A Few of My Favorite Things

I had a birthday recently so I thought I would share recipes for some of my very favorite foods with you.

  • Roasted Tomatillo Salsa
  • Gazpacho
  • Swiss Chard Pesto

Green Salsa (Salsa Verde)

I absolutely love salsa verde and I can’t believe that I never tried to make it for myself until recently.  It’s easy, saves money, and you can make it without all the sodium that is present in commercial products.

Salsa verde starts with tomatillos, an ingredient you might not have used before.  Tomatillos look like green tomatoes but they are actually related to the gooseberry.  To clean them just hold the tomatillo under warm running water and pull off the husk. They tend to be a bit sticky so this helps to wash the stickiness away, too.

IMG_0906[1]

Here’s what you’ll need to make approximately one quart of salsa:

  • 1 1/2 – 2 lbs. tomatillos (I try to get them all about the same size so they will roast evenly)
  • 1-2 jalapenos to taste; stems removed
  • 3 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
  • 1 white onion, cut into quarters
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Everything goes on a sheet pan. I covered my pan with non stick foil.

IMG_0942[1]

Preheat your broiler to high and move the rack to the highest position so that the vegetables are only 2-3 inches away from the heat.  Broil for about 15 minutes, turning everything over halfway through.  You want some roasted black spots on everything but the garlic.  The tomatillos will soften and change color.  I usually babysit closely in the last few minutes; removing what looks done and returning the rest to the broiler until everything is done.  The garlic cloves need to be removed from their skins (just cut off one end and squeeze) and then everything goes right into the blender.

IMG_0943[1]  IMG_0909[1]

Use the “grind” or “chop” setting on your blender to keep some texture and blend just until there are no large pieces left.  At this point you can add some salt, pepper if desired, and sometimes I add the juice of a lime.

Green salsa is great for serving with tortilla chips or as a topping for enchiladas and grilled meats. Try stirring some into mashed avocado for a different kind of guacamole, too.

Gazpacho

This a perfect time of year to make this cold soup that features the ripest tomatoes from the garden. I started with this recipe for  Classic Andalusian Gazpacho from Epicurious.  While the addition of cucumber is not necessary I had one so I threw it in. Since I planned to freeze a portion of this soup I did not add the bread but I can do that before I serve it.  I also did not add the oil or strain the solids from the soup.

IMG_0939[1] IMG_0940[1]

This couldn’t be any easier. There is absolutely no cooking involved. Just some chopping, blending, chilling, and you’ve got a refreshing warm weather meal.

Swiss Chard Pesto

A classic pesto consists of basil, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil, pine nuts, and grated parmesan cheese.  I grow basil every summer and this is my absolute favorite way to use it.  There are many variations. I’ve made pesto with baby spinach, artichoke and olives, sun dried tomatoes, etc.  Since I have quite a bit of chard in the garden this year I’ve made this version several times.  Here is my recipe:

  • 6-8 large leaves Swiss chard, stems removed
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts (almonds, pecans, or walnuts may also be used)
  • 1/4 cup grated parmesan (I substitute nutritional yeast to make this vegan)
  • Pinch nutmeg
  • 2 lemons, zested and juiced
  • 1 clove garlic, grated on a rasp grater
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or use more water if avoiding oil)
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Cut chard into ribbons and steam for about 5 minutes.  Removed from steamer and cool.  Put the cooked chard, basil, nuts, cheese, nutmeg, lemon zest and juice, garlic, and water into food processor or personal blender and pulse until the mixture begins to break down and come together. Add olive oil to the mixture and pulse a few more time to blend. Season with salt and pepper.

Pesto has many uses. I made an awesome sandwich last week by spreading pesto on a baguette and topping with grilled vegetables and sliced fresh mozzarella.  It’s good dribbled over sliced tomatoes and can be served hot, warm, or cold as pasta sauce or for dressing pasta salads. I also use it to flavor mashed potatoes.

All of these recipes are great ways to use summer produce and I think it’s no coincidence that some of my favorite foods taste best at the time of my summer birthday.

 

 

Advertisements

Pay Attention to Artificial Food Colors

artificial_colors_food

You may have seen television commercials recently for kid’s cereals proclaiming that artificial colors have been removed from their products.  Another current commercial for a popular brand of macaroni and cheese makes the statement “Earlier this year, we started quietly selling Kraft macaroni and cheese with no artificial flavors, preservatives or dyes. And guess what? It still tastes like Kraft macaroni and cheese.”

