lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

ajvar recipe

One of the beautiful things about growing your own vegetables is that you’re able to grow so many more varieties than what you can find at the supermarket.  Farmer’s markets offer a better variety than the stores but even then, your selection can be limited. One of my favorite places to discover new vegetables is Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds. They always have an incredible variety of heirloom veggies and I’ve had very good results with most of their seeds.

This year, I discovered ajvarski peppers which, after a bit of online searching, appear to be bulls horn peppers, a variety of peppers traditionally used in making ajvar (pronounced AY-vahr).

lola rugula ajvar peppers

Ajvar is a Serbian roasted red pepper sauce (I read where some call it Serbian Salsa).  Basically, it’s a roasted red pepper sauce with eggplant, garlic, vinegar, and oil added. It’s great on fresh bread, toasted bread and crackers, so it’s an easy appetizer recipe to make.

 I started my peppers inside in February and they were about 10-inch tall plants when they went into my garden in early May. They’ve done well in my home garden, taking a while to turn red as most colored peppers do but they’re reaching their stride here in zone 5 in September.  I currently have multiple peppers turning red on my plants, even though they were a bit slow-going at first.

These are gorgeous peppers with a thick skin and fragrant smell, especially when roasting. I’m not exaggerating on this – these are really, really fragrant peppers.

lola rugula ajvar bulls horn peppers

If you want to speed up the ripening of colored peppers, simply put them in a paper bag with a few ripe tomatoes and seal the bag with a clip. Leave at room temperature until fully ripened. Ideally, the peppers should be starting to turn already and then they’ll take anywhere from 3 to 7 days to ripen. Never refrigerate them until they’re ripe – refrigeration will stop the ripening process immediately. I have great luck with quick-ripening my peppers this way. If you’re a home gardener, you know how long it can take (and how much plant energy it takes) to ripen peppers on the plant.

I admit my ajvar here is a small batch recipe, as I only had 3 peppers to start and make this with. As it turned out though, 3 peppers were just enough to make a good-sized appetizer plate for Sunday football for two. This recipe made enough ajvar to fully pack one ramekin and help us devour a small loaf of French bread. 🙂 In all, this makes about 1 healthy cup of ajvar.

lola rugula ajvar

homemade ajvar recipe

  • 3 red bullhorn or bell peppers
  • 1/3 large eggplant, cut in half
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, gently smashed
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + 1 tablespoon for brushing eggplant
  • 4 oz. feta cheese
  • 1 small loaf French bread, sliced (I toasted mine)

Preheat broiler. Place peppers and eggplant on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Brush the eggplant on both sides with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Broil, turning occasionally until peppers and eggplant are well charred on all sides. The eggplant will likely cook the fastest and, if so, remove it to a plate and let cool until the peppers are done cooking.

When the peppers are well charred, use a pair of tongs to pop them into a paper bag, roll the bag to seal and let the peppers rest at least 10 minutes. What this does is steams the skins from the peppers, making the skins easier to remove. Remove the skins, stems, and seeds and discard. (I add mine to our compost bin)

In the meantime, scoop out the innards of the eggplant and place it in a food processor. Discard (or compost) the skin.

Add the garlic, vinegar and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the processor.

Add the peeled peppers.

Pulse until well-blended but still a bit coarse – it should still have a little texture to it. If too dry, add more olive oil until a smooth, spreadable mixture is formed.

Serve with feta cheese and fresh or toasted bread (or crackers).

lola rugula ajvar 2

This is so, so good! Very garlicky and the vinegar adds a brightness and tang to it, while the olive oil smooths it all out.

If red bell peppers are all you can find, by all means, use them. You can also add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes if you want a little spice to your ajvar.

Of course, you can also char the peppers and eggplant on the grill; whichever method is easiest and most convenient for you.

There’s something just so rustic and satisfying about schmearing roasted deliciousness on bread and devouring it. Ajvar does not disappoint. Make yourself a batch and dig in.

Enjoy!

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

grilled butterflied leg of lamb

I hope everyone had a nice Labor Day weekend. I, unfortunately, was not feeling my best at all over the long holiday weekend, as I’ve come down with some sort of summer flu bug which seems to be getting worse instead of better as the days pass. I was able to get some things done and still relax and attempt to recuperate a bit but I’ll admit it’s been slow-going. I had this wonderful butterflied leg of lamb planned for the grill this holiday and still pulled it off beautifully somehow, even with as rotten as I’ve been feeling.

We are lamb lovers in my house and easy lamb recipes are one of my specialties. If you follow my blog, you know I’m not big on complicated dishes that require hours of preparation, 50 million pans and a bunch of obscure ingredients. Oh, I have my moments where things get a little more involved but honestly, mostly we just want to eat great food that doesn’t take a degree to prepare, right?

