Mixed citrus salad with feta and mint (~4 servings)

I know I've said this before, but every damn smittenkitchen recipe I make is fabulous. Deb is some sort of culinary sorceress; each recipe comes out perfectly seasoned and intensely flavorful. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've never been let down by any of her creations. Now if only I could replicate her photography skills...

Here in Durham, the last two days' weather has been the meteorological equivalent of a cold, soggy sponge abandoned in the kitchen sink by an inconsiderate roommate. Days like this beg for happy, invigorating recipes like this one. Its vivid colors and succulent flavors are like optimism on a fork. They'll have you longing for sunnier days, warmer temperatures, and carefree afternoons with friends.

Then, perhaps, you'll remember pollen allergies. And mosquitoes. And sunburns. And stifling Carolina humidity. And sweaty thighs singed by car vinyl. And sinus headaches just ahead of summer thunderstorms.

You decide that maybe, for now, you're content with summery recipes and can wait on the other junk.

You will need:

  • 2 scallions
  • 4 pieces of citrus (I used a ruby red grapefruit, one blood orange, a navel orange, and a tangelo)
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tsp smooth Dijon mustard (Read the label carefully if you're going for gluten-free)
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • ~3 Tbsp crumbled feta cheese
  • a handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped or slivered

Steps:

  1. Thinly slice the green parts of the scallions into the bottom of a tall bowl. (I used my herb scissors for this step and for slivering the mint later on. Thanks, Mom!) Place a strainer or colander over the bowl.
  2. Next, you want to cut the peel off each piece of fruit and then slice it horizontally into 1/4"-thick wheels. The goal is to cut the white pith off (Oh, you pith off!) to avoid any bitterness. (Honestly, the best way to explain the cutting method is to provide this video, which illustrates the process beautifully. Pluck out any seeds as you go.)
  3. Place the slices of fruit in the strainer, which is now resting over the scallion bowl. The acidity from the juice will mellow the scallions. Allow them to drain a few minutes while you clean up your cutting board and find a shallow serving dish.
  4. Spread the citrus wheels out on the dish, overlapping the pieces as necessary. Use a fork or slotted spoon to fish the scallion slices out of the bowl; scatter them on top of the fruit, leaving the citrus juice behind in the bowl.
  5. Add the lemon juice, Dijon, and olive oil to the citrus juice in the bowl. Add a bit of salt and pepper. Whisk well.
  6. Drizzle the dressing over the fruit, then sprinkle with crumbled feta and chopped mint. Serve chilled.

This is a true appetizer: one that whets the palate without weighing it down with anything fried, bloomed, or stuffed. (Not that there's anything wrong with fried, bloomed, or stuffed, but there's a time and place for everything, you know.)

Greek-inspired chickpea salad (4+ servings)

On the past couple Sundays, I've made up a big batch of something that can be stored in the fridge and warmed up for last-minute lunches during the week. One week it was a green bean and pasta salad, another week I made Mexican quinoa salad, and this week, I came up with a lower-carb version of this pasta salad. Filled with lemony brightness and hearty chickpeas, it's satisfying, healthy, and adaptable. It's another great dish to make this time of year, since the weather is warm but not much is growing just yet; in a few months, I'll be able to make it again with local produce! 

You will need:

  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 2 cups cut green beans (thawed if frozen)
  • 2-3 cups halved cherry tomatoes or chopped plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • zest of half a lemon (or more, if you like it really lemony!)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • salt and pepper

Steps:

  1. Heat 1 Tbsp of the oil in a rimmed skillet over medium heat. Once warm, add the chickpeas and cook, shaking the pan frequently, until chickpeas start to brown. (Shaking the pan keeps the chickpeas from becoming overly comfortable in their new home and celebrating by jumping up in the air and splattering oil all over the stovetop you just cleaned an hour earlier. ...Cocky little garbanzo bastards.)
  2. Add the garlic to the pan; cook and shake the pan for another minute. Transfer chickpeas and garlic to a large serving bowl.
  3. Add the remaining oil to the pan over medium heat. Add the green beans and cook for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the beans are just tender. Transfer them to the serving bowl.
  4. Add the tomatoes, mint leaves, oregano, lemon zest, and feta to the serving bowl. Toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or chilled.

