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Posts from the ‘Main Course’ Category

noodled & tangled Thai salad

Oh what a tangled web we weave

when first we practice to conceive

a noodled salad of garden things

kitty-kimboed together,  dressed with zing!

Once scattered with nuts it’s declared as  g o o d

Pray tell – who then shall make it – for

clearly, easily, anyone could!

~

by Wilma Shakespoon

~

Today’s Wegetable Vednesday offering:

An entire vegetarian meal, loaded with raw fresh vegetable goodness, textured and colorful, brimming with citrusy, nutty & Thai chili flavors, tossed into a bed of cushiony yakisoba noodles.

This recipe can be endlessly adapted to whatever is fresh and overflowing from your garden, or whatever inspires you at the produce stand. (Maybe you’ll add slivers of sweet or snow peas, or thinly sliced cabbage or radishes. Or you might decide to even replace the cherry tomatoes with red grapes. You could also add cubes of fried tofu or cooked chicken breast  if it pleases you.)  The dressing you will love,  just as it is.

Noodled & Tangled Thai Salad

Serves 4 as a meal

Simply cut the vegetables into sticks as thin and long as you can, or use a mandolin which will make quick & neat work of it.

  • 1 package of yakisoba noodles
  • 1½ cups very thinly sliced matchstick carrots (or grated into long slivers)
  • 1½ cups zucchini (prepared as carrots above)
  • ½ red bell pepper, cut into match-sticks
  • ½ – 1 cup Jicama (grated into long pieces)
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes (cut in half if large)
  • 4 tbsp (¼ cup) Peanut Lime Dressing  (recipe follows)
Garnish:
  • ½ English cucumber thinly sliced or thinly matchsticked
  • chopped toasted unsalted peanuts
  • lime wedges
  • chopped or torn cilantro

Prepare the noodles as you like – if dry, you can either boil and simply strain, or strain and then quickly stir fry in a touch of oil (sesame or coconut are good…just go light.)  OR, if you’re using pre-cooked Yakisoba noodles, quickly stir fry. Noodles can be warm or room temperature or chilled. All are equally good.

Place cooked noodles in a large, shallow serving bowl or platter.

Pile the carrot, zucchini, jicama, red bell pepper and cherry tomatoes (and/or any other vegetables) on top the noodles and drizzle with dressing. Toss.

Garnish with the cucumber, peanuts, lime, and cilantro.

You may want to drizzle with drops of sriracha sauce if you love the heat, and some might like an additional bit of tamari or soy. But most, including kids, will like it just as it is.

This dressing is delicious… Read more

just another ‘ordinary’ breakfast in India

Last fall I introduced you to my friend Amit who grew up in Delhi, India. (See a wonderful rice and beans dish of his mother’s, Rajmah, that I posted at the time.) Amit, a man who loves all things associated with the kitchen, has inspired me in my own. Now borrowed from him are chai, rice and bean dishes, chutney, a couple salads and several curries that he brought to the US when he immigrated here. This is Amit’s father’s birthday month and in honor of that, I was asked if I could share a favorite dish of his Dad’s too. I told my good friend I’d be happy to.

Have you ever heard the expression that a person grows into the name he or she was given? It appears to be the case with Amit’s father, a gregarious man with a smile that lights up his entire face, and possibly the entire room. His name: Prakash Chandra Jain. Prakash means light, and Chandra – moon! Can you imagine being given such a name?! And then, having the privilege of growing into it?

Seen here with wife Anjana, at the wedding of their son Moni to his new bride, Richa.

~ ~ ~

Sri Prakash Chandra, since retired, had his career as an experimental physicist.  He’s always been an exacting man – both in his lab and in the kitchen where he loved to cook for his family. His interest in the culinary world was already well-evidenced by the time he was a young man in college where he took the lead in his dorm’s dining hall — purchasing the food, planning the recipes for the cooking staff and in general, managing the kitchen. Experimentation wasn’t restricted to his physics lab either – he’s been known to work and work on a recipe until he’s perfected it. And one of his favorite dishes is one that Amit and his family grew up eating on a typical (ever-delicious) Delhi morning.

Paranthas stuffed with cauliflower & spices

served with cumin raita and an out-of-this-world green chutney

Sounds complicated, no? Well, it’s not a bowl of instant oatmeal or a cereal bar grabbed on the way out the door (but who writes of that?)  It’s sit-down food, meant for moments to savor.

Cauliflower stuffing

  • 1 medium cauliflower, shredded (using a coarse grater)
  • Grated ginger root (using fine grater) – a piece about 1 x 1-inch
  • Cilantro: 2 to 3 Tablespoons, chopped (Amit’s family uses leaves only)
  • 2 teaspoon Garam masala
  • 2 teaspoon coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 jalapeño pepper (optional, but we like) – minced

(NOTE: Amit has also made this stuffing with purple potatoes, cooked & chopped finely, then prepared as in the directions for this stuffing. How very pretty that would be.)

