Afghan in Raritan; Lamb Sliders & Eggplant Recipes; Edible Jersey Wants Your Food Story

3 Olives Mediterranean Restaurant

There’s an awful lot of mediocre Middle Eastern food around, so I took my sweet time getting to this “Afghan fusion” spot on W. Somerset St in Raritan. A real mistake on my part, because not only does 3 Olives, situated in a former dive bar (Mugs Pub), feature impressively fresh, full-flavored versions of hummus, grape leaves, and Greek salad (here dubbed “Mediterranean” salad), it puts an Afghan spin – and to my taste, a superior spin – on them and other dishes, including versions of naan and daal.

Hummus with naan at 3 Olives
Hummus with naan at 3 Olives

3 Olives is surprising in other ways: cloth napkins, full liquor license, and stylish tableware, like that shown above. All in a dark, old-fashioned wood-paneled, commercial-carpeted setting. Adding to its appeal is its friendly, easygoing owner, Arina Zafar, who served as hostess and order-taker on our noontime visit.

eggplant and 3 olives 005

At lunch, full meals run about $8 and include complimentary house-made naan with two dips (yogurt with cilantro and garlicky vinaigrette with red pepper, above) and  soup (lentil, on our visit) or a mini-version of the full-size Mediterranean salad, below. Notice that the red pepper vinaigrette comes on the side.

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All the Afghan dishes we tried were standouts. Fried leek dumplings called aushak topped with homemade yogurt and meat sauce; a stew of spinach and meltingly soft boneless lamb chunks (sabzi chalaw); and the vegetarian sampler, with its choice of 3 stews/purees. I chose eggplant, lentil, and pumpkin. Each had back notes of slow-cooked onions, ripe tomatoes, and its own warm spices.

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What’s not shown above is the accompanying basmati rice, which blew me away. It’s perfection – tender but not mushy, each grain separate and fluffy, wearing a light sheen of what I suspect is ghee. But more than that, the rice itself is stunningly flavorful. As we were leaving, I overheard Ms. Zafar telling another table that she and her husband, Kris, who is the chef, travel to northern Virginia every couple of months to buy the rice, which she described as “three times above regular basmati.” I concur.
3 Olives Mediterranean Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon

attention sign

attention sign (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Attention home bakers: What took me to the Raritan area was a visit to Candyland Crafts on W. Main Street in Somerville. Despite its name, it’s also a baking supply paradise, with an immense selection of commercial-grade bakeware, tools, packaging materials, and professional ingredients (e.g., large bags of pre-made royal icing waiting for water). Prices are closer to wholesale than to retail.

Me & Main Street Bistro: An Ongoing Affair

eggplant and 3 olives 004I had no idea when I was randomly searching the internet for a recipe for eggplant rollatini that I would confront my past – and not even recognize it. The upshot? My  In the Kitchen column in the October 25th edition of The Princeton Packet, with the story behind how Princeton’s Main Street Bistro became one of Bon Appetit magazines Great Neighborhood Restaurants. Here are the related recipes: my adaptation of that rollatini dish and Main Street’s popular lamb sliders.

MAIN STREET BISTRO’S EGGPLANT ROLLATINI
www.epicurious.com

Nonstick olive oil spray
All purpose flour
4 large eggs, beaten to blend
3-1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread
2-2/3 cups grated Parmesan cheese (about 8 ounces)
18 1/4- to 1/3-inch-thick lengthwise eggplant slices (from 2 medium)
3 cups (packed) coarsely grated whole-milk mozzarella cheese (about 12 ounces)
1-1/4 cups ricotta cheese (preferably whole-milk)
3/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
3 cups purchased marinara sauce

  1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray 3 baking sheets and one 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish with nonstick spray. Place flour in one wide shallow bowl, eggs in second bowl, and breadcrumbs mixed with 1 cup Parmesan cheese in another. Sprinkle each eggplant slice with salt and pepper. Coat each slice with flour, then beaten egg, and finally breadcrumb mixture. Arrange eggplant slices in single layer on prepared sheets. Bake eggplant in batches until coating is golden, turning after 15 minutes, about 30 minutes total. Cool on sheets.
  2. Mix mozzarella cheese, ricotta cheese, basil, and 1 cup Parmesan cheese in medium bowl. Season filling with salt and pepper. Divide filling among eggplant slices (about 3 tablespoons per slice); spread evenly. Starting at 1 short end, roll up eggplant slices, enclosing filling. Arrange rolls, seam side down, in prepared baking dish. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and chill.)
  3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Spoon marinara sauce over rolls; sprinkle with remaining 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese. Bake uncovered until rollatini are heated through and mozzarella cheese melts, about 30 minutes.
    Makes 6 main-course servings.

LORI MARSHALL’S LAMB LOAF/SLIDERS/GYROS

1 pound ground lamb
1 pound mix of ground veal, pork, and/or beef (all beef can be substituted)
2 cloves garlic
3/4 cup finely chopped white or yellow onion
1-1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon (rounded) marjoram
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Place all ingredients in a food processor and blend 1 minute. Form into slider patties or pack into two loaf pans. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

For loaf pans, preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. Drain fat from pans. For sliders, sauté in olive oil for 3 minutes on each side.

To assemble sliders: Place a slider on a mini-pita, or use circle cookie cutter to form mini-pitas from full size. Add tzatziki (recipe follows) and cucumber slices as desired.

To assemble gyros: Slice the lamb loaf lengthwise about 1/8″ thick and sauté in olive oil to a crispy brown.  Serve with tzatziki (recipe follows), warm pita, chopped tomato, and shredded lettuce.

Makes 20 to 24 patties for sliders. Each loaf makes 4 to 5 servings as gyros (each gyro containing 4 to 5 slices).

MAIN STREET BISTRO TZATZIKI
Chef Nick Schiano

1 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cucumber, peeled, seeded, and grated
1 teaspoon lemon juice, plus more to taste
1teaspoon minced garlic
Several pinches salt, plus more to taste

  1. Place yogurt in a cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl and drain for 2 hours.
  2. Toss cucumber with salt and drain for 2 hours.
  3. Mix lemon juice and garlic with yogurt and cucumber. Taste and add additional lemon juice and salt if needed.
    Makes 1 cup.

Edible Jersey Wants You!

Edible jersey cover fall 13For the second time in its history Edible Jersey magazine is soliciting everyone for 150-word stories about our favorite food experiences – people, places, memories, etc. – for a feature they’re calling “Edible Life.” This is the second time they’re doing this. (The first time around, I contributed my first food memory: eating a fig which my elderly Italian neighbor had plucked from his tree and handed through the wire fence that separated our backyards in Newark’s Central Ward.) Here, in their own words, is what the magazine is looking for:

“In 150 words or less, tell us about one of your food-related favorites: the roadside hole-in the wall with incredible food, the teapot your grandmother gave you, the farm stand you’ve visited every summer since you were 3, the best spot for Jamaican food in NJ, your favorite cooking spice, the best meal you ever had, the kitchen utensil or appliance you can’t live without, your favorite diner, your favorite summer produce, a treasured cookbook, your favorite bartender, your favorite farmers’ market, the cooking class that made a difference …. You get the idea.”

Send your submission to info@ediblejersey.com and include “Edible Life” in the title. You are welcome to submit more than one favorite. Be sure to include your name, phone number and town. (And please do adhere to the 150 word limit.) All selected “Edible Life” submissions will be notified prior to publication and the writer’s name, business/restaurant (if relevant) and town will be included with printed selections. Deadline to submit is November 8, 2013.

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