Grilled Mediterranean Portobello Burgers

It seems most children enter a phase of self-awareness, when they start to be conscious of their fashion, friends, toys, homes, and general appearance.

When I was little, I was embarrassed by our family’s barbeque grill.

The dingy charcoal grill had aluminum foil covering the gaping hole at the bottom of charcoal basin, and a bottle opener held in place some other broken fixture. My friends had gleaming, stainless steel, propane-fueled grills. My parents always insisted that “charcoal grills taste better.” For a child with just-blooming taste buds, this did not matter. Our grill looked like crap.

Over the years, our family replaced the barbeque with a new charcoal grill, though the appliance stores seem to carry fewer charcoal grills and more and more propane grills. My tastes evolved, and I came to realize that charcoal does actually taste better (despite whatever carcinogens we inhale by this mode of cooking). More importantly, I realized that our dilapidated grill was better than the fancy-schmancy grills because it had a story. That grill was ours. It was special. It was our family’s version of the poor-little-scrawny-Christmas-tree-that-nobody-wants. Aluminum foil and bottle opener included.

I no longer eat Nathan’s hot dogs, a staple to my diet in the summer when I was little, nor do I eat barbeque chicken or grilled Italian sausage. Instead, I have found meatless ways to enjoy our old-school grilling methods. Whether it be grilled bruschetta or vegetable kabobs, the taste of charcoal-grilled foods will always transport me home.

Below is one of my favorite recipes for Grilled Mediterranean Portobello Burgers, which is more like a sandwich since I serve it between two pieces of fresh ciabatta bread. Garlicky, meaty, and yet light, this meal has become a staple when grilling.

Adapted from: Eating Well

1 clove garlic, minced

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided

4 portobello mushroom caps, stems and gills removed

4 large slices ciabatta bread

1/2 cup sliced jarred roasted red peppers

1/2 cup chopped tomato

1/4 cup feta cheese

1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

2 cups romaine lettuce

Mash garlic and salt on a cutting board with the side of a knife until it’s a smooth paste. Mix the paste with 2 tablespoon oil in a small dish. Lightly brush the oil mixture over portobellos and then on one side of each slice of bread.

Combine red peppers, tomato, feta, vinegar, oregano and the remaining 1 tablespoon oil in a medium bowl.

Grill the mushroom caps until tender, about 4 minutes per side; grill the bread until crisp, about 1 minute per side.

Toss salad greens with the red pepper mixture. Place the grilled mushrooms top-side down on 4 half-slices of the bread. Top with the salad mixture and the remaining bread.







De Medici, Bruges

Here’s another post about the glorious subject of food poisoning.

Last summer, I traveled to London with my parents where we Indian-restaurant-hopped. This would be my family’s version of bar hopping. We ate not one, not two, but three Indian meals in a row. I love Indian food, with all of its comforting deep-fried pakoras and hearty baingan bhartha. However, three meals really knocked my body out. Not in a sitting-on-the-toilet sense, but rather a nasty-food-poisoning sense. I spent the next twenty-four hours in bed trying to keep down some British biscuits. Soon after this troubling Indian food experience, we managed to take a train from London to Bruges, Belgium. I couldn’t stomach much, but we were served a most impressive meal aboard the train. Airlines could learn a lot from this:

When we arrived in Bruges, the weather was dreary so we stopped in a quaint restaurant, De Medici. This tea room and “sorbetiere” was small, cozy, and inviting. Oh, and it’s not Indian food. I ordered an herbal tea:

They served our party a dish of cured ham and olives, compliments of the house. While I don’t eat meat and my mother and I both don’t like olives, my father enjoyed this tremendously, and just the thought of a little amuse-bouche was a nice touch.

I ordered a simple mozzarella and tomato sandwich, something which my stomach could handle. Drizzled with balsamic vinegar and served with a side salad with a hard-boiled egg, the plate exceeded my expectations. De Medici is the perfect cure for an Indian food-eating marathon.

Couscous Therapy

I remember vaguely the first time I ate couscous. I was about nine years old, at an African restaurant in Paris. It involved a lot of eating with your hands. Aside from that, the only part I remember is that my mother got food poisoning.

