I’ve tried very hard to resist it, but next weekend, we’ll be hosting a gathering for Rob’s family. I think I am most nervous about all the unpacking I still want to do instead of the menu!
You see, I have been learning from the master. I consulted my mom about her recommendations for feeding 10.
For salads, she suggested a leafy green salad and another heartier salad (be it bean-, grain- or vegetable-based). Only one dip for vegetables. Meat for the barbecue. In addition to fruit for dessert, add a baked good.
Sounds like a good plan, indeed.
You’d think I was the Queen of Salads, but I still want to try something new. Instead of experimenting on my guests, I decided to audition my salads.
I figured the Polish crowd would love a cucumber salad, and made a super cute cucumber ribbon salad with a ginger-lemongrass dressing. Rob liked it but it did not pass my test. It wasn’t special enough; nothing really stood out despite using interesting ingredients. Blocked. Not fit for company.
Next up, something to try-out for the bean salad. Attempt #2: Creamy Cashew Kale and Chickpeas.
Adapted from Cara’s Cravings, who based hers off of Susan’s at Fat Free Vegan, this is a deceptively decadent dish. A creamy cashew-based garlic sauce coats wilted kale speckled with sweet red bell pepper and chickpeas. I preferred it fresh and warm from the stove top, but the leftovers were great at room temperature, too.
Despite seemingly unorthodox, it tastes great. My raw kale salad was a hit with the gang last time. I really thought this could be a contender for the party.
But I am trying to limit myself to one heavier salad and I think the 11-Spice Lentil Salad with Capers and Currants wins this round. I think they will prefer the lentil salad, a bit more “normal” and with all the flavour you want. It is also more simple to prepare in advance.
This dish will have to wait until I go to my next potluck (any takers on who wants to host the next one?? I’ve claimed the salad!).
Now I am still considering what to make for dessert. I have an idea, but open to your suggestions with your favourite desserts.
What will it take to get you to make a recipe?
For me, I doddle between what I have already in my fridge, to what is on sale at the grocery store, to really wanting to make a specific dish. I waver between recipes with a lot of positive reviews, or from my favourite cookbooks and blogs, to more unique recipes with my favourite ingredients. But mostly, it is dictated by what needs to be used up in the fridge. This is why I have a hard time making recipes that are purely from pantry staples (except after returning from vacation and being welcomed by an empty fridge).
I bookmarked The Best Lentil Salad, Ever at My New Roots last year. With a name like that, from a blog that I admire, how could I not want to make it? I adore lentils, especially French du Puy lentils in salads. Then Sarah posted it a second time this spring for her stint at Martha Stewart, and her friend commented:
This salad was the reason that I became friends with Sarah way back in Nutrition School. It is so delicious and easy to make. Don’t get intimidated by the amount of ingredients. This one is a keeper (just like Sarah!)
How cute is that?
Suffice it to say, it has been on my to-do list for a while and I was just waiting for the right opportunity.
It still took me a few months to break it out, but I made it for a recent potluck I hosted. Not that my fridge was bare, but the gathering came together a bit faster than my grocery shopping allowed. Perfect timing. Experimentation with friends.
I had witnesses. We unanimously agreed this was a wonderful lentil salad! Sweet, savoury, and salty, deep and complex, warming yet refreshing… and quite addictive! I stuck with the base of the recipe, tinkering only minorly with the spices (decreased the pepper and chili flakes), and thought the capers and currants were fabulous. The ingredient list is long, with 11 different spices, but they really blend harmoniously. To be honest, I was a bit worried when I first tasted the salad, but it was much better after an overnight marinade. If you can find the French du Puy lentils, they are incredible in stand alone lentil salads such as this. But if you cannot find the French variety, do not let that impede you from making the salad – green lentils would work, too. Furthermore, in case this becomes a staple recipe in your kitchen, feel free to experiment with your favourite dried fruit, vegetables, sprouts, nuts and seeds. Personally, I loved it as is, without too much distraction, and loved editions included some chopped apple and mixed greens too.
