Summer (or anytime) quinoa salad

Photo of quinoa salad from original Cooking Light recipe.

Photo of quinoa salad from original Cooking Light recipe.

Getting together with friends and family is a good excuse to eat well. Here’s a simple salad recipe that can survive post-meal lack of attention on the dining table or picnic buffet.

The original recipe is fairly different, which just shows that this salad is highly modifiable and you don’t need to worry about exact measurements. Adjust everything to your tastes.
Dressing:
— juice of two large lemons (about 1/2 cup) mixed with about half as much extra virgin olive oil
— fresh ground salt and pepper
— 2 garlic cloves finely chopped
Other salad ingredients:
— one clamshell package of mint leaves, finely chopped (1/3 cup)
— large handful of dried sulphured apricots, cut in small pieces
— one bunch of green onions sliced in small pieces (five or six thin green onions)
— two small/one large jalapeño pepper(s) finely chopped (seeds and membranes removed; wear gloves while handling)
(pour dressing over these ingredients and set aside while finishing the steps that follow)
— 2 cups uncooked quinoa, cooked according to directions on package (mix red and white quinoa for more color); let cool and then fluff with a fork
— 3/4 cup slivered almonds toasted deeply, then cooled (toasting in a cast iron skillet works well if you have one)
— spring salad mix torn into bite size pieces (don’t use a mix with radicchio–too bitter)
Toss all ingredients together, adding lettuce and almonds just before serving. Makes 10-12 generous servings as a side dish and is good on day two. Simply halve all ingredients for a smaller salad.

Reducing food waste

One of the ways I want to live better in the new year is by reducing my food waste. I can give you a list of reasons why this is still an “area for improvement,” including the shameful fact that it’s easier for me to squander food than it is to use it carefully. I can make an equally long list of why it’s important to do better.

Below are three intentional choices I’m focusing on in 2015.
(In case you’re wondering, my husband will eat anything I cook and appears grateful not to have to do the work himself—we agree on this arrangement. My child is a very picky eater. There is waste.)

1. Plan and cook meals.

The good news is that every aspect of planning and cooking gets easier with practice. I try to be gentle with myself and accept that it takes experimentation to figure out what works generally and even more practice and experimentation to manage meals around fluctuating schedules and workloads. I have also accepted that sometimes I will eat microwave meals from cardboard trays.

If you’re looking for encouragement, recipes, and tips on cooking more no matter your budget/schedule/aptitude, I like the food writer and activist Mark Bittman.

Here’s one version of a meal planning guide, and here’s meal planning advice from a professional organizer and mother to seven.

2. Shop based on the meal plan.

I’m grateful to be able to shop at a food co-op where many fresh and staple ingredients are sold in bulk and I can buy exactly the amount I need. For things like canned tomato paste or packaged fresh herbs or celery, I try to cook more than one recipe calling for those ingredients so they get used up. I’ve also learned that a surprising number of foods can be frozen for later use (check out these tips for storing all kinds of food).

3. Store food in a way that maximizes freshness.

Finding a slimy bag of lettuce in the refrigerator is such a disappointment. It’s like throwing away money along with your dreams for a better, healthier you. The only way I’ve been able to avoid slimy/desiccated produce is to plan my shopping so that I have time to take care of fruits and vegetables as soon as I get home (e.g. wash and dry greens and get them into an airtight container). It might be worth your time to read up on best storage techniques for items you buy regularly (tips for storing all kinds of food so it lasts longer).

If you have questions about whether you’ve stored food too long, visit StillTasty.com for guidance on whether it’s safe to eat (even if the expiration date has passed).