Heat oil in a pan. Add ginger and sauté until just slightly brown. Add the cauliflower and spices. Cook uncovered over low-medium heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes (or until tender).

Should you have any left over, this stuffing is delicious to eat as a side.

Green Chutney

fresh ginger – 1 inch x ½ inch piece

1 Tablespoon cumin seeds

15 – 20 leaves of fresh mint

2 whole bunches of fresh cilantro

2 cloves garlic

1½ salt  (Amit likes 2)

juice of 2 limes

1 jalapeño – ribs and seeds removed

¼ to ½ water (more like 3/8)

1 to 2 Tablespoons plain yogurt  (optional – I wanted to preserve the brilliant green color so didn’t add)

3 Tablespoons shredded unsweetened coconut

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things topsy turvy & a new feature at cooking-spree

In earlier posts I’ve alluded to “things about to happen” around our house, but I can explain further now. First there was the joyous birth of our little Drew baby! And even a bit before, and a lot since, we’ve been preparing for a good-sized remodel – two bathrooms and our kitchen.Once work begins on the kitchen, things will get especially interesting. We have a gas grill, and a portable induction burner that’ll hold one pot at a time. And we’ll have boxes full of herbs and spices and plates and forks and knives.

How do I prepare for what has been described to me variously as “completely disruptive”, “awful”, and “just plain hell” (really?!) ? I accept that things will be turned on their heads for a while, and I’ll be here to document it. I’ll photograph the destruction and mayhem.  I’ll play my part in this creative process, from demolition to gleaming completion. I know it’ll be challenging in ways I can’t yet know. But I’m thrilled! And I think I’m ready.

What will it mean here, on these bloggy pages? We’ll discover together. Smoothies? Salads? One pot wonders? Grilled seafood? We won’t go hungry, I promise!

One thing that will make this process less disruptive to food-lovers like us is that Spring is upon us and Summer is coming, and about now Farmer’s Markets are springing up all over the city and in the ‘burbs! Wooden stalls lined with fresh and gorgeous produce, bulging in bright ripeness! The choices we have are exquisitely exhaustive! So, one thing I can predict for the coming months is this: I’ll be carrying my basket to farmers markets, visiting with the growers, photographing fresh-from-the-farm fruits and vegetables and bringing a few choice picks home. Once a week I’ll share my trips with you. We’ll explore old favorites, never-liked and never-tried’s. Most of what will result will be simple, beautiful,  and delicious. And since life around our house will be turned on its head for the next little while, it seemed only fitting to name this weekly feature something like

Wegetable Vednesdays!

and so I have.

(but don’t be surprised to see a few vruits too)

It will be a veritable celebration of things with stems & seeds & roots!

Why not begin with a couple old standby’s and treat them freshly? It doesn’t get more basic than peas and carrots, right?

Well, it could…

~ ~ ~

R a i n b o w    c a r r o t ,  p e a   &   p e a   s h o o t   s a l a d

(about 6 servings)

1½ pounds rainbow carrots (various lengths makes it even prettier)

4 ounces pea shoots (see NOTE)

2 cups sugar snap peas

1 cup snow peas (optional)

¼ cup Meyer lemon juice

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1 large clove garlic, minced

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1 cup crumbled sheep or goat milk feta cheese

¾ cup mint leaves, cut into slivers

For protein, add either

3 cups cooked chicken, shredded

2 cups grilled or poached firm fish, in pieces

1 cup cooked & shelled edamame (fresh soy beans)

NOTE on pea shoots – One market I go to stocks them regularly. You may find them at Farmers Markets or Asian markets too. 

~ ~ ~

 Scrub the carrots gently in order to retain most of their bright outer color. With a mandolin or vegetable peeler, cut thin lengthwise ribbons to make about 4 cups. Discard ends or any tough cores. (What worked best for me was to lay the carrot on the cutting board, holding the thin end of the carrot in one hand and with the other, using a vegetable peeler and a bit more pressure than normal, peel from the small end to the large. I discarded both the first and last strip of each carrot since that was mostly peel.) 

Put dark and light carrot ribbons in separate bowls of ice water and soak about 15 minutes to crisp them up. Drain in a colander and roll in kitchen towels. (or line a salad spinner with towel and spin.) 

Go through the pea shoots, discarding thick or tough stems and tearing sprigs into 4- or 5-inch pieces.

Pull the strings from the straight sides of snap peas (& snow peas if using) and then thinly slice lengthwise.

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a pizza-sorta

kinda Greek-a.

It all begins with our blogging buddy Chicago John’s Spianata. (He’s no stranger to many of you. But if somehow life has passed you by and you’ve never visited his warm Italian home kitchen, come in out of the cold, take off your coat, pull up a chair, smell what’s steaming on the stove and get ready for something like love at first sight.)

