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.

Pasta with sun-dried tomatoes and arugula (2-3 servings)

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Double post today! I'm trying to make up for my lack of updates lately, I suppose. I'm looking forward to the stage in my life where I'm settled into a job and have more time to myself; this whole "new school every year of my career thus far" thing doesn't leave me with much free time. Anyway, I made this Epicurious recipe a few weeks ago, and because of a temporary lapse in food knowledge, I messed it up. (Cabernet Sauvignon is NOT white wine, Kate. Even though you had a fever of 101 in the grocery store that day, you still should know that.) I'm posting it because it wasn't a total failure, even with my mistake. The Cabernet made it fairly fruity, but I'd like to try it again with the correct wine, because I think it has the potential to be quite delicious. It's also an interesting way to use up leftover salad arugula! You could even substitute spinach for the arugula if you prefer.

You will need:

  • 6 oz dry pasta (I used penne)
  • 7.5-oz jar sun-dried tomatoes in oil, drained and chopped with 1 Tbsp oil reserved (I used a pair of kitchen shears to snip them into smallish pieces)
  • 1 garlic clove, chopped
  • 2/3 cup dry white wine
  • 4 cups baby arugula and/or spinach
  • grated Parmesan cheese for serving

Steps:

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions; when al dente, drain, reserving 1/4 cup of the cooking water. Keep warm.
  2. Meanwhile, heat reserved oil from the tomatoes in a large rimmed skillet over medium-high. Add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds, or just until fragrant. Add the chopped tomatoes and wine to the skillet. Simmer until wine reduces slightly (about 3 min).
  3. Add arugula/spinach and toss until wilted (about 1 min). Add the pasta to the skillet, along with 4 Tbsp Parmesan. Toss well. If needed, moisten the pasta with some of the cooking water. Season with salt and pepper, and serve with more Parmesan on the side.

It certainly was an easy recipe to make! I liked the richness the oil added to the dish, and as I said, I think the dish would have been ten times better if I'd followed the recipe. The red wine was just a little distracting. I'll definitely try it again sometime!

Chana masala (4+ servings)

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I exist, readers! I do! Obviously, I haven't updated in a long time (December 3rd was the last post), due mainly to job stress and general busyness. I have been cooking though! I originally made this Epicurious recipe for chana masala a couple weeks ago, and after a few tweaks, I think I've perfected it. Again, I don't usually tout the "authenticity" of a recipe on here (who gets to set the standards anyway?) but I will tell you this is damn good. Bryan eats more Indian food than I do, and he says it's as good as dishes he's had in restaurants, so that's enough to make me happy. I just like the fact that it's incredibly flavorful, low-fat, and quick to make!

You will need:

  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped (I cut it in half from root to tip, then made two root to tip slices in each half, and then cut it crosswise into thin slices)
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 15-oz cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15-oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
  • 1-2 tsp garam masala (I found it in the bulk section of Whole Foods)
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/4 minced fresh cilantro (I used about 2 Tbsp dried because that's all I had)
  • cooked basmati rice (or whichever cooked grain you prefer)

Steps:

  1. Heat the oil in a large rimmed skillet over medium. Add the onion and saute until it's golden brown (I think this was close to 20 min for me). Add the garlic and saute for another 2 min.
  2. Add the chickpeas, tomatoes, garam masala, turmeric, ginger, lemon juice, and water. Bring to a simmer and then cook over medium-low for about 10 minutes, stirring frequently. You want the mixture to be the consistency of a stew, thick and brothy.
  3. Stir in the cilantro and season with salt to taste. Serve over rice.

And there you have it! This recipe is savory, filling, and warming. I used to dislike both cumin and cilantro, but I've come around to both in the last year or so. Garam masala is a spice blend that varies by region, but most blends contain cumin, coriander, cloves, peppercorns, and star anise. I'd love to pick up some garam masala from the Savory Spice Shop in Raleigh (they grind their own whole spices) and see how the pungency increases! Don't expect this dish to be hot-spicy; it's just very flavorful, and the spices steal the show. If you haven't tried much Indian food, this is a good first step!

