Mediterranean Veggie Goodness

So for today’s offering I decided to go Mediterranean and highlight the wonders of squash and capsicum. Okay, maybe not so much, but both of the dishes on our menu include a type of squash and bell pepper, and both are vegetarian.  The first is ajvar, which is a Croatian roasted red pepper and eggplant sauce with a delicious smoky flavor that is great as a dip, a sandwich spread, or, for you non-vegetarians out there, as a topping for meat or fish.  Think of it as an Eastern European take on baba ganoush.   Today I used this as a topping for some broiled cod loins, but it would also work beautifully on grilled chicken, for example.  We also used some as a dip for naan.

On the side we’re making veggie kabobs that include zucchini, golden bell peppers and a delicious Cypriot cheese called halloumi, which has a flavor similar to feta but holds up extremely well to grilling or pan frying.  These will be coated with a marinade of olive oil, citrus and fresh herbs.

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We’ll tackle the ajvar recipe first, since that is the most time intensive. Here are your ingredients for 4-6 servings:

  • 3 red bell peppers
  • 1 medium eggplant
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • ½ tsp. kosher salt
  • ¼ tsp. black pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp. white wine vinegar

Preheat your broiler and coat a baking sheet with foil. Wash and dry your vegetables, rub them with just enough of the oil to coat them, and sprinkle with some of the salt and pepper. Roast them close up under the broiler, turning every few minutes until they are charred all around. The eggplant will take longer than the peppers, particularly since you want to make sure the center of the eggplant has time to become tender. After the vegetables are cooked, transfer them to a large bowl and cover with plastic to cool.  There they will steam and loosen the skins.

When the vegetables are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins, remove the stems and seeds (a particularly gruesome task with the eggplant, I’m afraid), and put the meaty parts into your food processor.  Add the remaining ingredients, including any unused salt, pepper and oil.  Puree until smooth, then transfer to a saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes to thicken and reduce, then allow to cool and this is ready to serve with a swirl of olive oil and maybe some oregano leaves.

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Moving on now to our veggie kabobs, here are your ingredients for 4 servings:

  • 1 golden bell pepper
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 12 cherry tomatoes
  • 6 oz. halloumi, cut into 1” cubes
  • 1 tbsp. chopped mint leaves
  • 1 tbsp. chopped oregano leaves
  • 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 3 tbsp. olive oil
  • Kosher salt and black pepper to taste

Cut the bell pepper into roughly 1 ½” squares. Use a vegetable peeler to slice the zucchini lengthwise into thin strips. In a large bowl, combine the oil, lemon juice, herbs, salt and pepper, and stir to combine. Add the vegetables and cheese, and toss until they are completely coated with the oil mixture. Place the vegetables and cheese onto skewers (don’t forget to soak your skewers if using bamboo), using an S-fold for the zucchini strips.  Then grill until the vegetables are tender-crisp with a little char. Bada bing, you’re ready to serve.

This whole menu takes probably 1 ½ hours to pull together, largely because of the time to roast, cool and peel the vegetables for the ajvar, and then the 30-minute simmer after that. The beauty of this plate is that it is natural and healthy – and did I mention really yummy?  We munched it down with a big happy grin on our faces and I’m sure you will too. Until next time: Eat well, my friends!

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