Israeli Salad

Israeli Salad with Chickpeas

Cucumbers, peppers, tomatoes.  An Israeli salad seems so obvious, it shouldn’t require a recipe.  And yet, it was a revelation to me when I first encountered it in my mid-twenties.  I learned it about from an Israeli friend while we were attending a conference.  Each night for three nights, she made this salad to go along with dinner, each night a little different, but always wonderfully fresh and delicious.  After returning from that trip, the salad became an instant summer staple, and it has changed little over the years.  Eventually (i.e. after the kids came along) I started adding chickpeas, as a convenience, really.  It meant that now I could put a big bowl of salad on the table and call it dinner.  A mother’s dream.

Whatever else you have planned for the weekend, give this salad a try, while the ingredients are still abundant and the evenings are still warm enough to serve salad as dinner without too many explanations.  It travels great, so bring it along to a picnic or barbeque.

Israeli Salad

lemon

chickpeas

Israeli Salad

Israeli Salad

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french lentil and kale salad

French Lentil and Kale Salad

July weather has arrived and with it summer cooking.  Now summer cooking means no cooking or baking on the stove or in the oven between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m.  We have a single window unit AC for the whole house and it is not powerful enough to overcome the heat generated by the stove.  So for a few days in June, and August, and for most of July we end up eating salads.  Lots and lots of salads, with the occasional grilled meal thrown in.  Most salads contain a starch or grain cooked either early in the morning or after the kids have gone to bed, and then mixed into the salads after they have cooled.

In late January and February, when the days are still short and cold, and it seems like winter will never end, and summer never return, I look forward to summer cooking.  Because summer cooking is really all about the vegetables.  It is as fresh as it gets, with vegetables picked only hours or days before they end up on our plates.  It really is a good time of year for cooking!

Kale originates in the Mediterranean region and is a cultivar of the Brassica oleracea species, which among others includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli and Brussel sprouts.  While growing, kale leaves do not form a tight head (think cabbage and Brussel sprouts) and kale is thought to be more closely related to wild cabbage than some of the other cultivars in the Brassica oleracea species.  Kale is thought to be the first cultivar of the wild cabbage to have originated.  Kale originated sometime in the 5th century BC, following many generations of selective breeding of for ever larger leaves on the ancestral wild cabbage.  For a fascinating read on the history of the entire cabbage family, check out the University of Saskatchewan website.

kale

kale

kale stems veins

french lentil and kale salad

french lentil and kale salad

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Chili Garlic Sesame Pasta Tofu Sugar Snap Peas

Chili, Garlic, and Sesame Pasta with Tofu and Sugar Snap Peas

Only recently was I introduced to this five ingredient sauce, but I already know this sauce and I will be together forever.  Why you ask?

  1. It is versatile.  The first time I was introduced to it, it was being served with scallion pancakes as the dipping sauce.  Here I pour it over pasta.  And of course I look forward to marinating some chicken with it one of these afternoons to throw on the grill.
  2. It is so simple to make and if you frequently cook with Asian flavors, it is likely you already have all the ingredients on hand.
  3. The flavor combination is just perfect! The garlic, chili, and sesame work wonderfully together.

What gives chili its characteristic pungency or burning sensation in the mouth is a lipohilic chemical called capsaicin.  There are two theories on why capsaicin may have evolved in chilies: 1) as a defense from mammals, and 2) as a defense against fungi.   When mammals eat the chili fruit, the seeds are ground up by molars, and after passing through the digestive tract the seeds are no longer able to germinate.  Birds do not have the necessary proteins to respond to capsaicin and generally swallow the seeds whole, which are then still able to germinate after passing through the avian digestive tract.  In this manner, birds are a mechanism through which the plant disperses its seeds.  With respect to the second theory, there is a fungus, Fusarium, which can infect chili plants, resulting in wilting of the plant, which in turn affects fruit production and reduces viability of the seeds.  This fungus is deterred by capsaicin.

Chili plants were domesticated over 5000 years ago in South America (Harold McGee).  After Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the New World, the plants quickly spread throughout the world, and today are common in traditional cuisines all over the world.  Chilies belong to the genus Capsicum and there are 5 species within this genus which have been domesticated, although most chilies that one can find at the supermarket are derived from only a single species, Capsicum annuum.  Through breeding, the pungency of chilies can be altered, and some have been bread to be mild enough to eat as vegetables.  All unripe chilies are green, and during the ripening process they obtain their characteristic colors from yellow to red, orange, and purple.

 

ingredients

tofu

scallions

sugar snap peas

Chili Garlic Sesame Pasta Tofu Sugar Snap Peas

Chili Garlic Sesame Pasta Tofu Sugar Snap Peas

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french lentil salad lemon vinaigrette

French Lentil Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

According to Harold McGee, a vinaigrette is a water-in-oil emulsion, which means that tiny vinegar droplets are dispersed within the oil, while the oil is the continuous phase, meaning it coats each droplet and fills the empty space between the vinegar droplets. Compare this to, for example, mayonnaise, which is an oil-in-water emulsion with oil droplets suspended in water.

A vinaigrette is usually made by first adding the salt and vinegar to a bowl and allowing the salt to dissolve. Next, the oil is added.  According to Michael Ruhlman in the book Ratio, the manner in which the oil is added determines the texture and longevity of the emulsion.  If oil is added all at once and briefly whisked with a fork, the vinegar droplets in the oil remain relatively large and only temporarily combine.  Adding the oil in a thin stream while the vinegar is being blended continuously with an immersion blender results in droplets of vinegar that may be as small as 3 thousandth of a millimeter across (Harold McGee) forming a thick and stable emulsion with a consistency similar to mayonnaise (depending on the water content).

lemon peel

lemon vinaigrette

vegetables

vegetables

vegetables

The ideal ratio for a vinaigrette is 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar or other acid such as citrus (Michael Ruhlman).  3:1 is roughly the ratio I use in this lemon vinaigrette, which also has the lemon peel added for additional flavor.  I use a fork to briefly blend the lemon juice and olive oil, creating only a temporary emulsion.  Alternatively, an immersion blender could be used to whisk the lemon juice while slowly incorporating the oil.  When I make this vinaigrette with an immersion blender, I often add the herbs to the vinegar and salt mixture, creating a lovely pale green (and delicious) dressing.

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wheat berry salad roasted vegetables

Wheat Berry Salad with Roasted Vegetables

Wheat berries are wheat kernels containing the bran or hard outer covering of the seed, the germ or embryo (what will grow into the plant) and the endosperm or nutrition for the initial growth of the germ.  Whole wheat flour is milled wheat berries.  Generally, I find at least three different kinds of wheat berries at the grocery store: wheat berries, farro, kamut and spelt.

According to Harold McGee, what distinguishes these wheat species are their origins, preferred growth conditions and their chromosomal ploidy.  90% of the wheat species grown today are hexaploid, meaning they have six sets of chromosomes.  These wheat kernels are used for making bread and are what is generally sold in stores as “wheat berries”.  Of the remaining 10% of wheat grown, most of it is durum wheat used for making pasta.  Durum wheat is tetraploid, meaning it has three sets of chromosomes.   Only a small fraction of wheat that is grown consists of what are considered ancient wheat such as farro, kamut and spelt.  These can be distinguished by their origins.  Farro is the Italian name for emmer wheat. Kamut is the Egyptian word for wheat and it is an ancient relative of durum wheat.  Spelt is from central Europe and is closely related to today’s bread wheat.

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vegetables

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roasted vegetables

wheat berries

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