Fattoush Salad with Yogurt Tahini Sauce

{fattoush salad at Ciachhetti}

{fattoush salad at cicchetti, way back in june}

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Hello, friends! It’s been awhile! I’ve pretty much taken the entire summer off from blogging, and now all of the sudden it’s the last day of August and I haven’t made any of the yummy recipes I had planned to post.  Summer pasta bakes, homemade goat cheese, corn cakes, ice cream, as many berry and peach desserts as possible, basically everything Deb has posted over the past few months (and she’s done it with a newborn!) – I’m pretty mad at myself. I have so many excuses: camera phone issues (thrice-shattered screen(s) made it hard to take pictures), actual camera issues (memory card full), computer issues (storage full so I can’t upload photos currently on camera, thus the full memory card), desire to spend free time at the beach and/or with my adorable niece and nephew rather than in the kitchen or trying to fix phone/camera/computer issues.

But I finally went to the Apple store last week (fourth trip in five weeks) and an adorable young guy at the genius bar fixed my computer for me. For free! It was so amazing. I completely expected him to tell me I needed to buy a new laptop, or that it would cost $800 to open mine up to tell me what was wrong, but instead he just helped me empty my trash and my little MacBook is good as new (I realize that doesn’t speak very highly of my technology skills!). My mom told me once that when I was born she wanted to name me after her anesthesiologist – that’s how I felt about this guy at the genius bar, except I’m not expecting a baby and I never even learned his name. But if I was, and I had, that’s how I would have felt, because that’s how excited I was/am to have my computer back. Whoop!

But I digress. Back in June, pre-technology meltdown, I went to dinner at Cicchetti for a girlfriend’s birthday and fell in love with their fattoush salad. So much so that I went back to Cichhetti the following weekend with the sole purpose of ordering the salad again, so that I could better analyze it for a future blog post. Two weeks after that, I actually made it. It was delicious. I even managed to take pictures somehow. And then I went to the beach for the Fourth of July with the two cutest babies on the planet, took approximately 10,000 photos of them playing in the ocean, and crashed my computer. A couple days later I dropped my phone on a cement floor and shattered the screen, which brings me to my above list of excuses.

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But better late than never, right? As much as I would love to close out August with a peach dessert (ideally this one), I can’t think about another blog post until I’ve shared this salad. It really is the perfect summer salad (perfect summer meal, even): full of crisp and juicy vegetables, fresh herbs, crunchy and salty pita chips, and tons of delicious middle-eastern flavors. In my attempt to recreate the Cicchetti version, I started with the ingredients they list on their menu: cucumber, red onion, crispy flatbread (aka deep fried pita strips), bell pepper, fresh herbs, and tahini yogurt. A google search provided that traditional fattoush also includes romaine lettuce (which the restaurant version used) and diced tomatoes (which the restaurant version didn’t use but I wanted to). So figuring out the vegetables was easy; the trickier parts were the tahini sauce and the crispy flatbread. I played around with both until I found a version I was happy with, and I encourage everyone to do the same.

There are a ton of recipes for yogurt tahini sauce online, I started with one (it was so long ago that I can’t even remember which one) and then added more tahini, lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste. For the flatbread, I chopped my pitas into little strips and then fried them until crispy in olive oil, and salted them right when they came out of the hot oil. Delicious, but not necessarily the healthiest addition to a salad. I’ve made this a few times since, and I just toast the pitas in the toaster and then brush them with olive oil and sea salt and run them under the broiler until they’re extra crispy. So long as you aren’t doing a side by side taste test, that way is just as good.  And if you want to save yourself the time and energy, you could just crumble a handful of store-bought pita chips over your salad and call it a day.  But if you’re in the mood, cutting the pita into matchsticks and frying them is pretty fun, and makes for a really gorgeous salad.

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I’m not a huge fan of raw onions, so if I were just making this for myself I might leave them out. But I understand that a lot of people like them, and they do add a good crunch. One of my favorite tricks (that I may have talked about before) is to soak a red onion in ice water after you slice or dice it. It needs probably at least 20 minutes of soaking time, but longer won’t hurt (I find the longer the better, personally), so I try to remember to chop my onion first and then get it in an ice water bath and stick it in the fridge, and then once I’m done with everything else the onion is usually ready to drain. It just makes the onion flavor a little milder, and also helps the onion stay cold and crisp.

When I had this salad at Cicchetti, it was served with the sauce spread on the plate and sprinkled with sumac, and then the salad and pita on top. So for purposes of my blog photo shoot that’s what I did; since then, I just toss all my veggies together, mix the sumac in with my yogurt tahini sauce and dollop it on top, and then serve it with a crunchy pita alongside (or a handful of pita chips crumbled on top).  Whatever will make it easier for you to make this salad, I will encourage you to do, because it really was one of the best things I ate all summer.

