Monday, August 31, 2009

Summer grain and veggie salad (framework)

I am going to give you a framework, a detailed recipe, and a bunch of suggested variations here. I make this salad all the time, especially in the summer, but I have probably never made it the same way twice. Even calling it a salad is a bit of a stretch. I would prefer to call it "tasty healthy things in a bowl with dressing," but that's a bit long. But it's easy to make, everyone likes it (especially Andy), and it's great for using up leftovers (esp. grilled veggies) so that's why I'm sharing it.

Most often, this salad is approximately equal volumes grains and a combo of veggies/fruits/beans, with a lemon-olive oil-herb dressing and some optional "flair". You could certainly go lighter on the grains, but I like the texture, taste, and filling-ness lent by a predominance of grains. So, to break down the ingredients and amounts required for a big bowl (to feed at least 6 people), here's the framework.

Dressing. Juice of 1.5-2 lemons, about 3 T. olive oil, big handful of herbs, salt and pepper. The herbs in my kitchen have been mint and parsley almost all summer. The mint has been going gangbusters since May and we keep getting lots of parsley in the CSA. Almost any other fresh herb would be delicious: oregano, thyme, basil, sage, rosemary (but in moderation), tarragon (also in moderation), cilantro (might want to go with lime instead of lemon since they're so good together!)

4-5 c. cooked grains. My favorites are quinoa, followed by bulgar wheat. Brown rice, couscous, and barley are all good as well. I like quinoa and bulgar the best, and use them most often because they are whole grains (unlike couscous, although there is whole wheat couscous), and fast cooking (unlike brown rice or barley). Quinoa is a good protein source too.

4 c. veggies/fruits/beans. The veggies can be cooked or not (depending on what they are). I usually don't want to put the whole CSA in the salad; rather, I'll pick 3-5 veggies that complement each other, in the context of the herbs or other flair items (read on for what that means). I don't often put fruits (besides dried ones like raisins), but could certainly imagine a barley/pumpkin/apple/onion salad in the fall (with sage? mmmm...)! Beans are also optional, and I generally put in a smaller volume of beans than veggies, like 1 can, if using canned beans. Black-eyed peas, lentils, white beans, garbanzos, black beans are all great, as would be edamame, fava, or lima beans (don't think I've ever used those guys, will have to try).

Flair. Make the salad special with a smaller amount of toasted nuts, olives, marinated artichoke hearts or peppers, or cheese (goat cheese, parmesan, feta, chunks of gouda, fresh mozzarella) sprinkled on top or tossed at the last minute. Marinated and cooked tempeh is also awesome.

Detailed recipe
Here's what I made last night for dinner, and what is pictured (will upload picture later).

Juice of 1.5 lemons
3 T. olive oil
Small handful parsley leaves (roughly separated from stems)
Small handful mint leaves (thoroughly separated from stems)
12-15 cherry tomatoes (I put them in the dressing cause they were starting to get a bit past their prime, they'd be fine sliced into the salad with the other veggies too).
Salt and pepper

2 c. dry quinoa

1 T. olive oil
5 medium Yukon gold potatoes, in a 1/4 - 1/3 inch dice
3 shallots, diced
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 yellow squash, sliced

1. Pulse all dressing ingredients in food processor or blender. Herbs and and tomatoes can still be chunky, based on your preference. Set aside in serving bowl.
2. Bring 3 c. water to a boil with a little salt. Rinse quinoa in at least 3 changes of waters. Rub the grains vigorously with your hands while submerged**. When boiling, add the quinoa and reduce heat to low. Cover partially and simmer for about 10 minutes, or till all water is observed and quinoa is al dente (I like it with a little crunch still).
3. Toss cooked quinoa with dressing in serving bowl and refrigerate.
4. Heat olive oil over medium heat in a cast iron or other large skillet. Add potatoes and cook for about 8 minutes, till they are edible but still undercooked.
5. Add the shallot, continue to cook, stirring frequently, till the shallot is translucent (about 5 minutes).
6. Add the garlic and squash. Cook till squash is just softened (less than 5 minutes).
7. Combine veggies into the rest of the salad in the bowl, toss, and add more salt and pepper to taste if desired. Serve or refridgerate. It's good warm, room temperature, or cold. If I had it on hand, I also would have tossed in some feta cheese at this point.

**Rinsing the quinoa thoroughly is necessary to remove bitter surfactants called saponins. The way I do it is to submerge the quinoa in a bowl, agitate it with my hands, and then hold a length of cheesecloth across one edge of the bowl, and drain. The quinoa are so small they go through many collanders (at least all of mine). Repeat that process at least 3 times and don't sweat losing a few down the drain.

