue cheese & onion dip and, true to my non-conformist nature, I turned that deliciousness into a corn version… with a bit of help from Pinterest. It was love at first bite.

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Warm Blue Cheese Sriracha Corn Dip
(Adapted from several hot dip recipes I found on Pinterest)

– 4 oz of cream cheese, softened
– 3 oz of blue cheese, crumbled (such a Roquefort or Danish Blue)
– 1/2 cup of sour cream
– 1/2 cup of mayonnaise
– 1 1/2 cups of Monterrey Jack cheese, grated + more for topping
– 2.5 cups of fresh or frozen corn
– 1 red bell pepper, diced finely
– 1 green bell pepper, diced finely
– 2 shallots, diced finely
– 2-4 Tbsp of Sriracha sauce, depending on the level of spiciness you desire.
– 1 tsp of ground cumin
– 1 tsp of Hungarian sweet paprika
– 2-3 green onions, for garnish.
– salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 350F.

If using frozen corn, take out of the freezer and let it defrost in a sieve, allowing the thawing juices to drain. If using fresh corn, cut corn off of the cobs and set aside. I prefer fresh when in season, but either works just fine!

In a skillet (I use my 12-inch Lodge Cast Iron skillet), sauté the shallots and bell peppers until beginning to soften. Turn off the heat and add reserved corn, allowing the corn to cool down the skillet just a bit.

In a bowl, mix cream cheese with mayo, sour cream, Sriracha Sauce & Monterey jack cheese. Add salt to taste. Add cumin & corn mixture from skillet and mix until well combined. Either pour mixture back into skillet or pour into an oven-safe casserole dish. Top with a little bit of Monterey jack cheese, and bake uncovered for approx. 30-40 min, until mixture is bubbly.

Slice green onions finely and sprinkle over top of dip. Serve hot, with tortilla chips, crackers or crusty French bread slices.

Bangkok Chicken Satay with Coconut-Peanut Sauce

7 Sep

Football season is here! And with it, so is finger food season.

I confess that I know nothing about American football. Whenever a game comes on, I root for the team wearing the prettiest colors get lost in trying to figure out who actually has possession of the ball and when flags and penalties are dished out, all bets are off. I vaguely grasp the concept of a ‘first down and 8 yards to go’, but I guess football is one of those sports you must have either played yourself or grown up with, in order to fully comprehend the intricate detail of grown men throwing themselves on top of one another for… an oblong-shaped ball?! And why is that ball oblong shaped to begin with?! And who on earth understands what that referee is saying in that echoing microphone?

The first time I was graciously invited to someone’s house for an American cook-out and football BBQ party, I actually managed to silence an entire room by loudly jumping up from my comfy chair and belting out a cheer, complete with arms fully extended and the required high-pitched “WOOHOO!!!!”, when the referee threw a flag… against the team we were all supposed to be rooting for. Whoopsie!

I remember this incident greatly embarrassed my then boyfriend to the point where he felt compelled to formally apologize on my behalf to everybody in the room, and explained that I was from Belgium! I learned three things from that unfortunate moment: a) football is a serious thing over here, b) a man who-we-shall-not-name is an asshole and c) Thai chicken skewers are delicious!

Fast forward 10 years, and my football expertise hasn’t much improved since then. I grew up playing a lot of sports and I love watching sports, but when it comes to American football, I stick with my tried & true routine of picking the team with the snazziest outfit… And I do so from the comfort of my kitchen, where the magic of football parties really happens!

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BANGKOK CHICKEN SATAY WITH COCONUT-PEANUT SAUCE
(Adapted from a recipe by Bobby Flay)
For the chicken satay:
– 3 lbs of skinless, boneless chicken breast, cut into 1 inch pieces
– 1/4 cup of soy sauce
– 3 Tbsp of dark brown sugar, firmly packed
– 2 Tbsp of fresh lime juice
– 2 tbsp of peanut oil
– 1 Tbsp of curry powder
– 2 garlic cloves, minced or grated
– 1 tsp of fresh ginger, grated
– 1/2 tsp of ground cardamom
– 24 wooden skewers, soaked in cold water for 20 min

Cut chicken into 1 inch cubes or bite-size pieces and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine all other ingredients and whisk to make a marinade. Pour marinade over the chicken, cover with plastic foil and let rest in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour.

Thread 6-8 pieces of chicken on each skewer. Heat a grill pan or griddle over medium high heat, and cook chicken skewers for 8-10 min, turning once half way through… or cook skewers on the BBQ. Serve warm alongside peanut sauce below.

