No? Good, me neither. Not yet, at least. The week of salads continues!
One of my foodie goals in Colombia was to munch my way through quinoa and maybe bring some cheap quinoa back home with me.
Turns out I couldn’t do that in Colombia. Quinoa is hard to find and when you find it, it isn’t any cheaper than what I can buy from my local favourite health store. Most Colombian locals had no clue what quinoa was.. except for the sole vegan I met (hi Juan!).
I obviously went to the wrong country. Apparently, Bolivia is where it is at. Not only for the cheap and plentiful quinoa, but also for the amazing salt flats, jungle hikes, glacier climbs and vibrant city life. We loved asking other travellers about their favourite places to see in South America and Bolovia kept popping up. It is now on our ever-growing list of countries Rob and I want to visit… along with Russia, Ukraine, Indonesia, Vietnam, Brazil, Jordan, Nepal, India, gosh you name it. Although Rob’s covered most of South-east Asia and Australia, he is willing to return with me.
My latest kick is adding quinoa to vegetable sides to make it a more sustaining meal, and here I go again with this salad. This would be a delightful salad without the quinoa, too, as it highlights the crisp asparagus and colourful baby greens with some crunch pecans. The dressing, a maple-mustard flavoured one, definitely brings the salad together with the tang from the soy sauce, the sweetness from the maple syrup and the deeper flavour from the mustard.
Today I did the dirty deed.
Yes, that kind of dirty deed.
Already. Before 6am.
In the backyard.
Even worse, though, is that it involved squash.
And no, I am not talking getting dirty from doing plain old gardening.
Artificial insemination, baby!
I took matters into my own hands. While I have very prolific kabocha squash plants, I have yet to see any squashes. Lots of blossoms but they seem to wither away. Further investigation told me that squash plants have two different kinds of blossoms: one male and one female. The one with a plump mini-squash is the female flower and needs to be fertilized by the male flower. After some careful examination, I quickly realized there are way more male to female blossoms. Only 2 open blossoms were female, whereas I have at least 20 male blossoms.
I did not want to leave it to the birds and the bees. I took a stick and wiped a male blossom to get the pollen and smeared it into a female blossom. Cross your fingers for me, ok? Hopefully they aren’t as complicated as humans, which have an abysmal 20% fertility rate.
Apparently once you have a few growing squashes, you don’t need the male blossoms anymore. This is what people eat when you see “zucchini flowers” for sale. Dispensable, edible male parts.
My zucchini plants are much smaller and only have a few male blossoms, but I may need to give them a hand for reproductive success, if only to make sure we don’t end up with mutant kabocha-zucchini hybrids.
I should be telling you about how I fried up some squashes flowers, but I am paranoid. I am keeping the males around until I am certain I have lots of kabocha squashes. Maybe in a week or two, I will give you an update?
In the meantime, I have been cooking up a lot of quick, simple meals, like this asparagus and tempeh stir fry. Pick your favourite vegetables and fry up some tempeh in a simple Asian sauce with garlic, ginger and fermented black beans. The fermented black beans add a very authentic salty dimension to the dish. Enjoy!
If you had to pick one, which would it be: garlic or chocolate. Which one could you give up? Which one would you keep?
I know, tough choices. So different. Apples versus oranges (although I would pick apples).
If I wasn’t biking this weekend, what was I doing?
I was in Woodstock for Rob’s sister’s bachelorette and bridal shower.
Her gonna-be-groom does not eat beets nor cabbage (Rob’s loving Polish family has still accepted him). And in this predicament, garlic versus chocolate, he would pick to keep garlic, hands down.
I had to deliberate a bit, but I would choose the same. Garlic is more versatile and I eat savoury more often than sweet. For practical purposes, garlic for the win. Rob, on the other hand, would choose to pick chocolate. My sweetie definitely has a sweet tooth.
Now, how did we end up talking about this? I am way past the time when I would think of such thought-provoking questions for dates… (HA!)
Well, Rob and I took advantage of the barbecue and barbecue weather to grill up my favourite grilled portobello mushrooms which are marinated with balsamic vinegar, oregano, thyme and yes, garlic. Delicious grilled garlic.
However, I also went for a garlic double whammy with this Lemon Asparagus Quinoa Toss. I should rename it Grilled Asparagus Lemon-Garlic Quinoa Toss, because as most of Tess‘ great recipes, this one features raw garlic. I made this recipe last year when I had local asparagus. Now that Ontario asparagus is just starting to arrive, I broke it out again. I changed her recipe, a tad, this time, by roasting the asparagus on the barbecue, as well as decreasing the raw garlic (gasp!) and oil, but increasing the fresh lemon juice and adding lemon pepper. Meyer lemons subdue the lemon flavour, so for a nice match for the bold garlic, consider using the regular lemons.
