Small Plate Date Night

Hello, readers!

As usual, some recommendations —

CREATE

  • Something with roasted cherry tomatoes. Literally anything. Just so you can feel the joy that is gently pressing a tiny roasted cherry tomato and having its juices burst out. It’s almost like playing Dr. Pimple Popper, but way better for your pores.

  • I’ve now made Priya Krishna’s Saag Feta twice during this period of social distance, and I can definitively say it now belongs in my tried-and-true set of weekday dinners. The brininess of the feta is an excellent partner to the gently-spiced spinach, and it’s all rounded out with the warmth of clarified butter. If that’s still not enough to convince you to make it, please consider that I am also South Asian and I endorse this recipe.

CONSUME

  • Want a brief moment of joy? Try this set of miniature Modern Love essays — each under 100 words. Though succinct, the essays convey a sense of tenderness that seems to be lacking these days.

  • This profile on Alison Roman explores her feelings around becoming “Prom Queen of the Pandemic” (not an easy title to hold). If you’ve made The Stew, The Pasta, or The Cookies, you’ll love this article.


THIS WEEK: SMALL PLATE DATE NIGHT

One of the things I miss most about Life Before is going out to restaurants with a few friends and ordering small plates and a bottle of wine. I’m a dabbler by nature — I love to take a few bites from each dish and try everything on the table. My approach to cooking is similar. Before all of this, I was a regular at the farmer’s market, where I would lazily pick through produce to see what piqued my interest. Cooking now requires a lot more planning, and some days, creating even one dish is a Herculean effort.

If you’re up for a modest challenge, the three dishes below are all relatively hands-off and only require an oven. No stove-tops here!

I like to pair this meal with a bottle of natural wine (a light red, ideally!) and several hunks of crusty bread — stick these in the oven as it’s cooling down.

DISH 1: AN HERBY TAHINI-MARINATED EGGPLANT

The best eggplant I have ever made is Yotam Ottolenghi’s. The dish seems deceptively simple — you roast some eggplant, marinate it for a bit in lemon juice and herbs, then top with tahini. The truth is, it really is that simple (and delicious). I’ve adapted the recipe slightly for my own taste buds, but feel free to riff on it as needed.

Ingredients

Eggplant

3 medium Japanese eggplants or 1 large eggplant, chopped into 2” x 1” pieces

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

Marinade

1 jalapeño, finely chopped or 2 tbsp red pepper flakes

4 tbsp fresh green herbs (cilantro, oregano, parsley — any will do), chopped

1/4 cup freshly-squeezed lemon juice

4 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp salt

Tahini Topping

2/3 cup water

2/3 cup tahini

1/4 cup lemon juice

2 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tsp salt

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

  2. Toss the eggplant with olive oil and salt, then roast on a baking tray for about 20 minutes, or until golden-brown. Flip and roast for an additional 10 - 15 minutes.

  3. Make the marinade by whisking the jalapeño, herbs, lemon juice, olive oil, and salt, then marinate the eggplant in the mixture for about two hours at room temperature.

  4. Make the tahini sauce by whisking water, lemon juice, garlic, and salt into a smooth mixture.

  5. Gently drizzle the tahini sauce over the marinated eggplant pieces, then serve.

DISH 2: BROTHY BALSAMIC MUSHROOM CUPS

One of my friends has likened these mushrooms to the vegetarian version of soup dumplings, which, while I can see the resemblance, is still high praise. After about 30 minutes in the oven, the mushrooms emerge, delicately roasted on the bottom, cupping a beautiful balsamic-forward broth inside.

Ingredients

8 oz. button mushrooms (baby bellas, cremini, or white), whole and cleaned

1/4 cup balsamic

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tbsp. soy sauce

1 - 2 tsp. salt

1 tsp. garlic powder

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. Remove the mushroom stems by gently pulling them out, leaving just the cap. Set stems aside if planning to reuse for stock, broth, etc.

  3. In a small bowl, whisk balsamic, olive oil, soy sauce, salt, and garlic powder to combine.

  4. Place mushroom caps in a lightly-oiled oven-safe tray (8” x 8” is my go-to) to create small cups facing up.

  5. Drizzle the whisked balsamic mixture over the cups, ensuring that most of the liquid is retained within the mushrooms.

  6. Roast mushrooms for 20 - 30 minutes, allowing the mushrooms to release their natural liquids and combine with the balsamic-olive oil mixture.

  7. Remove from heat gently, so as not to disturb the liquid, and allow to cool slightly before serving.

DISH 3: ROASTED ARTICHOKE HEARTS

What’s particularly exciting about this dish is that canned artichoke hearts are relatively easy to come by, and they remove the biggest barrier to cooking whole artichokes: cleaning and prepping the produce.

That said, one of the best parts of a whole artichoke is dipping the tender leaves into butter / olive oil, and this recipe does not give you that. However, with just four ingredients that are all pantry staples, this recipe is a low-stakes weekday approach to artichokes. It’s an excellent dish on its own, but becomes a full meal when paired with some bread.

Ingredients

1 can artichoke hearts

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tsp salt

1/4 cup lemon juice

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

  2. Toss artichoke hearts with olive oil, then roast on a large baking tray for 20-25 minutes, or until crispy at edges.

  3. Remove from oven and drizzle with lemon juice. Sprinkle salt on top to taste, and serve.


That’s all for this week! Three vegetable-forward dishes that play extremely well with some wine and bread. Light some candles, listen to smooth jazz, and take yourself (or someone else) on a date — social distance might prevent us from connecting IRL, but romance is still very much alive.

Love, A

PS: Made this roasted habanero-tomato salsa earlier in the week, but it was WAY too spicy. Still gorgeous though.