Category Archives: Vegetarian

Pesto Pasta Salad with Juliet Tomatoes

Pesto Pasta Salad

I had my first taste of Hillside Farms‘ baby Roma tomatoes last summer, at the beginning of my local food adventures.  The moment that first Juliet tomato burst in my mouth was an epiphany. It tasted like sunshine, sweeter than any tomato I’d ever eaten.

I had been skeptical about the locavore movement until then, but with that one bite I finally understood what the “eat local” hoopla was about. A year later, I’ve certainly bought into the local food movement. And my heart still pitter-pats every time I see Hillside Farms’ Juliet tomatoes in my Local Box.

If I don’t eat them straight out of the package, I enjoy using Juliet tomatoes in a simple pasta salad with pesto dressing. I almost always have goat cheese and the ingredients for homemade pesto in my fridge during the summer months, and this salad is one of my favorite things to cook on nights when Juliet tomatoes arrive in the Local Box.

This salad is as versatile as it is easy to prepare. I’ve added olives, chopped green onions, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, baby spinach, grilled chicken breast, and even chopped raw baby squash to this salad, all with good results. It’s a terrific base for whatever I’m craving along with those sweet little tomatoes from Hillside Farms.

Pesto Pasta Salad with Juliet Tomatoes (serves two as a main dish as written;  serves more if you stretch it by adding more veggies or meats)

1/2 lb. farfalle, penne, or conchiglie pasta
1 cup fresh basil leaves, packed
1/4 cup grated parmesan or Romano cheese
1/3 cup olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 pint Juliet tomatoes
4 ounces goat cheese

Cook and drain pasta according to package directions. Meanwhile, prepare pesto sauce by combining basil, grated cheese, olive oil, and minced garlic and one teaspoon of salt in a food processor. Pulse for about 90 seconds, until pesto is uniform in texture. Set pesto aside until the cooked, drained pasta is cool to the touch. After that, mix the pasta and pesto sauce in a serving dish.

Put the goat cheese in the freezer for a few minutes while you slice the cherry tomatoes in half. (Chilling the soft cheese makes much easier to break up later.) Add the sliced tomatoes to the dressed pasta, then use a butter knife to chip the cold goat cheese into the salad. Gently stir the finished salad to combine all the ingredients and chill it for at least an hour in the fridge before serving.

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and appears on their blog “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

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Cowpea Salad

I love cooking with cowpeas. They’re versatile and easy to work with, and undeniably pretty. I seek them out at summer farmer’s markets, and I rejoice when they arrive in our Local Box. Lucky for me, cowpeas are a heat loving crop that flourishes in Austin’s hottest months.

There are several varieties of cowpeas growing in Central Texas:  black eyed, lady cream, and purple hull peas are some of the most common. Cowpeas are usually removed from their hulls before they are sold at market, packed in snack-sized plastic baggies with about 1.5 cups of loose peas per package. All the varieties of cowpeas in Austin are recognizable by their pale color, kidney shape and the signature darkened “eye” at their center.


In my experience, each variety of cowpea can be used interchangeably in recipes. Lightly-steamed cowpeas can also substitute for cooked English peas or white beans in many preparations. My friend Megan at Stetted likes to eat them raw as a snack, and they are stewed with tomatoes and jalapenos in traditional Southern dishes.

The inspiration for this cowpea recipe came from Blue Star Cafeteria, a little restaurant in the Rosedale neighborhood of Austin. Among other things, they serve a terrific shrimp cocktail with homemade pea salad and saltines on the side. Pure comfort food. I order that dish every time we visit, and while I’ll happily share the shrimp, I save all that creamy pea salad for myself.

I recreated Blue Star’s pea salad at home substituting purple hull peas from Pleasant Hill Farm in Leander, Texas, for the green English peas they use at the restaurant. Like most good comfort food, this dish is straightforward to make and relies on good ingredients for its success. The most important thing to get right is obviously the peas– very fresh cowpeas are tender and have a creamy texture when they’re cooked. Minced red onion and red bell pepper give the salad sweetness and bite, and a simple mayonnaise dressing and cheddar cheese add richness.This salad is what I imagine eating at the church potluck of my dreams.

