Winter Herb & Greens Salad, with a little sweet & crunch

March 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

It’ll be nearly 90 degrees in Tucson today.  With the advent of the near-double digits, the end of March calls for tank tops, margaritas and the last of the winter greens, herbs and recently-harvested pecans and dates.  I’ve made this salad six times in the last two weeks — for potlucks, for the fam and just for me.  My friend James is a big fan of the dates.  My mom says the feta takes the cake.  (A sidenote: My dad likes this salad best when I tuck a few pieces of south-of-the-border avocado in between the leaves.)

The dressing is my favorite part, so I’ve put a “sketch” of my method, below.  I unceremoniously shake all the ingredients together in a ball jar to emulsify and then taste-test using lettuce leaves, often adding a bit of additional acid (citrus/vinegar), salt or honey.

Ingredients for the Salad:
10 cups winter greens
1 cup fresh herbs (dill, basil, parsley, cilantro)
1/2 cup scallion, chopped
1/2 cup pecans, toasted
3/4 cup dates, chopped
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Ingredients for the Dressing:
juice of a few citrus fruits (grapefruit, orange, lemon, lime)
a few glugs of white balsamic vinegar (apple cider vinegar is good, too)
hefty pinch of salt
10 cracks of pepper
a dab of dijon mustard
a long drizzle of honey
a few cloves of garlic, minced
stream of olive oil, to taste

Method for the Salad: Layer greens and herbs at the bottom of a large serving bowl.  Top with scallion, pecans, dates and feta.  Dress just before serving.

Method for the Dressing: Combine all ingredients in a glass jar and shake until thoroughly incorporated and emulsified.  Taste and adjust seasonings/acid/oil as needed.

Diet Notes: Gluten-free


Lemony Tahini “Cheezy” Dressing

January 5, 2012 § 2 Comments

It’s 70 degrees in Tucson and all the windows are open.  Today, the whole fam (plus a cousin!) is at home and we’re noshing on bowls of roasted vegetables, cooked quinoa and drizzles of lemony dressing.  I don’t know how we’re going to make room for the chili and cheesecake dinner finale this evening, but we always manage.

This recipe (inspired by Angela) offers a trifecta of addictive ingredients: winter citrus tang (think: meyer lemon and ruby grapefruit glory), a punch of garlic and thick tahini, which makes for great texture.  It’s ready in about four minutes and is wonderfully versatile: Drizzle it on roasted vegetables, pasta, cooked grains, in a wrap or use as a dip for crudités.

1/4 cup tahini
2 garlic cloves
1/4 cup meyer lemon juice
1/4 cup grapefruit juice
1/4 cup nutritional yeast*
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt, pepper

*If following a strict gluten-free diet, seek out nutritional yeast that contains no gluten.

Method: Combine all ingredients in a blender or food processor and pulse until smooth.  Refrigerate leftovers; to reconstitute, add water a tablespoon at a time.

Diet Notes: Nut-free, vegan, gluten-free (see asterisk)

Preserving Summer’s Bounty: Dried Basil

November 3, 2011 § 4 Comments

We have 22 containers of pesto preserved in the frosty depths of our freezer. Even though I’m a pesto-eating champ (case in point: for snack-time I eat dollops of pesto on carrots; I pour an extra quarter-cup on top of my already-seasoned pasta), I’ve run out of Tupperware.

Instead of processing my most recent harvest into a sauce, I dried it.  That way I’ll have basil-flavor handy for dishes where pesto is unwarranted (do those exist?) or when the green goddess shmear runs out.

Home-dried basil is a zillion times more potent and scrumptious than its cardboard-flavored cousin on the spice rack in the supermarket.  What’s more, when you dry it yourself, you make bank.  (CHA-ching!)  To illustrate: We have multiple basil plants in our garden.  On average, one plant will yield three to four harvests of 9-12 cups of basil leaves.  I harvested all of what you see above & below from one plant.  Two weeks later I had over a pint of dried leaves.  This week I’ve used my dried basil in two soups and a frittata and the taste is to-live-for-good.  Here’s how easy it is:

STEP 1. Snip-snip: When harvesting basil for pesto, for cooking or drying, cut back the whole plant, stems included.  Giving your basil plant a big haircut will allow the plant to regrow stems, preventing them from hardening and turning woody.

STEP 2. Clean as a Whistle:  Gently wash each stem in a sink basin full of water to remove any dirt or dust. Give each stem a little shake and let them air dry on the counter top for several hours.

