Results tagged eggplant from David Lebovitz

Grilled Vegetables with Za’atar Vinaigrette

za'atar vinaigrette

There’s a big difference between lucky and fortunate. Luck is a winning lottery ticket blowing in your window. Fortunate means that you’ve taken the initiative and done something. And because of it, there was a positive outcome. So I would probably say that I was lucky because my mother was a good cook but it’s debatable whether I am lucky, or fortunate, because my partner is a good cook as well.

squash and eggplant

Before dinner a few weeks ago, I’d grilled off some vegetable beforehand and left them in a plat à four (baking dish) on the counter, ready for dinner. Right before we were to eat, I asked him to make a dressing for them, and went about the rest of my business, finishing up the prep for the rest of dinner before realizing what he’d done.

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Eating Around London

London Beef

I never really “got” London. It was always this hulking city that I struggled to navigate, overwhelmingly large, with a subway system that seemed like a tangle of routes and directions that I just couldn’t unravel. But part of it is my fault as I never really spent a lot of time trying to figure it out. I just accepted defeat early on. So this time, I decided to walk from one side of the city to the other, to get a feel for it. And I have a London-sized callous on my foot, but it was worth it. I got to see the neighborhoods and the districts while I wandered and stopped in cafes and coffee shops, and just sat and watched snippets of everyday life in London. And now, I “get” it. London is pretty fun – and delicious.

Spending nearly a week there gave me some time to make a few discoveries – finding some new places, and revisiting some old favorites. Such as the pastries at Ottolenghi in Islington and a trip to Neal’s Yard (where they happily hand out samples, which – of course, makes you powerless to resist buying slabs of – well, everything), all accompanied by a pleasant friendliness and efficiency.

pear cakes at Ottolenghi

And I even mastered the Tube (subway) and managed not to get lost during the entire time that I was there, which is a first for me. All of it is – as the French like to say are (although they should probably tweak it a bit, to comply with grammatical rules) – “So British!”, such as black cab drivers opening the door for you with a peppy greeting, and getting dairy delivered in glass bottles for a spot of milk in your morning coffee.

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Lebanese Meze

labne with olive oil

The Lebanese are real “snackers”, a point brought home by Mazen Hajjar, the owner of 961, Lebanon’s first (and only) craft brewery that told me if I went into someone’s home in Lebanon and they offered a drink – but no bowl of nuts or seeds, “You should go…just get up and leave immediately.”

961 beer in Lebanon

Fortunately I never had to, because true to his word, each and every place in Lebanon where I was offered a drink, a generous bowl of bzoorat – some tasty combination of peanuts, hazelnuts, pistachios, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, etc. – were offered. And I always seemed to have my hand in a dish of them.

arak White Lady (gin cointreau lemon juice)

So it’s no surprise I went nuts, so to speak, at Al Rifai, considered one of the best nut roasters in Beirut. When I walked in, I was immediately drawn to the glowing glass and stainless-steel bins, radiating with the heat coming off the piles of freshly roasted nuts.

nuts

I picked up a few bags to bring home and it’s fun to choose your own from the dozens of nuts and seeds they offer. Some are plain, other spiced or glazed. And it’s fun to mix ‘em up. Showing true Lebanese hospitality, as I selected each one, the woman at the counter plunked down a little bowl of them for me to snack on while weighing and filling my bags. Good thing they didn’t weigh me on the way out, because I’m pretty sure I ate as much as I bought.

nuts, pistachios, etc

And now, I’m officially just as hooked as the Lebanese are. So it was a good thing Al Rifai has a large kiosk at the airport where I stocked up on even more bzoorat, along with all the locals, who also wanted to be as certain as I that we would have plenty of nuts and seeds while outside of the country. (Either that, or they were also looking for a way to pass their time when their plane got delayed for nine hours, too – oof.)

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Eggplant Jam

eggplant jam recipe blog

The words “eggplant” and “jam” together might throw you, but if you stop to consider that eggplant – like tomatoes and squash – are botanically fruits, the idea doesn’t seem all that far-fetched. (Although there are plenty of fruits I wouldn’t advise flavoring with garlic.)

I’ve been on a kick, exploring and enjoying flavors of the Middle East lately. And to take my mind of my rapidly escalating olive oil budget, I was leafing through one of my favorite books, From Tapas to Meze by Joanne Weir, and came across this jam. I’m a big fan of eggplants, which is a good thing since they frequently show up in foods of the Middle East, as well as in dishes of their neighbors in North Africa. And even though I could happily eat my way through all of those countries, luckily in Paris, they’re abundantly available here as well.

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The Hummus Factory

eggplant, tahini, parsley

Almost all of the people I spoke with said they rarely make their own hummus, simply because the store-bought stuff was as good – if not better – than what they could make at home. (I guess it helps to think of it like peanut butter, where the homemade is very good, but store-bought will suffice.) People have very strong opinions about hummus, like they do about other things, in Israel. And if you mention a particular brand, or a place that makes it, you’re likely going to be told – with absolute certainty – that there’s another one, or place, that’s definitely better.

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Thai Green Curry

Thai green curry

After my trip to Sydney, I decided I needed to learn some of the basics of making Thai food, if I’m going to get anything as spicy as I enjoyed (and as much as I like) around here. Like all cuisines, it starts with gathering the proper ingredients. Here in Paris, we have Tang Frères, a large Asian supermarket which is pretty well-stocked. (Although being Paris, it seems like it’s required that they’re out of the one essential item that I’m looking for.)

