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   If there is one fruit that stands out among my favorites, cherry, pomegranate, and persimmon, it's figs. I love them. Any variety, any time. One of the first things we did when we put the vegetable garden in at our new house was plant a fig tree. I thought I was buying a Mission fig. Instead our tree is a panache fig.

Tiger striped, and incredibly sweet, they are the last figs to ripen in fig season so we're still waiting. However, we have a friend who has a magnificent fig tree but hates figs. Isn't that always the way it is? He's perfectly happy to let me pillage his tree every year around this time. I take away pounds of figs. When I see them at the market for 6.99 for a little basket I laugh because up here in Sonoma figs are like weeds. They grow all along the roadsides and anyone can just help themselves. A few years back a friend and I did the whole gleaning thing and we gathered pounds and pounds and pounds of unwanted figs. I made preserves from mine. If you'd like the recipe it's here...Fig Jam. Or, if you'd like a roasted fig and goat cheese ice cream...I've made that too.

The recipe is here.But now I'm interested in something beyond just the figs...I'm into the fig leaves. Yes, fig leaves. Straight up Adam and Eve wardrobe, now I discover it's edible. Who knew?

   As it turns out fig leaves can be used for a variety of purposes very similar to grape leaves. They can be used as a food wrapping, they can be ground of tea, they can be smoked and used as an ingredient such as these Smoked Fig Leaf Shortbread Cookies.

They can also be a simple ingredient in a risotto which is what I'm talking about today. This all came together around a bunch of free figs and a huge lobster tail sale. If lobster is ever on sale anywhere, I'm there!

So, if you can get your pie hooks on some cheap lobster, fresh figs, and a few fresh non sprayed fig leaves I've got a recipe for you.

Fig And Lobster Risotto
Here's What You Need: 1 dozen fresh figs
1 fresh unsprayed large fig leaf
2 lobster tails
1/2 cup of white wine
1 shallot thinly sliced
1 cup of arborio rice
2 cups of water
2 tsp of salt
3 sage leaves
2 Tbs olive oil
1 Tbs unsalted butter

Here's What To Do: Wash, dry, and cut the fresh figs into halves, then quarters . Set aside.

Take the meat from the lobster tails and cut it into bite sized pieces. Set aside.
Save the shells if you like, they can be used for lobster stock.
Slice the sage leaves thinly and set aside.

In a large pot for risotto heat the olive oil.
When the oil is hot pour the rice into the pot and stir it around to warm it.

Now add in the 2 cups of water and 2 tsp of salt. When the water comes to a boil lay the fig leaf on top of the water and rice.

When the water starts to boil, put a lid on the pan and turn the heat down to the lowest it will go. Let it cook for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile back at the figs...

Heat a couple of Tbs of olive oil in a skillet.
When the oil is hot add in the thinly sliced shallot.
Saute it until the shallot starts to lightly brown.
Add in the thinly sliced sage leaves.

Saute them for a minute or two.
Add in the 1/2 cup of white wine, along with the figs.

Saute them for a little bit to soften them letting the wine evaporate.
When the figs have cooked add in the pieces of lobster.

Stir them around and simmer them gently. The lobster cooks fast so keep an eye on it, you don't want it to toughen.
Stir everything together well on a low flame.

Right about now the rice should be done. Add 1Tbs of unsalted butter to the fig and lobster mixture.

This gives it a nice creamy texture.
Take the lid off the pot of risotto.

Remove the fig leaf.

Add the fig, lobster, and sage mixture to the risotto.

Stir it all together.  Add a few shreds of fresh sage over the top. Voila! You are done!

Serve it up!

There it is a lovely fall lunch, light and elegant and it only takes 15 minutes to cook!

Coming up next, an Indian special from the garden featuring  eggplant, potato, and bitter melon . Follow along on Twitter @kathygori
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   Alan has gone mainly vegetarian in his diet with the exception of some pescetarian choices so I've used this change of food policy around the house to move things more in the direction of how I eat. This has enabled me to take full advantage of all the goodies I'm growing in our garden. I love the idea that I can go out pick, and cook a lot of what we eat everyday. This has brought me back to nearly daily Indian dishes. Fish or even meat if served,  is not the star but rather a side player. A little bit  goes a long way.
   Since  we have always worked out of our home office, I like things that I can make ahead or that come together easy depending on what's available in the garden on any given day, which brings me to eggplants. Every year we grow a variety of eggplants from the large classic Italian, to Japanese, to the tiny Thai, and Indian finger eggplants. I thought a nice vegetarian biryani would be good so I looked to a traditional Kerala recipe of eggplant and coconut biryani or layered rice as it's is sometimes called.
Looking in the garden I thought my eggplants might not be ready yet so a trip to the farmers market might be needed, but I took a look and whoa!!! Eggplants had arrived!!!

