Archives for category: Vegan option

How many times have you bought something to cook and left it in your fridge and then totally forgot about it.  When you finally do remember it, it has already gone bad.  This will never be the case with Swiss chard.  I bought this Swiss chard two weeks before I actually used it.  Two weeks and it was still fresh.  You wouldn’t expect that with a leafy green.  I was trying to not cook it intentionally.  You see, my husband is back on the P90-X diet.  Agh, I hate that diet.  I bought this Swiss chard so that I could it as a side for his gargantuan portion of boring grilled chicken.  But his diet leaves me uninspired and I’m not going to cook a meal for him and a meal for me every night, so my diet, at least at dinner is very boring and bland.

I made the executive decision to introduce quinoa into his diet.  I don’t know if the P90-X gods allow it or not, but at this point I don’t really care.  I needed to expand the horizons of the P90-X cookbook, which my husband gave to me and said, “There are so many great recipes in here, use them, get inspired.”  Um, thanks, but no thanks is what I have to say about that.  I would love to complain that my husband doesn’t help around the house, but that’s not true so I feel a little guilty not making dinner for him (at least on weekdays).

Back to the quinoa, I decided to sauté the Swiss chard and add his favorite chickpeas and my usual salad additions of herbs, something sweet, sour, nuts, and cheese.  I did get a lot of scorn for the cheese -“TOO FATTENING, IT’S NOT FAT-FREE MOZZARELLA.”  Next time I’ll add more cheese, that’s me and my passive-aggressive ways.  If you’re on P90-X or not, this salad is a great lunch or side-dish and there are absolutely no rules.  If you don’t like Swiss chard, use spinach, if you don’t like chickpeas, use black beans, use any herbs you like.  Just as long as you follow my equation of sweet, sour, salty, nutty, herby you’ll be just fine.  Anything goes.

I’ve made this dish three times since the beginning of this year.  As much as I like it, I hope to make something super decadent soon, just to get my husband off his silly diet.  🙂

Red Quinoa with Rainbow Chard, Chickpeas, and a Meyer Lemon Dressing

Ingredients

Serves 3-4

Olive oil

1 cup red quinoa, soaked in cold water for 15 minutes and drained

2 cups chicken or vegetable stock or water

2 cups chopped rainbow chard, or any other sturdy leafy green

1 small cloves garlic, minced

1 cup cooked chickpeas, or any bean of your choice

1/4 cup, or to taste crumbly cheese, like goat or feta

1/4 cup dried cranberries, raisins, or currants

2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts, or any nut of your choice

1/2 cup chopped parsley, chives, and mint, plus a little extra for garnish

salt and black pepper, to taste

1 teaspoon red chili flakes or to taste

for the dressing:

1 small clove of garlic

1/4 cup chopped parsley, chives, and mint

juice of 1 juicy Meyer lemon, about 1/4 cup

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper, to taste

Method

In a medium-sized sauce pan with the lid on, cook the quinoa with the chicken/veg stock or water on medium heat for about 15 minutes, or until the water has evaporated and the quinoa unravels and looks a little stringy.

Meanwhile, in a sauté pan on medium heat, heat about 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the red chili flakes and garlic and allow them to infuse the oil.  Once the garlic starts to brown just slightly, add in the rainbow chard, salt, pepper, and sauté until it is wilted down and cooked, about 10-12 minutes.  Once cooked, allow it to cool down for 10-15 minutes.

Make the dressing, by add all the ingredients into a blender and blend until emulsified.  If the mixture is too thick you can add a little water to loosen it up.

Next, combine the cooked quinoa with the rainbow chard, chickpeas, cranberries, pine nuts, herbs, and the dressing and toss to combine.  Top with crumbled cheese and extra herbs, for garnish.  Serve warm, at room-temperature, or cold.

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Sometimes they are recipes that you want to try and you just don’t for whatever reason.  This is one of those for me.  I first saw this recipe about a year ago in Food and Wine magazine and deemed it as an easy weeknight meal.  But the recipe used roasted eggplant instead of the fennel I used here.  I have been obsessed with fennel this winter.  I have been making a fennel and mushroom soup weekly.  When my husband asks what I made for dinner and I reply, “fennel mushroom soup,”  I get a grunt, a big one.  If my husband wants this to change he can step into the kitchen and make it happen.  Until then, or until I tire of this combination, either of which doesn’t look like anytime soon, I will keep making it.