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For the Salad:
5-6 Persian cucumbers (or 1-2 regular cucumbers), chopped
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
1 orange bell pepper, diced
1 red onion, finely diced (soaked and drained if desired, see above)
1 heart of romaine, finely sliced into thin strips
1 package cherry tomatoes, halved (optional)
Fresh mint leaves, chopped, to taste
Small handful flat leaf parsley, chopped

For the Yogurt Tahini Sauce:
2 cups Greek yogurt
1/4 cup tahini
Juice of one lemon
2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste
Ground sumac, to taste

For the Crispy Flatbread:
3-4 pieces flatbread or pita, cut into matchsticks
Olive oil
Sea salt

Make Salad: Toss chopped cucumbers, peppers, onion, tomatoes, lettuce, mint, and parsley together; set aside.

Make Sauce: Blend yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, and garlic in food processor until smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spread onto serving plates and then sprinkle sumac on top (or alternatively, plate salad first and then dollop the dressing on top).

Make Flatbread: Heat about 1/2″ of olive oil in a large frying pan. Add flatbread pieces and fry until golden brown, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from oil with a slotted spoon and spread on a paper towel-lined plate to dry; sprinkle generously with sea salt and let cool. [It took me about three batches to get all of mine done.] To bake instead of fry: toast pitas, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and broil until golden and toasty, about 2 minutes (watch carefully so that they don’t burn).

Assemble: Spread yogurt tahini sauce on plates and sprinkle with sumac. Top with a large handful of tossed veggies and sprinkle with crispy flatbread (and additional sumac, if desired). Enjoy, ideally on a sunny deck with a glass of wine.

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Jamie Oliver’s Arugula and Radicchio Salad

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If you’re wondering who posts a salad recipe the week before Christmas, when the food blogosphere is nothing but cookies and cinnamon rolls and chocolate covered marshmallows, well, that’s a really good question. I actually did quite a bit of holiday baking over the past week, but I did it all in such a hurry that I forgot to take pictures.  I made these cookies and these biscotti and this hot chocolate mix (although not the marshmallows) – and I would encourage everyone to try all of them, as they are all amazing (especially the biscotti!).  I know that a lot of us, however, have cookie exchange cookies and secret santa treats and eggnog from the work elevator coming out of our ears, and perhaps a tropical vacation on the horizon, so I thought it might be a good time to take a little break and eat some greens.  And yes, in case you were wondering, the eggnog elevator is an actual thing (thanks to my friend Kristy for reminding me about one of the [few] perks of my old job this morning).

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My friend Ellie made this salad for a book club dinner a few years ago, and I’ve been copying her ever since – especially during Christmastime, when the red and green colors are perfect for holiday meals. Jamie’s recipe is pretty loose – a “handful” of arugula, a “glug” of olive oil. I love not having to measure, especially in a salad when you should be tailoring it to your liking. [Sidenote: Jamie refers to arugula as “rocket,” which is what they call it in the UK (if you’re interested, here’s why we have different words for the same thing). “Rocket” makes me think of the quarter I spent studying abroad in London, where we ate a lot of rocket pizza – yum. But I digress.] Anyways, this salad literally could not be easier – especially if you buy the pre-washed arugula like I did. Dump your arugula into your salad bowl, add some thinly sliced radicchio (very thinly sliced, as it can be bitter), parmesan, nuts, oil and vinegar, salt and pepper. The pine nuts are optional, but I would strongly recommend them (personal preference). Jamie also suggests red onion and/or bacon as additions. Toss everything together and you have a salad that’s sure to impress all of your holiday dinner guests – or will be the perfect weeknight dinner salad for days when you ate christmas cookies for breakfast and lunch.

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Jamie Oliver, previously: Eggplant Parmesan

One Year Ago: Rum Cake!

Arugula and Radicchio Salad, from Jamie Oliver

Serves 4

One package (or four large handfuls) arugula
One small radicchio, thinly sliced
Grated parmesan cheese
Toasted pine nuts
Extra virgin olive oil
Balsamic vinegar
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Toss the arugula and radicchio in a large salad bowl with parmesan and pine nuts. Drizzle olive oil and vinegar to taste (Jamie does a 3:1 oil:vinegar ratio, which is the correct way to make a vinaigrette; I do more like a 1:1 as I like my dressing light and less oily). Sprinkle a small amount of salt and pepper, also to taste. Toss well. Serve the salad topped with additional parmesan and pine nuts.

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Butternut Squash and Farro Salad

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I know that by February I’ll be longing for a warm and sunny October.  OK, by November (which is only 22 days away, eeeek!) I’ll probably be longing for a warm and sunny October.  But as of this week, when the 70+ degree temperatures are keeping me from my new fall wardrobe, I’m really ready for it to start feeling like fall.  I’ve dug all of my sweaters and boots out of the back of my closet(s), but it’s been t-shirt and flip flop weather all week (the things I find to complain about, I know). I’ve decided, however, that even if the forecast points to an Indian summer, the calendar says fall, so that’s what I’m going with.  I colored my hair dark this week (!!!), bought a flannel shirt that’s way too hot to wear anytime soon, and started in on the “fall recipes” on my to-do list. First up, this yummy butternut squash salad from Smitten Kitchen.

