Monday, July 29, 2013

Spicy Black Bean and Corn Salad

Add avocados to just about anything and you've got a winner in my book.  I'd wanted to make this black bean and corn salad for a long time, but I had to wait for the perfect corn.   Well, maybe not perfect, but local.  

I try not to be a local food snob but once I'd bought corn that was on sale at the grocery store, and though it didn't look like the freshest corn, when I cooked it, it had a strange sweet taste.  But it didn't taste like that fresh picked sweetness.  Must be one of the newest hybrids with super sweet genes.   It was actually the first non local corn I'd purchased in years.  I wondered how it stayed sweet even though it sat in a warehouse and was delivered by truck.  

I'm  crazy about Washington-grown corn. The freshness of just picked corn can't be beat.  Drive on country roads and you see roadside stands loaded with great local options.

I love the bi-colored corn at the market and I ended up getting 8 ears so we could eat entire ears and have enough to add some to salads and quinoa.   

I recently decided to try weekly menu plans that resonate with a theme.  My idea is this will make making dinners much easier, especially when I haven't thought about what's on the menu or just don't have the time to go get ingredients  I won't have the "what's for dinner?" days.  This week everything has a Mexican focus--Black Bean and Corn Salad, Quinoa, Red Beans and Corn,  Quinoa and Corn Chowder,  Tempeh Tostadas, and Spicy Tofu Scramble.   I haven't exactly penciled out an entire month yet to see how this will work.   Will it be Chinese, Italian or Thai next week?  Maybe Italian with all the basil I've seen lately.

Pesto for everyone!

It's sometimes hard to find budget friendly peppers at the market.  And the season is nearly here, but if you look you can sometimes find odd bits and seconds from some farmers.  Check out these tiny red peppers.  They taste like peppers, but it takes about five of them to equal one pepper.

We might be the last people in the country to harvest tomatoes from our gardens, but once they appear, watch out.  Our stupice plant has a few that are red. And our little Sungold tomatoes are also just turning.  I used those and I'm counting on more turning red this week.

I taught cooking classes for so long, I can't get past the organization.  Once I got everything cut, this salad was a breeze to make, and that's exactly how I like summer dinners.  All you need to go with this salad are corn tortillas and a tossed salad.   If you want you can use it as a side dish, but it's so easy to make why bother with anything else.

Even my Cooking Assistant is impressed.  

Spicy Black Bean and Corn Salad
(Serves 4)

1 sweet onion, diced
1 red pepper, diced
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 or 2 zucchinis, diced
1 or 2 ears of corn
1 can black beans, drained
1/3 cup fresh salsa
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
Agave nectar to taste
1 tomato, chopped 
1/2 avocado, diced
1 cup diced cucumber 
1 cup diced tomatoes 

1. Heat a heavy skillet over medium heat.   Add onion and red pepper.  Cook and stir.  After 2 minutes, add the oil.  Reduce the heat, stir and cook until onions and peppers are soft.

2. Add zucchini, stir and cook until zucchini is soft.   Stir in the corn and beans and cover.

3. Combine salsa and lime juice.  Add agave nectar a teaspoon at a time until the flavor sweetens a bit.  Top with avocado.  Serve tomatoes and cucumbers on the side or place on top of each serving.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Green Bean, Carrot and Cucumber Salad

Green beans have arrived in the Northwest!    I found number of varieties at the market and bargain prices at grocery stores this past week.  If you can them or make pickles, now is the time to load up.

I had an idea for making a pasta salad with green beans, so I used half the beans I bought  (about a pound) to add them with pasta.  I blanched them the last few minutes of cooking the pasta.  I realized half way through the cooking I had a boatload of basil, so what I made turned out to be more of a marinara type sauce and I blended the pasta and green beans in.  Lots of basil went into this, and I have more leftover, so I looks like I'll make an Italian Vegetable Soup tonight with more green beans and basil.  I love blanching green beans so much, that I blanched them two days in a row.  

The second day, I made this green bean salad.  I looked for recipes, but couldn't find exactly what I was looking for.  I'd thought about using red peppers for color but they haven't made an appearance yet at the market, so carrots were my second choice. I still think a good grilled red pepper would be awesome in this salad.  I may create a variation next week if I find red peppers.

I also realized I had three cucumbers to use.  Farmer Wade Bennett of Rockridge Orchards had a great deal on Japanese cucumbers, and I couldn't resist buying extra.  I tell myself, this is the time to gorge on produce, so I got three cucumbers.   I'm thinking of using diced cucumber, avocado and chopped olives as a garnish for a tortilla soup. 

Mair Farm-Taki sells amazing Japanese cucumbers, too.  I love the samples. Some people say Farmer Katsumi Taki's cucumbers are the sweetest at the market.

Now for the dressing.  Vinegar or lemon?  I could have gone either way with this salad, but I think lemon pulls the color from the green beans faster than vinegar, and I wanted a slightly mustard flavor, so I opted for a raspberry vinegar.  And for some heat--Mama Lil's.  People might say I'm a cooking fraud if Mama Lil's disappeared.  It's my secret ingredient for many things I make, and it's on sale right now, so check it out. 