For the Spianata dough…if you follow the link above, it’ll take you right there, and John’s background on a dish is always nearly as savory and delightful as the dish itself. But I’ll also provide the recipe here so you don’t have to continually flip back and forth. It’s much like a focaccia, thick, dimpled, moist, pungently olivey. It develops its flavor slowly, with the yeasty “sponge” left overnight, and the dough finished the following day. The way I chose to make this dish is to bake the herb-scattered dough in a hot oven, adding the toppings when it comes out, still steamy hot – the sweet caramelized onions, the roasted small tomatoes, the leaves of baby spinach, the Kalamata olives, the shavings of Feta, and a scattering of Mediterranean herbs. Drizzled with a bit (more) olive oil and a sprinkling of balsamic – it’s sweet and savory and devastatingly delicious! 

The Dough

For the sponge

  • 1 cup flour (5 ounces)
  • 1 cup warm water (approx. 110°F)
  • 1 tsp active yeast

For the finished dough

  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 cups flour (10 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoons dried mint
  •  ½ teaspoon dried oregano

Pour water into a small-medium bowl and add the yeast; allow yeast to dissolve and for a bubbles to begin forming on the surface.  Add the flour to make the sponge, mix well, cover, and set aside at room temperature. The sponge should be allowed to rise for at least 8 hours but no more than 20. 12 to 16 hours is usually best. When you ‘re ready to proceed, the sponge’s surface should be mottled with bubbles and it should have a strong yeast scent. (yum!)

To the sponge, add the flour¼ cup of the olive oil and the salt. Knead dough for 5 to 7 minutes. The consistency of the dough should be neither sticky nor dry…the “test” I use is to grab hold of the dough with an open hand, hold it firmly for a few seconds…if when you remove your hand the dough almost wants to cling to it but releases without actually sticking, it’s about perfect. If not this, then add water by the drop-ful or flour by the teaspoonful.  It’s been kneaded enough when the dough is soft and supple, smooth and elastic, and when you press it with a knuckle the dough springs right back at you.) 

Place the finished dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic and allow it to rise until doubled – depending on the warmth of your kitchen and a couple other factors, this will take from 1 to 2 hours.  While the dough is rising, prepare all the other ingredients, for which you’ll find instructions below.

Punch the dough down, turn it out onto a floured work surface and cover with a towel. Allow it to rest for 15 minutes. This rest relaxes the dough, making it more pliable.

Pour the remaining ¼ cup of olive oil into a 9 x 12-inch pan, covering the entire bottom of the pan.

After the resting period, place dough onto the pan and, using your fingers, begin stretching it to fit the pan. When it covers about 2/3 of the pan, flip the dough over and continue stretching until the entire pan is covered and there’s enough dough to create a ridge around the pan’s edge. Cover with a towel and allow to rise until doubled again, about 1 hour.  20 Minutes before it’s ready, preheat the oven to 425°F.

Sprinkle with the salt and pepper, and 1 teaspoons dried mint and ½ teaspoon dried oregano. Place it in the preheated oven on the middle rack and back for about 25 minutes. It should be lightly browned. Remove from the oven and top immediately with the toppings in the following order.

The Toppings

Baby Spinach Leaves

Caramelized Onions

Roasted Tomatoes

Kalamata Olives (allow to come to room temp. or gently heated)

Feta Cheese (thinly sliced or crumbled)

a small handful of whole parsley leaves

Aged Balsamic Vinegar

A drizzle more Olive Oil

You’ll want approximately  1 cup each of the spinach leaves, olives, and feta. Instructions for the caramelized onions and tomatoes follow.

“Sun”-dried or Roasted Tomatoes

  • ½ pound to 1 full pound cherry tomatoes (1 pound will leave you quite a few extra to use as you like. They’ll keep in the fridge for at least a week.)
  • coarse sea salt
  • freshly-ground pepper
  • ½ teaspoon (or more) dried mint leaves
  • olive oil (about 2 teaspoons per pound tomatoes)
  • balsamic vinegar (about 2 teaspoons for 1 pound tomatoes)

Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and lay on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cut side up. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and mint. Drizzle the olive oil and balsamic over top.

Bake until edges have begun to brown and juices have started to caramelize beneath them. (About 30 to 40 minutes.)

