Salad-e Shirazi – Persian Cucumber, Tomato and Herb Salad

Originating in Shiraz, Iran, this traditional salad finds its way on to every Iranian table at practically every meal. Think of this as a juicier version of a Greek salad, where the herbs dominate. We love adding chunks of feta cheese and even croutons just before serving, but then it is no longer a traditional Iranian salad!

3 to 4 Persian cucumbers (about 3/4 pound)

2 to 3 medium tomatoes (about 1 pound)

½ C any combination of finely chopped fresh parsley, cilantro, basil, mint and/or dill

½ red onion, diced into 1/4-inch pieces

Dressing

¼ C freshly squeezed lime juice (from about 2 limes), plus more as needed

½ t sumac*

1 T extra-virgin olive oil

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Optional – ½ cup crumbled feta, ½ cup fresh made croutons

Dice cucumbers into 1/4-inch pieces and place in a large bowl. Remove tomato cores, dice remaining tomatoes into 1/4-inch pieces and add to bowl. Add the chopped herbs and onion.

In a small bowl, make the dressing by whisking together 1/4 cup lime juice, sumac, olive oil, 3/4 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Just before serving, dress vegetables and stir to combine. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and lime juice as needed. Serve at room temperature or lightly chilled. Cover and refrigerate leftovers for up to 2 days. Serves 6.


Mediterranean Sweet Pepper Salad

Adapted from David Tanis’ cookbook, “A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes”, this dish bursts with color and flavor of summer. A great way to use up a bumper crop of sweet peppers. The peppers store very well in the fridge for up to a week and the flavors improve after a day. Great as a side or as a topping for grilled chicken, pork or fish. Chop the peppers into dice and toss with pasta. Great to use tossed with leftover grilled veggies.

3 large sweet peppers- red, yellow and orange
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T capers
¼ C black olives, pitted and quartered (preferably Kalamata or Nicoise)
1 t red wine vinegar

1 t lemon zest
¼ C good quality olive oil (extra virgin)
2 T fresh basil and/or oregano, chopped or thinly sliced

Place the peppers directly on the burner of a gas grill or on the rack of a hot charcoal grill. As each section turns puffy and black, turn the peppers with tongs to char evenly. (If you don’t have a grill, place the peppers on a baking sheet and broil in the oven, turning as each side becomes charred.) Transfer the roasted peppers to a plastic bag and close the bag, letting them cool down in their own steam. When they are cool enough to handle, halve peppers crosswise and remove stems, ribs and seeds, and remove any charred skin. (This can also be done at the sink, under running water.) Slice the peppers in 1-inch thick strips and transfer to a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients except for the fresh basil and/or oregano, and toss well. Taste and adjust for salt, perhaps more red wine vinegar if you prefer a more tart flavor. Let salad marinate at room temperature until ready to serve. Garnish with basil just before serving. Serves 4-6.


Tomato Tartlets

Colorful, summery and perfect when you need a little bite.

1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed

1 C grated Fontina or Swiss cheese (2-3ounces)

3 medium tomatoes, cut into twelve ¼- inch slices

Extra virgin olive oil for brushing

Ground pepper

1/3 C small basil leaves left whole or large and thin sliced

Preheat the oven to 375°. Lightly flour a work surface and rolling pin and roll out the puff pastry to 14×16-inch rectangle. With a 4 inch cookie cutter, cut out 12 rounds and transfer to a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. With a fork, prick each round all over. Sprinkle 1 tablespoon cheese on each, leaving a small border, and top with one tomato slice; brush with oil, season with pepper.

Bake until pastry is deep golden at the edges, 25 to 30 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through. Let cool completely before garnishing with basil. Makes 12.


Cool as a Cucumber Chilled Soup

Quick to prepare and ever so cooling in the hot weather, this chilled soup belongs in every refrigerator. If you prefer a soup with more texture, don’t blend it as long. Using unpeeled cucumbers will give the soup a beautiful light green color.

2 medium cucumbers, peeled and sliced (leave unpeeled if using English/burpless/seedless)

¼ C plain yogurt- whole milk, low-fat or Greek

½ C buttermilk – whole milk or low-fat

1 T shallot, minced

1 t garlic, minced

1 T fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 t maple syrup

½  t ground cumin, cardamom or coriander

¼ t cayenne pepper (optional)

1 T fresh dill

Chopped fresh dill or chives – for garnish

Lay the cucumber slices on a tray or sheet pan lined with paper towel. Salt the cucumbers and let them “sweat” for 20 minutes to let them release moisture.

In a blender or food processor, process all the ingredients until smooth. Taste for salt and pepper. Chill at least one hour or overnight. Ladle into bowls and garnish with fresh herbs. Serves 3-4.


Eggplant Gratin with Sweet Onions and Feta

1½ lbs. eggplant

¼ – ½ C olive oil

1 medium sweet onion, peeled and thinly sliced in half-moons (about 2 cups)

12-16oz. prepared Marinara or Arrabiata (spicy) pasta sauce

6 oz. feta cheese, crumbled

¼ C grated Parmesan

Slice the onion into half moons, then heat a large sauté pan with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the onion slices. Add a pinch of salt and sauté, stirring occasionally until browned and caramelized, while you prepare the eggplant.

Rinse and pat dry the eggplant, trim the ends and do not peel. Cut the eggplant in half crosswise, then cut each half into 6 or 8 (1½–inch) wedges.

In a medium sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the eggplant wedges, a few at a time without crowding. Sauté on all three sides until lightly browned, adding small amounts of olive oil as necessary.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Select a baking dish large enough to hold the eggplant wedges in one layer. Cover the bottom of the baking dish with about 1 cup of the pasta sauce – enough to lightly cover the dish. Transfer wedges to the baking dish and line them against each other in two rows. If necessary, pack the wedges tightly to avoid creating a second layer.

Distribute onion slices evenly over the eggplant. Cover with one more cup of sauce, leaving most of the eggplant exposed, but do not completely immerse in sauce. Top with crumbled feta and sprinkle with Parmesan, cover the dish with foil and bake at 350°F for 25 minutes; uncover and bake another 10-20 minutes, until bubbly and lightly browned. Let cool at least 10 minutes before serving. Serves 6.