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Italian

Italian Roasted Eggplant Tabbouleh

Italian Roasted Eggplant Tabbouleh

Spring has arrived in Philadelphia. Finally.

As I sit writing this post, the window to my left sits open, allowing a cool, but not too cool, breeze to flow in.

I could end my post here.

Spring is here, and that’s really all that needs to be said, right?

Italian Roasted Eggplant Tabbouleh

With these first few 70-degree days, I’m already feeling revived. My impulses to cook are breaking out of their winter hibernation and are quickly kicking back in. And my excitement for my new community garden plot is building by the minute.

Italian Roasted Eggplant Tabbouleh

Hopefully, this garden will yield lots of fresh veggies this summer, which will then propel lots of seasonal, healthy recipes for you on this blog. A garden is my ideal summer project. If such a project could make any money, and didn’t attempt to kill me while doing so, I’d already have quit my day job by now. I could spend every waking second outdoors and not get bored.

In fact, I did that for a few summers. My body wasn’t entirely quite as thrilled with me as my mind. But both still long for those days.

Perhaps one day, my camera will reunite me with farm life. Dream.

Italian Roasted Eggplant TabboulehThis easy tabbouleh (pilaf? casserole? whatever you want to call it?) is also kind of dreamy. Filled with creamy roasted eggplant and topped with not-to-be-taken-for-granted pine nuts, this is my attempt to swap pasta for whole grains and create a dish that’s equally as delicious. It worked.

Add some cheese on top, and you’ll create an even richer lunch and/or dinner for yourself. And once summer tomatoes arrive, definitely throw a few slices of those on top, too.

Italian Roasted Eggplant Tabbouleh

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Vegan Eggplant Rollatini

Vegan Eggplant Rollatini

I’ve happily walked into the life of someone who owns a grill. And a pool. Seeing as though I live in a small, city apartment with not even an inch of backyard space, this new addition to my life overcomes me with joy. I’m not talking about the new friend. Just the swimming and the grilling. (Kidding, of course).

While as a kid I had more than enough yard for forts and capture the flag, I didn’t grow up with a grill. Or a pool. But I begged my parents for both. I can see why they didn’t want to take on the latter, but the absence of a grill is still something I’ve never quite figured out. When veggies are in season, I find it to be one of the easiest ways to create a healthy plate full of flavor.

As of lately, I’ve been using my friend’s grill to feast on a ton of portobello mushrooms. It’s as simple as whisking up a 3-ingredient marinade of garlic, olive oil and splash of balsamic. From there, just throw those saucy rounds to the flame. Easy. Add some melted cheese, toast up a bun, and you’ve got summer’s easiest vegetarian burger.

Eggplant

Before I discovered my new friend had grill access, I invited him over for post-yoga dinner of Eggplant Rollatini. If I would’ve known about his backyard status, I would’ve saved this one for a later date. There are only so many eggplant slices you can fit on a countertop George Foreman. Chilling outside while waiting for food to char is one thing. Chilling inside, impatiently counting the minutes till the next batch, is another. Times that by four batches, and you get the true 2-br Philly apartment grilling experience.

Vegan Eggplant Rollatini

If you have a backyard grill, by all means, use it for this recipe. If you don’t, but have a grill pan or other smaller device, I assure you, the slight impatience you may suffer through will be worth the results. Take the time to slice and cook through several batches. Grilling the eggplant first ensures you won’t end up with a chewy, undercooked rollatini. If there’s anything that can easily ruin an eggplant parm or rollatini, it’s an undercooked base. Don’t let that happen.

Here, I’ve created a vegan version of the Italian classic by using a ricotta-like crumbled tofu and then adding bulgur wheat for a little extra texture. Herbs and nutritional yeast make sure this is by no means a flavorless vegan dish, and marinara seals the deal to compliment all the flavors. If you’re lucky, eat this pool-side or deck-side. If you’re not, don’t sweat it. Literally. Grab a beer, open the window and enjoy.

