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Food: Post-holiday menus

Everyone puts on a few pounds during the holidays, so eating light meals in the coming weeks is crucial.

Healthy
Photo by: Gabriel B. Tait/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/MCT
After the days of feasting, with more rich food than usual and extra time and energy spent cooking and serving, lighter meals are welcome.

Suppers composed of Mediterranean vegetable appetizers, salads or side dishes are tasty, satisfying and easy to fix. The good quality late summer vegetables like eggplant, peppers and ripe tomatoes are perfect for preparing quick, wholesome meals. In fact, sometimes a main course is not even necessary.

Mechouia, a Tunisian vegetable salad made of roasted peppers, tomatoes and onions, is ideal for this season. Nancy Harmon Jenkins, author of The Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, makes the salad by chopping together roasted peppers, peeled roasted tomatoes and roasted onions and dresses it with olive oil, lemon juice and ground caraway or ground coriander seeds. This salad is good as is, but is even better when topped with hard-boiled eggs, tuna, anchovies or black olives. Serve it with fresh flatbread as a light entree.

The same trio of vegetables – tomatoes, red pepper and onions – can become grilled gazpacho.

Karen Adler and Judith Fertig, authors of The Gardener and the Grill, make it by blending the grilled vegetables with olive oil, wine vinegar and hot pepper sauce. (See recipe below.) One dish we often prepare is the familiar baba ghanoush. To make it lower in calories, we substitute low-fat yogurt for a portion of the tehina. Once in a while we add diced, grilled semi-hot peppers or s’hug (Middle Eastern hot sauce) in addition to the usual garlic and lemon juice. We serve it with Israeli salad, or with sliced tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peppers, as well as with fresh pita.

Instead of adding tehina, we might combine our chopped, grilled eggplant with an equal amount of pureed grilled red peppers, a hint of garlic and a drizzle of olive oil.

Depending on the weather, we serve it warm or at room temperature.

Sicilian caponata is another favorite of ours. Rather than deep-frying the eggplant the classic way, we braise it briefly with tomatoes and onions and add the traditional olives, capers and a touch of vinegar and sugar for a delicate sweet-and-sour taste.

When served with green salad and ciabatta or other Italian bread, caponata makes a satisfying lunch. (See recipe below.) Mediterranean cooks make a variety of light and satisfying dishes based on mushrooms.

Rosetta Costantino, author of My Calabria (with Janet Fletcher), makes sauteed wild mushrooms with garlic and tomatoes; you could use white mushrooms or sliced portobello mushrooms the same way. First sear the mushrooms with garlic in olive oil, and then briefly cook them with diced, ripe tomatoes and dried hot red peppers torn in a few pieces. Costantino adds chopped parsley for a fresh finishing touch. For a simple meal, she serves the sauteed mushrooms with grilled sausages or tosses them with cooked pasta. At other times she stirs them into risotto.

When we grill meat or chicken, we put extra vegetables on the barbecue – especially eggplants and peppers – to turn into light meals over the next couple of days. Chopped sun-dried tomatoes and a sprinkling of shredded Gruyere or other Swiss-type cheese, write Adler and Fertig, are all that is needed to make an entree from grilled halved eggplants.

Before being grilled, the eggplant halves are brushed with a mixture of olive oil, minced garlic and dried oregano. Crumbled goat cheese enhances their simple dish of whole green onions, small zucchini and sweet and hot peppers grilled with olive oil, salt and pepper.

Other good garnishes are feta or fresh mozzarella cheese, labaneh or yogurt, or canned sardines, chickpeas or other beans. Using them as toppings for grilled, roasted or braised vegetables makes it possible to prepare a tasty, light meal with very little effort.

Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home.

LIGHT EGGPLANT CAPONATA

This colorful, tangy salad is made of fresh vegetables with a few pantry ingredients. We make a batch during a cool time of the day and have it on hand for a light entree or sandwich. Caponata keeps for 4 or 5 days in the refrigerator.

In its simplest version, caponata is made of eggplant cooked in tomato sauce accented with onions, celery, wine vinegar, a touch of sugar and capers. Ours has fresh tomatoes, green olives and pine nuts as well. If you like, substitute slivered almonds for the pine nuts. When you add the nuts, you can also add 2 tablespoons of raisins.

700 gr. (1 1⁄2 pounds) eggplant, preferably small slim ones, unpeeled
2 to 5 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil, to taste
1 medium onion, halved and sliced thin
2 celery stalks, sliced thin salt and freshly ground pepper
600 to 700 gr. (1 1⁄4 to 1 1⁄2 pounds) ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped, or 400 gr. (15 ounces) canned tomatoes, diced and drained
225 gr. (8 ounces or 1 cup) homemade, canned or bottled tomato sauce
1 to 2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar 1 to 2 tsp. sugar 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 cup pitted green olives, halved 2 Tbsp. capers, rinsed
1 to 2 Tbsp. pine nuts or slivered almonds

Cut eggplant in 2.5-cm (1-inch) dice. Heat 2 or 3 Tbsp oil in a large heavy nonstick skillet or saute pan. Add onion and celery and saute over medium heat for 5 minutes. Add eggplant, salt and pepper and saute over medium-high heat, stirring, for 2 minutes.

Add tomatoes and tomato sauce and bring to a simmer. Cover and cook over medium-low heat for 10 minutes. Add vinegar, 1 tsp sugar, olives, capers and pine nuts. Cover and simmer over low heat, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until eggplant is tender. Taste, adjust seasoning and add remaining sugar and more olive oil if desired. Serve cold or at room temperature.

Makes 6 servings

GRILLED GAZPACHO

This recipe is from The Gardener and the Grill. You can serve the soup hot or cold. Authors Karen Adler and Judith Fertig note that you can garnish the soup with any of the following toppings: chopped cucumber, green onions, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped cilantro or a dollop of sour cream.

To make the gazpacho lighter, see the note following the recipe.

4 large tomatoes, sliced
2 sweet red peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut in half lengthwise
1 large onion, preferably red, sliced
2 Tbsp. plus 1⁄2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, divided (see Note below)
1⁄4 cup red wine vinegar
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp. kosher salt 1 tsp. hot pepper sauce, or to taste
1 Tbsp. butter (see Note below)
1 1⁄2 cups bread crumbs (see Note below)

Prepare a hot fire in your grill. Brush tomatoes, red peppers and red onion with 2 Tbsp olive oil. Grill for 8 to 10 minutes, turning once, until the tomatoes have some char but are still firm and the peppers and onions are nicely charred on all sides.

Transfer the grilled vegetables to a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.

Add the remaining 1⁄2 cup (see Note) of extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar, Worcestershire, salt and hot pepper sauce; puree until smooth.

Serve immediately or refrigerate until chilled.

For the garnish, heat the butter in a large skillet until foamy. Add bread crumbs and toast, stirring often, until nicely browned.

To serve, ladle the gazpacho into bowls, then top with the bread crumbs and other garnishes.

Makes 8 servings Note: Lighter grilled gazpacho: When blending the gazpacho, start with 1⁄4 cup olive oil and, to balance the flavors, only 2 Tbsp. vinegar and 1 Tbsp. Worcestershire sauce. Taste, and add more of these ingredients if you like. You can also omit the garnish of butter-toasted bread crumbs.


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