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Is there anything more “fall-ish” than butternut squash? (Is “fall-ish” even a word?) Well, there are probably lots of things, but butternut squash has got to be up there. After I made this salad, I found this one and kind of wished I had made it as well. If you’re really on top of life, you could prep a big batch of squash ahead of time and use it for both recipes (it will keep either raw or roasted in the fridge for a few days at least). You could throw it into a pasta dish, or into a green salad, or just eat it plain with parmesan like I’ve been doing a lot lately (yum).  But for now we’re talking farro, which is delicious (and pronounced FAR-ro, not FAIR-ro like a Pharaoh from ancient Egypt.  I may or may not have been mispronouncing this word for entirely too long, so just want to save you the embarrassment in case you’ve been making the same mistake). Deb explains the difference between pearled, semi-pearled, regular, etc., and the corresponding cooking times.  I just bought the Trader Joe’s “10 minute farro” and it was great (TJ’s FTW, as usual).

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My only other notes would be: (1) Deb recommends you pickle your onions for as close to 30 minutes as possible, but tells you that if you don’t have that much time less is ok too.  I’m sure she’s right, but as a raw-onion-hater I’ve found that the longer the onions are marinating, the less raw-onion-y they’ll taste. When I have time, I let mine sit in the fridge for an hour or two (fun tip: even soaking slices of red onion in plain ice water for a few minutes makes them taste a little more neutral).  Of course if raw onion hatred isn’t an issue for you, 30 minutes or less is fine.  (2) Sometimes ricotta salata can be hard to find – I’ve used feta in the past and it works just as well.  This is probably blasphemous to write on a food blog (however wannabe it may be), but I’m not entirely on the ricota salata train in the way that everyone else seems to be and I almost like it better with the feta. (3) Deb will tell you this as well, but this salad is super flexible – use any type of squash or roasted veggie in place of or along with the butternut, use rice/orzo/barley instead of farro, etc.  Although if you don’t have an aversion to anything in the recipe, I would encourage you to try it as written at least initially, as it really is delicious. Ratios are also flexible – I just used a whole squash, an entire (small) bag of farro, and then adjusted my toppings and seasonings accordingly.  (4) This salad is good at room temperature (i.e. when you’ve just finished making it and the squash and farro are still warm), but delicious chilled – it’s one of those salads that is really better the next day (especially if the next day is a little closer to sweater weather).

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Butternut Squash, previously: soup, baked pasta

Smitten Kitchen, previously: about every other recipe on this blog

Butternut Squash and Farro Salad, from Smitten Kitchen

1 medium butternut squash
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 cup farro
1/3 cup toasted, salted pepitas
3 ounces ricotta salata, crumbled or coarsely grated (or other salty cheese, such as feta)
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped

Prepare Squash: Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Peel butternut squash and scrape out seeds. Cut squash into 1/2″-3/4″ cubes. Coat baking sheet (or sheets, if you have a large amount of squash) with olive oil, and then toss squash on the baking sheet with small amounts of olive oil, salt, and pepper until coated. Roast 30-40 minutes, or until squash is tender and starting to brown, tossing or stirring a couple times so that the pieces don’t stick.

Prepare Farro: According to package instructions.

Prepare Onions and Brine: Chop onion into small dice. In a small bowl, whisk together the sherry vinegar, water, sugar, and salt, until the sugar is dissolved. Add onion and stir to coat. The brine won’t cover the onions all the way, but that’s ok. Place onions (in brine) in the refrigerator while you wait for squash/farro to cook. Ideally they can chill for 30 minutes, but less time is ok.

In a large bowl, mix together farro, squash, onions (with brine), cheese, and pepitas. Add three tablespoons of olive oil. Taste, and add more oil, sherry vinegar, salt, and pepper to taste. Top with more cheese and/or pepitas if desired (I did). Salad is best chilled, and will keep in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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Crunchy Cabbage Salad with Peanut Ginger Dressing

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As much as I love September, it’s a hard month for blog recipes because it’s not exactly clear what season we’re in. Technically, it’s still summer. It’s generally still pretty hot outside (at least most days). I’m still living in tank tops and flip flops. Yet the word “September” connotes back to school clothes, leaves changing, colder mornings, and basically all things fall. Peaches and tomatoes are on their way out, but I can’t bring myself to post (or even make) apple or pumpkin recipes until after the autumn equinox, which is a whole six days away.  So in the meantime, I just haven’t posted anything.  But then I had my friend Julie’s “cole slaw” the other night, and I was newly inspired.  If this salad had to pick a season, it’s definitely fresh enough to pick summer – but it’s not trying too hard to be seasonal. It’s perfect for a mid-September barbecue, but truthfully you could make it anytime.

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Julie is one of those people who, anytime she makes something you know it’s going to be good. You know this because she is good at everything she does. My mom always says Julie would have been the perfect pioneer woman (as opposed to herself, or either of her daughters, who wouldn’t have lasted a week on the Oregon Trail – we can barely go camping). Julie has five kids (and three adorable grandsons!), and still goes to Barre five days a week and makes dinner for her husband every night. How many people do you know that make an actual meal every night? I can count them on one hand. For those of us who need a little inspiration to make dinner even a few nights a week, however, this is the perfect salad – serve it alongside grilled chicken or fish (double the dressing recipe and use it as a marinade or glaze) and tell yourself you could have been a pioneer woman after all.

