“Borscht” Pasta (AKA Deconstructed Borscht with Beet Noodles)

'Borscht' Pasta

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

  • 1 large beet, peeled and spiralized into noodles
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsps butter or olive oil
  • 1/4 cup broth (vegetable or chicken)
  • 15 cherry tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp fresh dill, chopped (or 1 tsp dried dill)
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • sour cream, for garnish (optional)

Directions

Heat the butter or oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add the garlic and sauté until the garlic is fragrant and is starting to brown. Add the tomatoes, and stir, cooking until the tomato skins blister and split. Next, add the beet noodles, stirring to coat the noodles with the butter/oil. Add the broth and cover the pan to allow the noodles to steam for about 5-8 minutes or until they become tender. Uncover and cook, stirring regularly, until the liquid is almost completely gone. Add the dill and stir. Serve with a dollop of sour cream, if desired.

And now for the details…

Beet noodles. No, not beet-infused pasta, but actual noodles made out of beets. You’re probably already familiar with zucchini or carrot noodles by spiralizing the vegetables, but how about spiralizing beets? The inspiration for this dish came while I was grocery shopping. The grocery store had beet noodles already prepped for sale and my first thought was “what the heck would you do with beet noodles?”

Well… my brain wouldn’t let it go and I felt the need to figure out what I would do with beet noodles. The earthy flavour of beets is quite pungent, so just throwing them in with any old dish as a pasta replacement would heavily change the flavour of meal. Besides, that beety flavour is so tasty, was there a way to highlight it and make the beet noodles the star of the dish? And then it came to me: a borscht-inspired “pasta” dish.

In order to minimize the mess at home, since I’d never tried spiralizing beets, I chose to use a golden beet instead of a purple/red beet. I can only imagine what the kitchen would have looked like after trying to do this with the deeply coloured purple/red beet. Dark red stains everywhere, it would heavily resemble the scene of a murder. So let’s avoid that and go with the golden beet, shall we? Same great flavour. Less mess. *cheesy smile and thumbs up*

When choosing a beet, try to pick one that’s a little on the larger side, between the size of a tennis ball and softball. In order to spiralize, we need to peel the beet first. Don’t worry about peeling off the bottom of the beet, that’s going to be anchored into the end of our spiralizer. The mistake I made here was to spiralize the whole beet without cutting the noodles as I went. This resulted in looooooooooong Rapunzel-like strands of beet noodles that were a little challenging to work with. I would suggest giving them a little snip with food scissors every 8″-12″/20-30cm as you spiralize to form reasonable-length noodles.

Next, we start cooking! Heat the butter or oil in a large pan/skillet over medium heat. Add your minced garlic and stir until the garlic becomes fragrant (is there a smell much better than garlic cooking in butter?) and add the tomatoes. Cook the tomatoes, stirring regularly, until the skin on the tomatoes blisters and splits open.

Add the beet noodles into the pan. Stir them well so they become coated with the garlicky butter/oil. I found the easiest way to do this was to use some tongs to pick up the noodles and shift them around the pan. Add the broth to the pan, and cover the pan, allowing the beet noodles to cook and soften. This will take about 5-8 minutes.

Finally, uncover the pan, and sprinkle with the dill, stirring well. If there is still quite a bit of liquid in the pan, keep stirring and cooking until most of the liquid has been absorbed/cooked off. Finally, transfer to a serving dish and serve with sour cream!

Happy eating.

Grilled Eggplant (Aubergine) Bruschetta

Eggplant Bruschetta

  • Servings: 2-4 (as appetizer)
  • Difficulty: medium
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Ingredients

  • 1 medium sized eggplant/aubergine
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, shredded
  • 10 cherry tomatoes, cut in 1/8’s
  • 1/4 cup basil, chopped
  • 2 Tbsps olive oil
  • 1/8 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • salt and fresh ground pepper, to taste
  • Baguettes or crostini, to serve

Directions

Preheat the grill to medium-high heat (~400ºF/205ºC). Poke holes in eggplant skin, using a toothpick or skewer. Place eggplant on grill, and cook for 15-20 minutes, turning every few minutes, until eggplant skin has been blackened and eggplant is soft. Remove eggplant to a strainer and allow to cool and any liquid to drain out while cooling. Add the shredded garlic, tomatoes, basil, olive oil, and paprika to a bowl and stir. Once the eggplant has cooled, remove and discard the skin. Cut the eggplant in quarters and place back int the strainer to drain for 5 more minutes. Slice the eggplant into small pieces, and add to the bowl with the tomato mixture. Stir, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with pieces of baguette or crostini.

And now for the details…

Oh the eggplant. Also know as aubergine and brinjal in different parts of the globe, this piece of produce is used in a variety of ways, all over the world. Some of us know this “vegetable” (it is actually technically a berry) as the emoji symbol that represents… not… culinary activities… But despite its phallic representation in more recent media, I have a more romantic view of this produce. Not that kind of romance…

Eggplants have such a variety of possibilities when it comes to cooking. Because they are fairly flavourless, but absorb flavours so well, they have an ability to be incorporated into so many different dishes in many different ways. The can be the star of a dish and be served up, lightly dressed, all on their own, or they can be added into sauces, curries, dips, soups, stir fries, and the list goes on…

The fruit itself has such an unusual look and texture. The skin is such a deep, vibrant, shiny purple, and then by contrast, the flesh is a bright, stark, and matte white. Add in the bright green foliage, and the fruit presents its own, unique colour palette.

While it is beautiful to look at, raw eggplant is a bit unpleasant to consume. It’s astringent, and has a weird, spongy texture. However, once cooked, eggplant loses a lot of the tannin-like taste, and the texture instead becomes soft and silken. We are going to use that to add a different textural “bite” to the bruschetta topping in this recipe.

