Eggplant Parmesan

This time of year, while we wait for the abundance of field crops to start lining the shelves of our vendors’ stalls, greenhouse tomatoes and cucumbers really take the ‘local’ spotlight. For this recipe, a lesser known, but equally exciting locally grown vegetable – the eggplant – is finally getting a turn to be the star of the show! (These beauties can be picked up at Gull Valley Greenhouses.)

Many people view the eggplant as some sort of exotic ingredient, but it’s actually quite easy to prepare and cook in a number of ways! Eggplant parmesan is a wonderful way to start cooking with eggplant, and a great way to sneak in another vegetarian option to your menu at home.

Market Sourced Ingredients:

2 medium eggplants, sliced ½ inch thick from Gull Valley Greenhouses

1 ½ cups panko crumbs from Blu Seafood

½ cup milk from Blush Lane

2 eggs from Blush Lane

3 cups tomato sauce from Gull Valley Greenhouses

2 cups mozzarella, shredded from Sylvan Star Cheese

1 cup parmesan, grated from Sylvan Star Cheese

Fresh basil, chopped for garnish from Gull Valley Greenhouses

eggplant ingredientsOther Ingredients:

2 tbsp kosher salt

Vegetable oil for frying

Method:

Before you do anything else, you need to slice your eggplants up; salt both sides of the slices and let them sit in a colander in the sink for at least 30 minutes. This will draw out extra moisture and bitterness.

eggplants

When you’re ready to get cooking, pat the slices dry on a piece of paper towel to remove excess salt.

Sprinkle the breadcrumbs into a shallow dish; whisk the milk and eggs together in another dish.

Taking the slices one at a time, dip the eggplant into the milk and egg mixture, coating both sides, and then dip it into the breadcrumbs. Shake off any excess. Set aside on a tray and repeat for all the slices.

process collage

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a pan over medium high heat and add a generous dollop of oil. When it’s nice and hot, add one layer of eggplant slices to the pan, flipping part way to cook both sides. Remove the slices when they are golden brown and place on a paper towel lined plate. Repeat this step until all the eggplant has been cooked.

Now it’s time to put everything together in a good sized casserole dish. Coat the bottom of the casserole dish with about 1 cup of tomato sauce. Add a layer of eggplant slices. Sprinkle a layer of mozzarella and parmesan on top. Repeat the layers until you run out of ingredients (about 3 layers). Make sure the top layer of cheese is generous!

Cook for about 25 minutes in the oven. When it’s almost done, you may want to (carefully) switch to the broiler to brown the cheese. When the cheese is brown and bubbling to your approval, remove from the oven. Sprinkle the basil over top, and dig in!

Eggplant (6)

While frying the eggplant before adding it to the dish can take a bit of time – it is totally worth it! This dish is delicious right out of the oven and a great one to keep in the fridge for easy leftover meals. The moral of the story is -next time you’re at the Calgary Farmers’ Market, don’t be afraid to try something new!

Hearty Veggie Chili

Chili collageThis recipe was most definitely inspired by Dinner with Julie’s Really Good Veggie Chili. One look at that recipe, and I knew what I was having for dinner. Given the recent cold snap reminding us Calgarians that it is in fact still winter here, I thought it would be a great time to share this delicious meal with you! This recipe is also a good reminder that you don’t necessarily need to include meat to create something hearty and filling for your family.

Market Sourced Ingredients

Other Ingredients

  • oil, for cooking
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • pinch cinnamon
  • 2 cans of beans, your choice – chickpeas, black, kidney etc. (*I ended up using dried beans from my garden, topped up with some chickpeas and black beans that I had on hand)
  • 2 cans diced or whole tomatoes (*I used one liter of my own canned whole yellow tomatoes – get the recipe here)

If using dried beans, make sure to soak them and cook them before making this recipe. (If using canned beans, this step will go a lot faster – simply drain and rinse before adding to the pot).

Chili collage 2

First, preheat the oven to 425 F. Peel and chop the sweet potato, toss in cooking oil, salt and pepper, then spread the pieces out on a baking sheet and put in the oven for about 30 minutes. Once they are golden and delicious looking, they are ready. Remove from oven and set aside.

Chop the onions, peppers and mince the garlic. On the stove top, heat a fair sized pot and sauté the onion, peppers, and garlic for a few minutes until soft. Chop up the cilantro stems, and half the leaves and add them to the mixture. Add in the spices (cumin, chili powder, cinnamon). Cook a few minutes longer.

Chili collage 3

Next, chop up the tomatoes if needed, and add them along with the beans into the pot, throw in the roasted sweet potatoes, and bring the whole thing to a simmer for about 45 minutes. And that’s it!