For the coconut-peanut sauce:
– 1 13.5oz can of coconut milk
– 1/4 cup of creamy peanut butter
– 1/4 cup of dark brown sugar, packed
– 1 Tbsp of soy sauce
– 1 1/2 tsp of red curry paste

Combine all ingredients in a small sauce pan. Bring to a boil and let simmer for 3-5 minutes. Pour sauce in the a small bowl and serve alongside chicken skewers.

Kickin’ Chayote & Melon Salsa

28 Aug

I have a confession to make. Until I set foot in the USA, I had only vaguely heard of salsa. Let alone that I knew what it was supposed to taste like. As a matter of fact, the first time I tried it, was at a grungy roadside diner located across the street from my then office in Rockaway, NJ… Let’s just say that it was an overly sweet, jarred disappointment. It wasn’t until I set foot on California soil that my taste buds were properly courted by the smooth Latin lover that is ‘salsa fresca’.

Mom is an adventurous amateur chef, so it baffles me a wee bit as to why I didn’t really hear about salsa until I came to the USA. Frankly, growing up in Belgium and vacationing frequently in sweet Provence, we were surrounded by juicy tomatoes fresh from the vine every late Spring & Summer. When we moved into our new house in the country, mom even planted a few odd tomato plants against a sunny wall we shared with our neighbor. It so happens to be that those tomato plants set off a royal feud with Mr. Grouch, who never got over the fact that our yard was twice the size of his, and who vehemently claimed that watering our tomato plants caused structural damage to his garage’s wall. He was a royal pain in the you-know-what, and I won’t even go into detail about what happened when my soccer ball went over the fence and landed on his prize-winning dahlias. I don’t think the food blogging world could stomach the horror of such atrocity. But we digress… I think the problem with Flemish salsa may have been that things like limes, fresh cilantro and jalapenos – the latter being imported into Belgium and so by default ‘expensive’ – were either not in our family’s budget or not readily available… or mom didn’t care for them, which is the least likely of all three.

Mom is madly in love with fresh salsa & ‘pico de gallo’. During her weeklong California visits, she single-handedly powers through 2-3 family-size (!) containers of the stuff from the ‘salsa man’ at Torrance farmers market. She even engages in pseudo-English conversation with the man, using partial hand gestures and broken soap opera English. (*) She likes his stuff that much! Yes, the salsa man and my mom share a special bond.
(*) Like the time she walked into a grocery store in Spain, intending to buy cat food for the strays, sans knowledge of any Spanish, and resorted to signaling out “cat food” by pointing into her wide-open gaping mouth and uttering ‘meow meow’ to the unassuming store clerk. Per God’s blessing, I wasn’t present for this linguistic embarrassment.

With a great variety of fresh, flavorful salsas readily available here in Southern California year-round, I’ve never been challenged to come up with my own creation. I also don’t own a food processor, an excuse I’ve used far too many times to justify my salsa laziness. Now that I’m trying to live a little healthier with more ‘whole’ foods and fewer manipulated foods, I’m trying to move away from the jarred stuff which often contains ingredients that sound like they could be Klingon. No offense, Trekkie fans! The fresh tomato kind tends to come in the same boring old flavors, and I wanted to try something new. I can’t wait for my mom to be here in October, so she can then tell me in her dry, ‘matter-of-fact’ teacher voice that the tomato stuff from the salsa man is better. I’m fully prepared to embrace that defeat…!

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KICKIN’ CHAYOTE & MELON SALSA
(A Hungry Belgian original)
– 1 chayote squash, peeled & diced very small (*)
– 1/4 honey dew or Galia melon, diced very small
– 1/2 red onion, diced very small
– 1 Serrano chili, seeded and chopped very fine
– juice & zest of 1 large lime
– 1 tsp of agave syrup
– 1/2 tsp of ground cumin
– 1/2 bunch of fresh cilantro, chopped
– salt, to taste
(*) If you’re not familiar with chayote, see picture below, you should know that they have a crisp, cool flavor similar to cucumber. The flat, almond-shaped pit inside is edible too, but I remove it for this salsa.

Place all ingredients in a bowl, and gently fold together to combine. Let ‘rest’ in the refrigerator for a few hours, so flavors have time to develop and meld beautifully.

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Roquefort, Gruyère & Walnut Puffs

24 Aug

For the longest time, puff pastry scared me. I’m not a baker at all. It seems all my culinary talent is condensed into cooking, and the whole idea of working with dough brings forth horrible visions of botched pies and messy fails.