While Rob and I didn’t go biking, we did a short 10-km walk/hike around the periphery of Woodstock instead. In true backpacker style, I wore my hiking gear (hiking boots, jacket and my new (and first) sports bra- it needs to get broken in, too!) and loaded my new (and first) backpack with 15lbs of stuff. So far the verdict has been all positive! Sadly, our cheapo trip to Colombia will be more expensive with all the stuff we’re buying in its preparation- why are sleeping bag liners so expensive? Look at this uber cute and practical collapsible bowl set I bought, though. I tested them out, too, this weekend and no leaky oatmeal!
My allegiance had originally been for the Indian Alphonso mango, but a ripe Mexican Ataulfo was a more economical standby that had a longer season.
While travelling in Morocco, I met a cute British couple that originally hailed from Pakistan. They urged me to try Pakistani mangoes, as they were even better than those from India (is there always such fierce rivalry between India and Pakistan?). To be honest, I had never even seen Pakistani mangoes, but I knew that Bestwin routinely carried an assortment of mangoes, many of which I hadn’t yet tried.
Last week, my co-worker, again, urged me to try Pakistani mangoes. They are nearing the end of the season and she assured me I wouldn’t be disappointed.
As it turned out, when I did my weekly trip to Sunny’s, they had small cases of honey mangoes (chok anon) from Pakistan. Just like Alphonso mangoes, they are definitely a splurge purchase.
Let me assure you, though, that these are some nice mangoes. Creamy and sweet, yet with a subtle tanginess, that mellows the sweetness. They didn’t seem to have as much stringiness near the pit, either.
Personally, I am content with any ripe mango, but I may concede that Pakistani mangoes reign in my kitchen. It is that tanginess that I appreciated the most, adding that extra level of complexity. I may no longer have that sweet tooth I used to, it seems, although these are still uber sweet mangoes. Enjoy them unadorned, or use them in a salad such as this (any ripe, sweet mango will do, though).
The original salad with eggplant, mango and soba noodles is compliments of Ottolenghi, but I took it in my own direction. Instead of pan-frying the eggplant in gobs of oil,
I Rob offered to grill it on the barbecue (alongside his perogies, at that!). This allowed me to use much less oil, with the addition of a soft smokiness to the dish. Some grilled asparagus was thrown in as well, for good measure. To make this a more substantial dish, I took Ottolenghi’s advice to add fried tofu, which I had marinated briefly in ponzu sauce and sesame oil. I also opted to use half of the sweet-chili dressing, since it seemed like a lot. And finally, while soba noodles would be lovely, I chose to spiralize two zucchinis as my noodle base. Don’t worry, I left the mango in there, and even used 2 honey mangos for the dish.
The result was a wonderful merriment of flavours. You have the grilled, creamy, smoky eggplant pairing beautifully with the sweet, tangy mango with a slightly spicy sauce, all overtop zucchini noodles. The tofu added a nice, satisfying crunch.
This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, to this week’s Presto Pasta Nights, hosted by Honeybee of The Life & Loves of Grumpy’s Honeybee, to this month’s Healing Foods featuring zucchini, and to Ricki’s Summer Wellness Weekends and to this month’s Simple and in Season.
My brother and sister-in-law moved into their new condo the week after us. Their place is spotless, nearly everything has been put away, and they are meticulously figuring out which furniture they still want to buy. They are missing dining chairs, though, but told us we could come over for dinner once they arrived. In about…. 16 weeks (eek!!).
Rob and I, on the other hand, have a functional house. We combined both of our stuff, miss-matched in all its glory. While the house is mostly functional for day-to-day living, we still have a lot of unpacked boxes in our offices and in the basement. With Rob’s old mattress and boxspring in the living room along with our 3 bikes. But despite that, we have not put our social calendar on hold until we clean house. We are still having fun, opening our messy home to our friends and family as an easy place to gather.
We have gotten better at the barbecue thing, which is where Rob usually hangs out. Which is a blessing in disguise, because when I made this salad, I knew I would be a goner if I had to man the roasted veggies. Not because it is difficult, rather it is difficult to stop snacking on the tasty veggies! I honestly roasted a bunch of asparagus but you will have a hard time finding it in the salad because I probably ate half of it straight off the barbecue.
