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.

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Red Leaf and Basil Salad with Emerald Beaut and Moyer Plums and a Fig-Balsamic Vinaigrette

As I have all these Emerald Beaut plums to enjoy, I thought I’d better get on to finding other ways to enjoy them besides out of hand as a snack.

So, as a result, here is a green salad with them, some Moyer plums, which are a purple-skinned and dark amber-fleshed prune-type (the elongated kind) and some ingredients from my little herb garden around the patio.

My basil went in late this year – early June, I think – but no matter, it’s August now and it’s lush and beautiful. I planted seven kinds, which is more than I can possibly use in the kitchen, but the joy is not just in eating it, but also in sweeping my hands across it and raising a delicious cloud of scent, or bringing a bouquet to a friend to enjoy, or just looking out the kitchen window at it.

This summer I planted Genovese, ruffled, purple, cinnamon, lemon, lime, and mini-basil. Though I’d grown some of these before, the lemon, lime and cinnamon were all first-timers for me this year. I’ll pass on the lemon next spring – it smells, in an unfortunate way, like lemon furniture polish – but the lime and cinnamon are definite keepers. I didn’t plant any Thai basil this year – I couldn’t find any seed as late as I got started – and I’ll definitely trade out the purple one I grew this year for that. The Thai had a far better flavor.

Anyhow, my thinking on this dish was that the sweet plums would like the herbacious anise notes of the multiple basils’ flavor, especially the cinnamon one, and would work well when married with a sweet dressing. I took cuttings from my Genovese, ruffled, purple and cinnamon basils for this salad.

My original inspiration, actually, was this Plum Caprese salad (and I have enough plums that I still might make that) but decided to take it in a green salad direction to use the lettuce I had at hand from our CSA box.

For the dressing, I threw caution (or at least the Proposition 65 warnings) to the wind and made a vinaigrette with some 10-year-old balsamic vinegar, sweetened with Black Mission figs (from Marchini Sisters at the farmers’ market) and with a touch of cinnamon and anise to match up with the basil. If I had had a shallot or two in the house, I might have added a sauteed shallot or two, but not having any, I made an allium-less dressing for once. I did garnish the salad with some garlic chive blossoms from the garden, though. They’re tiny and cute, but they’re like that little cartoon character that knocks the big guy flat – they pack a garlicky punch.

While I was working on this, I used one of my favorite dressing-making tips I learned more than a decade ago from my friend Ana, a CIA grad who is a dressing master (mistress?): when you’re tasting dressing as you’re making it, don’t taste it on a spoon – because you won’t be eating it from a spoon, will you? Dip a lettuce leaf (or whatever green or other item you’ll be using it on) and taste it that way. That’ll tell you what your end result will actually be like, and you won’t have one of those "but it tasted great in the kitchen" moments at the table.

And when all was said and done and it was plated, Chimp gave it all an enthusiastic review. On the Chimp Scale for Dressings, he said the fig balsamic ranks even with his longtime favorite Whole Foods Red Pepper Ranch. I thought that was high praise. I usually choose the dressing flavor, as I’m the one making it, and my favorites are garlic-herb-oil mixtures, but I should probably, to be fair, set aside my love for those once in a while and indulge his preference for a sweeter dressing more often.

Continue reading “Red Leaf and Basil Salad with Emerald Beaut and Moyer Plums and a Fig-Balsamic Vinaigrette”

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.

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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.

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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!

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What You Missed at the Market

I woke up at 6:40 this morning.  Thinking I’d time my arrival at the market with the 10 a.m. Chefs at the Market demonstration (this week, Mike Shackleford of Trelio in Clovis), I took my time getting ready, installed some software on my work machine, and caught up on email.

It’ll be fine, I thought to myself.  I haven’t missed out on any items on my list lately despite having shifted from arriving at 7-something to 9-something.