STEP 3. Twisty-tie Time: When the leaves and stems have dried, group stems into bundles and turn upside down.  Use a twisty-tie (or hemp or strong string) to tie the stems together at the base.  I usually tie four or five stems in each group.  Be mindful not to group too many stems together; there should be some breathing room between each stem so that all the leaves can properly dry out.

STEP 4. Forget about ’em: Clip each bundle to a drying rack (like below) or use a string and tie each bundle to  a hanger.  Place in a cool, dry place for a couple of weeks.

STEP 5. After two weeks, start checking in: When two weeks have come and gone, check your basil every few days. When all the leaves are crispy and not a bit damp, unclip/untie each bundle.
STEP 6. Perfume your hands with basil: Over a large sheet pan or wide-rimmed bowl, pull all the dried leaves off of each stem.  Break them down slightly and place in a clean, dry glass jar.  (I like mason jars with air-tight lids, ensuring freshness.)
STEP 7. Get cookin’: Your dried basil is now ready to use.  To eek out the most flavor and release aromatic oils, break the leaves down in your hands just before using.
Diet Notes: SCD-safe, Vegan, Gluten-Free, Nut-Free

Fiesta Salad: Roasted Tomatoes, Corn and Mango

May 24, 2011 § 1 Comment

The saying goes, “Knee high by the fourth of July,” but blog-o chums, just two hours South of my Saguaro-ville home, corn has grown past the thighs.  Harvest season, in the hotsy-totsy southern parts, has begun.  It occurs to me that unless you live in Arizona, south of the border or in Florida, none of the three star ingredients in this salad (see title) will be seasonal.  But for the smattering (read: four of you?) that live in these parts, I wanted to share a salad I’m smitten with.  I’ve made it two times in three days and I intended to make it again tomorrow, but my third mango was ripe for peeling tonight.

8 cups leafy greens
2 early onions, chopped (including scallion-like green part)
1 large mango, cut in slivers
2 ears corn, cut from the cob

2 cups cherry tomatoes, preferably heirloom
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt, to taste
pepper, to taste

Ingredients for the Dressing — approximations
Juice from one large orange (~ 1/3 cup)
few glugs of white balsamic vinegar (~ 2 tablespoons)
small spoonful dijon mustard (~1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon)
pinch sea salt (at least 1/4 teaspoon)
10 cracks pepper
2 teaspoons maple syrup (real-deal)
1.5-2 tablespoons olive oil


1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Chop tomatoes in half.  Drizzle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, chopped garlic and sea salt and pepper.  Bake for 15 minutes, remove from oven and stir.  Bake for a remaining 15 minutes until carmalized and slightly browned/blackened around a few edges.

2.  Meanwhile, bring a small pot of salted water to a boil on the stove.  Cut corn kernals from cob.  Boil in salted water for 2 minutes, ridding the kernals of a raw-corn taste.  Blanch in cold water (or rinse thoroughly under cold tap water) and set aside.

3.  Prepare the rest of the salad ingredients.  In a separate bowl, whisk together all ingredients in the salad dressing, save the olive oil.  When thoroughly combined, begin adding in a slow stream of olive oil.  Taste and adjust salt and pepper.

4.  When tomatoes are finished, remove from oven and cool for ten minutes.  Assemble salad.  Toss with dressing just before serving.

Diet Notes: Gluten-free, vegan, nut-free

2011 Jump-Start: Curried Farro Salad with Pistachio Crunch & Dried Berries

January 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

I’m usually the kind of sap who spends dwindling, December days writing saga journal entries, wistfully reflecting and generally getting much more starry-eyed about the passing year than necessary.  But this year, on the night of the 31st/1st, I YANKED off my December calendar page with gusto and didn’t stop smiling until about four in the morning on January 1st, after ringing in the new year with a blustery walk where, among firework shows, I witnessed a two-second-long shooting star!

Don’t get me wrong, 2010 had some kick-tush highlights: I hit the dance floor with my gals at one of my best friend’s wedding; attended (and blubbered through) two fam-weddings; harvested about a thousand tomatoes from my own garden; memorized the streets of Xela, Guatemala where I hiked in the surrounding rain forests, met rock-star friends and roommates and drank atol in the dusty, cobblestone streets with my teacher, Lesvia.  But, I would be remiss if I didn’t also say that on the whole, when I do a 2010-Rewind, I tend to remember most the post-Guatemala parasite blues — (eating Saltines for months on the sofa) — that overshadowed the later-half of this past year.