I cut three Japanese eggplants of a pretty good size...

 ...some chilies, and mint.

 I wanted tomatoes but mine have not ripened yet. It's been a relatively cool Summer for us this year so all the vegetables are behind schedule. I had most of the basics for the dish so the shopping and prep was pretty easy.

Eggplant and Coconut Biryani
Here's What You Need:
2 or 3 Japanese Eggplants cut lengthwise and into 1/2 inch chunks
2 cups of coconut milk (full fat)
1 and 1/4 cups of Basmati rice
1/2 cup of grated unsweetened coconut fresh or dried
1 cup of peas (fresh or frozen)
1 and 3/4 cups of water
5 thin round slices of ginger
1 onion chopped roughly
1 large shallot peeled and sliced thinly
1 to 3 chopped green serrano chilies (with seeds) depending on how hot you want this.
2  dried red chilies broken into pieces
1 large tomato chopped
1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp garam masala
1/2 tsp turmeric
1 and 1/4 tsp salt
2 Tbs chopped mint leaves
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3 Tbs lemon juice
# ztbs vegetable oil

Here's What To Do:
Rinse the Basmati rice and place it in 1 and 1/4 cup s of water to soak for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile put the coconut in a cast iron pan along with the dried red chilies and dry roast them until they are slightly golden. This takes just a couple of minutes so keep an eye out.

Take the toasted coconut and red chilies, and cool them a bit.
Slice the eggplants in half the long way and chunk them up into 1 inch pieces.

Place  the chopped serrano chilies, ginger slices, sliced shallot, and onion  in a food processor or blender.

Add the toasted coconut and dried red chilies...

,,,and grind into a paste.

Than add in the coriander, garam masala...

...and turmeric.

Blend again then put everything in a large skillet or kadhai along with 2 Tbs of vegetable oil and stir over medium heat until it colors. This takes about 5 minutes.

Add in the eggplants, half the salt...

...and 1/2 cup of the coconut milk.

Stir everything around.

Turn the heat up to high for about 3 minutes, then turn down to medium.
Cover the pan and cook until the eggplants have softened about 15 to 20 minutes.
Check in on things every now and then to make sure nothing is burning or sticking.
When the eggplants are soft move them to a bowl and set them aside.

In a large pot add 1 Tbs of vegetable oil.
When the poil is hot add in the tomato...

 ...mint and cilantro.

Cook and stir until most of the moisture from the tomato has evaporated.
Now, add the rice and the water it was soaking in...

...along with the rest of the salt, and the rest of the coconut milk.

Bring to  a boil over high heat than slap a cover on the pot and turn the heat way down to the lowest setting for about 10 minutes. We are not going to cook the rice all the way through as it is going to finish in the oven.
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and lightly grease an oven-proof dish. I usually use a clay pot but I used a pyrex casserole dish this time to get a good view of the biryani.

After the rice is cooked partly through (about 10 minutes) place half the semi cooked rice in the casserole dish.

Layer the defrosted or fresh peas on top of the rice.

Then add the eggplant mixture you've set aside. Layer the peas and eggplant together and mix them a bit.

Add the rest of the rice on top of that.

Then squeeze 3 Tbs of lemon juice over it all.

Cover the dish and place it in the oven.

Bake for 15 or 20 minutes.
Take the dish out and uncover it.
Sprinkle the top with a dash more garam masala, and a sprinkling of more chopped cilantro and mint.

Then  dish it out. See the layers?

I served mine in clay mini biryani pots, with a bit of cooling  cumin raita and some flatbread.

Chapatti would be great with it also.

There it is a simple vegetarian lunch right out of the garden. This can  be made ahead and reheated later, or the next day.  Mellowing only makes it better. This recipe will feed between 4 and 6 people.

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   Sometimes, there are days when one wants just the simplest of lunches, something that can be made quickly, in one pot. I'm always looking for things I can whip up easily on week days when we're writing, and this lamb curry just fit the bill. The boneless lamb steaks were on sale at Whole Foods and I had a whole mess of "premade" Basmati rice in the fridge. Lunch that's cheap and utilizing left overs? What's not to like? When I say fast, I'm talking about an hour fast which is perfect for a weekday lunch. If you've got a pound of lamb, a can of coconut milk, and some Indian spices, you can make this dish easily.

Lamb Curry With Coconut MilkHere's What You Need:1 lb of boneless lamb steak cut into bite size pieces
2 Tbs coconut oil
4 dried red chilies
1 chopped shallot
1large onion chopped
2 and 1/2 tsps garam masala
1 tbs finely chopped fresh ginger
1 and 1/4 tsp turmeric
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 and 1/2 tsp ghee...or extra coconut oil if you have no ghee
1 can of coconut milk
1 and 1/2 Tbs tomato paste
salt to taste
1/2 cup of chopped fresh cilantro

Here's What To Do:Cut the meat into pieces.

