but then again, it’s not the first time that’s happened on a Wegetable Vednesday…
I won’t be pushing any more gazpachos your way, I promise, if you’ll indulge me this one last time. We’re feeling lucky that summer is still lingering here in Oregon (and likely where you are too.) We’re not in any way ready to give up summer eating until the choice is wrestled from us. Gardens and markets are brimming with heirloom tomatoes, fat cucumbers, fresh sweet corn, and peppers in all colors and shapes. Herbs, in one last hurrah, are pouring over borders or tilting heavily on their stems. And those California avocados are…welll…sort of perfect. So, really, did we have a choice?
Brisk on the day it’s made…a little mellower on the day after…
a soup that requires no cooking, whatsoever!
- 2 pounds ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped* (see NOTE)
- 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and coarsely chopped
- 1 red onion, coarsely chopped
- 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and coarsely chopped
- ½ cup fresh corn kernels (you can substitute frozen if you like)
- 3 Tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons fine-grained sea salt, plus more to taste
- ¾teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 3 cups (or more) low sodium tomato vegetable juice (such as low-socium V-8 or R.W. Knudsen Very Veggie juice)
- 3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh basil
- ¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
- ¼ cp finely chopped fresh parseley
- 1 large ripe avocado, peeled, pitted and diced or sliced
- ¼ cup toasted pine nuts
* NOTE – (about 6 – if you can find heirloom tomatoes – or if you GROW them – by all means use them – it will make an enormous difference in taste! Enormous, I tell you!) (Did you know that tomatoes peel with no argument if you mark the bottom with a little X using a sharp knife, then submerge them for 30 seconds in boiling water?)
In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, bell pepper, corn, garlic, 2 teaspoons of salt and the black pepper. Stir in 3 cups of the tomato-vegetable juice, the oil, lemon juice and vinegar. Working in batches pulse the mixture in a blender or food processor until the mixture is soup but the vegetables are still somewhat chunky…kind of nice in a soup like this to see what you’re eating.
Can I see a show of hands? Who among you would like to spend several hours in the kitchen preparing a beautiful meal for your love on Valentines Day? Oh. Well that’s surprising. Alright then, Plan B. Who among you would like to spend under an hour (excluding dessert) preparing a luscious and (well) sort of sexy Valentine dinner? We got some hands on that one!
Let’s talk about the menu then…You with your hands up…this is for you…(the others, you’re obviously being well taken care of.) What are we looking for in a meal for lovers? Ok, it was already decided that we want it easy. Of course you’re right. After all, where do we want to spend our love and energy? (That’s rhetorical – thanks, but no need to share.)
Ok. What else? Color? Good! It should be pretty shouldn’t it. Sensuous? Oh, I like that! What else? Not too heavy? Oh that’s a good one, yes! Who’s looking to drift into a coma immediately after pushing their plate back. Anything else? Oh, taste! Of course! It should taste really good!
What do you think of this then?
A Valentine Dinner for Lovers
To whet (& wet) the Appetite:
Passion Fruit Cocktails for Two
Stacked Crab Bistro Salad with Cilantro Lime Vinaigrette
Seared Sesame-Encrusted Ahi Tuna
Snap Peas with Shiitake Mushrooms and Ginger
oh-so Forbidden Rice
a sweet multitude of options
Tomorrow I’ll post the 3 dinner items, along with how to get it done in less than 1 hour, with just a tiny bit of prep work the night before. Each is so easy.
I’ll have one more dessert as an option, posted Saturday I think.
Now, for the appetizer:
Here’s a soup that pleases crowds. Everyone in our family makes and serves this soup and everyone, from little kids to (occasionally) grumpy grandpas, loves it. A fairly long list of ingredients, but it’s a soup easily concocted, and easy to double or triple when entertaining bigger groups. If a soup can be casual and fun, this one is.
~ ~ ~
Chicken Tortilla Soup
- four 6-inch corn tortillas
- about 2 teaspoons olive oil (to brush on tortillas) + 1 Tablespoon (to sauté vegetables with)
- 2 – 14 ounce cans low sodium chicken broth (or 28 ounces of your very own!)
- 2 cups water
- 1 -14.5 ounce can Mexican-style stewed tomatoes with juice (or see photo for alternative)
- 1 small can of green chiles, chopped (mild)
- 1 can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 can cream of corn (the only time I ever use this stuff!)
