Yes, I’m serious. I’m one of those extravagant weirdos that celebrates their half birthday. Why not? It’s just another (great) reason to celebrate; and in my case the celebration meant making a beautiful meal and sharing some fancy wines with a few close girlfriends.
It’s officially Dungeness Crab season in San Francisco, so I decided to make a West Coast version of Maryland Phillip’s crab cakes as the main course. I also wanted to try my hand at Yotam Ottolenghi’s eggplant recipe from his Plenty cookbook – a Half Birthday present for myself – and thought that would make for a hearty side dish. I also made some spicy yogurt dipping sauce for the crab cakes, as well as an Asian cucumber salad (also from Plenty). Everything looked and tasted great!
West Coast Crab Cakes (makes 6 cakes)
- 16 oz. Dungeness Crab meat
- 1 tsp Old Bay seasoning
- 1 egg, whisked
- 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1/4 tsp dry mustard
- 2 TB mayonnaise
- 1 lemon, juiced
- 1 TB dijon mustard
- 1 TB melted butter
- 1 tsp chopped parsley
- 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs
Roasted Eggplant (serves 6)
- 3 large, long eggplants
- 1/2 cup olive oil, plus 1 1/2 TB
- 1 tsp thyme leaves, plus a few sprigs for garnish
- sea salt and black pepper
- 1 pomegranate, or 1/2 cup Pom
- 1 tsp Zahtar
- 9 TB buttermilk
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
- 1 small garlic clove, minced
- pinch of salt
Cucumber Salad (serves 6)
- 3 TB rice wine vinegar
- 1 tsp sugar
- 2 TB sunflower oil, or olive oil
- 2 tsp toasted sesame oil
- 1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
- 1 1/2 inches fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 2 large garlic cloves, peeled
- 4 Persian cucumbers, peeled
- 1 TB toasted sesame seeds
- 3 TB chopped cilantro
All the prep takes about two hours, with a lot of downtime for cheese sampling and wine tasting. Start by mixing the ingredients for the crab cakes. In a large mixing bowl, combine all the ingredients except the crab. Gently fold in the crab meat, being careful not to break up the lumps. Shape into cakes and refrigerate, covered, for at least one hour to retain shape.
Next, prepare the dressing for the salad. Whisk together the rice vinegar, sugar and oils in a medium mixing bowl. Add the sliced red onion and mix well, then leave aside to marinate for about an hour.
Meanwhile, you can begin to make the roasted eggplant. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the eggplants in half, lengthwise, cutting straight through the green stalk (the stalk is for the look – don’t eat it). Use a sharp knife to make diagonal cuts into the “meat” of each eggplant half, without cutting through the skin.
Place the eggplant halves, cut-side up, on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush them with olive oil and sprinkle with thyme leaves, salt and pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes, at which point the flesh should be soft and nicely browned.
While the eggplants are in the oven, remove the seeds from the pomegranate using this handy method. Then, make the yogurt sauce. Whisk together buttermilk, Greek yogurt, 1 1/t TB olive oil, garlic and salt. Taste for seasoning, then keep cold until needed.
With about 15 minutes left to the eggplant, finish preparing the salad. Place the ginger, garlic and salt in a mini food processor and combine until it becomes a sort of paste. Use a rubber spatula to scrape the contents into the bowl with the onion and dressing, then stir together. Cut the cucumbers lengthwise in half, then cut each half on an angle into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Add the cucumber to the bowl, followed by the sesame seeds and cilantro. Stir well and let sit for about 10 minutes before serving. Right before you serve it, tip out some of the excess dressing that has accumulated at the bottom.
It should be about time to remove the eggplant from the oven. Once cooled, transfer to a serving platter. Spoon plenty of the buttermilk sauce over each eggplant halves without covering the stalks. Sprinkle Zahtar and pomegranate seeds on top and garnish with thyme sprigs. Finish off with a drizzle of olive oil, and bam! What a beautiful dish!
Lastly – and because they need to be served hot – put the crab cakes in the oven and lower the heat to 375. Cook for 12-15 minutes, or until evenly browned on each side. Remove from oven and transfer to a serving dish.
I served three delicious wines with this meal: 2011 Chappellet Chenin Blanc Napa Valley to be paired with the crab cakes and salad, 2010 Portalupi Pinot Noir Russian River Valley il Migliore to be paired with the eggplant, and 2010 Freemark Abbey Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley to be paired with after dinner chit chat – and Annie P.’s chocolate mint half cake (best baking friend everrrrrr). All three wines were very special to me, and I was happy to share them with my friends. The Chenin Blanc was actually purchased on my birthday this past year, so it was the perfect occasion and it paired wonderfully with the crab cakes. The Portalupi Pinot was fantastic, and had just the right amount of earthiness to pair with the hearty eggplant. The Cabernet could have used a few more years, but it was still drinking well and it was the perfect wine to end the evening.
So I urge you, dear readers, to find something to celebrate. Whether it’s your half birthday, or some other random occasion, it’s a great excuse to enjoy delicious food and wine – and try out some new recipes while you’re at it!