Kale, apple, and pomegranate salad with spicy maple pecans (4+ servings)

I have a pal who thinks she hates kale, once describing it as tasting like shattered dreams. Every time she pronounces "kale," she spits the word out of her mouth with disgust, wrinkling her nose and glaring at me with disapproval.

(If looks could kale.)

And no, before you criticize, I'm not a kale chauvinist; I mean I love it, but I'm not one to get in your face about it. It's healthy, satisfying, and versatile, and it makes me happy. It's my kale-iwick, you might say. 

(I also enjoy terrible puns.)

But I'd like to think that this salad could turn even my dubious pal into a fan. It's topped with tangy cranberries, sweet apples, salty feta, and toasty-spicy pecans, so what's not to like? The kale is only a conduit for those embellishments anyway.

So this one goes out to my skeptical friend. Give it a shot and tell me what you think. Then kale me... maybe? 

Click here for printable version.

Adapted from VegetarianTimes.com

You will need:

Spicy maple pecans

  • 1/2 cup pecan pieces
  • 1 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 2 tsp olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground chipotle or cayenne pepper to taste

Vinaigrette (Note: I like my salads lightly dressed, so you might find you need more vinaigrette than I prefer. You can always double the quantities below and then save any remaining dressing for another purpose later.)

  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • a dash of onion powder
  • salt and pepper to taste

Salad

  • 1 12-oz. bunch curly kale, washed, de-stemmed, and chopped
  • 1 large firm apple, cored and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
  • 1/3 cup crumbled feta cheese (If you live in the Triangle and can get some of Prodigal Farms' goat feta, I highly recommend it!)

Steps

  1. First, make the pecans so they have a bit of time to cool. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Toss pecans in a small bowl with syrup, oil, salt, and chipotle or cayenne (or hot sauce, even). Spread the pecans on a foil-lined baking sheet and bake for about 12 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the pecans smell good and toasty. Set aside to cool.
  2. Use a small jar to shake up the vinaigrette ingredients. Take it easy on the salt since the feta will make the salad salty on its own. Set the vinaigrette aside.
  3. Place kale in a large serving bowl. Drizzle the vinaigrette over top and use your hands to massage (yes, kale likes to be pampered) the dressing into the greens briefly. Then add the apple, pomegranate seeds, feta, and pecans and toss gently to combine.

This salad keeps well in the fridge for a couple days!

Warm lentil salad with grapes, cheese, and mint (4 servings)

Unusual flavor combinations are both arresting and intriguing. They make me stop and think, "Hmm, now how would those things taste together?" This recipe from Vegetarian Times is a perfect example, since it features grapes, mustard, lentils, nuts, cheese, and mint. I like all those things separately, but I wasn't sure how they'd get along together. One way I break down a strange list of ingredients is to try to pair or group elements from the recipe, thinking about how two or three ingredients harmonize. In this case, I figured the earthy depth of the lentils and mustard would pair well and then be offset by the sweetness of the mint and grapes, which would, in turn, be balanced by the richness of the nuts and cheese. Texture is another factor to consider, and this combination of ingredients runs the gamut from soft (cheese) to crunchy (pecans) to juicy (grapes). See? It isn't that scary!

I'm already looking for an excuse to make this one again and bring it to a picnic or potluck. It's versatile (I swapped the feta for bleu cheese and the pistachios for pecans) and easy to transport (it could be served warm or even cool). Bryan and I had this last night as our main dish, but it would also work well as a side dish alongside grilled tofu or pasta. If you're willing to take a little risk with something new and unusual, I think you'll love it!

You will need:

  • 2/3 cup dried brown lentils, picked through and rinsed
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp whole-grain mustard
  • 1 1/2 cups red grapes, halved
  • 1/4 cup chopped, toasted pecans (or roasted pistachios)
  • 3 Tbsp finely chopped mint
  • 1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese (or feta)

Steps:

  1. Bring lentils and 1 1/3 cup water to a boil in a small pan. Reduce to a simmer and cook with the lid vented for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, pour the oil and vinegar into a small jar or container with a lid; add in the onion powder and mustard, too. Shake (shake, shake your moneymaker) and set aside.
  3. Once the lentils are cooked, transfer them to a serving bowl. To the same bowl, add the grapes, pecans, mint, and cheese, and then pour the dressing over. Toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and then serve the salad warm or cool.