Other suggested combinations
1. Mint, parsley-bulgar-green onions, cucumbers, tomatoes-olives (this is kind of like tabouli)
2. Thyme-barley-sauteed mushrooms, onions, spinach, lentils-toasted pecans or walnuts
3. Oregano-brown rice-shredded raw carrots, beets (cooked or shredded raw), garlic, golden raisins-pine nuts, parmesan
4. Cilantro, lime juice-quinoa-grilled red peppers, jalapenos, shredded cabbage, black beans-pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I heart my new grill (and grilled pizzas)

I'd like to think I'm not materialistic, but I love our new grill. LOVE it. Andy and I got it for anniversary #5. It is a Weber gas grill, E-320 Genesis. This box had a shipping weight of 275 pounds. It's all cast iron and stainless steel parts, so we unpacked it at the front door, carried it piece by piece to the back deck, and assembled it out there.

We've cooked on it each night since it arrived, including a big dinner with Lisa, Tin, Thai, and Elliot the first night, after two or three hours of putting it together. We've mostly been grilling veggies, sausages, and burgers, but on Saturday we grilled some pizzas. The benefit to grilling pizzas as opposed to cooking them on a stone in the oven is 1) you don't heat up the kitchen with a 450-500 degree oven, 2) it's fun, 3) you get cool grill marks on a nice, crispy crust.

There's a lot of recipes and discussion out there for grilling pizzas, including a nice detailed writeup on 101cookbooks and Bitten. So I won't go into detail, except to say that I made the dough I always make for pizza, which is the recipe from our Cuisinart manual (but with half whole wheat flour and half bread flour), and topped them with garlicky olive oil, leftovers, and parmesan (would have been better with more cheese but we were out). Mine was leftover grilled mushrooms and sauteed collard greens with raisins, pine nuts, and garlic. Andy's was leftover grilled red pe
pper, summer squash, mushrooms, and chicken sausage.

It was dead easy, but the most important thing is to make sure your dough is not to sticky. I put on some extra oil and cornmeal to prevent disaster. They were a little burnt on the bottom cause I'm still getting used to how awesomely hot this grill gets.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Japanese-style Carrot Slaw

Dinner, 8/13/09. Context: back home from a mountain bike ride at 7:30, hungry, and wanted a quick salad with some protein. We ate this with some left over homemade whole wheat bread, and a poached egg each.

I only call this "Japanese style" because I use mirin, an ingredient in Japanese cooking. Mirin is a sweetened rice wine. It definitely makes the salad. I almost always cook tofu before using it, but here it's raw so it imparts a nice coolness to temper the dressing. With a food processor, this is a really quick salad.

1/3 bunch of parsley
1-2 cloves garlic
3/4 inch piece of ginger, peeled
2 t. soy sauce
2 t. mirin
2 t. rice wine vinegar
1 T. hot chili flavored oil (this oil is a mixture and contains some sesame oil, you could substitute sesame oil, but I like the hotness of the chili)
Juice of 1/2 lime

1 lb carrots
1/3 lb radishes
1 12 oz block of firm or extra firm tofu, pressed**
Black pepper, to taste

1. While the tofu is being pressed, blend all ingredients listed under dressing in food processor (or blender). Transfer dressing to bowl.
2. Replace food processor blade with grating disc (don't clean the workbowl). Grate the carrots and radishes, in two batches, then transfer to the dressing bowl.
3. Dice tofu into 1/3 inch cubes and transfer to bowl. Toss well, add pepper to taste. Like many slaws, it'll get better with time.

**Pressing tofu. I am convinced pressing tofu is essential to almost any tofu dish. It removes some of the water so that your sauce or dressing can get at the tofu, and so that the water doesn't leave the tofu and make for a watery sauce or dressing. Directions: drain tofu. Wrap block of tofu in a clean kitchen towel. Place something heavy on the block of tofu, such as a cast iron skillet, for at least 10 minutes.

This recipe is very adaptable to other veggies: turnips, kohlrabi, cucumbers, cabbage, broccoli would all be welcome at the party. Cilantro instead of parsley might make it even better, but parsley was what the CSA gave us!

Because the world needs more food blogs...

I have created one. Actually, I probably could have graduated by now if food blogs didn't exist so I'm not sure why I'm adding to the problem. I blame Julie & Julia for spurring me to do this, even though I've been thinking about it for a while.
The real point of this is
1. To encourage me to write down recipes that I make. Most of the cooking I do is improvisational. I definitely cook from cookbooks too, but I usually find myself buying whatever looks good in the grocery store and working from that. Or more recently, basing my cooking on all the veggies that come in the CSA box. But anyway, sometimes my improvisational cooking is pretty good, so I might as well write down the recipes.
2. To share these recipes with friends and family... and I guess random people.
3. I think a lot about food, so I might put some thoughts down here. I also might repost links to my favorite postings in other places.