The thing is, is that baking requires you to be precise when measuring ingredients, to the point where I fear I’m playing Russian Roulette with my ticket to baking heaven if I even dare contemplate an extra component. I’m not a precise-kinda lass. I feel that all that preciseness cuts off the creative flow in my ‘chi’, and it prevents me from adding a little bit of this and that. I openly confess that all my baking attempts have resulted in mediocrity at best, and it’s nearly always been so, because I can’t stick to directions.

Puff pastry tops high on my rank of deliciousness. The first time I ever used puff pastry dough was for a lovely fig tart. Given my track record in baking anything, my expectations for success were low, but it turned out exactly the way I wanted it to. I was so thrilled with myself that I figured a ribbon from the Pope would certainly be nigh.

Since then, puff pastry & I are BFF’s and it makes a frequent appearance at brunch. The scrumptious savory rolls below are a breeze to make and you could easily swap out the ingredients for things that are on your favorite list! For me, I’ve had a long-standing love affair with blue cheese, so if I want something flavorful & cheesy, that’s usually the route I take…

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ROQUEFORT, GRUYÈRE & WALNUT PUFFS
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘Williams-Sonoma’)
– 1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed (11×14)
– 3oz of Roquefort cheese
– 2-4 Tbsp of double cream (like mascarpone)
– 1/2 cup of walnuts, finely chopped or minced
– 3 Tbsp of fresh rosemary, finely chopped
– 1/2 cup of Gruyère cheese, shaved or grated
– honey, for drizzling

Preheat oven to 400F, and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a flour-dusted work surface, roll out puff pastry to 1/4 inch thick, then cut in half lengthwise.

In a medium bowl, combine cheeses and enough cream to make a spreadable paste.

Spread half the mixture on one half of the prepared puff pastry, spreading to within 1/4 inch of the edges. Sprinkle with walnuts, rosemary and drizzle a wee bit of honey over the top.

Starting from the long side, roll up pastry sheet and pinch the edge to seal. Repeat with other half of the puff pastry. Using a sharp knife, cut the rolls crosswise into slices 1/2 inch thick.

Place on your lined baking sheets, spacing the rolls 1 inch apart. Place the baking sheets in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Remove baking sheets and bake 12 to 15 minutes, or until rolls are puffed and golden. Let cool 10 minutes before serving.

Roasted Pear & Plum Chutney

22 Aug

I don’t know about you, but my mind has been on Fall lately. It may be because my morning commute has been blanketed in coastal fog the past few days, or perhaps I’m excited about my mom’s pending visit from Belgium in October. Either way, I’m over the California Summer heat and I want Fall to get here already.

Tucked in the Northeastern corner of Belgium, is the province of Limburg. With its rich, fertile soil, the region is dotted with fruit growers and groves. Whilst cruising on the rural byways in Spring, you drive in a cloud of pinkish white petals from all the blossoming orchards that produce enough fruit in Fall to stop world hunger for a few months. Sint-Truiden, one of Limburg’s finest cities in the heart of the apple- & pear producing region of ‘Haspengouw’, is truly the Oak Glen of Belgium. There is a lot of friendly mockery when it comes to Limburgers’ heavy local dialect, but if you ask me, the province has so much historical beauty and peaceful homestead allure, that there is little else to mock but the country twang of its inhabitants.

I remember my brother & I being sent off to Scouts Camp for a few weeks every year during our 2 month Summer vacations, and many of these camps took place somewhere in Limburg. We’d pitch our tents in the woods or on the heather-covered hills, and – being giddy tweens – we’d make fun of the local boys during scavenger hunts in which we left our campground and skipped across the rural towns in search of clues. During these outings, for which we were sternly lectured by camp staff as to the do’s and don’ts and the potential consequences we’d face if we broke the rules, we’d often slip into the orchards to celebrate our freedom from camp regulations and share our deepest camp secrets underneath the shady canopy of an apple tree. The utmost privacy of our secrets being sealed by a pinky swear and the solemn promise to always be friends.

Apples & pears are staples in Belgium’s culinary repertoire. From ‘Luikse Stroop’ to ‘beer-braised rabbit with prunes’, Flemish cuisine often marries stewed or roasted fruits into its regional specialties. I love the savory & sweet combination of these flavors, and for that reason, chutney is winner in my book. I’ve played around with chutneys here & there, but it wasn’t until I came across a mango chutney recipe from an old edition of ‘Bon Appetit’, that I knew I had a winner on my hands. Since I love pears, I tweaked that recipe a bit to favor pears and… voilà! Get some cheese & crackers, and you’re all set for a true Belgian Fall favorite!

