Kale salad with warm maple dressing (3-4 servings)

Kale is the James Franco of salad greens. First of all, both kale and James Franco began their careers with a small but dedicated underground following and later enjoyed a quick rise to fame. Public interest in both peaked about a year ago, although both continue to have a ubiquitous presence on Pinterest. (In fact, did you know that at any given time, the number of pinned James Franco selfies equals the exact number of pinned recipes for kale chips?*) Finally, like actor/writer/student/artist/director/mime/seamstress/Senator James Franco, kale can do just about anything. Whether you boil it, bake it, juice it, braise it, roast it, or serve it raw, kale can stand up to the pressure of your demands and come out the other side looking great.

Like James Franco, kale's merit is often overlooked because of its pretentious attitude and tendency to snap at interviewers.

This salad showcases raw kale's crispy yet supple texture, balancing its slightly bitter taste with a light, sweet dressing. It's perfect for a fall supper -- filling and healthy and infused with the autumnal flavors of maple and smoke. It's easy to put together on a weeknight. The original recipe calls for spinach, but I hate wilted, slimy spinach. Kale holds up well to the warm dressing and keeps nicely for leftovers the next day, providing you keep the toppings separate from the rest of the salad.

You will need:

  • 1 bunch kale (I prefer Lacinato/dinosaur kale because it's easiest to wash), de-stemmed (watch a tutorial here), rinsed, patted dry, and torn into bite-sized pieces 
  • 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp pure maple syrup (I don't want to hear about any of this Mrs. Fancypants' Pancake-Flavored Syrup Concoction, people. Only the real stuff will do.)
  • dash of onion powder
  • salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp chopped pecans, toasted
  • 1/8 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes without oil (if you can find the smoked variety, your salad will improve tenfold)
  • 1/4 cup shredded or diced smoked cheese (Whole Foods' perpetually helpful vendeur de fromage suggested a lovely naturally-smoked Gouda)

Steps:

  1. After your kale is de-stemmed, rinsed, dried, and torn, toss it into a big serving bowl and give it a massage. (No, really! Squeeze and knead the leaves a couple times to break them down and make them less bitter.)
  2. Pour the vinegar, oil, maple syrup, onion powder, and salt and pepper into a microwaveable mug or measuring cup. Microwave it in 30-second increments until it's warm but not super hot. Stir the dressing with a fork or small whisk until it's basically uniform, but don't worry too much if you can't get it all mixed together.
  3. Pour about half the dressing over the kale and toss to combine. If you need more dressing to cover the leaves, go ahead, but you probably won't use all of it because it's thin.
  4. Place equal portions of the kale on dinner plates and top each serving with pecans, tomatoes, and cheese. Serve immediately. 

 

*Really, really not true.

Southwestern confetti salad (6-8 servings)

Visual approximation.

Visual approximation.

I've whined about this time of year before. It's that tempting, sneaky period of time where the sun is shining, all the flowers are in bloom (Don't even get me started on Chapel Hill's slutty plants that gleefully spread their genetic material all over the damn place), and the afternoons are warm. The sunlight and heat make you want to rush to the farmers' market and scoop up all your summer favorites, like corn on the cob and juicy tomatoes. However, even though you feel like it's summer, it isn't, which means there aren't many local fruits and veggies quite yet. Spring is such a tease that way.

So this is the ideal time of year for "summer preview" recipes  -- ones you can make with pantry ingredients for now and then make again with local produce in the summer. Today's offering is based on this Epicurious recipe, although I changed the Mediterranean flavors to more of a Southwest theme. 

