Creamy Avocado Basil Sauce (think: vegan pesto-fredo)

April 18, 2012 § 3 Comments


This is a straightforward, easy-peasy recipe that has four ingredients and comes together in a minute flat.  Thanks to the avocado, I like to think of this creamy, vegan shmear as a hybrid pesto and alfredo sauce.

A note about the above photo: South Tucson greenhouses are teaming with ripe, cherry tomatoes and zucchinis.  As the bounty of winter brassicas and greens wanes, I’ve started loading my canvas bags with these (Sonoran) spring fruits and vegetables.  My latest kick?  Zucchini pasta.  That’s right.  I’ve been cranking one of these suckers.  I’ve dabbled with many different “noodle” preparations, but here’s my favorite method that yields flavorful, al dente “noodles”: Saute a half-cup early onion/scallion with a lot of garlic and a generous pinch of salt in a wide-brimmed sauce pan.  Saute until wilted and fragrant (just a minute or two) and add zucchini “noodles.”  Toss until heated through and coated with oil, garlic and onion.  Remove from heat; add sauce; serve warm.

2 avocado
2 cloves garlic
2 cups basil
juice of a lemon (about 1/4 cup)


Pulse all ingredients in a food processor until combined.  Add additional lemon juice to thin, if necessary.  Toss with zucchini or grain-pasta and serve immediately.  Leftovers keep two days.

Diet Notes: SCD-safe, vegan, gluten-free, nut-free


Preserving Winter’s Bounty: Spicy Arugula Pesto

February 5, 2012 § 1 Comment

I tend to be overzealous about a number of things (ie. an empty email inbox, books (of non-electronic varieties), election cycles, coffee, citrus and cocoa powder, to name a few).  Last week, after gabbing with farmer friends and ogling over the bounty of winter grub, I came home with four, enormous cloth bags of spicy winter greens.  I can’t help myself.

With only two, lonely cubes of garden, basil pesto in the freezer (and wanting to save those for a rainy day), I decided to do a riff off of traditional pesto and use spicy greens for the leafy base instead.  After a few trails, this recipe is my favorite.  (A close second had a few squeezes of meyer lemon blended in at the end.)

4 cups arugula (packed)
1 clove garlic, large
3 tablespoons olive oil  (plus additional, if desired)
1/2 cup asagio cheese, grated
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted

Pulse arugula, garlic, walnuts and cheese in a food processor.  Slowly add olive oil and blend to desired consistency.  Freezes and thaws well.

Diet Notes: SCD-safe, gluten-free

Brown Rice Noodles with Cilantro Pesto & Wintery Greens

March 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

If I were cast away to a deserted island and had to choose two foods (heaven forbid) to consume until the rescue mission, I think I’d eat my mom’s sourdough beer bread and pesto for the rest of my days.  Today, I’m going to talk about the later.

Typically my mom whips up gigantic, 9 cup batches of basil pesto a few times each summer, harvested straight from the prolific plants we tend in the backyard.  We recently planted this year’s spring garden — (take a peek at our garden overhaul) — and our basil plants are spindly and puny.  We’re about a month away from our first summer harvest and winter’s stockpile of frozen pestos has reached a distressingly low count.  I’ve been craving the taste of olive oil and herbs, Parmesan cheese and garlic and last week, my mom reminded me of an old favorite — a pesto we used to make so often it rivaled basil pesto.  Bring in a new herb: CILANTRO!  (I’m so sorry if you’re a cilantro-hater.  If you are, try parsley!)

Cilantro pesto is finger-lickin’ good.  As a matter of fact, I ate a couple finger-fulls of cilantro pesto, right out of the food processor before I took this photograph.  But when you marry this green, speckled slurry with noodles, tender winter greens and a handful of heirloom tomatoes (or if you live in a frostier neck of the woods and can’t find tomatoes locally — skip them for now), this dish is downright delicious.  Feel free to use any kind of pasta you like.  Lately I’ve been cooking with brown rice noodles (gluten-free and they taste just like whole wheat pasta), so that’s what I suggested on the ingredient list below.