Caramelized Onions (& Garlic)

  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • ¼ teaspoon sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1 (or 2) cloves garlic, minced

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a very special salad – of Quinoa, Pomegranate, Almond and Feta

We all know that a life well-lived, among those we love (and those we abide) involves compromise. Sometimes, just living with ourselves involves taking turns, listening, letting go, and just plain being “nice.”  Some of us (me among them) have polarized opposite sides that occasionally do war with each other. Nothing violent, but at times they do squabble. How in any way does this relate to what’s for dinner? The other day I told you I’d share something special. And I’m about to, but it’s a salad. (I’m sorry…Was that a groan I just heard?)  You were expecting something sweet and soft and darkly-chocolatey-naughty? Well, I’m saving that for tomorrow’s post, which is why tonight we’re having a dinner of salad. One very small example of how we compromise, and why.

(Another example – I’d just settled down to write this post late yesterday afternoon and had two sentences on-screen when the phone rang. My mother, who lives about an hour away in the middle of Oregon’s wine country, had headed out to feed her chickens and tuck them back into their coop for the night. These chickens live very well. We kid that at night they’re read bedtime stories and sung to. They’re not of course, but they do lead happy free-roaming, well-fed lives. As I was saying, before I interrupted myself, the phone rang and it was my mother. She’d locked herself out of the house and was calling from the neighbors. She had no way of getting back in. She’d already checked every door and window. I was the only one with a key. The post would wait. My mama could not.)

Two and a half hours later, the salad in its big bowl is waiting, outdoors on a table staying cool. My husband pours us glasses of wine, I cut pieces of bread from yesterdays loaf and toss the salad. We eat, hungrily, within minutes of my walking through the door.

I’m going to be very honest with you (I always try to be)…this salad was soooo incredibly delicious! We loved it, devoured every last bit. In fact, we entirely forgot we were compromising! And we still get our dessert tonight! Life is so good when we decide to play nice!

A NOTE on Quinoa (pronounced keen-wah) for those unfamiliar with it — is a high-protein seed often referred to as a grain. It’s cultivated, high in the Andes of South America, in elevations exceeding 10,000 feet. Quinoa contains all eight essential amino acids, as well as other highly beneficial compounds, vitamins and minerals. It’s touted today to be one of the super-foods but thousands of years ago the Incas reverently cherished it as chiyasa mama, the mother of all grains. It’s very mild flavored, in fact hardly any flavor at all, which is why it takes well to any sort of flavoring you choose to add. It has just the slightest bit of delicate crunch. And, as an extra bonus, quinoa is gluten-free.

You may be able to find quinoa pre-washed, but if it isn’t specified, I’d play it safe and rinse in several bowls of clean water and drain in a fine sieve after.  This removes the bitter part of the seed called the saponins, a compound that makes quinoa less palatable to birds. (Plants can be so smart!) Most quinoa you’ll see is white, but I chose a combination of black and white for the night’s salad. In eating, as in the rest of life, the more colorful the better.

Quinoa, Pomegranate, Almond and Feta Salad

(makes about 4 servings)

  • ¼ cup white, black or red quinoa, rinsed thoroughly and drained in a sieve
  • ½ cup water
  • pinch of salt
  • 4 cups greens – either all spinach, a mix of spring baby greens, or a combination of the two (I used combo)
  • ¾ cup crumbled feta cheese
  • ½ cup sliced almonds
  • ¼ cup thinly sliced red onion (optional)
  • 1 pomegranate, seeded (about 1 cup)

the vinaigrette:

  • 3 Tablespoons sherry vinegar
  • 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I chose a lemon-infused olive oil)
  • 1 extra-full Tablespoon honey
  • 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Rinse quinoa in several bowls of fresh water, using a fine sieve to contain the little seeds. Bring ½ cup lightly-salted water to a boil, add quinoa, reduce heat and simmer with the lid on for 12 minutes. Allow pot to sit, undisturbed for another 4 minutes. Remove lid and fluff the quinoa. Allow to cool.

In the meantime, toast almonds on a baking sheet in a pre-heated 350°F oven until fragrant and lightly browned, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Whisk up the vinaigrette’s ingredients and allow the flavors to marry as you prepare the pomegranate.

Removing the seeds from a pomegranate: I mentioned in an earlier post that I always wear an old shirt of my dad’s, my pomegranate shirt, to do this messy job. I discovered a new way that confines the juicy mess to the bowl! Cut the pomegranate in half, across its middle (not top to bottom.) Use a fairly deep bowl if you have one. Cup the cut-side of the pomegranate in your palm, holding it inside the bowl. Start smacking with a wooden spoon on the top of the fruit, and the seeds will begin tumbling out and through your fingers into the bowl. Remove any of the white pith that tumbles along with. (Have I mentioned before all the antioxidants in pomegranate? Another super-food, making this a super-salad.)

spanking the pomegranate

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Fiesta Rice & Black Bean Salad

We pick up the series on Rice & Beans with Installment #6. (The series offers one idea on how we can help feed the hungry. If you’d like background, please see the NOTE at the bottom of this post.)

You know how in the dead of winter, when your bones are cold and your lips are chapped and you’re wearing your socks to bed, you long for something warm in your belly? Soups, stews, chilies, or maybe for you it’s a hearty roast and potatoes.

