Saturday, January 22, 2022

Lamb and Eggplant Casserole

I recently visited my local grocery store to pick up a half-dozen baby eggplants. When the cashier asked what I planned to do with them, I gave her an overview of my Lamb and Eggplant Casserole, a wonderful winter dish I found in a French country cookbook many years ago and revised to my own taste (feel free to do the same). When she asked for the recipe, I told her to check here on Kitchen Excursions, though I had a suspicion I'd never added it. I was right. I've since fixed that.

Cutting up lamb can be tedious. I find it easier to pick up a few leg of lamb steaks, cut them into cubes, and freeze them until I have enough to make this casserole (I do this for any recipe requiring any kind of cubed meat.) I also prefer to use baby eggplant, as it has fewer seeds than the larger eggplant.

As this casserole bakes, the eggplant and onion melt into a delicious gravy/sauce.   I sometimes serve this dish with Roasted Beet Salad with Crème de Cassis Dressing. A wonderful meal for a chilly winter evening!

3 lbs. boneless leg of lamb, trimmed of fat and cubed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup extra virgin olive oil, more as needed
2 large onions, halved and thinly sliced
3 lbs. eggplant (about 6 baby eggplants) peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 13 oz. can chicken broth
1 bouquet garni (a few stalks of fresh thyme, or ½ tsp. dried thyme,
             6 parsley stems, and 1 bay leaf

About 2 cups of fresh breadcrumbs made from a small loaf of bread,
            such as ciabatta or boule, crust removed
3 large garlic cloves
½ cup chopped fresh parsley
5 Tbs. unsalted butter
5 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
1.  Preheat oven to 375°.  Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Sprinkle the pieces of lamb with salt and add to the oil in batches, cooking each batch 5-7 minutes until browned. Transfer lamb to a large ovenproof casserole.

2.  Add the onions to the same frying pan and sauté until tinged with brown, 8-10 minutes. Add onions to lamb in casserole.

3.  Brown the eggplant in batches in the same frying pan with a little salt. Add oil to the pan if the eggplant seems too dry. Add eggplant to lamb and onions.

4.   Pour broth into the casserole and stir meat and vegetables. Add bouquet garni and bake, uncovered, for 1½  hours. Stir 2-3 times while baking. Discard bouquet garni. Add pepper and taste for seasoning. (Casserole can be baked a day or two ahead and chilled. Reheat, covered, in a low oven before proceeding.)

5.   Make the breadcrumb topping by tearing bread in pieces and pulsing in a food processor to make large crumbs. Slice garlic and add to food processor. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Add parsley and pulse until everything is finely chopped. Melt butter with oil in a frying pan. Add breadcrumb mixture and stir to evenly coat with butter.

 6.    Preheat broiler. Sprinkle breadcrumb topping over lamb casserole and place on oven rack about 2 inches from heat. Broil until lightly browned, 3-5 minutes. Turn casserole as needed to brown evenly. Serve as soon as possible. Serves 4-6.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021


Ijjeh, a Middle Eastern quiche of sorts, is fairly easy to put together. I grind my own lamb, though you can buy it already ground or have a butcher do it. My late mother-in-law, Sandy, a wonderful lady of Syrian descent whose cooking drew raves from everyone, taught me to make this delicious dish.
Depending on the size of the squares you cut, Ijjeh can be an appetizer, a side dish, or part of a colorful party buffet. Enjoy!

1½ lbs. lean ground lamb
1 large onion, chopped
1 Tbs. of Syrian allspice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 dozen eggs
2 Tbs. cornstarch
Light oil  
Fresh chopped parsley
1.  Preheat oven to 350°.  Coat 15 x 10 baking pan with light oil and heat in oven.

2.  Fry lamb in a pan. No oil is needed. When about halfway cooked, add chopped onion. Continue cooking until lamb is browned and onions are soft. Add Syrian allspice and mix well.

3.  Whip eggs in blender with cornstarch and ½ tsp. salt.

4.   Pour egg mixture into hot pan. Sprinkle with ground lamb and parsley.

5.   Bake 20-30 minutes, until browned.  Cool, cut into squares, and serve.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Pasta and Bacon Salad

I recently brought this wonderful summer salad to a neighborhood barbecue, our first since moving to our new home. The salad fit in well with lots of other delicious dishes. Lots of good cooks here!

