May It Please the Palate ...

My dear Aunt Tina

By Nick Roumel

My youngest is graduating from high school. Never mind that I’m going to be an empty nester, thus allowing me the unbridled fun of spending more evenings at the office.

In the meantime, there is a rite of passage to take care of — the graduation “open house.”

There are some who do not believe graduating high school is much of an accomplishment.

Former Detroit Tiger great Kirk Gibson, when managing the Arizona Diamondbacks, refused to skip a midseason game against the Texas Rangers in 2012 to see his son graduate from high school.

“You're supposed to graduate,” Gibson famously said.

Mr. Gibson: you’re also supposed to get married and die, yet people attend weddings and funerals. They do it to celebrate a rite of passage, or honor a life well lived.

With graduations, it’s not so much about the “accomplishment” of graduating as to wish the graduate, sailing off into adulthood, a fond bon voyage.

One other common theme runs through these events: abundant food.

Whether it’s comfort or celebration, people get hungry. So in planning my daughter’s graduation party, we’ve got to feed them.

We had the advantage of surveying the landscape by attending several of her classmates’ graduation parties in advance.

One was elegantly catered with finger food. Another featured three tables groaning with sumptuousness.

A third had all homemade treats, from roast lamb to my favorite cooky, ‘Scotchies.

We also grappled with the question of alcohol.

The first party was all soft. These are supposed to be for high schoolers, right?

But the next had the graduate’s Uncle Ken behind a well-stocked open bar.

Given that our party is late on a Saturday, we ended up agreeing to beer and wine for the adults.

One concession I did make was that all the food would be vegan. This is important to my daughter, who hasn’t eaten meat, fish, dairy or eggs in over six years.

Which brings me to my dear Aunt Tina, my mother’s only surviving sibling, who is making the trip from Pittsburgh to attend the party.

She asked if she could bring anything. I told her it has to be vegan.

She paused and said, I could make pizzelles (lattice cookies). I said no Aunt Tina, they have butter and eggs. She offered an orzo salad with Feta. I told her no cheese.

Picture the incredulous Aunt in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” who upon discovering Nia’s fiancé was vegetarian, said “That’s okay. I make lamb.”

I asked Aunt Tina if she and her son could make vegetarian grape leaves instead (my cousin Michael makes the best in the family).

After recovering her speech, Aunt Tina asked me, “If there’s pine nuts in them, is that okay?”

Oh my dear, sweet Aunt Tina. Here’s something I am going to make that’s actually vegan — a smoky, simple Greek eggplant dip (similar to baba ghanouj):

Melitzano Salata Me Piperi
(eggplant salad with
roasted red pepper)

1 eggplant
1 red pepper
2 cloves garlic
¼ cup olive oil
2 TBS red wine vinegar
½ tsp salt
lemon wedges and chopped flat leaf parsley for garnish

1. Preheat oven to 450°. Prick eggplant a few times with a knife or fork. Place eggplant and red pepper on a roasting pan.
2.  Turn red pepper occasionally. When it is blistered on all sides, after about 40-50 minutes, remove and cool. Remove eggplant after it has cooked for an hour. Let cool as well.
3.  Remove skin off eggplant. Remove seeds. Cut into small chunks.
4.  Mince the garlic cloves in the food processor. Add the eggplant and coarsely chop. Slowly add the olive oil. Dissolve the salt into the vinegar and add that as well, processing just until mixed. You should have a rough, slightly chunky texture.
5. Remove the blistered skin and seeds from the red pepper. Chop finely with a knife, and blend into the eggplant mixture with a fork.
6. Serve at room temperature, or refrigerate and serve the next day. Garnish with lemon wedges and chopped parsley. Serve with rustic Greek bread or pita wedges.
And some roast lamb.

Nick Roumel is a principal with Nacht, Roumel, Salvatore, Blanchard, and Walker PC, a firm in Ann Arbor specializing in employment and civil right litigation. He also has many years of varied restaurant and catering experience, has taught Greek cooking classes, and writes a food/restaurant column for “Current” magazine in Ann Arbor. He occasionally updates his blog at