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Soul Gastrolounge.

Soul Gastrolounge – Charlotte, NC

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Y’all. I can’t tell you how happy I am to find Soul Gastrolounge in my new home of Charlotte. Moving from Chicago, one of the things I missed desperately was the plethora of amazing food right outside my front door. Don’t get me wrong, the food in Charlotte is good and there are lots of yummy BBQ options, but let’s be honest, it’s no Chicago. Soul Gastrolounge is definitely up there with some of the best Chicago hot spots.

Located in the hipster-filled Plaza Midwood, Soul Gastrolounge is somewhat hidden and tucked away on the second floor of a strip of stores, restaurants and bars. They don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait at the bar where you can sample their delicious craft cocktails (the Tito’s Cucumber Mule is my personal fave.) It’s a small plate style menu so you can sample lots of different dishes – my absolute favorite. There are a lot of Asian influences on the menu including an enormous sushi selection but there are also dishes that have Greek and Italian influences as well. Below are some of my favorites from my recent meals there, although I’m still slowly but surely working my way through the menu!

Asian glazed pork belly tacos in flour tortillas with watermelon salsa: Can you say heaven? These are heaven. It may sound like an odd combination but the flavors are incredible. The watermelon is tart and tangy and the pork belly is sweet and salty.

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Korean BBQ wings fried and tossed in a gochujang BBQ sauce and scallions: I love any type of Korean BBQ. These wings are super spicy and jam-packed with potent flavor.

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Red Dragon Roll – Tempura shrimp, tempura salmon and cream cheese topped with spicy tuna, poki tuna and crunchy onion: This is my all time favorite sushi roll. It’s the best flavor combination. The crunchy onion adds an unexpected flavor and texture and the tuna is amazingly fresh.

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Dancing Tuna – Seared Tuna and avocado topped with spicy tuna, jalapeno, tobiko, finished with sriracha mayo and wasabi mayo: A close second to the Red Dragon roll, the Dancing Tuna roll is also delicious. I love the subtle heat from the jalapeno and the wasabi mayo.

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Bean Town Roll – Tuna, salmon and avocado topped with spicy shrimp, green onion, fish roe and crunchy onion: This was one of their specials when we dined there. It was fresh and delicious with lots of different textures and flavors.

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Eggplant Bolognese.

Gluten-Free Oven Roasted Eggplant Parmesan With Bolognese Sauce.

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I love cooking with eggplant because it’s such a hearty vegetable and is so versatile. This recipe is great because it’s filling and satisfying but still fairly light. This sauce is delicious and can of course be served with pasta, but if you want to try something new (with a bit less carbs) you should definitely try it over this eggplant.

Serves ~4-5.

Ingredients:

Bolognese sauce (adapted from this recipe)

  • 1 lb ground beef (90% lean/10% fat)
  • 2 cups canned, crushed tomato
  • 2 tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 yellow onion, sliced
  • 1 cup sliced mushrooms (any type you prefer)
  • 3 tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • salt

In a large pan, heat about 2 tbsp of olive oil on medium/high heat and add in the ground beef. Cook the beef until lightly browned and then add in the onion and carrots. Cook for an additional 10 minutes or so, and then stir in the crushed tomato and tomato paste. Reduce the heat to low and season with the basil, red pepper, garlic powder, salt and Worcestershire sauce. Allow the sauce to simmer for about 15 minutes or so.

Eggplant Parmesan

  • 1 large eggplant, sliced
  • 2 cups gluten-free breadcrumbs (Glutino is a good brand, or you can use regular breadcrumbs if you prefer)
  • 3 eggs, whisked
  • 1/2 cup grated cup Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tbsp olive oil

Begin by breading the sliced eggplant. In a bowl, combine the bread crumbs and Parmesan cheese. In another bowl, add the eggs and whisk them. Place the eggplant into the bowl with the eggs and coat, then put directly into the bowl with the bread crumbs. Coat a large baking sheet with ~3 tsp olive oil and then place the breaded eggplant evenly across. Bake in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes, then flip the eggplant and cook for another 15 minutes. The eggplant should be lightly browned and crispy.

To serve, plate the eggplant and top with a heaping spoonful of the Bolognese sauce and sprinkle on some grated Parmesan if you’d like.

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Spinach & Artichoke Dip With A Kick.

Reduced-Fat Jalapeno Spinach & Artichoke Dip.

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I love a good dip for a party, so when we went to my friend Maria’s house for a Memorial Day BBQ I made this scrumptious spinach and artichoke dip. This wasn’t your every day spinach and artichoke dip though – this had some HEAT! I added jalapeno and cayenne pepper to give it an extra kick. It’s also reduced-fat, so that’s always a plus. I served it up with tortilla chips and celery. It was super yummy!

Serves ~6-8.

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups reduced-fat sour cream
  • 2 14-oz cans quartered artichokes
  • 1 cup cooked, chopped spinach (if frozen, thawed)
  • 1/4 cup pickled jalapeno slices, diced
  • 1/3 cup shredded, part-skim mozzarella cheese, shredded (plus a bit extra for topping)
  • 1/3 cup Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (plus a bit extra for topping)
  • 1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated (plus a bit extra for topping)
  • 1 packet dry ranch mix
  • garlic salt
  • cayenne pepper

Line the bottom of a large mixing bowl with two layers of paper towel and place the thawed, frozen spinach onto the center of the paper towel. Roll the paper towel over the spinach and squeeze any excess liquid out from the spinach. Dispose of the liquid and place the spinach back into the large bowl. Put the artichokes in the food processor and pulse 3-4 times to do a rough chop. Chop the jalapeno slices into small pieces and then combine them with the spinach, artichokes and add in the sour cream, Parmesan cheese, mozzarella, Monterey Jack and dry ranch mix. Season with a dash of garlic salt and cayenne pepper and mix well to combine the ingredients. Pour the mixture into a baking dish and top with a sprinkling of the three cheeses. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 1 hour, until bubbly.