In hotter months (and they'll be here before we know it), this could easily be made with un-toasted chickpeas and raw green beans for a speedy meal that requires no heat from the stove!

Portobello and pineapple-teriyaki burgers (4 servings)

Tell me those aren't the sexiest tan lines you've ever seen.

"The Sound of Sunshine," by Michael Franti & Spearhead, defines the auditory and visual sensations of warmer weather -- crashing ocean waves and friends chatting on the sand as the sun beats down from above. This Whole Foods recipe, on the other hand, epitomizes the tastes of summer in the candy-like sweetness of pineapple and the toasted earthiness of mushrooms made juicy by the grill. It's like a ray of sunshine for dinner. And who doesn't need that right now? This vegan, gluten-free-optional meal takes a little while to come together because of the time needed to marinate the mushrooms and pineapple, but the cooking step is a snap. Serve these burgers with a colorful bean salad and you've got a healthy, tasty preview of the coming summer!

You will need:

  • 4 portobello mushroom caps
  • 1-20 oz can pineapple rings in juice
  • 3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce (use tamari or coconut aminos for the GF option)
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup or brown sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • Lettuce (optional)
  • Buns (We used toasted pretzel rolls, but you could use hamburger buns, Hawaiian sweet rolls, or gluten-free buns)

Steps:

  1. Wipe off the mushroom caps with a damp paper towel. Use a spoon to scrape out the gills; pop out the stems. Place the mushroom caps in a wide, shallow baking dish. Add the pineapple rings to the dish, reserving the juice for the next step.
  2. Next, make the marinade. Combine 3/4 cup reserved pineapple juice with the soy sauce, maple syrup, garlic, ginger, and sesame oil; whisk ingredients until smooth. (I zapped the mixture in the microwave for 15-20 seconds to make the maple syrup easier to mix in.) Pour the marinade over the mushrooms and pineapple rings; cover and set aside, turning occasionally, for 1-2 hours.
  3. After the marinating time, heat a grill, grill pan, or electric griddle to medium-high and oil the grill surface. While it's heating up, remove the mushrooms and pineapple from the marinade and set aside. Transfer the marinade liquid to a microwave-safe bowl and cook for a minute or two, checking frequently, until the liquid has reduced. Alternately, boil the liquid in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it's thickened. (This will be your glaze.)
  4. Grill mushrooms and pineapple for 4-6 minutes, gently turning them once after basting with the glaze. The mushrooms won't get very grill-striped, but the pineapple rings will develop gorgeous caramel-colored ribbons as the sugars break down.
  5. Place mushrooms on buns, top with pineapple (and lettuce, if desired), and another coating of glaze.

Bring on the sunshine, please!

Pineapple-jícama salad (4+ servings)

Guess what? Spring is finally here. Let's celebrate with some sunny side-dish sweetness! (Hands up if you love alliteration!)

Jícama is still relatively new to me, although this isn't the first recipe I've posted that uses it. In case you aren't already familiar with it, jícama is a Mexican root vegetable with the crunch of a raw potato and the wateriness of a water chestnut.  Its snap and subtle sweetness make it a great partner for super-sweet, juicy pineapple.

This particular recipe comes from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and the only change I made was to increase the amount of pineapple. It makes a great companion to Mexican food (I served beside pineapple-black bean enchiladas). The mint is cool and refreshing, while the chile is hot and invigorating. The sweetness balances everything out, and the dish itself is very quick to put together. Plus, the colors are gorgeous! I'll definitely keep this recipe handy for summer nights when I don't feel like using the heat of the stove.

You will need:

  • 1 medium jícama, peeled and chopped into bite-sized pieces
  • 2 cups chopped fresh pineapple (It's definitely worth it to use fresh over canned here)
  • 2 Tbsp lime juice
  • half a jalapeño, chopped into big pieces for background heat (my preference) or diced for more aggressive, every-bite heat
  • 1/4 cup chopped mint leaves
  • pinch salt
  • sprinkle of onion powder (or you can use chopped scallions)

Steps:

  1. Put all ingredients into a serving bowl and toss gently to combine.

I can't wait to take this to a potluck or picnic sometime this season! It keeps nicely in the fridge; in fact, I think the heat and sweetness increased after a day or two.

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

arugula%2Bpasta.jpg

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!