Let me back up a bit: I had a recent hankering for pomegranate-roasted vegetables. I wanted to add them to a wheat berry salad. At first, I scoured the web for other pomegranate-grilled vegetables, but then I remembered I already knew the perfect glaze! Last year, I made a delectable pomegranate-glazed salmon that combined a simple glaze of pomegranate molasses with olive oil, but then it was heightened with fresh lemon juice, maple syrup and chopped basil.
Therefore, I based my new recipe on that template, adding more pomegranate molasses and less maple syrup, because I wanted a more pronounced deep pomegranate flavour. Pomegranate molasses can be tart, so taste as you go. Little did I realize how similar this dressing was to my Turkish Bulgur Salad, of former Best Salad Ever fame. With all the roasted veggies, it is kisir on steroids. Or maybe just a winning Janet original.
Peach season is here!
So is nectarine season!
They are so similar, both so sweet and juicy when ripe, that I wondered how different they really are…
It turns out that the only genetic difference is a single recessive gene that removes the fuzz of a peach, giving nectarines a smooth shiny skin. So basically, they are the same with a different exterior. Fuzz vs no fuzz.
Regardless, I love both nectarines and peaches. Substitute between the two for any recipe. My only gripe about these stone fruits is that they are highly perishable when ripe. You need to eat them pronto!
My Peachy Keen Vanilla Smoothie is a delicious way to treat yourself to wonderful peach bliss, and I have also used them to make other desserts like blueberry-peach brown butter muffins, blueberry-peach-raspberry crumbles, and an utterly delicious peach tea cake. Peach is also wonderful in a salsa, and I have paired it with a maple-chili grilled tofu previously.
Here, I wanted to go savoury with the nectarine. I was immediately drawn to PPK’s Portland Porch Lettuce Wraps, which featured pan-seared asparagus, nectarine and white beans with pesto in a lettuce wrap. I had been distracted from the asparagus, but vowed to get some more to make this. I wasn’t disappointed.
I modified Isa’s recipe slightly as I ran out of shallots, and I substituted with a mix of white and red onion. I chose baby lima beans as my white bean of choice. She provided a recipe for an edamame pesto, but I opted to use some pesto that I had made earlier and froze in some cute heart-shaped ice cube trays. How cute are they??
So, this dish was a wonderful merriment of sweet, succulent and juicy nectarines with crisp asparagus and creamy white beans with a nice backdrop of caramelized onions. This is delicious, as is, with a side of lettuce, or even something like brown rice or quinoa.
The pesto is not mandatory, as this is great without it, but it is nice with it as well. Basically, don’t hesitate to make this if you are without pesto.
Indeed, I am really enjoying my spiralizer. But in my life BTS (before the spiralizer), I was still able to make interesting textures from my vegetables.
Usually my Santoku knife got the job done (tedious, but can julienne just fine). Sometimes I would use my mandoline to help with thin, even slices.
Then there were times where my vegetable peeler was the best thing around.
Like for this ribbon salad.
I am still relishing in local asparagus, and after ogling many shaved asparagus salads, I finally jumped on the bandwagon when I spotted a recipe for a shaved asparagus salad with a balsamic reduction and almonds.
I never knew how diverse asparagus could be. Yes, asparagus can be eaten raw and it is lovely eaten as ribbons.
Ribboning asparagus can be a tedious process, so this is when you actually want to buy the big, fat asparagus (usually I aim for the thinnest stalks possible since they tend to be sweeter). It is easier to grasp the plump spears and lay them flat as you peel away each layer.
Highlight your peeling efforts with a remarkably simple, yet sophisticated dressing. You can never go wrong with mosto cotto, an aged condensed balsamic vinegar, and here it is complemented by the sweet earthiness of asparagus and the sweet crunch from the almonds.
Not all nuts are created equal. I have a particular fondness for almonds, pistachios and even hazelnuts on a good day. I adore cashews as well, although they have saturated fats. Walnuts, I do not like as much. Pecans, neither.
But I still use walnuts in my meals. All those omega-3s are good for me, right? Beyond their health benefits, I find they can whip up to be nice and creamy, and have worked well in my energy balls and create a nice base for muhammara, the delicious Middle Eastern roasted red pepper and walnut dip. However, I find that baklava is brought to the next level when you substitute the (traditional) walnuts for pistachios.
With my recent adoration of all things miso, I decided to forge ahead and combine miso with walnuts in this warm asparagus and carrot salad. Adapted from Color Me Vegan, you create a lovely miso-walnut dip with mirin, tamari and rice vinegar. It was sweet and creamy and spread nicely over the warm vegetables. Thankfully in Southwestern Ontario, local asparagus can still be found! It paired well with the asparagus and carrots, but do not let that stop you from trying other vegetables.
