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Monday, July 21, 2014

Thai Cucumber Salad with Roasted Spiced Chickpeas

Did you know that we get 20% of our total water intake from food? Fruits and vegetables are naturally waterlogged —some contain more than 90% water by weight! In the height of summer, when I am perpetually thirsty, I find myself gravitating towards the produce with the most water retention: watermelon, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, grapefruit, cantaloupe. While nothing beats a cold glass of H20, this Thai Cucumber Salad with Roasted Spiced Chickpeas certainly helps in the hydration department, keeping you as cool as, well, a cucumber.

Cucumbers, along with iceberg lettuce, contain more water per serving than any other vegetable: 96%! Swimming alongside crisp red onion, red peppers, and ample cilantro in an invigorating rice wine vinegar and sesame oil dressing, the cucumbers in this salad truly seem almost drinkable. You could stop right here—a perfectly cool summer side—but combining with roasted spiced chickpeas elevates the dish to a filling, protein-packed main. The juxtaposition of the bronzed, savory chickpeas—superbly crunchy on the outside, doughy on the inside—against the brisk cucumber salad is really spectacular. The chickpeas have a fun, snacking feel: I popped handful after handful into my mouth with the same addictive fervor as if they were Doritos, minus the guilt.

This salad only gets better with age. I made two batches and ate the latter half two days later, finding that the Asian flavors had really seeped into the veggies, enhancing them substantially. If you can, try to make the salad the day before eating it. In keeping with a Thai theme, I definitely recommend topping the whole bowl with a healthy serving of chopped honey-roasted peanuts (I am partial to Planter's); playing up the sweet vs spicy theme. If you want to bulk up your salad with more "hydrating" vegetables, try adding chopped mango, radishes, or watermelon to the mix.

Thai Cucumber Salad with Roasted Spiced Chickpeas (adapted from Oh She Glows)
Serves 2


1/2 cup seasoned rice vinegar
1.5-2 tablespoons natural cane sugar, to taste
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
Dash of Sriracha sauce, more if you like spice
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt

2 medium field cucumbers
1 red pepper, diced
1 cup diced red onion
1/4 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts, for garnish (optional)

1 (15-oz) can chickpeas
1/2 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground turmeric

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees, and line a medium baking sheet with tin foil.
2. Rinse, drain, and dry the chickpeas. (This process can be expedited by rolling them around in a paper towel a few times.)
3. When chickpeas are completely dry, transfer to the baking sheet along with the oil, salt, and rest of the spices. Mix thoroughly.
4. Roast for 20 minutes, stir, and roast for another 20 minutes, until golden brown and lightly charred.
5. While the chickpeas cook, prepare the salad. Whisk dressing ingredients together in a small bowl, set aside.
6. Peel cucumbers and chop into "half moons": slice cucumber in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds, and chop halves into 1/8 inch pieces. Dice the red pepper and onion. Place cucumber, pepper and onion in a large bowl. 
7. Add dressing and cilantro to large bowl, toss thoroughly. Let the salad sit for minimum 30 minutes; but preferably overnight. (Note: this only applies to the salad. Chickpeas are best [aka most crunchy] when eaten immediately after roasting. They do last a few days, but lose their crunch.) Before serving, add roasted chickpeas and sprinkle chopped honey-roasted peanuts atop salad if desired. 

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Watermelon Radish, Tofu, and Snap Pea Salad

This Watermelon Radish, Tofu, and Snap Pea Salad defines summer to a T. Featuring farmers market fresh ingredients, crisp, cool raw vegetables, and a peppery crunch with every bite; this salad will satiate your appetite while keeping your body temp in check on even the hottest days. You know those +90 degree days where the heat is so oppressive, your appetite basically disappears? (Aka today?) This is the type of meal you want.

