Eggplant-Tomato Salad on Mint Rice with Warmed Mozzarella

If you’re a loving cook (and most cooks are), you make your loved ones’ favorite foods.  In fact, you know that what we love — or hate– in some ways defines us.  For instance, I am a chocolate fiend and, if I’m smart, when I’m trying to slim down, I don’t even keep it in the house.  I buy a tiny, perfect piece at the grocery check out (50 calories or so) and I eat JUST THAT ONE.

If I want chocolate cake, I make one for a friend’s birthday and have a piece.  Perfectly happily.  This one was Roberta’s.

Dave’s a baseball nut.  My mother-in-law loves peppermint.  My sister-in-law hates green vegetables.  Roberta has a  life-long love affair with the organ–even has one in her house.  Your favorite color is ____.   My boss “never met an egg she didn’t like.”  Tony’s passion is national parks and scotch; I don’t know in what order.  Artist friend Dan is nutty about bluegrass and my friend Bud waited long years for his Bosendorfer piano.  My sister Helen adores green beans.  Sue loves the beach and anything lemon.  We know who people are (partly) because of these things.

This comes up at my Weight Watcher’s meetings.  People complain and cry (an exaggeration…but nearly) about not being able to have ice cream, margaritas, chips, chocolate, butter, etc.  My comment is occasionally, “You’d better have what you love or you won’t stay on the program, won’t lose weight….because you won’t be YOU.”  It’s actually a pretty well-known fact in WW circles, but it usually needs repeating on a weekly basis.  And no one else ever says WHY you shouldn’t deprive yourself, except that it results in binges.

These little Thai eggplants are often available at Saint Paul farmer’s markets.  If you have small, young eggplant of any kind you probably don’t need to peel them–just wash, trim, and dice.   A little trial and error might be called for.  I did, however, use the regular large, purple eggplant and needed to peel it.  Check out the various kinds of eggplant.

So, in addition to baseball, Dave is crazy about eggplant  Any way. When eggplant is perfect–fresh with tender, deep purple skin– I’m making it as often as I can.  The other night I wanted a salad that I could have for a meal (that Weight Watcher thing) and he could have as a side for his steak sandwich with horseradish sauce while we watched “The Newsroom”, my new TV crush.   I had fresh mozzerella leftover from caprese,  jasmine rice, eggplant, fresh tomatoes, and… this is what transpired, a fusion sort of meal I think you will love.  If you love eggplant, that is.

Sometimes in this blog, I only have to say, “Fried cheese,” though in this case I tempered it with the adjective, “warm.” Try this:

eggplant-tomato salad on mint rice with warm mozzerella

This warm and/or cool salad begins with sautéed eggplant, onions, and tomatoes–seasoned with garlic and lemon rind– that are then spooned into the middle of a ring of rice that has been stirred together with chopped fresh mint, parsley, and spinach. Half-moons of fresh mozzarella are quickly warmed in oil with a bit of crushed red pepper and are then scattered on top of the ring of rice.  Fresh lemon juice and extra virgin olive oil are drizzled at the last second for an instant vinaigrette.  If you have both run-of-the-mill (cooking) and salad (or garnish) extra virgin olive oil, use the better (salad or garnish) oil for the end of the salad vinaigrette.  

Makes  6 servings         Read through recipe before making.

  •  7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
  • Crushed red pepper
  • 2 cups (approximately) eggplant, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 1-inch dice
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • Kosher salt, fresh ground black pepper
  • 2 medium tomatoes, cut into 1-inch dice
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
  • 2 cups cooked jasmine (or other) rice at cold or at room temperature
  • 1/4 cup each chopped fresh parsley and mint
  • 1 cup fresh spinach, shredded
  • 8 ounces fresh mozzarella (1/2 pound), sliced in half-inch rounds and cut again into 1/2 moons, cold
  • Juice of one lemon (2-3 tablespoons)

1.  In a large skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil over medium heat for 30 seconds with a pinch of crushed red pepper.  Add eggplant and onions, sprinkle with salt and pepper; cook about 10 minutes, stirring regularly, until quite softened and tender.  Add tomato and garlic, let cook another 2 minutes or so, and remove from heat. Stir in lemon rind.  Taste and adjust for seasonings.
2.  Meanwhile, in a large shallow bowl or on a large platter, using your hands, mix together the rice, herbs, and spinach.  Sprinkle with just a bit of salt and pepper and mix again.  Pushing the the rice mixture out from the center, form a ring to allow room for the eggplant mixture in the middle.  Spoon eggplant mixture into the open space, mounding as needed.

3.  Wipe out skillet with towels, add 2 more tablespoons olive oil and heat over medium flame.  All attention as you begin this step:  Leaving room between each piece, place the mozzarella slices in the skillet, sprinkle with crushed red pepper, and heat briefly until warm and just beginning to ooze.  Quickly turn, using tongs or spatula, and repeat on the other side.  Remove from heat and remove the cheese from the skillet and onto the rice, spreading evenly around the ring. Waste no time or you’ll have a skillet full of melted cheese.
4.  Drizzle entire salad with lemon juice and then with remaining 3 tablespoons (best quality, if you have it) extra virgin olive oil.  Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.   Serve at room temperature or cold.  Store leftovers well-covered for up to one day.   Keeps well, according to Dave, who ate all of the rest of it for lunch.

* If you prefer, and it’s too warm, grill the eggplant in slices, cut it up afterward, and stir in fresh chopped tomatoes with just a tablespoon or so of minced onion–perhaps scallions–along with only half the garlic.  Continue with rest of recipe. I’m a good guesser and guess it’d work.  Let me know if you try it.
*You can certainly make this recipe with different vegetables (bell peppers? zucchini? yellow squash?) and/or different herbs (basil? thyme?oregano?)