I also loved this as a cold dip with freshly-cut vegetables as well (again, carrots worked well!). However, then you’ll need to make a lot more of the dip, because it will disappear quickly!
But I did.
Trust me, I didn’t succumb to the traditional sushi rolls.
Instead, I had a delicious raw sushi roll at Organic Lives. Completely inauthentic, it was filled with a pecan pate, sprouts, veggies, avocado and mango. With the zippy fruit-based dipping sauce, it was so completely different from any sushi roll I have ever had. The only similarity was that it was a nori roll wrap.
Once the hubbub subsided after I returned home, I was craving a more traditional sushi roll. Without all the hard work of actually rolling the little buggers…
When I visited Japan, one of my favourite meals was eating sashimi at the Tsukiji Market, which is the wholesale marketplace for seafood in Tokyo. With daily auctions, this is where you can eat the freshest fish. The sashimi was unbeatable. I have never been able to enjoy sea urchin anywhere else. So fresh, it was so buttery soft and creamy.
I actually visited Tsukiji two days in a row and sampled sashimi from two different vendors. Both times, I ordered a sushi bowl with an assortment of sashimi. One resto had better sashimi and the other had better rice. The rice was so good, it eclipsed the fish. And I don’t really like rice, actually. I consider it filler in sushi rolls, when I would rather be eating the filling. I tolerate rice for the most part, but here, I learned how great rice can taste.
I have experimented with a few rices since my return, and I still remain partial to a short-grain Japanese-style rice. Recently, I bought the Taiwanese Yih Chuan Aromatic Rice, which has a faint aroma of taro (yes, on sale at T&T). It brings rice to the next level. The rice is nicely flavoured, shaped and most importantly, tastes great.
My whole preamble about rice is because if you are going to make a sushi rice bowl, you should try to use a nice rice! The dressing helps, too. The toppings, too. But let the rice get the spotlight it deserves as it isn’t supposed to be a bland side.
Adapted from 101 Cookbooks, I wouldn’t call this an authentic Japanese recipe, but a lively citrus-flavoured sushi bowl. Top with your favourite sushi toppings such as steamed asparagus, avocado, grilled tofu, and dare I suggest mango? (Mango, next time…). The key to keep this a sushi bowl, and not a rice salad, though, is to include the toasted nori strips. You can buy them pre-shredded, but you could also toast the nori and then cut it into thin strips yourself.
Aren’t I lucky to have a guy who will make me The New Best Salad Ever? Rob is also more likely to repeat his recipes, so I am hopeful it was make a reappearance soon!! If you don’t believe Rob, take it from me: It was fabulous, heavenly, and a whole lot of swear words came out when I wanted to describe how wonderful it was… although I am not sure why swear words describe it so eloquently. Perhaps because I don’t swear often, and I rarely eat a salad so awesome. Every component was delicious (it helped that we had perfectly ripe Ataulfo mangoes) and together they were golden. I usually do not go to the trouble of so many different components, but this was so worth it. It wasn’t just fried tofu, it was marinaded tofu with roasted garlic. It wasn’t just rice, it was cilantro-lime rice. And then there was the perfect mango salsa overtop. Fresh carrots and cabbage for crunch. Sweet baby spinach. This is how you make epic salads…
But let me tempt you with another delicious salad.
It may not be the typical pomegranate season, but they were on sale at Sunny’s last week. Pomegranates from Chile must have their own special season. . which thankfully allows me to enjoy pomegranates in the summer!
In fact, since many of my friends and family are heading (or went) to Turkey recently, it had me salivating when I remembered my summer love affair with pomegranate molasses. Sweet and sour, tart and delicious, how could I ignore you for so long? Since I have moved in with Rob, this may become a trio. Heck, Rob’s love affair with mangoes persists, so I guess we’re even.
(For the record, I finished my first bottle of pomegranate molasses within 6 months and now that Rob and I have bunked up, we have TWO open bottles!)
I based this salad on my Turkish Bulgur Salad but added in steamed asparagus and served it overtop baby greens for a glorious feast. It had all the elements of a nice main meal salad with quinoa, asparagus and greens. The dressing is tart from the pomegranate molasses with a background of lime. The chili flakes are optional, but I liked the zip it added. The pomegranate seeds and almonds add a nice crunch. Better than the (since dethroned) Best Salad Ever? I’m not sure… A variation on a similar theme, that’s for sure!
Now to bring back the bulgur bonanza!
This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, to this week’s Healthy Vegan Friday, and to this month’s Healing Foods featuring whole grains, and to Ricki’s new Summer Wellness Weekends.
