Chopped Summer Salad with Feta, Mint, and Lime

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Obviously not the salad of which we speak; just keep scrolling… (But doesn’t that look goooood?)

Well, if lack of posting on here means that my professional life is busy and flourishing, I guess that’s a pretty good sign. I’m embarrassed that my last post was over two months ago… but it has been a two months full of performing, directing, project investigating, grant writing, travel booking, curriculum planning, and creative endeavors. So, perhaps a gap here but my heart is full and my brain is active and my calendar is full of scribbles (and my bank account is … feeling its new role as belonging to a creative freelancer).

But I didn’t go hungry! This was the summer of chopped salads, usually involving corn and radishes and whatever else the CSA bequeathed to us. See end of post for a loose recipe for my go-t0 salad of the season, repeated in many variations during the summer. Also if anyone else has a better way to use up CSA corn, please enlighten me. Who eats this much corn on the cob?!

In the spirit of summer wrap-ups and my absence, here are 10 more-memorable food moments from the past months. Complete with profesh iPhone photography (ha) — fitting for a busy summer, weeks of an over-stuffed backpack, and late-night dinnertimes.

1. Oh, strawberry shortcake. Cloud-like, slightly sweet, and convince-yourself healthy-ish. (If you didn’t make the pound cake and beat together all that butter, that is.) Potentially the most summery of summery foods. Definitely made this past July 4th more legit.img_5945

2. Labor Day weekend was spent motoring around the Northern coast of Long Island, where we found sailboats, mansions, and a pretty darn good brewery complete with varied flights. Also I taught Daniel mancala. And we ate oyyyysters.img_6232

3. Heddy and I celebrated our opening show of “Amelia and her Paper Tigers” with airplane cupcakes! I’m so proud of our little show and the responses we received from audiences at the Fringe Festival. (Thanks, Darrill!)cupcakes

4. These little mushrooms could be my favorite thing I ate this summer, though they were covered in butter and garlic and lemon juice, so its sorta unfair to their competition. But more importantly, they made Daniel change his mind about mushrooms! Victory!img_6227

5. Got TWO amazing off-menu dinners from chef-babe Nichole at Runner & Stone. Spoiled me good, missy. Also, loooook at all that foooood…. (this was just one course of three!!!)
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6. Lots of Texas- (okay, Mexico- but don’t tell Daniel) — inspired breakfasts, like these huevos rancheros that I ate for a week straight. Also I now make pretty perfect soft scrambled eggs, if I do say so myself. (The secret? Uh, it’s butter. Surprise.)img_6051

7. A New Hampshire pilgrimage with friends, dogs, hiking, grilling, and this fun game — catch the cheez ball in your mouth. Hilarity ensued. Top quality eatz of the summer.cheez-ball

8. First time making tater tots! If you’re going to big, GO BIG and stuff those babies with cheddar cheese before frying. Uh, yum. img_6123

9. I love our tradition of making each other birthday cakes 🙂 This year Daniel followed my chocolate-peppermint wishes to a T. And it was perfect.img_6158

10. And behold, it’s not much to look at it, but tada! …don’t be too overwhelmed. Here’s the base of the Chopped Summer Salad with Mint, Feta, and Lime! Make, eat, repeat = Summer. (Also, maybe just click on the link to see Deb’s beautiful photos. Since she, you know, planned to blog this salad someday and I super didn’t.)img_6169

one year ago: roasted green pepper and smoked gouda pasta
two years ago: caramelized fennel with dill and goat cheese

Chopped Summer Salad with Mint, Feta, and Lime

Not really adapted from Smitten Kitchen

Dressing
Juice of 2 limes
¼ cup olive oil
½ teaspoon chile powder
s&p

Other Stuff
1 cup or so quinoa, Israeli couscous, or other grain, cooked and cooled
⅓ cup toasted sunflower seeds
Big handful fresh mint, chopped
At least ½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
About 1 cup lettuce ribbons
2 scallions, chopped or 1/4 of a red onion, sliced thin
3 cups crunchy veggies: corn, radishes, cucumber, peppers, snap peas, tomatoes all good options
1 cup chickpeas, if desired (though unnecessary!)

Stir all dressing ingredients together with a fork in a small bowl. Put all other ingredients in a big old bowl, pour in the dressing, toss it around a couple times, and try to save some for tomorrow.

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…dessert?!

