Strawberry Salsa

Strawberry Salsa 3

Aaron went strawberry picking last weekend and came home with almost ten pounds of strawberries. Being the loving and supportive spouse that I am I did not fake-but-for-real complain that I didn’t get to go strawberry picking. No, I would never do that. I may have pestered him for details so I could live an idyllic morning in the strawberry fields vicariously through him. It’s possible I cursed the existence of brunch, which made it impossible for me to join him. I definitely did started to dream of way to use up all of the strawberries. Because that’s what loving and supportive spouses do.

Ten pounds of strawberries is a lot of berries. Our refrigerator is full of fruit that will last maybe a week. The first day I made waffles for breakfast and topped the waffles with peanut butter and strawberries. I was as generous as felt reasonable and discovered I had used a whole handful. For lunch that day I made a barley and arugula salad strewn with an indecent amount of strawberries. I still had eight pounds of berries waiting to be used, and only so many snack times left. It was time to get serious.

Enter strawberry salsa. It’s sweet but not sugary, punchy but not overly aggressive. The lime juice and salt bring out the more savory notes of the sweet, floral strawberry and the tomato and peppers ground the whole mess firmly in the salsa category. It’s a good, mild-ish salsa for people whose tastebuds aren’t ready for intense spice (Aaron) or who aren’t quite sure the nuances of many peppers (me). The night I made this salsa we had black bean nachos for dinner and doused the chips in excessive amounts strawberry salsa while watching Parks and Recreation on Netflix. The salsa brought a clean freshness to the nachos. Incidentally, the strawberry salsa made it very easy for me to justify having nachos for dinner. I would argue that’s one of the best ways to experience this salsa, but you don’t need to take my word for it. This would be excellent in all sorts of dishes, from tacos to baked potatoes (yes, really, with sour cream and lots of green onions) but it’s also eminently snackable on its own with tortilla chips.

Now to use up the remaining five pounds of berries…

Strawberry Salsa

If you want a spicy salsa, I would up the jalapeños. If you’d like a milder salsa, remove the seeds from the jalapeños. As it’s written here this salsa is mild with a (small) bit of a kick.

Makes 4 cups of salsa

1 pound (4 cups) strawberries, hulled and diced
1 medium tomato, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 bunch of green onions, sliced (3/4 cup)
1 small bunch, or 1/2 large bunch cilantro, chopped (1/2 cup)
1 jalapeño, diced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
3 tablespoons of lime juice, or about 1 1/2 limes

In a large bowl stir together the strawberries, tomato, bell pepper, green onions, cilantro, jalapeño, salt, pepper, and lime juice. Taste for seasonings, and add more salt, pepper, and lime juice as necessary. Let it sit for at least 15 minutes for all the flavors to meld together. Eat on everything.

 

(Strawberry pictures are from Aaron’s strawberry picking adventure, courtesy of Aaron)

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Fennel-Tomato Salad with Chickpeas and Mint

Fennel-Tomato Salad

There are meals that I create explicitly for this space. I write the recipes ahead of time and carefully shop for the ingredients. While I’m making them, I taste along as I go and measure my pinches of salt. I set aside blocks of time to make these meals. There’s specific time for the planning, the cooking, and the photographing. While Aaron and I are eating, I spend the whole meal analyzing our food. Did I add too much lemon juice? Does it need more salt? I ask Aaron probing questions and get annoyed when he only offers reassurance. I don’t want to hear that it’s good. I want specifics. There’s a good portion of things that I make whose recipes live on my computer with extensive notes on how to make them better next time. Maybe they’ll make an appearance here, but not until all the wrinkles are ironed out. I don’t want to trouble you with a recipe that’s anything less than its tastiest version.