But back to the recipe at hand, the eggplant and lentils fennel and lentils.  Well, it was really going to be eggplant and lentils.  I even bought an eggplant for this purpose and went as far as roasting it.  Then at the last-minute I opened the fridge for some herbs and there I saw my fennel.  Looking at it with longing eyes, I cheated on the eggplant with fennel.  The roasted eggplant is still in my fridge, oops.  Don’t worry, I will use it.  I’ll make baba ghanoush or eggplant bharta or something, who really cares, I’m talking about fennel right now!

Fennel and lentils, I can’t say I’ve heard of this combination before, but it works.  I gobbled down two platefuls.  Another thing that works brilliantly with fennel is smoked paprika.  I didn’t cook with it much before a few months ago, and now I quite enjoy it.  Initially, I was turned off by the overly smoky smell, but that’s not the case any longer.
Another plus to this dish is that I enjoyed it even more because my husband was out-of-town, well not for that exact reason, but  I didn’t have to deal with any grunts or disgusted faces because he is not a fan of French lentils (or at least the way I make them.)  Notice a pattern here.

Anyhow, I never got around to making the original recipe, maybe another day.

Fennel and Lentil Salad

inspired and adapted by Food and Wine (Eggplant-Lentil Salad) February 2010

Serves 2, as a main

Ingredients

2 cups sliced fennel, fronds reserved

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper, or to taste

1 teaspoon smoked paprika

kosher salt, to taste

2 garlic cloves, finely minced

2 shallots, finely minced

1 cup French Lentils (du Puy), washed

2 1/2 cups water

zest of 1 lemon and its juice as well

1 jalapeño pepper, minced finely, seeds removed, if you like

5-7 mint leaves, chopped

1/4 cup chopped parsley

some fennel fronds, chopped, optional

plain yogurt, for serving

Method

In a medium sauté pan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil and add half of the smoked paprika to the oil and let it infuse the oil for a minute.  Next, add in the fennel and the rest of the smoked paprika.  Season with salt and allow the fennel to caramelize and soften for about 15 minutes.  Once it is ready set aside.

Heat a saucepan on medium heat with the remaining olive oil.  Add in the cumin seeds and crushed red chili flakes.  Allow the cumin seeds to crackle a bit and then add in the shallots and allow them to soften.  Once soft, add in the garlic and allow the garlic to get to the point where it is beginning it brown, but do not burn it.  Next, add in the lentils, water, and salt.  Cover and allow to come to a boil.  When the water starts to boil, remove the lid and and turn the heat to medium low and allow the lentils to simmer for about 40 minutes, or until all the water has evaporated and the lentils mash when you press them between your fingers.

Toss in the fennel, herbs, jalapeño, lemon juice, and zest.   Serve warm or at room temperature. The Food and Wine recipe suggests topping this with yogurt, which I did and serving it with naan, which I did not.

Oh, how I miss Mexican flavors.  I envy people who have access to good authentic Mexican food.  Although, the dish I made here isn’t exactly Mexican, it does include Poblano peppers which do have some affinity with Mexican cuisine.  The day I saw these Poblanos at the farmer’s market, I literally screeched in excitement.  I was instantly reminded of my favorite dish, chilies rellenos.

In Rhode Island, where I grew up, is where I had first taste I had of authentic Mexican food, and no I’m not talking about Taco Bell or some Tex-Mex chain, I am talking about real authentic and fresh food.  The food where you taste the smokiness of fresh cumin, the tartness of lime, the creaminess of avocado, and the smoothness of crema.  It’s where you add radishes for that perfect and slightly piquant bite of fish taco.

Every time I visit my parents, I make sure to make a stop at our old family favorite, Mexico Restaurant.  I know new restaurants have popped up and some claim they are better, I have not found that to be so, maybe I am biased by the many years of dining there.  I have even made my husband a lover of their cuisine.

Again, I come back to the poblanos.  I wanted to make the chilies rellenos, but I feared I could not do them justice.  I will try another time, hopefully yielding delicious results.  With the days of summer gone, I decided to relish the last of its flavors.  Corn and poblanos are a natural paining.  Paired with some quinoa, the dish soared.  I almost forgot about the authentic Mexican food, almost but not quite.  Luckily, I will be visiting my parents soon and there will be poblanos galore waiting for me.

