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

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Israeli Salad

Israeli Salad

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pea millet salad

Pea and Millet Salad with Grilled Vegetables and Blue Cheese Dressing

Shelling peas reminds me of visits to my Grandmother’s house, sitting on her balcony with a huge bucket of peas.  I surmise that bucket is huge only in my memory, and likely contained no more peas than our family would eat for supper that night. I liked sitting there, shelling peas, chasing after the peas that got away while pealing.  Back then, eating them was another matter altogether, I was not a picky eater, but peas I did not like.  These days I cannot resist a peas straight of the vine

Peas belong to a very important family of edible plants, the legume family, second in importance only to the grasses the seeds of which give us wheat, maize, and rice.  Legumes are known for their high protein content and are used in many parts of the world as a dietary staple in lieu of animal proteins.  Legumes are good at producing protein due to their symbiotic relationship with Rhizobium, a soil bacterium that invades its roots and fixes nitrogen from the air for the plants use.

Peas have been cultivated for over 9,000 years and are native to the Mediterranean region and East Asia.  Traditionally, peas are eaten when the fruit is fully mature – referred to today as split peas.  Split peas were an important source of protein in Europe during the middle ages, and only during early modern times did the consumption of immature peas become common.  In England, the distinction between garden peas (immature peas) and field peas (mature peas) dates to the 17th century.

What is, to me, by far most interesting about peas is their contribution to our understanding of genetics.  Through the work of Gregor Mendel, we understand the laws that govern how traits are passed down through generations, called the laws of Mendelian inheritance.  Mendel followed 7 different characteristics of peas (such as seed shape and color) through multiple generations to define these laws.

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pea

peas

grilled vegetables

grilled vegetables

pea millet 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.

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kale

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french lentil and kale salad

french lentil and kale salad

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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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tempeh bacon blt

Tempeh Bacon BLT

Tempeh is a popular Indonesian soy bean ferment that could be considered a “meat analog” according to Shurtleff and Aoyagi due to its texture, flavor and protein content.  There is some uncertainty regarding the origins of tempeh (Shurtleff and Aoyagi, 1985).  The earliest written record of tempeh comes from a compilation of Javanese tales and teachings, written in 1815.  However at that time, tempeh was already widely used in Indonesia and estimates as to its origins range from 1600 A.D. to over 2000 years ago.  One possibility for the origins of tempeh is that Chinese traders brought soy beans to Indonesia, where they were then used in place of coconuts in a ferment that was already well established (coconut press cake tempeh or Tempe bongkrèk).  Alternatively, the Chinese brought both the soy beans and the idea of fermentation, since soybean were already being fermented in China using the Aspergillus mold to make soybean koji, a step in the production of soy sauce.  The recipe was then adapted to a mold better suited to the tropical climate of Indonesia.

Tempeh is a firm cake, composed of dehulled soybeans surrounded by the white mycelium of the Rhizopus mold. Tempeh is made by taking soybeans and soaking them overnight in water.  The tough outer covering of the beans is then removed and the beans are cooked.   Once cooked, they are traditionally subjected to a lactic acid pre-ferment in order to provide a more hospitable environment for the Rhizopus mold, although today this step is often replaced by the addition of an acid, such as vinegar.  The soybeans are then inoculated with Rhizopus oligosporus and left to ferment at 30C for 24 hours.

The mycelium, which grows around the soybeans, is the vegetative part of the fungus, and it is responsible for breaking down and absorbing the nutrients of its substrate enabling the fungus to grow.  The mycelium secretes enzymes, capable of breaking polymers of lipids, proteins and carbohydrates into their respective monomers.  By breaking down the polymers, the fungus renders the soybean more readily digested by humans.  In particular, some of the carbohydrates in soybeans which are associated with indigestion are reduced in tempeh.

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