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Although the veggies take a little time to chop, this salad could not be easier. I say “salad” rather than “cole slaw” (which might be it’s technical name) because I detest cole slaw – or at least what I think of when I think of cole slaw, which is limp, soggy cabbage with disgusting, mayonnaise-y dressing, usually out of a bag or from a BBQ place (some other things I hate: mayonnaise, salad from a bag, BBQ). This salad could not be further from that, though – all the veggies are crisp and fresh and the dressing is made up of delicious things like peanut butter and soy sauce (using tamari makes it gluten free) and fresh ginger – and not a drop of mayonnaise. So, I’m calling it a salad, and like I said, it’s super easy. Whisk together all dressing ingredients, chop and toss the veggies, and that’s it.

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One year ago: oatmeal coconut chocolate chip cookies

Salad, previously: couscouskale, soba noodle, arugula, cucumber melon, green bean

Cabbage Salad with Peanut Ginger Dressing, from my friend Julie

For the dressing:
6 tablespoons rice vinegar
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
5 tablespoons creamy peanut butter
3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons soy sauce or tamari
2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh garlic

For the salad:
5 cups thinly sliced green cabbage (one large head will yield at least 5 cups)
2 cups thinly sliced red cabbage
2 cups shredded napa cabbage (I had to search for this at the grocery store – it looks more like a head of lettuce)
2-3 bell peppers (I used one red, one orange and one yellow but you could use any color(s) you like), cut into matchstick-sized strips
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into matchstick-sized strips
8 large green onions, cut into matchstick-sized strips
1/2 cup chopped cilantro

To make:
Combine all dressing ingredients in a large bowl and whisk until smooth and creamy. Let sit at room temperature for thirty minutes (or while you chop your veggies, which will take about that long). Add all sliced and chopped veggies into a large bowl and toss to combine. You’ll need to use the biggest bowl you have, as this makes a ton (you might want to cut the recipe in half if you aren’t feeding a crowd or don’t want leftovers).  Toss salad with dressing just before serving (only dress what you plan to use immediately; veggies and dressing will keep well in the fridge for a few days if you store them separately).

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Lentils with Mint and Feta

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Last summer I posted the recipe for what used to be my favorite Pasta and Co. summer salad.  It was probably the most popular recipe I’ve blogged, at least based on the number of people who told me they actually made it afterwards. And it’s still my sister’s favorite, which reminds me, I need to make it for her as a new baby dinner.  But a couple weeks ago, I was in charge of another new baby dinner and, having completely run out of time to make the salad myself, popped into Pasta and Co. to pick some of theirs up. Unfortunately for me, the couscous was sold out, so I picked up some turkey meatballs, green beans, and a couple different salads that caught my eye, including the lentil salad above. It doesn’t look pretty, but please believe me when I tell you it was the most delicious salad I’ve ever had. So good, in fact, that I had to make it myself the first chance I got – and I haven’t made the couscous salad since. 

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Unfortunately, unlike the couscous salad, the lentil recipe isn’t published in any of the Pasta and Co. cookbooks, so I kind of had to make it up.  Going off of the list of ingredients (so glad I had the foresight to take a picture!), I figured all I had to do was cook some lentils, add red pepper and onion, and then of course feta and mint.  Although I make lentil soup about once a week from October-April, I’ve never actually cooked just plain lentils. And while it’s not hard, I did learn the hard way that they can get really mushy if overcooked.  This salad isn’t the prettiest to look at to begin with, but cooking my lentils an extra half hour or so probably didn’t help.  Trader Joe’s sells lentils already cooked, so you could go that route and save yourself a step.  The mushy lentils were still delicious though – I could have eaten them like soup.

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Aside from figuring out how to cook lentils, this salad is a breeze to throw together. You probably don’t need to “pickle” the onion, but I did as I’m not a fan of raw onions, and I just happened to remember doing so from this recipe (which I should probably make for B&B one of these days!). If you do want to pickle your onion, do so as soon as you get the lentils simmering, and then it will be ready by the time the lentils are finished. Aside from that, it just takes a little chopping and tossing and you’re good to go.  I attempted to write an actual “recipe” but you can pretty much add more or less of anything, to taste.  A lot of people will tell you you need three parts oil to one part vinegar for a true vinaigrette, but I like to start with half and half and then adjust to taste. 

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I told you it wasn’t pretty…but it tastes so good! 

Lentils, previouslysoup (also from Pasta and Co.)

One year ago: cream of fresh tomato soup

Lentil Salad with Feta and Mint, adapted from Pasta and Co. 