Subconsciously, I believe this left a negative association on me towards couscous for many years. But don’t be too concerned, I have been rehabilitated to savor the taste of the delicious grain.

The most common types of couscous are Moroccan and Israeli, Moroccan being the smaller of the two grains. Israeli couscous can take longer to cook, but it holds sauces better and makes great leftovers that are not soggy. Seeing as leftovers are the basis of my sustenance at school, I figured I’d try out an Israeli Couscous and Chickpea Salad.

I always am shocked when I make something edible. I make enough mistakes in the kitchen, whether it be that time in 3rd grade when I forgot vanilla extract in my cookies, or when I set up a milkshake stand on the side of the road, selling watered down ice cream slush. Once I made homemade pudding with cinnamon and spices that tasted like lawnmower clippings. And so I am amazed every time when a dish is, well, good.

This dish is simple, easy, and once again, oven-free. I’m looking forward to the leftovers tremendously, particularly after the flavors of feta, tomatoes, basil and citrus saturate overnight.

Israeli Couscous and Chickpea Salad

Makes a lot

3 cups couscous

1/2 a basket of cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 medium cucumber, peeled, quartered

1 can cooked chickpeas

1 lemon, cut in half

1 lime, cut in half

extra-virgin olive oil

salt, to taste

ground pepper, to taste

1/3 cup basil, chopped

1/3 cup feta


Cook couscous according to package directions. Toss with tomatoes, cucumbers, and chickpeas in a bowl. Squeeze the lemon and lime into the bowl. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. (I added more salt at the end, too.) Mix in chopped basil and feta.

Simplicity, thanks to my grandmother

I remember when I was little and my grandmother was cooking kielbasa in my kitchen. I ran outside as if the house were on fire, screaming that the smell was disgusting. (Further proof that I never ate much meat prior to my meatless days.) But aside from this moment of intense aroma, my grandmother has some culinary habits that have been passed down to me.

My grandmother likes to compartmentalize her food. She doesn’t eat rice mixed with her protein and veggies, but rather she likes to enjoy the different tastes of the meal by having her protein, veggies, carbohydrates separated. I suppose this isn’t such a strange concept, but I have realized that I enjoy my food in the same way. Don’t hand me a bowl of rice covered in satay sauce and veggies. I’d rather enjoy everything on its own, savor the tastes in the amounts that I would like.

Despite that she doesn’t eat very spicy foods or onions (whereas I will eat raw onions on command, particularly if there is ketchup around), she makes simple and delicious food. My mom’s greek salad is my grandmother’s recipe, with just a lemon and oil dressing over lettuce, tomatoes, feta, cucumbers and green onions.

My grandmother told me that when she was growing up in Egypt, she would just slice a cucumber, drizzle some lemon juice and add a pinch of salt and pepper. And to this day, this is my favorite snack or side salad. There is something to be said about the simplicity of food.


Smoked Mozzarella and Sundried Tomato Ravioli

I have an unreasonable obsession with farmers’ markets. I enjoy the good food, colorful produce, free samples, people-watching, and knowledge that is spread. The past few days of rain wiped out the strawberry crops. And while that is unfortunate, it provides a good lesson of following mother nature and determining what you eat based on what is in the garden. So I bought some tomatoes.

And some Sundried Tomato and Smoked Mozzarella Ravioli from Nella Pasta. Made in Jamaica Plain, MA, this pasta was phenomenal. The two women owners suggest serving the pasta with just a bit of butter or extra virgin olive oil. The pasta cooks up in mere minutes, so this is the perfect solution for a scrumptious, quick meal. I ended up making a small side of Homemade No-Oil No-Nut Basil Pesto. My dad had a baked chicken breast as well, and I served a simple cucumber, tomato, onion salad with vinegar.

I made half of the recipe for Homemade No-Oil No-Nut Basil Pesto because I only needed a small amount to serve next to the pasta. Pesto without pine nuts is a different taste, with more emphasis on the basil flavor. This was garlicky and full of basil, a perfect complement to the pasta. I suppose a store bought pesto would be tasty next to the pasta, but fresh basil is just so satisfying.