Quinoa with Poblanos, Corn, and Chives

Ingredients

Serves 2-3

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup dry quinoa, soaked in water for 15 minutes and then rinsed

3 Poblano peppers, cut into strips (seeds and ribs removed)

1 cup corn kernels

2 shallots, chopped

3 cloves of garlic, finely minced

the juice of 2 limes

a bunch of chives (as much as you want really, I like a lot)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin

salt, to taste

black pepper, to taste

optional–lime wedges, avocado slices, sour cream, extra chives, for garnish

Method

I like to cook quinoa in the pasta method, if you prefer it the traditional way, go with your own method.  Boil ample water in a medium-sized pot.  Add the quinoa and allow to boil for about 15 minutes, or until cooked.  Drain the excess water in a colander and set aside.

In a sauté pan, on medium heat, cook the shallots in 2 tablespoons of olive oil until translucent, about 5-7 minutes.  Add in the garlic and allow it to slightly change color, about a minute.  Add in the corn and cumin and allow the corn to cook for 3-4 minutes.  Next, the Poblanos along with the lime juice go in and do not let them get mushy, they should still have a little bite left in them, season with salt and pepper.

The corn and Poblano mixture should cook for about 5 more minutes.  At this point, toss in the quinoa and chives and incorporate the whole mixture together.  Serve warm with a dollop of sour cream, avocado, chives, and lime.

I got down poured on yesterday. I wanted to use the dark stormy clouds as an excuse to not go to the gym. But, my inner dilemma and the impending guilt that would ensue made me get my act together and drag myself out the door. I wore my rain boots and took my husband’s heavy-duty umbrella and braved the dark skies. Neither of these two items would really help the upcoming downpour I was to face. Literally, the minute I stepped outside sheets of rain coming in at me from all directions soaked my entire body. I thought I should just go back up to my apartment, but no I kept going, all the way to the gym. When I arrived I must have looked like a frazzled lunatic. Hair all unkempt, wet clothes, and dripping arms.  As you can get my first stop was to the locker room to put the hair dryer into action.

When I was finished at the gym, believe me when I say I wanted to just order takeout. But, in the morning I took out chicken breasts to defrost. I’m sure we all know that we aren’t supposed to refreeze defrosted meat, I don’t know if this is true or an old wives’ tale. Either way, I was tempted to refreeze it, but decided to just cook it. My focus here isn’t the chicken though. I didn’t do anything that special with it. I tossed it with some mayonnaise, honey, herbs, harissa, then breaded it with panko and baked it. The main star of the meal was the pearl couscous that I made as a side dish. Usually, I make regular couscous and toss in whatever chopped vegetables I have on hand. This time, I basically did the same thing but amped it up a little.

I caramelized shallots and threw in some crunchy and crisp Napa cabbage. The Napa cabbage doesn’t have an overpowering taste yet adds great flavor and texture. I am all about the crunch, the crunch factor prompted me to add in cucumbers and almonds. I always add in dried cranberries to couscous and I did this time as well. I threw in some olives for saltiness. A dish isn’t made by me if there aren’t tons of herbs in it, so that’s what I did here; parsley and mint. A squeeze of lemon, some extra olive oil, and some crumbled sheep’s milk feta complete the dish.

I must talk about the spices here, I love adding cumin and coriander to couscous. Many times, I add a pinch of turmeric, but this time I didn’t feel I needed it. In addition, I threw in another flavor contrast; cane sugar and crushed red chilies. Everything balanced in the end. You might think I don’t know when to stop with ingredients and sometimes that may be the case, but usually it all works out.  Cooking calms me down, once I started preparing this dish I forgot about my rain fiasco.

Summer Pearl Couscous

Serves 4, as a side

Ingredients

1 cup dry pearl couscous (cooked according to package directions)

3 shallots, sliced

1/2 a head of Napa Cabbage, chopped

1 clove of garlic

1/4 of an English cucumber, in a small dice

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/4 cup pitted olives, roughly chopped (any variety you like)

1/4-1/2 cup crumbled sheep’s milk feta (or any mild variety)

2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted

10 sprigs of parsley, chopped

2 sprigs of mint, chopped

juice of half a lemon

1/2 teaspoon cumin powder

1/2 teaspoon coriander powder

1/4 teaspoon red chili flakes, or to taste

3/4 teaspoon of salt, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon cane sugar or turbinado sugar

extra virgin olive oil

Method

Heat a saucepan on medium-low with some olive oil, about 2 tablespoons. Add in the shallots and allow them to caramelize, about 15 minutes. When the shallots are caramelized toss in the Napa cabbage and garlic and allow the cabbage to wilt down a bit and slightly pick up some caramelization. Add in all the spices and sugar and cook for 2 minutes. Next, add in the cranberries and allow them to plump up a little and rehydrate.