My Lamb and Oregano Shoulder Chops recipe is one of my most popular recipes on Pinterest and that’s because it’s easy and delicious. Oh, and lamb shoulder chops are cheap compared to other cuts of lamb, so….bonus.

I’ve also shared my Grilled Lamb Loin Chops with Oregano, Mint and Lemon recipe, which is always an easy lamb recipe for the grill. Loin chops are on the more expensive side but they’re great if you’re looking for a recipe for a  special occasion or maybe a romantic dinner.

The beauty of butterflied leg of lamb is that it’s a big cut of meat that’s been removed from the bone and splayed out into a cut that’s easy and fast to grill. I was lucky enough this time to find a roast that weighed in at only 2.5 lbs. but this cut typically comes in around 3-5 lbs. When all’s said and done though, you will never go wrong with smothering any cut of lamb with garlic, herbs, oil and a bit of lemon juice or vinegar. If you’re looking for ways to reduce the “gaminess” in lamb, lemon and/or vinegar is your friend. 

Anyway, enough with me blathering on…let’s get to the butterflied leg of lamb on the grill, shall we?

lola rugula grilled butterflied leg of lamb

grilled butterflied leg of lamb with garlic and herbs recipe

  • 10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2.5 lb butterflied leg of lamb, patted dry and excess fat removed. I always keep a thin layer of fat on the roast, to prevent it from drying out while cooking.

In a bowl, mix everything except the lamb together and mash together well. Coat the lamb well on both sides with the marinade and place lamb in a  large dish. Spoon any remaining marinade over the lamb, cover well, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Remove lamb roast from refrigerator about 30 minutes before grilling.

Preheat grill to 425° for at least 15 minutes.

Place lamb roast on the grill, fat side down. Cover grill and cook for about 15 minutes. Flip lamb and cook for another 10 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 130° for medium to medium rare. Remove from grill, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

I have to confess this one got away from me due to my not feeling well and a slower than normal reaction time, so it was at 135° before I caught it and removed it from the grill. It was just a bit more done than we typically like, but the garlicky-herb goodness made up for it.

lola rugula butterflied leg of lamb grilled

Because of the way this cut is typically done, there will be thinner pieces that cook more quickly and thicker pieces that cook more slowly. I like to temp in the thickest part of the cut and adjust my time accordingly.  You can see examples of how the doneness can vary depending on the thicknesses in the photo above.

The garlic, fresh herbs and lemon are all natural accompianments to lamb, so you can’t go wrong with any of them. Add in the beauftiful smokey char you get from cooking on the grill and I promise that your friends and family will love this.

And, if you’re wondering what to make with any leftover lamb you might have, my Easy Lamb Stew recipe is your answer.

lola rugula grilled butterflied leg of lamb with garlic and herbs

Are you a fan of lamb? What’s your favorite cut and way to prepare it?

I’d love to hear what was on your Labor Day Weekend menu!

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

charred shishito peppers

If you’re a home gardener, shishito peppers are an easy-to-grow, heavily-producing plant that bears fruit earlier than a lot of other types of peppers. These peppers are fast growers too; two plants easily produce about 10-20 peppers every week or so during peak growing season.

Because these aren’t easy plants to find, I start seeds indoors, typically in mid-February. This gives me about a 6-inch plant to put into the ground come early May, which jump starts the growing season here in zone 5 Northern Illinois.

If you’re not much into growing your own peppers but lucky enough to come across these delights at your grocery store or farmer’s market, I suggest you scoop some up. These are mild peppers packed with great flavor. People will tell you that every so many of these peppers are hot and that’s true but “hot” here is not anywhere near a jalapeno. Yes, some peppers have more heat than others but it’s not anywhere near an unbearable or uncomfortable heat, at least in my experience.

lola rugula how to grow shishito peppers

One of the easiest and most typical ways to cook these peppers is to roast them or char them with a drizzle of oil and some coarse kosher or sea salt.  This method brings out their flavor and makes it easy to eat a couple of handfuls in one sitting.

You can accomplish cooking them this way in a number of ways, via a hot grill, a hot, heavy skillet or under a broiler. All you’re looking to do is char the skins a bit and give them a beautiful roasted flavor. If your peppers are large enough, you can actually place them directly on the grill, just keep a close eye on them. You can char them a little or you can char them a lot but, either way, I think you’ll like the end result.

lola rugula charred shishito peppers (2)

All you need to make these are:

  • Shishito peppers
  • Olive oil
  • Coarse kosher or sea salt

When I cook these on the grill, I toss them in a small pan or sheet of foil with the olive oil and salt and spread out into a single layer. Place the pan on a preheated grill and cook for about 7-10 minutes, tossing them around occasionally, until they’re browned a bit on all sides. Use this same method if cooking under a broiler.

lola rugula grilled shishito peppers

To cook them on the stovetop, heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes. Add oil and heat the oil for a minute or so – do not let the oil become smoking hot.

