Tag Archives: eggplant

Mama Ghanoush: Unpretentious Lebanese Food

Spinach Flatbread
Spinach Flatbread


A few friends and I were planning to go to Mama Ghanoush, a new Lebanese restaurant in Kip’s Bay last week, but, as the city shut down in preparation for the storm of the century, we decided to go to flat top on Amsterdam instead.

Mama Ghanoush was still on my mind and so a few days later I made the trip down. The name of the restaurant is a play on the name of the eggplant appetizer found in almost every Middle Eastern restaurant, baba ghanoush.
Coming up to the place from the street, you see the name Mama Ghanoush, written with a few Arabic letters. Entering the restaurant, you hear Arabic pop music, and you are greeted with friendly staff. Wooden tables, soft green and blue pillows, clay vases, and a billboard filled with  postcards, postage stamps, and photos of the ‘greats’ of Lebanese and Middle Eastern music give this place a rustic, Mediterranean feel.
The menu, not too large, offers a great selection of mezza (Middle Eastern small plates), flatbreads, and the traditional grilled meats like shawarma and kebab.
Because it was very cold outside, I ordered a lentil soup, which turned out warm and comforting, but, garnished with lemon juice and parsley, it was not too heavy. I then ordered a spinach flatbread, not very traditional as far as I know, but very delicious. The bread was topped with a spinach and feta mixture, similar to what you’d find in the Greek spanakopita. The star of this dish, though, was the bread. Thin, and beautifully charred, it was crunchy on the edges and warm and soft in the center.
I left Mama Ghanoush satisfied, refreshed, and ready to walk out into the biting cold. I’d definitely recommend going to Mama Ghanoush, for some light, authentic, and unpretentious Lebanese food.

“Mozzarella and Eggplant and Potatoes, Oh, My!”: We Will Not Starve this Fall Break


After two months of Ferris and John Jay sketchiness and mediocrity, with the full weight of closed dining halls upon us, my suitemates Rebecca and Trevor, along with myself, set out to solve the issue of our potential starvation. Subsisting on fun-size Snickers, Kit Kats, and Haribo Gummy Bears (full-size and petite) could only last our souls and arteries for so long, and we set out on a three-course meal extravaganza.

Trevor looked for the autumn-inspired appetizer, entrée, and dessert recipes, and after much debate (“BUT THESE DON’T INCLUDE PUMPKIN, UGH, THEY DON’T QUALIFY AS FALL WHAT IS MY LIFE”) settled on garlic-rosemary “Hassleback” potatoes, a casserole-like eggplant-roasted-red-pepper baked spaghetti, and an innovative no-bake Greek yogurt cheesecake. Brimming with anticipation, hunger, and slightly intimidation, the three of us ventured to Garden of Eden (gasp!) to avoid the expensive black hole that is Westside Market (PSA: 10% discount for Columbia students with ID!).

Split three ways, the total cost of our grocery load equaled that of one meal swipe, a fact we found nothing less than remarkable.

IMG_3095 IMG_3096

We set out first to make the crust and filling for our no-bake cheesecake, as that would take the longest and had to be chilled. Crushing the graham crackers was surprisingly easy and quick (and therapeutic!) thanks to a heavy-duty rolling pin and Ziploc baggie. Melted butter made the crust complete, and soon the entirety of the minuscule Hartley kitchen smelled like gingerbread cookies. It took all of our willpower to not eat the crust as-is. I can’t say the same for the filling, an interesting hodgepodge of cream cheese, Chobani, lemon juice, and sugar, a heavenly yet simple combination.

In progress…
Blurrily mixing away!
Tangy, sweet, delightful

After leaving both the crust and filling to chill away in the fridge, we moved promptly on to gingerly slicing away at the Hasselback potatoes. The recipe called for a specific slicing technique, where half-moon chunks of potato would be very thinly sliced, leaving the bottoms intact to hold maximum flavor release from the garlic and rosemary. Five huge Russet potatoes, one tiny, incompetent knife, and many thin slices of garlic and fragrant sprigs of rosemary later…

Cutting this was an ordeal of greatest proportions
Begging to be seasoned
A veritable work of art

Though preparation was long, leaving it to work magic in a 425-degree oven was all that stood between the potatoes and our stomachs.

