August 26, 2011
/> Welcome back to the kitchen. Summer rolls on
into its later days, and it is beautiful out there. A quick trip to any local farmers market reveals just how much
amazing, vibrant, and delicious produce is available to harvest right now.
/> My eye is always drawn to the exotic,
imperfect beauty of heirloom tomatoes. After months of passing over those flavorless red rubber balls that pass
for tomatoes in the supermarket, I’m thrilled to have the real deal to eat. Uniformity of food isn’t
necessarily a virtue. Something is lost in this industrialized version of ripeness.
/> So when I see gnarly, twisted, misshapen
tomatoes with weird colors and names, I get excited to try something unique, something that has been chosen for
specific delicious characteristics, and a crop that likely would not ship well and store long enough to be
available in most supermarkets.
there are plenty of other great crops to choose from. So with a mind to make the most of what’s in season,
I’m thinking about a delicious, simple, vegetarian dish for today. This is a sort of salad/entrée
hybrid, and for those ardent carnivores among you who are already turning up your noses, you can always grill some
simple chicken or lamb to go along with it.
/> But I’m getting ahead of myself,
aren’t I? What I want to create on today’s Cooking Local is heirloom tomatoes stuffed to overflowing
with a quinoa and feta cheese salad, and topped with roasted eggplant, zucchini, red pepper, and sweet onions
tossed in a tahini dressing. This is a beautiful freeform dish packed with Middle Eastern and Mediterranean
What I’ve got pictured in
my mind is a beautiful heirloom tomato for each person, with the top and some if the insides removed so it has
some hollowed out space. Into that goes a fresh quinoa salad with raisins, parsley, feta cheese, and some grated
carrots and other veggies. We’ll toss that salad with a simple lemon, red wine vinegar, and olive oil
dressing. Then we’ll grill some veggies on the grill and make a sort of modified Middle Eastern roasted
ratatouille, which will get tossed with a rich and lemony tahini dressing. Pile up the roasted veggies to top off
the tomato tower, and maybe drop on a clove or two of roasted garlic for effect, and we have a delicious
Can you picture it? The
gorgeous heirloom tomato will be the perfect compliment for the roasted veggies and quinoa salad. Or course, as I
said, this dish would pair well with some herbed grilled chicken, lamb, or even sausage. But I don’t really
think we need the meat here. There is plenty of protein in quinoa, and we’ll get even more from the cheese
and tahini. So we’ve got a plan, let’s get this dish underway!
/> Let’s start by making our quinoa salad,
because it can chill and marinate in the fridge for awhile while we get everything else ready. This salad is very
freeform, and so you should feel very free to replace or substitute ingredients at will.
/> For this Quinoa and Feta Salad we’ll
-2 cups quinoa
-4 cups water
-1 carrot, grated
-2 scallions or green onions,
-1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
-1/2 cup cucumber, chopped fine (no need to peel if it is a fresh
-1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
-1/4 cup raisins or other dried fruit
-1/4 cup toasted
-juice of 1 fresh squeezed lemon
-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar (plus possibly more to
-1/4 cup olive oil
-salt and pepper to taste
/> Start by cooking the quinoa, which is a
delicious whole grain that cooks similarly to rice, but is packed with protein. Bring the water to a boil in a
small pot on the stovetop, then add the quinoa, stir, and turn down the heat to low. Cover tightly and let cook
for about 20 minutes, or until the water is all evaporated and the quinoa is tender but not yet mushy. Remove the
quinoa from the stove and put the pot in a bowl of ice water in the sink. We want to cool it down at least to room
temperature as quickly as possible.
the quinoa is cooling, chop and grate the veggies and mix the oil, vinegar, and lemon juice together. When the
quinoa has cooled down enough to stop steaming, mix it together in a big bowl with all the veggies, herbs,
raisins, pine nuts and feta cheese. Normally I would also be adding grape tomatoes and red peppers to this dish,
but we’ve got those ingredients in other parts of the dish, so I’m going to hold off.
