Spicy Asian Cucumber Salad with a Side of Tears

Last week, versions of this recipe appeared twice in my Facebook feed from The Bitten Word and The Splendid Table, so I took it as a sign I needed to give it a try. Like most backyard gardeners, I have cucumbers coming out my ears this time of year. Luckily, my family (and coworkers — don’t get me started) love cucumbers, but after awhile, we tire of the usual preparation. I’m so glad that we tried this! I doubled the recipe for this dressing, used four regular (not English) cucumbers, and it was delicious.

cucsalad

Spicy Asian Cucumber Salad
inspired by Food Network Magazine, original recipe here

Ingredients:
2 cucumbers, seeded and chopped
1 Tablespoon rice vinegar
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
1 garlic clove, minced
2 scallions, sliced
red pepper flakes, to taste
cilantro, if desired

Sprinkle cucumbers with one teaspoon kosher salt and let sit for ten minutes. Whisk together all other ingredients while cucumbers are sitting. Drain and rinse cucumbers. Add dressing. If using more than two cucumbers, double recipe.

Now, for the side of tears. Directions: Drop your first-born off at college. Come home. See his car in the driveway. See his favorite snacks on sale. See the dog waiting patiently for him by the door. See baby pictures on your screen saver. See his empty and abnormally clean room. Cry as needed. Repeat, repeat, repeat.

Not unexpectedly, it has been hard for us. We absolutely, positively would not want things any other way than this. He is exactly where he needs to be, and we are fortunate that we can provide him with the opportunity which he has worked so hard to earn. Everything is as it should be. And yet…

When people ask me how I feel, it’s not easy to articulate. But I keep going back to Shel Silverstein’s (surprisingly divisive) children’s book, The Giving Tree. If you haven’t read it, you should. I can still hear myself reading it to my son:

And the tree was happy…but not really.

I get it, Giving Tree. I feel ya, girl.

givingtree

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Dawn’s Quick Summer Eggplant Salad

A couple of summers ago I went to a nutritional counselor, and she pretty much told me everything I already knew. I don’t want to say it was a complete waste of money, because I did get one or two significant things out of our sessions. For one, I was inspired to start this blog, something which has brought me great joy and satisfaction, and that alone was worth the price of admission. The other thing I took away is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, and that is the notion of “primary food.”

Primary food is the stuff that feeds your soul, but you can’t eat it. And when you don’t have it, you sometimes search for it through consuming actual food. No pepperoni pizza or hot fudge sundae in the world will ever be more than a fleeting substitute for real primary food. Unfortunately, I can not provide you a recipe for primary food; it is something which must be concocted individually. I am making great strides myself, but it’s still not always an easy thing to figure out. In the meantime, we still have to eat actual food, so I will continue to post recipes I’ve been enjoying.

Eggplant is one of those vegetables which I love eating but don’t always enjoy preparing. When I saw Mark Bittman’s recipe today for eggplant salad with mustard-miso dressing, I was excited to learn boiling the eggplant is an acceptable alternative to grilling or roasting. The downside to boiling is that it resembles slimy jellyfish. I would definitely grill or roast the eggplant next time, but I wanted to include the directions for boiling, which is a quick, easy, and less hot-in-the-summertime-kitchen alternative. I added edamame for a source of protein, but I think chicken or shrimp would work just as well.

Dawn’s Quick Summer Eggplant Salad
Serves 2 to 3

Ingredients
1 medium to large eggplant, ends trimmed and cubed
kosher salt
1/2 red onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin (preferably toasted from seed and freshly ground, but let’s be realistic)
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
kalamata olives, halved
edamame, cooked and shelled

Directions:
Add cubed eggplant to a large pot of salted boiling water for about five minutes or until tender. Drain and cool.

In a small bowl, whisk together, onion, cumin, red wine vinegar, sugar, cayenne and olive oil. Toss with cooled eggplant. Gently stir in olives, edamame, and tomatoes. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

eggplant salad

Dawn’s Wheat Berry Salad

There are few things I dislike more than salad bars and buffets. Public restrooms come to mind, but otherwise, I’m drawing a blank. So I’m not quite sure what came over me last week when I was drawn to the salad bar of my grocery store in an almost supernatural pull, equal parts hungry and lazy. Plastic clam shell container in hand, belly up to the Acme salad bar, I found myself evaluating my many rainbow colored options. It seems the middle-aged crisis manifests in many forms.

Obvious sanitation concerns aside, I become paralyzed by the selection process. Too many choices give me anxiety and harken me back to the days of toddler temper tantrums, where my children would melt down picking out what color cup to choose or a pack of gum at the checkout counter if I “rushed” them. Just. Pick. Something. Dammit.

