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Grilled Eggplant–Red Pepper Rolls

Grilled Eggplant–Red Pepper Rolls

Crab Salad with Rémoulade

Crab Salad with Rémoulade

Lamb-Filled Roasted Onions

Lamb-Filled Roasted Onions


Shafer Wine & Food

Small Plates, Big Flavor

Little dishes create fun setting for wine discovery

If chef and author Lori Lyn Narlock has her way, small will be the new big. Her cookbook Small Plates, Perfect Wines creates a compelling case for moving toward small, shared plates of delicious, vibrant cuisine over the more traditional one-plate entrees at most restaurants and dinner parties.

As far as she’s concerned sharing lots of nibbles together is the hallmark of a great meal.

“If you share a bunch of small plates, you’re sharing the same experience,” says Narlock. “The plates are moving around the table, you’re may be eating with your fingers, you’re talking about the flavor. There’s a sense of revelry. It heightens everything at the table.”

Her recipes are inspired by cuisine she’s experienced in her travels such as the antipasti of Italy, tapas of Spain, and the yakatori of Japan.

Before living and working in Napa Valley, Narlock taught cooking classes in Japan and was influenced by the approach there to eating.

“Most authentic Japanese cuisine is small bowls and sushi which is meant to be shared,” she says. “Yakitori is usually roast meats or tofu on a stick, tiny servings.”

The idea of a communal table took hold and planted a seed that become the basis for her cookbook.

“I’m just happier at a meal with three or four appetizers,” she says.

After moving to Napa she also began to see that an evening of small plates could be a great way to expand her understanding of food and wine pairings.

“If you throw a small plates party it gives you and your guests the chance to open a Cabernet or Chardonnay from Napa Valley, open a Syrah/Grenache from Chateauneuf-du-Pape, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, and try them all with, say, the grilled eggplant-red pepper rolls,” Narlock says, referencing a recipe in the book. “Pairing with and against foods can help you understand which wines and food combinations work better and which don’t.”

In her own life Narlock says she’s learned to avoid the “only this with this” approach when pairing food and wine.

“The more you taste, the better your palate becomes. And it makes you a lot more confident when it comes to knowing the food and wine combinations you enjoy,” she says.

The key is first having fun with food and wine, she says, and second its learning what you like rather than what a book tells you you should like.”

“When you have a bunch of different flavors at once in combination with various wines, it just speeds up your education. Tasting different elements side by side helps develop a sense for why some things work,” she says.

The importance of fun and enjoyment carried over into choosing and crafting the recipes for the book, which meant ensuring that they weren’t overwhelmingly complex.

“These aren’t chef recipes,” Narlock says. “I didn’t want this to be a book to sit on a shelf full of recipes people wished they had the time to tackle.”

The same went for selecting key ingredients.

“I think the hardest thing to find in the whole book is watercress,” she says.

Each recipe comes with wine pairing suggestions that Narlock says works well for her.

“With something more acidic, I like to go with a recipe that brings in some brighter, fruitier elements,” she says. “I like a bite that can bite back.”

With the book’s Crab Salad with Remoulade, for example, she suggests a Chardonnay or Rose as a nuanced pairing with the dish’s lemon, rice vinegar, mustard and chives flavors.

With richer flavors she turns to red wines, such as with the book’s Lamb-filled Roasted Onions recipe.

“In this dish I really like wines such as Pinot Noir or Merlot that have a lot of brighter red fruit characteristics which I think work nicely with the lamb, which I think of as having a somewhat sweet flavor, and the onions that here take on a more carmelized character.”

Moving to Cabernet Sauvignon Narlock suggests a pairing of Grilled Eggplant-Red Pepper Rolls.

“A lot of times when people think of Cabernet they think of game and beef. This one plays on what works well in that kind of traditional pairing. While this recipe is vegetarian, the combination of the meaty richness of the Japanese eggplant, olive oil, Parmesan cheese and pine nuts comes together as a nice rich package that works beautifully with Cabernet.”

Narlock hopes the cookbook inspires countless fun dinner parties and helps readers to develop more confidence in what they enjoy.

Her advice for educating the palate is simple: “Taste, taste, taste.”


Grilled Eggplant–Red Pepper Rolls

Servings: 6

1⁄3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus oil for brushing and more if needed for puree
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed and peeled
3 unpeeled large
Japanese eggplants
2 red bell peppers Kosher salt
1⁄4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes
1 tablespoon pine nuts 11⁄2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves

Wine pairing
Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, or Meritage

In a small skillet, combine the 1⁄3 cup olive oil and the garlic. Cook over low heat until the garlic is aromatic, about 15 minutes. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Cut 3 or 4 slices (each about 1⁄ 8 inch thick) from each eggplant half with a mandoline or a very sharp knife, starting on the cut side of each
half. You should have at least 18 slices; prepare a few extra in case some tear in grilling or rolling. Cut the red peppers into quarters lengthwise; seed, devein, and brush lightly with olive oil.