Why are food manufacturers removing these ingredients from their products? And maybe the better question would be why were those ingredients added in the first place?

According to the International Food Information Council Foundation, artificial colors are added to foods in order to “offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture, and storage conditions; correct natural variations in color; enhance colors that occur naturally; (and) provide color to colorless and “fun” foods”.

While manufacturers believe that they are making foods more palatable there is evidence that the chemicals used to create artificial colorings contribute to symptoms of hyperactivity in children.  Some are also linked to allergic reactions. The first studies on this were actually done in the 1970’s but there have been at least 8 analyses (comparing data compiled from multiple studies) done since 2011 that show that eliminating artificial food dyes reduces hyperactive behavior in some children.

How much artificial coloring does it take to create a noticeable difference in behavior? In one study it took as little as one serving of a beverage containing artificial coloring.

Artificial coloring is present in a wide variety of packaged food.  It is obvious in some; things like candy, cereals, and fruity beverages, but also surprisingly present in things like pickles, yogurt, frozen dinners, and flavored oatmeal. Because these colorings are so prevalent in our food supply an average child will consume multiple foods in any given day that contain artificial coloring.

In a perfect world we would cook our own meals using whole fresh ingredients and we would not need to artificially enhance the color or rely on chemical flavorings and preservatives.  But the fact is that most Americans will buy at least some processed and packaged foods.  To avoid these chemicals the best advice is to read labels.

Artificial colors are listed in the ingredient label as the color and a number, i.e. red 40, yellow 6, etc. Other additives may also be listed, things that do everything from increasing shelf life to artificially increasing fiber and vitamin content.  Look for foods that contain the fewest ingredients possible and preferably ingredients that you recognize.

Eggplant Three Ways

When it comes to growing eggplant I was something of an overachiever this year. My 5 plants yielded half dozen or more fruits each.  That’s a lot of eggplant for a two person household.

IMG_0924[1]

My husband is content to slice eggplant, brush it with oil, and throw it on the grill but I prefer to use it in other types of dishes. Here are a couple of my favorite recipes and a new one I tried recently:

  • Caponata
  • Easiest Eggplant
  • Eggplant and Tomato Bulgur

Caponata – #1 Favorite

Caponata is a sweet and sour relish that can be used as a bruschetta topping or served over pasta.  I use this recipe from Epicurious.com. In the past I’ve varied the ingredients by using fresh tomatoes in place of the canned and adding additional vegetables like zucchini and peppers.  It’s a great recipe for this time of year for that reason. Here is my pan full of fresh ingredients and the finished product served over toasted slices of whole wheat baguette.

IMG_0902[1]   IMG_0903[1]

A few years ago I worked on a garden project with a local summer day camp and we grew eggplant in the garden.  I made caponata for the kids to taste and one young man told me it was “better than candy”.  Therefore, I can confidently say this recipe is kid tested and approved.

Easiest Eggplant – #2 Favorite

Eggplant Parmigiana may be the one eggplant dish that most people are familiar with.  It’s usually prepared by breading and frying the eggplant and then covering it with loads of tomato sauce and lots of melted cheese.  Here’s a healthier alternative. I’ve also used this recipe with sliced green tomatoes. The original recipe comes from Allrecipes.com.  This is my version:

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium eggplant, sliced into 1/2 inch rounds
  • 4 tablespoons (or less) mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs (I put a slice of bread in my mini food processor)
  • 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 1 Tablespoon grated Parmesan

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with non stick aluminum foil. Combine the bread crumbs, Italian seasoning, and parmesan in a shallow dish. Coat each slice of eggplant on both sides with mayonnaise. Press into the bread crumbs to coat.

Brushing and breading on both sides can get a little messy but I figured out a neater method. Lay the eggplant slices on a cutting board and brush them with the mayonnaise on one side.  Flip the mayonnaise coated side of each slice into the bowl with the bread crumb mixture and press down to adhere the crumbs.  Brush mayonnaise on the top, flip the slice over with tongs and press down again.

IMG_0932[1]  IMG_0933[1]

Place coated eggplant slices on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes in the preheated oven, until golden brown. Flip slices over, and cook for an additional 15 to 20 minutes to brown the other side. I top each serving with some of my homemade marinara sauce.  So good!

IMG_0934[1] IMG_0935[1]

Eggplant and Tomato Bulgur

I found this recipe in the “Nutrition Action” newsletter published by the Centers for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).  The CSPI is a non profit organization that focuses on improving the health and safety of the U.S. food supply.