I hope the leftovers are just as tasty for lunch today!

Coconut lentils and Brazilian rice (4-6 servings)

If I could design my dream job, I would be a Leftover Efficiency Expert/Canine Snuggler. Clients would call me to ask what they could make with, say, half a can of black beans, a stray butternut squash, and a lonely lime, and I would help them put together a killer recipe that showcases the flavors of their leftovers without wasting food. Then said clients would compensate me by allowing me to play and snuggle with their dogs. Of course, this job would exist in a magical realm where money is a useless commodity and dander allergies are nonexistent.

Unfortunately, this cruel world demands we have legitimate jobs to make money so we can buy things and pay our rent. And dogs insist on having fur, and landlords prevent tenants from owning pets. So until those things change, I'll continue making cheap and interesting recipes that distract me from my lack of dog. 

Today's offering was inspired by an unused tomato and a bag of unsweetened coconut flakes. (Doesn't every great tale of adventure begin thusly?) Truth be told, I'd had the recipe for Vegetarian Times' coconut lentils bookmarked for a couple weeks. When I was finally ready to make it, I did some research to find a Brazilian-style side dish, and found Food.com's Brazilian rice recipe, which serendipitously required a tomato!

Lentils are so versatile and satisfying. They're loved all over the place -- India, France, Egypt, Brazil -- and pack a great protein punch. This particular rendition enhances lentils' earthiness with savory spices and subtle, fruity sweetness from raisins. The crunchy, toasty coconut flakes are the crowning feature. The accompanying rice dish is light and simple with its bright tomato and bold garlic. For both the lentils and the rice, I used onion powder instead of chopped onion because of my IBS, but feel free to use fresh onion if you can handle it!

Gluten-free coconut lentils

You will need:

  • 1/4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes, lightly toasted
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil 
  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground allspice
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry green lentils, picked through and rinsed
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 2 tsp lime juice

Steps:

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan (one with a lid -- you'll need it later) over medium heat. Once oil is warm, sprinkle in the onion powder, ginger, turmeric, and allspice; sauté until the spices are fragrant -- about 30 seconds. Next, add the tomato paste to the pan and sauté another 30 seconds. Add a cup of water to deglaze the pan.
  2. Add the lentils and raisins to the pan, along with 2 more cups of water. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce to medium-low heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Uncover and simmer 10-15 minutes, or until the lentils are tender.
  3. Stir in the lime juice and season the mixture with salt and pepper to taste. Garnish each portion with a sprinkle of toasted coconut and serve.

Brazilian rice

You will need: 

  • 1 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 garlic clove, minced 
  • 1 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 cup dry long-grain white rice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • ground black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups vegetable broth

Steps:

  1. Warm the oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add in the onion powder and minced garlic, and sauté until the garlic is fragrant but not browned. 
  2. Add in the chopped tomato, rice, salt and pepper, and broth. Increase heat to bring to a boil; then, lower heat to a simmer, cover, and allow to cook for 15-20 minutes, or until the rice is softened. Serve alongside the lentils.

This is a tasty, simple recipe that's good to bookmark for visiting relatives. It's the type of dish that will impress your mother and make her feel exotic and audacious while you know the ingredients are readily accessible and you didn't go to any trouble. But you can smile at her compliments and say it's a much-loved, traditional Brazilian recipe, and she'll wonder how you grew up so quickly and figured out how to make tropical dishes with such flair. And maybe she'll be so impressed that she'll call your landlord and convince him to reverse his no-pet policy, and then she'll buy you a Havanese puppy.

Hey, a girl can dream.

Baby bok choy and tofu in marmalade sauce (4 servings)

bok+choy.JPG

According to the April/May 2012 issue of Vegetarian Times, "High temperatures and constant stirring are the secrets to great spring stir-fries." I know I'm a few months late testing out this claim, but it's definitely true, and it applies to stir-fries in all seasons, of course. The other night, I made that issue's baby bok choy and tofu stir fry, glazing the seared ingredients with a sweet and tangy marmalade sauce. The only change I made was to use bottled ginger juice instead of the julienned fresh ginger the recipe suggested, and I did so only for convenience. 