I usually find serving salads in vegetable cups to be a little extravagant for our weeknight suppers. However, I plated this salad in a hollowed out red pepper on a whim and I’m glad I did. After an hour of chilling in the refrigerator, the pepper added extra heat and sweetness to the salad, welcome flavors on a hot evening.

Purple Hull Pea Salad

 

Cowpea Salad (yields four side-dish servings)
1 1/2 cups fresh black-eyed peas, purple hull peas or lady cream peas
1/2  red onion
1/2  red bell pepper
1/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon peppper
1/3 cup finely shredded sharp cheddar cheese
Whole red bell peppers for serving, if desired

Bring to a boil three cups of water in a medium saucepan. Prepare the cowpeas by rinsing them and picking out any leaves or darkened, soft peas from the rest. Once the water is boiling, add the cowpeas to the pot and cook uncovered for six minutes. Drain the peas and set them aside to cool.

Mince the onion and red bell pepper. Grate the cheese, if necessary. In a large bowl, mix together the minced vegetables, mayonnaise, mustard and shredded cheese. Once the cowpeas are cooled completely, add them in too. (Remember, warm cowpeas will melt the grated cheese, so be patient and let them cool completely!) Season the salad with salt and pepper and refrigerate it for at least an hour before serving.

To make red pepper cups: shop for wide, regularly shape bell peppers with flat bottoms. Cut the top off each bell pepper and pull out the ribs and seeds. Fill the pepper cup it with salad. That’s it! Simplest fancy pants garnish ever.

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and it appears on their blog, “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

Basil Ice Cream with Strawberry Ripple


This dessert tastes like summer vacation to me.  Ice cream is the quintessential warm-weather indulgence, and the tart strawberry ripple undulating through this recipe’s sweet basil cream makes it the perfect poolside snack.

The inspiration for this sweet treat came from my sister in-law, Fatima. When I was visiting her last Christmas, she taught me to make mint chocolate chip ice cream from scratch using bunches of fresh spearmint to flavor the ice cream custard.  I used Fatima’s technique along with fresh basil from Pure Luck in Dripping Springs, Texas, to create this not-too-sweet basil ice cream.

When I was testing this recipe, I discovered that the earthy flavor of basil creates a very full-bodied ice cream. To punctuate and balance that richness I used some homemade strawberry jam to create a ripple: a thin layer of sauce that’s distributed throughout the ice cream.

Creating a fruit ripple in home-churned ice cream is easy, and all you need is some jam, pie filling or sweetened fruit purée. As soon as the churned ice cream has been poured into a storage container, gently spread an even layer of jam or fruit purée across the top of the ice cream. Cover and freeze as usual, and when you serve the ice cream later a perfect ripple will appear automatically in each scoop.

If you’re out of fresh strawberry jam, peaches from Caskey Orchards in San Marcos or blackberries  would pair just as well with basil, and they’re in season now. To create a blackberry or peach ripple, you can macerate chopped fruit or whole berries in sugar and purée them, or you can use your favorite recipe for pie filling or freezer jam and purée the finished product. Whatever fruit, jam or pie filling you use, it’s important that the ripple be completely smooth since the high water content of whole berries or peach chunks turn them into ice cubes when they freeze, ruining the creamy texture of the ice cream.

Basil Ice Cream with Strawberry Ripple (yields 1.5 quarts)

1 cup whole milk
3/4 cup sugar
2 cups heavy cream, divided
1 pinch salt
1 bunch fresh basil
5 large egg yolks
3/4 cup strawberry jam

Before you begin, you’ll need some specific equipment for this recipe: a mesh strainer, a saucepan, a whisk, a few spoons, a 1.5 quart ice cream maker, and a few bowls: one large metal mixing bowl which will sit in an ice bath (use a bigger bowl or the sink for this) and a small mixing bowl. A kitchen thermometer isn’t absolutely necessary, but it is useful.