No ordinary pasta salad, this. Creamy and delicious, it can be made ahead, and leftovers—if there are any—last a good while. Serve as a side dish or a main course salad. Ingredient amounts aren't critical, so feel free to adjust them to your taste.

½-¾ lb. bacon slices
12 oz. elbow macaroni, fusilli, or other bite-sized pasta
2 cups mayonnaise
½ cup (or more) buttermilk
2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 Tbs. Dijon mustard
1 Tbs. sugar
1 10-16 oz. bag of frozen peas, rinsed and drained
Salt and freshly ground white pepper to taste

1. Cook bacon in large skillet over medium heat or in microwave until crisp, turning occasionally. Transfer to paper towels and cool. Coarsely chop bacon.

2. Cook pasta in large pot of boiling salted water until just tender but still firm to bite, stirring occasionally. Drain. Rinse under cold water and drain well.

3. Make dressing by whisking the mayonnaise, ½ cup of buttermilk, lemon juice, mustard, and sugar in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

4. Fold pasta, peas, and bacon into dressing and serve. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill. Toss with more buttermilk if dry. Let stand 1 hour before continuing.)

Monday, March 12, 2018

Guinness Beef Stew à la Pat

Guinness Beef Stew with
Mashed Potatoes
and Newfangled Colcannon 
A few years ago, on a chilly autumn day, I visited Dublin and took the train to Howth with a walk on the East Pier in mind. The wind was fierce, and I soon found myself in a pub before a roaring peat fire with a glass of wine and a gorgeous bowl of Guinness Beef Stew. Alas, the cook wouldn't give me the recipe!

We'll see about that, sez I. When I returned to New Hampshire, I concocted a tasty stew on a par with the one I'd enjoyed in Howth, and I'm happy to share the recipe. Sorry I can't offer a roaring peat fire!

4 lbs. beef stew meat, trimmed                  1 13-oz. can of beef broth
3 Tbs. vegetable oil                                       3 cans of Guinness Stout
A dollop of bacon fat (optional)                 3 tsps. Worcestershire sauce
5-6 Tbs. flour                                                 2 tsps. dried thyme
One large onion, chopped                           1½ Tbs. brown sugar
1½ lbs. sliced mushrooms                          A few bay leaves
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced                        Salt and pepper to taste 

1. Heat the oil and bacon fat, if you're using it, in a deep frying pan. Brown the meat in batches, sprinkling with flour as it cooks. Remove meat to a stew pot.

2. Add chopped onions to the frying pan. Cook until soft. Add the mushrooms and sauté until they release their moisture and start to brown. Add minced garlic and sprinkle on any remaining flour.

3. Add mushrooms to meat with beef broth, Guinness Stout (*or Draught), and remaining ingredients. Stir well and simmer uncovered for about two hours, or until meat is tender and sauce thickens. (I like to make it a day ahead to let it "stew" and skim the fat off the top.)

Serving suggestions: mashed potatoes, brown soda bread, colcannon, or a salad. Serves six to eight, and leftovers are great.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Shrimp Scampi Risotto

Enjoying a good risotto usually means standing over the stove stirring rice for the classic 18 minutes. Not so with this scrumptious shrimp and rice dish. Be sure to use the best shrimp you can find, and don’t skimp on the cheese either. You won’t be sorry!

¼ cup olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups arborio or carnaroli rice
½ cup dry white wine, such as Pinot Grigio
4 cups chicken broth, simmering
1 tsp. dry oregano
½ tsp. salt
2 Tbs. unsalted butter
1 lb. medium raw shrimp, thawed if frozen, shelled and deveined
¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
¼ cup fresh chopped parsley

1. Heat oil and garlic in saucepan. Add rice and sauté a few minutes. Pour in wine and cook over medium-high heat, stirring, until absorbed.

