What’s In the Box

After I picked up the box last night, I was too swamped with cooking and work to get to this then, so here it is on Thursday lunchtime.

We have in the box this week:

Red Roasting Potatoes (Wonder if these will be as incredibly sweet as the Yukon Golds from last week?)
Sweet 100s Cherry Tomatoes
Nakata’s August Red Nectarine (These will probably be the last nectarines I’ll eat this year. Where did the season go?)
Soghomonian’s (Three Sisters) Ribier Grapes (big, black, seedy and sweet)
Genovese Basil
Romaine Lettuce
Roma Tomatoes
Fair Hills’ Gala Apples (I’ve resigned myself to the fact that apple season is here – I don’t like it yet, but I’ve at least accepted it.)
Baby Leek (Not “leeks” but “leek” – as you can see, there’s one diminutive leek in the box. I tucked it into the bag of shallots and onions I have in the fridge because when I went to wrap it up all by itself it looked so lonely. I guess it’s because it so resembles a scallion, and both they and leeks usually come in bunches with all their friends…)
White Garlic
Italian Frying Peppers
Italian Zucchini

When I was driving over to get the box I was absolutely exhausted from the day’s several long phone calls for work. I had some dal in the fridge, but I’d already had that for lunch, and I was trying to think of what I could possibly manage to make for dinner, considering that at that moment I could hardly stand up.

Once I opened the box I was relieved to see its contents. Summer vegetables are so easy to work with. I knew I had some cooked chickpeas in the fridge – this is like having cooked chicken breasts for an omnivore, I think, in that they can go any which way. I minced some garlic, chopped up some plum tomatoes I’d gotten from Michele on Saturday, a zucchini and some basil from the box, started some water boiling, and in no time was enjoying a little tomato and zucchini stew with chickpeas over whole-wheat pasta.

“A good dinner doesn’t have to be complicated,” I thought.

Looking at what was in the box, I also decided to whip up some whole-wheat pizza dough, making another iteration, with another small change, to the food processor-kneaded recipe I’ve been working on perfecting all summer (it’s almost there, I swear). By the time I was done with dinner, feeling refreshed and had put the food away, the dough was ready to be made into crusts.

I topped the pizzas with sliced plum tomatoes and frying peppers from the box plus some onions, and a nice layer of fresh mozzarella and Dry Jack cheeses. (I had to photograph this pizza under a mix of incandescent and florescent light, which is not very flattering…I tried the “night portrait” mode on my camera too, but it made the pizza look like a deer in the headlights somehow.)

Sometimes I surprise myself. I thought I was going to come back with the box and be forced to collapse for the evening, but a little dinner and a little rest really helped. When I went to bed last night, I was feeling some of the feeling of tiredness after an active day, which is so pleasant as compared to the all-encompassing exhaustion that I constantly carry around to varying degrees. I can tell today that I pushed myself a little too much, but I’ll take it easy and hopefully I’ll stay on an even keel tomorrow.

When Chimp came home from work late in the evening, I said, “You only have two choices for dinner. I made a chickpea stew with tomatoes and zucchini, or there’s pizza.”

“Pizza?!” he said, dropping his bag and heading for the kitchen.

“I knew all you’d do was complain,” I told him.

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Radish, Cucumber, Onion & Chickpea Salad with a Lemon-Parsley Dressing

Frankly, given how often I make this, it’s hard to belive it hasn’t made it to the blog before now.

This is one of my favorite dinner salads. We make it in spring, when the first radishes appear, along with green onions and green garlic. At that time of year, it tastes like a spring tonic after a winter of cooked green vegetables. The salad gets a rest during the height of the summer when the heat is too much for radishes here, and then it returns with the fall crop. This time of year, we use mature onions and garlic, and it’s a reminder that the days are starting to gather in.

Part of my love for this salad is that it’s super-easy – if the chickpeas are already cooked, it’s just a little chopping and getting the dressing ingredients into the food processor. Sometimes I’ll toss a little cooked grain into this salad – bulghur is my favorite, but quinoa or millet or even some cold brown rice would be nice. I do that – as I’ve mentioned before – because the grain picks up the dressing nicely and also gives the salad a bit more heft and a pleasant chewiness.

We had this with Yukon Gold potatoes from our CSA box that I roasted with olive oil and tossed with lemon juice, parsley and garlic after they came out of the oven. They were the sweetest-tasting white potatoes either of us had ever had.

Continue reading “Radish, Cucumber, Onion & Chickpea Salad with a Lemon-Parsley Dressing”

Tabbouleh a la Kiki

A couple weeks ago when I ran into my friend Keith on a Saturday morning, we got talking about food – not hard to do when you’re standing in the farmers’ market with an excellent food photographer and overall foodie like him – he was headed home to make chicken with preserved lemons for some friends, with lemons he had preserved himself – and he promised me his tabouli recipe.