Preheat a gas grill to medium. Place the pepper quarters on the grill and close the lid. Grill, turning occasionally, until the skin is blistered and blackened and the flesh is tender, 12 to 15 minutes. Place in a resealable plastic bag, seal, and let stand until cool to the touch, about 15 minutes. Peel and cut into 1⁄4-inch-thick strips. Increase the grill heat to medium-high and brush the eggplant slices lightly with the garlic oil. Season with salt to taste. Grill the eggplant until grill-marked and tender, about 1 minute per side. Stack on a plate and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

In a blender, combine the cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, pine nuts, half of the basil, and the remaining garlic oil. Puree until smooth, adding more olive oil if needed to make the blending easier.

One at a time, place the eggplant slices on a work surface. Spread lightly with the basil mixture and top with a leaf or two of the remaining basil leaves and a few strips of roasted pepper. Carefully roll up and place, seam side down, on a platter or arrange 3 rolls on each of 6 small plates and serve.

Recipe Courtesy of Lori Lyn Narlock, Small Plates, Perfect Wines, Andrew McMeel Publishing, LLC. Photography by Dan Mills.

Crab Salad with RÉmoulade

Servings: 6

Rémoulade Sauce
1⁄2 cup mayonnaise
11⁄2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 tablespoon ketchup
1 teaspoon Creole or stone-ground mustard
1 teaspoon Spanish smoked sweet paprika (pimentón dulce)
1⁄4 teaspoon curry powder
1⁄4 cup finely diced celery
1 tablespoon minced shallot
2 teaspoons minced fresh chives Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups cauliflower florets, cut in half if larger than 1 inch
4 cups thinly sliced napa cabbage
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
12 ounces fresh lump crabmeat, picked over for shell
2 tablespoons minced fresh chives

Wine pairing
Chardonnay or Rose

In a small bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, ketchup, and mustard. Stir in the paprika and curry powder. Fold in the celery, shallot, and chives. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

In a large pot of salted boiling water, cook the cauliflower until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold water to stop the cooking. Let cool.
In a medium bowl, toss the cabbage with the olive oil and vinegar. Divide among 6 small plates or shallow bowls.

Put the cauliflower in the bowl that held the cabbage. Stir in the crabmeat and rémoulade. Spoon equal amounts of the mixture over the cabbage and sprinkle with the 2 tablespoons chives. Serve.

Recipe Courtesy of Lori Lyn Narlock, Small Plates, Perfect Wines, Andrew McMeel Publishing, LLC. Photography by Dan Mills.

Lamb-Filled Roasted Onions

Servings: 6

6 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs
6 unpeeled sweet onions (8 to 10 ounces each)
11⁄2 cups chicken stock or low-sodium broth
1⁄4 cup dried sour cherries, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon grated orange zest
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces ground lamb
1 tablespoon minced fresh thyme
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint
1⁄2 teaspoon ground cinnamon Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wine pairing
Pinot Noir or Merlot

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Spread the bread crumbs on a sided baking sheet. Bake, stirring occasionally, until lightly toasted, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove from the oven.

Cut 1⁄2 inch off the top of each onion and set the tops aside. Do not peel the onions. Cut a thin slice off the bottom, if necessary, so that each onion can stand upright. Using a paring knife, cut out the center of each onion, leaving the 2 outermost layers in place. Finely chop enough of the onion centers to make 1 cup (reserve the remainder for another use).

In a small saucepan, bring 1 cup of the stock to a boil over high heat. Cook until reduced to about 1⁄3 cup, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the cherries and orange zest. Remove from the heat, cover, and let stand.

In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the lamb and cook, stirring often to break up the meat, until browned, 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from the heat. Stir in the cherry mixture, thyme, mint, and cinnamon. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Spoon an equal amount of the filling into the center of each onion and place in a baking dish. Pour the remaining 1⁄2 cup stock into the baking dish. Top each onion with first 1 table- spoon of bread crumbs followed by a small piece of the remaining 1 tablespoon of butter. Place the onion tops in the baking dish but not on top of the onions and bake, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Cover with aluminum foil and bake until tender, about 30 minutes. Remove the foil and bake until crumbs are crisp and browned, about 5 minutes. Replace the onion tops. Divide the onions among 6 small plates and serve.

Recipe Courtesy of Lori Lyn Narlock, Small Plates, Perfect Wines, Andrew McMeel Publishing, LLC. Photography by Dan Mills.


Lori Lyn Narlock blogs at Her cookbooks, including Small Plates, Perfect Wines, are available online and at local booksellers.