2. Add hot chicken broth, oregano, and salt. Simmer, covered, for 18 minutes.

3. Stir in butter and shrimp and simmer, covered, another 8 minutes.

4. Stir in Parmesan cheese and parsley until cheese melts. Serve risotto with additional cheese, a green salad and/or steamed broccoli, crusty Italian bread, and white wine, if desired. Serves four.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Soupe au Pistou

The variations on Soupe au Pistou are as numerous as there are cooks. Here’s my take on this wonderful French classic, a cousin of Italy’s minestrone. Don’t let all the steps intimidate you. It’s an easy soup to make, and make it you should. The aroma of pistou melting into the hot soup is divine, the blend of flavors exquisite. And, it’s good for you!

The first step can be done a day ahead, so finishing the soup is a snap. For a totally vegan version, substitute veggie cheese for the Parmesan in the pistou.

Step 1:
14 cups vegetable stock or water
2 tsps. salt
4 large carrots, diced
3 medium potatoes, diced
1 large leek, white part only, chopped

Place ingredients in 8-quart stock pot. Bring to a boil and simmer, uncovered, for 40 minutes. If not finishing soup right away, set aside or refrigerate until 20 minutes before serving.

Step 2:
4-5 packages powdered saffron
1 slice stale white bread, crumbled
1 15-oz. can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 15-oz. can pink or kidney beans, rinsed and drained
1 small zucchini, diced
1 small yellow squash. diced
8 oz. fresh haricots verts (thin French green beans), trimmed and diced
1/3 cup small pasta or spaghetti broken into 1/2-inch pieces

Return soup to boil. 15 minutes before serving, add above ingredients and simmer, uncovered, until vegetables are tender. Add boiling broth or water if soup becomes too thick. Season with salt and pepper.

For the Pistou:
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
1¼ cups extra virgin olive oil
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
6 oz. fresh basil, chopped
5-6 Tbs. fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup Grated Parmesan Reggiano or Grated Veggie Cheese

Combine first five ingredients. Depending on your preference, add cheese of your choice, or divide the pistou and make both a Parmesan version and a Veggie version. (Note: I make extra pistou because I make both versions for our writers' group supper. Also, leftover pistou is delicious on pasta or in risotto.)

Serve the soup and pass the pistou, allowing each diner to stir a spoonful into the hot soup. Serve with crusty French bread and homemade croutons, if desired. Serves 6-8.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Couscous and French Lentil Salad

This easy bean and pasta salad provides a wonderful showcase for a variety of fresh herbs. Feel free to experiment with whatever is available in the garden or the grocery store. Serve as a vegetarian main course or as a delicious side dish.

For the Lentils
1 cup French green lentils (du Puy)
6 cups water
1 Tbs. Champagne vinegar

For the Couscous
1 tsp. olive oil
1¼ cups Israeli (pearl) couscous
1½ cups chicken or vegetable broth

For the Dressing
6 Tbs. olive oil
3 Tbs. Champagne vinegar
1 Tbs. dry white wine
2-4 large garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

To Finish the Salad
3 small seedless cucumbers, peeled and chopped
1 bunch of scallions, white part chopped, green tops sliced
½ to 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro, basil, dill, or a combination

1. Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan. Add lentils, return to boil, cover and simmer until tender but not falling apart, 13-15 minutes. Rinse to cool. Transfer lentils to bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon of champagne vinegar.

2. Bring broth to simmer in a small saucepan. Heat ½ Tbs. olive oil in a nonstick skillet. Toast the couscous in the oil, stirring constantly over medium high heat for about 5 minutes. Add boiling broth. Cover and simmer for five minutes, then remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes. Drain and transfer to large bowl. Fluff to remove clumps and let cool. (Couscous may be rinsed in cold water to cool more quickly.)

3. In a small bowl, whisk together vinegar, oil, wine, garlic, and salt and pepper. Stir dressing into couscous. Fold in lentils and remaining ingredients. Chill well. Serves 6.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Red Quinoa Salad with Spinach and Chickpeas

We celebrated summer tonight with Chicken Mojito, Jiddo's Hummus Bi Tahini, and a fabulous Red Quinoa Salad. By combining different recipes, I came up with this nutritious, delicious, Spanish inspired dish, which I've made several times to rave reviews. If you prefer to go vegetarian, serve this quinoa salad with mixed greens. Whether served as a main course or a side dish, this dish provides a perfect summer lunch or supper.