Next, we moved on to roasting the vegetables for our pasta bake’s sauce and base. By this point, the several passersby who were understandably entranced by the abnormally delicious smells in our suite eyed us with envy as we snickered shamelessly.

Before: prepped for the oven
After: let’s just eat this and die happy
Our appetites were not the least deterred by the unsightly lighting in this kitchen
There are no words for this

After a quick pureé of the roasted tomatoes, peppers, and onions, we added some spaghetti cooked slightly under al dente, and then began assembling the dish, falling into silenced awe between gasps of how good the fresh buffalo mozzarella was (at this point, we were so hungry we resorted to half-laying the mozzarella on the dish itself and half-inhaling it).

Decorative Hartley walls
Gorgeously appropriate Halloween colors
Nothing short of amazing

Eight minutes searing under a 450 degree oven left us with surely one of the world’s greatest pasta dishes.

Gratuitous sprinkling of * real * parmesan cheese (you’re welcome)

Though we were waiting impatiently for our cheesecake to finish chilling (cake for breakfast is always a good idea, even better if it’s cheesecake for breakfast), this was all-in-all, an utterly successful attempt at feeding ourselves like “real adults.” With a little experimenting and a lot of hope and luck, we were able to start off fall break on a comforting and delicious note with these easy yet completely satisfying recipes. Definitely give them all a try and you will surely end up as pleasantly surprised, ecstatic, and full as we did.

Beyoglu: Istanbul, a Short Walk from the Met

One of my favorite ways to spend an afternoon in the city is to visit the Met and then walk over to 3rd avenue and 81st St. to Beyoglu, a restaurant that serves traditional Turkish and Middle Eastern fare. Beyoglu is the name of a beautiful district in the European side of Istanbul, written about extensively by Orhan Pamuk, Columbia professor of comparative literature, in his award-winning novels, including The Museum of Innocence and My Name is Red. You walk in to Beyoglu on the Upper East Side, and it is as if you were in the lively Istiklal Street in Istanbul. There is a feeling of tradition, but also a comforting informality.

Mezze and Turkish bread
Mezze and Turkish bread

The first thing my friends and I look forward to when visiting Beyoglu is the bread. The BREAD! It is soft and on the inside and coated with a salty, crispy crust. Unlike what you would expect at a Middle Eastern restaurant, this is not pita bread. I actually prefer having mezze with this bread than with traditional pita bread. Mezze are shared small-plate appetizers served with bread in many Middle Eastern and Balkan countries, usually in the form of a dip.

We ordered three small-plates: cacik, cucuk, and patlican salatasi. Cacik is a cross between yoghurt and cheese, known in other Middle Eastern countries as labne. I personally prefer the Turkish cacik to other versions of this mezze because it is creamy, silky, and not very salty – resembling the American cream cheese, but mixed with cucumbers, which adds freshness to a dip that might otherwise be too rich and dense.

Cucuk is a type of spicy sausage found in Turkey and the Levant region. At Beyoglu, the sausages are served with fried potato cubes. Normally, these potatoes are very good, but last time I visited, my friends and I that the potatoes were very bland. This was a disappointment, because the crispy, salty potatoes pair up really well with the spicy, meaty sausages.

The last mezze we ordered was the patlican salatsi, a mashed up eggplant salad that is delicious scooped with a piece of bread. The salad is earthy, as roasted eggplant should be, but it has a nice tangy kick to it that makes me want to have the whole plate for myself.

When it came to the main dish, I was almost too full to even order anything, but I caved when I saw the waiter carrying some plates of kebab over to the table next to us. I decided to order the Iskender kebab. This dish consists of slices of lamb cooked on a vertical rotisserie, the Turkish cousin of the Greek gyro. The meat is served over crunchy croutons, the very same ones you would have in a caesar salad, but coated with a delicious warm tomato sauce. The whole dish is then topped with a large dollop of fresh yoghurt. The sauce and croutons make a perfect flavor combo: sweet tomatoes, tangy yoghurt, and salty crouton. The meat itself is very tender and filling. I am usually afraid of ordering this kind of kebab anywhere else since, more often than not, it comes out tough and almost gelatinous, which is not pleasant at all.

