Southern Pimento Cheese Dip

For those of you who have followed my blog for some time, you know that Charleston, South Carolina is a very special place for me. (I write about it in all of my Shrimp & Grits posts!) I love everything about it. The culture. The architecture. The FOOD. I met my husband there. ❤ I went to graduate school there and met amazing people and established wonderful friendships there as well. It is just beyond fabulous. 🙂

I recently attended a reunion weekend in Charleston with my best girlfriends. It was better than great. I smiled for three days! 🙂 I also ate incredible food… Which brings me to this post.

I have a memory of pimento cheese from way back when in my South Carolina days. I had never heard of it- growing up in Maryland- and didn’t like it at all. Well, now I’ve seen the light! Pimento cheese can be jarred pimentos mixed with Miracle Whip and shredded cheddar cheese- maybe with a little cream cheese. It could also be this. (The Anson Mills website makes a point of this.) On my recent visit, we ate pimento cheese dip (from Ted’s Butcher Block) with rosemary crackers for breakfast, lunch, and happy hour. 😉 It was that good. When we went to buy a second container, I asked for the recipe. Apparently, it’s a secret… but they did tell me that it didn’t have pimentos- it had roasted red peppers instead. No wonder I loved it!

When I came home, I searched for a similar recipe. I was so pleased when I found it on AnsonMills.com. I made it to share with friends on the Fourth of July. The Long Island crowd loved it! 🙂 I used New York extra-extra sharp raw milk yellow cheddar cheese (the cheese is very important), organic mayonnaise, and grilled the peppers to roast and char them. We ate the finished dip chilled with rosemary crackers, pita chips, stone ground wheat crackers, and Trader Joe’s social snackers. Delicious!

  • 3 firm red bell peppers (about 6 ounces each), roasted and charred on a gas grill, steamed, peeled and seeded, and cut into ⅛-inch dice (instructions below)
  • 4 large garlic cloves
  • 1 T red wine vinegar
  • fine sea salt
  • 1/2 tsp hot sauce, such as Chipotle Cholula, Sriracha, or Tabasco
  • 12 oz cheddar cheese, preferably 12 oz extra-extra sharp raw milk yellow cheddar (or 6 oz each of sharp yellow cheddar and aged raw-milk white cheddar, or 12 oz of sharp yellow cheddar)
  • 4 oz (½ cup) organic mayonnaise, plus additional as needed
  • assorted crackers or celery sticks, for serving
  1. Using a gas grill, roast the red peppers until their skins are uniformly charred.
  2. Place in a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Set aside for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the skins have loosened from the steam and they are cool enough to handle.
  3. Remove the charred skin, seeds, and ribs from the peppers. (Do not rinse!) Dice into 1/8-inch pieces. Reserve any residual juice/liquid.
  4. Add the diced roasted bell peppers and any residual juice to a small non-reactive bowl (you should have 1 very generous cup).
  5. Smash the garlic cloves with the flat side of a chef’s knife, remove and discard the skins, and add the garlic to the bowl with the peppers.
  6. Stir in the vinegar, ½ teaspoon salt, and up to ½ teaspoon hot sauce. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in the refrigerator for 1 to 2 hours.
  7. Meanwhile, grate the cheese on the large holes of a box grater (you should have about 4 cups lightly packed). Turn the cheese into a large bowl and set aside.
  8. Remove and discard the garlic cloves from the peppers, which are now pimentos, and, using a rubber spatula, stir the pimentos into the grated cheese until well combined.
  9. Add the mayonnaise and fold lightly with the spatula. If the mixture appears too dry, fold in additional mayonnaise, 1 tablespoon at a time. Taste for seasoning.
  10. Transfer the pimento cheese to a serving container with a lid, cover tightly, and refrigerate for at least 2 hours.
  11. Serve chilled with assorted crackers or packed into celery ribs.

Note: Covered tightly, pimento cheese keeps refrigerated for up to 1 week.

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Roasted Vegetable Moussaka

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I was inspired to make a roasted vegetable moussaka after seeing a recipe on El Chino Latino Cocina. It sounded like such a wonderful vegetarian version and had Greek yogurt in the topping to lighten the dish. I had made a similar, but non-vegetarian, light version for mom in the past because she LOVES Greek food. 🙂 When my mom was visiting us recently, I planned to make her a special birthday dinner. I decided that birthdays deserve indulgence- and special, labor-intensive meals…. so I chose to make this “less light” vegetarian moussaka adapted from Tori Avey. 🙂

This dish was hearty and absolutely delicious. I loved the use of lentils instead of meat; I loved my choice of tiny black lentils too because they kept their shape. My mom really enjoyed it! We had carrot cake cupcakes (her favorite) for dessert as well. 🙂 Just when I thought that my mom couldn’t be more pleased, my kids outshined my efforts by buying my mom a birthday gift at our local historic General Store with their saved allowance money. So cute. Happy HAPPY Happy Birthday, Mama!! ❤

I’m bringing this dish to share with my blog friends at Fiesta Friday #42 this week at The Novice Gardener. Enjoy!