I stumbled across the recipe after purchasing radishes and fresh snap peas from the Greenmarket on a whim. Wanting something new and different, I googled both veggies for some recipe inspiration, and came upon a similar recipe from Saveur that swapped my tofu for Ahi tuna. (Both proteins are excellent options, I just had the more wallet-friendly tofu on hand.) After adjusting the recipe for a healthier take by eliminating most of the oil, I set to work. I was so pleased with the result: aesthetically enchanting was a given with the magenta hue of the radishes* against the emerald green snap peas, but the taste was just as amiable. The Asian inspired dressing is flavorful yet light, evoking a Japanese style ginger dressing that packs a bit more of a peppery punch.  When plating the tofu, make sure to layer each piece slightly on-top of one another, like a carefully cut fillet sliced to display the inside flesh: it yields quite the impressive plate.

*As evidenced by the photos, I did not use watermelon radishes. If you can though you should—they are beautiful! Fun fact: Watermelon radishes are technically heirloom Chinese Daikon radishes. A member of the mustard family along with arugula, broccoli and turnips, and generally larger than a regular radish, their exterior is creamy white with greenish hues—only the interior flesh is radiantly pink.

Watermelon Radish, Tofu, and Snap Pea Salad (adapted from Saveur)
Serves 2

1 tbsp. soy sauce
1½ tsp. red wine vinegar
1 tsp. honey
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. toasted sesame oil
1½ tsp. white sesame seeds, lightly toasted
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
1 (2”) piece ginger, peeled, grated and minced
1 tbsp. coarsely ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 tbsp canola oil, divided
7 oz extra firm tofu
8 oz. sugar snap peas
3 tbsp fresh mint leaves
1 tsp. black sesame seeds, lightly toasted (optional)
2 watermelon or 3 large regular red radishes
Shredded green cabbage (optional)

1. Combine soy sauce, vinegar, honey, mustard, sesame oil, ½ tsp of white sesame seeds, the garlic, ginger, pepper, and 1 tbsp canola oil in a small bowl. (For a smooth consistency, puree in a blender.)

2. Drain tofu, and then further remove excess water by microwaving tofu block, wrapped loosely in a paper towel, for 1 minute. Cut into 1 x 2 inch pieces, and set aside in a large shallow bowl.

3. Pour 2 tbsp of dressing over the tofu. Let marinate, turning once, while you assemble the rest of the salad.

4. Chop the vegetables: Cut snap peas crosswise into 1” pieces, removing stems first; halve and thinly slice the radishes; roughly chop the mint. Place chopped veggies in a large bowl. Pour reserved dressing over veggies, mix thoroughly.

5. Heat remaining 1 tbsp oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Place tofu squares in pan, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for 2-3 minutes, turn, and cook on other side for another 2-3 minutes. (To prevent burning, add the remaining marinade to the pan before flipping over). Remove from heat when tofu is golden brown.

6. Plate salad: on a bed of shredded green cabbage (optional) place a generous portion of radish and snap pea mixture. Top with tofu squares. Sprinkle plate with remaining sesame seeds, salt, and pepper. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Moroccan Yam Veggie Burgers with Cilantro-Lime Tahini Sauce

A good veggie burger is one of my absolute favorite meals. Unfortunately, the plant-based patty is easily prone to a bad rap due to three common shortcomings: bland, cardboard-like taste (blah), rubbery, processed consistency (ew), or loose ingredients that crumble upon touch (grr.) These inferior qualities can turn burger-lovers against the veggified version for good, and if you're one of the haters, I beg you to here me out. A solid veggie burger is fantastic, and this Moroccan Yam Veggie Burger with Cilantro-Lime Tahini Sauce proves my point.
A base of shredded yams and crushed chickpeas hold these burgers together in both texture and substance, and a range of rich spices like cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and coriander add distinctive Moroccan flavor. Flour made from rolled oats and flax seed adds a nutty, wholesome nuance, and using sesame oil instead of traditional olive oil adds another unexpected but well-received flavor to the mix. 
Now lets talk about the sauce, which I am going to suggest right now to double in quantity because its equally important as to why this veggie burger rocks. Tangy and herby with ample cilantro and lime, the tahini almost gives it a green goddess-like quality (so obviously I'm obsessed.)  Because the burger itself is pretty earthy, the tangy dressing really makes it pop. 
Baking the burger yields a perfectly crisp exterior and appropriately soft, chewy inside; no weird consistency issues here! The yam and oats mean the batter is pretty starchy, so feel free to skip the "bun" here and serve with a big helping of shepherd's salad chockfull of tomato, cucumber, and onion instead. 
Moroccan Yam Veggie Burgers with Cilantro-Lime Tahini Sauce (from Oh She Glows)
Makes 6-8 patties
Prep time: 25 minutes, cook time: 35 minutes

