One of the things I love most about cooking is the ability to take recipes as starting-off points and going on to customize the meal to what my specific tastes are. Admittedly, I can’t really picture how cooks manage to suss out the measurements in their recipes; I’m so stereotypically the type of cook that runs on what it looks or smells like that it’s hard to pin down the specifics.
The other night, we had a side dish with dinner that was one of these modified recipes. I’m a big fan of alternative pasta salads; I’m not thrilled with the mayonnaise ones as a general rule. So, when one of my friends posted rave reviews on Facebook of this recipe from Smitten Kitchen, I knew I had to give it a try.
First off, let’s talk pesto. The blog post and recipe linked above walk you through the steps of making your own pesto dressing for this salad. If you don’t have any pesto already on hand, go for it! It looks like a solid dressing, and I’m 100% in favor of spreading the good word of non-traditional pesto. I will write an entire blog post on this later, but for now, let me make it quite clear: you do NOT need to limit yourself to basil and pine nuts to make pesto. Any dark greens or herbs can be used, and any oily nut can be used. I most often use pecans in my recipes, since we have family in Texas and often end up with huge bags of high-quality pecans floating around our kitchen. Lately, as this blogger did, I’ve used walnuts, because I’m out of pecans (my three-year-old is a FIEND) and having a stash of them in the house gives me more options than pine nuts do. Long story short, pesto is more a method or a genre than a specific sauce or dressing.
More on that later. Needless to say, I had my own pesto already, in my freezer, which I broke out to use. I thinned it with some olive oil and garlic vinegar.
Next, let’s examine the charred eggplant. I’ve mentioned before my love of the Thug Kitchen recipe that involves charred eggplant, and now this. You can grill the eggplant, as the recipe suggests, though if you’re short on time, are an apartment-dweller, or are just too lazy to take out the grill, you can also just take the vegetables and cook them in the broiler, which is what I did. I drizzled the eggplant slices with olive oil and seasoned them with garlic, salt, and pepper, though you could also marinade them.
We passed on the sun-dried tomatoes; not so many fans of them in this house. Instead, I put some halved cherry tomatoes into the finished salad.
We extended the leftovers into a meal the next day by adding a can of garbanzo beans and a little balsamic vinegar. White beans would have also worked nicely if you were keeping the recipe vegetarian; I can also imagine tossing in some sausage or cubed chicken to make this a meal.