Beef Moussaka

Moussaka 15

What business did my grandmother — a Pittsburgh-born Jew who spent most of her adult life in sunny Los Angeles — have making moussaka, a Balkan/Mediterranean comfort classic that’s predicated on mixing milk and meat and is absolutely the last thing you’d want to eat before heading out for a day at the beach?

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Eggplant Parmesan

Eggplant Parm 15

So as I’ve written before, the first thing I ever really cooked for myself — beyond scrambled eggs — was Nonnie’s ratatouille.

But the first fancy thing I ever cooked — something that required preparing separate ingredients in different ways, making a sauce, carefully assembling a final dish that was not only tasty but also pretty — was  Gourmet magazine’s intricate inside-out eggplant parmigiana, an artistically deconstructed take on the fat kid classic. (You know, the kind of thing a Top Chef contestant would call “my play on eggplant parmesan.”) Continue reading

Eggplant Caviar

Eggplant Caviar 3

Alternate title: A Tale of Too Many Onions.

Look, I have nothing against onions. They’re a culinary workhorse. They have the power to make grown men weep. They figure prominently in the denouement of one of the best books ever written, Holes by Louis Sachar.

Even raw onions have their place — a sprinkling of scallions to top off your bowl of soba, a smattering of red onions folded into your quinoa. They’re sharp; they’re pungent; they’re good in small doses.

You know what isn’t a small dose? A whole onion, chopped. That’s what Nonnie’s recipe for eggplant caviar — a sort of Eastern European take on baba ghanoush — calls for. I looked over it a few times, just to make sure I was reading it right; once it became clear that I was, I tried investing in some cautious optimism. Continue reading


Ratatouille 1

We’ll begin with a recreation of the first real dish I ever cooked for myself: ratatouille, which I believe is French for “chop shit up and toss it in a pot.”

It’s a completely idiot-proof meal — at least, the way my family makes it. (If you’re Thomas Keller, not so much.) That may be why my mom suggested I give it a try when I told her, the summer after I graduated college, that I was finally ready to tackle something a little more complicated than scrambled eggs.

The year was 2010; the recipe she sent me, of course, was Nonnie’s. (With an extra soupçon of Mom: She signed the email by saying, “OK, now send me your updated resume . . . . xoxo.”) Continue reading