Remove the pan from the heat. Take the prepared couscous and add in the shallots and cabbage mixture. Put in the cucumbers, olives, parsley, mint, lemon juice, a little extra olive oil, and the slivered almonds. Toss everything together so that everything is evenly distributed. Crumble the feta on top and serve, slightly warm, at room temperature, or even cold, if you like.

This title might make it sound like I have a vendetta against mayonnaise.  It’s just a temporary “bye-bye.”  Actually, mayo and I are fine, except for the fact that I like to dollop mayo on fries like it’s no one’s business.  But other than that, I have little qualms with it.  I do like the classic potato salad.  Hmmm, let me rephrase that.  I do like the classic potato salad, if it’s made with red potatoes, tons of tarragon and other yummy herbs.  See, I don’t have any hang-ups.  You all must know of the classic potato salad, that is white, made with regular potatoes, vinegar, and mayo, I think.  I have not ventured into making that version, because of the no herbs thing, which does not fly in my books.  Just letting you all know (if you didn’t already).

In my mayo-less version, there are of course potatoes, baby new potatoes that were roasted rather than boiled for extra flavor and caramelized goodness.  By the way, this potato salad was in no way a planned recipe.  It was the outcome of hunger and a fridge raid.  Back to the ingredients, spring asparagus is EVERYWHERE, so rather than just roasting it and serving it as a side, I thought to make it part of this potato salad.  Then, I started thinking of Salad Nicoise, minus the boiled eggs, minus the tuna or salmon, and minus the haricots verts.  Essentially, I just conceptualized Kalamata olives and potatoes together in some form and did not have all the ingredients for Salad Nicoise.  Thus, the olives went in too.  The next biggest decision would be which herbs I would use.  Mint and chives are staples of mine and always in my fridge (along with parsley, thyme, and cilantro).  I crumbled in some feta and sliced in red onion, but leave these out if you do not care for them.  I love the purple pop the onion adds to the dish.

Through this, a new version of potato salad was born.  I imagine it would be great on a picnic. I would have rather been on a picnic while eating it.  Alas, the kitchen table had to suffice.  I will be making this potato salad again.  A new recipe, to my repertoire and it was so easy to come up with.  This makes me very happy.

The Bye-Bye Mayo Potato Salad with Asparagus, Kalamatas, Chives, and Mint

Serves 4 (as a side)

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds of baby new potatoes, washed and dried

1 small bunch of asparagus

1/2 cup Kalamata olives, pitted (or as many as you would like)

1/2 a small red onion, sliced finely

1/4 cup crumbled feta, optional (good quality)

10-15 springs of chives, chopped

handful of mint, chopped

1/4 cup of extra-virgin olive oil + extra for coating the potatoes and asparagus (good quality)

juice of 1 lemon

1 clove of garlic, minced and mashed

salt, to taste

black pepper, to taste

Method

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Season the potatoes and asparagus with salt and pepper.  Lay the potatoes on a sheet tray and put them into the heated oven for about 45 minutes or until fork tender.  When there are 10 minutes left on the cooking time of the potatoes add the asparagus to the oven.  In the meantime, whisk the olive oil into the lemon juice with salt, pepper, garlic, chives, and mint, set aside.  When the potatoes and asparagus have cooled slightly, cut the asparagus on an angle into 1 1/2″ pieces.  Next, toss the potatoes, asparagus, red onion, Kalamata olives with the lemon/herb dressing.  You may not have to use all of it.  Add in the crumbled feta on top.  You may add more chives and mint on top.  Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled.

