Bento: Palak Paneer & Naan

Bento: Palak Paneer & Naan

Main: Palak paneer (spinach curry with Indian cheese) and naan.

Side: Sweet corn.

Fruits/Vegetables: Grapes.

Snack: Blackberry yogurt.

You. Guys. I made paneer from scratch and nothing went wrong. I was so worried that the paneer wouldn’t hold together and that I’d have to scramble it to make paneer bhurji (which is a lot like anda bhurji, except with paneer instead of eggs) but it held together beautifully! Giant vats of homemade paneer, here we come! (Or perhaps not. As fun as it was, I don’t know that I’d want to make paneer regularly.)

I also finally sat down and wrote out my recipe for naan, which I’ll share soon, along with the recipe for this palak paneer. (I promise!)

Bento: Pasta with Eggplant & Basil Sauce

Bento: Pasta with Eggplant & Basil Sauce

Main: Farfalle with eggplant and basil sauce.

Fruits/Vegetables: Sugar snap peas, kiwi fruit, and grapes.

Snack: Strawberry yogurt.

Ever have one of those revelations that just changes everything you thought you knew about cooking? Ruhlman did it to me with his chapter on salt in his new book, Ruhlman’s Twenty.

I stayed up late testing some of the things he talks about in that chapter and reworked my recipe for Eggplant and Basil Sauce based on his recommendations. (The link points to the reworked version.) So late, in fact, that I was too fuzzy-headed this morning to do very much for this bento. Serving up the pasta with some fresh fruits and vegetables was just about my speed.

Eggplant and Basil Pasta Sauce

Eggplant Basil Pasta Sauce

I have been making this pasta sauce for years. It simply bursts with flavor from the eggplant, basil, bell peppers, fennel, and crushed red pepper. The eggplant provides the structure for the body of the sauce, while at the same time adding its characteristic velvety smoothness to the texture. The sauce is creamy, velvety, sweet, sharp, and sour, all at once.

Since it is a relatively chunky sauce, I like to serve it with either Farfalle or Campanelle pasta, although you could certainly serve it on top of spaghetti noodles, or even as a topping for crostini if you wanted to.

Ingredients

  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 bell peppers (preferably 1 red, 1 yellow), diced large
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 small eggplant, unpeeled, diced into ½ to ¾ inch cubes.
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ cup fresh basil, minced, or 1½ tbsp dried
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried rosemary
  • 1½ tsp crushed red pepper
  • ½ tsp fennel
  • ½ tsp cayenne
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 3 cups chicken broth or stock
  • ½ cup tomato paste
  • Kosher salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1lb Farfalle or other pasta, freshly cooked.
  • Parmesan cheese to taste, finely grated or microplaned

Method

  1. Heat oil in a large heavy pan over medium-high heat.
  2. Add bell peppers, onion, eggplant, garlic, and a sprinkling of salt, and sautée until onions are translucent, about 6 minutes.
  3. Add basil (if using dried basil), thyme, rosemary, crushed red pepper, fennel, and cayenne, and sautée until eggplant softens, about 10 minutes.
  4. Mix in broth, tomato paste, brown sugar, and balsamic vinegar. Stir well and taste. Add salt and pepper to taste. Adjust seasoning. If the sauce tastes flat, try adding either more salt, vinegar, or sugar. (Instead of adding directly to the sauce, try adding just a drop or a grain to a teaspoon and taste that to see if that’s what the sauce needed.)
  5. Simmer sauce for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally and adjusting seasoning as needed.
  6. Remove from heat, add fresh basil (if using), and stir.
  7. Serve atop some freshly cooked farfalle pasta and garnish with parmesan cheese.

Serves 4.
Adapted from: Bon Appétit’s Pasta with Eggplant and Basil Sauce.

Bento: Crab, Chile, and Mint Crostini

Bento: Crab, Chile, and Mint Crostini

Main: Crab, chile, and mint crostini with homemade aïoli.

Sides: Cottage cheese with apricot-pineapple jam.

Fruits/Vegetables: Broccoli with green goddess dressing, cherry tomatoes, and strawberries.

Snacks: Laughing cow cheese.

I made this crostini on a whim. It is a delightful recipe and super quick to prepare. Even the aïoli took no time at all to make from scratch. I wanted to keep the toasted bread crispy, so after toasting, I cooled it on a wire rack and then wrapped it in foil to keep the crab mixture from getting it damp.

I highly recommend the aïoli recipe I linked. I love the tartness of the dijon mustard in there, and it works very well for this crostini. I used a powered hand blender to make it, and it took just a couple of minutes to have it ready.

Bento: Chana Masala

Bento: Chana Masala

Main: Chana masala with basmati rice.

Sides: Roasted brussels sprouts and cucumber-mint raita.

Fruits/Vegetables: Pineapple chunks and blackberries.

I almost didn’t have enough chana masala to fill both bentos this morning. It’s really amazing how fast those leftovers disappear. (This is mainly my fault, since the guys know that most leftovers are off-limits on account of being future bento components. Oops.)

This was a pretty quick bento to put together, since I already had chana masala and basmati rice on hand. I sliced the brussels sprouts in half, tossed them with a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and put them in the toaster oven to bake at 425°F for about 20 minutes.

The cucumber-mint raita is a pretty simple accompaniment to most Indian curries. All you do is peel and finely dice some cucumbers, add enough yogurt to cover, add a bit of finely minced mint leaves, salt, and a bit of cayenne pepper, and mix it all up.

In other news, I, Samantha Grey, do solemnly swear to never ever buy that large a container of fresh pineapple ever again. I am so happy we’re finally done with it and I can serve other fruits in the bentos again!