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Spaghetti Squash Lettuce Wraps, Asian-style

 

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Fair warning: this post brought to you by “Blogging and hunger don’t go well together”. Welp, unfortunately that’s the only time I’m ever blogging, as trial runs and free mornings with unlimited light aren’t really part of my vocabulary right now.

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Oh well. Don’t look at the pictures, consider this instead: Super healthy! Vegan! Gluten free! And somehow… really really tasty. Like wolf down 4 in a row without coming up for air. Daniel attacked them it like it was a plate of cheeseburgers (remember, vegan, gluten free!)! After your first bite you’ll glance down at the rest of the pan and wonder if you can polish it off without judgement and then realize YES! I CAN! Vegan! Gluten free! Really really tasty!

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The impetus for this recipe was a) the spaghetti squash I totally impulse-bought last week (why oh why can’t I have normal impulse buys like fancy cheese or chocolate??) and b) the influx of lettuce from our CSA(!!!). I love cooking me up some greens and eating them with toast and eggs for breakfast, with rice and beans for lunch, and mixed with pasta for dinner, but lettuce is another beast altogether. Lettuce-based salads just don’t give me the same amount of joy (*usually). Hence, lettuce wraps. Yum. The filling can be flexible, but this had the perfect texture and umami combination, so deviate at your own risk. This is a bit spicy, but goes so well with the sweet chili sauce! (I have this one and it’s great for marinating or stir-fry!)

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one year ago: …crickets…
two years ago: 
roasted beets and their greens with yogurt and simple rhubarb cake AND tofu banh mi

Spaghetti Squash Lettuce Wraps, Asian-style

a swanky original

1 spaghetti squash
1 tablespoon olive oil + extra for drizzling
½ an onion, diced
2 big cloves garlic, minced
1 serrano chile, some seeds removed, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
5 white mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
½ red pepper, in thin strips
3 oz baked teriyaki tofu, in matchsticks
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons rice vinegar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
Half a lime
Lettuce leaves of choice (I used romaine and it was tasty but messy!)
s&p
Cilantro, lightly chopped
Peanuts, lightly chopped
Sweet chili dipping sauce

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Cut spaghetti squash in half, drizzle with olive oil and s&p, and place cut-side down on roasting pan. Roast for 35-45 minutes. When done, scrape squash with a fork to create noodle-like squash segments.

Meanwhile, heat up 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large pan over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Next, add garlic, serrano chile, and ginger. Cook for another 3 minutes. Add mushrooms, peppers, s&p and cook for 3 more minutes. Add tofu and squash strands and cook for another 2 minutes. Add sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, and big spritz of lime juice.

Wash lettuce leaves well. Spoon squash-tofu-mushroom filling into leaves, and top with cilantro and peanuts. Dip into sweet chili sauce (or make a fancy-shmancy sauce on your own.)

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Rice Noodle Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing

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Let’s go on a little cause-and-effect journey here. I went to Guatemala last fall to feel confident enough with my Spanish so I could lead theater classes in Spanish. (PS Guatemalan food here and here!)

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I got my current job teaching theater at senior centers because someone decided I knew what I was doing in Spanish, never having heard me speak, at least enough to facilitate theater-related conversations. (They weren’t wrong, but that was a pretty lucky leap of faith on both of our parts.)

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And so this is how I’ve come to spend the last couple Fridays at a mostly Dominican and Puerto Rican senior center, listening to salsa music and getting down with the seniors. Who all think I look like their 17-year-old granddaughters. Ay dios mio.

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And this is how I get pretty tired on Friday evenings, and end up wanting easy and filling dinners made of stuff I already have in my fridge. Especially when they combine into something more than the sum of their parts, creating an exciting and uber-fresh quick spring meal. This want is true of pretty much every week night, but it, uh, leads pretty nicely into my fabricated segway, which is…

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…and so going to Guatemala last November is basically responsible for this recipe.

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…obviously. 🙂 Rice noodles bulk up everyone’s favorite salad dressing recipe, you know, the ubiquitous orange carrot-ginger situation that always causes a serious headache, cause HOW DO YOU CHOOSE between it and miso soup??! Let’s be honest, you could dip literally anything in your fridge into this dressing and be happy about it. Even radishes. Blech, I so dislike radishes. Thanks, Guatemala! 