A few days ago, I was thinking about things I have learned to make since I got married.  Getting married improved my cooking repertoire substantially.  I always loved cooking, but was too busy as a student to really dive in and explore a lot of new dishes.  My husband’s taste buds sometimes dictate what I cook as well.  I admit, I am more domineering in the food side of things, so usually what I say goes!  That’s the way it should be, right girls?  Also, my husband has not cooked a meal for me even once!  Can you believe that?  Shame on him!  If I do not want to cook we go out or order something.  Never once will he offer to make something.  Not that I mind it on a daily basis, but sometimes a girl does not want to see the kitchen.  Recently, he was away on electives and had to cook for himself.  Can you guess know what he made?  His infamous chicken breasts, baked with salt, pepper, and zucchini in a foil pouch.  Wow, how utterly creative!

Okay, enough with the husband bashing (he really does not deserve it), this was supposed to be another tribute to his taste buds but somehow I got sidetracked.  During the past two Ramadans (Islamic month of fasting) I have made Pakoras everyday, I never really made them before I got married.  My husband, being a creature of habit needs to have pakoras to open his fast.  We are not particularly religious, although we do try to do the basics, I more than him.  But, in Ramadan we try to fast as much as possible.  It is a spiritual cleansing and makes us remember all we have been given.

It is a spiritual cleansing, NOT a physical cleaning.  Us Pakistanis open our fasts with the most artery clogging dishes possible.  Pakoras, samosas, lentil fritters swimming in yogurt, puff pastry patties, fried potato cutlets are usually on the tables in most Pakistani households at the opening of the fast.  Yes, there are the afterthoughts of fruit salad and dates in the corner.  But, after fasting all day most people jump for the fried foods.  I try to steer away from this habit.  Give me the fruit and a date and then afterwards I’ll eat a normal healthy dinner.

Despite my eating habits, I still make Pakoras for my husband and maybe an occasional one for myself, shhhhhh.  I have perfected them and although he likes them dipped almost like vegetable tempura, I make them with everything in the batter.  It’s easier and in my opinion tastier.  My mother told me to add yogurt to the batter because it makes them fluffier, but that is entirely optional. Pakoras are not only reserved for Ramadan, that is why I felt like making them today, on some random April day.  I must admit they are delicious and I do devour them when I go to Pakistan, where I do not gain weight from eating all these fried foods, but that is a story for another day.  In Lahore, the best pakoras are available in Liberty Market.

Pakoras: Chickpea Flour Fritters with Spinach, Red Onion, and Potatoes

Makes about 12

Ingredients

3/4 cup chickpea/gram flour (besan)

water (enough to form a thick batter)

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seeds

1/4 teaspoon carom seeds (ajwain)

1/2 teaspoon red chili powder

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon chaat masala powder, available in Indian/Pakistani grocery stores

1 heaping tablespoon of plain yogurt, optional

1 cup packed baby spinach, coarsely chopped

1 small potato, cut into thin matchstick pieces

1 small red onion, sliced as thin as possible

handful of cilantro, chopped

1 thin long green chili, minced finely

vegetable oil, for frying

Method

In a mortar and pestle crush together the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and carom seeds.  Leave them coarse.  In a bowl mix together the chickpea flour, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, carom seeds, red chili powder, chat masala, and salt.  Add in the water slowly until the ingredients form a batter, similar to a slightly thick pancake batter.  Add in the yogurt and mix.  Next toss in the spinach, onion, potato, cilantro, and green chili.  Heat a pan with oil, I like to shallow fry the Pakoras, if you wish, you can deep fry them.  Add heaping tablespoon-fulls of batter into the heated oil and cook on medium to medium low heat until they are golden brown on each side, about 3-4 minutes per side.  Make sure the batter and the vegetables inside are fully cooked before serving.  When cooked, drain on a plate lined with paper towel.  Sprinkle with some extra salt and chaat masala.  Eat them fresh, they do not taste as good if they are not hot.  You can serve the Pakoras with tamarind-date chutney, green chutney, or even chili garlic ketchup.

By the looks of my blog it seems like I like to indulge in fattening foods, ALL THE TIME!  That’s not the case, I splurge once a week, but on a daily basis I’m a healthy eater (so I’d like to think).  Everyday food for me, is soup, salads, grilled chicken, you know the whole shebang.  I like to jazz up my food a bit for my blog.  It’s my food’s alter ego, my Sasha Fierce, take that, Beyonce!

Leeks I had frozen 🙂

However, I would like to invite you to my daily eating world.  This soup exemplifies it.  I know, I did add the crispy leeks and the creme fraiche, but those are entirely optional.  Sometimes I add them sometimes I do not.  But, my husband will always add them.  Boys will be boys, I guess.  Speaking of which, I am suddenly reminded of that commercial where a woman said she gave up sugary drinks and did not lose an inch and husband did and lost 10 pounds.  I am quite careful with my eating habits and I have noticed many guys are not and they do not gain a pound. Grrrrr…I’m sure that is not the case with everyone, but an observation I have made.