Does it ever happen for you in the dead of winter when your bones are cold that you long instead for something that smacks of warm summer days, open windows, t-shirts and flip flops?  Something on your plate that reminds you there IS a sun, and it’s on its way around again. Sometimes we just need a reminder that winter doesn’t last forever. And if you’re in need of such a reminder, and wanting the feel and taste of summer in your mouth again, this may be just what you’re in need of. I’ve posted lots of soups and stews in this series. Time to shake it up a bit. Time for a party of a salad.

This is a meal easily put together. The ingredients can be picked up at just about any market, any time of year. Not a thing to cook but rice. Open a can of beans and a bag of frozen corn, do a little chopping & tossing. Whir up a little dressing. There’s no meat, but plenty of lean protein from the rice and beans. With its tasty guacamole dressing, its a fresh sort of delicious. It’s light-tasting but satisfyingly filling. It’s a bite from a place where the sun always shines.

Fiesta Rice & Black Bean Salad

salad ingredients

  • 1 cup uncooked rice (your choice of white or brown)
  • 1 – 15 ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 cup thawed frozen corn
  • 1 medium red bell pepper, chopped
  • 8 green onions sliced
  • ¼ cup plus cilantro
  • 2 large or 3 medium jalapeño peppers, seeded, de-ribbed, and minced

the dressing

  • 1 large clove garlic
  • 2 ripe avocados
  • ¼ cup plain yogurt
  • 4 green onions roughly chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 Tablespoon (to 2) fresh lemon juice
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper

To serve:

  • leaf lettuce
  • tortilla chips
  • wedges of lime

Cook the rice and allow to come to room temperature. Add the black beans, corn, about ¾ of the chopped red pepper, 8 green onions sliced, ¼ cup chopped cilantro and the diced  jalapeños. Season with salt and pepper. Toss together and chill.

Prepare the dressing:

Into the jar of a blender put the minced garlic, 1 avocado in chunks, the remaining 4 green onions coarsely chopped, the yogurt, remaining 2 Tablespoons cilantro, lemon juice, salt, pepper and cumin. Process until smooth. Taste for salt and lemon, adding more as necessary.

Toss the rice and beans with the dressing and chill. Before serving cut the avocado in ¾-inch pieces and gently toss together with the rest of the salad. Place lettuce leaves on plates or large salad bowls, top with fiesta salad, scatter the last bit of red pepper over top and serve with tortilla chips and wedges of lime.

~ ~ ~

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Gallo Pinto – Costa Rican rice & beans

The first installment in the we can feed another series… (If you’re new to the idea, see my introductory post Rice & Beans.)

When my daughter Ali studied abroad in Costa Rica her host parents prepared,  nearly every morning, what is a mainstay for many Latin Americans, Gallo Pinto. (Pronounced GUY-o PEEN-toe, and translated as spotted rooster.) She acquired quite a love of it and when she returned home we caught the contagion! In Costa Rica this beans and rice dish was most commonly served for breakfast, along with eggs, either fried or scrambled, and pieces of fresh fruit, and maybe toast. But you’d find it served at street-side cafes too, for lunch as well as dinner, often with fish and maybe fried plantains alongside. It’s a hearty, satisfying dish, alive with color and brimming with flavor. And it’s loaded with nutritional goodness.

Now I must say a word about Salsa Lizano. It’s as ubiquitous a condiment in Costa Rica as ketchup is here. Even more so. It’s on every table, drizzled on most anything you’d find on a plate, and is considered in Costa Rica essential to gallo pinto. However, it’s not readily found outside Latin America. BUT, good news, you can order it (inexpensively – and it will last you such a long time) on Amazon. Here’s the link:   Salsa Lizano on Amazon.   Ali would want you to know that she’s made gallo pinto for many – and she says that nearly each of them has ordered Salsa Lizano for themselves afterwards. Count that as a testimony.

All that being said, I’m going to provide a recipe that approximates the taste you’d get using the real thing without having to buy it. It’s not quite the same, but until the real thing arrives at your door, believe me, it’s good! I’m also providing a recipe for gallo pinto with  Salsa Lizano, which, you’ll be pleased to know,  is even more time-saving and a dish you can make on a whim, breakfast, lunch or dinner, when you’re out of nearly everything.