Each issue of Nutrition Action focuses on food ingredients in packaged and restaurant meals and how they affect our health.  They also throw in a few recipes using whole, fresh, ingredients and this one caught my eye.  I think you could use any kind of cooked grain or small pasta with good results (i.e. rice, quinoa, couscous).  I used kasha which is bulgur that has been toasted.  This comes together quickly so would be a good weeknight meal:

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup bulgur (or substitute one cup of another cooked grain product)
  • 3 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 small eggplant (1/2 lb.) cut into 1/2″ pieces
  • 1/2 cup no salt added crushed tomatoes (I used chopped fresh plum tomato)
  • pinch red pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup chopped basil and/or parsley leaves, chopped (I used a combination of both)

Soak the bulgur in 3/4 cup hot water for at least 10 minutes.  (Bulgur is a quick cooking grain; if you substitute something else you will want to cook your grain according to it’s own package directions.) Meanwhile in a large non-stick pan heat oil over medium high heat.  Saute the eggplant, turning occasionally for 5-8 minutes until it browns on 2 or 3 sides.  Stir in the tomatoes and red pepper flakes.  Simmer an additional 3-5 minutes until the eggplant is tender. Stir in the bulgur and cook until any liquid is absorbed, 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in the herbs.  Season with salt if desired. This serves 4 people; 180 calories per serving.

You could serve this as a side dish; I added chickpeas to make it a complete meatless meal.

IMG_0921[1]

Hope these recipe will inspire you to try this underappreciated vegetable.

 

You Can Beet This

I’m always surprised by people who say they don’t like beets.  I enjoy them in all forms; pickled, roasted, steamed, etc. I planted two different varieties in the garden this year and since I remembered to thin them, they did pretty good. Here’s a portion of my harvest.

IMG_0881[1]

Now that they are out of the ground I need to do something with them! (I’ll get to those eggplants next time…)

  • Red Salad
  • Quick Pickled Beets
  • Chilled Beet Soup

Red Salad

Thank you to my friend Peg for pointing me in the direction of Fergus Henderson’s Red Salad.  Now I can add “raw” to the list of ways I enjoy beets. This recipe combines beets, red cabbage, and red onion in a refreshing and elegant presentation. You must go read the instructions because Fergus has an interesting way with words.

While Mr. Henderson’s language is very descriptive he’s not very precise when it comes to measurements.  I used about 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar and 2 tablespoons of walnut oil (in place of the olive oil) in the dressing. I didn’t use the crème fraiche because:

a. Where the heck am I going to find it?

b. Crème = cream = saturated fat!

Instead I complemented my salad with a scoop of vegan cream cheese.  You could use fat free yogurt, sour cream, or even some soft goat cheese if you are not avoiding dairy products. Fresh chervil is also hard to locate in this area; my herbs on the side are tarragon and parsley.

IMG_0893[1]      IMG_0892[1]

P.S. – When you are working with beets you are going to make a mess.  Just sayin’.

Beet Soup

I made a warm beet soup for Valentine’s Day this year but since it is summer I thought I would experiment with a chilled version.  I found this recipe for “Chilled Beet Soup with Buttermilk and Dill” at Epicurious. It’s a  soup that’s traditional to Poland.  I love that it uses the beet greens.

To save a step or two (and a pot or two – I hate doing dishes) I peeled, sliced, and steamed my beets. After 15 minutes I placed the chopped beet greens on top of the beets and steamed an additional 5 minutes or so until the beets were soft and the greens were wilted. I chopped the mixture in the saucepan with this handy utensil and added the remaining ingredients.

IMG_0901[1]

I don’t eat dairy products so I used cashew milk and a tablespoon of white vinegar to replace the buttermilk and skipped the sour cream entirely.  Please note – if you use the full amount of pickle brine plus the pickle this soup has over 600 milligrams of sodium per serving.  That’s almost half of what most Americans should have in a full day.  You can cut back on the pickle brine as I did, or just make sure to watch your sodium for the rest of the day.

Quick Pickled Beets

I don’t do any large scale pickling or canning but I wanted to turn some of my beets into a pickle that would keep for a while.  I found this recipe at simplyrecipes.com.

The recipe offers two different methods for preparing beets; either roasting or boiling. I preferred to steam them as I did with the soup recipe.

Here are my pickled beets.  They are going to make a nice addition to salads and relish trays if I can keep them out of my husband’s clutches this week. The pale ones are from a pretty candy cane striped beet variety that I planted.

IMG_0894[1]   IMG_0896[1]

I hope you will give these recipes a try and let me know what you think!