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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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.

pea

pea

peas

grilled vegetables

grilled vegetables

pea millet salad

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Sweet Potato Quinoa Cakes and Red Cabbage Slaw

Sweet Potato Quinoa Cakes and Red Cabbage Slaw

I’m excited to share this recipe with you since I am sure you will love it as much as I do!  White quinoa usually does not make it to the top of my list of preferred grains.  I don’t care for its lack of texture, non-descript flavor, or sweetness.   But this recipe is different!  It turns the grains usual negatives into positives.  First, the lack of texture (mushiness?) allows for little cakes to be shaped and maintain said shape during the browning without the addition of eggs.  Second, the browning step creates these little cakes that are crispy on the outside and delicious and moist on the inside.   If you are still on the fence about trying this recipe, all you needed, at its simplest, is quinoa, water and a little oil for browning.   Then, the possibilities for flavor combinations are endless, and even the kids are inspired by the blank canvas that these quinoa cakes provide.  One kid suggested adding apples and cinnamon next time (according to this child, there is nothing that cannot be enhanced by the addition of apples).   Served with a little maple butter?  Sounds good to me!   I can feel a future Cooking With Kids post coming….

Adding a little bit of vinegar to sweet potatoes while sautéing helps to preserve their structure and prevents them from turning mushy.  The cell walls of plants are made of cellulose held together by pectin and hemi-cellulose.  While cellulose remains unchanged when exposed to heat and moisture, both pectin and hemi-cellulose tend to become soluble causing cells to loose their structural integrity resulting in vegetables that soften and eventually become mushy.  The acid in the vinegar helps to keep the sweet potatoes firm by preventing pectin and hemi-cellulose from dissolving.  If you do not have the recommended apple cider vinegar on hand, any acid will do: citrus juice, or any other vinegar.

vegetables

a leek supreme vegetables

quinoa cakes

red cabbage slaw

red cabbage slaw

red cabbage slaw

Sweet Potato Quinoa Cakes and Red Cabbage Slaw

Sweet Potato Quinoa Cakes and Red Cabbage Slaw

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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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