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Italian Feta Black Bean Burgers

Black Bean Feta Burgers

I could not be more excited about this 70ish spring weather! My scarf and hat needed a break (and likely a trip to the laundromat as well). I’m also enjoying the motivation to get my booty outside and running.

I’m training for my first 10-miler. I’ve been a runner since high school, but for some reason, the thought of 10-miles still makes me weary. I know my legs can make it, but my mind’s an entity of its own. It’s made my training process a little slow-growing…

City running generally gets boring to me after mile three. Not enough trees or obstacles. I’ll push myself two more miles, but much more after that and my mind starts going crazy. I start yelling inside my head at all the oblivious dog-walkers on the street and then fight with myself about how those are not so nice or productive thoughts. I love dogs, but seriously, your pooches needn’t take up the whole path. City sidewalks aren’t royal runways for your dog. But what’s the use of letting those things get to me, right? If I have to slow down to dodge a person simply enjoying the weather, so what.

Gah…the conversations I have with myself while trying to keep my feet running and my mind distracted. If only Philly had more running trails. Luckily, I’m sure the race will provide plenty of people watching to keep me entertained for at least a few miles. People watching is a personal favorite spring and summer activity of mine.

Another favorite warm weather pursuit? Making burgers. Burgers just breathe springtime to me, even when they’re not made on the grill. I mixed things up with this one by adding feta, and then using whole chickpeas for a textural experience. I really liked the crunch from the chickpeas. Just don’t go overboard when adding them in, or they’ll dominate in flavor. As I’ve suggested below (though not pictured), consider sautéing the onions before topping off your burger. The sweetness with the feta is totally worth the extra step.

Black Bean Feta Burgers

Click here for recipe…

Mediterranean Garlicky Eggplant

Mediterranean Eggplant

When eating Italian, I feel like I’m often on an Easter egg hunt. Like my little nieces and nephews this past weekend, I am on a search. Only this search is for the garlic. And when my fork and spoon come across a clove, rejoice, my taste buds do. I am one who can never get enough garlic. Hence the 20+ cloves that went into this eggplant dish.

There are instances where, yes, I admit, you can go overboard on garlic. But with eggplant, I find that rarely rings true. Like it does with oil, eggplant is a sponge for flavor. The sweetness of sautéed or roasted garlic is often what I bring out to get soaked up.

Here, the eggplant and garlic is paired with a bite of arugula and sun-dried tomatoes. It’s a flavorful dish that holds up well to whole grains or pasta. Enjoy with others if you don’t want your flavorful perfume to go noticed.

Eggplant and Garlic

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Lasagna Soup

Lasagna Soup

Lasagna is a sea of layers that melt so beautifully well together. As the Italians know best, tomatoes, pasta, herbs and cheese are four components destined to swim as a team in the culinary world.

Though, injure one of those teammates, and you’re in for a disappointing loss. Poor sauce = terrible lasagna. The wrong combination of cheeses = bland, not addicting results. Lack of herbs = an aggravating feeling that something is missing.

In order for lasagna to triumph, all of its key players need to be at the top of their game.  Lasagna can take some effort to assemble, so you better pick your team wisely or it may not be worth your labor. (I’m still working to come up with a vegan version to take home a gold. This roasted veggie version comes pretty close, but I’m still not sure the tofu ricotta quite takes the cheese – especially if you’ve been exposed to top of the line, traditional versions. Although, I must say the caramelized layers of veggies are undoubtedly memorable.)

If you’re not quite ready to full-on delve into the world of lasagna-making – a commitment to truly master – then I suggest starting with this soup. I’ll admit, given a competitive situation, it wouldn’t beat my favorite lasagna. But when it’s significantly easier to assemble, and so much lighter and healthier, who cares. As Prevention RD states, this is one pot meal that comes together within 40 minutes. Easy. The dollop of cheese that goes with it truly makes the whole dish, so make sure to include that extra  (but simple) step.

If there’s no time to prep the team needed of a lasagna worth making, or you simply want a pasta dish that won’t weigh you down, go give this a try. It’s a simpler, easier version of one my favorite oceans of flavor, a little bit of cheese included.

Click here for recipe…