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

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

chicken liver pate’

Liver. You either love it or hate it; there’s rarely an in-between. I grew up with parents who liked liver and onions so it was an occasional dinner of my youth and one I’ve always enjoyed. And it wasn’t just liver and onions we ate, but liverwurst and (American) braunschweiger, too. Ahh, what was better than a braunschweiger sandwich with raw onion slices piled onto Wonder bread?

When I started cooking on my own, chicken livers became my new favorite. They’re small and tender and cook pretty quickly. I love them sauteed with a bit of olive oil and garlic and sprinkled with salt and pepper. I totally lucked out that my husband likes liver too, so it’s an occasional treat for us. I say occasionally because liver is high in cholesterol, although it’s also a good source of iron and B vitamins. I’ve told you before I”m a big believer in enjoying a variety of foods and not overindulging in any of them. Variety is the spice of life, no?

Over the holidays it’s become a tradition for me to make chicken liver pate’. Smooth, creamy and packed with flavor, and yet I’m still pleasantly surprised at how many people actually enjoy it. It’s typically one of the first things to disappear from the array of appetizers.

After making it for so many years, I’ve discovered just how easy and flexible making liver pate’ can be. Sometimes I add a little bourbon. Sometimes I add a bit of heavy cream. Sometimes I change up the spices and herbs. The basic idea here is chicken livers cooked with garlic, onions or shallots, a bit of spices and/or herbs and a touch of water and/or liquid. Puree it all up, chill until firm and you have liver pate’.

As an interesting gardening side note, the fresh sage pictured here was all harvested from one of my sage plants that was buried under snow in the middle of December. Amazing, right?

lola rugula how to make homemade chicken liver pate

chicken liver pate with bourbon recipe

  • 1/2 stick butter
  • 2 large cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 medium white onion, chopped
  • 1 1/2 lbs chicken livers, drained
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 teaspoon minced fresh sage
  • 1/2 cup warm water
  • 1 tablespoon bourbon
  • 2 tablespoons heavy cream

Over medium heat, melt the butter in a large skillet. When it starts to foam, add onions and garlic and cook until they begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Add livers, herbs, spices and water and stir well.

Cook at a simmer for about  10-12 minutes, stirring often, until the livers are cooked through.

Add bourbon, stir well to incorporate and then remove from heat.

Add heavy cream and stir well. Let cool at least 5 minutes.

Place the entire mixture into a food processor and process until smooth and creamy. If the mixture seems too thick, add just a bit more water or cream.

Smooth the pate’ into a dish or ramekins and chill. I love this best when it’s made a day ahead of time…it’ gives the flavors time to meld. I use ramekins and this recipe makes about 3. It will also freeze well for a week or two, which I discovered by necessity one year when I made a double batch of it. Serve with a selection of crackers and/or small appetizer breads, such as rye and pumpernickel.

lola rugula chicken liver pate with bourbon recipe

Liver pate’ may not make a gorgeous picture to everyone, but to me and those who love it, it’s a beautiful thing.

If you want to make a particularly nice presentation, line your ramekins in plastic wrap and place some fresh sage or thyme leaves in the bottom of the dish.

lola rugula chicken liver pate recipe

Spoon the pate’ in over the leaves and then refrigerate. Before serving, pull the whole ramekin of pate’ out by pulling the plastic wrap out of the ramekin and then invert on a dish before serving. You’ll end up with a small batch of pate’ with a beautiful presentation of herbs on the top. Not necessary but it makes things pretty, if you so desire.

Never be afraid to try new things and never, ever, ever, be afraid to play around with your food.

Liver. Do you love it or despise it? I’d love to hear your comments. Here’s to a fabulous, amazing, delicious New Year. Cheers.

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

popped sorghum

If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, I’ll bet you’re more likely than most carnivores to have either had or least heard of sorghum. It’s somewhat of a “fringe” grain….not very mainstream but popular in certain circles.

According to the Whole Grains Council, the benefits of adding sorghum to your diet are many. Some of the benefits they list are:

  1. May inhibit cancer tumor growth
  2. May protect against diabetes and insulin resistance
  3. Safe for people with Celiac
  4. May help manage cholesterol
  5. High in antioxidants compared to other grains
  6. May help treat melanoma

Impressive, right? I’m an advocate of eating a wide variety of whole, healthy foods and if you’re not already eating it, this is a great addition to your diet. One of the best ways to enjoy sorghum is to simply pop it, just like popcorn. Crazy, right? Popcorn has a ton of benefits on its own, the biggest being polyphenols, which are a fantastic antioxidant. But today, we’re talking about sorghum…particularly popped sorghum. And if you’re looking for how to pop sorghum, well…here you go.

lola_rugula_how-to-pop-sorghum

How to pop sorghum

  • 1/4 cup sorghum
  • brown paper bag or heavy pan with a tight-fitting lid
Microwave method:
  • place sorghum into a small brown paper bag and fold the top down a couple of times. Place in microwave, fold side down, and cook on high for 3-4 minutes, until there’s at least 10 seconds between pops. Remove bag from microwave and let cool before opening.
Stovetop method:
  • Heat a heavy pan with a tight-fitting lid over medium heat. Add sorghum, replace lid and shake often, until there’s at least 10 seconds between pops.

Popped sorghum tastes very much like popcorn.  For an additional nutritional punch, toss with a bit of olive or coconut oil and  nutritional yeast flakes.

Shake up your food repertoire and give popped sorghum a try. Never be afraid to play with your food!