Monday Breakfast

I’m not a morning person. Before I have my first cup of coffee you better stay away. Mondays are the hardest – the weekend fast gone, school back again, and with it the rush, the kids’ cereal, the lunch boxes, the heavy backpacks and the inevitable “Why do we have to go to school?” – and freezing Chicago weather on top of that. I do hate Mondays.

Yet I love breakfast, but not before 10 am and not in a hurry. I was never one for a quick fix of a typical workday morning. I loathe cereal, any resemblance of porridge, granola, muesli, fruit yogurt or a boring slice of bread with ham or cheese. I would rather go hungry than eat that. For me, breakfast is something to be enjoyed and not forget right away. I’m way more of an English breakfast than a weak continental affair person, even though I wouldn’t be able to do this every day. I tried heavy morning fare during a six-day trip to Scotland last spring, but got overwhelmed. Besides, the sausages were horrible.

Brunches were invented for me, but since I can’t have them every day, I try to keep the feeling throughout the week by taking care with what I make myself after dumping the kids at school – and the husband, for that matter. And here a well stock pantry comes in handy. You can do miracles if you have few essentials, well essentials for me anyway, like cans of hummus and baba ghanoush – the smoky eggplant dip popular in the Middle East – jars of mixed pickles and marinated peperoncini – medium spicy peppers often used in Southern Italy and Greece – black olives and some cheese. I always buy the olives with pits and preferably cured in brine or olive oil. Never buy them pitted – huge mistake. They are dry, tasteless and usually too salty. My new favorites are tiny Lebanese black olives, very similar in shape and taste to the overpriced Provençal ones, but much cheaper. You can find all of the above in Middle Eastern grocery stores. As for cheese – nothing fancy – Bulgarian sheep feta, simple fresh goat cheese or strong, creamy cheddar. I’ll stop here, as I can go on and on about cheese – but more about that some other time. Finally the bread, which is quite a pain in this country. Even my local Polish deli has mediocre bread, which came as a surprise, as in Poland it is generally very decent. The Sicilian bakery next door specializes in sweets and has no crusty Italian ciabatta. I still wonder how something so basic as bread could be done so wrong here. Thank God again for the Middle Eastern bakeries and Trader Joe’s. The first cater great flat breads, usually baked at the premises, the second is the source of my family’s much-loved bagels and English muffins, as well extraordinary sourdough breads.

This Monday it was a dense chewy bagel for me, toasted and spread with baba ghanoush, topped with smoky cured ham, a slice of feta and peperoncini for extra bite. I made a small side salad with mixed baby greens, cherry tomatoes and scallions, sprinkled with balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. A big latte and the BBC News web site rounded the perfect breakfast for me. I was ready to face yet another day of financial crises, big presidential plans and small domestic accidents.

For those who are not as lucky as me to have a great Middle Eastern grocery only two bus rides away, here is a recipe for baba ghanoush. This delicious smoky dip will get you hooked.

Ingredients:

  • two medium plum eggplants; look for deep purple ones without brown spots
  • 2 garlic cloves – peeled, smashed to paste with ½ tsp salt in a mortar (you can use less, but eggplants love garlic)
  • 1 ½ tbsp tahini paste
  • juice of half lemon
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped (optional)

Preparation:

Back home I had an old thin metal pan that I used only for grilling peppers and eggplant. I would put it on the gas hob over high heat and grill the vegetables, turning them until the skin was charred all over. You can use a grill or very hot oven – 425°F/220°C. Pierce the skins of the eggplants to prevent them from bursting and place in the oven for at least 45 minutes. The skin should be black and crisp and the meat soft. Put them in a plastic bag or bowl with a tight cover for 15 minutes. This will help with the peeling – the skin will slide off easily. Mash the flesh in a bowl, add the garlic, lemon, tahini and oil – mix well and try for seasoning. Add more salt, lemon juice or olive oil if desired. The dip will hold well in the fridge for a week. I like to add chopped parsley. You can spread it on sandwiches, or use it as a dip for raw vegetables, as part of a meze platter for a light supper or a starter for a dinner party.

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2 Responses to “Monday Breakfast”

  1. Wanda Says:

    Wow Margo, I’m impressed! Keep it coming!

  2. Margo Says:

    Will do now that I have 4 readers including you:)

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