1. Wash and dry basil and tear it into several handfuls of loose leaves and stems. In a medium pan, warm milk, sugar, one cup heavy cream, salt, and basil. Stir occasionally. Once mixture is hot, about 150 degrees, remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 30 minutes to infuse basil flavor.

2. Set a large metal bowl over an ice bath (a bunch of ice in your sink or in a larger bowl.) Pour the reserved cup of heavy cream into the bowl and set the mesh strainer on top. If you haven’t already separated your egg yolks, do that now, and set them aside until step 4.

3. Once 30 minutes has passed, remove the basil leaves and stems from the infused cream by pouring the mixture through a mesh strainer into a small bowl.  Use the back of a spoon to press down on the basil leaves, squeezing out any remaining liquid, then discard the basil.*  Return the infused cream mixture to the pan.

4.  Rewarm the infused cream mixture over medium low heat. In a separate bowl (the one you strained the cream into before is fine) whisk together the egg yolks. Temper the egg yolks by ladling the warm, infused cream into the egg yolks a little bit at a time, whisking constantly, until the egg yolks are warm.  Pour the warmed egg yolks into the pan with the rest of the infused cream.

5. Cook the custard, stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and coats the back of your spoon, or at about 170 degrees.

6. Immediately strain the custard into the big mixing bowl with the reserved cream. Stir together over the ice bath until cool. Transfer cooled custard to an airtight container and refrigerate for at least 4 hours. Overnight is better.

7. Freeze the ice cream according to the directions that came with your ice cream maker.  When ice cream has reached soft serve consistency, transfer it to an airtight container and gently spread strawberry jam in an even layer over the top of the ice cream. Freeze for at least three hours before serving.

*I saved the basil leaves in a Tupperware in the fridge and used them to sweeten tea throughout the week. This was a real treat and much less indulgent than the ice cream!

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and appears on their blog, “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

Picnic at Montopolis Youth Sports Complex

The second weekend in our picnic adventure took Rami, Barclay and me to far east Austin. We stumbled upon the Montopolis Youth Sports Complex when we were looking for Roy G. Guerrero Colorado River Park on Saturday night.

After a jaunt east on Airport Boulevard from I-35 and a winding drive through the Montopolis neighborhood, Rami and I found ourselves at 400 Grove Boulevard, the address registered with Google Maps for Guerrero Park.There is a parking lot and some trailheads that lead into Guerrero Park at that address, but the more obvious landmark there is this lovely sports area. Montopolis Youth Sports Complex has a few baseball fields with concession stands and bleachers, a batting cage and a small playground. We counted six picnic tables at the park, situated near trash cans at the edges of each playing field.

There are lots of tall trees at the park, and most of the recreation areas around the baseball fields are in full or partial shade. It’s obvious from the manicured lawns and clean trails that the Montopolis Sports Complex is well cared for, and it’s probably very busy during baseball, softball and tee-ball seasons. However, Rami and Barclay and I were the only souls there at dinner time on Saturday night. The solitude at the park was great! We enjoyed our whole meal uninterrupted and Barclay was able to run around on his long lead and explore the park.

The menu for this week’s picnic featured tons of local veggies in various salad preparations. We were gluten free except for some pita bread and vegan, since I forgot my bacon-laden potato salad at home:

These salads were a really easy picnic menu since I was able to make most of them ahead of time during the week. I don’t know what I was thinking packing pickled beets on a picnic. They taste awesome, but the magenta beet juice threatened to stain our orange picnic blanket with every bite! Rami did a smart thing and packed a few paper napkins so that we could wipe down our dirty plates before we packed up to head home.

The wax beans and green beans from Acadian and Tecolote Farms were the standout ingredients in this week’s picnic. I used these fresh treasures in place of canned green beans in my favorite four bean salad recipe.

