Quesadillas have become somewhat of a Mexican American/Tex-Mex classic. The concept of a two tortillas sandwiched together with melted cheese couldn’t be simpler. Unfortunately, this common appetizer isn’t usually as healthy as it is simple. Arguably the most popular versions include a large amount of cheddar cheese, possibly some meat or chicken, and sides of both salsa and sour cream for dipping. Sure it’s delicious but why not take that same concept and make a healthier spring version? That was the idea behind this light and flavorful veggie-packed quesadilla.
Have you met my trendy friend Kale yet? This popular leafy vegetable continues to be a health craze. I am admittedly late to the party: this was my first kale salad (gasp). I’ve always been apprehensive about using this high fiber vegetable, rich in vitamins and minerals. Its rough texture seems almost too healthy to hold it’s own as the main leafy part of a salad. Lets face it – no one wants to feel like they’re eating cardboard, right? But the idea of a Greek kale salad seemed much more enticing. I love Greek salad and it just so happened that a friend of mine was serving what she referred to as Greek kale salad at get together. It was brilliant. Classic chunky Greek salad vegetables and feta combined with leafy kale and a lemony vinaigrette. It was the perfect kale salad for those of us that are scared of kale salads.
It can be difficult to eat healthy this time of year. Especially here in the Northeast where we just made it through one of the coldest February’s on record. Heavier fatty foods like mac and cheese or meatloaf and mashed potatoes are often enticing while really fresh produce is harder and harder to find. We have to remind ourselves to “eat your vegetables” like our mothers always said, because the idea of a salad for lunch when it’s 5 degrees outside, just doesn’t cut it. Enter the Middle Eastern Vegetable Bake. This vegetable mélange is the solution to healthy eating and cold weather cravings – with a touch of warmth.
Before you discard this post because you don’t celebrate Hanukkah or understand why potato pancakes/latkes are so tasty, let me assure you that you don’t have to be religious to enjoy this simple (and vegetarian) side dish. I have an affinity for the sweet and savory combination of shredded potato and onion with cinnamon apple sauce. This may have started when I was was a child, with our attempts to celebrate Hanukkah by re-creating this traditional dish. It’s beyond that now. These pancakes actually follow the basic no-fail culinary combination of sweet, salt, fat, and acid – practically guaranteeing its tastiness.
This basic recipe was adapted from “The James Beard Cookbook,” by James Beard. It’s strange that James Beard published a potato pancake recipe but my grandmother did not. With her Jewish background, it seems only natural that she would have a recipe for such a common dish. But it appears she made Spinach Pancakes more frequently than potato pancakes (based on “The Art of Good Cooking”). Nonetheless, this is a great base recipe, and paired with my homemade Honeycrisp apple sauce, it’s even better. Simply grate potato and onion into a strainer and squeeze out some of the liquid. This is then mixed with egg, a small amount of bread crumbs (feel free to use gluten free!), and salt. Saute in butter (or blended butter and oil) and you have a crispy pancake that includes the salt and fat required for the dish.
The apple sauce makes up the acid and sweet components of the culinary combo. Just boil honey crisp apples (I like the juiciness and sweet honey flavor of honey crisps) in a little water with a tablespoon of honey, a tablespoon of sugar, and a touch cinnamon. Finish with lemon juice (for the acid and to help keep the color). You will have a delicious apple sauce and as you can see here, I almost prefer equal parts apple sauce and pancake. Each bite should have a good amount of both. Sour cream can also be added but I’ve never found it necessary. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah or not, these Potato Pancakes with Honey Crisp Apple Sauce make a satisfying lunch or snack.
4 medium potatoes
1 1/2 medium onions
2 tablespoons dry bread crumbs (or gluten-free bread crumbs)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
Honey Crisp Apple Sauce
6 honey crisp apples
1 cup water
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Wash and peel the potatoes. Grate with a grater and drain off all the liquid that collects in the bowl. Grate the onion into the potato and mix in the egg, breadcrumbs, salt, and pepper. Heat two tablespoons of butter in a large skillet. Put in four large spoonfuls of the mixture. Pat down slightly to create pancakes, about 2 inches wide. Cook gently until brown on the bottom, turn, and brown on the other side. Add more fat and continue cooking until all of the mixture is used.
To make the Honey Crisp Apple Sauce:
Peel and core the apples. Halve lemon and rub on apple halves to prevent browning. Dice apples. Place apples in a large pot with 1 cup water. Bring to a boil. Stir in honey and sugar. Simmer for 30 minutes or until apples are soft and create a sauce. Stir in cinnamon and lemon juice.
Serve pancakes with large spoonfuls of apple sauce.
Catching the tail end of eggplant the season, this eye-pleasing dish showcases the juicy late summer (or fall) vegan favorite. I previously posted a couple of my grandmother’s vegetarian dishes. Paula Peck was not known for cooking vegetables and when she did, there were often whole sticks of butter or cups of olive oil involved. As a veggie lover though, I’ve managed to revise some of these dishes so that the flavor is maintained, but with less fat. In this case, the eggplant is stuffed with a fragrant mixture of garlic, onion, celery, tomato puree and herbs. These flavors soak into the eggplant as it roasts with just enough olive oil to keep it moist. The resulting succulent meaty flesh will make you forget that you’re eating an almost guilt-free and healthy dish.
So what does this strange recipe title “Imam Byaldi” have to do with eggplant? Well according to my grandmother’s introduction to this recipe in “The Art of Good Cooking,” the old Armenian title means “’the Holy Man fainted’- of shock because the eggplant tasted so good!” Ok so nobody is going to faint when they eat this stuffed eggplant, but it is pretty tasty.
4 small eggplants
1/3 cup olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped celery leaves
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup tomato puree
1/4 teaspoon crumbled bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon oregano
2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint
1/2 teaspoon sugar
salt and pepper to taste
Cut eggplant lengthwise into halves. Salt cut sides generously and let stand for about a 1/2 hour (this draws out the bitterness from the eggplant).
Preheat oven. Rinse eggplants and dry with paper towels. Brush cut sides with some olive oil. Place eggplants on a baking sheet, cut side up. Bake until centers are soft and lightly browned.
While the eggplants are baking, prepare the following stuffing: sauté onions, green pepper, celery, and garlic in remaining olive oil until vegetables are soft but not brown. Add chopped celery leaves and parsley. Stir until leaves are wilted, then add tomato puree and herbs. Add sugar then salt and pepper to taste. Cook a few more minutes. Set stuffing aside until needed.
When eggplants are tender, allow them to cool so they can be easily handled. Raise oven heat to 350 degrees.
With a small knife, make an incision lengthwise, down the center of the cut side, being careful not to cut all the way through the eggplant. With your fingers, press soft pulp away from the incision on the 2 long sides so that a good-sized hollow is formed. Fill the hollows with the prepared filling, using a spoon.
Arrange stuffed eggplants on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with additional olive oil if filling looks dry. Bake for 45 minutes, basting with olive oil as necessary.
Note: To speed up this recipe, cut eggplant 1/2 inch thick and after it has been baked until tender, place slices of eggplant in a casserole. Arrange them alternately with the stuffing. Bake 30-40 minutes.