Cucumber salad with lemon feta dressing

Yes, another salad post. It’s funny, last year I remember having to make an effort to remember to make salads for lunch, but this summer they’re my default. I credit (or blame?) the weather. Last July I was wearing wool tights to work, this morning I dared myself to go bare-legged and I did not regret it. Not exactly Mark Twain’s San Francisco.

This week’s salad is a fairly classic Greek-inspired combination, with a few twists. I’ve recently become hooked on sun-dried olives and have been picking up a small container whenever I happen to drop by the Persian grocery. These olives are pungent and salty, with a softer texture than their fresh cousins. They’re also a little messy–make this salad too far in advance and you’ll find your cucumbers stained a deep brown!

The feta based dressing is what really makes the salad. Mixing the feta with olive oil, mustard and dill makes for a creamy and tangy blend, which works well with the cool crispness of the cucumber (how’s that for alliteration?). Although I’m also a fan of simply adding chunks or crumbles of feta to salad, I do like the guarantee of feta in every mouthful that you get with this dressing.

Some notes about ingredient volumes/servings. As written, I would consider this salad more of a “side” than a main dish, but I have been enjoying it as my main meal at lunch as well by tweaking the proportions a little. If I’m doing this salad as a main dish for one, I’ll increase the chickpeas, and often add a chopped boiled egg as well. Recently I packed this salad for the office and tried mashing the egg yolk into a spoonful of dressing. Delicious!

Cucumber salad with lemon feta dressing
Serves 4

Ingredients

For the dressing
2 oz feta cheese
3 tbsp olive oil
Juice of one lemon
1 tsp dijon mustard
1 tsp dried dill

For the salad
2 large cucumbers, peeled, cut in quarters lengthwise, seeds removed and cut into ~1/2″ slices
2 c. chickpeas
1/2 c. sundried black olives, pitted and sliced into quarters

Method

1. In a food processor fitted with the metal s-blade, combine all dressing ingredients and blend thoroughly.

2. Mix together cucumber and chickpeas. Just before serving, add the olives and dressing. Toss together to ensure and even coating of dressing throughout the salad.

Collard wraps with raw parsnip tabbouleh

Hello all, happy (just barely) Monday! I’m just back from a too-short camping weekend. We spent a couple of days up at Castle Crags park and it was such a great time. It was so warm and despite the drought, still really green (thanks to all the conifers), a nice break from the brown that is speedily dominating the hills of the bay area. Normally when we camp we do backpacking or try for a hike-in site, but this time we just went with full-on car camping. It totally took me back to car camping weekends on the east coast growing up (but with fewer bugs and much less humidity). The campground was fairly full, but still quiet and there was a decent amount of space between sites–I would definitely go again. I’m super sore today from all the hiking we did–this evening I was supposed to have the first “real” training run for a half-marathon I signed up for (my first! I figure if I mention it publicly it’ll give me some extra motivation to stick with the training…) but I was so sore when I got home this evening I made the executive decision to move things around and declare today a rest day. My calves are thanking me!

With all the warm summery weather lately, I’m craving more cool dishes with minimal cooking. This parsnip tabbouleh fits the bill perfectly and I’ve made it several times in recent weeks. Parsnip is usually more of a fall and winter vegetable for me, but I’m really enjoying it in this raw summer iteration. Wrapped up in collard greens with a side of hummus for dipping, it’s a great packed lunch for enjoying at the little outdoor plaza near my office. The bitter greens and sweet parsnip are a perfect balance to each other. I’ll add my current lunch mainstays of a boiled egg and a piece of fruit for a solid meal that keeps me going until dinnertime.

If filling and rolling the wraps is too fiddly for you, the tabbouleh is great on it’s own, or you can add collards in a less fussy manner by thinly slicing them and simply tossing into the tabbouleh.

Collard rolls with raw parsnip tabbouleh
Makes 12-20 rolls

Ingredients
1 parsnip (about 10 oz), diced
1/4 c. walnuts
1 oz fresh parsley, chopped
juice of one lemon
6 oz cherry tomatoes, halved
salt, to taste
12-20 collard green leaves, tough central stem removed

Method

1. In a food processor fitted with the metal S-blade, blend the parsnip and walnuts until approximately the consistency of rice. Add the parsley and lemon and blend for another 5-10 seconds. Remove mixture from food processor, stir in the tomatoes, and salt to taste.

2. Place the collard greens in a microwave safe bowl and cover with a plate. Microwave on high power for 1 minute, greens should become wilted.

3. To make the rolls: Lay a collard leaf flat on a cutting board. Place 1-2 small spoonfuls of tabbouleh at one end of the leaf. Roll the leaf around the filling, tucking in the edges as you go. If leaves are especially narrow, use two leaves per wrap and make sure they overlap well when laying them on the cutting board.