When I volunteered at the farmers’ market, I learned about the oxidation of basil leaves in pesto. If your pesto looks dark, as mine did, it can be attributed to both the tomatoes and also oxidation. Over time as the pesto sits in your refrigerator, the color will deepen. With a good stir, you should see more green appear. This is a good sign of how fresh your pesto is: if your store bought pesto takes a while to darken, there may be additives.

1/2 cup fresh basil, well-packed

1/2 cup chopped tomatoes

1 clove garlic, minced

pinch of salt

1/8-1/4 cup Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, grated

In a small processor, blend all ingredients including the cheese, which can be added to your preference. Blend until smooth. Keep refrigerated.

How My Conscience Failed Me: Heirloom Tomato Panzanella

Joining the stay-at-home moms in yoga pants and the retired couples who eat organically, I enjoy my trips to Whole Foods. Fact: I spend more at the store than I would at at a typical grocery store. Fiction: the food I purchase is healthier than the food at a typical grocery store. Fact: there are always good free samples.

On a recent trip to Whole Foods, I spotted some heirloom tomatoes that looked juicy and fresh. They probably weren’t as fresh as I assumed, seeing as they were grown in Mexico. However, sometimes when I see something that I want to eat, my conscience about eating locally gets thrown out the window. Oops.

This is why my conscience failed me:

I threw together a panzanella salad for dinner using these yummy fruits. My Dad and I wanted something light, and this hit the spot.

Heirloom Tomato Panzanella Salad

Stale bread (I used half of a baguette)

2 tbs. Red Wine Vinegar

2-3 tbs. Olive Oil

1 clove garlic, minced

3 Heirloom Tomatoes, chopped

1 Cucumber, Diced

A handful of fresh basil, chopped

Sea salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

Optional: fresh Mozzarella Cheese, sliced

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Slice the stale bread into cubes. Place cubes in a Ziploc bag and drizzle olive oil into bag. Shake the bag so that the olive oil spreads onto the bread. On a baking sheet, lay the oiled bread and sprinkle with sea salt. Bake the bread for approximately 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted.

In a small dish, whisk the vinegar, oil and minced garlic together.

In a large bowl, mix chopped tomatoes and cucumber together. Add toasted bread. Pour the oil and vinegar dressing onto the salad. Garnish with chopped basil leaves, and sprinkle salt and pepper to taste. Serve at room temperature.

Café Luna, Cambridge, MA

After an exhilarating Bruins parade, my friends and I trekked across the bridge to Cambridge where we stopped for lunch at Café Luna. The café is small, but appeared to be a popular spot for Saturday brunch, which the manager told us is what the café is known for. We opted for the lunch menu, seeing as we had woken up early and wanted something refreshing in the summer heat. I ordered a Greek salad, which was served in a funky huge wooden bowl with two slices of Iggy’s baguette. The salad certainly hit the spot.

Strawberry Season

Fresh, local strawberries are unbeatable. These tasted like candy, and my Dad actually thought someone had added sweetener. Nope, just Mother Nature at her finest.

For dinner, I made Couscous with Artichokes, Sun-dried Tomatoes, and Feta. As far as grains go, couscous is one of the healthiest options. With more vitamins than pasta, this semolina-related grain is a smart choice for a light supper. I intended to put spinach in the dish, but unfortunately my mom cleaned out the fridge, including my spinach, minutes before I started cooking. I substituted with cucumbers, though spinach probably would make for better leftovers.

Boil 1 1/4 cups of water with a teaspoon or two of olive oil. Stir in couscous and remove from heat. Let the couscous sit for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. (Be sure to check the couscous packaging for any specific cooking notes)

Drain a can of sun-dried tomatoes, then place the tomatoes in a small microwaveable bowl. Submerge the tomatoes in water and heat in the microwave for 3 minutes. Cover the tomatoes for 5 to 10 minutes. Drain and chop.

Stir the tomatoes with couscous, add marinated artichoke hearts with the juice from the jar. Add spinach or cucumbers. Garnish with feta cheese crumbles and black pepper.