I hunted down most of the ingredients on my list, but paused at the curry pastes on the shelf. Was that cheating? Did Thai cooks use curry paste, or were they shunned and it was considered infinitely better to make your own from scratch? I was in a dilemma since I wanted to hit the flavors I was looking for, but could not find lime leaves, which seems like an essential ingredient from my reading. So I put the message out on Twitter from the supermarket aisle, and right away, all the responses said the curry pastes are fine – and sometimes preferable, if you can’t find the right ingredients.

shrimp paste Thai eggplant

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Eggplant Caviar

eggplant caviar

I’d not heard of Eggplant Caviar (caviar d’aubergine), until I moved to France. I’m not sure why that was—perhaps in the states it’s called something different when I was served it? Could it be labeling laws, so I wouldn’t confuse eggplant seeds for fish eggs? Or did I just have my head in the sand for too many years and only saw the light when I moved away?

Whenever I had eggplants lying around, I always made baba ganoush or moutabal. But eggplant caviar is even easier to make and less-rich: it’s a smoky tasting eggplant purée with a squirt of fresh lemon, some garlic, and a bit of heat from a sprinkle of bright-red chili powder.

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Al Taglio

Al Taglio

For quite some time, whenever I’d go out to eat in Paris with a visiting friend, their gaze would invariably land on something Italian on the menu. And they’d want to order something like risotto or salad Caprese, which I’d warn them away from. Or pizza, which might come to the table with some unexpected topping, like canned corn or pineapple. When I moved to Paris, I thought it odd that Italian food wasn’t as well- represented here as I assumed it would be. After all, France shares a border with Italy. But on the other hand, look at how Canadian food is represented in the United States. So I guess that explains that.

When I asked a friend who came last year what she wanted for dinner, she said, “I don’t care. As long as the food is good”, which sounded fine to me. The only problem was, that I’d had a long day and wanted to eat somewhere in my neighborhood and I couldn’t think of anywhere decent—except for the pizza place run by the Sardinians. When I suggested it, she said, “I didn’t come to Paris to eat pizza.”

But it made me realize that in the past five years, Italian food has really come into its own in Paris, and last week, a place that makes their own pasta was turning people (including us) away in droves when we tried to get a couple of seats. When I decided to hit Grom on Sunday, the line trailed out the door and onto the street.

There are some really great pizza places now across Paris serving the real-deal, including Al Taglio, which unlike the other places, serves pizza like they do in Rome, meaning they bake off large rectangles of pizza then cut off squares as you order them. The pizza pieces are weighed, priced, and then warmed up and brought to your table, living up to the name al taglio, or “by the slice.”

Al Taglio

I immediately knew I would like Al Taglio as soon as I walked in because I like sitting at high counters. Although there are tables overlooking the small square outdoors, there’s something about sitting on a high stool at a communal table that’s always been my very favorite way to eat. It’s just so convivial. When friends came in to eat in restaurants where I worked, I just pulled up a stool next to where I was working so I could talk to them when they had dinner and I love cooking while talking to people, as long as they’re seated and at a distance. And pouring me wine.

The pizzas range from a simple Melanzane (eggplant and garlic) to more ambitious Zucca e pancette (bacon and pumpkin cream). I tried three: Patate tartufo (potato and truffle cream), Salami piccante (artichokes and spicy salami) and Amadriciana. (Even though I said the French are embracing authentic Italian cuisine, I guess these things are considered exotic by some, though, because the Le Fooding guide called their toppings ‘chic‘. Black truffles aside, I’m not sure what’s so chic about eggplant, bacon, salami, and potatoes.)

All the pizzas are sold by the kilo, and prices vary depending on the topping. All three I tried were great, with nice, crunchy crust, and flavorful topping. It made a perfect early afternoon lunch along with a very full glass of Anghelia (€3.8), which brought the total of my meal to just over €13. It also made me a wee-bit tipsy.

cucina 100% Italiana

One thing that’s a bit curious is the counter service, which some might consider authentically Italian: one woman was busy taking the orders, cutting the pizza, and weighing the squares, while the fellow next to her watched, then brought out the pizza to the customers. The kitchen was a bit more active: just a few feet away, two guys were working on the next batch of pizzas, scattering them with cubes of mozzarella and bits of speck and other toppings, before sliding them into the oven.

But I’ve learned not to be in a hurry when it comes to food, both in France and Italy, and to relax. And I’ve let go of all that racing to get through a meal or expecting service with a snap. When you do, you have a much better time. Indeed, everyone here was smiling and friendly, including her.

And after working in restaurants for three decades, I always advise people to never mess with people who are making their food or serving it to them. (And that applies to nurses and flight attendants, too.)

I’d imagine Al Taglio gets packed at prime time. But since they’re open continuously throughout the afternoon, my advice is to go for a late lunch. So along with places to get good gelato in Paris, I can confidently add Italian pizza to that list.



Al Taglio
2, bis rue Neuve Popincourt, 11th (off rue Oberkampf)
Tél: 01 43 38 12 00
(Map)

Open daily, Noon-11pm, no reservations.

and

27, rue Saintonge (Upper Marais)
Tél: 09 50 48 84 06




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(Note: The blackboard sign in the post isn’t related Al Taglio, which does not offer a tavola calda.)