Add peppers in a single layer and let brown slightly on one side then, using a pair of tongs, flip them over and let brown on the other side.

lola rugula how to cook shishito peppers

These are perfect for cookouts and parties and are always a huge hit. The bonus is that there isn’t a simpler dish to make.

To really kick them up a notch, toss in some minced garlic and shallots before cooking; I promise you won’t be disappointed.

If you’ve ever seen these and wondered how to cook shishito peppers, now you know how easy it is. Now get out there and enjoy your summer while it lasts.

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

asian style steak and veggie rolls

I had steak and vegetable rolls similar to this many moons ago and finally decided to make them myself. The steak is sliced thin, pounded thinner, then marinated and stuffed with barely-cooked veggies that add a flavorful, nutritional punch. These work as an appetizer or a meal and all of the work is in the prep. They’re a little time-consuming to put together but once there, these cook in under 5 minutes.

You don’t want to skimp out on the meat for these – I use Black Angus Sirloin and it’s worth it, even if it makes these more of a “special occasion” treat than an every day treat. These 2 steaks were 1 inch,  3/4 of a pound and well-marbled.

lola_asian_steak_and_veggie_rolls_recipe_1

Beef (and veggies!)…It’s what’s for dinner.

The steaks here have been trimmed of excess fat and frozen for 40 minutes, making them ready for easy and consistent slicing. When I slice them, I slice the steak on the diagonal at an angle.

lola_asian_steak_and_veggie_rolls_recipe_3

The steaks are the easy part of this. The vegetables require a bit more effort.

lola_asian_steak_and_veggie_rolls_recipe_2

Julienne the veggies into about 2-3 inch long strips.  I don’t get overly worked up about the length, as long as they’re approximate. Lifes’ too short to go crazy over julienned veggies. Besides, I like them to look a little crazy sticking out of my rolls. 🙂

The best way to prepare these – at least for me – is to get the meat sliced and marinating and the veggies cleaned and cut the day before making them. This way, everything is ready to go and throwing them together and cooking them takes me less than 30 minutes.

Are you ready to put together some awesome steak and veggie rolls? Okay…let’s do this thing.

lola_asian_steak_and_veggie_rolls_recipe_5

asian-style steak and vegetable rolls recipe

Marinade

For the marinade, I use my basic marinade recipe, with a few additions, to add some Asian flair.

  • 1/2 cup oil – I typically use olive oil (+ 2 tablespoons for cooking rolls)
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (+ 1-2 tablespoons for cooking rolls)
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 thinly sliced scallions
  • 1 teaspoon white miso paste
Prepare the Beef:
  • 2 sirloin steaks, about 1 inch thick and 3/4 pounds each, frozen for 40 minutes and sliced thinly on the diagonal (see photo above)
  • When steaks are sliced, pound them on both sides until thin
  • Place beef slices in a shallow dish and cover with marinade. Cover dish and marinate for anywhere from 4 to 12 hours.
Prepare the Veggies:
  • 8 asparagus spears, julienned
  • 8 scallions, whites and greens, julienned
  • 8 small sweet peppers, julienned
  • 10 baby carrots, julienned

Quantities are approximate and attributed to what I actually had on hand when recording it for this post. Obviously, if you’re using regular bell peppers, it will only take 1 or 2, the same with regular size carrots. For the record, I also added some fresh pea tendrils to some of this batch, but hey…I like to play with my food.

To Make the rolls:
  • Meat
  • Veggies
  • Toothpicks
  • 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced

Remove the beef slices from the marinade and blot well well with paper towels. Set aside.

In a heavy pan or grill pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and some minced garlic over medium-high heat. Add julienned vegetables, keeping them in groups, until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. I prefer my peppers and carrots cooked a minute or so longer and my onions cooked about a minute less…adjust to your preference. Set aside.

Place a few pieces of each veggie on the end of a slice of beef and roll, securing with a toothpick. Repeat with remaining beef slices and vegetables. Now we’re going to cook our rolls.

Heat another tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat and saute 1/2 batch of rolls for about 2 minutes on each side. Repeat with 2nd batch. Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds and sliced scallions.

lola_asian_steak_and_veggie_rolls_recipe_4

This made about 35 rolls for me, There are so many veggies that will work in these – you should use whatever you have on hand and truly love. Broccoli or broccolini, mushrooms (especially shiitake or enoki), baby leeks, kohlrabi, cabbage, greens, and even eggplant will all work. Think of the veggies you love and put them to work here. Fresh cilantro or parsley…Yes! Add them. Greens, such as kale, pea tendrils or arugula (my favorite!) – please add them.

I’d love to hear your variations on these – I’ve had a lot of fun playing with different variations.

