Summer is glorious in the Northwest. You’re warm in the sunshine but cool in the shade, joined only by a friendly breeze. You take a deep breath, gaze up at the perfect blue sky and all your troubles melt away…
…until you realize that you won’t see weather like this for another nine months!
Now I’d been grappling with this thought while cooped up doing data entry all day. No distractions, just a computer screen and a deadline. It was a long, long day. My eyes were starting to glaze over by 3:30 at least. When the magic 5 finally hit, I wandered home feeling anxious and empty despite the summer beauty. To make things worse, the kitchen was a mess and I hadn’t cooked in days. It was emphatically not a good scene.
Luckily I didn’t have to think too hard about dinner; the food did the thinking for me. I had a number of veggies that were nearing the end of their shelf life: an eggplant, a couple small zucchini, a red onion, and some peppers. I had to use all this stuff up in one big culinary bang, and I didn’t want to bother frying in separate batches, so I dialed the oven up to 375. I love roasting vegetables, and I also love when circumstances force me to decide something that I would have wanted anyway!
I peeled the bulbous eggplant and cut the mold off of it (it was only a little bit!) then chopped it coarsely. That, plus thick zucchini rounds and chunks of red pepper, went into a baking dish with olive oil, kosher salt, and pepper. While those veggies were roasting away, I started up some rice. Then I chopped the red onion, a few cloves of garlic, a carrot and some celery. These went into a heated pot, along with more olive oil. I browned the veggies on medium-high, and turned my mind to the topic of spices.
I decided to go Mediterranean. It was a summer’s eve after all. So to the pot I added plenty of cumin and turmeric and a dash of cayenne. I stirred, then added a few glugs of red wine vinegar and about a half a cup of cheap merlot (from the box!) Then I turned the pot down to medium-low, added about a tablespoon of tomato paste for good measure. Now it was time for a generous helping of the SECRET INGREDIENT, which added a really lovely zing to the proceedings.
The secret ingredient (preserved lemon) is actually a lot less exciting than the ‘ALL CAPS’ would make it seem, but it does add a salty, zesty note that you won’t get from just adding lemon juice. Trust me.
Here’s how to make your very own preserved lemon:
I had made a jar of preserved lemon about six months ago, and it’s helped me lighten up many a boring pasta dish. In this case it provided a nice sour compliment to the spice of the cayenne.
I pulled out the veggies from the oven after about 45 minutes. Roasting zucchini brings out its unexpected butteriness, which went nicely with the sweet red peppers and the earthy eggplant. I stirred these into the pot on the stovetop, which by now had thickened into a spicy, lemony, veggie stew.
All in all, it was a vegetarian delight, served with rice. (Next time, couscous.) That and a glass of red wine easily brought me back to my cheery self. Huzzah!