#PGMinseason | Laura Wright
Pure Green is thrilled to share our community leader Laura Wright's post for #PGMinseason -- a hashtag project dedicated to seasonal and local fare. Laura is one of three bloggers whom we asked to share what cooking and eating seasonal looks, tastes, and feels like in her life. Take a look back at Lindsey Love's article, posted last week, and stick around to read our third and final community leader, Claire Raggozzino's post next Monday!
I OFTEN ASK MYSELF A QUESTION WHEN I STEP INTO THE KITCHEN, whether I’m making toast for myself or dinner for fifty. The query is most especially on my mind in these faster fleeting days of late summer. Do I want to measure, or do I want to cook?
I think this is a question of controlling an outcome versus nourishment by way of intuition. In this season, when so many local fruits and vegetables are available at once, acting on instinct up until that dinner bell ring is only natural. If you’re going to cook, really cook, I think you have to let yourself go and trust your own ability a bit more. I find the most exciting dishes are born out of this process of thinking less and feeling more.
Maybe we’ll leave the oven out of the equation if it’s just too hot and, for the third time this week, we’ll eat a hearty salad for dinner and call it a day. Maybe we’ll try thin ribbons of raw summer squash instead of our usual roasting method. A messy peach enjoyed in a hunch over the sink might tide you over while the barbecue heats up, and the sheer sight of some basil popping out of the dirt might change the direction of dinner entirely.
This leads to my next point: what grows together, often goes together. In my small vegetable garden right now, there are thick, purple-hued stalks heaving with shiny eggplants, fully loaded hot pepper plants around the perimeters (to ward off squirrels and their kin), hedges of leafy herbs, and a glut of tomatoes that has just started to trickle in. All at once! This is surely sign enough that they’ll all come together with minimal effort and delicious results.
So with this particular dish, I took what I had and leaned onto some technique that I know through and through. Harissa is a spicy and fragrant sauce/flavour paste with Tunisian roots. I make it with frequency, but most especially now with the bumper crop of chilies outside my door. It’s typically used as a potent flavour salve for meats, but I love it with homegrown eggplant, which develops an almost unctuous texture if you treat it right.
I think any vegetable enthusiast has had bad eggplant at one time or another. It can be bland, tough, bitter, or even mealy at times. Whether you’re sauteing, roasting, or grilling as we are here, it’s important to liberally salt your pieces of eggplant before cooking--like a ½ tablespoon per eggplant (you’re going to rinse most it off, so no need to worry about extreme saltiness). This process draws some of the bitterness out of the vegetable, but also seasons it from within and makes it so, so tender. Aside from the salting, this dish is just a quick blend, char and simmer away from dinnertime.
GRILLED HARISSA EGGPLANT W/ BURST TOMATOES, QUINOA & HERB SALAD
- 1 ½ tbsp caraway seeds
- 1 ½ tbsp cumin seeds
- 1 ½ tbsp coriander seeds
- 2 chilies, seeded and rough chopped
- 1 tbsp tomato paste
- juice + zest of ½ a lemon
- 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
- salt + pepper
- ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 large eggplants
- salt + pepper
- 1 cup quinoa, rinsed
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 cup small tomatoes
- 3 big handfuls of leafy herbs (I used basil, flat leaf parsley and mint), washed
- extra virgin olive oil
In a small saute pan over medium heat, toast the caraway, cumin, and coriander seeds until very fragrant, about 4-5 minutes.
Transfer the toasted spices to a blender. To the blender add the chopped chilies tomato paste, lemon zest and juice, garlic cloves, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Blend the mixture on high until a lightly textured paste forms, adding more olive oil if necessary. Scrape the harissa into a small bowl and set aside.
Slice the eggplants into ½ inch thick rounds, peeling them if you like beforehand. Layer the slices in a large colander, liberally sprinkling them with salt as you go. Let the salted eggplant slices sit in the colander over a plate or in the sink for half an hour. Quite a bit of liquid should seep out.
While you wait on the eggplant, in a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the rinsed quinoa with 2 cups of water and a fat pinch of salt. Bring the quinoa to a boil and then simmer until all of the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Once cool, toss the quinoa with the 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and a drizzle of olive oil. Set aside.
Preheat a grill to medium high. Briefly rinse the eggplant slices of pat dry. Lay the slices out on a large baking sheet. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the eggplant and season with black pepper. Thread the small tomatoes on skewers.
Place the slices of eggplant on the grill. Wait for char marks to appear on one side, about 4 minutes. Flip slices over and wait for char marks to appear again. Place the tomato skewers onto the grill. Flip the eggplant another time and spoon half of the harissa on top, spreading it out over the surface of the vegetables. Flip the eggplant again and spread the rest of the harissa on the other sides of the eggplant slices. Flip the eggplant one more time, just to sear in the raw harissa. Remove the eggplant and burst tomatoes.
Scrape the quinoa into a large bowl or serving platter and place the mixture of leafy herbs on top. Top the herbs and quinoa with the grilled eggplant and burst tomatoes. Serve warm or at room temperature.