Well, I knew I was taking chances, and this was the week my luck ended.  Michele was out of parsley by the time I arrived.  Being the queen of Too Much Information, I said to her, “This is what I get for taking the time to sit around and exfoliate and moisturize my feet this morning!  And I’m not even wearing sandals!”

I got Il Giardino Organico’s last bunch of parsley, and then had to hunt around for more.  I totally struck out on mint and had to go to WFM for that.

So that means back to the 7 a.m. habit for me.  It’s cooler at 7 a.m., and we’re getting into the time of year where the difference between the 7 a.m. temperature and the 9 a.m. temperature is significant.  Plus the market is less crowded then, so it’s probably for the best.

As for what’s new this week, Vince Iwo had the first Santa Rosa plums of the season. I knew they were coming on, but it’s still hard to believe we’re already up to Santa Rosa.  Plum varieties harvest for ten days to about two weeks, creating a minutely-partitioned seasonality as each one of the couple hundred in California production gives way to the next.

Stone fruit varieties don’t often stand the test of time. There are some longstanding ones, but a variety chart from even as little as 10 years ago is likely to have a fair number that are no longer grown.  Many varieties fall by the wayside as breeders develop newer ones with more positive traits – but Santa Rosa is one of those rare, enduring, standard-setting classics.

Developed by botanist Luther Burbank, the Santa Rosa is a classic sweet-tart plum – sweet yellow-amber flesh overlaid with tart purple-red skin.  If you leave them to ripen until they’re just past springy into slightly soft – which is my preference – the skin will get a little less tart and bracing.

Their sweet-tart nature makes them a great choice for jam or preserves, or for those of you who don’t mind a little plum skin in your plum crisp or pie, baking, as well. Because of their complex flavor balance, they’ll have more depth after cooking than a straight-sweet fruit will.

And here’s Vince’s banner…he made me promise I’d say where I got ’em…

As for this week’s installment of Chefs at the Market, the gents from Trelio Restaurant in Clovis were preparing a mixed green salad with cherries.

It seemed to have originally been a Salad of Duck Confit, Mixed Greens and Cherries, but luckily enough for me, the duck confit hadn’t made it to market, and they’d added shiitake mushrooms to the mix, and had made some other improvisations as well.  The nicest, I thought, was the use of chocolate mint as part of the greens in the salad – I grew it a couple years ago, and I always struggled to find ways to use it.  It made an unexpectedly wonderful match with the cherries.  There’s culinary creativity for you.

Their recipe, after the jump…

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Yellow Beans with a Chipotle Dressing

When you start looking around, it turns out that there are surprisingly few recipes for yellow beans out there.

Now, I suppose you can do all the same things to yellow beans that you might do to green beans, but if you went out nosing around just to see what was out there in the literature, so to speak, for yellow beans, if you, say, had some in your fridge as I did this week, you would find a multitude of recipes for sugary homemade versions of that nasty three-bean salad (all three beans from cans – can it legitimately be called a salad if everything comes from a can?) that I ate so much of as a teenaged vegetarian fifteen years ago because the fact that it had the occasional forlorn kidney bean included meant it was the only thing on the salad bar that had any vegetable protein to offer whatsoever.

And you would not want to recreate that palate-scarring experience at home, would you?

No, you would not.

This was a dinnertime improvisation, a little side dish to perk things up. It is, I think I can say fairly, quite perky with a whole chipotle in it.

Michelle, at K.M.K. Farms, whom I visit with at the farmer’s market on Saturdays, grows these beautiful red torpedo onions, which are perfect to go into a green bean salad, as they can be cut as long and slender as the beans themselves. I’ve also recently used them in a batch of curtido, and they were wonderful with the long shreds of cabbage as well. I keep meaning to use them in a gratin, perhaps with some zucchini also cut lengthwise, but I just haven’t had the will to turn on the oven.

But back to the beans…and some cilantro, and a little cumin and lemon juice and olive oil, and there you are.

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