Ingredients for Pasta Salad:
5 cups brown rice noodles, dry
pasta cooking water
6 cups winter greens (arugula, rainbow chard, spinach, etc.)
1/2 cup baby onion/scallion, chopped
1 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes
1/2 cup cilantro pesto (recipe below)
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, for garnish

Ingredients for Cilantro Pesto:
1 bunch cilantro
1-2 cloves garlic
1/3 cup Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup walnuts, toasted
3-4 tablespoons olive oil


1.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil on the stove.  Reduce heat to a simmer, salt the water and add pasta and cook according to instructions.

2.  Meanwhile, combine all pesto ingredients, minus the olive oil, in a blender or food processor.  Blend until finely chopped.  Slowly add olive oil and continue blending.  Taste and add additional olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.  Set aside.

3.  In a large skillet, saute scallion/baby onion until wilted and slightly brown (about 7 minutes).  Add winter greens, reduce the heat to medium-low and put a lid on top of the pot.  Steam until bright green and wilted, about 4 minutes.  Remove lid.  Add cherry tomatoes and cook until heated through (1-2 minutes).  Remove from heat.

4.  When pasta has finished cooking, using a slotted spoon, scoop pasta into the sauteed vegetables, reserving the pasta water.  Add cilantro pesto to the pasta and stir, adding a ladle of pasta water to the dish as necessary to create a light sauce.  Garnish with Parmesan cheese.  Eat warm or at room temperature.

Diet Notes: Gluten-free

Heart-Swooning Peanut Sauce with Seasonal Veggies and Rice Noodles

February 11, 2011 § 4 Comments

If you were to take a peek in my recycling bin on any given day, you’d likely see a few glass tea bottles, a cardboard box or two and at least half a dozen empty jars of chunky, all-natural peanut butter.  I can’t think of a day in the last eight months when I haven’t eaten PB scooped on top of oatmeal, shmeared on a muffin or scooped from the jar via spoon (favorite).  I’m a peanut butter fanatic.  As such, I’ve been tweaking one of my all-time favorite sauces: you got it!  PEANUT SAUCE.  This recipe has been four months in-the-making and I’m grinning at this very moment, because I’m awfully exited to finally share it.

Side note: I’m not a vegan, but if you’re trying to convert your loved one to veganism, good heavens — start with warm noodles and veggies, dredged in peanut sauce.  This dish is hearty, healthy, gluten-free, comforting and delicious.  After the photo shoot (above), I served my mom this plate and between bites she smiled and said, “Reg!  I just don’t want it to end!”

Before we begin, a couple recipe notes:

(1) There are few foods on earth that I truly cannot stand, but ginger and green peppers are two of them.  The later is irrelevant, but ginger is often a used in peanut sauce recipes.  If you can’t live without ginger, go ahead and throw in a minced teaspoon or two.

(2) After whisking the peanut sauce, should you stick it in the refrigerator (or even if your house is a little chilly) it might thicken a bit.  To reconstitute it, simply add hot water to the sauce a tablespoon at a time.  I generally have to add between 3 and 6 tablespoons of hot water during the making of the sauce or just before serving it.

(3)  To me, the very best salads not only offer great flavor, but fun textures, too.  Keep this in mind when portioning the toppings: Don’t skimp.  Second, depending on what veggies are in season, you may want to roast rather than stir-fry.  (To me, roasted veggies pack the best flavor.)  I roasted the broccoli and chopped green beans and sauteed the shredded Brussels sprouts.  By combining roasted and sauteed veggies, this noodle salad offered different veggie sizes and textures in each bite.

(4)  I’m a Meyer lemon nut and hunt for them every winter.  Check out your local farmers’ market to see if they’ve got ‘um — but if you don’t have them at your disposal, not to worry: Try using half lemon juice, half orange juice whenever the recipe calls for Meyer lemon juice.