- 1 bay leaf
- ½ teaspoon ground cumin
- 1⁄8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 2 or 3 garlic cloves, minced
- ½ large yellow onion, chopped (1½ cups)
- ½ red pepper, chopped (about ½ cup)
- 2 generous Tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 12 ounces chicken breast meat (from a grilled, roasted or rotisseried chicken) (see NOTE)
- 2 green onions, sliced
- ¼ cup chopped cilantro
(NOTE on the chicken: If you use an home-done oven-roasted chicken, save the juices from the bottom of the pan. Refrigerate and remove the fat from the top, and incorporate the tasty juices into your soup.)
- sour cream
- tortilla chips (Tostito lime chips are great here!)
- grated cheddar cheese
- sliced or chunked avocado
- a drizzle of hot sauce of your choice – or a sprinkle of the seasoning blend of your choice (like the fabulous “Uncle Jim’s Secret Spice” – if you’re lucky enough to be Jim’s sister)
(Please imagine shredded cheddar on the bowl below. Sadly, I forgot to add it before I grabbed my camera, so anxious to lift the spoon, I was!)
If you wanted to add rice, or zucchini, green beans, mushrooms, or a little sweet potato, you could customize this soup entirely to suit your tastes. Didn’t I tell you it was fun?
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)
- 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
- 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.
- 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.)
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.
Via the rinds is an odd way to enter the subject of tasty foods made with grapefruit, but sometimes Spree does things backwards. There’s no hiding from the fact that this subject DID begin with the rinds – but we can’t let it end there. The other day, I went to the market and filled my cart with about a dozen of the heaviest-for-their-size, juiciest and prettiest organic ruby red grapefruits I could squeeze. I had several things in mind (besides the candied rinds to go with Yaya’s ouzo). It was going to be an entire dinner centered around the grapefruit. Each part turned out so lovely I’ve got to share them with you now! Beginning with the salad…..(and ending tomorrow with a sweet/tart surprise.)
Grapefruit & Avocado Salad
This salad is light, fragrant, and as pretty as Spring. You’ll probably need a couple of grapefruits for it.
- 1/4 cup fresh grapefruit juice
- 1 Tbl. champagne vinegar (or other light vinegar such as rice or raspberry)
- 1 t. minced shallot
- 2 Tbl. olive oil
- 2 pinches of salt
- Butter or Bibb lettuce
- Pink grapefruit segments
- Optional: little sprigs of fresh dill or fennel fronds
Prepare the grapefruit segments as you would for any citrus: cut off the top and bottom ends of the whole grapefruit. Setting the grapefruit on one end and using a sharp paring knife, go down along the inside of the rind and remove the white pith as well as the thin outer membrane of the segments. Then, holding the fruit over a small bowl, run the knife along the inside membranes, releasing the fruit and juice into your bowl. Set aside the juice that collects for your vinaigrette.
Either cut or scoop pieces of avocado into the bowl containing the grapefruit segments.
Prepare the vinaigrette by whisking the ingredients together.
One simple salad I simply love has little slivers of bright and tartly fragrant kumquats in it. Have you never tried a kumquat? You should!
Green Salad with Kumquats, Avocado and Pistacios
- Mesclun, mixed spring greens, or baby spinach (or lettuce of your choice)
- Kumquats (see NOTE)
- Dressing – Cilantro-Lime Salad Dressing (in my post Cilantro-Lime Salad, today’s date.)
(You’ll notice that for green salads I don’t list quantities. Only you know how much you or those at your table will eat at one meal.)
Remove your pistacios from the shell. Chop them coarsely, or leave them whole, as you choose. (Or toss some whole ones in, and save the chopped ones for scattering over top.)
Wash and dry your lettuce.
Wash your kumquats, and slice them crosswise, as thinly as possible, removing the seeds as you go. (Yes, you DO eat the peel! In fact it’s all about the peel. Kumquats have been called the inside-out fruit – all the sweetness in the peel, the sour in the flesh.) For a salad feeding two, I use about a handful of kumquats.
Slice or chunk your avocado.
Combine your lettuce, the avocado, and kumquats in a salad bowl. Dress lightly with Cilantro-Lime dressing. Scatter with pistacios and serve.
NOTE: If you’re undecided on whether to try kumquats, I understand your hesitation, but maybe this will help: they’re little ovoids, somewhat smaller than a pecan; they manage somehow to be both hinting of sweet and smacking of tart; they smell vaguely like a daphne blossom, which is, if you didn’t know, heavenly; and they’re highly cute. What more could you ask for in a tiny fruit?
For a printer-friendly version of this recipe, click here.