Serve with hummus to dip.

Lavender biscuits (Recipe Redux)

June’s Recipe Redux challenge was flowers. As soon as I saw the theme, I knew what I wanted to experiment with: a floral, oh-so-slightly sweet twist on the high-protein crackers I’ve been making on and off since January, when I devised my Sesame nori crackers. I’ve come up with several different savory versions, but had been thinking it would be nice to have an option to pair with an afternoon cup of tea (and a novel–my current choice is The Goddess Chronicle, which so far has managed to suck me in pretty thoroughly).

Lavender seemed like the perfect addition to the mix, so I bicycled over to the local natural foods store to get some food-grade dried flowers, and got busy. These biscuits have a lovely crumbly texture, and a light, subtle flavor. There are definite coconut undertones, which mix with vanilla and lavender for a lovely afternoon treat.

I’ve been on a slow but steady mission to eliminate (or really, drastically cut) sugar out of my diet for a while now. I was hoping the coconut flour and oil in this recipe might be just enough sweetness on its own for this recipe, but it really did benefit from the addition of those two dates to the mix. If you are determined to make a completely sugar-free version, a pinch or two of stevia could probably be used instead.

Lavender biscuits
makes 20 biscuits

Ingredients
1/4 c. coconut oil
2 dates, finely chopped
1/2 c. blanched almonds
1/2 c. pea protein powder
1/4 c. coconut flour
1 tbsp. ground psyllium husk
1 egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup water
1 tbsp dried lavender buds

Method

1. In a food processor fitted with the metal S-blade, combine the dates and coconut oil, and process until blended. Add the almonds, protein powder, coconut flour, and psyllium husk, and process to a coarse meal. Add the egg, vanilla extract, and water, and process until the dough begins to stick together in a cohesive lump.

2. Remove dough from food processor and place on a sheet of parchment paper. Flatten slightly, and sprinkle about half of the lavender buds on top. Work the lavender into the dough by folding and flattening several times, then flatten the dough slightly and repeat with the remaining lavender.

3. Preheat oven to 350F. When the lavender has been worked into the dough, cover with a second sheet to parchment paper and roll the dough to ~1/4″ thickness. Using a 2″ round cutter, cut out rounds of dough and place on a baking tray. The recipe should yield ~20 biscuits. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until biscuits are lightly browned. Remove from oven and allow to cool before removing from the tray.

Sesame kale salad

I’ve been eating a lot of salad lately. Really, since January, when the market started tempting me with rock bottom prices on massive bags of mixed greens. Those went out of vogue and I moved onto un-green salads, mixing up ingredients like lentil sprouts, roasted vegetables (no need to bother with dressing!), and copious amounts of cucumber and tomato (especially as proper tomato season has started again. I ate a cherry tomato from our patio garden this week and wondered why I had let myself slip back to buying those sad, sad romas over the winter). My current love is darker greens, like today’s salad.

One of the challenges with packing a salad is keeping the greens from getting soggy, slimy, and generally unappetizing. The common trick is, of course, to keep your greens dry: invest in a salad spinner, and don’t add dressing until you are ready to eat. Another option is going with a sturdier green. Kale is a great base for a lunch salad–you can massage the dressing into the greens and assemble the salad completely the night before, then pack it up and add a piece of fruit for a perfect grab and go lunch the next morning:


You can see I like to add a boiled egg sometimes also to make it more of a stand-alone meal.

Earlier this year, there was a lot in the news about kale being a goitrogenic food. The goitrogenic properties of kale are particularly high when kale is raw, so I will add the caveat that I’m not planning on eating this salad daily all summer (delicious as it is, I’m sure I’d tire of it eventually at that frequency!). I will also add that you can make a very nice warm salad with lightly cooked (and thus presumably less goitrogenic) kale by mixing everything except the onion and microwaving for 30-60 seconds. Then add the onion back in.

If you are going to make this recipe as a salad for packed lunches, my suggestion is to prep all the ingredients on Sunday afternoon: make the dressing, chop and measure everything else. Then assemble individual salads as needed. I’ve put the amount of ingredients needed for the full four servings below, but also included the amount needed for a single serving in parentheses, to facilitate night-by-night assembly.

Sesame Kale Salad
Serves 4

For the dressing
2 tbsp sesame oil
2 tbsp rice wine vinegar
4 tbsp tamari sauce
splash of balsamic vinegar

For the salad
1 batch (2 tbsp) sesame dressing
1 lb (4 oz) kale, sliced into thin strips
1/2 (a few slices) red onion, sliced thin
3 c. (3/4 c.) cooked chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1/4 c. (1 tbsp) chopped walnuts
4 (1) tsp. sesame seeds
Optional: 4 (1) hard boiled eggs, peeled and chopped

1. Mix dressing ingredients together in a bottle or jar and shake to combine.

2. Place kale in a bowl and add dressing. Use your hands to massage the dressing into the kale. You want to really squeeze and soften the kale, don’t be timid.