The Best Lentil Salad, Ever. For Sure. Make. This. Now.
Nope, this is neither vegan nor free of refined sugars and flours.
But it wasn’t for me to eat.
It was a gift Rob and I made for my Dad.
This weekend, we travelled to Ottawa to celebrate his upcoming big 6-0 birthday.
Homemade gifts always appeal to me because you can taste the love in every bite.
My Dad adores baklava, but I decided to make him a different Turkish treat for his birthday. Not that he would balk at a repeat of baklava (I just gave him a batch for Father’s Day), but I wanted to try something new. There must be something wrong with me…. I can’t make the same recipe too often! Even if I don’t eat it myself, it would be too boring to prepare it a second time! Ack!
(But for some reason, I made Roasted Cauliflower with Dukkah and 15-Minute Zippy Garlic-Basil Marinara with Zucchini Noodles for everyone this weekend without problems.. AND to positive reviews).
I consulted the same Turkish cookbook, The Sultan’s Kitchen by Ozcan Ozan, for another possible dessert. I picked out a few contenders, but was fixated on the Nightingale’s Nests which as you can see, are cute nests of phyllo dough filled with walnuts and topped with pistachios and a not-too-sweet syrup. Basically all the same ingredients in baklava, just in a different shape. After watching this video, it honestly looked less tedious than baklava. I just needed to find a thick stick first.
The Turkish rolling pin, or oklava, is a rod-shape and quite thin. Ozan suggested using a dowel from the hardware store in a pinch. Rob and I got creative, though. We found an old clothes hanger with a thick base and wrapped it in wax paper. It worked like a charm!
Once you figure out the technique and have a good oklava substitute, this is easy to make. Baklava is easy, too, just tedious, especially when you layer 2 packages of phyllo dough. But dare I suggest that this looks even more remarkable than baklava? You’d think we slaved in the kitchen, but we know better than that! It is a good thing my Dad doesn’t pay much attention to my blog.
I am not sure why, but I feel the need to apologize for my overuse of mango in my recipes.
In the spring, Rob will treat himself to a case (or 2!) of Alphonso mangoes and savour each one, unadorned, possibly over top his breakfast oatmeal. The King of Mangoes does not come cheap, though. They also make Rob a mango snob.
At Sunny’s, they have 3 mangoes for a $1. They are not Alphonso, nor Ataulfo, rather the Tommy Atkins mango. I can’t help myself, though. 3 for $1!
You will notice the difference if eating the mangoes raw (they aren’t as sweet nor as creamy and luscious), and Rob has no interest in eating them for breakfast. But for me, they are a guilt-less way to cook with the mangoes.
In this meal, you have Mango Gazpacho diving into French lentils with an earthy undertone from the cinnamon and cumin, frolicking with the coriander, thyme and oregano. Joanne called it Lentil Mango Picadillo, based off of the Latin Pork Mango Picadillo, but that means nothing to me since I am a novice to Latin foods. Whatever the name, this is quick, easy and healthy. It is a lovely, light lentil salad infused with a savoury tomato-mango salsa. I loved the background of the cinnamon and the bite the French lentils imparted to the salad. Delicious, despite using Tommy Atkins mangoes.
This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, to this month’s My Legume Love Affair, hosted by Preeti, to Ricki’s new Summer Wellness Weekends and to this month’s No Croutons Required featuring lentils.
My brother and sister-in-law recently moved into their new condo. The best part, though, is that they live closer to me. I think we’ve been able to see each other more often this past month than I have during the past year.
As I said, I invited them over for dinner and giggled as I planned my menu. I nonchalantly pointed out that I didn’t want to cook in this atrocious heat so I would make tacos. I told them to come with an open mind and a hungry belly! You see, I wanted to make raw tacos.