For the burgers:
1.5 cups grated yam or sweet potato 
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
3/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1 small piece of fresh ginger (1 cm cube), peeled
1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (about 1.5 cups)
2 tablespoons ground flax mixed with 3 tablespoons water
3/4 cup rolled oats, ground into a flour (use gluten-free if necessary)
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
1/2-3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt or pink Himalayan salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon coriander
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon turmeric

For the cilantro-lime tahini sauce (makes 1/2 cup):
1 small garlic clove, peeled
2/3 cup fresh cilantro leaves
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice, or to taste
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon cumin
salt and pepper, to taste

Make the burgers: 
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a large baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper.
2. Peel the yam/sweet potato. Grate (by hand or in a food processor) until you have 1 1/2 lightly packed cups. Place into large bowl.
3. In the same food processor (no need to wash), mince the garlic, cilantro, and ginger until finely chopped.
4. Add drained chickpeas and process again until finely chopped, but leave some texture. Scoop this mixture into a large bowl.
5. In a small bowl, stir together the flax and water. Add to large bowl.
6. Grind the oats into flour using a blender or the food processor. Add flour to large bowl.
7. Stir in the oil, soy sauce, salt/pepper, and spices to batter until thoroughly combined. Adjust to taste if desired.
8. Shape 6-8 patties, packing the mixture firmly together. Place on baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes, then carefully flip, and bake for another 18-23 minutes until golden and firm. Cool on pan.
Make the cilantro sauce: 

1. Mince garlic in a food processor, followed by the cilantro. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and process until smooth and creamy.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Orangy Wheat Berry and Orzo Salad

Picnic season is upon us, and I have just the dish to make your potluck contribution stand out well above all the rest. I guess this dish could technically be considered a pasta salad because it features orzo as a a main ingredient, but its about as far away from the mayonnaise-slathered, insipid version as you can get. Spirited, zesty, citrusy, and spry; this Orangy Wheat Berry and Orzo Salad breaths new life into one of summer’s most iconic sides.
If the ingredients sound familiar, that’s because I poached the dressing (and wheat berries) to make my Arugula Wheat Berry Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette over the winter. I just couldn’t wait—the vinaigrette is literally drinkable! The combination of orange, white wine vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil is tangy and light: acidic enough for a little kick, but mollified by the oil for a taste that’s just right. I recommend using orange juice concentrate over regular orange juice if you can, the flavor is a bit more robust.
Colorful is this salad too, with large chunks of fresh oranges and bright green scallions dotting the tiny wheat berry spheres and ivory orzo. The texture variation is one of my favorite aspects: crunchy wheat berries, silky orzo, and fleshy orange segments, sprinkled with a generous garnish of biting scallions and steely pine nuts.
So, besides being delicious, what makes this salad picnic perfect? First of all, it can easily be made the night before without any sort of wilting. (In fact, I recommend doing this anyway to let the vinaigrette really seep into the ingredients. Just reserve the pine nuts until serving.) Second, it can be served cold or at room temperature, which works well for hours of sitting in a picnic setting. Third, it lends itself to a big batch—since the wheat berries take a long time to cook (its worth it though, I promise), make a ton and just eat it consecutively for a few days if not serving for a crowd. To transform the salad from a side dish to a main, top with grilled salmon or shrimp, and serve on a bed of greens. Consider chickpeas and goat cheese for a vegetarian option.    

Orange you glad I introduced you?!