3. Add the remaining ingredients, toss, and serve. Salad can be refrigerated overnight if needed.

Sugar-free chocolate banana pie

Anyone who’s seen me cook from a recipe can attest that I am always making substitutions. Especially when I get it into my head that I want to make something now. So it was with this chocolate banana pie. I had just gotten a copy of the Paleo Chocolate Lover’s Cookbook and was flipping through it. A picture of chocolate hazelnut mini-tarts caught my eye and I just had to make them. Except that I was out of hazelnuts, I wasn’t quite sure where to find coconut butter locally, and (perhaps most crucially), there was no chocolate in the studio. Cocoa powder only. And a bowl of bananas. Not to be denied my desire for a chocolate dessert, I started experimenting.

In the end, the crust in this pie is a fairly close copy of the one used in the inspiration recipe, a mix of walnuts and coconut flour. I used a fresh apple instead of applesauce, and added a little orange zest to brighten things up. This crust is a little finer and lighter than the coarse ground almond crust I have used for tarts in the past (such as last summer’s recurring peach and blackberry), it tastes less obviously “alternative”, which may or may not matter to you. I was initially a little concerned about using walnuts in the crust–I thought there might be a bit of an aftertaste. However, multiple rounds of baking have laid my fears to rest.

The filling for this pie is incredibly easy: just dump everything in the food processor and go. The result is creamy, dark, and chocolatey. It sets up very quickly also, making this a great semi-last minute dessert (assuming, of course, that you have all the ingredients to hand!).

Chocolate Banana Pie
Makes 1 10″ tart, enough for 6-8

Crust
1 c. walnuts
1/2 c. coconut flour
1 apple, cored and coarsely chopped
2 tbsp coconut oil
grated zest of 1 orange

Filling
4 bananas, peeled and cut into 1-2″ pieces
3/4 c. cocoa powder
1 1/4 c. almond milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract

1. In a food processor, combine the walnuts and coconut flour. Process to a fine meal. Add the apple, coconut oil, and orange zest, and process until the mixture has reached a uniform consistency. The result should be a slightly moist dough.

2. Preheat oven to 350F. Press crust into a 10″ tart pan. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool while you make the banana filling.

3. Combine all filling ingredients in a food processor, and process until smooth. Depending on the size of your bananas, you may wish to add up to 1/4 c. additional almond milk.

4. Pour the filling into the crust and spread evenly. Place in refrigerator and leave for at least 15 minutes to allow filling to firm up.

Recipe redux: just your basic white beans and tomatoes

Apparently it’s a good thing I signed up for Recipe Redux because it’s the only thing getting me into gear to post at all for the past few months! Much of my “new” activity on the cooking front lately has been using our new dehydrator to make backpacking meals. I actually thought that would be an interesting topic for a blog post or two, but every time I sit down to write, I’m pretty “meh” about the results. I think I’ll need to do quite a bit more dehydrating before I can write something informative! And with that little aside, back to the topic at hand….

April’s theme was “Treasured Cookware” and to be honest, I was a little stymied at first. The prompt read (in part): “many of us cook with a pan, a wooden spoon or another piece of cookware passed on to us from the kitchens of our favorite relatives. Let’s see what you can cook up with your treasured kitchen tool!”. I actually own very little inherited cookware, thanks to having a very geographically far-flung family.

So instead of focusing on cookware, I decided instead to stretch the theme a bit and do a recipe centered around an ingredient that I first got a taste of in my mother’s kitchen, and that I still love eating today: the humble white bean. When I was little, one of my favorite dishes was a simple white bean and chicken casserole, served over rice. Total comfort food.

Today’s recipe is another simple white bean dish, one adapted from a very classic source, Elizabeth David. I’ve been loving the new(ish) collection of her recipes, Elizabeth David on Vegetables. This dish, an adaptation of her Haricots a la Bretonne, is simple and satisfying, just like that casserole I grew up with.

The original recipe is described as a “wonderful background for eggs”, and that’s how I have most frequently enjoyed it. This particular batch I paired with a bowl of greens and tahini lemon dressing:

One of these days (when I’m cooking for a few more people at once) I’m going to use this as the basis of an alternative version of shahshouka: break a few eggs over the top and bake. Yum.