Do you play with your food? I hope so. Enjoy!

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

the ultimate basic marinade

This is a marinade that has served me well time and time again. It’s great on beef, pork, salmon, tuna, and even lamb chops. It’s a great starter marinade recipe, which you can customize to your tastes or recipe if desired.

lola_rugula_perfect_easy_marinade_for_beef_portk_lamb_salmon

  • 1/2 cup oil – I typically use olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 thinly sliced scallions
  • 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk well. Marinating time depends on your cut of protein – salmon and tuna only need an hour at most, whereas lamb, pork and beef can be marinated for just a couple or hours or overnight. The longer the marinade, the stronger the flavor.

The beauty of this marinade is that you can make a ton of customizations to it. Want to go more Asian? Add 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, a tablespoon of minced ginger and a teaspoon of sesame oil. If you have sesame seeds, add a teaspoon of those, too. A teaspoon of miso paste works great in this, too (although you’ll want to omit the salt if you add miso)

Don’t have soy sauce? Substitute Worcestershire sauce.

Don’t have balsamic vinegar? Try red wine. rice or white balsamic vinegar, for a lighter flavor.

Want to kick the heat up a bit? Add a bit of sriracha, crushed red pepper flakes or hot chile paste to taste.

Got some fresh limes, lemons or oranges? Add a tablespoon of fresh citrus juice to really brighten this up.

Want fresh herbs? Add parsley, cilantro, rosemary….use your imagination.

I’ve used the basis of this marinade in a lot of recipes. It’s particularly good on flank and skirt steak, salmon, chicken breasts and thighs, and lamb chops. It even works great on veggies, especially on the grill.

If you’re looking for an easy marinade recipe that you can customize and call your own, this is it. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Remember what I always say: never, ever be afraid to play with your food.

Happy Sunday, everyone! Enjoy.

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

easy lamb recipes

Quite often I am awed and inspired by what my followers deem my most popular recipes because, quite often, they are not the recipes (nor the accompanying photos) that I aspire to be popular. A few people take the time to comment here on my site but many more share my recipes over and over again, particularly on Pinterest. If you’ve ever searched Pinterest for lamb recipes, chances are good you’ve seen one of mine. The fact that people search for how to cook lamb does not surprise me – a lot of people aren’t really comfortable preparing it.

My first attempt at cooking lamb many (many) moons ago went horribly wrong. It was an attempt to cook some sort of thin lamb chops – probably blade or shoulder chops – which seemed simple enough until I cooked them to an angel hair’s breath of dryness and toughness. They were flavorless and disappointing, to say the least. I swore I’d never make lamb again.

Flash forward just a year or two after that to me enjoying an Easter celebration in Connecticut, where I lived at the time. A good friend there, as luck would have it, is Greek. Her mother had a huge lamb roast cooking in the oven that day and the smell was enough to make me drop to my knees and send up a prayer. Rubbed with garlic, oil and spices and slow roasted to medium rare, I realized that I had no idea the real beauty of lamb or its possibilities.

So, how do you cook lamb shoulder or blade chops? These cuts are less expensive than a loin cut, so ideally you should involve a marinade and then a quick cook at a moderate to high temperature. The marinade helps break down the toughness of cut but the final cook should be fast and simple. You can also braise these (brown and then simmer slowly in liquid) but watch them closely so as not to overcook. Larger cuts of lamb shoulder can be braised for longer.

Here’s the photo of my most popular lamb recipe on Pinterest:

lemon oregano lamb shoulder chops recipe lola rugula

Not an incredibly staged photo, is it? But it’s still quite popular and I believe that’s because of its simplicity and, yes, it’s lack of photographic staging. We all like recipes that are somewhat simple and approachable and this easy lamb recipe is both. Lamb shoulder chops also make this recipe affordable, which we can all appreciate. What’s better than lamb with garlic, lemon, and oregano? Not much, I tell you.

Mint is also a traditional herb for lamb and once you’ve tasted the pairing you’ll understand why. My second most popular lamb recipe is lamb loin chops on the grill, made with mint, oregano and lemon:

lola rugula grilled lamb loin chops with garlic, oregano and mint recipeLoin chops are a more pricey cut of lamb but they don’t require marinating and they’re like any good loin chop – lean and tender.

One day I’ll feature my leg of lamb recipe but I can tell you this: it involves lots of herbs, olive oil and garlic, just like that long ago Easter lamb. I have, however, shared what I love to do with my leftover leg of lamb and that’s to make lamb stew.

easy lamb stew recipe

For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than a big bowl of this, along with a good book and a glass of red wine. A little crusty bread doesn’t hurt either.

I hope that if you’ve had a failed attempt at cooking lamb like I have, you’ll be willing to try these and give it another go. I promise you that lamb can be easy and flavorful with just a little bit of effort.

Happy spring everyone!