To serve, sprinkle some crumbled feta on top with some fresh cilantro leaves. This recipe can serve a crowd, or in my case, it can feed 2 people for a few days. It was definitely a time saver during a busy (and cold!) week.

Chili Blog (8)

You can find the ingredients for this recipe and more on your next trip to the Calgary Farmers’ Market!

Simple Asparagus Soup

It’s that wonderful time of year when fresh, local produce really starts rolling in at the market! One of the most anticipated seasonal ingredients making an appearance right now is Edgar Farms‘ asparagus (available at Innisfail Growers).

Unlike many Alberta grown veggies, asparagus is a perennial plant (meaning that it lives for many years, so does not need to be replanted in the spring). Asparagus can be harvested for only a few short weeks each spring, and picking is always completed by the end of June. This allows the plant to store up nutrients to make it through the winter.  Edgar Farms has created an innovative way to harvest asparagus efficiently. See them in action in this video.

Asparagus can be enjoyed in many ways and while often viewed as a great side or compliment to a meal, asparagus is the star of the show in this simple soup recipe.

Asparagus x2

Market Sourced Ingredients

Serves 6

Simple Asparagus Soup

2 bundles of asparagus from Innisfail Growers

1 medium onion from The Cherry Pit

3 cloves of garlic from The Cherry Pit

6 cups of chicken (or veggie) stock from The Stock and Sauce Co.

Butter or olive oil

Salt and pepper

Optional garnishes:

Parmesan cheese from Fresh DELIcious

OR

Fresh mint from Terra Farms

OR

Fresh lemon & dill

Ingredients

Roughly chop your onions, garlic and asparagus. No need to get fancy since it will all be going into the blender eventually.

Heat up the butter or olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions and sauté for about 5 minutes until tender. Add the asparagus and chicken (or veggie) stock to the pot and bring to a boil. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until asparagus is cooked. When all ingredients are soft, remove from the stove and puree in a blender (making sure to allow steam to escape through the lid).  When the desired texture has been achieved, pour back into a clean pot and heat through. Season with salt and pepper as needed. Simple as that!

You can enjoy the soup right away or add a simple garnish for some extra flavour. Choose a garnish that you enjoy like mint, lemon and dill, or Parmesan cheese.

Soup x3

My personal favourite was the lemon and dill variation. Just add a splash of fresh squeezed lemon juice and a sprig of dill for an energizing twist. Try the mint if you’re looking for something a little different and refreshing, and you can never go wrong with Parmesan cheese! This soup is super versatile and with slight variations can meet the needs and tastes of everyone in your family.

Don’t forget; local asparagus is only available until the end of June! Enjoy this easy meal before the asparagus is gone. Come down to the Calgary Farmers’ Market to pick up your ingredients today!

Happy Hearts

It was only two and a half years ago that Eahly and Nan arrived in Calgary, eager to put roots down and make this city “home”.  Coming from Vancouver, they were surrounded by a plethora of dietary options, including amazing variety in vegetarian and vegan fare; but found fewer options in our beef-centric city.  Then, one day in October 2011, while shopping at the Calgary Farmers’ Market, they noticed a vacant booth and a seed was planted.  What if?  Beginning on a hope and whim, Eahly and Nan set out to bring more options to vegans (and non-vegans too) and share their passion for healthy, delicious food.  If you’ve ever been by Hearts’ Choices, you will instantly see (and feel) the love that goes into creating and sharing their vegan Thai food.  Driven by Nan’s philosophy: “no good food = no happiness”, every dish they make, whether it be Thai Vegan Curries, Peanut Satay Sauce, or Bamboo Shoot Stir Fry, is handmade with care and intention.  And their high quality, non-GMO soybean vegan products are mindfully sourced from a renowned Buddhist vegan company in Taiwan.

We know it’s easy to turn your nose up at vegan food if you’re a born and bred meat-lover.  Tofu? Tempeh?! Vegan Scallops?!?!  Get outta Cowtown.  But in all seriousness, Eahly and Nan help many families bridge the gap when there is a division in the kitchen.  For example: wife is a vegetarian, husband wants his steak; now they can make one meal for everyone because the vegan fare at Hearts’ Choices can fool even the most discerning palates and satisfies everyone’s needs.  Eahly and Nan believe that their food “helps make their life a little more harmonious and happy”.  That’s what makes them love coming to work every day. It comes as no surprise then that they love when you drop by their booth or send them a photo of your own creation, sharing a part of your heart with them.