So, whenever you are at the Met on a beautiful day, you should take a beautiful walk along the fancy townhouses of the Upper East Side and treat yourself to delicious comforting Turkish food.

Family Catering

Croque-en-Bouches with Mixed Berry and Crème de Cassis Sundae

A couple months ago, my mom told me that she had offered to cater a party for my grandma as a birthday gift and that I was invited to be her catering partner. The catering “service” would include brainstorming, preparing, plating, and serving a five-course, gourmet menu to eight hungry and self-claimed foodie guests. I was 100% on board.

So as soon as I got back home from my end-of-the-spring-semester activities, my mom and I started to prepare for the event. We worked on developing a few dish ideas by looking through all of our recipes from books, Word documents, online bookmarked pages, and collaged cutouts from magazines. We discussed and debated, and about a zillion ideas later, finally put them together into a cohesive and appetizing menu. A shopping list was written and a few days before D-day we began the incredibly long (and tiring) process that was the cooking.

However much time and energy it might have taken, the final result was well worth the effort that it took to develop the menu and then make it a reality—with a few exceptions of course. The gazpacho and avocado mousse with two Parmesan crisps was a much-enjoyed appetizer, but the tomato and avocado lollipops served alongside it, for example, were more of a failed experiment in molecular gastronomy than anything else. Visually, they were perfect, but their rubbery texture and imbalance between the flavorless avocado and acidic tomato was definitely a turnoff. At least we had the delicious and popular pancetta-wrapped fig skewers (stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with honey) and grilled eggplant dip served with rosemary flat bread to wash it down. Not to mention the paired rosé, whites, and port that my dad served throughout the meal.

Eggplant and Pepper Dip

Food successes and failures aside, the best part about this catering event was, oddly enough, everything but the taste of the food. I loved watching people decipher the menus we’d printed out when we brought out the mini croque-en-bouches and mixed berry sundaes, or listen to the “oohs” and “ahs” and diplomatic “very interestings” in reaction to tasty or not-so-great dishes. It was a time- and energy-consuming endeavor, and I am so glad that everything turned out well (or almost). But more so than that, it was amazing to experience the meal coming together and to then present and share it with my grandma and her closest friends and relatives.

Italian Yet Vegan?


Italian Stuffed Eggplant

Elizabeth is one of our many new bloggers, but she’s taking on the vegan angle.  In this post, Elizabeth not only finds a happy medium between the ideals of Italian cheeses and veganism, but also delivers a fantastic recipe for any reader.

Obsession is the only way to describe my feelings of the Stuffed Eggplant from Westside.

It’s this moan-inducing Italian dish that has been depleting my wallet since I discovered it a few weeks ago. My ever decreasing funds coupled by my inkling that it is laden with olive-oil (a thing I tend to limit while cooking), has pushed me to attempt what will hopefully be a perfect imitation of the ambrosial dish which has been haunting my loitering moments. Oh and by the way, ITS COMPLETELY VEGAN. Continue reading Italian Yet Vegan?

Almost a Veggie Overload

Manon returns for her second post!  Her story includes the vegetable treasures her mother brought from France, as well as the plethora of recipes they tried out.  Stuffed Eggplant recipe after the jump.

Last week my mom went on a four-day long trip to the south of France and bought a car full of fresh fruits and vegetables on her way back. So for the past week she’s been making apricot, peach, and prune jams, and the freezer is full to the brim with frozen pesto and ratatouille. With the endless quantities of vegetables that still remain, we’ve been making every different vegetable recipe we know. There have, of course, been our old classics: various sliced vegetables tossed in a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper and then baked in a hot oven for about 20 minutes, served with couscous or pasta. We’ve also served them cold with a vinaigrette or in a salad. And as my mom is famous for her fruit desserts, there have been quite a few cobblers and tarts as well.

Today though, a brand new recipe entered into our cooking arsenal: inspired by my mom’s magazine recipe binder, we made goat cheese-stuffed eggplant “packages” baked in the oven and served with a fresh green salad and tomatoes. It was pretty great. The outside of the eggplant got crispy and super flavorful, and some of the cheese fell out of the packages and became golden and crispy. Paired with the fresh salad and tomatoes, we avoided having the eggplant become too rich.

Continue reading Almost a Veggie Overload