* * *

In the United States, many restaurant meals are super-sized, which makes it hard to avoid wasting food when eating out. But this could be changing. There are a growing number of successful fast food restaurants serving fresh and locally-grown food, probably in healthful portion sizes. And last fall an activist investor took control of the parent company of restaurant chain Olive Garden—known for big servings and all you can eat breadsticks—and was quoted thusly in the New York Times:

“Portion sizes may be gradually reduced,” Starboard wrote, “as guests begin to equate Olive Garden’s value proposition more with quality and excellence at fair prices, than with massive quantities of barely edible fried items, excessive cheeses, and heavy cream sauces.”

Quality and excellence at fair prices? Amen.

Some simple fall recipes, just in time for winter

Where I live we are bracing for the first snowfall of the season, which is predicted to be a blizzard. So…

It’s a good time to be inside cooking and making the most of fall squashes and cool weather crops like brussels sprouts, radishes, cauliflower and cabbage. If you try one of these recipes, let me know what you think. (I’ve linked to my comments on Pinterest about simplifying the original recipes—if you don’t see my comments on your device and you really want to know what I did, you may need to go into my individual pins. Sorry!)

Fall-toush salad (by smittenkitchen.com) featuring roasted delicata squash and brussels sprouts

Smoky roasted cauliflower soup (by anediblemosaic.com)

Cauliflower with feta-yogurt, pomegranate and mint (by smittenkitchen.com)

Simple slawColeslaw, two ways

Non-dairy coleslaw

  • small head of green cabbage
  • two bunches of red radishes
  • chopped fresh cilantro
  • juice of two limes
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wash and trim ends from the radishes, then use a food processor or grater to shred them. Put the radish in a colander and sprinkle liberally with salt, then let it rest; after 10 minutes, rinse the radish with water and then press the liquid out—this process takes away the vegetable’s bite.

Use a food processor or a knife to slice half the cabbage into thin, bite-size pieces. Toss with the radish, cilantro and lime juice. Add more cabbage if you want. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Coleslaw with mayonnaise (from The Joy of Cooking, 1997)

  • one small cabbage (green or purple)
  • three or four carrots
  • 3/4 c. mayonnaise
  • 1/4 c. white vinegar
  • 1 T. sugar
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Use a food processor or a knife to slice the cabbage into thin, bite-size pieces. Peel and trim the ends of the carrots and use a food processor or grater to shred them. Whisk together mayonnaise, vinegar and sugar, then add to cabbage and carrots. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Simple summer bean salad

Although I hesitate to call anything foolproof, this recipe is so easy and flexible that even a recipe-dependent cook like me can make it without a recipe.

Black Bean Salad

simple black bean salad

Whisk together the following to make a dressing:

  • juice of two limes
  • olive oil–aim for 1/3 to 1/2 as much as the lime juice
  • some freshly ground black pepper
  • some salt

Add to the dressing:

  • 2 15 oz. cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
  • a bell pepper, diced
  • two jalapeño peppers, finely chopped (use gloves when chopping; if you remove seeds and inner membranes, the peppers will have almost no heat)
  • a lot of chopped cilantro
  • two or three green onions (white and green parts), thinly sliced
  • kernels sliced from two ears of cooked sweet corn (or use frozen sweet corn, thawed)
  • big handful of cherry or grape tomatoes, sliced in half (I used Sun Gold tomatoes from my garden!)

The salad improves after a night in the refrigerator.

Simple Thai-inspired salad

simple Thai inspired saladThis salad is the soup of my spring: mostly veggies, done in a large batch for multiple meals ready to eat. The recipe was posted by the friend of a friend who recently started blogging about food, and the version below shows my modifications.

