Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Grilled Eggplant Stacks with Creamy Herb Yogurt


Never in a million years would I think that my blogging would become as scarce as it has in the past few weeks, especially since it’s the summer. I have so much respect for the people who wake up every weekday at 5 or 6 in the morning, go work a 12-hour day, and then come home to blog about their lives. After a handful of weeks of a similar experience (except I don’t work nearly as much as a 12-hour day!), I can attest to how tired I am. After sitting in what can sometimes amount to nearly two hours of traffic a day, often times the last thing I want to do is stand in a hot kitchen (it’s been steadily 90+ degrees every day for the past month or so) and cook dinner.

But these are all excuses – and lame ones, if I do say so myself.

Still, my lack of posting does not necessarily equate to lack of cooking. (Quite the contrary, in fact, as I have a few recipes waiting in the wings that I need to write up.) Lately, the summer produce (peaches, melon, plums, tomatoes, squash,  peppers, asparagus, and the list goes on) has just been so delicious that most nights we assemble a “salad plate” (our term for assorted crudités) and just dig in. It’s so tasty, but obviously not that inspirational. Who needs a recipe for slicing up some vegetables anyway?
One thing our family has been embracing in the past few weeks has been the grill. While I’ve yet to master the outdoors grill, I can say that I have become quite adept at using the grill pan indoors. We love to grill vegetables for salads or as sides to grilled fish or chicken.

One of my favorite vegetables to grill is eggplant. It takes on a lovely charred flavor and savory quality that pairs perfectly with bright, fresh summer flavors. I had the idea of making eggplant “stacks” (for lack of a better term). You could call them napoleons if you wanted to get fancy, but who am I really kidding? They’re stacks. But don’t be fooled by the pedestrian name – this is one delicious dinner. It’s light but certainly filling and a perfect way to utilize the best the season has to offer.

I decided to layer the grilled eggplant, which has a soft and tender texture, with fresh bell peppers and tomatoes for some welcome crunch. In between each layer I spread a dollop of a creamy herbed garlic yogurt sauce. And wow was this yogurt sauce good. It uses one of my absolute favorite ingredients, Greek yogurt, and has the added punch of fresh garlic and parsley and basil from our herb “garden” (is it still called a garden if it’s really only a single pot?). It was absolutely delicious and worked so well to provide a creamy element in this summer vegetable medley.  Served alongside an outstanding summer salad (more on that in a few days) and a baguette with extra yogurt sauce (do not waste any extra yogurt sauce!), this was a summer meal worth repeating. Even better, I can now cross one thing off my 20 Before 20 List: something grilled! Here’s to the next 19!

Grilled Eggplant Stacks with Herb Garlic Yogurt Sauce

This recipe makes enough for two servings, or a total of four eggplant stacks. Each eggplant stack contains two slices of eggplant (one larger, one smaller), one bell pepper plank, one tomato slice, and about 2 tablespoons of yogurt sauce, so adjust accordingly to make a specific number of servings. You can grill the eggplant earlier in the day and make the yogurt sauce beforehand and store it in the refrigerator, so this is a perfect make-ahead meal. In the future, I’d love to try this idea with different grilled vegetables (such as zucchini, yellow squash, and roasted peppers) and with different flavors of yogurt sauce. Be creative with your combinations and have fun with it!

Yield: 2 servings (2 stacks per serving)

1 large eggplant
Nonstick cooking spray
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup Greek yogurt
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh basil, chopped finely
1 tablespoon fresh parsley, chopped finely
1 garlic clove, minced
¼ large tomato
½ bell pepper (red, yellow, or orange)
Flaked sea salt, for serving (optional)

Each stack contains two slices of eggplant. Two eggplant stacks is enough for a light serving, so to make two servings you need 8 slices. Slice the eggplant into thick rounds, about ¾-inch thick. Preheat a grill pan (or grill) to medium-high and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Season the eggplant slices liberally on both sides with salt and pepper. Once the grill pan is very hot, begin to grill the eggplant. Grill each round about 5-7 minutes per side, turning once the eggplant takes on some browning and visible grill marks. You’ll know the eggplant round is cooked when it becomes tender and begins to give off some moisture. Remove the eggplant from the grill and set aside until ready to serve.

To make the yogurt sauce, combine Greek yogurt, lemon juice, basil, parsley, and garlic in a small bowl. Season to taste and refrigerate until ready to serve. The yogurt sauce will keep for several days covered in the refrigerator.