You will need:

Sauce

  • 1/4 cup orange marmalade
  • 2 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce
  • 1 tsp cornstarch
  • 1-2 tsp ginger juice
  • 2 Tbsp warm water

Stir-fry

  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thickly sliced
  • 2 8-oz packages plain or Asian-flavored baked tofu, drained of package marinade and cubed
  • 4-6 dried hot red chiles or 1/4 tsp red pepper flakes 
  • 1 lb baby bok choy, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces and well-rinsed (I chop and then rinse because I think it's easier to get the grit out that way)
  • 1/3 cup roasted unsalted cashews

Steps:

  1. Whisk the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and set aside.
  2. Heat wok or large rimmed skillet over high heat. When it's hot, add the oil and garlic, stirring constantly for a minute or two. (Don't let the garlic burn, or you'll have to start over.)
  3. Add tofu cubes and chiles; stir-fry 3 minutes, or until the tofu starts to brown. 
  4. Add the bok choy and stir-fry 2-3 minutes, or until the leaves are beginning to wilt.
  5. Stir in the sauce and continue to look another 2 minutes, or until the sauce is warmed through and the stir-fry is enveloped in a shiny glaze. Stir in cashews and serve immediately, preferably over rice.

As with many Asian-style recipes, the prep work takes more time than the cooking itself, but even there, the prep is easy. Baked tofu saves you the time of pressing, draining, and marinating regular tofu. For this recipe, I tried Wildwood Teriyaki, which was lovely. It was flavorful without being assertively so, and it wasn't salty or tough. I liked the way the tofu held its shape, despite my enthusiastic stirring and the heat. 

When I make this again, I'll probably double the sauce, since I'm a sauce-loving type of girl. As is, the recipe made just enough to coat the tofu and bok choy, but I'd prefer a little extra that can seep down into the rice in my bowl! I'd also try a different heat factor, as the Aji Limo Rojo chiles (yes, I know they're Peruvian and don't really belong in this dish) weren't noticeable in the final product at all. I don't know if they're old or if I need to slice them open or what, but they really didn't add anything to the dish. I might just use red pepper flakes next time. If you're a Sriracha fan (not me!), this would be a great recipe to use it in!

Tomato and nectarine salad (8 servings)

tomatonectarine.jpg

Last month, I attempted a tomato-peach combination that failed, but I said I wasn't ready to give up. When I opened the September issue of Vegetarian Times and saw a recipe for heirloom tomato and nectarine salad, I knew I had another excuse to try. After all, a peach and a nectarine are practically the same thing, right? And although the VT recipe was for a side dish instead of a main course, it still featured the sunshiny, acidic-sweet combination I was hoping for with the peach-tomato sauce, and it still spotlighted ripe, juicy, in-season ingredients.

You will need:

  • 2 1/2 lbs tomatoes (heirloom or not; beefsteak, cherry, or a combination thereof), cored and cut into 3/4-inch pieces
  • 1 1/2 lbs nectarines, peeled (I didn't peel them because I'm lazy) and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 8 green onions, white and light green parts thinly sliced (I omitted them)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3 Tbsp orange juice
  • 3 Tbsp mild vinegar (the original recipe suggests sherry but I used rice)
  • 2 tsp maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp soy sauce
  • 1/4 - 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup mint and basil leaves, roughly chopped

Steps:

  1. Put tomatoes and nectarines in a serving bowl. Add green onions, if using.
  2. Add remaining ingredients (minus mint and basil) to a measuring cup or jar with lid. Stir or shake until thoroughly mixed. Pour over tomatoes and nectarines; add mint and basil and toss until combined. Taste for seasoning and add more salt if needed.

Look at those colors! I don't think there's anything more summery than fiery reds, sunny oranges and yellows, and flecks of lush greens. I promise it tastes just as delicious as it looks!