For the salad:
1¼ cups red quinoa
2½ cups water, vegetable broth, or chicken broth
1 15-oz. can chickpeas, rinsed well and drained
1 10-oz. bag spinach, washed and roughly chopped
2 baby seedless cucumbers,
            or ½ long English seedless cucumber, peeled and diced
1 bunch of fresh mint leaves, chopped
Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, and/or pistachio nuts for garnish
Salad greens, if serving as a main course salad

For the dressing:
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
3 Tbs. fresh lime juice
3 tsps. honey
1 large garlic clove, minced or put through a press
Salt and fresh ground black pepper

1. Bring broth to a boil in a large sauce pan. Add quinoa and simmer about 20 minutes (red quinoa takes a few minutes longer than white to cook), until "halo" appears around the grains. Fluff quinoa. Let sit partially covered for five minutes, then turn into a large bowl to cool. (Quinoa can be rinsed in cold water to cool faster. Drain well.)

2. Fold spinach, chickpeas, mint, and cucumber into cooled quinoa.

3. Whisk dressing ingredients together, fold into salad, and chill.

4. Serve over salad greens or as a side dish. Pass seeds and nuts at the table. Enjoy with crusty bread and a summery dry rosé or crisp white wine. Easily serves 6.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Lentil Salad with Red Beans and Chickpeas

Petite and tasty, French Puy lentils are a great ingredient for summer salads. They stay firm, they absorb dressings well, and they're good for you. If you've never tried them, do look for them. Don't be tempted to use common brown lentils. They'll mush up the salad.

This colorful concoction not only makes a great summer side dish, it's a perfect main vegan/vegetarian meal for a warm summer day. Feel free to tailor it to your own taste, and enjoy!

Cooking the Lentils:
1 cup dried French Puy lentils
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
½ tsp. salt
1 bay leaf

Assembling the Salad:
1 15-oz. can chick peas
1 15-oz. can small red beans
1 small bunch of scallions, white parts chopped, green tops thinly sliced
2-3 small seedless cucumbers, peeled and chopped
1 3/4 oz. package fresh dill

Making the Dressing:
1/8 cup olive oil
2 Tbs. white balsamic vinegar
2 Tbs. dry white wine
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 large garlic clove, minced
Salt and pepper to taste

1. Place lentils, garlic, salt, and bay leaf in a 2-quart saucepan with 4 cups of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, until lentils are just tender, 15-20 minutes. Drain and run under cold water to cool, remove garlic and bay leaf, and drain again.

2. Drain and rinse red beans and chickpeas. Place in a large bowl with lentils. Stir in remaining ingredients, then fold in the dressing. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Turkish Bulghur Salad with Pomegranate Molasses Dressing

Bulghur, bulgur, or burghul, a common ingredient in Middle Eastern dishes (such as Tabbouleh and Kibbeh), is made by parboiling, drying, and grinding wheat to a fine, medium, or coarse texture. Bulghur stars in this colorful and delicious salad, my own adaptation of a recipe I found on It's a wonderful summer side dish for grilled meats, or served as a main course with a tossed green salad and crusty French bread. Enjoy!


For the Salad:
2 Tbs. olive oil
1 large vidalia onion, minced
2 cups fine bulghur wheat
2 cups boiling water
2 15-oz. cans beans, pink, borlotti, chickpeas, or a combination,
            rinsed and drained
1 large bunch fresh basil leaves, chopped (optional)
1 bunch scallions, green tops slices, white parts chopped
1 cup raw pistachio kernels, lightly toasted if desired

For the Dressing:
1/3 cup pomegranate molasses
          (available in your grocer's Middle Eastern section)
3 Tbs. olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced or put through a press
Salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

1. Sauté onion in olive oil until translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in bulghur until grains are coated with oil. Slowly add boiling water, stir, and simmer gently for about 5 minutes, until water is absorbed. Fluff wheat and turn into large bowl. Let cool.

2. Rinse and drain the beans you wish to use. Prepare basil and scallions and fold with beans into cooled wheat.

3. Combine dressing ingredients. Stir into wheat.

4. Top with pistachios (or allow individual diners to add their own nuts). Generously serves 6-8 as a main course salad.