Dinner with Family and Friends

One of the best ways to spend a Friday evening is around the kitchen table with family and friends. We had a champagne toast to celebrate one friend with a new job, the other finishing a writing assignment, and just the pleasure of time together. Sharing a simple meal, lively conversation, and a bottle of wine is the perfect wind-down from a busy week.
We started with hummus, toasted pita bread triangles, and some good olives.

Our kitchen table dinner was centered around a spicy eggplant stew, served with pistachio-studded couscous. The non-vegetarians enjoyed lamb meatballs alongside.

The sweet finale was lemon pudding cakes with fresh blueberries.

I sent my guests on their way with bags of home-made granola for leisurely weekend breakfasts. Here are the recipes I used.

1 16-19 ounce can chickpeas
2 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
3-5 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
2 cloves of garlic, chopped
paprika, chopped parsley, and olive oil for garnish
Drain the chick peas, reserving the liquid. Place in a food processor with the tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and a little salt. Add about 1/4 cup of the reserved liquid and process the mixture to your preferred consistency. You may need to add more liquid if you prefer a very smooth hummus. Taste and adjust for salt and lemon juice. Place in a serving bowl or plate and make a shallow depression in the dip. Drizzle in a little olive oil, sprinkle with paprika and chopped parsley and serve with pita chips or fresh vegetables.

Spicy Eggplant Stew (from “Tender” by Nigel Slater)
enough for 6
eggplants-2 pounds (1 kg.; 2 large ones)
medium onions-3
peanut oil-2 tablespoons
green cardamom pods-8
coriander seeds-2 tablespoons
black peppercorns-2 level teaspoons
garlic-4 plump cloves
fresh ginger-a thumb-sized piece
ground turmeric-2 rounded teaspoons
medium tomatoes-10
vegetable stock-2 cups (500 ml)
coconut milk-3 1/2 cups (800 ml)
small, hot red chiles-4, finely chopped ( I used 2 serrano chiles and found that was sufficient for my purposes)
mint-a small bunch
cilantro-2 small bunches

Wipe the eggplants, cut the stems from them, and cut them into fat chunks. The dish will be more interesting to eat if you don’t cut them too small. Put them into a colander, set in the sink, and sprinkle sea salt over them. Leave them for a good half hour, longer if you can. Peel and coarsely chop the onions, then cook them with the oil in a large pan over medium heat until they are soft, translucent, and sweet. While the onions are cooking, crush the cardamom pods with the flat blade of a knife or a rolling pin and shake out the little black seeds into a mortar or spice grinder (or a clean coffee grinder). Add the coriander seeds and the peppercorns and grind them to a coarse powder. Thinly slice the garlic. Peel the ginger and cut it into thin, matchstick-like shards. Stir the garlic and ginger into the onions along with the turmeric and ground spices. Peel and seed the tomatoes and add them to the pan. Rinse the eggplants of their salt and pat dry. Without oiling them, grill them on a ridged cast-iron grill pan until they are starting to soften and have dark grill lines across them. Turn them as you go, so that they are cooked on both sides, removing them as they are ready and replacing them with another batch. Add them to the onions, then pour in the stock and bring to a boil. Add the coconut milk, chiles, and a little salt and continue cooking at a simmer for about forty-five minutes. The eggplants should be very soft and silky but not actually falling apart. Lift out the eggplants, tomatoes, and some of the onion with a slotted spoon. Reduce the rest of the sauce by boiling hard for five minutes or so. Now ladle most, but not all, of the sauce into a blender and blitz until smooth and thick. Return the vegetables and the sauce to the pot, then chop the mint and cilantro leaves and stir them in, together with a final seasoning of salt and black pepper. Serve with rice (or couscous as I did).
*This dish can be made ahead. I did mine early in the day and added the fresh herbs after I reheated it. For the couscous I used Near East brand plain couscous. I toasted about 1/4-1/3 cup chopped pistachios in a tablespoon or so of unsalted butter in a saucepan, then I added the water and a pinch of salt as per the instructions on the box. When the water came to the boil, I added the couscous and about 2 tablespoons of chopped parsley. Five minutes later, I fluffed the couscous and put it in the serving dish.

Lamb and Prune Meatballs (from “Chocolate and Zucchini” by Clotilde Dusoulier)

1 pound ground lamb
12 good-quality prunes, pitted and finely chopped
2 small shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
1/4 cup (packed)fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon (packed) freshly grated and finely minced orange zest
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
In a medium mixing bowl, combine the meat, prunes, shallots, garlic, parsley, orange zest, allspice, egg, the 1 tablespoon olive oil, the salt, and pepper. Mix well with a fork. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes, or up to 8 hours. Remove the bowl from the refrigerator. Wash your hands well and keep them damp. Scoop out rounded tablespoons of the mixture and roll them into balls between your palms. Set aside in a single layer on two plates until you’ve used up all the meat. Wash your hands thoroughly again. Heat 1 teaspoon olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add half of the meatballs in a single layer without crowding. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring the meatballs gently around the pan to brown them all over. Set aside on a clean plate and cover with foil while you cook the second batch. Return the first batch to the pan, cover, and reheat for 2 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle with parsley, and serve. Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as a starter.

Eleven Madison Park Granola (from the New York Times Magazine, October 30, 2011)

2 3/4 cups rolled oats
1 cup shelled pistachios
1 cup unsweetened coconut chips (I found these at Whole Foods)
1/3 cup pumpkinseeds
1 tablespoon salt (I used 2 scant teaspoons)
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup dried sour cherries

Preheat the oven to 300F. In a large bow, mix together the oats, pistachios, coconut, pumpkinseeds, and salt. In a small saucepan set over low heat, warm the sugar, syrup and olive oil until the sugar has just dissolved, then remove from the heat. Fold the liquids into the mixture of oats, making sure to coat the dry ingredients well. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat, and spread granola over it. Bake until dry and lightly golden, 35 to 40 minutes, stirring granola a few times along the way. Remove granola from oven, and mix into it the dried sour cherries. Allow to cool to room temperature before transferring to a storage container. Makes about 6 cups. (Adapted from Daniel Humm, Elven Madison Park, New York).

*You can find the recipe for the Lemon Pudding Cakes on my post of January 19, 2012.


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