And then there are the recipes that I just throw together. Sometimes it’s because the bunch of spinach in the vegetable drawer is going to go bad unless I sauté it with the stray few slices of bacon and some cold rice. Or I don’t have a lot of time and our pantry’s mostly bare so I boil pasta and toss it with canned beans and top the whole thing with a fried egg. Some days I just want to make dinner without setting a timer to see how long it actually takes to boil farro. Generally these meals are tasty and efficient, which I’ll take. Perfect is the enemy of good. I’ve heard that preached in all of my creative endeavors.

But once in a while I’ll throw together something excellent. I usually know that I’ve struck gold when Aaron looks up from his bowl and tells me to blog about it. I usually have reasons not to do so- I didn’t write the recipe down so I don’t remember exactly what I did, or it’s too similar to something I just posted, or even though I’m not explicitly writing a vegetarian blog I’ve yet to post a dish with meat and I’m not sure if I want to. Sometimes those recipes get forgotten. Sometimes they get filed away with extensive notes. Rarely do they make it here.

But a few days ago I made threw together this fennel and tomato salad for dinner. Everything seemed to align just right- Aaron and I had just finished taking a long walk together. We had summer water (rosé) chilling in the fridge. The air was hot and muggy, and rain was imminent. Our knives had just been professionally sharpened yesterday, and they sailed through the vegetables. I prepared the salad and let it sit for an hour, because restaurant work means that eating dinner any time before 8 seems ridiculous. Before it was time to eat, Aaron stole a bite and locked eye contact with me. “You’re going to blog about this, right?”

Perfect is the enemy of good. I moved our couch out of the way to claim the last of the fading light from our only North-facing window. And today I’m putting this here just as I made it. I’m not converting the vegetables to cups and the cheese to grams-that’s too fussy for a late summer dinner. Because this is for you, for those nights when you want something light but substantial, cooling and rewarding. It’s for the nights when the most work you want to do is chopping. It’s for the the dinners when an hour of Netflix is a reasonable reward for five minutes of work. But it’s also for me, so I remember the recipe next time Aaron suggests we have fennel-tomato salad for dinner. And for a reminder that I don’t always need things to be perfect. Because sometimes the reward for forsaking perfection is finding the very, very good.

Fennel-Tomato Salad 2

Fennel-Tomato Salad with Chickpeas and Mint

This would be tasty after it’s just made. But it’s best if it sits for a bit. All the flavors will meld and mingle, and it becomes something better than the sum of all its parts.

Serves 2 for a meal or 4 as a side.

1 small fennel bulb, fronds removed, halved and thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes, firm but ripe, chopped
about 1 1/2 cup chickpeas
1 handful crumbled feta cheese
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 big handful of mint, finely chopped
juice of 1 large lemon or 2 small
generous drizzle of olive oil
salt and pepper

In a large bowl, combine the fennel, tomatoes, chickpeas, feta, garlic, and mint. Pour over the lemon juice and add a healthy amount of olive oil. I did a two second pour. Add a large pinch of salt and a generous sprinkling of pepper. Stir well. Let sit of at least half an hour, preferably an hour. The salt will draw out the juices of the fennel and tomatoes, which will in turn flavor everything else. Serve at room temperature. Adding some bread to sop up the juices that will be left behind wouldn’t be a bad idea.

 

 

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Mediterranean Farro Salad with Pesto Dressing

Farro

A few weeks ago I wrote a bit about Memorial Day food, and how I didn’t really think you needed a recipe for such food. Two days later Aaron and I were invited to a vegan Formula 1 party/Memorial Day get together. I threw together this salad in the small pocket of time in between my post brunch nap and leaving for the party. And this salad was such a hit that I immediately had to reconsider what I had just put out into the internet. I’m sorry.

I’m sorry, too, that it took me this long to get this recipe up here. My first attempt at this recipe made an enormous amount of food. It made easily triple what’s here, and I like to think of this salad as already being party/leftover food. I inadvertently cooked about 8 cups of farro, and made enough pesto dressing that I was putting it on everything- pizza, pasta, other types of salads- in hopes of using it up before it went bad. I’ve heard that the ability to cook a small amount of food is a casualty of working in a restaurant kitchen, but this was the first time that it had happened to me. At least I got lots of easy, on the go lunches out of it.