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Arugula, Apple & Brussels Sprouts Salad.

Arugula & Brussels Sprouts Salad With Green Apples, Candied Walnuts & Manchego Cheese.

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Finally, for the last dish from the baby shower, I wanted to make one salad that was a healthier option but also interesting and different. I love mixing sweet and salty in salads – the sweetness of the apples and walnuts were complimented perfectly with the Manchego, veggies and tangy vinaigrette. The Brussels sprouts and arugula added great texture and flavor to the salad.

Serves ~8 depending on portion size.

Ingredients:

  • 3 large handfuls arugula
  • 3 cups shaved or diced raw Brussels sprouts (I purchased pre-shaved at Trader Joe’s)
  • 2 green apples, sliced
  • 1 cup candied walnuts, crumbled
  • 1/2 cup shaved Manchego cheese
  • 5 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • salt/black pepper

In a small bowl, combine the apple cider vinegar and olive oil and whisk together. Add all of the salad ingredients in a large salad bowl and pour the vinegar/olive oil over top. Season with a dash of salt/black pepper and toss well to combine.

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Creamy Lemon Parmesan Potato Salad.

Reduced-Fat Yukon Gold Potato Salad With Lemon, Parmesan, Dill & Almonds.

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This potato salad was one of the most popular dishes from the baby shower. This recipe is almost identical to an old recipe of mine from a couple of years back but with a few tweaks. This dish tastes so rich and indulgent, but it’s actually fairly low-fat and has no mayo, butter or oil! It’s a great side dish for a party or BBQ. Yum!

Serves up to ~8 depending on portion size.

Ingredients:

  • ~4 lbs Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1 cup reduced-fat sour cream
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup roasted, unsalted sliced almonds
  • 1 large handful fresh dill, chopped
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • salt/black pepper

Boil the potatoes in a large pot for about 20-25 minutes until soft and break apart easily with a knife. Drain the excess water and return the potatoes to the pot, cutting the potatoes into smaller, rough cut pieces with a knife. While the potatoes are still hot, add in the sour cream, Parmesan cheese, lemon juice, dill, almonds and season with a dash of salt/pepper. Stir well to combine all the ingredients. You can serve the potato salad warm or room temperature.

Sun-Dried Tomato & Artichoke Pasta Salad

Sun-Dried Tomato & Artichoke Pasta Salad With Roasted Asparagus.

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This was another dish I made for the baby shower. Pasta salad is always an easy, go-to dish for a party but I wanted to do something a bit different from a classic pasta salad. I used sun-dried tomatoes and artichokes to make the sauce and then added some roasted asparagus for a nice crunch. This pasta salad is really delicious and flavorful.

Serve up to ~8 depending on portion size

Ingredients:

  • 1 16-oz package of rigatoni pasta
  • 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes in oil, oil drained
  • 1 tbsp chopped garlic
  • 1 14-oz can artichoke hearts
  • 1 large bunch of asparagus, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • salt/black pepper

Heat the sun-dried tomatoes on medium heat and stir in the chopped garlic. You won’t need to add any oil because the tomatoes will still be coated in the oil they were in. Heat for about 5 minutes or until the garlic is lightly browned – sun-dried tomatoes can burn easily so keep a close eye on them. Allow this to cool slightly, and then put the mixture into the food processor and blend until smooth. After the sun-dried tomatoes are smooth, add in the artichokes and pulse a few times to do a rough chop of them.

Toss the asparagus in about 2 tbsp of olive oil and roast in a 400 degree oven for about 12 minutes. While the asparagus is roasting, boil the pasta as directed on the package. Drain all excess water and then combine the sun-dried tomato and artichoke mixture into the pasta along with the roasted asparagus and toss well to combine. Season with a dash of salt and black pepper. This pasta can be served hot or room temperature.

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BLT & Caprese Sliders.

These sliders were part of the spread from the baby shower I threw earlier this month. There’s no better baby shower food than a slider sandwich. Why? Here’s my logic – because they’re mini (just like babies) so therefore adorable! Not only that, but they’re a great party food because they’re easy to eat and yummy.

Tomato, Mozzarella & Basil Sliders With Pesto.

It’s always good to have a vegetarian option at a party, so I thought that it would be fun to take the basics of a Caprese salad and turn it into the sandwich using pesto as the sauce. Instead of slider buns, I used sliced French bread to create these tiny treats.

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You can adjust the amount you need of each ingredients based on how many you are making. Each slider should have 1 thick slice of fresh mozzarella, 1 slice of tomato, 1 basil leaf and 1 tsp pesto.

Ingredients:

  • French bread, sliced
  • fresh mozzarella, sliced
  • Roma tomatoes, sliced
  • fresh basil leaves
  • pesto

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Bacon, Lettuce & Tomato Sliders With Avocado Herbed Mayonnaise

I also wanted to make a classic sandwich so I went with a BLT and added an avocado herbed mayo to jazz it up. Both types of sliders were a hit, but BLT sliders were one of the most popular and went fast! Bacon makes everything better.

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You can adjust the amount you need of each ingredients based on how many you are making. Each slider should have about 1 piece of bacon (cut in half to fit on the bun), 1 slice of tomato, 1 piece of lettuce and 1 tbsp avocado herbed mayo.

Ingredients:

  • slider buns
  • center-cut bacon, cooked
  • romaine lettuce
  • Roma tomatoes, sliced

Recipe/ingredients for the Avocado Herbed Mayonnaise found here from my good friend, Chef Megan Mitchell.

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