Quinoa is a tasty substitute for the rice.

{printable recipe}

Sing a new song; make a new salad,

Homemade Tomato Soup and Fried Cheese on a Snowy Night or How’s the Second Week of Advent Goin’ for Ya?

The story goes that tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches….  Actually, I don’t know that story.  If you do, tell me.  I just can’t remember when I didn’t eat that comforting, homey classic Saturday noon meal.   My kids grew up eating it, but mama’s got a brand new bag.

This time around, I made the tomato soup myself.  No sugar, sweetheart.  Just a drop of honey to counteract the acid in the tomatoes.  And…no grilled cheese sandwich.  Not for me.  Dave had one.  Instead, I fried my cheese and gently topped my soup with it.

It was creamy, crunchy and fulfilled all those grilled cheesey longings while I skipped the bread on a cold, cold night with the snow flying across the piano window:


Here’s how:

Homemade Tomato Soup with Fried Cheese

In a food processor (or by hand, chopping) fitted with the steel blade, place:

  • 1 small onion
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1-2 peeled carrots
  • 1/2 cup parsley
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 1/4 of a lemon, including the peel

Process pulsing until the vegetables are evenly and quite finely minced.

In a 4-6 qt stock pan, heat over medium heat

  • 1 T olive oil

When quite warm, spoon in the minced vegetables and let cook 5 minutes until softening.

  • 1 28 oz can chopped tomatoes (I like Cento tomatoes.)
  • 1/2 cup white wine or water
  • 1tsp honey
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper
  • 1/4 tsp of chili-garlic sauce or a few drops of Tabasco

Bring to a boil and lower heat to a simmer.  Let cook slowly about 20 minutes, stirring regularly.  If desired, puree using an immersion blender or by carefully returning (1/2 at a time) mixture to food processor.   Taste and season again, if needed.   Lower heat to very low and make the fried cheese:

Fried Cheese

You’ll need 1 large, thin slice of cheese for each serving.   I used low-sodium Swiss Cheese, but Cheddar would also work well.  Don’t use too soft of a cheese.

Directions:  In a small skillet, heat 1T olive oil over medium heat.  Place the cheese slice in the pan, and watching closely, let melt well.  Meantime, ladle the soup into the bowl. Scrape out the melted cheese into a bowl full of soup and put the skillet back on the heat briefly.  Using a good spatula, scrape the now crispy leavings of the cheese into the bowl.  Eat while hot.

Two-Dog Kitchen and Around the ‘Hood

It’s the second Sunday of Advent.  In my world, we’re moving daily through the journey toward the stable.  Trying to figure out how to be ready for God to be born in our hearts.  Taking a good look at what we’ve stored in there over the last year as it’s been that long since we took inventory and marked down the things that didn’t sell.   Looking in dark corners.  Blowing away the dust and sweeping away the cobwebs that can’t be there if we are to prepare him room.  While it can seem odd, we are continually waiting for Jesus to come again. 

So today, we sang and talked, and lit candles.  Took communion together and sang, “Wait for the Lord, whose day is near.”  Jody played the accordian and the sounds of the guitars, banjo, organ, piano, and steel guitar raised the roof to praise God and to make alive our wonders and wanders.

At home, we’ve got the tree, but it’s not up.  Had a great day Saturday at Bachman’s looking at the decorations and buying a new tree, but it’ll sit out in the garage a while.  The Christmas dishes are out.  The table has the Christmas candles to grace it, and the many boxes of butter for the cookies are ready in the freezer.  Down in the basement, there are stacks of flour, sugar, and chocolate.  Almonds, raisins, and pecans.  Invitations went out today to draw friends in for a bit of cheer on a Saturday afternoon not too far away.  We’re finishing chores like the painted trim in the kitchen and getting curtains up…  “What?  Are you waiting for Christmas?” takes on new meaning.

The choir is working hard to be ready to sing our cantata next week.  Joseph and Patricia Martin’s “Canticle of Joy” is our offering and our study…our way and our journey this year.  All over the world, I’m comforted to think choirs are doing that same thing.  Moving in on the music, getting it in their hearts, and making it one of their priorities.  Makes you learn the story with your whole body when you sing it.

Here are a few at our rehearsal  with Cabrini for Thanksgiving service.
At Bachman’s looking for a tree….

Did you ever see a blue or purple poinsettia?

Elephant topiary next to the poinsettia tree.

Which one?

Beautiful, but out of our price range.

Finally getting our curtains up once we got home.

The Tuckster’s been eating snow.


And so things are getting ready for Christmas… slowly, but surely.  And at your house?  Here’s a bit of Advent reading I thought I’d share:

Richard Rohr

When we demand satisfaction of one another, when we demand any completion to history on our terms, when we demand that our anxiety or any dissatisfaction be taken away, saying, as it were, “Why weren’t you this for me? Why didn’t life do that for me?”, we are refusing to say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” We are refusing to hold out for the full picture that is always given in time by God.

When we set out to seek our private happiness, we often create an idol that is sure to topple. Any attempts to protect any full and private happiness in the midst of so much public suffering have to be based on illusion about the nature of the world in which we live. We can only do that if we block ourselves from a certain degree of reality and refuse solidarity with “the other side” of everything, even the other side of ourselves.

Adapted from Preparing for Christmas with Richard Rohr, pp. 5, 7

Sing a new carol,