Look, Wade has new flip top vinegar bottles.  They look so old fashioned.

Green Bean, Carrot and Cucumber Salad
(Serves 4)

2 cups fresh green beans
2 to 4 tablespoons apple cider or berry vinegar
1 teaspoon prepared mustard
1 tablespoon Nayonaise (vegan mayonnaise)
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon agave nectar
1 tablespoon chopped Mama Lil's (or use pickled jalapenos)
1 or 2 cloves garlic, pressed
2 cups grated carrots
1/4 cup minced sweet or red onions
1 Japanese cucumber, chopped
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 

1. Blanch green beans in a large pot of water until fork tender (about 3 minutes).  Drain and plunge green beans into cold water to stop the cooking process.

2. Whisk together vinegar, mustard, mayonnaise, olive oil, agave nectar, Mama Lil's and garlic.  Set aside.

3. Combine green beans, carrots, onions and cucumber.   Gently toss with dressing.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Kale Chips

We spent this past weekend watching the sand sculpture competition in Long Beach, Washington.  Who doesn't love the "longest beach in the world?"  We'd been to the annual kite festival but had never been to the sand sculpture competition.  We checked out contestants early in the day.

Who knew supporting structures lurked underneath the sculptures?  But it does make sense when you see them.  The rules were: you had to use the sand where you were, only 8 people could work on the sculpture at any one time and you had to get your own water. 

At 2pm a whistle blew and judging began.  At the main booth they were passing out free hot dogs.  I thought I'd never get by the booth.  People line up for free food.  I took a pass but the hounds became more interested in all the discarded buns and dropped hot dogs than checking out the sculptures. 

My trusty cooking assistant was so bored until we saw a living sculpture behind one of the entries.  This dog was napping while these people built a sand mermaid around her.  I think they should add a new category to the competition.

Why not add a living sculpture award?  I can hear it now--"And the award goes to the most mellow dog on the beach!"  I didn't think any dog could out do a basset when it comes to chilling out.

We took most of our own food on this beach trip--three salads and enough veggies to make sandwiches. One thing I like to pack is kale chips, although I must say, you have to make a lot to take because so many get eaten straight from the oven.  Sometimes I can't stop eating them.

Some people say Tuscon kale is best to use.  Other people use Red Russian.  Everybody has their  preference when it comes to kale chips.  I've found flat leaf varieties like this Italian kale cook more evenly. 

You could probably even use collard leaves and make collard chips.  

You can find lots of recipes for kale chips. Most are basic--remove the tough rib, toss with a bit of olive oil.  Many recipes like this one add salt.  David Lebovitz said the consensus with his California friends was that a hot oven works the best. But Lebovitz found lower temps work the best, and over the years, like Lebovitz,  I've found the secret to great kale chips every time is a low temperature--200F,  if your oven goes that low. Keep it low for about a half an hour or even 45 minutes.

I'll be back next week with something more substantial.  Until then, try kale chips, you won't be disappointed.

Perfect Kale Chips
(Serves 4)

1 bunch kale, middle rib removed
Olive oil
Sea salt (optional)

Preheat oven to 200F.   Lay a piece of parchment paper on a baking sheet.  

Tear the kale into bite-size pieces and toss with oil.  Lay flat on the parchment paper.   Bake for 30 minutes or until almost done.  Sprinkle lightly with sea salt, if desired.  Continue baking until chips are crisp.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Arugula-Raspberry Salad with Walnuts

Salad days are here.  We have so many good things from our little garden, and we planted lots of is arugula.  For one thing, I love arugula year-round.  I love to try the different varieties, and I've become a bit of an arugula snob.  You can be one too if you live in the Northwest because this is a green made for the area because thrives through our sometimes brutal cool spring days.

A spicy green with lots of nutrients, arugula can can shoot up and bolt (flower).  The leaves turn become more bold, some even say too spicy, but I love the flowers and don't mind the leaves when it flowers.  People sometime shun kale, collard, chive and arugula blossoms in this country, but they have intense flavors and they make salads more fun. Arugula comes in different varieties for the garden. My favorite comes from Frank Morton at Wild Garden Seed.

You can buy arugula at the farmers' market, but it can be pricey (but worth the money). 

Or you can grow your own, at least you can in the Northwest. I don't know about Arizona.  I find so many greens do well in containers, and it's easier for a non-gardening type to maintain. I look for these containers at thrift stores and garage sales.  This is an old metal wash tub. We drilled holes in the bottom and plant greens in it every spring. 

We don't have a huge garden,  and we've got plenty of greens spring through fall, and some kale, collards and arugula go through the winter.  

My Cooking Assistant is easily impressed.

He'll eat anything from the garden, where he does not have free access for obvious reasons.

If you've got the grill on, throw a few zucchini steaks on. I basted these with balsamic vinegar, garlic and olive oil.   One can never have too much summer squash.   These are great in sandwiches the next day.