Yield: Serves 8

  • 1 1/2 lbs. zucchini (about 3 medium), sliced thin
  • 1 1/2 lbs. russet potatoes (about 3 large), peeled and sliced thin
  • 3 lbs. small eggplants
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled
  • cooking oil spray
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 1 cup black lentils (about 1 1/2  to 2 cups cooked lentils)
  • 1 (12 oz) jar roasted red peppers or 1 large roasted red bell pepper, sliced thin
  • 3 cups diced ripe red tomatoes or 1 can (28 oz.) diced tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp chopped fresh dill
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 to 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • 10 tbsp grated pecorino or parmesan cheese, divided
  • 4 tbsp (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
  • 3 tbsp all purpose white flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg, or more to taste
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

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  1. Place lentils in a sauce pot and cover with water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil, lightly salt, and then lower heat to a simmer; cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tender.
  2. Place racks on the upper and lower thirds of your oven. Preheat oven to 425 degrees on convection roast. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and coat with cooking spray. Spread out the zucchini in a single layer across the baking sheets. Brush the exposed tops of the vegetables with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and black pepper.
  3. Place one baking sheet on the upper rack of the oven and the other on the lower half. Roast veggies for 10 minutes. Remove sheets from oven and place them back in the oven, switching racks. Roast for about 5 to 10 more minutes, until veggies are tender and starting to turn golden brown (check the bottoms of the veggies for browning).
  4. Repeat this process with two additional parchment-lined baking sheets of sliced potatoes; include the garlic cloves.
  5. While potatoes and zucchini are roasting, remove the stem ends from the eggplants. Peel strips from the eggplants so that they have thin stripes of peel remaining down the sides (they will be half-peeled). Cut the eggplants into 1/2 inch slices, crosswise.
  6. When potatoes and zucchini are done roasting, remove them from the oven and set aside. Take the 3 roasted garlic cloves and chop them, reserve.
  7. Line two additional baking sheets with parchment paper and lightly spray with cooking oil. Spread eggplant slices into a single layer. Brush with olive oil and sprinkle lightly with salt and pepper. Place the baking sheets in the oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, switching the baking sheets on upper and lower thirds halfway through cooking, until the slices are tender and lightly golden (check the bottom edges of slices for browning).
  8. While eggplant is roasting, place a sautĂŠ pan or sauce pan (I used a 4 quart sauce pan) on the stovetop. Warm up 2 tbsp olive oil in the pan over medium high heat. SautĂŠ diced onion until softened and translucent. Add roasted bell pepper slices and chopped roasted garlic, saute for another 2 minutes. Add cooked lentils, diced tomatoes, fresh dill, oregano, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and 3/4 tsp salt to the pan; stir well. Reduce heat to medium and let mixture cook for about 5 more minutes until warmed through. If using fresh tomatoes, let the mixture cook for 10 minutes until tomatoes are soft.
  9. When eggplant is done roasting, remove it from the oven and reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees F (convection). Lightly grease your baking dish with cooking oil spray. Place a single layer of half of the roasted eggplant slices on the bottom of your dish.
  10. On top of that, place a layer of half the potatoes and half the zucchini.
  11. Spread the lentil mixture evenly in a single layer across the surface.
  12. Sprinkle 2 tbsp of grated pecorino or parmesan and ½ cup crumbled feta across the top of the lentil mixture.
  13. Place the rest of the potatoes and zucchini in another layer on top of the cheese.
  14. Finish with a layer of the remaining roasted eggplant slices. Sprinkle top of the moussaka with 2 tbsp more of grated pecorino or parmesan cheese. (I refrigerated the pan at this point.)
  15. (Return the reserved pan to room temperature.) Place moussaka in the oven for 20 minutes to bake at 375 degrees F (convection).
  16. Meanwhile, while the moussaka is baking, make the bÊchamel sauce for the top of the moussaka. In a small pan, melt butter over medium heat. Whisk flour into the melted butter till dissolved and thick. Continue to whisk for a few minutes until the flour/butter mixture turns a light sandy brown color.
  17. Slowly whisk in milk. Bring mixture to a simmer, then reduce heat to medium.
  18. Whisk in 2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese. Continue whisking for a few minutes until the sauce starts to thicken. Remove from heat. Add ž tsp salt, nutmeg, and black pepper to taste. Whisk the beaten egg slowly into the sauce (drizzle the egg while whisking constantly).
  19. Remove the moussaka from the oven. Pour sauce evenly across the top of the moussaka. Sprinkle Âź cup grated pecorino or parmesan cheese on top of the sauce.
  20. Put moussaka back in the oven. Cook for another 30 minutes until the top is golden brown and the moussaka is cooked through.
  21. Serve hot. Don’t expect it all to hold together neatly when served; it will slice more cleanly and pieces will hold together better after it has cooled.

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