Back from my visit to my Minnesota home for about 12 hours, and I’m already making a mess in the kitchen–sounds pretty much right. What can I say…it’s my natural habitat. That doesn’t make me accident-proof, though, and I seem to have trouble specifically holding onto bottles of olive oil lately. I gave the floor at my parents’ house in MN a nice oiling (surprise!) and just tipped a good quarter cup onto my own countertop. Luckily the important thing–the pizza dough–is safe and sound. A friend is coming into town tonight from Florida, and normally we would just take it easy and head out for dinner, but Steve and I are pretty much spent on heavy restaurant food from our food-cation in MN. It literally just took me under 15 minutes (including spill cleanup) to prep the pizza dough for tonight, I have pesto in the freezer for sauce, I’m thinking we’ll throw on some artichokes, olives, and sausage, and serve it with a zucchini, fresh tomato, and dill salad that I’m going to try to copycat from the incredible Pizzeria Lola. You better believe I’ll be sharing it soon, even if I am a little late on prime tomato season.
I know this time of year is back-to-school for many of you. I’ve noticed that it feels really similar to new year’s, both in the back-to-routine department and the feeling of a fresh start after wrapping up a busy but fun season. And in this case, there aren’t three months of snow storms left to look forward to! So a slightly better version of new year’s. If you’re running around trying to keep school, homework, sports, and other activities straight or if, like me, you’re evaluating your focus and putting lots of effort into your personal goals (or both!), you might need some quick dinners to keep you satisfied, but that also require minimal time in the kitchen.
I’m not going to lie to you and tell you this is a 15, or even 30, minute meal. That’s not exactly what I’m about. When all is said and done, it’s around 45 minutes. It is quite conducive to make-ahead options, though. Cook the rice and do the mincing and chopping up to a few days in advance to reduce cooking time to around 20 minutes. I don’t think that’s too much to ask, especially if you’re concerned about using almost entirely unprocessed ingredients to feed yourself or your family a satisfying, all-veggie (and gluten-free) dinner from scratch that rivals any Chinese takeout. Takeout that would probably take 45 minutes to arrive anyway.
The eggplant and chard combination randomly popped into my head in preparation for planning easier meals as I packed for my trip to MN. I like the veggie combo for a lot of reasons. First, I’m obsessed with eggplant lately. Eggplant steak, roasted eggplant, charred eggplant–it’s such a meaty vegetable, filling regardless of the presence of meat on the table. Second, the earthy, dark colors remind me of cooler fall days to come. Third, chard, unlike spinach, is sturdy enough to stand up to stir frying, maintaining a lot of volume, especially when the often discarded stems are kept in the dish. They may seem unappetizing, but when cooked a little longer than the other veggies, they break down pretty quickly and slightly resemble cooked celery. Unless you don’t like cooked celery, then they don’t resemble it at all.
One big eggplant and one big bunch of chard easily provide four servings of this dinner when accompanied by rice. As you might have noticed, a lot of my recipes don’t involve meat, including this one. I’m not a strict vegetarian, but the biggest reasons I often eat meatless is because I just feel better when I do, and I think it’s more sustainable than the current system of livestock farming. Another perk, though, is that meatless grocery shopping can be super budget friendly, so throwing in one or two veg-only dinners a week may bring down your weekly grocery bill.
- 1 ½ C dry jasmine rice (or other long grain rice)
- 1 large eggplant (1 to 1.5 lbs.), cut into ¾” cubes with skin on (about 5 C cubed)
- Large bunch Swiss chard (green or rainbow, about 1.5 lbs.)
- 2 T minced garlic
- 1 T minced ginger
- ½ large jalapeno, stemmed, seeded, deveined; minced
- 3 large scallions, sliced diagonally ¼” thick (white and green parts)
- 2 T toasted sesame oil (such as Trader Joe’s)
- 2 t cornstarch
- 1 lime (plus a second for garnish, optional)
- 2 T soy sauce or Tamari (for gluten free)
- 1.5 T vegetable oil
- Optional garnishes: cilantro; roasted peanuts or cashews; sesame seeds
- In a medium saucepan, combine rice with 2 ¼ cups water and a pinch of salt. Bring to a boil, then cover and reduce heat to a simmer (low to medium-low heat) for ten minutes. Shake the pan slightly to hear if any unabsorbed water sloshes. When water is absorbed, turn off heat, fluff rice with a fork, and cover to keep warm. (Note: jasmine rice cooks quickly and it’s difficult to predict the exact cooking time. A saucepan with a clear lid would really come in handy, if you have one!)
- In a small bowl or liquid measuring cup, whisk together a tablespoon of sesame oil, cornstarch, juice of one lime, and soy sauce. Set aside.
- Wash the chard and cut the leaves from the stems. Cut the stems into two inch pieces and keep separate. Roughly chop the leaves.
- In a wok or large skillet (I don’t use nonstick), heat remaining tablespoon sesame oil and the vegetable oil over high heat. Once hot, add the garlic, ginger, and jalapeno pepper and cook for about 30 seconds to infuse the oil. Add the chard stems and cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until just beginning to soften. Add the eggplant cubes and cook for 3 to 4 minutes until they soften but are not completely cooked. Add the chard (the pan may be a little full, which is okay) and a couple tablespoons of water. Cook, stirring, until the chard starts to wilt. If your skillet has a cover, put it on for a minute or two to speed the process by steaming the vegetables. Stir the sauce mixture to incorporate any settled cornstarch, then add to the pan and bring to a simmer. Decrease the heat to low to continue to heat and thicken the sauce, stirring to coat the vegetables.
- Serve stir fried vegetables over jasmine rice with extra soy sauce and garnishes, if using.