Cold emerald peanut-sesame noodles (4-6 servings)

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Today's recipe comes from Jack Bishop's A Year in the Vegetarian Kitchen, a wonderful resource for people who want to learn more about seasonal cooking. Most of his recipes are more on the gourmet side, but some (including this one) are more casual and simple. Basically, it's just a riff on classic cold sesame noodles but with spinach thrown in. It's a great dish to make in the summertime, since the only cooking required is boiling the noodles. He suggests topping the noodles with shallow-fried scallions, but that seemed like too much work, so I just sprinkled them (a bit heavily -- oops!) with toasted sesame seeds.

You will need:

  • 1 Tbsp salt
  • 1 lb dried Chinese (or other Asian-style) noodles
  • toasted sesame oil
  • 3 cups packed baby spinach leaves
  • 1/3 cup smooth natural peanut butter
  • 1-2 Tbsp grated fresh ginger (I used closer to 2 because Bryan and I both love it)
  • 1 Tbsp brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1/3 cup hot water
  • 3 Tbsp reduced-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 Tbsp rice vinegar (I actually used apple cider vinegar because that's all I had)

Steps:

  1. Bring a stockpot full of water to a boil; add the salt. Cook the noodles until al dente, according to package directions. Drain the noodles and rinse them under cold water to cool them off (or fan them, which works surprisingly well!); transfer the noodles to a large bowl and toss with a tablespoon or two of sesame oil to keep them from sticking together.
  2. Place the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse, scraping down the sides as necessary, until the sauce is smooth and flecked with tiny bits of spinach throughout.
  3. Pour the sauce over the noodles and toss to coat. Serve topped with toasted sesame seeds, crushed peanuts, or fried sliced scallions.

The noodles weren't quite as "emerald" as I'd hoped, but they still looked more interesting than the traditional tan-colored version. To me, one of the most impressive parts about this recipe was that the spinach blended in with the other flavors incredibly well. I was expecting the sauce to taste more "vegetable-y," which I wouldn't have minded, but Bryan probably would have. Instead, the peanut butter and ginger stood out while the spinach added nutrition and texture but stayed in the background.

One tip: When you process the sauce, make sure the spinach is at the bottom of the bowl of the food processor. I put it on top of the liquids, and it was tough to get the leaves to blend in without mashing them down with a wooden spoon!

I liked the noodles pretty cool, but Bryan preferred them room-temperature. They tasted just as great the next day as leftovers!

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.