Category Archives: Vegetables

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.”

Picnic at Northwest District Park

Picnic Food

Rami and I stayed close to home for this weekend’s picnic, at Northwest District Park in the Shoal Creek neighborhood of Austin. This park is one of my favorites in the city, and it’s the perfect place for families to hang out on Memorial Day Weekend.

Northwest District Park Sign

Northwest District Park has lots of picnic tables, a pool, a pond, basketball courts, and a large playground. It’s a huge park, with two entrances: one on the east side of the park at 7000 Ardath Street, and another on the west side of the park at Shoal Creek Blvd. between Dover and Pinecrest Blvd. The park has many grassy lawns and paved walking areas shaded by tall trees.

One of the best things about picnicking at Northwest District Park is its abundance of picnic areas. Like many of Austin’s parks, Northwest has three large, reservable picnic areas with many tables. However, it also has several more secluded picnic tables tucked around the park.

 

We chose this one to set up our picnic since it was situated in the shade of a pecan tree and overlooked the playground.

Our menu for this picnic was our favorite yet.

  • Mint sun-tea from Zhi Tea: fill a large mason jar with water and add two teaspoons of tea for each six ounces of water. (I used a large tea filter like this to hold the loose tea.)
  • Peanutty Carrot Tea Sandwiches: these are a wonderful alternative to plain PB&J. We skipped the raisins and used Confituras marmalade in the recipe. Yum!
  • Corn Radish Salad with Jalapeno Dressing An awesome spicy salad that uses radishes! I’m going to play with this recipe again for next week’s picnic since we enjoyed it so much.
  • Strawberries and Blackberries: sadly, local strawberries are gone for the season, but the blackberries from Wheeler Farm were super sweet!
  • Summer squash bread with beet-pecan sandwich spread.
I loved the corn radish salad and the blackberries. Rami’s favorite thing was the peanutty-carrot sandwich spread and the iced tea. And see the mint leaves garnishing the berries?? I grew those in a flower-pot outside my house! 😀

One thing that’s not coming across in these pictures is the ridiculous number of bugs swarming around us and our food. I got 13 mosquito bites while I was plating the food and taking this picture!

Because of all the bugs, Rami and I ate in record time and hightailed it outta the park. We spotted an egret at the pond as we left, just before the sun set.

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.

Hunger Awareness Project: Snacking on a SNAP budget

Could you make 30 days of snacks out of $16 of groceries? Here's what's snacking on days 22 & 24 of my plan: Cucumber Raita with Radishes and Cucumbers

This is the first in a series of three posts I’ve written for the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance Hunger Awareness Project. I recently joined the Austin Food Bloggers Alliance and we’re all working together with the Capital Area Food Bank to help raise awareness about hunger in Central Texas.

For this first post, I’m focusing food education for kids by making healthy, easy snacks on a tight budget– just $16 for two kids’ snacks for the month. $16 is the smallest amount of support the government provides to food stamp recipients, and it’s possible that this small sum could make the difference between a family’s kids eating snacks after school and going hungry.

My snack menu features six easy recipes that I imagine children might enjoy preparing and eating. No cookies here. These snacks are all fruits, veggies, whole grains and healthy fats like olive oil. The total cost of all the ingredients for my month’s worth of snacks was $16.02 at HEB, a grocery store on the bus route home from my job. I bought organic eggs, popping corn, and yogurt; the rest is conventional.

Grocery List
32 ounce bag popping corn, $1.99
4 ounce bottle olive oil, $1.79
16 ounce bag of dry chickpeas, $1.09
32 ounce bag carrots, $.88
small bag of radishes, $.99
two, 8 ounce packages of plain greek yogurt, $2.84
one cucumber, $.50
Garlic powder (no salt added– just plain garlic), $1.50
Ground cinnamon, $1.13
Five small apples, $.85
1/2 dozen eggs, $2.50

Shopping for these ingredients made me highly aware of what a sacrifice it can be to cook with high quality ingredients. For example, that tiny bottle of olive oil was twice as expensive as a mid-sized bottle of canola oil. Garlic powder costs three times as much as garlic salt. And organic, free range eggs cost $1.50 more than their factory farmed counterparts. Choosing to cook with these good ingredients meant that I could afford dry chickpeas, but not canned. And I had to settle for five tiny, Red Delicious apples instead of my favorite Pink Ladies or Cameos.

Even though shopping for the ingredients was a bummer, I like the snack recipes I created. I think I would have enjoyed eating all these things as a kid, especially the popcorn and the deviled eggs. (Mom? What do you think?) Here are the snacks I prepared with my $16 of groceries. In my instructions, I did my best to keep everything kid-safe, but since I don’t have kids, these are educated guesses.

Apple slices sprinkled with cinnamon: Grown-ups should slice apples, kids can sprinkle with cinnamon. Step-by-step instructions.

Popcorn: This one’s super easy. Pour 1/4 cup of popcorn kernels into a plain paper lunch sack. Fold the top of the bag over three times, then cook for 90 seconds in the microwave. Eat the popcorn plain, or sprinkle with garlic powder or cinnamon. Detailed, step-by-step instructions.

Popcorn is an inexpensive, healthy snack for kids. Just put 1/4 cup of popcorn in a paper bag, close the top and microwave for 90 seconds. No need to add butter or oil, and it costs less than $.15 for two servings.

Carrot sticks with chickpea hummus: Grown-ups should slice carrots into sticks. Kids can make hummus by using a fork to mash together in a bowl 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas, a little olive oil, a tablespoon of water and a heavy sprinkle of garlic powder. The Kid Can Cook has an ingenious, kid-friendly method for making hummus, too.

Roasted chickpeas: Kids can use a paper towel to dry 1.5 cups cooked chickpeas, then toss the chickpeas in tablespoon of olive oil with some garlic powder. Grown-ups should spread chickpeas in an even layer on a cookie sheet, then bake at 450 for 30-40 minutes until chickpeas are crunchy.

Confetti deviled eggs: Kids can help crack and peel hard-boiled eggs, and grate one radish and 1/4 of a carrot. Grown-ups should cut eggs in half and scoop out yolks. Kids can mix together the egg yolks and most of the grated veggies, and then spoon the yolk mixture back into the egg halves. Garnish with remaining veggie “confetti”.

Shredded veggies provide lots of color and texture in this simplified deviled egg recipe. Kids can help peel eggs, grate vegetables and smash together the yolk filling. I used a sprinkle of garlic powder instead of salt for extra oomph.

Cucumber raita with radish and cucumber slices: Kids can grate half a cucumber and mix it with 8 ounces of yogurt and a sprinkle of garlic powder. Grown-up should slice the remaining cucumber and radishes. Raita tastes best if it sits in the fridge for a few hours before serving. (This dish is pictured at the top of the page).

By using these simple recipes and staggering snacks throughout the month, I stretched $16 of food into 62 servings of snacks. You can see there’s a whole lot of popcorn on the menu, and lots of chickpeas. I tried to alternate these inexpensive snacks with more luxurious offerings like the cucumber raita and deviled eggs.

Do you think the snack plan I laid out here is realistic for a single, working parent to carry out? And would kids really eat these things? How would you stretch $16 to help feed your family?

Find out more about the Capital Area Food Bank and the Austin Food Blogger’s Alliance Hunger Awareness Project here. 

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.”