Ingredients:
2 cups green lentils (brown would work fine too)
Chicken stock and white wine, for cooking lentils (optional – see your lentil packaging instructions for amounts.  I cooked 2 cups lentils in 2 1/2 cups broth and 1/2 cup of white wine, for a ration of 2.5 cups liquid to 1 cup lentils)
2 red bell peppers, finely diced
1 small or 1/2 large red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup feta, crumbled (or more to taste)
Large handful mint, chopped or torn into pieces (the more mint, the better)
Olive oil
Red wine vinegar
1-2 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon granulated sugar (for onion marinade, optional)

For the lentils:
Cook according to package instructions. The Trader Joe’s brand I used had me simmer mine with chicken broth, white wine, salt, and pepper for 35-40 minutes “or until liquid is absorbed.” The liquid was nowhere near absorbed after 40 minutes, so I ended up cooking the lentils for over an hour and they turned to mush – other recipes I’ve seen tell you to drain the liquid after the stated cooking time, which I’ll do next time in an effort to keep my lentils intact.

For the pickled red onion:
In a small bowl (or tupperware with a lid), whisk together two tablespoons vinegar, two tablespoons water, one teaspoon salt, and one teaspoon sugar, until sugar is dissolved. Add diced onion and toss to coat. The liquid won’t cover the onions entirely but that’s ok. If you have a tuperware with a lid, you can shake it occasionally if you want, but it’s not necessary. Let the onions marinate in the fridge for half an hour (less time is fine but 30 minutes or longer is ideal).

For the vinaigrette: 
Whisk together equal parts olive oil and red wine vinegar (I used 2-3 tablespoons each) with 1-2 cloves minced garlic (depending on how much garlic you like).  Add salt and pepper to taste.

For the salad:
Add red onion (with brine), red pepper, mint, and feta to lentils and stir to combine.  Toss with vinaigrette and add more oil, vinegar, salt and/or pepper to taste. Let chill and serve cold or at room temperature. Garnish with more mint, if desired.

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Summer Green Bean Salad with Cherry Tomatoes

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If I had to pick two favorite summer vegetables, they might be green beans and cherry tomatoes – so of course this salad is one of my very favorites. Not surprising, then, that when I saw the stalls at the farmers market overflowing with green beans this past weekend I had to stock up.  I’ve made this with green beans from the grocery store in the past and it’s still excellent, but there’s something about fresh produce from the market that really makes things taste like summer. photo 1

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Some of these beans look like they’ve seen better days, but I guess that’s just what beans look like when they come straight from the farm? Because they were delicious – both raw, as a snack while I spent hours trimming them (it was really only minutes, but for some reason that task is always a little daunting to me), and once they were cooked. Aside from the time it takes to trim the beans, this salad takes next to no time to prepare. You do have to turn your stove on, which is a bummer when it’s 90 degrees out, but I think it’s worth it.  The good news is you don’t have to keep the stove on for long.  Deb says to parboil the beans for 4-5 minutes, but that resulted in a bean that was a little too cooked for my taste.  They weren’t overdone, but I prefer them crunchier so would suggest blanching for only 2-3 minutes, then cooling in an ice water bath (or just running them under cold water and throwing some ice cubes into the strainer with the beans, if you don’t want to dirty another bow).  If you prefer a less-crunchy green bean, however, cook them for a few minutes longer. 

Slice your tomatoes in half and toss with the vinaigrette.  Add the beans just before serving. Fresh and healthy, simple and delicious, the perfect side for any summer picnic or barbecue – my favorite kind of summer salad!  

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One year ago: Zucchini and Ricotta Galette 

Summer Green Bean Salad, from Smitten Kitchen (yellow bean version here)

1 lb. green beans (or mix of green and yellow)
1 lb. cherry tomatoes
1 large shallot
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (or more to taste, I used more)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (or less to taste, I used less)
Salt and pepper to taste
Basil and/or other herbs, optional

For the veggies:

Rinse the beans, trim them (Deb calls this “top and tail,” I just think of it as cutting off the stringy parts), and chop them into large pieces. Parboil or blanch the beans in boiling salted water until just tender (4-5 minutes for parboil, 2-3 minutes for blanch, which I prefer as they stay a little crunchier). Drain immediately and cool, in ice water bath or otherwise.  Rinse the cherry tomatoes and cut them into halves.

For the vinaigrette: 

Peel and mince the shallot and toss with vinegar and salt and pepper. Whisk in the oil and adjust seasoning as needed.  Add tomatoes.  This can sit for awhile, but wait to add the beans until just before serving as the vinegar will discolor the beans a bit. Toss beans with tomatoes and vinaigrette.  Garnish with basil, parsley, or any herb of your choosing, if desired.

Enjoy outside in the sunshine! Happy summer!

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Cucumber Melon Salad with Feta, Basil, and Mint

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Happy summer, everyone! Sorry for the long hiatus from blogging – I wish I had a good excuse, but sadly I don’t. Life just gets so busy in the summer, who has time to cook? But, I’m back now and I have really good intentions of being more consistent. I have good intentions about a lot of things that don’t always come to fruition (gym, yoga, being punctual, curbing my binge-shopping for my unborn baby nephew – just to name a few), but I have a lot of recipes on my to-do list so I’m feeling good about my re-committment to the blog.