Ingredients for the Heart-Swoon Sauce:
2 tablespoons tahini
1/4 cup chunky, all-natural peanut butter (salted)
2 tablespoons tamari
1 teaspoon sesame oil
4 teaspoons maple syrup
1 garlic clove, finely minced
2 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice
3+ tablespoons hot water, to loosen
1/4+ teaspoon sea salt (or more, to taste)
cracked pepper

Ingredients for the Dish:
8 oz. rice noodles

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups shredded Brussels sprouts (about 12 sprouts)
juice of 1/2 Meyer lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
1 large handful arugula
sea salt, pepper

2 cups broccoli, chopped, bite-size
1 cup green beans, chopped, bite-size
1 tablespoon olive oil
sea salt, pepper

Ingredients for Toppings:
1/3 cup scallions, chopped on diagonal
1/3 cup salted peanuts (chopped or not chopped, depending on your preference)
3-4 tablespoons sesame seeds (toasted preferred)
few tablespoons cilantro, chopped


1.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees and prep veggies.  Wash broccoli and green beans; chop in bite-sized pieces.  Wash arugula and rinse and shred brussels sprouts.  On a large sheet pan with a rim, combine green beans and broccoli with a generous pinch of sea salt, cracked pepper and a tablespoon of olive oil.  Cook until al dente and slightly charred around the edges — about 20-25 minutes.

2.  Meanwhile, bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Add rice noodles and cook according to package instructions.  (Note: I find that 7-8 oz. of noodles is a good amount for four or five generous servings of this salad.)

3.  Prepare sauce: Whisk together all ingredients.  Add hot water to loosen sauce as needed.  Set aside.

4.  In a large sauce pan on the stove, heat a tablespoon of olive oil.  Saute shredded Brussels sprouts with a pinch of sea salt and pepper until wilted and slightly carmazelized around the edges.  Add juice of half a Meyer lemon and washed arugula and cook until the arugula has wilted and most of the lemon juice has evaporated — about 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and set aside.  Prep toppings.

5.  When rice noodles are cooked al dente, drain and add 1/2 cup of the peanut sauce to the hot noodles to allow them to soak in the flavor.  Toss noodles with shredded sprouts, arugula, broccoli & green beans.  Add additional sauce as needed, reserving a few tablespoons for individual dishes.  Garnish with cilantro, sesame seeds, salted peanuts, scallions and a drizzle of extra sauce.

Diet Notes: Gluten-free, vegan

Dilly Chickpea Orzo Salad with Lemon

May 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

Until recently, I never imagined using basil outside of pesto, sage without goat cheese, oregano without tomatoes or dill outside of matzo ball soup.  But now that I grow a bunch of herbs in my backyard, I’ve been sticking them in everything!   (Most recently I’ve been stuffing handfuls of various aromatic flecks into shredded zucchini pancakes, all bound together with an egg.)

Last month, nearly every meal I made came speckled (at times, reeking) with sage.  Last week, I turned the corner: now I’m tackling dill.  A good matzo ball broth demands handfuls of these grass-like flecks; the whole body of the soup improves ten-fold once it’s stirred in — fresh or dried.  But I’m discovering zillions of other possibilities for this sweet-smelling perennial.  This recipe has been the most notable success to date.

The weekend my mom returned to the southwest after a 3-week Jersey stint, I happened to stumble across an enticing blog post from eat me, delicious.  The night before my mom skidded into our dinky airport, we chatted on the phone.  She was feeling under the weather with a hurt back and was craving the spring vegetable harvest that had just kicked into high gear.  I wanted something tasty to be ready when she set down her bags, so I whipped up her favorite tomato soup and thawed the herbed quinoa corn bread from the freezer.  But I wanted to make something lighter, too – something healthy and comforting.  Here’s what I came up with.  It makes a fair amount (approximately 6 modest servings), although my mom and I slammed through the first batch in two days.  It’s hearty from the beans and pasta, as well as energizing and savory from the lemon squirts and bites of finely-chopped onion and dill.  Already one of our favorite salads of summer.