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ROASTED PEAR & PLUM CHUTNEY
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘Bon Appetit’)
– 2 ripe pears, peeled & cut in half (preferably Bosc pears or another firm variety)
– juice & zest of 1 lemon
– 1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp of sugar
– 3/4 tsp of ground cinnamon
– 1/4 tsp of ground cloves
– 2 Tbsp of canola oil (or another oil)
– 1/4 cup of pure maple syrup
– 2 shallots, halved and cut into slices/strips
– 1 clove of garlic, chopped finely
– 1 tsp of freshly grated ginger
– 3 Tbsp of currants (or dried blueberries works great as well!)
– 3 Tbsp of chopped dried figs
– 1/2 cup of champagne vinegar (or white wine vinegar)
– 1 tsp of hot red pepper flakes
– 1 tsp of fresh thyme, chopped finely
– 1 cup of ripe plums, diced small
– 1/4 cup of dry white wine

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Toss the pears with the lemon juice, 1 tablespoon of the sugar, the cinnamon, and cloves. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil and coat the foil with half the oil. Set the pears cut side down on the pan. Brush the pears with the remaining oil, and roast until caramelized and tender, approx. 40 to 50 minutes. Take out of the oven, and set aside to cool.

While the pears are roasting, bring all of the remaining ingredients to a boil in a non-reactive saucepan (like a Dutch oven). Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow to cool as well.

Using a small spoon, scoop out the cores of the cooked pears. Cut the pears into 1/2-inch slices. Combine the pears and the onion mixture. Cover and refrigerate for at least 1 day before serving.

Fig Tartlets with Goat Cheese & Honey

13 Aug

Ah… Fresh figs!

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I love everything about fresh figs, really. The sweet stickiness that lingers on your lips, the earthy smell, the bright red flesh that offsets the crisp green or deep dark purple of the skin, the plump texture with just the right amount of crunch form the tiny seeds… I even like the shape of the bright green leaves and the knottiness of the tree branches. Let it be known that if I were to reincarnate as a tree, I’d like to come back as a fig tree.

Mom must have loved figs too, because I remember us bringing back a few saplings during one of our vacations in the South of France. Mom carefully nursed them on our dining room window sill, where the afternoon sunlight would caress their tiny organic bodies and would cause their little leaves to quiver from the warmth. The next Spring, we planted two of them in the backyard, in a post-winter ritual involving partially decomposed dog doodoo and a rusty shovel (with possibly some canned banana shoved in the hollow handle) (*). We didn’t hold much hope for the saplings’ survival of the first brutal Belgian winter that would be nipping at their fragile roots come November, nor did we expect for them to thrive in our cold, wet climate. Despite all odds being stacked against them, these little knotty fig trees have grown to reach the edge of my mom’s single level’s rooftop over the years. Overwhelmed by the amount of fruit they’d produce every late Summer thru early Fall, we couldn’t keep up with the harvest and… well… let’s just say that the crows & squirrels of the ‘Jasmijnenlaan’ were well fed.
(*) For more intriguing story lines of ‘canned bananas’, please read my banana butter post here.

I realize that figs are expensive outside of Southern California. Lucky for me, however, I happen to live in a dry, sunny climate, similar to the Mediterranean where fig trees thrive. Even better is that ‘fig season’ actually comes in 2 installments… The first crop, named the ‘breba’ crop, grows from branches that sprouted the previous year and is the harvest that begins in late Spring. It’s a fairly short-lived season, usually with the last crops harvested around early Summer. The second & larger harvest, sprouting from this year’s branch growth, begins in mid-August and runs as late as October for some varieties. This means that, with a bit of clever pre-planned farmers market hopping, I can actually enjoy fresh figs with nary a hiccup through fall. Most of the figs around here are ‘Brown Turkey’ figs or ‘Black Mission’ figs, with the deep purple black mission fruit usually having a more intense fig flavor. Later in the summer, you see ‘Kadota’ figs and ‘Calimyrna’ figs. Kadota figs are used mostly for drying, but the bright green Calimyrna’s are excellent for eating raw as well. ‘Adriatic’ figs and striped tropical ‘Panachée’ figs are quite scarce over here, so if you see them, grab them.