Now, there’s nothing earth-shattering about tabouli, right? You’ve heard of it already, right? And there are approximately 37 bajillion tabouli recipes already on the internet. So why another?

Because this is a gentle reminder that it being late summer, hot and tomato-plentiful, it’s the perfect time for tabouli right now, and because it’s even better if you can get the special Armenian cucumbers – the curly ones with the striped skins. Il Giardino Organico has these at the market. They have tons of flavor and aren’t the least bit seed-laced.

And because there is a Story.

When Chimp and I lived in Virginia, we used to throw a big annual party called the Gyroscope. It was a boozefest he’d begun before we were together, and once I came on the scene, I upgraded the food, making a whole lot of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern food, loosely interpreted. There was spanakopitakia and falafel, tabouli, and hummus, and baba ganoush, and tzaziki, mountains of pita bread and piles of olives, among other things.

We have disparate groups of friends – his were all academics and mine were all foodies – and we’d try, for one night, to meld them. A halloumi-frying station was a great unifier. One year we made everyone wear name tags on which they’d written their name and an interesting fact about themselves. That was the best mixer ever.

At any rate, getting ready for the Gyroscope necessitated a trip to Aphrodite Imports in Arlington for provisions, including a big straw-wrapped bottle of pitch-flavored Retsina wine, mostly for decoration, as it was only imbibed by the very brave (including, strangely, one very blonde, blue-eyed Long Islander friend of mine who, mysteriously, made a mean Pastitsio – Greek macaroni and cheese) or very drunk.

The last year we threw the party, I was at Aphrodite and got into a conversation with the women behind the counter on the merits of various countries’ feta cheese. With vigorous discussion, we all managed to agree that Bulgarian was our favorite, and I went on to picking out olives. One of them asked me the menu for the party, and I started rattling off the dishes I was undertaking.

When I got to tabouli, she perked up and said in an authoritative tone, "Oh, let me tell you how to make a bulghur salad. People from Syria and Lebanon call it tabouli, but we call it kisir and this is how we made it back home in Turkey." She launched into describing the recipe, then the phone rang. She went to get it.

The other woman watched her go, and when she was out of earshot, she lowered her head, leaned forward, and said to me in a conspiratorial and somewhat irritated tone, "I’m from Syria. Let me tell you the real way to make tabouli," then launched into her recipe.

I desperately hoped she’d finish her recounting before the other woman came back, or I suspected our peace accord on feta would be entirely forgotten and they would come to blows.

This cemented in my mind that the best version of anything is probably the version the person’s mother you are talking to made.

So my friend Keith (nicknamed Kiki) is Lebanese, and when he offered me his tabbouleh recipe (see, there’s not even agreement on the spelling) he didn’t badmouth anyone else’s. He just told me, "Now mine doesn’t have a whole lot of parsley in it, but that’s just the way I do it." I told him I’d be thrilled to give it a try.

He gave it to me, and it’s below, and it is awesome. But I have, along with my many fruit and vegetable Problems, an Herb Problem: too much is never enough.

As I was following along with Keith’s recipe, I chopped up the 3/8 cup of parsley, and then stood and looked at it for a moment. I hesitated. I thought about restraining myself, and following the recipe as written. Then I picked up the knife again, chopped up the rest of the mammoth bunch of parsley and tossed in in with the rest of the ingredients.

The best version is one your mom made, unless it’s the version you’ve made your own.

Continue reading “Tabbouleh a la Kiki”

Corn, Tomato and Black Bean Salad with a Lime-Chipotle Dressing

We’ve been making salad for dinner. Given the heat, we’ve been making salad for dinner a lot. Last week, for instance, we managed to not turn on the stove for five consecutive days.

It’s fair to say that I have a bit of a taco salad problem. It’s been my favorite meal for, oh, about 20 years now. The way I satisfy that ongoing jag has shifted a bit, admittedly; this is light years away from iceberg lettuce in a deep-fried white flour tortilla.

But if you share with me a love for that spicy-cool-tart-crunchy-citrusy combination – not that I’m admitting to anything, but if, let’s say, you did something on the order of driving three exits down the Beltway to hang out at a fast-food restaurant that rhymes with Paco Hell in the middle of the night in high school, but have since turned your heart toward wholesome food – this is the salad for you.

This corn, tomato and black bean salad is one that can only be born at midsummer – it needs perfectly sweet-tart tomatoes, not to mention crunchy-sweet corn. Cilantro backs up the citrusy note of the lime-based dressing, and black beans and bulghur give it the heft that a main-dish salad should have.