1 cup orzo, uncooked
1/2 cup scallion or early onion, sliced
3 cups garbanzo beans, cooked the day before (or use canned, rinsed and drained)
1/2 cup feta, crumbled
2 tablespoons dill, chopped
sea salt, pepper (to taste)
juice of 1 large lemon (approximately 1/4 cup)
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
1 large garlic clove, minced (approximately 1 teaspoon)


1.  In a medium-sized pot, heat water + a teaspoon of sea salt on the stove until boiling.  Add orzo and cook until al dente.

2.  Meanwhile, chop scallion and dill and toss with garbanzo beans.  Set aside.  Prepare dressing: combine juice of lemon, olive oil and garlic.  Whisk and set aside.

3.  Once orzo is cooked, drain and place back inside the warm pot.  Toss with dressing and let it soak up some of the flavors for one to two minutes.  It may look a bit soupy, but that’s okay — it will be dressing for the entire salad.  Pour orzo on top of garbanzo bean mixture.  Immediately add crumbled feta and toss, allowing it to melt against the warm pasta.  Serve warm.

Diet Notes: 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)

Savory Bean and Pepper Salad, amped-up

November 29, 2009 § Leave a comment


It’s official: I’m back on the couscous bandwagon.  Thankfully, I’m not quite as obsessed as before.  Unlike my earlier college days, I do vary my diet a little; I also eat pumpkin pies, apple crumb cakes and cranberry sauce.  I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again: couscous salads are so flexible, you can add whatever you have lurking in your fridge drawers and it’ll probably make a good meal if you spice it up enough.  That said, I’ve been making several grain & veggie salads of late and this one really stood out and, despite the fact that it provided a huge Tupperware of leftovers, two days later there wasn’t a semolina granule to be found.

What made this salad different was the spicing: I didn’t skimp with salt (3/4  teaspoon for the entire salad), chili powder, coriander, cumin, garam masala and cinnamon.  I took a riff from my previous Moroccan Couscous dish with the sweet-tastes (I even added a splash of orange juice at the end).  But I also wanted it to have a bit of a kick, like a chocolate mole sauce, so I included chile peppers, chile powder and a smidgen of cumin for warmth.

The best and most unusual part of this salad was the fact that the couscous played a minor role.  Instead of eating COUSCOUS flaked with a few specks of parsley and a lentil or two, the couscous was the medium to eat nuts, dried fruit and savory, spiced veggies.  Each spoonfull had chew and crunch.

I tried this salad hot, room-temperature and cold.  My favorite was room-temperature.  Conversely, my dad’s favorite was piping hot and my mom loved it cold.  As my cousin Emily said, we’re like the Three Bears.

1/3 cup pine nuts
1/3 cup pecans, chopped

1 cup whole-wheat couscous
1 cup chopped dates and dried apricots

1 large onion, white or yellow
5 sweet chile peppers (or 1 large bell pepper), thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
3/4 teaspoon sea salt
generous amount of ground pepper
1/2  cup dried beans (I boiled a 12-bean mix from a market bulk bin)
olive oil
1 tablespoon orange juice


1.  Measure 1/2 cup and and boil according to cooking time.  Skim off any white foam that rises to the top during cooking.

2.  In an ungreased sauce pan, toast pine nuts and pecans on medium-high, approximately 5-7 minutes.  Set aside.

3.  Boil amount of water according to couscous instructions.  Remove from heat.  Stir in whole-wheat couscous and chopped, dried fruit.  Cover for five minutes, then fluff.  Set aside.

4.  In a skillet, heat 1-2 tablespoons olive oil.  Add chopped onion and cook until wilted and slightly browned, about 5 minutes.   Add peppers, cook another 3-4 minutes.  Add generous pinch of sea salt and spices.  When cooked, remove from heat.  Toss with couscous salad.  Add more olive oil to taste, pepper, salt if necessary and smidgen of OJ.

5.  When beans are cooked, drain and add to salad.  Toss.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Diet Notes: Vegan

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