Some days, I am paralyzed with indecision of what to cook, so I cook nothing at all. For example, I have loads of zucchini. I could make a ratatouille, throw them in a minestrone, confit them, grate them into little zucchini fritters. Instead, I do nothing with them, putting off the decision for another time. I turn into a grazer, eating a little bit of this, a little bit of that, until I feel satisfied. It may be some leftovers + avocado toast with an egg + a sliced tomato with sea salt + a cup of yogurt with nuts and chocolate + some leftover brown rice with cheese... it can go on. I tend to keep whole and nutritious foods on hand, so it is not like I am grabbing bags of processed this and that, but it is a lot less satisfying, a lot less satiating to graze and assemble than it is to sit down to a composed meal.
Ideally I would use the weekend and decide what to make for the week ahead, go to the farmers' market and grocery store and only buy those ingredients and get started on my cooking. This is something I am working on, and I know it can be done- my older sister and her husband have this whole menu planning thing down to an art and have for several years. Instead, what usually happens is I go to the farmers' market and grocery store and buy ingredients I happen to be in the mood for, that are looking rather pretty, or are on sale. Then I go home and eventually figure out what to do with them. While I certainly like the spontaneity of this sort of wing-it style, planning and organizing would help me avoid many of those indecision-induced grazing sessions.
A solution to my moments of indecision is to have a third party decide for me what I am doing with all of my ingredients, or rather, narrow my options of what to do with them. This is where Foodie Dice comes in. I saw them in a magazine last year and knew I had to order them. They could get me out of my decision ruts and spur me into action. The idea behind Foodie Dice is that you roll 6 dice, each with a different component to make a full meal. The categories are: protein, starch/ carb, herb, cooking method, bonus ingredient, and seasonal vegetable (there are 4 dice for this category). You roll and voila!...your dinner template is revealed. You obviously can re-roll any dice for which you do not have the ingredient on hand and see if something else comes up. What is wonderful about the dice is that you are still in charge of executing the dish and bringing the whole thing together, but the main parts are chosen for you. Fewer options for the win.
I had a bounty of summer vegetables that I purchased from the local farmers' market. Everything was beautiful- zucchini, eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, but I just stared at it all when I got home. I could not commit to a dish I wanted to make, so I pulled out my little bag of dice and decided to leave dinner's fate in the dice's roll. And the results were... lamb or beans, rice, oregano, grill, garlic, and eggplant.
I had chickpeas on hand and a multi-grain/ brown rice mix that I had cooked a few days earlier. I did not have any fresh or dried oregano, but I did have a jar of Middle Eastern za'atar which contains dried oregano, thyme, and sesame seeds which I decided would work beautifully with the eggplant. I had a grill, garlic, and a gorgeous deep purple eggplant from the market. I added in some lemon, fresh cilantro, and tahini to tie it all together, and the result: a beautiful, summer dish inspired by the flavors of Israel, from where my little jar of za'atar had come.
This dish can easily be made ahead of time without the extra tahini sauce on top. Just reheat in the oven. When you remove it from the oven, the heat will help the tahini sauce get into all of the nooks and crannies. Sprinkle with a little extra cilantro or parsley, and you will be ready to serve. I used a brown rice/ grain mix here, but plain brown rice, quinoa, millet, etc. would work, and another white bean or even lentils could serve as a chickpea substitute. Have fun with it!
Middle Eastern Grilled Eggplant with Lemon Tahini Sauce
1 large eggplant, top removed, and cut into 1/4" slices, lengthwise
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups cooked brown rice
1 cup cooked chickpeas, drained (canned are fine)
1 1/2 teaspoons za'atar spice mix or dried oregano
1 large handful of cilantro or parsley, washed and roughly chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
Lemon Tahini Sauce:
1 lemon, zest and juice
1 garlic clove, minced
2 1/2 tablespoons tahini paste
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
Grill eggplant. Heat grill to high heat. Drizzle eggplant slices with 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and sprinkle evenly with salt. Grill eggplant slices, turning once, until softened, about 5-8 minutes total. Remove from grill and set aside.
In a small bowl, mix lemon zest and juice and garlic clove. Allow to sit for 5 minutes for garlic to mellow. Whisk in tahini paste, extra-virgin olive oil, and a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
In another bowl, combine rice, chickpeas, za'atar, cilantro, salt, and 1/2 of the lemon tahini sauce. Stir until well-combined.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Lay out eggplant slices on a cutting board or counter-top and place a heaping spoonful of filling on one end of each slice. Roll each slice up. Tuck away in a baking dish, seam side down. If any filling remains, you can sprinkle it around the edges of the dish. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and drizzle remaining lemon tahini sauce on top and sprinkle with remaining herbs. Enjoy! Serves 4.