It’s finally summer here in the Pacific Northwest, where we can count on blue skies and sunshine only after the Fourth of July. And with temperatures in the 80s and 90s all week/weekend, what sounds better than a cold, crunchy, watermelon salad? I love getting my Martha Stewart Living each month, but I have this problem where I put magazines in a “to read” pile and then kind of forget about them (see above re: “good intentions”). But it’s my dad’s birthday today (Happy Birthday, Dad!!!) and watermelon is one of his all time favorite things, so when we celebrated earlier this week I dug through my pile and tried my best to copy the gorgeous picture on the cover.

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This salad really couldn’t be easier. Just cut up your melons and cucumber, throw in some herbs (you could use just mint or just basil – Martha only lists basil, and most watermelon salads only use mint – it was delicious with both but if you only have one or the other on hand it would be fine), toss with olive oil and lime juice, and you’re good to go.  The feta is totally discretionary – I liked it with, but it would be equally good without. You can prepare the salad ahead of time and then just toss with the dressing before serving. I like my watermelon as cold as possible, so keep the salad in the fridge until you’re ready to eat.

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Cucumber Melon Salad, adapted from Martha Stewart Living 

(note: Martha’s recipe is for one serving, mine serves a crowd)

One cantaloupe, cubed or balled
One small or one half large watermelon, cubed or balled
1-2 large or 3-4 small cucumbers, diced or sliced
Olive oil to taste
Lime juice to taste
Small handful mint leaves, torn or julienned
Small handful basil leaves, torn or julienned
1/4 cup – 1/2 cup crumbled feta, optional
Salt and pepper to taste, optional*

Toss together your melons and cucumber. I used the melon baller for my watermelon and diced the cantaloupe like Martha told me to, but you could cut both or ball both, whatever is easier. If you’re using regular cucumbers, I would cut them lengthwise into quarters and then dice them, but if you can find persian cucumbers (Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, etc.) you can just slice them. I read once that in salads like this everything should be the same size (pieces of watermelon = pieces of cantaloupe = pieces of cucumber), so I used that as a rough guideline.

Just before serving, drizzle the cucumber and melons with olive oil and fresh lime juice and toss with mint and basil. I used only a tiny bit of olive oil and two limes (heavier on the lime, lighter on the oil) but you can adjust this to your liking. Garnish with additional mint and basil and sprinkle with feta, if using (I used it this time, but Martha doesn’t and I might not next time – it was good with it but would be just as good without). Chill in the fridge if time allows. 

*I didn’t use salt and pepper as I didn’t think the salad needed any – but if you weren’t using feta I think a little salt would be good.  

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Miraval’s Arugula Salad with Honey Mustard Vinaigrette (and an easy recipe for Vegetable Stock)

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Hi friends – long time no see. I’ve been meaning to get this post up for about a month now, but for a variety of reasons it just hasn’t happened. Life gets busy, I came down with the norovirus, I’ve had a lot of shopping to do for my little baby nephew on the way (!!!)…..excuses, excuses. Mostly though, I’m afraid I haven’t sat down to post this because salad dressing – especially a healthy salad dressing – is just not very exciting.

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I promise that once you make this though, it’s a lot less boring. Believe me when I tell you I’m not a fan of mustard (or any condiment, really), but this dressing is still somehow delicious. I was introduced to it when I took a cooking class at Miraval last month, and since I’ve been back I’ve been making it nonstop. The Miraval recipes are pretty conscious about oil and salt, but it’s amazing how you don’t really miss them here.

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Isn’t this just the prettiest picture you’ve ever seen? Just kidding, it looks gross – sorry! Thickened vegetable stock sounds weird, I know, but it’s a trick they use at Miraval – thicken your veggie stock with cornstarch, and use it in place of (most of) the oil in dressings to cut fat and calories substantially. At first I was kind of annoyed about making the stock, but it’s actually incredibly easy and makes your kitchen smell delicious. You could easily use store bought veggie stock, however – or just skip this step and use more olive oil if you aren’t that worried about it.

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Just throw all ingredients (except for your whole grain mustard and olive oil) into your blender and puree, then slowly add the oil.

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Whisk the whole grain mustard in once the dressing is removed from the blender, so that the grains stay whole. I know it doesn’t look pretty, but it tastes so good (and healthy!).

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You can use this dressing on whatever salad you like, of course, but in the class we made arugula with cranberries, pine nuts, and goat cheese, so that’s what I did here. I used dried cherries instead (my favorite!) and toasted the pine nuts – delicious as a starter, or add some grilled chicken and call it dinner. My favorite Miraval tip, for the next time you’re entertaining: put on a pair of plastic gloves and plate your salad with your hands – it looks so much prettier that way and you can really make it stand up on the plate. If only I could go to cooking school every day!

Miraval: highlights and cookies

One year ago: eggplant parm (yum, now I’m craving this again)

Honey Mustard Dressing, from Mindful Eating

Yield: 2 1/2 cups

1/4 cup dijon mustard
1/2 cup whole grain dijon mustard
2 tablespoons roasted shallots, chopped
1 tablespoon roasted garlic (or raw, or a combination or roasted and raw, depending on how garlicy you like things), chopped
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/2 cup thickened vegetable stock (recipe below)
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper (black pepper would work fine too)
Chives, optional

If using a mixing bowl: combine mustards, shallots, garlic, honey, and vinegar; mix well. Add thickened stock, oil, salt, and pepper, and whisk to incorporate the stock and oil. Add chopped chives.