You will need:

  • 3 cups corn kernels
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 14-16 oz frozen or canned legumes (I used frozen butter peas, but I'm sure black-eyed peas or black beans would be lovely)
  • 2 cups green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 avocado

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/8 cup red wine vinegar
  • a splash of lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 a chipotle pepper in adobo, minced 
  • 1/4 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 Tbsp chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp salt (smoked salt, if you have it)

Steps:

  1. Mix all the dressing ingredients in a jar or small bowl. Set aside.
  2. Place the corn and tomatoes in a large serving bowl.
  3. If you're using canned beans, drain and rinse them, and then add them to the corn and tomatoes. If you're using frozen beans, cook them according to package directions, using the low end of the time recommended. (You don't want them to get mushy!) Drain and rinse in cold water and add to corn and tomatoes.
  4. Blanch the green beans for a minute or two -- just until they're bright green. Drain and rinse in cold water; add to corn, tomatoes, and beans. (If you're boiling frozen beans, add the green beans to the water for the last two minutes and then drain along with the beans.)
  5. Give the dressing a final shake or stir and drizzle it over the veggies. Toss gently. Taste for salt; add some cracked black pepper if desired.
  6. Once the mixture is seasoned to your liking, cut the avocado into chunks and add it to the mixture. Toss gently once more. Store salad in the fridge for a few hours before serving.

I can't wait to make this again with fresh ingredients in a few more months! Feel free to change up the veggies; bell pepper would be delicious (if your insides are braver than mine) and I'd imagine chopped carrots could add flavor and crunch.

Warm Greek lentil salad with feta and dill (4 servings)

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I mentioned in my last post that spring is a great time for dinner salads, and this is another great one.  This recipe again comes from Jack Bishop's seasonal cookbook, and I made only a few changes to it.  I just left out the radishes, used less feta, added some cherry tomatoes, and substituted baby arugula for mesclun.  To be honest, I'm not even 100% sure what mesclun is, but the name sounded clunky and I couldn't find it in the grocery store anyway.  (I think it's similar to spring mix.)

You will need:

  • 1 1/4 cups dried green lentils, rinsed and picked over
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly crushed
  • 3 medium carrots, peeled and finely diced
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 medium celery stalk, finely diced
  • 1 Tbsp dried dill
  • a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 8 cups packed arugula or other spring salad greens
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

Steps:

  1. Bring the lentils and garlic cloves to a boil in about 6 cups of water in a large saucepan over medium-high heat.  Then, reduce the heat and simmer briskly with the lid askew for 15 minutes.
  2. Add in 1 tsp salt and the carrots and continue cooking for for about 10 minutes, or until the carrots and lentils are tender but not too soft.  Drain, discarding the garlic.
  3. Meanwhile, whisk the oil, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt together in a bowl.  (Or put it all in a screw-lid container and shake.)
  4. Place the drained lentils and carrots, the celery, dill, and cherry tomatoes in a large bowl.  Pour the dressing over this mixture and toss to coat evenly.  Add salt and pepper to taste, and allow the mixture to cool for about 10 minutes.
  5. Divide the arugula between four plates.  Spoon the lentil salad over top and sprinkle each plate with about 1/8 cup of feta.  Serve immediately.

This was a refreshing and filling dinner salad.  I liked the contrast between the soft, cooked lentils and carrots and the crunchy, raw celery.  The lemon offers a tangy brightness while the feta is creamy and salty.  The leftovers were great on their own the next day, and I assume they'd be delicious over rice or couscous, too.  I don't think serving the mixture warm is necessary, so I'd guess this could be prepared several hours ahead of time and served at room temperature.

Chickpea patties over spring greens (2 servings)

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Spring is a great time for plopping various things on top of a pile of edible leaves and calling it dinner.  Even if that doesn't sound especially appetizing, you've got to admit it's convenient.  (Plus it is appetizing, too.)  This particular recipe comes from Jack Bishop's book, and it's easy, nutritious, and filling.  I halved the original recipe, so if you want four servings, just double what follows below.

