Gratin of my dreams

I have an Aunt Carol who is fabulous. Truth be told, she’s my step aunt, but I’ve known her as long as I can remember, and she’s so awesome, I can’t not claim her. If my memory serves me correctly, in the early ’70s, she and her equally fabulous husband first moved to Bern, Switzerland, producer of – in my opinion – the world’s best chocolate, where they taught, sang, and accompanied opera. Then, they moved to northern Germany (#2 in chocolate, but it’s a close second), where they continue to live, teach, sing, and breathe opera today.

Now, as I said, Aunt Carol is fabulous, so being fabulous, she has to study and become fluent in Greek after the age of, like, 65. Well, she lives in Germany, which is about 5 minutes from Greece, and lucky me, she’s not vegan, but allergic to dairy, so I am the happiest beneficiary of her notes about Greek peasant food that she eats or actually participates in making. I live vicariously.

Based on Aunt Carol’s descriptions, I’ve added freshly grated turmeric to mashed or roasted potatoes, and improvised a pumpkin pie surrounded in phyllo, which always gets comments like, “Mmmm, it’s like baklava!” Tonight, based on her rough description of a casserole, I came up with this absolutely DELICIOUS gratin. I don’t know how much it tasted like the one Aunt Carol ate on her last trip to Greece, but I assure you, it made me swoon.

Greek eggplant and potato gratin

  • 1 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 lrg eggplant, thinly sliced cross-wise, about 1/4″ thick
  • 6 red-skin potatoes, sliced about 1/4″ thick
  • 1 14-oz can tomato sauce
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 yellow onion, sliced
  • Coarse salt to taste

Preheat the oven to 425°. Spray a 9×13″ casserole pan with cooking spray. Heat a large cast iron pan over a little lower than medium-high heat. Add about 1/4 cup of oil to the pan, and fry the eggplant slices in batches, adding oil as needed, until golden or a little darker. Place the tomato sauce, lemon juice, and cinnamon in a bowl, and whisk to combine. Pour about a third of the tomato sauce into the bottom of the casserole pan, layer on half of the potato slices, half of the eggplant, one-third of the tomato sauce, the other half of the potatoes and eggplant, the onion slices, and the last third of sauce. Drizzle on whatever is left of the olive oil. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for about an hour. Test the potato for doneness by poking it with a sharp knife. If it’s soft, uncover the gratin, and bake for another ten or fifteen minutes until bubbling. Generously sprinkle on the coarse salt (Maldon is my preference), and serve.

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Chickpea of the sea

This post is dedicated to non-vegans who might be looking for something a little different to add to their lunch routine. I’m almost embarrassed to post it, because it’s hardly a recipe and there are plenty of recipes like it out there, but it just might not have occurred to some of you that you can make this.

I’ve heard from a surprising number of vegans that we all miss the same thing: tuna salad. So, this is a great alternative – mercury and cholesterol (not to mention cruelty) free – that tastes great. It does the trick for me, when I’m craving something like tuna or egg salad. The optional seaweed gives the salad a slightly fishy flavor (like tuna, duh), and is a good excuse to snack on roasted seaweed, a food that is both super duper good for you and completely addictive!

Chickpea salad

  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 tbsp vegan mayonnaise
  • 1 1/2 tsp relish
  • 1 tsp mustard (I like brown or Dijon)
  • 1 tsp Maldon or other coarse salt
  • 2 or 3 small sheets roasted seaweed snack, shredded (optional)

Drain the chickpeas very well and put them in a bowl. Mash them with a potato masher until well mashed, and no whole beans remain. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well with a fork, mashing and mixing as you would with tuna. Eat on whole wheat toast or with crackers. Add a tomato slice, some lettuce, pickles, avocado, or whatever you would eat on a tuna or egg salad sandwich!