Sure, the black beans make sense, but the bulghur might seem out of left field, right? It has a good reason for being there. It adds what I think is an essential chewy note, something that salads often lack. The bulghur fills that textural gap and makes the whole combination much more satisfying to eat.

Continue reading “Corn, Tomato and Black Bean Salad with a Lime-Chipotle Dressing”

Baba Ganoush & The Eggplant Incident

My lack of love for eggplant has been previously mentioned herein.  Each summer, though, the tide of eggplant rises along with the other nightshades – tomatoes, peppers – and eventually, a globe or two shows up in our CSA box from T&D Willey and I must dispense with it.  This was the week.

That "previously mentioned" link above – to a recipe for Royal Eggplant with Garlic, which is a really delicious smoky roasted eggplant puree with tomatoes, onions, spices and butter – is one of my two ways of coping with eggplant.  My other coping mechanism is baba ganoush.  Load eggplant up with olive oil, tahini & lemon juice, and really, there’s no reason not to eat it. 

It’s sad that I have two eggplant recipes and a bajillion ways of using just about every other kind of produce, but they are two really good eggplant recipes.

So, not having posted my baba ganoush recipe previously, that’s where I headed on Saturday.  The heat had broken (it was going to be 104 instead of 112; that’s what we mean in Fresno when we say it’s going to be "cooler") and so I took some time before the day got really hot to roast the eggplant in the oven.

This occasion is one of those times that I think I should buy a grill to avoid heating up the house with the oven, and then Chimp reminds me that you have to cook on a grill outside.  Well, scratch that when it’s 110.

I think I could skip buying the grill entirely; just oil the eggplant up and lay it on a well-scrubbed section of patio, then go out and kick it every 30 minutes or so.  Come to think of it, why don’t I have a solar oven?  And along with that, why isn’t every roof in this town covered with solar panels?  You’d think we could make a mint.  I must be missing something.

But I’m getting off track here.

I came home from the market, washed the eggplant, and popped it in the oven to broil while I washed some shallots (for something else) to roast along with the eggplant.  I was tossing the shallots in a dish with some grapeseed oil and salt when

POOOFFfffffsssssss.

"Aha," I thought to myself, "That must be the eggplant exploding."

I opened the door.  My oven had birthed a Japanese tentacle monster.

Exploding the eggplant was not originally part of my baba ganoush recipe, but if you, like me, are tired or forgetful and omit the step of pricking the eggplant before you place it in the oven, I want you to know that this recipe has been tested with both exploded and intact eggplant on separate occasions, and both kinds work just fine.

Continue reading “Baba Ganoush & The Eggplant Incident”

Chickpea and New Potato Salad with Shallot-Mint Dressing

I’ve always been puzzled by the heaviness of most potato salads.  It’s a summertime food, but the traditional mayonnaise-laden potato salad rarely reflects the freshness, herbaciousness and lightness I think summertime foods should have.

So though this is a potato salad, it goes for balance and bright, lively flavors rather than the starchy, heavy mayonnaisey strategy.  Shallots, fresh mint, lemon zest and garlic make up the dressing, chickpeas deliver a nutty flavor, and arugula a peppery bite.

This is quite the local salad – potatoes from T&D Willey, arugula and shallots from KMK Farms, garlic also from the market, lemon zest from my stash of Meyer lemon zest prepared during the winter from fruit from a friend’s tree. 

Chickpeas & mint are from WFM, as are the quite non-local pan-toasted slices of Cyprian Halloumi cheese served with it.  If you wanted cheese as part of this salad, a great many sheep’s milk cheeses would be a great match – from crumbled milky-salty Ricotta Salata to cubes of buttery-olivey Ossau-Iraty. Wish I knew of a local sheep’s milk cheese!

Continue reading “Chickpea and New Potato Salad with Shallot-Mint Dressing”

What Happened to the World’s Cutest Little Melon

Melondispatch2I dispatched it tonight. I have a long history of violence toward melons…well at least since July 4, 2005, when I did in a watermelon. Yeah, that one there. It had it coming, let me tell you…just sitting there in the bin, all stripey-like…and when I thumped it, it made that nice round “thunk” sound. I could tell it was guilty. Guilty of juicy deliciousness. I knew then it was curtains for that melon. And not even cuteness can save your melon in my kitchen. I’m ruthless when it comes to curcubits…they can kiss their rinds goodbye.

Okay, but seriously, here’s what happened to the World’s Cutest Little Melon.

Yes, that’s right…it got creamed. It never knew what bit it – I mean hit it.

Continue reading “What Happened to the World’s Cutest Little Melon”