Simple Thai-inspired Salad

  • large head Napa cabbage (wash, spin dry, and cut out white spine of leaves, then cut stacks of leaves into bite-size pieces)
  • cilantro leaves (as much as you want chopped and tossed with the cabbage)
  • four to six carrots, peeled and cut into matchsticks
  • two large red bell peppers, seeded and cut into matchsticks
  • two Persian cucumbers, sliced
  • two packages of firm organic tofu (press excess liquid from tofu, cube, and toss with light coating of vegetable oil and soy sauce; bake on a cookie sheet in 425F oven until tofu takes on a chewy texture)
  • brown basmati rice
  • peanut sauce—mix following ingredients together:
    3/4 c. natural creamy peanut butter
    1/2 c vinegar (white vinegar or seasoned or unseasoned rice wine vinegar)
    8 teaspoons soy sauce

The way I’ve been making it, the peanut sauce is too thick to drizzle over the salad and I end up adding it in dollops. This in no way diminishes the deliciousness of the salad, which unites warm and cool, nutty and tangy and salty and sweet, and chewy and crunchy. You may, in fact, want to make extra peanut sauce, in which case you should consult the original Have Some recipe and make your increases accordingly.

If you’ve been wondering about sprouted tofu, here’s a quick overview. If you store cooked rice in the refrigerator, stop. Refrigerators dry rice out, so leave the cooked rice in the rice cooker (unplugged) for up to two days.

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Two other recipes I’ve made several times in the last month:

Blue Sky Bran Muffins by Smitten Kitchen

Spring Salad with New Potatoes by Smitten Kitchen

What have you been cooking?

One-bowl salad meals

Where I live, we typically endure five months of winter (this year, harsh and unrelenting and over-the-edge-pushing winter), followed by what feels like two weeks of spring. At that point I am usually caught feeling unprepared to put away my parka (which most closely resembles a sleeping bag) and wear more revealing clothing.

That’s a whole lot of build-up to say that I’m trying to plan ahead this year by switching now from high calorie lasagna and cauliflower tart to lighter fare. And, just in time, Real Simple magazine has offered some suggestions for fancy salads which they more accurately call one-bowl meals.

The magazine shows five one-bowl meals, but makes the point that it’s “real simple” to get creative by mixing and matching from a starter list of healthy ingredients that includes grains, greens, proteins, vegetables and herbs, cheese, and “wild cards” like olives and nuts. Everything can be prepped in advance and combined later for a simple, fresh-tasting meal.

simple way to keep greens

In case you are like me and have a sad history of not using greens before they turn slimy and foul (despite reading many times about how to avoid just that situation), here’s what is working for me: I wash and dry the greens as soon as I buy them and put them in an airtight container. That way they’re ready to use (no excuses!) and stay fresh for about five days.

Finding a good dressing has also been an obstacle to me eating more salad. Most bottled dressings have strange preservatives, including too much salt and/or sugar. Salad Girl dressings (made in my home state of Minnesota) taste good and have only recognizable ingredients, but I really just need to start making my own basic vinaigrette.

If you have a favorite homemade dressing recipe, please share it here!

Lasagna puttanesca and more

Warm lentil and potato salad, photo courtesy of Smitten Kitchen

Warm lentil and potato salad, recipe and photo courtesy of Smitten Kitchen

There haven’t been any food-related posts for awhile because I fell back into my old patterns. I ended up throwing out some rotten vegetables purchased with the best of intentions, and eating a bunch of junk that was quick and overpriced and, in some cases, made me feel worse not better.

So I’m glad to be moving beyond worthy excuses (the holidays, work deadlines, suspected norovirus, and a lingering weather phenomenon called the polar vortex) and starting to cook again.

Note: before the holidays I wondered if I should make an effort to find and post recipes that don’t take a lot of time to prepare and don’t require what sound to me like “fancy” ingredients (capers? cornichons?). However, I’ve realized that part of what motivates me to cook is the opportunity to try new things (such as capers and cornichons), and that investing time in preparing something that reheats well is worth the effort.

I’ll continue posting recipes that I have enjoyed making and eating—using Pinterest so you can see the original recipe and picture along with my comments—and you can of course ignore whatever is not useful to you.

Lasagna Puttanesca (if you’re going to invest in capers for this recipe, consider also making the warm lentil and potato salad)

Warm lentil and potato salad

Roasted cauliflower and caramelized onion tart

Cauliflower fritters (or not)