Anyway, back to the soup.  Simple, easy and flavorful!  This is why I love soups.  Thousands of combinations and they can be so hearty and warming.  The taste sensations from this one are so bright because of the herbs and the lemon zest.  There is also a smooth and silky component that really soothes the soul.  For an easy weeknight meal, do try it.

White Bean Soup with Crispy Leeks and Herb Creme Fraiche

Serves 3

Ingredients

1-2 tablespoons olive oil

2 1/2 cups of white beans, soaked overnight and cooked (use canned beans if it’s easier for you)

1 cup leeks, chopped (white and light green parts only, washed thoroughly)

1 shallot, chopped

2-3 cloves of garlic, minced

1 sprig of rosemary, chopped

3 1/4 cups of homemade chicken stock (or vegetable stock,) warmed

kosher salt, to taste, about 3/4 of a teaspoon

red chili flakes, to taste, optional

a few cranks of fresh black pepper

2 tablespoons milk, optional

Method

Cook the leeks, shallot, and rosemary on medium heat in olive oil until translucent.  Add in the garlic and allow it to soften, about 3-4 minutes.  Toss in the salt, black pepper, and chili flakes.  Add the beans and allow them to heat up.  Pour in the warmed chicken stock and allow it to come a boil.  Let the whole mixture boil for about 7 minutes.  Blend the soup with an immersion blender or a regular blender and strain through a sieve.  Put it back in the pot, and stir in the milk.  Bring to a boil and then serve.

Garnish Options

Crispy leeks:  Take 1/4 cup of chopped leeks and shallow fry them in olive oil until they become golden brown.  Drain excess oil on a paper towel.  Sprinkle them with a little kosher salt at end.

Herb Creme Fraiche:  Take 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 5 sprigs of chopped chives, 1 teaspoon of chopped rosemary, zest of half a lemon, kosher salt, fresh black pepper, and a little drizzle of olive oil and combine them with 2-3 tablespoons of creme fraiche.   Dollop on top of the soup.

I added a little extra lemon zest and some chives for some garnishes.

Let me first say that I love beets.  I do not know exactly when I started liking them but I can tell you it was not in childhood.  I think it was the time in undergrad when I started getting over my preconceived notions of how I thought some “different” things taste, i.e. BAD.  Boy, was I wrong not only about beets but a few other things that I love now.

Plus, it’s winter…Beet season!  I love their earthy taste and I adore them in a sweet and salty application.  As you have probably figured out, I am drawn to bright and rich colors like no other.  The deep blood red color is absolutely gorgeous (although it leaves a big mess everywhere. 😉 )  Usually, I like to pair beets with goat cheese and intended to do so, until I got a whiff of it which reminded me of the Berber family’s goat stable I visited in Morocco.  I know, I’m pathetic.  Mind you, before visiting this stable I would eat chevre on salads, sandwiches, or even on its own.  I hope I get over this very soon.  I want my love of goat cheese back!

Instead of chevre I paired the salad with Gorgonzola (no stable reminders there, though generally it is a far more stinky cheese…)  The Gorgonzola worked wonderfully, cutting the earthiness of the beets, creating perfect harmony.  I mentioned that I like beet salads to be sweet and salty.  That is why I prepared a shallot jam to go with the beets.  It would be delicious on its own with a soft room temperature cheese and crostini and maybe a drizzle of honey.  Yum!  Another sweet component were the  Anjou pears I lightly sauteed with kosher salt and dried cranberries.  I thought to myself, “forget about the salad, I’ll just get a spoon and eat these right now.”

I also added avocado, a bit out of place but I love the pop of green and a raw component to the dish.  The dressing I made was simple and balanced out all the flavors.  I made an orange and stoneground dijon dressing, which was so simple to prepare and would go on practically any salad you choose.  I did not use too much because the salad did not need it.  Of course, I added some sort of nut for some crunch, in this case toasted walnuts.