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Served with this awesome hot&sour soup for a better-than-takeout feast!

one year ago: black bean, mango, and corn salad-alsa

Rice Noodle Salad with Carrot-Ginger Dressing

Dressing adapted from pure wow

For salad
4 oz rice noodles
Toasted sesame oil
2 cups lettuce, shredded (I’ve used iceberg and green leaf)
½ a cucumber, thinly sliced (or mandolined)
1 ripe tomatoes, cut in wedges
Handful cilantro leaves

Dressing
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
¼ of an onion, roughly chopped
½ tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons soy sauce
¼ cup seasoned rice vinegar
¾ cup neutral oil (like vegetable or canola)
Salt

Dressing

In a food processor, pulse carrots, ginger, and onion until they become tiny, uniform pieces. Add sugar, soy sauce, rice vinegar, oil, and a dash of salt and process until smooth. Taste to see if you need more salt. Set aside. Dressing will last at least a week in the fridge, and likely longer.

Salad

Cook rice noodles according to package directions. Drain, rinse with cool water, and toss with toasted sesame oil to keep noodles from sticking to each other.

Using tongs, mix together noodles, shredded lettuce, and a 3-4 big spoonfuls of dressing in a big bowl. Top with cucumber and tomato slices, cilantro leaves, and extra dollops of dressing.

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Pomegranate Molasses & Za’atar Granola

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I went to Jordan and all I got was this lousy granola idea. Which, in truth, is the FARthest thing from lousy. (And, also, I got some iron camel hooks that were confiscated at security and which forced us to check an extra bag, for only the camel hooks. Truly silly. (Or not? I could’ve inflicted some pretty brutal terror on the kicking screaming kids behind me with those hooks if I wanted. ….aaand with that, I’ve been forever placed on the no-fly list. Sorry children. I joke.))

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And anyways, it’s not true. I experienced a truly beautiful and memorable week discovering Jordan’s ancient wonders. Thankful to little bro for being worldly and brave enough to live in the Middle East for a semester (when I chose Tuscany). Thankful to my parents for their inclusive vacation-style and impeccable taste. Thankful to tourist buffets for the extra jiggle in my thighs. And while we’re at it, thankful for making this granola stretch a whole two weeks so I can continue eating it while writing about it. If you have any inclination to visit Jordan, I wholeheartedly suggest you leap. Highlights include Amman rambling, the high-walled canyon Wadi Mujib water hike thru rapids and up waterfalls, the glory of Petra at night and from above, Wadi Rum’s Mars-like splendor, the huge and well-preserved Jerash ruins, and a million tiny corner falafel shops. I only have good things to say.

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This granola is tangy from the pomegranate molasses and almost savory from the za’atar (a green Middle Eastern spice blend). These two ingredients are coincidentally my favorite hummus toppings and are valuable in so many contexts. (Also see: pomegranate molasses in my baked bean recipe and za’atar atop this butternut and tahini mash.) You can find both in any Middle Eastern-style grocery store and perhaps the international aisle of a regular well-stocked store. Due to my nut allergy, I pack my granola full of seeds, but please substitute or add whatever little nuts you think go.

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one year ago: ginger coconut rice 

Pomegranate Molasses & Za’atar Granola

a swanky original

2 cups old-fashioned oats
¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
1 tablespoon chia seeds
¼ cup dried dates, cut into small pieces
¼ cup za’atar
½ teaspoon salt
¼ cup pomegranate molasses
¼ cup honey
¼ cup vegetable oil
Juice from half an orange

Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

In a big bowl, mix together the oats, three types of seeds, and dates. Add za’atar and salt.

In a big glass measuring cup, combine pomegranate molasses, honey, oil, and orange juice. Mix until combined. Pour into dry ingredients and mix well with wooden spoon.

Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet (or two if half-sized) so mixture covers pan in a thin layer. Bake for 50-60 minutes, stirring once or twice, until oats are toasted and everything sticks together.

Remove from oven and let cool all the way. Break into clumps. Serve on top of yogurt, or eat plain by the handful. Store in a ziplock bag.

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Herby Sunchoke Gorgonzola Salad

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Sunchokes (also known as Jerusalem artichokes), when roasted in a pool of olive oil and liberally decorated with salt, make my heart do strange things. I just can’t get enough of the their nutty artichokey potato-ness, so satisfying and downright earthy. I pitter patter at their smooth savory finish, and will fight you for the caramelized edges. Ugh, I could just stand by the oven and eat a whole tray of those scintillating little stunners. (Wait, I have. But I don’t recommend it — those dudes have some pretty tough-to-break-down skins if ya get what I mean.) So, as a lesson in moderation, mix them with a bunch of other stuff and make it last longer than one stove-side binge session. Hence, salad. I’m SO good at moderation.