Four Bean Salad (serves 6)
One bunch fresh green beans
One bunch fresh wax (yellow) beans
15 oz. can garbanzo beans
15 oz. can kidney beans
Two green bell peppers, seeded and ribbed
Red or purple onion
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup red wine or cider vinegar
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/2 white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper

Preparation: trim ends off of green and yellow beans, then snap beans into bite-sized pieces.Bring a scant inch of salted water to a boil in a large saute pan. Add fresh beans, cover and cook for about five minutes, until beans are tender. Drain the beans and set aside to cool. Meanwhile, open and drain canned beans. Chop the bell peppers and onion into small pieces.  In a small bowl, whisk together oils, vinegars, sugar, salt and pepper. Put all the beans, onion and pepper into a large salad bowl and pour dressing over the top. Cover and refrigerate overnight before serving.

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and appears on their blog “Eating Out of the Local Box.”

Picnic at Walnut Creek Park

Two of the best things about living in Austin are the weather and the outdoors. In 2009, Forbes named Austin one of the “best outdoor cities” in the nation. Yet, after almost a decade living here, I have explored just a few of Austin’s public outdoor spaces. This summer I’m working to fix that. My husband Rami and I have resolved to take weekly picnics around Austin so that we can visit lots of different parks in the city and enjoy some great food together.

We are well outfitted for our picnic adventure: we’ve had a nice insulated picnic basket for years, courtesy of my mother in-law, and we threw down $7 at Goodwill last week so we’d have a proper picnic blanket.

We’re hoping these picnics will be a fun, cheap way to spend time together over the summer, and a chance to experiment with new recipes. I rarely cook lunch for us, so cooking sandwiches and picnic dishes with seasonal, local produce will be a nice way to stretch my cooking chops.

We started our picnic tour on Sunday at Walnut Creek Park in north central Austin. On the menu were sliced apples drizzled with local honey, a bagel sandwich with a root vegetable omelet, and a bottle of Texas wine.

The meal took us about 45 minutes to make. I packed two whole apples in the picnic basket along with a paring knife and the bottle of honey. For the sandwiches, I used Scott Ehrlich’s recipe for Spanish-Style Beet, Carrot and Egg Sandwich published by Food and Wine. Rami and I made the sandwiches with carrots from Acadian Family Farm, beets from Massey Farm, spring onions from Bar W Ranch and Farm and Yukon potatoes from Green Gate Farm.

In the sandwich, sweet onions and carrots, earthy beets, and buttery potatoes are sliced very thin and cooked until they’re tender. These become the star ingredients in an omelet, which serves as the filling for a toasted bagel sandwich. A spicy mayonnaise-based sauce complements the omelet perfectly. (Recipe here.)

The sandwiches were easy to cook, and the omelet portion of recipe will probably join our regular brunch rotation, especially when we get beets in our local box. (I never seem to use those up!) For the picnic I assembled the sandwiches at home and wrapped them individually in foil for transport. Our insulated picnic basket kept the sandwiches hot until we arrived at Walnut Creek Metropolitan Park, which is just 10 minutes from our house.

Walnut Creek Park has extensive hiking and bike trails, an off-leash area for dogs, plus a baseball diamond and a playground. There are 26 picnic tables at the park and Rami and I had no trouble finding a quiet, clean place to eat around noon on Sunday. Our picnic table overlooked a shady clearing near a trailhead to the north, and a playground to the south. There’s also plenty of free parking available on the park property.

You can’t tell it from this picture, but this part of the park is very popular for dog owners since it’s near the off-leash area of the trail. Our dog Barclay was on his leash at the picnic table, and he enjoyed greeting several other dogs who walked by during our meal.

All in all we considered this first picnic venture a success. The sandwich was good, the wine was sweet, and the park was a pretty relaxing place to spend our Sunday afternoon.