To prepare the eggplant stacks, start by cutting the bell pepper and tomato to size. You’ll need one bell pepper plank and one tomato slice per stack (so 4 total for two stacks). Try to cut the pepper and tomato so that they have about the same diameter as the medium-sized eggplant rounds.

To assemble each eggplant stack, place a larger round of eggplant on a plate. Evenly spread about 1 tablespoon yogurt sauce on the top of the eggplant. Top with a plank of bell pepper. Spread another  ½ tablespoon yogurt sauce evenly on top of the bell pepper and  top with a smaller round of eggplant. Again top with ½ tablespoon of yogurt sauce and a tomato slice. If using, sprinkle a bit of sea salt on each stack for some extra crunch and to really accentuate the flavors of the vegetables and creamy yogurt. Serve immediately.

Thursday, June 2, 2011


I'll just go ahead and get this out of the way: this post is not about food. At all. I try hard to keep this space as much about food as possible and not fill it with random thoughts and ramblings, but I must make an exception. I just must share this with you. (Prepare yourself for links galore!)

About a week ago I was scrolling through my Facebook news feed and came upon a friend's post of a video of an Alice in Wonderland mash-up-type video. Intrigued, I clicked on over to YouTube and proceeded to spend the next two hours completely entranced by the undeniably catchy music of Nick Bertke, or Pogo. Bertke is a master of taking short sound clips from movies and television shows (and sometimes just everyday life), mixing them, adding beats, sine waves, and a whole bunch of stuff that I can't exactly wrap my head around, and composing them into a final product that is part electronica, part instrumental, and altogether completely addicting. (And it's entirely possible that, since his first video was posted three years ago and he's touring in North America, everyone already knows about this guy, and I'm extremely late to jump on the bandwagon, but in the case that you haven't....) Take a listen:
See what I mean? I find myself unintentionally bobbing my head and mouthing the nonsensical "lyrics" to the tracks throughout the day. Embarassing? Sure. But I can't get enough of this guy's music. True talent here.

Ironically enough, most of the movies Bertke uses - Disney classics like Mary Poppins or Snow White or 90's throwbacks like The Little Princess or Hook - are movies that I really, really dislike. (That probably makes me a bad child of the 90's, but it's the truth.) For example, as much as I enjoy "Expialidocious," I absolutely despise Mary Poppins, or the slowest and most drawn-out Disney movie ever. I recently suffered through watched this movie and for some reason I remember it ending after Mary Poppins, Dick Van Dyke, and the children jump into the painting. Imagine my disbelief when I realize that that's only about the halfway point! Not even knowing where "tuppence a bag" (fast forward a minute) actually came from made up for the dullness of the rest of the movie.
Another example: Hook. You might think that the fantasy and nostalgia of this Disney-inspired movie would be a winning combination to a child. You'd be wholly wrong. Note to Steven Spielberg: do not include in a family movie that children will see a part in which Captain Hook forces a sorry pirate (actually played by  Glenn Close - always thought "he" looked a little feminine but whoa!) into a tiny trunk and then stuffs it with scorpions. Nightmares, people, nightmares. The Boo Box still sends shivers up my spine. Still, I love Pogo's "Bangarang."
Similarly, you may think that The Little Princess would be a fantastic movie for a little girl to watch. It's a kid movie for sure. Well, not for this kid. Along with The Secret Garden (creepy), I found The Little Princess emotionally scarring as a girl. Since the main character's name was Sara (important to note: without the "h"), I for some reason felt that my fate was intrinsically linked to hers. I felt like, after I watched this movie, I would be banished to the attic, hunted down by the police, and verbally and physically abused by an evil Miss Minchin clone. No matter that the movie actually has a happy ending; getting there was just too painful. But "Whisperlude" is one of my favorite Pogo mixes.
Of course, now I've gone on and rambled random thoughts on the fragility of my childhood emotions, and I hope you're still reading. Don't let your childhood (or current) prejudices keep you from giving these mixes a listen. From Up to Toy Story to Harry Potter to Dexter to The King and I, Bertke does it all, and he does it flawlessly. You can download the mixes here.

In fact, given my recent obsession with all of these mixes, I almost feel like I should go back and give some of these movies a second chance, what with my new-found appreciation for the wealth of unique sounds they provide. Almost.