C’s Ratatouille

C's Ratatouille

I’m not sure exactly when my mom first started making ratatouille, that rustic French stew of eggplant, zucchini and bell peppers.  Maybe it was after she took a trip to Paris, leaving me and my sister at home with our dad whose culinary expertise at that time was limited to tamale pie and mac n’ cheese with hot dogs and black olives (I’m actually getting hungry thinking about these meals).  Or, maybe it was a recipe she got from one of the Time Life Foods of the World cook books lining the shelf in our kitchen.  All I know is that at some point during my childhood, ratatouille became a regular in the meal rotation.  While I didn’t love it at first (because what child in their right mind loves eggplant?!) I grew to love it because of what it represented: autumn, rainy days and my mom’s home cooking. Also, it’s really delicious. So that scene in the Pixar movie “Ratatouille” where the food critique takes one bite of the “fancy-pants” layered ratatouille and in an instant, is transported back to his childhood  where his mom serves him her version of the dish -one of the best scenes in any movie, animated or not – had particular resonance  for me. I mean I didn’t cry or anything.  Okay, maybe I had something in my eyes that caused them to water and perhaps at the same time I found myself involuntarily emitting sob like sounds, but that’s totally normal when watching Pixar movies. Am I right?

Now as an adult, ratatouille has been a go to dish of mine for years. So far, my kids seem to like it too.  Perhaps when they’re adults they’ll eat it and think fondly back to the simple eggplant stew that I, their father, made for them.    Here’s the list of ingredients and watch the video below for how I do it.

Ingredients
1-2 lbs of eggplant
1-2 lbs of zucchini
2 red bell peppers
2 onions
5-8 cloves of garlic
salt
pepper
paprika
oregano
2-3 tbsp tomato paste
1/2 cup red wine

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Lahmacun and Sarmale

This past weekend found us taking a culinary trip from Turkey to Romania all from the comfort of our own kitchen.

Saturday Night = Turkey Night

As is often the case, Shefali suggested and I executed.  In this case, she suggested that  I make lahmacun, a flat bread “pizza” with a topping of ground meat  and spices for a potluck party we were attending on Saturday night,.  Now depending on whom you talk to, lahmacun (pronounced: lah-ma-joon) is either of Turkish or Armenian origins.  I don’t  want to get into the particular complications of the conflicted relationship between Turkey and it’s Armenian citizens, but one thing they do share in common is this delicious savory snack/meal (I say “meal” because because once you try it, you might not be able to refrain from eating just a snack like portion).  You can also find lahmacun in Lebanese and Syrian restaurants and bakeries.  I consulted a couple recipes for inspiration: a Saveur Magazine recipe and a recipe from a Turkish cook book by Özcan Ozan, the chef owner of The Sultan’s Kitchen, a Turkish restaurant in Boston.  Then I just kind of did my own thing.  Again proving the versatility of the sourdough starter, I used the sourdough for which I was originally intending to make baguettes and then re-purposed for the flat bread.  It added a nice extra tang and chewiness. Here’s what the lahmacun looked like:

uncooked lahamcun - basically spicy meat paste spread over dough

after baking for about 10 minutes at 475 degrees F. Smelled just like Turkey! In other words, it smelled deliciously of spiced savory lamb

Lamahcun waiting station. Packing them up for the poluck.

Sunday Night = Romania Night

A fun game that we often play in our house is naked twister. But when we get bored of that we play another game called “what the hell should we do with all this cabbage in our fridge?” And fortunately our CSA gives us ample opportunity to play this game.  Case in point, our last pick up we got three different types of cabbage: a red cabbage with which I made my patented cole slaw, a napa cabbage for which I already assigned supporting role duty in Shanghai chow mein.  That left me with one more head of cabbage, an arrowhead cabbage (?) that I had to figure out how to cook.  Solution: sarmale, or Romanian style stuffed cabbage.  I’m dating myself here, but I first sampled sarmale in Romania when I was shooting a “documentary” about the origins of Dracula and vampires,  which served as bonus material  on the DVD release of one of the finest movies ever made: Underworld – yeah that vampires v. werewolves movie staring Kate Beckinsale. Well, at least it got me to Romania where I remember the food being really, hearty, rustic (raw bacon? yes please) and delicious.   Case in point: the stuffed cabbage dish called sarmale.  Stuffing cabbage with meat and other ingredients is not unique to Romania.   According to Wikipedia, sarma as it is also called has it’s origins in the Ottoman Empire which makes complete sense if you consider all the the countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia that have stuffed cabbage.  They were all under the influence directly or indirectly (or just by proximity) to the Ottoman Empire.  Isn’t history cool?  Anyway, I consulted a number of recipes on the web and basically incorporated a bunch of them to suit my needs and capabilities.  Some recipes called for using sauerkraut which I didn’t have, so I blanched the cabbage leaves in water and vinegar before using them to wrap the meat mixture ( a combination of ground pork, lamb and beef mixed with rice, spices, onions, garlic and celery).  The end result? Delicios! (uh, that’s Romanian for “delicious”)

Sarmale - cabbage is stuffed and ready to be cooked

Sarmale in the pot and simmered slowly in broth and a bit of tomato paste

The sarmale after cooking in the oven for about an hour at about 350?.

We cooked for our friends Ben and Maria visiting from out of town. Ben, who's Jewish said the sarmale reminde him of food his mom cooks. Mission accomplished. I always knew I'd make a great Jewish mother.

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