Orangy Wheat Berry and Orzo Salad (from my Mama.)
Makes 6-8 side servings

1 cup orzo
1 cup wheat berries
2 oranges, peeled and chopped
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (or 1/3 cup frozen orange juice concentrate)
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
3 teaspoons pine nuts, toasted
3 scallions, diced
salt & pepper to taste

1. Cook wheat berries according to package directions. (Cooking time is approximately 1 hour, so start on these guys first.) When finished, place into a large bowl and let cool.
2. Cook orzo according to package directions. Let orzo cool, and add to bowl with wheat berries.
3. Reduce orange juice to a glaze in small saucepan. (If using orange juice concentrate, replace this step —as it is already reduced—with microwaving for 15 seconds or until no longer frozen.) When the orange juice reduction has cooled, mix oil, vinegar, and a generous sprinkle of salt & pepper into the saucepan.
4. Pour orange juice reduction into the large bowl, and mix thoroughly. Just before serving, sprinkle with the pine nuts and scallions.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Bourbon Glazed Salmon

A few weeks ago I had the privilege of joining Culinary Institute of America trained personal chef Dante Giannini while he prepared one of his famous "farm to fork" seasonal meals. With a resume that includes kitchen time at Aquagrille and Oceana, its no wonder that as a private chef, Dante specializes in fish. For our meal, he chose salmon for the main course. "Salmon is so underrated," he confided me as he knived portions of the fleshy, red fillet. "People now equate salmon with unoriginality. But there's really nothing better than a salmon done right."

I completely agreed. Sometimes I almost feel a guilt complex for going with salmon at the fish counter—with so many lesser known seafoods, must I choose the safe option, again? Which is inevitably followed by a second hurdle: how to distinguish which varieties are sustainable. So, below I have provided a mini-guide courtesy of Seafood Watch to help you pick your next salmon cut, mindfully ecological and guilt-free. Then, you can make this wonderful Bourbon Glazed Salmon.

In general, wild salmon from Alaska is your best bet. With strict monitoring of both the fish populations and the fishery, most wild-caught Alaskan salmon is certified sustainable to the standard of the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). Market names include chinook, coho, chum, keta, king, pink, red, silver, & sockeye salmon. Other “best choice” selections are Washington sockeye salmon and farmed U.S. coho salmon. Good alternatives include wild-caught salmon from British Columbia, California, Oregon, and Washington. To avoid: salmon farmed in open net pens. Hailing from Chile, Scotland, and Norway, this farming method allows waste from the fish to pass freely into the surrounding habitat, polluting the wild environment and potentially spreading diseases and parasites.

Once you've selected your sustainable salmon, get excited! Because this recipe rocks. It combines the classic ingredients of an Asian teriyaki (soy sauce, ginger, sesame seeds) with the oaky, caramel goodness of one of my favorite spirits, bourbon. The sauce is super light—notice there is no oil at all—but glazes expertly atop the salmon steak, leaving a delicate, golden coat of flavor permeating the tender, pink fish.

Obviously, the more the fish marinates the more saturated it becomes with the bourbon glaze, so the earlier you can start this step the better. However, the flavors are bold enough that even a cursory soak will highlight the robust flavors: spicy ginger, biting bourbon, tangy lime. With summer's official kick-off coming up this Memorial Day weekend, feel free to try this guy on the grill too.

Bourbon Glazed Salmon
Serves 4

3 tablespoons brown sugar
3 tablespoons bourbon
2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
3 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 (6-ounce) skinless salmon fillets
Cooking spray
1/4 cup thinly sliced scallions

1 tablespoon sesame seeds, toasted

1. Combine first 7 ingredients in a large zip-lock plastic bag. Add fish to bag; seal. Marinate in refrigerator 1 1/2 hours, turning occasionally.

2. Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add fish and marinade to the pan; cook for 4 minutes on each side or until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. (Alternatively, bake in the oven at 425 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes until the same flaky consistency is reached.)

3.  Remove fillets from pan (do not discard marinade), and place each one on its own plate. Drizzle each serving with 2 teaspoons of sauce from the pan. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon scallions and 3/4 teaspoon sesame seeds.