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.