Roasted new potato salad with sage leaves (8-10 servings)

Side Dish Saturdays are back! From now until Christmas, I'll post a new side dish recipe every Saturday (or Sunday, if I'm lazy).

**I lied. Life got in the way.

I made this particular dish for Thanksgiving at our friends' house last week. It's a convenient side to serve around the holidays because it doesn't need to be hot. It can be served warm or at room temperature. I apologize for not taking a photo, but I was in a hurry to get out the door!

You will need:
  • 6 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1-2 Tbsp minced chives
  • 3 1/2 lbs. small, red-skinned potatoes, cut into even bite-sized pieces (I halved most of mine because they were the tiny little guys)
  • 35 fresh sage leaves (I needed less than one bunch to get this number of leaves)

Steps:
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  2. To make the dressing, mix 3 Tbsp oil with the vinegar and chives, using a whisk or shaking it up in a container with a tight lid. Season with salt and pepper; set dressing aside.
  3. Place potatoes in a large roasting pan; add in the sage leaves and remaining 3 Tbsp oil and toss to coat. Season with salt and pepper. Roast until the potatoes are browned on the outside and tender on the inside and the sage leaves are browned and crisp (25-30 minutes).
  4. Allow the potatoes to cool slightly. Crumble the sage leaves over the potatoes, rewhisk the dressing, and pour it over the sage and potatoes. Toss to coat and serve.

Putting this together is definitely not difficult. The only step I found challenging was crumbling the sage leaves. Some of them had become stuck to the potatoes, so I had to hold down the potatoes with a fork and pry the sage leaves free with a pair of tongs. I used my fingers to crumble the sage, but the oil made many of the pieces stick to me instead of the potatoes! Maybe next time I'll add a bit more sage to compensate for the pieces I'll inevitably lose to the sink after washing my hands.

On Epicurious, readers made some interesting suggestions for add-ins -- everything from garlic and rosemary to roasted red peppers and feta. I did add in a couple of diced roasted peppers from a jar, mainly just because I wanted to use them up. I liked the flavor they added, and I'd definitely keep them in next time. I think crumbled goat cheese or feta would be lovely too, but I skipped it this time, since Thanksgiving comes with enough heavy dishes already. If you don't add cheese, this dish is vegan.

Fruit salad with ginger and mint (6-8 servings)

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Sometimes fruit salads can be overly complicated, calling for exact quantities of a specific fruit and not allowing for substitutions. What if that particular fruit isn't available or doesn't look good that week? Or what if it's not in season? What I like about this recipe is that it calls for "summer fruit," which is deliciously vague and flexible. It does ask for sugar to be added to the fruit, but it isn't a whole lot of sugar, and it's really the mint and ginger that stand out. The original recipe claims it makes four servings, but I had at least six. (Perhaps that was because we all gorged ourselves on tacos before indulging in the fruit.)

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup thinly sliced ginger, unpeeled (roughly 1/4 lb)
  • 4 cups summer fruit (I used blueberries, raspberries, grapes, and plums)
  • 3 Tbsp chopped mint leaves

Steps:

  1. Add water, sugar, and ginger slices to a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Simmer the mixture for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally; remove from heat and let steep 15 minutes. Strain the syrup into a bowl or big measuring cup; discard ginger. Chill for at least two hours.
  2. When you're ready to serve the fruit salad, toss the fruit and mint with 1/4 cup syrup.

I loved all the colors of this fruit salad and the way the syrup made the berries shiny. I was afraid the fruit would be overly sweet or syrupy, but it really wasn't. The ginger and mint balance the sweetness nicely.

One note: The recipe makes WAY more ginger syrup than you'll use for the salad, and that's even after I halved the original recipe. I wanted to make even less of it, but I think that if I decreased the water any further, I wouldn't get a good boil in the saucepan (unless I had one of these). I kept the remaining syrup in the fridge, and I'm sure I'll use it to sweeten tea or something. Just don't be surprised when you don't use much of what you make!