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Also I don’t think I used actual gorgonzola in this salad. It was just a generic (read: cheap) bleu (blue? blew?) cheese. So, substitute away as necessary. And let’s take a moment for a General Announcement about substitutions. This is a Salad. As such, you can’t f up “the recipe” too badly. (We used to joke in college that as long as you had a big assortment of stuff in a bowl, it counted as salad. Which led the way to cereal salad, spaghetti salad, cookie salad, etc. We had the right idea.) Because it’s not a real recipe, like for cake, which won’t taste like cake if you leave something out. It’s a suggestion. It’s Salad. It will literally and definitively still be salad no matter what you add or don’t add. So use whatever stinking cheese you want. (Or don’t use it at all, you rebel, you.) End of General Announcement.

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But do let me suggest this specific mix of ingredients cause dang they’re good together.

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one year ago: roasted eggplant and pepper soup with orzo and homemade baked bean and pineapple tacos 

Herby Sunchoke Gorgonzola Salad

a swanky original

¾ lb sunchokes, scrubbed and unpeeled, cut into irregular-sized small chunks (about 2 cups)
1 ½ tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to drizzle
1 cup wild rice, cooked (or sub brown rice)
½ cup loosely packed parsley leaves, roughly chopped
½ cup loosely packed mint leaves,  roughly chopped
1 cup shoots mix, or use arugula
½ cup red grapes, sliced
2-3 tablespoons gorgonzola, crumbled
s&p

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Combine sunchokes and olive oil on a rimmed baking sheet; add a generous amount of salt and pepper. Roast for about half an hour, turning occasionally, until browned, softened, and tantalizing. 

Let sunchokes cool down while you mix all remaining ingredients in a big bowl. Add sunchokes. Top with a drizzle of olive oil and serve. 

 

Charred Chipotle Broccoli Tacos

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The Swanky household unfortunately has two extremes for weeknight dinner options. 1) Scour the internet for a perfect recipe, buy every ingredient from the market down the street, and make a big mess in the kitchen. This almost always ends in delicious meals, but isn’t the most practical for everyday eating. The 2) option is, without fail, take-out Thai food.

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I’m very aware I need to incorporate more 1.5s into my life. You know, meals from neither extreme. Dinner you can throw together from whatever is in the fridge, without spending time searching for a recipe or doing a million dishes — ideally, food good enough to encourage others to make too. (And when we get down to it, I have other 1.5s I should incorporate into my life more: just doing yoga on my own without needing to go to a class or following a podcast, or being content to mosey on down the street behind a hand-in-hand couple without internally blasting them for taking up SO MUCH SIDEWALK.)

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I mean, that’s basically why I started this blog in the first place. I needed a space to consolidate recipes, experiments, and ideas from bookmarks on multiple devices, forever-opened tabs on my computer, and recipes torn from magazines. (And, uh, not to rant about slow moving pedestrians.) This is my little online corner of 1.5s and memory joggers and inspiration, regardless of what foodgawker thinks.

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Tacos fill that “1.5” category pretty darn well, and as Daniel craves gringo tacos like his mom made in the ‘80s at least once a month, they make a frequent appearance. He refuses to stray from his beloved ground beef and taco seasoning packet (although the meat this time was locally raised and purchased at the farmers market – small win?). I’ve become pretty good at the art of the non-meat taco. This chipotle broccoli is one of my favorite fillings, with a smoky spicy kicky punch. Also it’s dummy-proof easy: a cutting board, one roasting pan, and 20 minutes later, you’ve got yourself seriously delicious homemade dinner (and don’t have to bat an eyelash over the embarrassing amount of plastic take-out dishes in your recycling this week).

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other swanky veggie tacos: roasted sweet potato, peach, and black bean tacos and grilled pineapple and baked bean tacos

Charred Chipotle Broccoli Tacos

a swanky original
Serves two (or one dinner and adequate leftovers*)

For the filling:
1 head broccoli
2 small sweet yellow or red peppers, sliced into rings (or 1/2 a red or yellow bell pepper, sliced into bite sized pieces)
1 scallion, finely sliced
2 chiles in adobo (from a can*)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Juice from half a lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
s&p

Non-negotiables:
Tortillas (I prefer flour but your call)
Shredded cheese
Diced tomatoes

Optional Toppings:
Cilantro
Lime
Sliced black olives
Shredded iceberg lettuce
Sour cream
Salsa or hot sauce
Avocado (if that’s your kinda thang)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Prep broccoli: Cut florets into bite-sized pieces. Peel the stalk to remove toughest part. Cut stalk into thin slices.