/> Taste the quinoa salad. Does it have enough
tart bite? You may want to add a bit more vinegar. Too tart? Balance that with a bit more oil. Don’t forget
to add the salt and pepper. Sometimes I like to make a sort of Mexican version of this by using cilantro and a bit
of cumin powder. And this salad keeps well in the fridge, so feel free to make lots and take leftovers for
When you’ve got the quinoa
and feta salad tasting how you want it, cover it with cling wrap and put it in the fridge to cool down some more.
OK, so there is the quinoa salad, let’s move on to the roasted vegetables with tahini dressing.
/> First of all, for those who don’t know,
tahini is a delicious paste made from sesame seeds. It is very popular in Middle Eastern cooking, but is used in
various cuisines throughout the world. Most people know that hummus is made from chickpeas, but really it is
tahini that gives it its distinct flavor. In this case, the tahini will be a rich and creamy dressing for our fire
For the roasted veggies we’ll need:
-3 or 4 small
zucchini squash, cut into ¼ inch pieces (the long way)
-1 large eggplant or 2 or 3 small eggplants,
also cut into ¼ inch
-1 large red bell pepper, cut in half and stems and seeds removed
Walla Walla sweet onion, cut into ¼ inch rounds
-2 tablespoons olive oil
-1 tablespoon fresh
chopped oregano leaves
-salt and black pepper to taste
/>• 1/3 cup well-stirred tahini (Middle Eastern sesame paste)
1/3 cup hot water
• Juice of 1-2 ripe lemons
• 1 garlic
clove, minced into a paste
• 3/4 teaspoon salt
teaspoon sugar or honey (optional)
• Small pinch cayenne pepper
/>• Small pinch cinnamon and/or nutmeg
• 2 tablespoons chopped
Start by slicing all your veggies and tossing them with the oil, oregano, and salt and pepper.
Heat up your barbecue grill to medium high. If you have a veggie roasting basket or rack, now would be the time to
use it. Arrange the veggies on the hot grill and let them cook until they get a bit of char and are roasted
through, about 4 minutes per side.
While the veggies are grilling, let’s make up the tahini dressing.
Just like when we make peanut sauce, we are going to use some very hot, nearly boiling water to help melt the
thick tahini and get a nice creamy consistency. It’s probably easiest to just toss all the tahini dressing
ingredients into the blender or food processor. Otherwise, just mix everything together really well until it is
When your roasted veggies are done to your liking, take them off the grill
and set them aside to cool for a bit. When they are cool enough to handle, give the zucchini, eggplant, peppers
and onions a rough chopping so you get big bite sized pieces. Put all the chopped roasted veggies onto a bowl and
toss with the tahini dressing until everything is well mixed. Yum. The rich, tangy tahini dressing is the perfect
match for the sweet and smoky roasted ratatouille.
While the BBQ is still on, I might peel
a whole bunch of cloves of garlic, toss them with some olive oil, and then double wrap them in aluminum foil to
roast for 10 minutes or so. Just put the foil garlic packet a bit away from the hottest part of the grill and turn
it every so often. This will give us some really yummy roasted-tasting garlic to top off our dish.
/> So now we have the roasted veggies and the quinoa salad, let’s assemble everything
together. As I said, I’m going to hollow out one heirloom tomato per person, cutting out about a third of
eat fruit and setting it aside or chopping it to add to the quinoa salad. If you only have gigantic heirloom
tomatoes, you can just cut some nice fat slices and use those as a base instead.
plate lay down a bed of arugula or baby greens. Place the semi-hollowed heirloom tomato on top of that. Fill the
tomato with a scoop of the quinoa and feta salad. Scoop up a nice big blob of the fire roasted tahini veggies and
plop that on top of the quinoa. Finally, top each stuffed tomato with a roasted garlic clove or three. I think
I’ll also chop up some more fresh parsley and sprinkle that over the top as a flavorful garnish.
/> Wow! This is beautiful enough for a fancy restaurant. I think you’ll find the flavors
marry together really nicely. The fresh heirloom tomato pairs perfectly with the quinoa and the roasted tahini
vegetables send the whole dish over the top. I’m not even sure what to call it. A Mediterranean/middle
eastern tomato tower? Sure, I guess. For now I think I’ll just call it dinner.
work everyone! I’d love to hear how you are making use of the season’s bountiful harvest. Send me any
questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Cooking local in the KOHO kitchen, I’m Isaac Kaplan-