Hearts Choices Collage

And now they’re sharing that love with you!  Join them for an evening of food creation and fun as Nan (originally from Thailand) teaches the basics of Thai vegan cooking in a hands-on interactive cooking class.  We recently crashed one of their classes to get our own hands dirty (and our bellies happy!) and were pleasantly surprised to find people of all ages, all levels of cooking experience, even non-vegans soaking up Nan’s knowledge and cooking up a storm.  We couldn’t help but join in too.  The Thai Vegan Larb Salad, Tom Kha Pak (a sweet and sour coconut vegetable soup), and Pad Se-ew (Thai Street Noodles) that we all whipped up were delicious, healthy, and didn’t last long.

Larb CollageIf you’ve ever wanted to learn more about vegan cooking or you’re just interested in exploring Thai ingredients and dishes, you can join Eahly and Nan in their upcoming class (hosted April 7th).  Classes run approximately 3 hours, and include all the equipment, ingredients, and teaching required for you to create 3-4 delicious dishes while learning the basics of Thai cuisine with lots of cooking and eating along the way.  Do you have to be a Vegan to enjoy this opportunity?  Absolutely not!  In fact, it is perhaps the most reasonably priced Thai cooking classes in the city.  So… can you throw chicken in the Tom Kha Pak?  Yes!  Will Nan and Eahly frown upon it?  Never.

In the upcoming April class, you can look forward to making:

  • Vegan Pad Thai
  • Vegan Pumpkin Stir Fry (Eahly’s favorite!)
  • Vegan Pad Phet No Mai (Spicy Bamboo Shoots)
  • Thai Cucumber Salad

Sounds yummy doesn’t it?  Get your tickets before they’re sold out!  And don’t forget to swing by Hearts’ Choices the next time you’re at the Calgary Farmers’ Market; say hi to Nan and Eahly, try one of their many samples, and show them some love.

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Eggplant Caviar

Eggplant Caviar 1Inspired by the new French Market Cookbook by Clotilde Dusoulier, featuring what’s ripe and in season to create vegetarian recipes with a French twist (many of which are gluten-free and dairy-free), we’re making Caviar d’Aubergine aux Olives Noires this week.  Doesn’t that sound decadent and impressive?  Whether you’re a culinary king, a Calgarian, or a Canadian, there’s something to celebrate this weekend with our 5th Annual Chili Cook-Off here at the market, the Calgary Stampede, and National BBQ Day.  And because each of those events comes with its own set of indulgences, we decided to offer a lighter recipe that can be added to any dinner party or backyard BBQ to impress your guests.

Eggplant is that vegetable.  The one you dreaded as a child, the one that hits the table for a special occasion but is loved by few, the one that’s pigeon-holed for being difficult to perfect.  But, eggplant is also beautiful and silky and healthy.  And this recipe is wildly easy and delicious too!

Roasting is a foolproof method for cooking eggplants, but with the heat of our summer and BBQing in our blood, we’re going to throw these on the grill.  Clotilde Dusoulier purées the flesh of her roasted eggplant to a “marvelously silky spread to serve with slices of baguette, on sandwiches as a spread, or even on a bowl of warm rice”.  We think this tapenade-style delight would be marvelous on quinoa, warm pasta, pita, or even as a vegetable dip.

Market-Sourced Ingredients

Serves 6-8

2 small graffiti eggplants from The Cucumber Man

2 garlic cloves, cut into slivers and 1 Lemon from Souto Farms

12 Kalamata olives from 2 Greek Gals

1 cup of chopped fresh flat leaf parsely from Terra Farms

Sea Salt & Pepper

Olive Oil

Roast or grill the eggplants a few hours in advance.  Use a knife to pierce half a dozen slits in each eggplant and stuff with the garlic slivers.

Eggplant Caviar 2

Oil each eggplant and season with sea salt and pepper.  Roast at 350°F, flipping them to prevent burning, until completely soft, about 45 minutes.  Set aside to cool completely.

Halve the eggplants lengthwise and with a tablespoon, scoop out as much flesh as possible with the garlic cloves.  It’s ok if a little skin comes with it.  Put it all in a food processor or a blender, adding the olives, the juice and zest of one lemon, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and a dash of your favorite hot sauce (if that’s the way you roll).  We added Marash Chili flakes from The Silk Road Spice Merchant for their slow heat and slight acidity.

Eggplant Caviar 3

Process until smooth.  Taste and adjust the seasoning to wow your family and friends.

Dollop on fresh baguette; we prefer the bread grilled to give that crunch to balance out the silky eggplant. 

Eggplant Caviar 4

Tip: younger, smaller eggplants which are sweeter are preferable.  Regardless of the size, pick eggplants that feel heavy, have a smooth and shiny skin, and a stem-end “hat” that looks green and fresh.