Make filling: Combine all ingredients on roasting tray and mix well. Roast for 18 minutes, stirring once, until florets are charred and stalks are tender. Let cool a bit.

Prepare tortillas by placing them directly on the open flame of a gas burner, about 5 seconds per side. (Or char in a hot dry pan.) Pile on broccoli, cheese, tomatoes, and whatever else your heart desires. Serve with rice and beans.

*two notes:

  • If you want to mix it up the next day, the filling was pretty dreamy stir-fried with leftover quinoa and spicy BBQ sauce, with a fried egg on top.
  • I love chiles in adobo sauce. They’re smoky and spicy and add a burst of flavor to just about anything. Once you open a jar, you can keep the rest in a sealed container in the fridge for a very long time and use one pepper at a time as necessary.
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Daniel’s Plate Number 1 (of, uh, 3?). Boy likes his tacos. 

Roasted Chickpea and Kale Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Tahini Sauce

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This post sort of reminds me of those Italian cookies, “brutti ma buoni,” which translates to “ugly but good”. Not like I’ve ever tasted them, as they’re made entirely of ground nuts, but I’ve always liked saying the name to myself when my photography sloppily gets sacrificed and yet I still want to share a recipe. At the end of the day, you’re eating food, not gazing at it, right? And if those foodie Italians can do it, perche non io? (Also, these potatoes themselves are not brutti, it’s just my impatience with a camera makes them appear such. We’re not discussing split pea soup or anything today.)

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True story: We ate these sweet potatoes standing up at our countertop in roughly 2 minutes. We had tickets for a show starting at 7:30; the sweet potatoes came out of the oven at probably 7:20. Luckily, the theater is literally two blocks from our house. We threw all the toppings on, poured on excessive amounts of tahini sauce, took some harried pictures which mostly turned out blurry, and quite literally stuffed these in our faces. We arrived at 7:29, a bit breathless and with tickets extended to prove yes we did indeed belong here too. Despite the totally full house, they hadn’t given our seats away yet. Whew.

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Some words to the wise: a) put your sweet potatoes in the oven at least an hour before you want to eat, and b) when buying tickets online months in advance, it’s always a good idea to double check what time it actually starts sometime during said day. Also c) don’t expect to take beautiful photos when you have approximately 9 minutes to assemble food, document food, consume said food, and sprint two blocks.

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So although I suggest you sit down and enjoy these lovely, healthy taters&toppings as a proper meal, they can be consumed quite quickly, if that’s what is necessary. I make (and adore) each element of this recipe separately; it was only a matter of time before they all got combined into the perfect mouthful. Er, series of mouthfuls, if you have the time. #dontbelikeme. #bruttimabuoni:sweetpotatoedition

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one year ago: simple pasta with smoked scamorza and tomatoes << one of my most-read posts!

Roasted Chickpea and Kale Stuffed Sweet Potatoes with Tahini Sauce

a swanky original
Serves 3

3 sweet potatoes
1 can chickpeas, drained, rinsed well, and dried off
1 ½ teaspoons ground cumin
½ teaspoon smoked paprika
some drizzles olive oil
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 big clove garlic, minced
2 cups kale, rinsed and in bite-sized pieces
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons tahini
juice from half a lemon
parsley leaves, roughly chopped
salt

Additional optional toppings: za’atar, hot sauce, Greek yogurt, pomegranate seeds

Sweet Potatoes: Preheat oven to 400F. Poke sweet potatoes all over with a fork. Place directly on oven rack. Bake until easily pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on their size. Let cool slightly.

Chickpeas: On a rimmed baking tray, toss chickpeas with cumin, smoked paprika, a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkle of salt. Add to oven when there’s about 20 minutes left on the sweet potatoes. Chickpeas will be brown and satisfyingly crunchy when done.

Kale: Heat a drizzle of olive oil in a big sauté pan. Add red pepper flakes and garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add kale, a pinch of salt, and white wine vinegar. Cook for about 6 minutes, or until kale has turned bright green and wilted a bit. Remove from heat.

Tahini Sauce: Combine tahini, 2 tablespoons water, lemon juice, and a big pinch of salt. Mix until smooth.

To serve, cut sweet potatoes in half. Mash the flesh a bit. Spoon on kale, chickpeas, and tahini sauce. Top with parsley and any additional toppings as desired.