Like I said earlier, the whole dish came about because we were invited to a vegan party. I had thought about making vegan cookies, but I haven’t experimented much with vegan baked goods and didn’t want to bring first attempt cookies to a party. And it was one of the first truly warm days of the summer season, which means I never want to turn on the oven. I don’t cook vegan food terribly often and bar some shining examples, I don’t often crave vegan food. There are some brilliant people making truly fantastic vegan food out there. But there’s also a lot of vegan food that’s simply trying to mimic non-vegan food, and as a non-vegan I’m just not interested in eating cheese made out of almonds or butter that tastes like coconut.

There are some rules that I’ve learned for making things taste good while working in kitchens, and many of them are applicable to vegan cooking. (Some, like always add more butter,  obviously don’t apply.) Layering subtle flavors makes them more prominent, which is why spinach and basil are both blended and chopped. Think about a balance of flavors, which is why we have the sweetness of sundried tomatoes, the saltiness of olives, and the acidity of champagne vinegar. Texture matters, such as a blend of silky dressing that’s soaked into tender farro, firm chickpeas, and crunchy walnuts. And everything should taste good on its own, so it tastes optimal together.

I’d like to urge you to make this for your next picnic/get-together/potluck/dinner where it’s too hot to turn on the oven. It’s truly quick and easy- boil farro, blend a dressing, chop some spinach, toss. The whole thing comes together in fifteen minutes, and it manages to feel both healthy and indulgent. The whole thing taste like you’re eating it under a fig tree with a glass of rosé on the side, which is what I aim for all my food to taste like, vegan or not.

(And if you have recommendations for vegan dishes/blogs/cookbooks that I should be checking out, I’d love to hear them.)

Farro 1

Mediterranean Farro Salad with Pesto Dressing

This dressing is remarkably easy to make in a blender. I used my Vitamix, but any blender with a reasonably good motor should work. I imagine this could also be made in a food processor, but you may have to play around with the amount of liquid added.

Makes 6-8 servings

2 cups farro
1 cup basil, thinly sliced
1 cup spinach, thinly sliced
1 cup chopped oil-packed sundried tomatoes
1 fifteen ounce can chickpeas
2 handfuls chopped black olives
1 cup walnuts, chopped

Pesto Dressing

2 cups spinach
1 cup basil
1/2 cup walnuts
3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1/4 cup water

Place the farro in a medium saucepan. Cover with water by at least two inches. Salt the water and bring to a boil. Boil the farro until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain, and place in a large bowl.

In the meantime make the pesto dressing. In the bowl of a blender combine the spinach, basil, walnuts, garlic, and salt. Blend on low speed until it’s all roughly combined. With the motor running, slowly add in the olive oil, champagne vinegar, and water. Blend until the dressing is smooth and loose. Taste, and add salt or vinegar as needed.

Add the dressing to the still warm farro. Toss well to coat. Stir in the sliced spinach and basil, sundried tomatoes, chickpeas, black olives, and walnuts. Serve warm or room temperature. This will keep well for a week in the refrigerator.

 

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Arugula Pizza

Arugula Pizza

In an future/possible/alternate life, I get to make dinner at home. I would get to spend an hour or so every evening making food for people I love. I want to make it clear that I love what I do, but my schedule is a casualty of my job. One of my favorite parts of the day when I was teaching preschool was getting home and turning on the oven. I’d play music, chop vegetables, and drink a glass of wine. When I started to plan my dinners when I was supposed to be planning lessons I had a feeling I was working in the wrong field.