Pinto gallo is frequently made with white rice. If you’d rather use that, by all means do. It can be made with either black beans or small red beans, though I usually go with the black. We’ve adapted it a bit over the years and are apt to throw in all manner of vegetables – peas, corn, chopped spinach, diced zucchini, carrots, even diced butternut squash! You know a recipe’s become your own when you start playing with it! : )

~ ~ ~

First the rice…the recipe calls for cold rice. One explanation for how this came to be such a popular national dish is how common it was to have leftover rice from the night before. If you have leftover rice, this dinner is a snap to put together. If you don’t, and you’re in a hurry, making up a batch of white rice only takes 25 minutes and you can be preparing the rest of the ingredients as you wait. But here’s another thought on how to have rice on hand, for this and many other uses:

Brown rice, we know, nutritionally speaking, packs a power-punch that its pale counterpart cannot. But brown rice takes twice the time to cook as white, and that’s serious business when we’re up against a clock, as we often are weeknights. Here’s an idea then that may appeal: how about cooking a larger batch of brown rice when we have the time and have it ready in the fridge (or even in individual serving bags in the freezer) for when we don’t? Of course you can do that the traditional stovetop method, but I offer here another option. Let’s bake it in the oven! No boiling over, no scorching on the bottom. Take it out, fluff it, perfect every time. And may I offer a recommendation? If you’ve never tried brown Basmati, please do. It’s fragrant, almost buttery, just the right chew, and mouthfuls of nutty nummyness! It tastes just the teeniest bit like buttered popcorn. (If that sounds weird, please ignore that I just said that and try it anyway.)

~ ~ ~

Baked Brown Rice

this makes a double batch – about 8 servings

  • 3 cups brown rice (especially fond of brown Basmati rice!)
  • 5 cups water boiling
  • 2 Tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt

Optional:

  • 2 teaspoons bouillon (or Better than Bouillon, a product that adds such great flavor so easily)
  • 2 Tablespoons diced onion
  • 1 – 2 Tablespoons fresh finely chopped parsley

Preheat oven to 375°F.

Over medium heat, melt the butter in a dutch oven or heavy soup pot. If using onion,  add it now and saute two or three minutes; add parsley, rice, bouillon (if using),  salt, and boiling water. Bring to a boil on the stove. Stir the pot once to combine. Cover with a sheet of aluminum foil and then the lid. Press the lid down to tighten the seal, and tuck the edges of foil up over the lid to prevent escape of the liquid. Put the pot in the preheated oven and bake for one hour. Remove the lid, fluff with a fork and serve – or save for later. That way, with a couple cans of black beans in the cupboard, and a couple basic ingredients in the fridge, you’ll always have what it takes to make Gallo Pinto in a hurry.

Gallo Pinto with Salsa Lizano

  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 2 cups cooked black beans or small red beans (canned or home-cooked)
  • 3 Tablespoons olive or other vegetable oil
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ medium-large onion, diced
  • 1 large or 2 small carrots, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced
  • 1 red bell pepper (or combination of different-colored peppers,) diced
  • ½ cup bean-cooking liquid, or liquid from canned beans (or vegetable broth, but less preferable)
  • 2 to 3 Tablespoons Salsa Lizano (or to taste)
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro

Optional – other chopped or diced vegetables of your choice – peas, corn, spinach, squash, etc. etc.

Optional Garnishes: 

  • sliced green onion
  • wedges of fresh lime
  • sour cream or Greek-style yogurt
  • hot sauce or more Salsa Lizano 

If using canned beans, drain them and reserve their liquid. Set aside.

In a large, deep cast-iron or heavy bottomed pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, and when it’s begun to soften, add the garlic, bell pepper, carrots, celery and other vegetables if using. (If using chopped spinach, add it toward the very end of the finished dish, after the beans and rice.) Sauté for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the onion is translucent and vegetables have become nearly tender. Add the rice and sauté for about 10 minutes, stirring often.

Stir in the beans and cooking cooking liquid, salt and pepper and 2 tablespoons of Salsa Lizano. Some like to use the back of a spoon or spatula to smash some of the beans into the rice – the choice is yours whether to do that or not. Cook until most of the liquid is absorbed but the mixture is still moist, about 10 to 15 minutes. If it begins to dry out, add a bit more bean liquid.

Stir in the chopped cilantro and remove from the heat. Serve with additional garnishes, as you choose.

Serving suggestions: Serve mounded on a platter, or on individual plates, along with eggs, fresh fruit (pineapple, oranges, grapes, fried plantains, mango, etc.) Another way to serve would be to pack gallo pinto in a small cup or ramekin then turn it upside down on the plate. (This will work best if it’s packed quite tightly.)

You have in beans and rice a “complete protein” so you’re lacking for no nutrition here, but it can be served with a side of chicken breast (first marinated in Salsa Lizano and grilled, or a piece of grilled fish, both of which would be traditional in Costa Rica.)