But I relish new beginnings just as much as I crave good endings.  As such, I’m tackling the month of January with all sorts of new projects (six word memoirs; mongo book-stack-tackling; swimming), until a new internship begins and before I drown in an ever-growing pile of GRE note cards (barf).  Among these new projects are food explorations, starting with Farro (pronounced FAHR-oh).

Farro is one of the oldest grains cultivated by humans, originally grown in the Fertile Crescent.  It packs a protein & iron punch and is delightfully chewy, likening itself to wheat berries.  Farro can be trickier to track down than other grains like quinoa or bulgar, but you’ll find it at specialty food stores either packaged or in bulk bins, at Italian & Middle Eastern markets and, as rumored, at Costco.  I’ve never cooked with Farro before this week, but I’ve made a huge dent in my 3lb. bag (thanks, Ma!), entirely because of this salad.  This recipe was inspired by a bulgar recipe I came across in my newest cookbook, Cafe Flora Cookbook — a gift from my dear, Seattle-ite chum.  It’s a breeze to throw together (after all, it’s mostly grains with a few, fun texture & flavor add-in’s), but the dressing kicks this dish up a half-dozen notches.  Just as good (if not better) the second day, I’m happy to kickoff 2011 with such a winner.

Ingredients (for the salad):
1 cup farro, uncooked
1/4 cup scallions, chopped
1/2 cup pistachios, roasted & salted
1/2 cup dried berries (dried blueberry, cherry, etc.)

Ingredients (for the lip-smacking dressing):
1/2 heaping teaspoon dijon mustard
1 teaspoon curry powder
2 teaspoons maple syrup
3 tablespoons citrus vinegar*
2 tablespoons garlic-infused olive oil**
generous pinch sea salt (at least 1/4 teaspoon)
cracked pepper, to taste

*Alternative: 2 tablespoons orange juice & 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
**Alternative: 2 tablespoons olive oil & 1 large clove of garlic, pounded


1.  Measure 1 cup farro and rinse.  In a large pot, combine farro with a pinch of salt and at least 3 cups of cooking liquid.  Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer and cook until al dente (approximately 15-18 minutes).

2.  Meanwhile, prepare dressing: Whisk all ingredients together and set aside.  Chop scallions.  Measure dried fruit and nuts.

3.  When farro is cooked, drain and place back in the pot.  Add dressing and let sit for several minutes, letting the grain soak up the curried dressing.  Reserve a few tablespoons of the dried fruit, nuts and scallions for garnish and mix in the rest.  Serve hot, at room temperature or cold.  Because it’s chilly here, I enjoy it best slightly warmed.  Just before serving, garnish with reserved nuts, berries and scallions.

Diet Notes: vegan

Creamy Millet Lettuce Wraps

September 23, 2010 § Leave a comment

A couple of weeks ago my days were nutty – living in limbo, looking for housing and preparing for a workshop on the other side of the country.  Finally, I’m starting to settle.  I’m living a few-minute bike-ride up the road from campus, living out of a dresser (no suitcase!) and am no longer in “eat-down-the-fridge” mode.  This past week I’ve indoctrinated my little kitchen with experiments.  On the sweet-side: I’ve whisked black tea leaves and autumnal spices — my first attempt at homemade Chai tea.  I’ve made granola bites for pre-run snacks.  Last night I made an experimental pumpkin-spice simple syrup to stir into this morning’s coffee.  But while I undeniably have sweet teeth in the most plural sense, I’ve also been craving a home-cooked meal.  After two weeks of pre-packaged vegetarian sushi lunches and carrot & hummus snacks from pre-made hummus tubs, I’ve been looking forward to an evening when I can chop my own herbs and use up my late-season garden veggies.  Two nights ago I struck gold with a light wrap — perfect for a hot summer night.  Instead of using a tortilla shell, I used lettuce leaves to sandwich my black bean & millet salad.  Each bite was spiked with basil and parsley, hints of lemon, two types of mustard and sesame.  I’ve eaten this hot for dinner and cold for lunch and I can’t pick a favorite.

Millet is a killer grain — a creamy or fluffy alternative to rice, depending on how you cook it.  It’s packed with protein and B-vitamins to boot.  Here’s a nice Dr. Weil article with tips on how to cook millet.