White Beans with Tomatoes
Adapted from Elizabeth David on Vegetables
Serves 4-6

Ingredients
1 1/2 c. white beans, soaked in water overnight
1 onion, pierced with 1 clove
1 carrot, peeled and cut into 4-6 pieces
1/2 tsp thyme
1 bay leaf
salt, to taste
2 tbsp olive oil
2 large tomatoes, peeled and diced
2 tbsp. nutritional yeast (not in the original, but I like the effect, not to mention the B vitamin boost!)

1. Place all ingredients except salt, olive oil, and tomatoes in a medium sized saucepan and just barely cover with water. Cover pot, bring water to a boil, then turn heat to low and simmer (still covered) for 50-60 minutes, until beans are tender. Drain off liquid and reserve for later use.

2. Slice the onion (clove removed). Chop the carrot into 1/4″ pieces. In a 12″ cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onion and saute over medium heat until it takes on a golden brown color, 8-10 minutes. Add the tomato and carrot and saute for two minutes more. Add 2 tbsp of the reserved cooking liquid and the nutritional yeast, cook for two minutes more. Add the white beans, stir to combine, and cook until the dish is heated through. Remove from heat.

Serve alone, under an egg, over rice or quinoa, or with a piece of crusty bread to sop up the leftover juice.

Black bean and tomato tart with two cheeses

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Disclosure: I received a gift card to offset the expense of the ingredients used in this recipe. By posting this recipe I am entering a recipe contest sponsored by the California Milk Advisory Board and am eligible to win prizes associated with the contest. I was not compensated for my time.

And with that out of the way, onto the content…

I’ve mentioned our love of cheese-based baked comfort dishes in the past, and this past winter I’ve found that a casserole, tart, or even frittata is a great meal for a “special” but manageable Sunday dinner. During the week we’re generally to cramped for time to wait for a main dish to bake, but on Sundays there’s a bit more time available. But, I still like to spend most of my Sunday kitchen time getting things prepped for the week ahead, which is where a simple baked dish gets truly perfect. I stick it in the oven, set the timer, and forget about it while going about the rest of my business. M. is completely taken with the idea of a skillet casserole, tart, or pie too!

So when I heard that the California Milk Advisory Board was looking for recipes featuring California cheeses, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to share one of the skillet pies we’ve been enjoying recently. It features a substantial crust of polenta and cottage cheese, and a hearty filling of black beans, tomatoes, and a blend of more cottage cheese plus a California Dry Jack that I discovered a few months back at our favorite place for cheese, the Milk Pail (they have a HUGE cheese selection, including a substantial selection of local California options).

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The dry jack cheese has a firmer texture than the run-of-the-mill jack you find in most grocery stores, with a slightly “nuttier” flavor. It’s not a super strong cheese, but it does have a distinctive, if subtle flavor. I mixed it with cottage cheese in the filling to add a bit of moisture and creaminess, not to mention a substantial protein boost. And, living in California, it was easy for me to find a California version!

Black bean and tomato pie with two cheeses
serves 8-12

Ingredients
For the crust:
2 c. polenta meal
2.5 c. water
1/2 tsp. salt
1 c. cottage cheese

For the filling:
2 tbsp olive oil
1 medium onion, cut into 1/2″ dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp ancho chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
20 ox cherry tomatoes, halved (or use regular tomatoes, cut half of them into thick slices and dice the other half).
5 c. black beans
1 c. cottage cheese
1/2 tsp. salt, or to taste
8 oz. California Dry Jack cheese, grated

Method

1. In a medium sized saucepan over medium heat, combine the polenta, salt, and water. Bring to a boil, then turn heat to low and cook, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes, until all water has been absorbed. Stir in cottage cheese, cover pot, and remove from heat. Allow to cool while you prepare the filling.

2. In a 12″ cast iron skillet, heat the olive oil. Add the onions and saute until soft and slightly translucent, 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and saute for 4-5 minutes longer, until the onions are just starting to brown. Add the chili powder, cumin, and red pepper flakes, stir together to combine ingredients, then remove from heat. Place onions in a large bowl, wipe out and lightly grease the skillent, and start oven preheating to 350F.

3. Add cottage cheese and 4 oz jack cheese to the onion mixture and stir to combine all ingredients. Add black beans and 1/2 tomato mixture.

4. By this time, the polenta should be cool enough to touch and semi-solid. Place polenta in the greased skillet and press into a crust. Pour the bean, tomato, and cheese filling into the crust, then arrange the remaining 10 oz. tomatoes on top.

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5. Bake for 30 minutes, then add the remaining 4 oz of cheese and bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove pie from oven and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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P.S. I realize I’ve fallen off the deep end with sharing recipes lately, but I’m hoping to have a bit more free time starting next month–I have lots of dishes I want to share still!