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Gallo Pinto without Salsa Lizano

  • 2 cups cooked rice
  • 2 cups cooked black beans or small red beans (canned or home-cooked)
  • 3 Tablespoons olive or other vegetable oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ medium-large onion, diced
  • 1 medium jalapeño or 1 small red pepper, finely diced (optional)
  • 1 large or 2 small carrots, diced
  • 1 stalk celery, diced (or more)
  • 1 red bell pepper (or combination of different-colored peppers,) diced
  • ½ cup bean-cooking liquid, or liquid from canned beans (or vegetable broth, but less preferable)
  • 1½ teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground corriander
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1½ Tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon liquid smoke (only a couple dollars in the condiments section, often next to Worcestershire sauce)
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon pepper
  • ½ cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 lime
  • hot sauce for serving (ever tried Chipotle Cholula? GOOD!) Read more

Ali’s Summer Salad

My daughter Ali is an enthusiastic, aproned artist in the kitchen, and is all about putting love on the table. She called the other day to say that while at play she’d created a salad she thought I’d like. I’ve been impatiently waiting for my appetite to return because (even while sick) the sounds of this salad set off sweet harmonies and the songs of birds in my head! : )  Last night I was finally able to make it, and once again, the birds did sing!

Ali’s Champange Summer Salad with Chicken, Peaches and Avocado

(serves 4 generously)

Salad Ingredients

  • 2 quarts (8 cups) salad greens – (a salad mix, with some of the spicier, more peppery greens is great – or arugula)
  • 4 boneless, skinless chicken breast halves, cooked and sliced (see preparation options below)
  • 2 firm-ripe peaches, medium-thinly sliced
  • 1 avocado, cut in chunks or thinly sliced
  • 5 ounces fresh goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/4 cup pepitas (optional)
  • 1 – 2 Tablespoons Lemon Verbena minced (very optional, but wonderful if you have it)

Champagne Vinaigrette Ingredients

  • 1 shallot, minced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1 Tablespoon dijon mustard
  • 2 Tablespoon sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup champagne vinegar
  • 1-1/2 cups canola oil

Options for the Chicken

  1. Quick & Easy – Preheat oven to 350°F. Place breasts on rimmed cookie sheet lined with foil or parchment paper for easy cleanup. Brush both sides of chicken with olive oil and generously sprinkle with coarse salt and a little pepper. Roast for 35-40 minutes (depending on size and thickness, or until chicken registers 160°F on and instant-read thermometer.) Allow chicken to cool to room temperature. Just before combining with other ingredients, slice diagonally across the grain in 1/2-inch slices.
  2. Slow & Scrumptious – Marinating the chicken before cooking using the following marinade (good also for shrimp or any white fish) and then preparing in the oven or on the grill will add more juicy flavor to your chicken.

1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1-2 cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 t. dijon mustard
1 shallot, minced
1/2 t. red pepper flakes
1 t. kosher salt
freshly ground pepper

Combine all marinade ingredients in a gallon-size zipped plastic bag. Pound chicken breasts between 2 sheets of plastic until uniform thickness, around 1/2-inch. Marinate refrigerated for 4 to 24 hours. (Even after several hours, there is plenty of good flavor.) Grill or cook using any method you prefer until internal temperature reaches 160°F. (See #1.)

Champagne Vinaigrette

This makes a LOT of dressing, and you certainly won’t need it all for this salad. But it IS very delicious and if you look, you’ll have no trouble finding other places to use it during the next week or so. (Virtually any combination of greens and fresh summer fruits would likely do very well dressed in this. That being said, you could easily halve this recipe and still have leftovers.) This could well be a dressing you’ll go to again and again. ( It can keep quite well for a week or so refrigerated.)

In a medium bowl combine all ingredients except the oil. Using a whisk, gradually add the oil in a thin, steady stream until creamy.

Read more

Tuna Salad Nicoise

If ever I see Salad Niςoise on the menu, my choice might just as well have been made for me. Every other listing on the menu gets obscured behind shower-glass. I can’t quite make it out. Reading glasses don’t help. That’s how much I love Salad Niςoise!

The first time I tried this salad, years ago,  I prepared it myself. Even though as newlyweds we were counting pennies, I was wanting, so badly, a new cookbook – something really amazing to add to my “library” of two.  (Or was it only one?) I’m still kind of perplexed at my choice, because I had next to no experience in the kitchen, but I thought at the time my selection made sense. “Why not start at the top and learn from Julia Child? She has her own TV show!  And she speaks French! She probably knows just about everything.” It was blind luck I suppose that I stumbled upon this salad before trying my hand at (deflating) a souffle, or braising beef tongue for Pot-au-feu (gag reflex), or making oeufs en gélee (poached eggs in aspic, if you can imagine!)   I fear I never would have found Salad Niςoise if I hadn’t happened upon it before the others!  Over the years, it’s undergone a few changes – but nothing major. Some things just possess that kind of status. They’ve earned their place. It’s the sort of thing that you’re a bit awed at the very sight of, you dip your head with respect, allow for a moment of silent appreciation, give in to the smile that’s forcing its way up, then raise two forks and begin! (OK, just one.)  For me, that’s Salad Niςoise. It gets me every time.