I’m not saying I would have been happier in the days of Soviet Russia, but standing there contemplating the selection of egg salad and broccoli salad and beet salad and bacon — so much bacon in all of the “salads” — and some rather flaccid looking veggies and ten different dressings and six different crunchy toppings and none of it made sense when served together in one container all touching each other that I wondered if I wouldn’t have been better off going next door to Bravo and ordering a cheesesteak for probably less calories than my salad.

But oftentimes inspiration strikes in the most unlikely places. One of the many things I plopped in my container that day was a little sample of wheat berry salad, and this alone was worth my ordeal. Hearty and flavorful, I was immediately enchanted with the humble wheat berry, which is high in fiber and rich in nutrients. Score one for the Acme salad bar.

I picked up these wheat berries from Wegman’s (but certainly use any brand or variety you can find), and I set out to create something healthy, delicious and satisfying for lunch. Mission accomplished. If you’re gluten-free, quinoa or brown rice would work.

Dawn’s Wheat Berry Salad
4 servings

Ingredients
1 cup wheat berries (red winter wheat) cooked per package instructions
1/4 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 red onion, diced
1/2 – 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 carrot, shredded
1/4 pound good quality feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup black olives of choice, halved

Directions
Cook one cup of wheat berries per package instructions and remove from heat. In medium serving bowl, whisk together olive oil, apple cider vinegar and kosher salt. Add cooked wheat berries and mix well. Add all remaining ingredients, gently combine, and serve chilled or at room temperature. Refrigerate and use within three days.

Wheat berry salad

Dawn’s Ninja Ginger Dressing

Our family has been hit hard with illness this month, but we are finally emerging from the fog of norovirus, flu, bronchitis and pneumonia. It feels so good not to feel bad! I tend to be a tad melodramatic and channel Emily from Thornton Wilder’s classic American play Our Town whenever I’m very sick, proclaiming my love and appreciation for all the ordinary things in life from beyond my imaginary grave: Mama’s sunflowers, food and coffee, new ironed dresses and hot baths….and sleeping and waking up! (Not that I’ve seen an iron or a dress in many years myself). Even the little mundane tasks like dishes, laundry and grocery shopping felt wonderful to accomplish once my energy returned.

As I languished in my sick bed, I made a commitment to healthier living. More salads, less cookies. I made this dressing for the first time last month in an effort to replicate the ginger dressing served at our favorite sushi place. Even though I didn’t hit the mark exactly, I’m still very pleased with the results. I made some again today and tweaked it a bit further. The peanut oil really gives it a nice richness and body, but there is only a 1/4 cup of it, so it’s not too unhealthy — especially compared to bottled dressings.

ginger

Dawn’s Ninja Ginger Dressing, yields 1 1/2 cups

2 inch piece of fresh ginger

1/2 medium onion

1 whole carrot

one clove of garlic, peeled

juice of half a lemon

1/4 cup peanut oil

1/4 cup rice vinegar

1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 tablespoon ketchup

1 tablespoon Sriracha

1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a heavy duty blender or food processor, combine all ingredients until smooth.

gingerdressing

The Secret to a Perfect French Vinaigrette

Of all the things I loved in Paris, the salads ranked high up there. I know it sounds ridiculous and faux-virtuous to claim you love salad — salad! — of all things in Paris. That sounds as far-fetched as saying I watch Bravo for the political commentary or love book club for the book discussions. But it’s true; the salads were all quite magnifique despite their simplicity. Mais pourquois? The answer lies in the elusive French vinaigrette.

After considerable research that only a person with too much time on her hands can devote, I have concluded that there are a few key secrets to a classic French vinaigrette: shallots, real Dijon mustard made in France, and sherry vinegar. Shallots and sherry vinegar are easy enough to find, but real French Dijon is another story altogether. Before you go any further, let me say that this recipe certainly WILL work with US made Grey Poupon, and it will be respectably good. But it won’t be perfect.

To say I am a bit obsessed with my acquisition of Maille mustard made in France is a bit of an understatement. Since the mustard from the tap I purchased from the Maille store in Paris is unpasteurized, I have accepted that I can only obtain that through another visit to the Paris store or I’ll need a hired mustard mule to smuggle some through customs. However, the next best thing is jarred French Dijon, which I figured should be easy enough to find. Wrong! I have searched Amazon. I have searched eBay. I have combed foodie message boards. I have emailed food bloggers. I have, in short, gone a little nutty trying to find this mustard. Of course, to a French person, this probably sounds like someone saying they have searched the world for a bottle of Heinz ketchup.

I finally found a reputable online source which won’t break the bank here. I am sure there may be others, so feel free to pass on your US suppliers if you’ve got them. Here is a picture of two jars of Maille. The one on the left is made in France, and the one on the right is made in Canada. The French version is almost twice as strong and concentrated as the Canadian version (which we can all find easily in almost every US grocery store). They may look the same, but they are not the same.

deux Mailles

Of all the recipes I’ve tried, this simple little recipe from David Lebovitz comes the closest to replicating the many wonderful vinaigrettes I enjoyed in Paris. I hope you enjoy this as much as I do.