Inside the Wrap:
1/2 cup millet, dry
4 medium carrots, chopped
pinch sea salt, black pepper

4 small early onions (or 1 large onion)
3 cloves garlic, diced
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups black beans, cooked
1/3 cup basil, loosely chopped
1/4 cup parsley, loosely chopped

For the Wrap:
2 large lettuce leaves per person

1/4 cup plain, whole-milk yogurt
1 tablespoon tahini
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon whole grain mustard
pinch sea salt, black pepper, to taste


1. Chop carrots.  Pick through dry millet and remove any debris or small stones.  Using a 3:1 ratio of water to dry millet, fill small pot with slightly more than 1.5 cups of water.  Add carrots and millet.  Bring to a boil; lower the heat to a simmer and cook, with a lid on, for approximately 20-25 minutes until tender.

2.  Meanwhile, chop onion and garlic.  Heat splash of olive oil on medium-heat.  When hot, add onion and saute until wilted and slightly brown (about 6 minutes).  Add garlic and saute until fragrant (about 1 minute).  Remove from heat.

3.  Chop herbs and combine with beans in a large bowl.  Add onion & garlic mixture.  Whisk dressing together and set aside.

4.  When millet is cooked through, remove from heat and add to beans & herbs.  Pour dressing over the top and toss.  While hot (or at room temperature, or cold) scoop large spoonfuls of the millet mixture onto open lettuce leaves.  Roll and eat like a wrap.

Diet Notes: Gluten-free, nut-free

Orzo Salad with Roasted Rutabaga, Feta and Brazil Nuts

January 11, 2010 § 2 Comments

Today is my first full day of work since graduation and I’m positively itching with excitement!  Today marks the beginning of a new era: a life with packed lunches and no homework!  (In Regina-lingo: BLISS!)

This past weekend I spent eons (cha-ching!) at farmers’ market booths and came home with two sack-fulls of desert winter bounty: herbs, winter squash and lettuce galore!  As a result, I spent a good portion of my weekend in the kitchen, whipping up soup after salad after bread, dolling out each recipe into giant Tupperwares — prep for quick lunch-packing later this week.

This orzo salad, however, was simply too good for a fast back-of-the-fridge shove.  As I nibbled a few bites I started to chuckle (no one heard, save my dog, who bee-lined into the kitchen, tail a-thumping).   “Forget leftovers!” I thought as I promptly retrieved a small bowl out of the kitchen cabinet and ladled myself a warm, addictive meal (at only 3 o’clock in the afternoon, for Pete’s sake)!  This salad was inspired by Melissa Clark (a hoot!) from the New York Times.

1.5 cups whole wheat orzo (uncooked)*
1 large rutabaga, chopped (approximately 1-1.5 cups)
1 teaspoon maple syrup
2 tablespoons olive oil
sea salt, pepper to taste
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
juice from 1/2 orange (2-3 tablespoons)
1 small shallot, minced**
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/3 cup feta, crumbled
1/3 cup toasted Brazil nuts, chopped
4-6 cups arugula

* For gluten-sensitive eaters, swap whole-wheat pasta with brown rice or quinoa pasta.

**I love a sharp tang of onion or shallot in my dishes.  But if you’re a bit more sensitive to this flavor, instead of adding raw shallot to this salad as I’ve suggested below, you could pan-fry a few medium-shallots in a bit of olive oil until wilted and slightly crispy and add at the end, along with the feta and rutabaga.  Alternatively, you can add minced shallot to the dressing (along with the garlic).  The vinegar and salt will take off some of the edge.


1.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Peel/cut skin from rutabaga.  Chop into bite-sized pieces.  Toss with olive oil, sea salt and pepper to taste and maple syrup.  Layer evenly on a baking sheet and bake approximately 25-35 minutes until slightly crisp around the edges and tender in the center.

2.  Meanwhile, bring salted water to a boil on the stove.  Add orzo and cook according to package instructions.

3.  Prepare citrus dressing: Combine minced garlic, 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, a pinch of salt, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.  Whisk.  When orzo has cooked, drain and toss with dressing and set aside.

4.  Chop Brazil nuts and toast in a dry skillet on medium-heat for approximately 7 minutes until fragrant and slightly browned.  Set aside.

5.  Wash arugula and layer in the bottom of a serving bowl.  Layer dressed orzo on top of arugula and toss slightly – the arugula will wilt a bit from the heat and take away a bit of the peppery edge. When rutabaga has finished baking, remove from oven. Layer orzo salad with roasted rutabaga, shallots, Brazil nuts and crumbled feta.  Serve immediately, at room temperature or cold.

Diet Notes: Gluten-free (see asterisk)

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