Tuna Salad Niςoise

(serves 4 main course meals)

This salad originated in Nice, France. It’s fresh, clean, light, summery, deliciously lemony, a little salty here and there…and is one of those things that’s far greater than the sum of its parts. It’s a composed dish – arranged in any manner that suits the artist – that would be you. The key though is to treat each component in a way that brings out the delicious best in it. The ingredients that are cooked are done so separately, and most are then tossed in a little vinaigrette  before being arranged on the platter. The components of this salad can ALL be prepared ahead of time, put in their own containers, loaded in the cooler and taken on a picnic, then artfully assembled on site! Can’t you just hear Julia now?  “Tres chic picnic!”

I happen to love seared Ahi. Rare. For me, a little satisfies deeply. But, if you don’t have access to it, or aren’t enamored of it, you can use a good canned albacore tuna – when packed in extra virgin olive oil its taste is very good. For years, I bought tuna packed in water, but I’ve learned since that loss of flavor is the price you pay for that exchange. Because more of you will probably opt for the canned tuna, I’ll write the recipe for that. If seared ahi is your preference, I’m assuming you’ll know just what to do – sear in very hot pan one minute or so per side.

Vinaigrette

  • 1  clove garlic, minced (or to your taste)
  • 3 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1 Tablespoon wine vinegar (not balsamic)
  • 1-1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard or 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
  • 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt & Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Fresh or dried herbs – especially fresh thyme leaves

Make a smooth paste of the minced garlic, combined with the salt. Whisk in lemon juice and wine vinegar. Add mustard. Slowly whisk in olive oil, or place it all in a lidded jar and shake until emulsified.

Salad Ingredients

  • 1 head butter lettuce
  • 1 bunch watercress (optional)
  • 8 plum tomatoes, cut in 1/2 lengthwise, (tossed with 2 T. olive oil & 1 T. balsamic vinegar)
  • 5 – 10 sprigs of thyme or lemon thyme
  • 1- 6 or 7 oz. can of albacore tuna in extra-virgin olive oil (preferably troll caught)
  • 3/4 pounds fingerling potatoes (or small white or Yukon Gold potatoes)
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, cut in half
  • 1/3 cup (or more) Niςoise olives
  • 1/2 pound fresh green string beans
  • 5 anchovies packed in salt (or a 2-oz. tin of flat fillets in olive oil) – Optional ! 
  • lemon cut in wedges for serving

Serving suggestion: Serve with toasted crusty bread drizzled with olive oil.

I’m about to give you directions for slow-roasting the tomatoes with olive oil and thyme. They’re really delicious this way, and add a different dimension to this salad, but if you haven’t the time, or would just prefer them un-roasted, then skip to the next step.

Roasting tomatoes. Prepeat oven to 300°F. In a medium bowl, toss the tomatoes with 2 T. olive oil and 1 T. balsamic vinegar. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a cooking sheet lined with parchment paper and place cut side down, with a sprig of fresh thyme tucked beneath. Bake for 45 minutes or 1 hour, or until tomatoes are “sun-dried” and lightly caramelized. Read more

Chicken Salad with Peas, Feta, and Mint

Peas, feta and mint are such a wonderful combination. Their colors, textures and tastes play off each other beautifully, and when combined with the leftover roasted chicken from the night before, you have a salad that’s easy, cool and refreshing for a warm night or for a slow weekend lunch. With crusty baguette or whole-grain crackers, it’s a salad you can happily linger over, savoring the company you’re with and the flavors on your fork.

Chicken Salad with Peas, Feta and Mint

(Easily serves 4 as a main course.)

  • 3 Tablespoons coarse sea salt
  • 1 cup shelled fresh or frozen peas (no need to thaw)
  • 3 small spring onions or scallions, white part only, cut into thin rounds or diagonals
  • 4 ounces Greek feta cheese, crumbled (1 cup)
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, cut into a chiffonade (very thin crosswise strips)
  • 3 cups shredded cooked chicken
  • 8 ounces cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1 large ripe avocado, thinly sliced
  • 2 heads baby romaine, coarsely shredded, or small baby romaine leaves, left whole
  • 1/4 cup minced fresh chives
  • Creamy Lemon-Chive Dressing (see below)
  • Fine sea salt

Fill a large bowl of ice-water. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add coarse salt and the peas and blanch until crisp-tender, about 2 minutes (but even less if using baby peas.) (Did you know that adding salt to vegetable cooking water helps preserve their color?) Quickly pour the peas into a colander and submerge the colander into the bowl of ice-water. Drain thoroughly. (If using the peas right away, you can lay them out on a clean dish towel to absorb the water as you prepare the rest of the salad. Otherwise you can refrigerate them.) Read more

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