Mix the chopped ginger, onion, red chilies, and shallot together.

Mix the fennel seed, turmeric, and garam masala together and set aside.

Heat the coconut oil in a skillet or kadhai. When the oil is hot, add the lamb and stir it around to lightly brown it.
Then add in the onion, chili, ginger, and shallot mixture.

Cook until the onion, ginger,  and shallot are slightly soft then turn the heat down to medium.
Add the garam masala, turmeric, fennel and ghee or extra coconut oil, and stir it into the lamb mixture.

Cook it for a few minutes until the spices turn aromatic.

Add in the coconut milk.

Stir it around...

...then add the salt to taste (I used 1 and 1/2 tsps)...

...and tomato paste.

Bring everything to a boil, then turn it all down to simmer, cover with a lid and let it gently cook for about 1 hour. Check it every now and then and give it a stir to make sure nothing is burning or sticking.
Chop some fresh cilantro for a garnish and serve it up!

I served this with an Indian cold rice salad, aka, curd rice...the recipe is here. Fast simple and hearty, it's a great lunch for 2 with leftovers, or four as a meal with sides.
Spring is really coming in with a bang here in Sonoma. The roses and blooming, my trees are loaded with cherries, both Bing and Ranier, and this weekend involves planting the vegetable garden for the summer season. Lot of recipes and lots more to come. Up next, a family style dessert you can just dig into...literally! Follow along on Twitter @kathygori 
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   Living in Sonoma, Indian markets are few and far between. As as result I grow a lot of my own produce, and spices, but that's only good for a certain part of the year. In the winter we turn over the soil and let things go fallow before we fertilize and renew for the spring. That's when I have to go hunting for the things I need for cooking.  One of my favorite shopping spots is a Cambodian market in Santa Rosa, Phenom Phen. Since a great many of my favorite dishes are  from South Indian cuisine I find a lot of the vegetables and items that I need are available there. The only catch is, this market is about a 50 mile round trip for me, so I'm not there that often. When I do go, I take advantage of everything I can get. Their selection is amazing, and as Maude Lebowski would say, very very thorough.

The other day I made my run to Santa Rosa, and they had just gotten in a whole load of fresh produce including my favorite Indian eggplants. I bought a bunch and brought them home.

   One dish I hadn't made in a long time is a very very simple, mild Kashmiri dish from the north called Tsoont Vaangan aka Eggplants with Apples.This is a recipe from Mrs. Manohar Nath Kaul. I love this dish on working weekdays when I'm always looking for simple, easy, and quick recipes for lunch. With only a few ingredients, this is nearly as simple as it gets.
   The only ingredient that you may not have readily available is Hing also known as Asafoetida powder, however I've found it in some non-Indian markets in the spice section. This is a very powerful, truffle-like spice, made from a Rhizome and is often used in Indian dishes (sometimes for religious purposes) as a substitute for onions or garlic. It smells strong before cooking but when cooked has a garlicky or truffle like flavor. It's great in potato dishes. One only needs a tiny bit of hing so one small jar goes a loooong way.

Eggplants and Apples Here's What You Need:

1 and 1/4 pound eggplant (I used the small Indian eggplant, but any eggplant will do as long as it's cut to proper size)
2  Granny Smith apples
3/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/4 tsp ground fennel seeds
1/4 tsp Kashmiri chili powder or cayenne
6 Tbs vegetable oil (I use coconut oil)
1/8 tsp hing

Here's What To do:
Cut the eggplants into 3/4 inch thick slices on the diagonal. If you've got a big eggplant, halve and quarter it so the pieces are the correct size for cooking.

Cut the apples into wedges, don't peel them.

Grind your fennel seeds in a mortar or spice grinder.

Take the ground fennel seeds and mix them with the turmeric, salt, and chili powder. Stir in 1 Tbs of water and mix to a paste.

Set the paste aside.
Heat the vegetable oil in a skillet or kadhai, when it's hot toss in the hing powder and then the apple wedges.

Brown the apples lightly on all sides, then remove them with a slotted spoon and set them aside.

Put the eggplant slices into the same oil and brown them on both sides.

You may have to do this in batches. As the slices brown, take them out with a slotted spoon and put them with the apples.
When everything has been browned, put the apples and eggplants back into the pan together.

Pour the spice paste into the pan with them and stir gently.

Turn the heat to low and cook for about 10 minutes. Turn the apple and eggplant pieces over gently to coat them and make sure you don't break them.

Lift them out of the pan with a slotted spoon and serve them up.

   This is a very clean and simple dish with a delicate flavor, just right for  a day when you don't want to spend hours in the kitchen. It's also vegan, and gluten free. Coming up next more Indian seasonal specials. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori  
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