French Vinaigrette by David Lebovitz, original recipe worth reading for yourself here

Makes about 1/4 cup

1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sherry or red wine vinegar
1/2 small shallot, peeled and minced (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3T to 4T (45 ml to 60 ml) olive oil

fresh herbs, if desired

1. In a small bowl, mix together the salt, vinegar, and shallot. Let stand for about ten minutes.

2. Mix in the Dijon mustard. (Note: ff you are using a US or Canadian manufactured mustard, you will need at least 1 heaping teaspoon to start, possibly a bit more. If you are using French Dijon, a mere 1/2 teaspoon will actually be enough.) Add 3 tablespoons (45 ml) of olive oil. Stir well, then taste. If too sharp, add the additional olive oil and more salt, if necessary.

If using fresh herbs, mix them in shortly before serving so they retain their flavor. This dressing will keep for about eight hours at room temperature.

 

Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Is this even a recipe as much as an idea? In any event, there hasn’t been too much of what passes for cooking around here these days, and this is the best I’ve got. One of the many hats I wear is landlady, and I’ve been quite busy lately with my landladying business. Sadly, it is not as fun as being a Parisian food critic, my real calling, but a girl’s gotta make a buck sometimes. Between that and back to school preparations, my meals have suffered.

I do love summer tomato season, even if it is sometimes overwhelming. We had a pretty decent crop this year, despite our rocky start. I usually make a batch or two of slow roasted tomatoes every year, and I usually consume the first batch entirely by myself. I don’t suggest doing this for a variety of reasons, mainly digestive. Or that “gluttony is a sin” idea, if you’re religious. But they are that good!

Dawn’s Slow Roasted Tomatoes

Cherry, Grape, or other small tomatoes
1/4 cup olive oil
one clove of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon of vinegar (balsamic, red wine, or sherry)
fresh herbs of choice (thyme, basil, rosemary and/or oregano)
pinch of kosher salt

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

1. Measure about 1/4 cup olive oil in a cup. Add minced garlic, vinegar, herbs, pinch of salt. Mix well with a fork and set aside. Let this sit at least 30 minutes before using.

2. Cut tomatoes in half and place on rimmed baking sheet or 13 x 9 glass pan.

3. Drizzle olive oil mixture over tomatoes.

4. Put them in the oven and go on with your life. They should be ready in about three hours.

5. Don’t eat all of them by yourself! It’s fun to share.

Lentil Salad and an Ode to Maille Mustard

I found this recipe in my Fall 2012 Entertaining from Cook’s Illustrated magazine and  knew right away I would like it. I am a huge fan of lentil soup, so lentil salad with a mustard vinaigrette seemed like an obvious win.

You may have noticed a jar of Maille mustard on my masthead. It looks like this:

I warmed up to mustard later in life. I think I was about twenty-two before I could eat it at all, and then each year my love for mustard grew exponentially. I am embarrassed that I was a big fan of what passes for Dijon mustard in this country; I always keep a jar of Grey Poupon in the refrigerator. When I was in Paris, I was drawn to the colorful display of the Maille Mustard Boutique, at 6 place de la Madeleine. It really is a mustard boutique. Think about that for a second and tell me the French aren’t magnifique.

After sampling a few varieties, I purchased a ceramic jar of Moutarde Fine au Vin blanc, or white wine mustard. The mustard comes right out of a tap and is sealed with a cork. Blessedly, it survived the transatlantic trip, and if I was smart, I would have stocked up some more. I am down to the last precious little bit, and I devoted it to this recipe. Unfortunately, this is NOT the same Maille mustard we can get in North America. I don’t know what silly trade rules or FDA regulations are responsible for this travesty, but I do know that the mustard from France is much stronger and fuller bodied than any Maille Dijon that can be purchased here or in Canada.

But back to this recipe! It’s a great little salad that can become a full meal if you add chicken or sausage, but it is substantial enough to stand alone, too.

Lentil Salad with Walnuts and Scallions, adapted from Entertaining, Fall 2012

1 1/2 cups lentilles du Poy, but I just used regular old lentils, rinsed

1 small onion, halved

3 bay leaves

1 sprig of fresh thyme

Salt and pepper

3 tablespoons sherry vinegar

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

3/4 cup roasted red peppers, patted dry and finely chopped

1/3 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped (I used 1/2 c)

3 scallions, sliced thin

1. Combine 6 cups water, lentils, onion, bay leaves and 1/2 teaspoon salt and bring to a boil in large pot. Reduce heat to medium low and cook until lentils are tender, 25 to 30 minutes.

2. While cooking lentils, whisk together vinegar, oil, mustard and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in small bowl and set aside.

3. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid and drain lentils, removing and discarding onion, thyme and bay leaves. Transfer to medium bowl and toss with dressing. Let cool to room temperature. Stir in red peppers, walnuts and scallions. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Tomato and Sourdough Bread Salad by David Lebovitz

I just finished reading The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz, and I highly recommend it. I have found his observations about life in Paris so validating. Apparently it was not just my paranoid imagination — people really were playing chicken with me on the narrow sidewalks while simultaneously judging my wardrobe. In addition to his witty and astute observations, this book contains several wonderful recipes which I can’t wait to try.

Our first three tomatoes of the season just turned red, so any recipe with the word tomato in it immediately catches my eye these days. Believe it or not, I have never made a panzanella (bread salad) before, probably because I’m not that keen on soggy bread. But for some reason, this recipe appealed to me yesterday, and I’m glad I went with my instincts. This salad was so flavorful and light, yet filling enough to stand alone for dinner on a hot summer night.

Salade De Tomates Au Pain Au Levain
Tomato and Sourdough Bread Salad
from The Sweet Life in Paris by David Lebovitz

Ingredients:

4 cups roughly torn 1-inch pieces of sourdough bread
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1 1/4 tsp coarse salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced
6 tbsp red wine vinegar, plus more to taste
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more to taste
8 medium tomatoes
1 large cucumber, peeled, halved lengthwise and seeded (as you can see, I thinly sliced)
3/4 cup pitted black olives (the author prefers kalamata olives)
1 red onion, peeled and diced
1 packed cup mixed coarsely chopped fresh basil, mint and flat-leaf parsley
1/2 pound feta cheese

Method:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F (200 degrees C). Spread the bread pieces on a baking sheet and toast until deep golden brown, about 15 minutes, stirring once or twice as they’re toasting. Set aside to cool.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together the mustard, salt, pepper to taste, garlic, vinegar and olive oil.

3. Remove the stems from the tomatoes, slice in half and squeeze out the juice. Cut them into 1-inch pieces. Cut them into 1-inch pieces. Cut the cucumber into 1/2-inch pieces.

4. Add the tomatoes and cucumber to the bowl with the dressing. Mix in the olives, onion, herbs and bread pieces and toss well. Taste and add more salt, oil and vinegar to your liking.

5. Crumble the feta over the top in large chunks and toss briefly. Let stand 1-2 hours before serving.

Orzo with Chicken, Cherry Tomatoes and Gorgonzola

It was yet another, “Oh, lord, I have to feed these people AGAIN?” kind of day, and this recipe came across my Facebook feed just in time to save dinner. Thank you, Fine Cooking, for the inspiration. Their original recipe, the foundation for my creation, can be found here.

If you’re not a fan of strong cheese such as Gorgonzola, move along…this recipe will not be for you. And don’t even THINK of substituting it with any other cheese! I highly recommend splurging on some sherry vinegar, which my newly appointed cooking guru David Lebovitz favors over balsamic. But I do think for this recipe, any old red wine vinegar will do if you don’t feel like running out to buy a sherry vinegar, which is not always available in every store. Aside from the dressing and the cheese, this recipe is very open to improvisation. The combination of sweet cherry tomatoes and strong Gorgonzola is just perfect.

Orzo with Chicken, Cherry Tomatoes and Gorgonzola

Kosher salt
2-1/4 cups orzo
1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil, more as needed
1/3 cup sherry vinegar, more as needed
freshly ground pepper
3 cups halved cherry tomatoes (preferably a mix of colors and shapes)
1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola
1 to 2 cups cooked cubed chicken, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 thick slices of red onion, chopped
1/4 cup parsley, finely chopped
olives (optional)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the orzo and cook per package instructions. Drain the pasta and toss it immediately with 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Let the pasta cool completely in the refrigerator.

Put the sherry vinegar in a small bowl and gradually whisk in the remaining 1/2 cup of olive oil. Taste and season with salt, pepper, and additional sherry vinegar or olive oil as needed.

Put the cooked, cooled orzo in a large serving bowl. Add the cherry tomatoes, Gorgonzola, chicken, onions, olives and the vinaigrette and toss. Taste and season as needed with more salt and pepper. Serve within an hour or two of making.

Arugula Salad with Lemon-Parmesan Dressing

We pulled up the last of the arugula crop last weekend, and I set out to find a light but kicky little dressing to compliment it. As usual, Bon Appetit didn’t let me down. This is a bright, versatile dressing that I will definitely be making again.

My cute green and white bowl (thank you for noticing) is from Target’s Privet House Collection.

Lemon-Parmesan Dressing, Bon Appetit, April 2009

Ingredients:

  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
  • 4 cups (packed) baby arugula
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
Directions:

Blend first 4 ingredients in processor. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Cover; chill up to 3 days.

Combine arugula and tomatoes in large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat.