I love this side dish for being so simple to make, yet extremely attractive. Similar to lasagna or moussaka, potato gratin should be cooked in advance, refrigerated to set, removed from the pan, sliced to portions while cold, and reheated before serving. If all steps are done in that order, a humble potato makes an eye-catching side dish, a beautiful element of any plated dinner.
This casserole is a celebration of vegetables! Look at the list of ingredients. Their variety is stunning! That’s why the complexity of this dish flavors conquers the taste buds of vegetarians and carnivores alike. Just like any other layered dish, benefits from being cooked in advance, set in a refrigerator for a few hours and reheated portioned right before serving. It helps to develop flavors and keep colorful layers presentable.
For years my tians looked similar — overlapping round slices of vegetables layered in an alternating pattern. After the successful variation of Patlican Kebabi, I wanted to try the same arrangement of vegetables for tian. And loved it!
This recipe is an adaptation of southern Turkish style kebab, prepared in the oven. Eggplants are cooked twice — either grilled or fried first, and then baked with meat in a tomato and pepper sauce — to concentrate flavor. My version of Patlican Kebabi doesn’t look the same as Turkish, but the idea of vertical rolls allows to use large Italian eggplants we mostly have available in Central Texas.
In the original recipe, whole onions are salt roasted first. Than, their cooked inner layers are scooped out, chopped, seasoned, and mixed with béchamel (flour, butter and milk) for stuffing. Finally, stuffed onions are baked in salt for the second time for serving.
I experimented with a few different thickening ingredients to replace béchamel — nuts (roasted and salted pistachios and marcona almonds), egg yolk, cheese, and corn starch. Proportions for other thickeners per 1 cup of puree were the following: 1 egg yolk (large egg), or 1 oz of grated cheese, or 1 tsp of corn starch. Each of them slightly affected the taste and texture of the stuffing, and all of them were really good. They turned cooked onion puree into a delicacy comparable with foie gras — sweet onion foie gras.
While the rest of the world used this word to describe a matchstick knife cut, for Russian-speaking culinary community julienne has always been a chicken and mushroom casserole en cocotte. This legendary dish was extremely popular during the Soviet era in high-end restaurants as well as at home. Naturally, the assumption was that the recipe is a result of French influence on pre-revolution Russian cuisine. All stories I know about this dish are mostly anecdotes. Many different recipes claim to be original. Some insist on using mushrooms, preferably porchini. Other include cooked chicken and other vegetables. Restaurant versions often add bechamel or mornay sauces, while home cooks prefer sour cream. Everybody makes this dish adjusted to their personal taste, keeping the same only basic ingredients and the way it is served. Russian julienne has to be cooked individually portioned in mini casseroles and covered with a generous amount of cheese to melt on top. It is simple and delicious!