 

As “brutti” as it gets: #UglyFoodPics

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Kasha Bowl with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

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It’s always the small things you miss most when traveling. Mealtime independence (and people always respond “poor you, having to eat out three times a day”. But REALLY people, I like scrambling my own eggs and eating cold leftovers for breakfast sometimes!). Having reliable wifi in the bathroom so I can check Facebook while…brushing my teeth. Being able to flush toilet paper directly down the pipes instead of depositing it in the trashcan next to you. Cheese.

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I came home craving every trendy healthy thing in New York, aka things in bowls. Healthy grain bowls, veggie soup bowls, fruit-adorned breakfasts in bowls, tahini-y mushy eggplant in a bowl, lots of brown rice and Asian flavors and roasted veggies and toasted seeds and crunchy raw vegetables and pickled things, preferably in bowls. I am a walking stereotype of instagrammable food culture. #sorrynotsorry.

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Since my NYC return, I’ve met up with many friends who have greeted me with, “Looks like you ate so well on your trip!” I look at them, confused, wondering where they gleaned this information. Because, yes, I literally don’t know how to Not eat well (and by well right now I really just mean plentifully), but I wouldn’t say my time in Guatemala was the epitome of this. They respond that my Instagram food pictures looked amazing (which I just attribute to the beautiful woven tablecloths that adorned every table), what great vegetarian options there were, etc. What they don’t know is that Every Meal I Didn’t Post on Instagram consisted of corn tortillas, overscrambled eggs, mayo-y boiled vegetables, and bean mush. Hence my excitement in returning to the world of Extreme Bowl Culture.

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And hence this very simple lunch I’ve been dreaming about since approximately one week into my trip, or you know, since before Thanksgiving. This meal riffs on a snack I used to assemble for lunch during long shifts at Bakeri, comprised of easy ingredients we always had prepped. I bought my kasha at a Polish deli for very cheap, but I’m sure you can find it in the bulk section at any health store. Kasha is a fancy name for toasted buckwheat, which it’s a bit nuttier than the untoasted variety. Kasha is brown; if it hasn’t been toasted yet it will be green. You can assemble everything beforehand; the salad is just as good warm as it is at room temp. Feel free to add parmesan or feta to de-veganize this. A handful of baby salad greens would also be a nice addition.

one year ago: hot honey pizza with roasted broccoli and red onion and bengali egg curry 

Kasha Bowl with Roasted Cherry Tomatoes

a Swanky original
serves 1 hungry person at lunch

scant 1 c kasha, uncooked (this will make more than you need; cooked kasha keeps well when covered in the fridge)
2 cups water
1 cup cherry tomatoes
3ish tablespoons olive oil, separated
1 onion, sliced thin
handful of kalamata olives
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
hot sauce if you’re feeling it
s&p

To make buckwheat: Bring water to a boil. Add kasha. Simmer for about 10 minutes, or until tender. Strain.

To roast tomatoes: Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place tomatoes on a baking pan and cover with a healthy drizzle of olive oil, plus s&p. Roast for 12 minutes, stirring halfway through. Tomatoes will be crinkly, puckered, juicy, and blistered when done. Mmm.

To “caramelize” onion: I am no expert on this, as I always get impatient and try to turn up the heat. But do as I say, not as I do: Heat enough olive oil to coat the bottom of a large skillet on medium heat. Add onions and a big pinch of salt. Cook on medium-low at the highest, stirring occasionally, for EVER, or until tender and sweet. Or don’t, turn the heat up, and embrace the charred onion bits, just like me. 🙂

To assemble: Mix together about ½ cup cooked kasha (or more) (or less), cooked tomatoes, caramelized onions, and olives in a BOWL (or a platter first cause it’s pretty). Mix together about 1 tablespoon olive oil and the balsamic vinegar; season with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over salad. Add hot sauce if you want a kick. Commence eating.

 

Guatemalan Rellenitos de Plátano

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…aka mashed plantains stuffed with slightly sweetened black bean paste, deep fried until caramelized and satisfyingly crunchy. The jury is out on when you’re supposed to eat this delicacy–I was served it at dinner with scrambled eggs and black beans, but felt it may be more appropriate for dessert.