Yummy Beet Salad

Serves 3

Ingredients

For the salad:

3 beets

3 shallots, sliced

1 pear, cubed (I used Anjou)

1/4 cup dried cranberries

1/2 an avocado, cubed

1 handful crumbled gorgonzola cheese (or chevre)

1/4 toasted walnuts, in pieces

2 tablespoons brown sugar

salt to taste

red chili flakes to taste

black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons of butter

olive oil

chives for garnish, optional

Method

Boil beats in water for about 40 minutes or until tender.  When cooked removed the skin and cut into half moon shapes.  (You can roast them if you like.)

Prepare the shallot jam by placing them in a pan on medium heat with 1 tablespoon of butter and one tablespoon of olive oil.  Add a pinch of salt so they start sweating.  After about 10 minutes add the crushed red chili flakes and turn the heat to low and allow the shallots to caramelize.  After 15 minutes add the brown sugar and stir the shallots so that the sugar down not burn.  Cook for another 5 minutes.  Take out of the pan and set aside.

In the same pan add the cubed pears with 1 tablespoon of butter and a pinch of salt.  Cook them on medium low heat for about 10 minutes or until they start to caramelize.  At the 10 minute mark add the dried cranberries and allow them to reconstitute.  Remove from the pan and set aside.

Assemble the salad by laying the beats down first and topping with the shallot jam and the pears/dried cranberry mixture.  Top off with the gorgonzola, avocado, and walnuts.  Sprinkle with a little salt and fresh black pepper.

For the dressing:

1 garlic clove, minced finely

juice of 1 orange

1 tablespoon creme fraiche

1 teaspoon stoneground dijon mustard

salt

pepper

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Combine all the ingredients except the olive oil into a bowl.  Next slowly whisk in the olive oil so that the dressing emulsifies.  Top the beets with a drizzling of the dressing.

*Vegan Option: Use olive oil instead of butter where butter is mentioned.  Omit the cheese (add extra dried fruits or nuts if you like) and use soy yogurt in place of the creme fraiche in the salad dressing.

My sister and I have these lists called “life lists.”  Nine out of ten times they relate to food.  We came up with this somewhat childish classification system on a long road trip with my husband and his friend.  We were absolutely bored out of our minds and decided to ask each other what were each of our “life foods,” in other, less eccentric terms, which foods can you see yourself loving for life?  Essentially, we broke down our “life foods” by categories such as regional cuisines to something as odd as, “what are your life chips?”  I know, you must be thinking that we are a little off in the mind, but little quirks like this make us who we are.  I’m sure every group of close friends and family have their own innuendos that no one else would understand.

Back to the “life foods,”  I named Mediterranean cuisine as a regional “life cuisine.”  I love the freshness and the lightness associated with it.  It’s such a vibrant area that yields amazing cuisine in my opinion.  Though the term, Mediterranean is a little vague, I love it all, whether it is Southern European, Greek, North African, Turkish, Lebanese, and so on.  I would consider this dip truly Mediterranean, because I’m sure you can find it in one form or another all over the Mediterranean.  It’s a fresh, light, and a delicious dip.  It’s simple, yet packs a lot of intensity.

Eggplant and Pepper Dip

Makes about 2 cups of dip

Adapted from Gourmet Magazine

Ingredients

i medium sized eggplant

1 large red bell pepper

6 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 jalapeno chili, roughly chopped (remove the seeds if you like)

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 /2 teaspoon black pepper, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon crushed red chilies, or to taste

1 teaspoon ground cumin

6 tablespoons olive oil

10 sprigs on chives, roughly chopped

handful of flat leaf parsley, chopped

4 mint leaves, roughly chopped

crumbled feta cheese, for garnish, optional

extra parsley and chives for garnish, optional

pita wedges for serving

Method

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Poke the eggplant and red pepper  with a knife so that you create some holes in the flesh.  Cover both with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt, and pepper to taste.  Place on a baking tray with 4 whole garlic cloves and bake for about 30-45 minutes, or until the flesh is soft and cooked through.  Allow to cool slightly and remove the skins off the eggplant and the pepper.  Place the cooked eggplant, pepper, and roasted garlic cloves in a food processor with the salt, pepper, cumin, crushed red chillies, lemon juice,  jalapeno, 2 raw garlic cloves, chives, mint, parsley, and olive oil.  Pulse until the consistency is almost smooth, let there still be some texture.  Chill in the refrigerator and garnish with feta cheese, fresh herbs, and a drizzle of olive oil.  Serve with pita wedges.