Let’s get to cooking.

Start by preheating your grill. Set it to medium-high heat, so that the temperature will sit around 400ºF/205ºC.

Before we place the eggplant on the grill, we are going to poke holes through the skin all over the eggplant. This will allow the heat to get into the eggplant a bit more thoroughly, and provide a means for the water trapped inside to escape while the eggplant is cooking. You can use a skewer, toothpick, or even a fork to do this. Try to get a fairly consistent pattern of holes all the way around the eggplant, and they can be spaced about 2cm apart.

We are going to place the eggplant on the grill, and cook it for 15-20 minutes, turning every couple minutes to get the char and cook consistent around the whole fruit. Timing will depend on your grill (and its temperature consistency) and the size of eggplant you are cooking. The goal is for the skin to partially char the entire way around, and for the flesh to have cooked all the way through. How do you tell if it is cooked all the way through? You can make a good assumption that once it has gone from being plump skin and is springy to the touch to shrivelled skin and feels squishy that you have reached your end point. The photo below shows the eggplant when it has first started cooking versus the halfway cooking point. While the skin is shrivelled in the photo on the right, the flesh was still a bit springy when pushed, and so the eggplant was not quite done cooking yet.

Once the eggplant is done, remove from the grill, and place in a wire mesh strainer and allow the liquid to drain from the eggplant as it cools. We are allowing this drainage to happen for a couple reasons, one being that we do not want to bruschetta to have all that liquid… it will turn our bread into a soggy mess. And the second reason is that the liquid has a lot of that astringent/bitter taste, and we want to to drain that off. Now, admittedly, from what I understand, eggplant nowadays are not nearly as bitter as they used to be, and the draining is not as necessary as it once was, but there’s still reason number 1, so just let that sucker drain.

And now you have an… *ahem* flaccid… eggplant… Our next step will be to remove the skin and cut the flesh into little pieces. Thanks to all that cooking, the skin should peel off very easily. Cut the top off, and then peel and discard the skin. Cut the eggplant flesh into four pieces, and place back into the strainer to drain for a few more minutes while you prepare the rest of the bruschetta.

Cut the tomatoes into small pieces. Roma or beefsteak tomatoes can be used instead of cherry tomatoes; I used the cherry tomatoes because they were what I had available. Regardless of what kind of tomato you used, it should be about 1/2-3/4 cup of tomato pieces once they’re all cut up. Place the tomatoes, basil, shredded garlic, smoked paprika, and olive oil into a bowl, and mix well.

Finally, bring the eggplant back to the cutting board, and cut it into small pieces, about 1cm in size. Mix the eggplant in with the other ingredients, and add salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, you can either split the topping between the bread or crostini and serve, or you can bring the bowl to the table and allow folks to scoop their preferred amount of topping onto their own bread or crostini. Technically, to be a true bruschetta, the bread should be toasted or grilled in some way, but I got super lazy with this one, and instead I just tore a few pieces of fresh, crispy baguette and in half, and scooped the bruschetta topping right onto the bread pieces and sprinkled with a little Maldon salt. It was delicious.

Happy eating.

Southwest Black Bean “Hummus”

Southwest Black Bean Hummus

  • Servings: 2 cups
  • Difficulty: very easy
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Ingredients

  • 500ml/14 oz canned black beans
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped loosely
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro, loosely chopped
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 lime, juiced
  • 2-4 Tbsps olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt

Directions


Drain and rinse beans. Place beans, garlic, cilantro, cumin and lime juice in food processor. Blend until a loose mix has formed. Add olive oil and salt, and blend for several minutes or until smooth. Serve with veggies, pitas, or taco chips.

And now for the details…

Hummus enthusiasts may be horrified at the name used for the non-chickpea concoction that is this recipe… I mean, can it truly be called hummus when it contains no chickpeas? Well, probably not, technically, since according to my interweb searching, the English translation for the word hummus is… chickpeas. Ha! Whoops.

But.. don’t hate me… I’m not the biggest fan of chickpeas. They have a slightly grainy texture, even when mushed down into hummus, and that’s just not my cup of tea. Using black beans instead of chickpeas results in a different texture; I find the texture is silkier, smoother. And since we’re going so far off-base with the main ingredient of this hummus, we’re going to go even further by changing the flavour profile by adding in some southwestern tastes.

To get started, drain and rinse the beans under some cold water, then add them to your food processor or blender. Don’t have a food processor or blender to use? There are options: you could use a potato masher, or a mortar/pestle, but if you are going to go with a manual version, finely chop both the cilantro and garlic before you add them.

Next, add the rest of the ingredients to the blender/food processor. Only add about 2 tablespoons of the olive oil to start, we’ll reserve the rest of the oil in case the mix is a little too dry and need more liquid to blend properly.

Give the blender a couple pulses to start breaking up the beans and to get a little mixing action happening. Then, open the food processor/blender up, scrape down anything that’s collected at the top, back into the mix, and repeat until you stop getting loose bits fling up to the top of the food processor/blender.

Once the loose bits are back in the mix, blend the hell out of it until you get a nice, smooth texture. I blended mine for about five minutes straight. You could do more or less, depending on what kind of texture you want out of the hummus once it’s done. Now is also the time we will check in to determine if more oil is needed. If you do try to blend this, and it’s not quite “sticking” or become dip-like, you probably need a tad more oil to blend and bind everything together.

Once you’ve blended it down to your dip texture of choice, scrape out of the food processor/blender and serve! Anything you want to save for later keeps quite well in a sealed food storage container in the fridge for about a week.

For serving, you could go the healthy route and serve it with veggies, but my favourite thing to eat it with is taco chips!!!

Happy eating.