A few weeks ago, Rob and I had a celebratory dinner at Raw Aura, where we were blown away by the food. In particular, we devoured the raw nachos which included corn chips with guacamole, cashew sour cream, fresh tomato salsa and walnut taco meat. It doesn’t sound that exciting, but it was delicious. The corn chips had so many levels of flavour, the cherry tomatoes were so fresh, the sour cream so creamy, and the walnut meat.. let’s just say I was blown away that it was made from walnuts, which I don’t typically like. The flavours were impeccable. I wanted to try to make it myself. I remembered seeing Sarah’s post for post for raw tacos, so I was eager to try my hand at something new.
So what exactly are raw tacos? The main component is the “meat” which is simply coarsely chopped walnuts with cumin, chili flakes, tamari and a bit of oil. Super simple to whip together in a food processor. My brother snuck some before it was served and exclaimed, “This tastes like taco!”. The walnuts are really a vector for the seasonings (aka a heavy dose of cumin and soy sauce) and in this case, I thought the meat itself was a bit salty when eaten solo. Combined with the rest of the ingredients, though, it worked wonderfully. I also whipped together a cashew sour cream with lemon juice, and a delightful cherry tomato salsa (my favourite part of the wrap). I used Swiss chard leaves to eat my tacos, but had tortillas for my guests.
I was worried they may have turned up their noses if they knew they were going to eat raw food, but as they pointed out – it wasn’t like I was going to feed them raw eggs or meat, so they weren’t phased in the slightest.
The perfect dinner guests: adventurist eaters with lovely conversation.
For the record, these tacos were great, but not nearly as fantastic as those at Raw Aura. It just gives me more incentive to go back to the resto. At least it is closer than Thrive Juice Bar in Waterloo, which is my other favourite restaurant.
So when she made Spanish Chickpea Salad with Capers and Roasted Red Peppers for a potluck, I asked her how she liked it. “It was all gone!” But how did you like it? “It was great!”
When she made Bulgur and Cantaloupe Salad with Hazelnuts and Mint for her barbecue, I asked her how she liked it. “It was all gone!” But how did you like it? “I didn’t even get to try it, it was gone so fast!” Wowzas!
Personally, I don’t subscribe to the if-there-are-leftovers-they-didn’t-like-it camp. It all depends on how much food is available. I tend to err on the side of too much food so that no one can say they left hungry. Granted, this means I make dishes that will make great leftovers for me, and usually a large batch of the recipe, at that.
Recently, my brother and sister-in-law were over for dinner while Rob was out-of-town and trust me, I erred on the side of more food. I included this soup as an after-thought, after I had already decided to double the recipe for the main dish. They still demolished the meal, which was sad for Rob, because he wasn’t able to try any of the leftovers. Because I definitely had Rob in mind (mango lover extraordinaire) as I prepared this last-minute mango gazpacho.
Adapted from The 30-Minute Vegan, this is a wonderful chilled soup with summer salsa flavours. Gazpacho is a Spanish chilled soup typically filled with tomatoes, peppers and onions that is partially pureed to give it a chunky soup-like consistency. In this Thai-fusion version, mango is added to the traditional tomatoes and bell peppers, along with cilantro and parsley. The sweetness from the mango is countered beautifully by the zippiness from chili flakes and chile powder. It took me a bit longer than 30 minutes to chop everything for the soup, but it was a very simple soup to prepare. I found it tasted best after a long chill, almost 6 hours, which is a perfect make-ahead summer appetizer.
This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, to My Kitchen, My World for Spain, to E.A.T. World for Spain, and to this month’s Simple and in Season, to Ricki’s new Summer Wellness Weekends and to this month’s No Croutons Required for raw salads/soups for Lisa’s birthday (I’d also serve this with Savoury Hemp Crackers as a side, Raw Tacos with Walnut Taco Meat, Cashew Sour Cream and Tomato Salsa as our main and Raw Tropical Mango Pie for dessert).