While I have upgraded from a condo-sized fridge, the new full-sized fridge seems so full already as it is nearly packed with condiments! Three tahinis… three bottles of toasted sesame oil… three bottles for soy sauce (which I promptly removed from the fridge)… and Rob, alone, had all things tamarind and mango: 2 containers of tamarind concentrate, tamarind chutney, mango ginger chutney, mango chili sauce, pickled mango in oil. I am no saint, either, bringing the isoteric umeboshi plum paste, hoisin sauce, oyster sauce and some peach-mango salsa, amongst many, many others! Actually, I love isoteric ingredients… the duplicates bother me. For some reason the soy sauce bottles are NOT built to add liquid in the other way.
I have wanted to make my own hoisin sauce, ever since Rose posted her recipe and I spotted an even more compelling version in The 30 Minute Vegan’s Taste of the East. However, until I finish the bottle in the cupboard, I will be using the jarred variety.
I am a late bloomer for discovering the quick and easy nature of stir fries, where anything goes, but decided to try to use some of the condiments in the fridge in a stir fry. First one: hoisin sauce, the salty-sweet Chinese barbecue sauce.
Adapted from 101cookbooks, this is a quick stir fry filled with spring vegetables including asparagus, spinach and green onions. The hoisin flavour is augmented by garlic, ginger, chili flakes and a lightness is brought by fresh lime juice and basil. Instead of tofu, I opted to bring back roasted chickpeas to my kitchen, lovely with their nutty flavour. I substituted almonds for the cashews and omitted the mint altogether. But anything goes with stir fries, so throw together your favourite combination of ingredients. Just make sure your mise-en-place is ready to go before you heat your skillet – this will be fast!
For other hoisin sauce love, try my Tofu Hoisin with Baby Bok Choy.
I did not hold out for Ontario strawberries. The Californian ones were on sale, too, and perfectly ripe after I left them on my counter for a few days.
Right now, after chowing down on this salad, I don’t care that I didn’t eat local. This was springtime in a bowl, with a dash of summer from the strawberries.
I was inspired by Joanne after I saw her Goat Cheese, Strawberry and Basil Salad. I trotted off to buy some cheap asparagus to go with my ripe strawberries, and was pleased how everything came into place at the grocery store (my new favourite grocery store, better than Bestwin!).
Ontario asparagus was $1.99 a pound, and wasn’t even advertised. I picked the bunch with the thinnest stalks. I had mint at home, so I had planned to forgo basil. However, they had the biggest bunches of basil that I ever did see. Complete with roots, they were that fresh. It tipped my scales at 290g for $1.50 (again, not advertised). I scored a 1-lb clamshell of baby spring mix for $1.99. They have random containers marked down, but it looked fresh and with an expiry date a week away, I saw no reason not to buy it. I had my juicy strawberries already, so I was all set!
At home, I quickly assembled my salad for one. Steamed my asparagus, quickly blanched some edamame (frozen beans are great for small amounts), thrown overtop the baby greens and basil and drizzled it with mosto cotto. Yes, I christened my Eatalian mosto cotto with this salad. It was divine. Simplicity at its finest.
Mosto cotto (also known as saba), is a a condensed balsamic vinegar made with reduced Concord grapes and then aged for at least 12 years. I was introduced to mosto cotto when Chef Gentile from Buca was at Tastes of Tomorrow. He used it as a finish for a red wine, cinnamon, clove-marinated beef heart salad with grilled radicchio di Treviso, balsamic braised chipling onions, Tallegio cheese, crispy sage, dandelion greens and pickled fig, lightly drizzled with olive oil and mosto cotto. It was delicious.
He highlighted that certain ingredients are worth their weight in gold. Mosto cotto is an expensive balasmic vinegar, but still considered a poor man’s balsamic vinegar. Compared to the traditional balsamic vinegar it doesn’t compare: it is a thicker syrup with a deep, complex and sweet flavour. I have been wooed to the dark side and recommend searching it out (Amazon.com sells it, and should be found in specialty Italian grocers – I bought mine at Eataly while in New York City). In this recipe, you could substitute a balsamic syrup by boiling down some balsamic vinegar, or just use a good quality balsamic vinegar.
This is my submission to Deb for this week’s Souper Sundays, to this week’s Healthy Vegan Friday, to this week’s Ingredient Challenge Monday for strawberries, to this month’s My Legume Love Affair, hosted by Smitha of Kannada Cuisine, this month’s No Croutons Required featuring asparagus and to this month’s Simple and in Season for May.