If using a blender: Add all ingredients except whole grain mustard and olive oil; blend well. Stream in oil. Pour into a bowl and whisk in the whole grain mustard (so that the grains stay intact – you don’t want them to break down in the blender).

Dressing will be thick and creamy. Toss with arugula and any garnishes you like – I love it with dried cranberries or cherries, toasted pine nuts, and goat cheese.

Nutrition information per 2 tablespoons: 44 calories, 1.5 grams of fat

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Miraval’s Vegetable Stock, from Mindful Eating

Yield: Makes Two Quarts

3 cups onions, peeled and quartered
1 cup celery (no leaves), roughly chopped
1 cup carrots, roughly chopped
1/2 cup leeks, chopped
1 cup mushrooms, quartered
2 tomatoes, quartered
1/2 cup fennel, roughly chopped (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons dried parsley
1 1/2 teaspoons dried thyme
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
4″ x 4″ cheesecloth
6 inches butcher twine
2 quarts cold water

Heat a large stockpot with the vegetables; stir occasionally for 3-5 minutes to prevent scorching. Tie spices and herbs inside cheesecloth with butcher twine and add to pot. Cover contents with cold water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for two hours. Strain stock and use or cool in an ice bath. Refrigerate or freeze for future use.

Nutrition information per cup: 47 calories, zero fat

For thickened vegetable stock:

2 cups + 4 tablespoons vegetable stock
4 tablespoons cornstarch

Heat two cups of stock to a rolling boil. Combine 4 tablespoons cold stock with the cornstarch to make a slurry. Add the slurry to the boiling stock and whisk constantly until the stock thickens to a sauce-like consistency. Cool completely in an ice bath. Cover and refrigerate for later use. Thickened stock will keep up to one week – stir well before each use.

Sesame Soba Salad with Roasted Shiitakes and Tofu Croutons

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If you, like me, are a fan of cold, spicy noodle dishes, then this salad is for you.  It’s reminiscent of the Pasta and Co. Chinese Vermicelli salad I was obsessed with during college, only that salad has about three times the oil.  This version is lighter, but equally delicious.  I feel like soba noodles are healthy.  And if mushrooms or tofu are deal breakers for you, you can swap them for any other veggies and/or protein you like (although I hope that you won’t, as this is a Melissa Clark recipe and she really knows her stuff).

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If mushrooms aren’t your thing – and don’t get me wrong, they absolutely should be, but since I know that for a lot of people they are not – you could easily leave them out. The noodles are great on their own, and you could add in any crunchy vegetables that you like – I might add some julienned red bell peppers next time.  While I’m not usually a huge fan of tofu, it turns out it’s pretty good when deep fried with sesame oil and tamari.  But you could do this with grilled chicken (marinated in the aforementioned sesame oil and tamari, even), or sautéed shrimp or scallops (Melissa’s alternate suggestion).  Aside from the mushrooms and the tofu, the salad takes five minutes to throw together – you probably have most of the ingredients in your pantry already – and you can doctor it up any way you like. The soba noodles are delicious – and naturally gluten free (made from buckwheat), although you need to check the packaging to make sure.

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If you are a mushroom person, I will tell you that the extra step is worth it here – the roasted shiitakes are SO dang good. I made this the other day without them (only because I had everything but the mushrooms and was too lazy to go to the store) and I really missed the texture and meatiness they normally add.

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The vinaigrette is simply soy sauce, a little sesame oil, rice vinegar, orange juice, and freshly grated ginger – it’s so easy to put together, I wonder why I don’t do it for every meal. The cucumber is great for crunch, and I’m of the opinion that cilantro makes everything better.  Take an extra two minutes to toast your sesame seeds, and you have a gourmet, healthy, and delectable meal that’s almost too pretty to eat.

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The one thing I would note about frying the tofu is that it makes a huge mess – I’ve finally learned my lesson and taken everything else off the stove so that the splatters are limited to the stove top – and I think the cleanup is worth it. You could also add the tofu plain, however, and save yourself the calories and the mess.

One year ago: white bean and kale soup

Melissa Clark, previously: coconut granola, banana bread, split pea soup, corned beef and cabbage, Irish soda bread, pan roasted halibut, carrot mac’n’cheese, kale salad.

Sesame Soba Salad with Roasted Shiitakes and Tofu Croutons, from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

Serves 4

For the Salad:
7-8 ounces shiitake mushrooms, stems removed
2 tablespoons toasted (Asian) sesame oil, more to taste
3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce, more to taste
Pinch kosher salt
1/2 (12.8 ounce) package soba noodles
1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice (about half a small orange)
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1 tablespoon grated ginger root
1 medium cucumber, peeled
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon lightly toasted sesame seeds

For the Croutons (optional):
1/2 pound extra-firm tofu, drained and sliced into 3/4-inch slabs
1 tablespoon peanut or olive oil
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 1/2 tablespoons toasted (Asian) sesame oil

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the mushroom caps into 1/4 inch strips. Toss the mushrooms with 1 tablespoon sesame oil, 1/2 tablespoon soy sauce, and a pinch of salt. Spread the mushrooms out in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until the mushrooms are tender and slightly golden, 8-10 minutes.