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For those of you who have, in a passing moment, considered the swanky sweet potato and contemplated the absence of recipes lately, I supposed it’s only polite to let you know — I’m in Guatemala! Two months sans kitchen, reliable internet, or good showers. (My apologies if the third part is of no importance to you.) I’ll have five weeks of intensive Spanish lessons and living in a home with an incredibly lovely family but where I’m not exactly welcomed in the kitchen. As decadent as it is to be given three meals a day without needing to wash a single dish, I miss autonomy. I love mornings experimenting with the perfect scrambled eggs, or daydreaming about what to make for dinner during the late afternoon stretch. I miss being inspired by whatever appears in my CSA, at the farmers’ market, or perusing my favorite blogs for ideas. It’s a funny feeling never knowing what to expect at a meal — when is the last time you had so little say in what you ate? For me, it was probably early high school at summer camp. Strange. (Don’t get me wrong, dear reader, I am Loving my time here! Every day presents a new aspect of the regional culture or the immense natural beauty or the fraught political atmosphere. My Spanish gets stronger daily, and I’m meeting curious new minds, both local and the traveler-variety.)

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However when the opportunity presented itself to take a cooking class last Friday, I jumped at the chance! Turns out “cooking class” was a subtle ploy to have students help make the traditional dinner we were to be served that night at the weekly graduation festivities, but I jumped on board just the same. The above-mentioned rellenitos were a great hands-on, tactile project. I definitely recommend making these with kids—you treat the plantains like play-do! All four of us attending the “class” certainly took some frustrations out on these fried pillows of plantain-goodness. There isn’t much of a recipe for these love bundles, so feel free to adapt as you see fit. Please forgive this bare bones recipes. It is not sophisticated (and in fact I use the word “mush”), but it combines two important Guatemalan staples and is worth the effort.

 

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The first batch of the little buggers… this is me patiently waiting the requisite minute so I don’t completely burn my face off.

Note: Guatemalans are super into pre-cooked refried black beans. You can get them at every grocery store and cornerside tienda in an astonishing variety of package shapes and cooking-methods (boil in a bag! microwave! grill!). The consistency is very paste-like — I believe the beans have already been cooked with spices and oil and then blended. I’d try this recipe with refried beans out of a can, or make your own bean mush with a some cooked black beans, savory spices, and a blender. You don’t need so much for the recipe though, so make sure you choose something where you can use the leftovers.

Additional Note: In the spirit of “seize the day” and trying to soak in my Guatemalan environment, these photos are unedited and straight from my phone. Apologies to anyone who may be offended by this.

Just a smattering of the pre-cooked bean options available at your local Guatemalan supermarket… Mmm mmm, look at those silky black beauties.

one year ago: honey and cinnamon apples, cheesy bulgur risotto with broccoli, and Indian-spiced cabbage and onions

Rellenitos de Plátano

as remembered from my PLQ cooking class

medium-ripe plantains (no black spots but not green)
black bean mush of choice (see note)
ground cinnamon
sugar
flour to coat
oil to fry
powdered sugar (optional)

Peel plantains and boil in a big vat of water. When they’re very soft, scoop out with a slotted spoon onto plates. Use forks to mash the plantains into a paste like consistency. Set aside.

Place bean mush in a bowl. Add cinnamon and sugar to taste. You want a slightly sweet final product, not an approximation of Asian-style red bean paste. For the giant vat of plantains we used, we probably added about 1 t cinnamon and a bit more sugar. Taste as you go.

Take a small handful of plantain “dough” and flatten it into a patty or pancake a bit bigger than the palm of your hand. The patty should be about a centimeter thick, maybe a bit less. Scoop 1/2 tablespoon or so of bean mixture into the center of plantain patty. Fold sides up and around bean paste and fold ends in, forming a cylinder-esque bundle about two inches long. Coat generously in flour by rolling on a plate with a shallow layer of flour and using your hands to pat it gently in. Wash your hands throughout the process as necessary.

In a deep frying pan, bring about a half-inch of oil to a simmer. Gently add rellenitos and fry until golden brown. Don’t overcrowd the pan. I would try about 10 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. I ate these as part of a dinner, but if you want them for dessert, sprinkle with powdered sugar. Serve warm.

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From yesterday’s hike up Volcan Santa Maria. We started climbing in the dark at 1 am and made it to the top (above the clouds!) for a chilly and incredible sunrise.

 

Butternut and Black Bean Stuffed Poblanos with Pepita Crema

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Every morning Daniel asks the same questions — “How’d you sleep?”, followed by “any dreams?” If I say yes, the next question is “exciting dreams or Ilanna dreams?”