I got lazy when it came to the marinade, so I made an Italian vinaigrette, and then pureed a half cup of raspberries into the mix.  It's got a sweet tart tang that goes with arugula.

I saw a recipe similar to this one with pomegranates and walnuts.  So something tart and colorful like raspberries would do.  I like the red on green and the peppery flavor of arugula, the tang of raspberries and the crunch of toasted walnuts.  It's okay to be lazy when making a fruit vinaigrette, after all this is summer, why not enjoy the best of it?

Arugula-Raspberry Salad with Walnuts
(Serves 4)
This salad would also be good with dried sour cherries when raspberries aren't in season.
1/4 cup prepared Italian low-fat vinaigrette
1/2 cup raspberries 
4 cups torn arugula
1/4 cup chopped kalamata olives
1 cup raspberries 
1/4 cup toasted chopped walnuts

1. Combine vinaigrette and raspberries.  Puree and strain if you don't want any seeds.

2. Place arugula, raspberries and kalamata olives in a salad bowl.  Pour vinaigrette over ingredients and gently toss.  Top with toasted walnuts.

My Cooking Assistant plans on taking every opportunity offered.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Rice Salad with Summer Vegetables

I was shocked when a friend said,  "I'm a vegan and I don't have grill.  I've never needed on."  Really?  Maybe I'm easily shocked but I can't get through the summer without grilling anything.  It's not summer without grilled vegetables.  It's so sad, like summer without berries.  

And here's vegan news flash--you don't have to eat meat to love the grill in summer.   Need some inspiration?  Check out this book:

One vegetable got me totally hooked on grilling--summer squash.  First of all, it's drop dead affordable now, especially when it gets mature. People keep your baby squash, I want the grown-up variety for the best flavor.  And the texture of summer squash is perfect--from the scalloped patty pans to giant zucchini, these summer treasures are good in everything!   

People who claim farmers' markets have sticker shock prices haven't seen the deals in summer.

Frugal food shoppers take note;  this is the time to buy, get some for your neighbors, get the block party grill on.  How many summer squash recipes can you come up with? Add squash to soups, salad and sandwiches.  Maybe next week, I'll do a zucchini noodle salad.

At our house, everyone loves the bright summer treasures.

And sugar snap peas--I can't stop eating these sweet treats.   I bought more than enough to take to an afternoon gathering, and Sugar Snap peas lose their sweetness after being picked. I wasn't sure when we'd eat the rest, so I blanched the remainder. (2 to 3 minutes in a big pot of boiling water).  Even though you plunge the raw peas into boiling water, the process is quick and not many nutrients are lost because you plunge cooked vegetables into ice water after cooking.  

This salad, reads like it could be a lot of work, but when you grill a lot, throw extra on the grill and save zucchini and peppers to make this quick salad.   

Don't forget the brown rice.  Use your favorite, if you like.  I found a great rice at the Ferry Plaza farmers market.  Massa Organics.  Now I'm hooked and I leave the exotic rice selections in natural food stores for someone else.  Given the health concerns over imported rice, I like knowing how rice was grown and where it came from before buying.  And it feels good to say my purchase fuels our economy not China's.  

Try a glass of ice tea or lemonade, a bowl of berries and this salad and you've got a perfect light summer meal.

Rice Salad with Grilled Summer Vegetables
(Serves 6 to 8 )
This salad makes a great picnic, lunch or dinner option.  To turn it into a whole meal salad, added diced grilled tofu, one can drained kidney beans or 1/2 cup toasted nuts.

1 3/4 cup water
1 cup brown rice, rinsed
Dash of sea salt
2 cups sugar snap peas
2 to 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2-teaspoon dijon mustard

1 red, green or yellow pepper, seeded and sliced
1 medium zucchini, sliced lengthwise in 1/4-inch thick slices and 3-inchs long
1 small sweet onion, sliced into 1/4-inch slices
1 cup chopped kalamata olives
1 or 2 jalapenos, seeded and chopped or 1 tablespoon, chopped pickled jalapenos

1. Bring water to a boil in a small saucepan.  Add rice and dash of salt.  Bring to a second boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 45 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.

2. Prepare the grill for peppers, zucchini and onions,while rice cooks.

3. Bring a large pot of water to boil on the stovetop.   Pull off the tough stems of the peas, before blanching them in boiling water for 2 minutes. They should be bright green and slightly on the crisp side.  Drain and plunge into ice water to stop the cooking process.  Set aside.

4. Combine vinegar, oil and mustard in a small bowl.  Brush mixture on the sliced summer squash, pepper and olive.  Grill on one side for about 5 minutes, then turn and grill on the remaining side until the skin is blackened.

5. Place the rice in a large mixing bowl.  Add the remainder of the balsamic vinegar and oil.  Blend in olives and jalapenos.  Cut the grilled vegetables into small bites,  Blend the rice mixture with grilled vegetables and sugar snap peas.