My Husband’s Favorite Pasta

It was my husband Rami who first introduced me to “Death by Garlic” Pasta a few years ago. That was before we were married, when he liked to impress me by cooking on date night at his place. (It worked.)

I remember those days fondly: Rami would cook in the kitchen of his bachelor pad, and we would spend Friday night eating garlicky penne, drinking a $5 bottle of wine and watching old movies. We ate this flavorful pasta dozens of times when we were dating. Even though it’s very garlicky, it is ideal for dates since it’s nearly impossible to screw up, no matter how distracted you are by your honey.

Now that Rami and I have our own home, Death by Garlic Pasta is a staple in our weeknight rotation of easy recipes. We’ve adapted the original recipe over the years for our maturing tastes–we use $15 wine instead of the real cheap stuff!– but our nostalgia for this dish remains the same. It will always be the comfort food of our courtship.

You must use fresh minced garlic in this recipe or it tastes pretty bland. The garlic I used is from Fruitful Hill Farm in Bastrop, Texas. It is the sweetest and strongest garlic I’ve ever tasted and the bulbs are huge. Don’t be intimidated by peeling and mincing a whole bulb of garlic, it will just take a few minutes and the taste is totally worth it. Here’s a great instructional video if you’re new to using fresh garlic:

Death by Garlic Pasta (Rami’s Favorite) (serves 6)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
16 cloves of garlic
one head of kale, radicchio or chard
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 cup white wine
1/3 cup shredded Parmesan or Romano cheese, plus extra to garnish
16 oz. package penne or bowtie pasta

Peel and mince garlic. Chop parsley. Wash and dry whatever greens you choose to use and tear out any tough stems. Fill a large pot with 8-10 cups of water and bring it to a boil.

In a large skillet or saute pan, heat olive oil over medium heat and add minced garlic. Stir occasionally with a wooden spoon so that garlic cooks evenly. Meanwhile, chop greens into bite-sized pieces and add them to the pan along with the salt and red pepper flakes. Stir the greens and cook for about five minutes. Once the pan begins to look dry, pour in the wine. Continue to cook the greens until they are completely wilted and the wine has mostly cooked off, about five more minutes. Turn the burner heat to low.

Boil the penne according to the package directions, ours took seven minutes. Drain the cooked pasta and transfer it to a large bowl. Stir into the pasta the cooked garlic and greens along with the grated cheese. Serve, garnishing each serving with additional grated cheese.

Poetic Potato and Chickpea Curry

I spent most of my work day today thinking about musical form and rhythm, and researching poetic forms. So when I got home and started writing about this curry recipe, a limerick happened!

There once was a mild chickpea curry.
That I liked to make in a hurry.
With potatoes and rice,
Tomatoes and spice,
It’s so easy there’s nary a worry.

Then, a haiku:

Potato curry,
Yellow and satisfying,
Tastes good over rice.

Now I can’t write about this dish– or much else– without it turning into a poem, so I’m going to quit while I’m ahead. I hope that you enjoy this super-easy, mild curry!

Potato Chickpea Curry (serves 4)
3 yukon potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (one can, drained)
1/2 cup skim milk or rice milk
1/2 cup vegetable broth
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon dried ground ginger
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
cilantro to garnish
4 cups cooked basmati rice*

Put chopped potatoes in a large pot with a lid and cover with water. Bring water to a boil and cook the potatoes until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain the potatoes and set aside.

Put a tablespoon of olive oil into the pot and saute the garlic and yellow onion over medium heat until they are very soft. Add the cooked potatoes and remaining ingredients and stir. Bring the liquid to a boil, turn the heat down to low, and allow the curry to simmer for 15 minutes before serving over rice. Garnish with cilantro.

*I’m terrible at cooking rice, so I always ask my husband Rami to do it. He found this great instructional video “Perfect Basmati Rice” over at Show Me the Curry, and it’s his new favorite method.

This post is sponsored by Greenling Organic Delivery and appears on their blog, “Eating Out of the Local Box.”