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“Ilanna dreams” meaning those completely mundane dreams you confuse with real life upon waking up — “Oh I got three emails from my college lab partner about throwing a party for…wait…that was a dream.” or “I went to our usual coffee place but the waitress from the Thai place was the barist…. hm, nope, dream.” They’re always Really boring. I feel like I’ve failed my creative theater brethren with my dreamlife.

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The night after I made these peppers, I had the most vivid dreams I’ve had in months. One involved me walking around a pool in an Aladdin-esque Saudi Arabia in a bikini while everyone around me was fully covered. It felt like the set of Mad Men, complete with 60s music and the surreal sensation that no one was paying attention to me but everyone was surreptitiously following my every move. There may have been a green screen involved? After my lap around the pool I was given an ice cold lemonade and pile of skirts and scarves by my friend Nina and her boyfriend, who were very concerned for my modesty.

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I also dreamt my intern lived in a lavish Victorian mansion with high ceilings near Washington Square, and overnight crafted gigantic wings to be worn in the Halloween parade. Which is sorta what she’s supposed to be doing right now honestly, but in the dream everything was bigger and glitzier and momentous. And I doubt her dorm room resembles a mansion. ….but now that I’m writing this down it sounds quite dull. A true Ilanna dream after all. Damn, thought I had reached new dreamheights.

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Someone should try these peppers and let me know if the dreams (fine, one dream) were (was?) a fluke. Also because this pepita crema is so creamy, despite not having any actual cream! That alone is worth a try. And don’t overlook that these peppers contain all my favorite parts of bastardized Mexican food (see also: gringa-Yankee-vegetarian tacos): spice, cheese, roasted orange vegetables, etc. Mmm.

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one year ago: sweet sesame cauliflower, snow pea, and kale salad 

Butternut and Black Bean Stuffed Poblanos with Pepita Crema

adapted from simply healthy family and the bojon gourmet

Don’t want to make pepita crema? a) you’re crazy but b) try instead with a hot-ish sauce like my new favorite or perhaps whip up a batch of tomatillo peach salsa 

4 poblano peppers (or 3 poblanos and 1 normal green pepper if your CSA provided an odd number…)
½ T olive oil
½ an onion, diced
1 heaping cup butternut squash, in small cubes
1 15-oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
½ cup cooked quinoa
1 T creamy goat cheese
1 c Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, shredded
cilantro, roughly chopped
pepita crema** (recipe below)
**to make crema, you must soak your pepitas in advance! Anywhere from 4-12 hours. Do it in the morning when you want to make this for dinner!

Turn on your broiler as high as it will go. Place poblanos in a cast iron skillet and stick under broiler. Roast for 8 minutes. Take them out of the oven and carefully flip peppers over with tongs. Roast them for another 8 minutes. At this point, skin should be slightly blackened and puckering. Stick back under broiler if more time is needed, and don’t worry if skin gets pretty darn charred. It just adds flavor! (If you’re using regular green peppers, this will take at least twice as long.) Place directly into an ice bath, and turn oven to 450 degrees.

In the meantime, make your filling. Heat oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Cook onion and squash for 7-9 minutes, until onions are translucent and squash has begun to soften. Add corn, beans, and quinoa. Mix and take off heat. Add goat cheese and mix until just combined. (This recipe makes way more filling than necessary — feel free to make more poblanos or just cook the filling a bit longer and eat as a salad, or fried egg accompaniment, or inside a quesadilla, etc…)

Remove skin from peppers carefully. Cut a small slit in each and remove seeds, either by shaking them gently in the ice bath or carefully cutting the inner core out. Don’t worry if you accidentally puncture the peppers as long as they’re mostly in tact. Scoop filling into peppers, reshaping as necessary. Place them in a baking dish or back into the cast iron. Cook at 450 for 10-12 minutes, or until squash are tender. Cover with Monterey Jack and return to oven. Cook for another 5 minutes or so, until cheese is totally melted.

To plate, make a pool of crema on a plate. Place poblano atop crema and sprinkle with cilantro.

To make Pepita Crema:

(makes more than you’ll need…)

½ c pepitas (pumpkin seeds), soaked for 4-12 hrs
1 scant t cumin seeds, toasted
1 lime, juiced
½ clove garlic, roughly chopped
¼ t fine sea salt
⅓ c water

Combine everything in blender. Blend for 3-5 minutes, scraping down sides as needed, until crema thickens. Don’t doubt it; just keep blending! It really works!

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two-in-one! Extra filling makes a great egg accompaniment the next day.

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carnivore adds slow-cooked shredded chicken to his (but it’s totally unnecessary!)