You will need:

  • 15-oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup packed fresh parsley leaves
  • 1 medium garlic clove, peeled
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 Tbsp fresh lemon juice, divided
  • all-purpose flour
  • 3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil, in 3 portions
  • 4 cups packed arugula or spinach (baby or regular)

Steps:

  1. Place the chickpeas, parsley, garlic, cumin, red pepper flakes, and 1/2 Tbsp lemon juice in a food processor.  Process, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until smooth.
  2. Transfer the mixture into a medium bowl and stir in the flour, one Tbsp at a time, until the mixture holds together.  (I think I needed about 2 Tbsp of flour.)  Add a pinch of salt and shape the mixture into four 3-inch patties.
  3. Heat 1 Tbsp oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat.  Add the chickpea patties and cook until golden brown on the first side (about 4 min).  Carefully turn the patties and drizzle the remaining Tbsp oil around the edges of the pan.  Continue cooking until the patties are golden brown on the second side (about 3 min).
  4. While the second side is browning, place the arugula or spinach in a medium bowl, drizzle with the final 1 Tbsp oil and 1 Tbsp lemon juice, plus a pinch of salt and some black pepper.  Toss the lettuce until it's evenly coated, and then divide the leaves between two plates.
  5. Transfer 2 of the cooked patties to each plate and serve immediately.

I really don't have any special instructions for this one, as it's pretty straightforward.  Bryan and I really enjoy this one, especially on warm days where we don't want anything too heavy.

Spiced pumpkin, lentil, and goat cheese salad (3 servings)

Today was one of the first days that really felt like autumn. The afternoon air was crisp, and while the sun was warm, I felt cold in the shade. Bryan and I took a short walk and kicked around in the leaves for a bit. It's not quite cool enough for soup yet, but it's time to welcome in the flavors of fall, for sure. This recipe comes from the always-fabulous Epicurious.com.

You will need:

  • Scant 1/2 cup French green lentils
  • 3 cups 1-inch pieces of butternut squash (from a one-pound whole squash)
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp hot smoked Spanish paprika
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 3 cups baby arugula or baby spinach (or combination thereof)
  • 1/2 cup soft goat cheese, crumbled
  • 1/8 cup thinly sliced mint leaves (I left it out)
  • 1/2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar

Steps:

  1. Boil lentils for 25-30 minutes, or until they're tender but firm. Drain and rinse under cold water and set aside. (You can do this a few hours or even a day ahead of time. You can always use leftover plain lentils, too.)
  2. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Place the squash cubes in a small bowl and toss them with 1 Tbsp of the oil, the cumin, paprika, and salt. Stir to coat. (Rinse the bowl and save it for a little later.) Place on a baking sheet in a single layer and roast 20 minutes. Stir and toast another 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool.
  3. While you're waiting, arrange the arugula/spinach on three plates and top with the lentils. When the squash is cool (or even still a little warm), place it in a bowl along with any oil saved from the roasting pan, plus half the goat cheese, the mint, vinegar, and the remaining 1/2 Tbsp oil. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.
  4. Divide among plates and top with remaining goat cheese.

When I first saw this recipe, I was intrigued by the combination of flavors, and I wasn't quite sure how it would turn out. I was also interested to see how Bryan, who thinks he doesn't like any kind of squash, would react to it. I worried a bit about finding some of the ingredients; luckily, the Herb Shop stand at Central Market sells hot smoked Spanish paprika, and the other stands at market were able to provide me with the other ingredients. Gotta love Market.

It turned out the mixture of flavors was a good one. The squash was sweet and mellow, while the paprika and cumin provided a smoky, spicy background. The peppery arugula was perfect, and the lentils added nice texture. Next time I might add some pecans for crunch; the only unfortunate part about this recipe was that my squash got too mushy in the oven. The goat cheese brought everything together, both as a physical binder and a flavor complement. I wish I had had some mint, but I stupidly cut back my mint plants yesterday and didn't keep any of the leaves. I'm sure it would add another intriguing flavor layer!

Going back to the goat cheese for a minute, if you still haven't tried it, you really need to. And if you're one of those people who thinks that milk from a goat is somehow weirder than milk from a cow, it's time to get past your preconceptions. Goat cheese is one of my favorite things on the planet, and it's incredible versatile. Now, if you live in Lancaster and already appreciate goat cheese, you must check out Linden Dale Farms at Central Market. I've never had anything like it. The lady who runs the stand can tell you exactly when the cheese was made and probably even the name of the goat it came from. Incredible stuff.

I served this with Smitten Kitchen's incredible jalapeno-cheddar scones. Deb continues to impress me with her recipes, and her site has now become my very favorite food blog.