If you’ve never eaten fresh figs before, don’t be alarmed. When ripe, there are few fruits that compare to their sweet juiciness and I know you’ll love them too. Simply rinse the whole fruit, trim the stems back a bit and sink your teeth in like you would a strawberry. On the other hand, fresh figs are a treat when roasted in the oven with some goat cheese or chopped in salads, or you can bake them into a sweet or savory tart like I did below.

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FRESH FIG TARTLETS WITH GOAT CHEESE & HONEY
– 4 pieces of puff pastry, sliced into 6-7 inch rounds (or squares)
– 5-6 oz of soft, mild goat cheese (or if you don’t like goat cheese, use ricotta)
– 2 Tbsp of fresh oregano, chopped
– 1 tsp of lemon zest
– 6 fresh figs, sliced fairly thinly (like you would a lemon)
– Honey, for drizzling
– Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 350F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place 4 puff pastry rounds on top, spaced approx. 1.5-inch apart. In small bowl, soften goat cheese with some salt & pepper to taste, and the lemon zest. Divide goat cheese mixture evenly over the center of the puff pastry rounds, making sure to leave approx. 1 inch of the edges clear. Sprinkle chopped fresh oregano over the goat cheese.

Place fresh fig slices over the goat cheese to more or less cover. Fold the edges of the pastry over themselves just a little bit, so you get a bit of a thicker edge on the outside.

Bake the tartlets in the oven for approx. 15 min until the edges are puffed and the center looks caramelized and somewhat gooey. Drizzle some honey over the top and serve warm.

Baba Ganoush with Goat Cheese & Olives

29 Jul

In my post about Moroccan Spiced Meatloaf, I mentioned that I was at one time blessed to have lived in the buzzing, ethnic heart of Ghent, Belgium’s third largest city and melting pot of all kinds of Eastern cuisines.

I first discovered ‘Baba Ganoush’ in a small, dimly lit Turkish restaurant, complete with ornate belly-dancers and Kelim-covered poofs that served as seats around the knee-high, mahogany table tops. We had made our reservations a few weeks ahead of time, but when we arrived, somehow our reservation got botched and we had to wait well over an hour for our table. It turns out that this was actually a blessing in disguise, as the incredibly hospitable owner catered to us with gratuitous grilled pita bread and baba ganoush. Farouk, the bartender who made sure we weren’t thinking about the time that passed, kept the wine & conversation flowing with flair, and in the end, we sort of regretted being escorted to our table. To me, baba ganoush represents the warmth & earthy deliciousness of the flavorful ethnic dishes you find in the many small, family-run eateries in Belgium’s urban areas. Just like Mexican cuisine has become a staple in every day living in California, shoarma, doner kebab & things like baba ganoush are part of every day life in Belgium.

If you’ve never heard of baba ganoush, I urge you to keep an open mind as all it really is, is nothing more than a silky smooth & velvety roasted eggplant dip. It’s truly a bit of heaven in a small bowl. It’s perfect on bread or with pita chips, but also as a dip for roasted vegetables or a spread for sandwiches. It’s very versatile, and you’ll understand why the minute your lips meet this Middle-Eastern treasure.

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BABA GANOUSH WITH KALAMATA OLIVES & GOAT CHEESE
(Adapted from a recipe by ‘The Magic Carpet’)
– 2 large eggplant(s), whole
– 3-4 cloves of garlic, grated (use more for garlicky, and less for mild)
– 1 scallion, finely chopped
– 1/4 cup of tahini (*)
– 3 Tbsp of mild soft goat cheese (or thick Greek yogurt)
– juice of 1 small fresh lemon
– 1/3 cup of finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
– 1 tsp of ground cumin
– 1 tsp of smoked paprika
– 1/3 cup of finely chopped kalamata olives
– salt & pepper to taste
(*) Tahini is a paste that is similar in texture than peanut butter, but made from sesame seed, instead. It can usually be found at local specialty grocery stores.

Heat oven to 375F (200C). Wash eggplant and prick them all over with a fork. Roast in the oven, whole, for approx. 45-60 minutes until the skin is blackened and the flesh is soft.

Let cool and peel eggplant. When they are soft and perfectly roasted, this should be very easy.
Slice off the top of each eggplant and place peeled flesh in a large bowl, together with the garlic and spring onion. Purée with a hand mixer until you get a smooth consistency, or mash it all by hand with a fork.

Add the tahini, lemon juice, goat cheese, spices and chopped parsley, and stir together until well combined. Season with salt & pepper to taste. Add a pinch of cayenne pepper for a bit of heat.

Heap chopped olives on top. Drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle some toasted pine nuts over the top, and serve with wedges of pita bread or grilled toast.

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