But back to this in this daydream life where I get to make dinner. In this imagined utopia I have a schedule. It’s not too strict, but it includes pizza every Friday. Some weeks that might be pizza ordered in with a glass of red wine on the side. Other weeks we’ll host friends over, and everyone can top their own pizza. We’ll have bottles of red those nights. But most Friday’s I would make the dough, throw on some toppings, and after fifteen minutes in the oven would have something wonderful and bubbling. It would be the most wonderful cheap and romantic date night. We could drink bubbly and watch a foreign film while eating a homemade pizza.

That fantasy’s not likely to happen any time soon. But I can adapt. Because I can’t cook dinner, I make lunches. And pizza lunches are just as delicious as pizza dinners, and even a bit more special.

This is one of my absolute favorite pizzas to make. Aaron stole this idea from a restaurant he used to bartend at. The restaurant was a good Italian place in an area that had a shortage of good restaurants. It was always busy, loud, and boisterous. The pastas were tasty, but the pizzas were delicious. There were some revolving seasonal pizzas, and a handful of standbys. And Aaron’s favorite was the arugula and mozzarella. He left that place years ago, and we still make it whenever we can find arugula. Over the years we’ve added feta to the pizza, and shallots to the arugula and way upped the amount of arugula topping the thing. It’s creamy and salty and fresh. It’s a pizza that you feel okay about eating that forth piece, because there’s so many vegetables to eat. It’s a pizza that adults who claim to despise vegetables still devour. It’s a fantastic pizza, equally suited to date nights, pizza parties, and sit down lunches.

Arugula Pizza

I haven’t included very particular measurements for this pizza, because I rarely measure carefully when making pizza. The measurements below are approximations-  use your best judgement to make a pizza that you’ll love. For this pizza, you could use your favorite pizza dough. For an easy homemade crust I’m partial to Jamie Oliver’s, and I’ve included my version of it below.

1 ball pizza dough
one 28-ounce can whole tomatoes, drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 ounces mozzarella (about half of a lage ball), shredded
4 ounces feta (two handfuls), crumbled
2 ounces (4 cups) baby arugula
1 small shallot, sliced
olive oil
juice of one lemon
salt
pepper

Preheat the oven to 500. Drizzle a pizza pan with olive oil. Gently stretch the pizza dough into a circle and place onto the prepared pizza pan. Let sit for 15 minutes.

In the meantime, blend the tomatoes with the half teaspoon of salt. Taste, and adjust seasonings as necessary.

To prepare the pizza, top with sauce. You won’t need even close to all of the sauce- a quarter cup is the perfect amount for me. Top with your desired amount and spread to the edges. The rest of the sauce will freeze well.

Top with the mozzarella and feta. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil. If you’re so inclined, sprinkle with flaked salt. Bake for 15 minutes, checking at the 10 minute mark. The cheese should have golden patches and the crust should be slightly darker than golden.

While the pizza bakes, toss the arugula, shallots, lemon juice, 1 tablespoon olive oil, salt and pepper together in a medium bowl. Taste to check for seasonings, and adjust as necessary.

When the pizza is finished baking top with the arugula mixture.

Pizza Crust

adapted from Jamie Oliver

1 pound (about 3 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cup warm water
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar

In a large bowl whisk together the flour and salt. Make a well in the center.

In a small bowl combine the warm water, olive oil, yeast, and sugar. Set aside for a few minutes until it begins to froth.

Pour the water-yeast mixture into the center of the flour mixture. Use your hands to mix the water into the flour, pulling the flour into the center of the water. Keep going until you have a damp, shaggy dough.

Turn out onto a well-floured surface. Knead for 5 or so minutes, adding more flour as necessary, until you have a smooth, elastic dough. To knead dough I push it away from me with the palms of my hand, fold the dough over on itself, and give it a quarter turn. I then keep repeating, adding flour as necessary, until the dough is smooth and not sticky.

Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Let it sit until it’s doubled in size, which will take about an hour. Turn out onto a floured surface and push the air out a bit. Divide into two balls. The dough can be used now, refrigerated, or frozen. If you do refrigerate (or freeze)  it, make sure the dough comes back up to room temperature before using.

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