2. Cook soba noodles according to package instructions. Drain and rinse quickly under cold running water; drain again completely.

3. In a bowl, whisk together the remaining 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 3 tablespoons soy sauce, the orange juice, vinegar, and ginger.

4. Cut the cucumber lengthwise into quarters and scoop out the seeds with a spoon. Cut each quarter crosswise into thin slices.

5. To prepare the tofu croutons, pat the tofu slabs dry with a paper towel. Heat the oil in a nonstick pan. When it shimmers, add the tofu and let it cook undisturbed (stand away from the pan, as the oil will splatter) for 3 minutes. It should be golden brown on the bottom. Flip the tofu pieces and continue to cook for about 2 minutes longer, until the underside is golden. In a small bowl, whisk together the tamari or soy sauce and sesame oil. Pour it in the pan with the croutons and cook for 1 minute longer. Drain croutons on a paper towel-lined place.

6. In a large bowl, toss together the noodles, cucumber, mushrooms, scallions, cilantro, sesame seeds, and dressing. Serve topped with the tofu croutons, if desired. Drizzle the salad with more soy sauce and/or sesame oil just before serving if it needs perking up.

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Kale Salad with Creamy Lemon Vinaigrette and Garlic Breadcrumbs

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I had really good intentions of posting this recipe earlier in the month, when people were still sticking to their new years resolutions. I had big plans for a “salad week” to follow “soup week,” but “soup week” turned into just “three days of soup,” and then things got a little busy and I dropped the ball on salad week entirely. Never fear, though, because it’s still January for three more days. And besides, this salad is so good I think it can be enjoyed long after we’ve given up on our resolutions.

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There was a time, not too terribly long ago, when the thought of raw kale made me wary. I loved it in soups, or sautéed as a side dish, but I really thought the bitterness needed to be cooked out in order for it to be edible. My friend Lindsay told me about this salad, and I must have sounded skeptical because she then sent me the cookbook and demanded that I make it immediately.  As soon as I tried it I was converted. The two tricks are: (1) make sure to use Tuscan kale (aka dinosaur, black, or lacinato), and (2) take the “ribs” out. Tuscan kale is better raw than other kale varieties, and the ribs are what makes it bitter, so once they’re gone you’re golden. I really think cutting the leaves into thin ribbons helps, too, for presentation if nothing else.

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The dressing is the best part – almost like a Caesar dressing, but without the egg and anchovy (which are the reasons I won’t eat a Caesar salad). Just whisk (or blend) olive oil, lemon juice, and good parmesan with a little salt, pepper, a pinch of chili flakes, and garlic. Melissa’s recipe calls for raw garlic, but as I’m not a raw garlic lover I roasted mine first. Coat the kale with the dressing and breadcrumbs and you have yourself a delicious, healthy treat. I’m now pretty into ordering a kale salad whenever I see it on a menu, and with the exception of the “marinated lacinato kale” at Tom Douglas’s Serious Pie, I have yet to find one that beats this.

Kale salad, previously: here (scroll all the way to the bottom).
Kale otherwise, previously: White Bean and Kale Soup, Kale Pesto.

Raw Tuscan Kale Salad with Chiles and Pecorino, from In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

Time: 20 minutes
Serves 2-4

1 bunch Tuscan kale (aka black or lacinato)
1 thin slice country bread (part whole wheat or rye is nice), or 1/4 cup good, homemade coarse breadcrumbs (I made breadcrumbs from gourmet store-bought croutons)
1/2 garlic clove (I used 1 whole clove roasted garlic)
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus a pinch
1/4 cup finely grated pecorino cheese, plus additional for garnish
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus additional for garnish
Freshly squeezed juice of one lemon
1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1. Trim the bottom 2 inches off the kale stems and discard. Slice the kale into 3/4-inch ribbons. You should have 4-5 cups. Place the kale in a large bowl. [Note: I de-stem the entire kale leaves, which makes this salad take a lot longer than the 20 minutes Melissa estimates, but I think it’s worth it.]

2. If using the bread, toast it until golden on both sides. Tear it into small pieces and grind in a food processor until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. [Note: I put garlic croutons in the blender and it turned out great.]

3. Using a mortal and pestle or a heavy knife, pound or mince the garlic and 1/4 teaspoon salt into a paste (if using a knife, use the side to smear and smush the garlic once it’s minced). Transfer the garlic to a small bowl. Add 1/4 cup cheese, 3 tablespoons oil, lemon juice, pinch of salt, pepper flakes, and black pepper and whisk to combine. [Note: I do this with my immersion blender, which I think makes it extra creamy – and lets you skip the “smooshing the garlic” step. Also I used a whole clove of roasted garlic rather than half a raw clove.] Pour the dressing over the kale and toss very well to combine thoroughly (the dressing will be thick and need lots of tossing to coat the leaves). Let the salad sit for 5 minutes, then serve topped with the breadcrumbs, cheese, and a drizzle of oil.

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