Watermelon Salsa

I confess that this will be a photo-lite post. I came up with watermelon salsa completely on a whim, or, as the French say, caprice. (I prefer caprice, don’t you? “Whim” sounds so, well, wimpy, but “caprice” trips across the ear in a sparkly way, like a little fairy dancing past my head. Careful, fairy! Don’t buzz like a mosquito, or you’ll be fairy toast.) So I didn’t do much planning, just snapped the final product. watermelon salsa with corn, scallions, and cilantro

Read this brief post about how I came up with this wondrous thing, or jump to the recipe.

I had been experimenting with a black-eyed pea and collard taco, based on an Isa Chandra Moskowitz recipe (from Isa Does It). I’m not publishing results for my version of the taco, because I’m still fiddling a bit to deem it shareable with y’all. I admit that most beans taste weird to me. Other people say “earthy”, I say “reminiscent of dirt.” I dunno what it is that bugs me.

Anyway, Ms. Moskowitz features an apple/avocado salsa on her black-eyed pea taco, a great flavor/texture choice. But heck, it’s summer. I don’t want to eat apples. Then I thought: Hey! Black-eyed peas/collards = southern U.S. states, therefore fresh corn and watermelon also = southern U.S. states = what I like to eat in summer. Suddenly, like Rapunzel’s pregnant mother, I could not get watermelon out of my mind. (In her case, she couldn’t get some European lettuce called rapunzel off her mind, hence her kid’s weirdo name.)

Dammit, I HAD to have some watermelon.

So I chopped it up, noticed some scallions in the fridge—the mildest of onions—and sliced them, shaved the kernels off a half ear of corn, squeezed in some lime, sprinkled in cilantro, and voila! Fresh watermelon salsa. Which I immediately ate with a spoon, and then I remembered my taco, which had turned into a collard wrap, and to which I’d added some sweet potato fries. Because southern U.S. states also = sweet potatoes.

watermelon salsa on a collard wrap

I imagine this marrying nicely to any kind of pale meat taco, particularly shrimp or chicken. Maybe even pork (though I only ever eat the stray piece of bacon or sausage, so can’t say for sure). The coolness and crunch of the ingredients complements spicy proteins in a lovely, light way. Enjoy!

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Watermelon Salsa: The Recipe

creamy-protein-salad-base

The Perfect Creamy Protein Salad Base

I admit it: this title, “The Perfect Creamy Protein Salad Base,” doesn’t exactly snap, crackle, and pop with descriptive lusciousness. Then again, it perfectly describes what I’m about to show you. Add to that its handy factor and adaptability to every diet from paleo to vegan, and I do believe you may thank me (if only in your heart).

Here’s the step by step, but if you prefer, jump straight to the recipe.

It started with a recipe from one of my favorite favorite all-time cookbooks, Isa Does It, by the truly genius vegan chef Isa Chandra Moskowitz. I have been meaning to try her vegan version of tuna salad, made with chickpeas, forever. But one day, I was just really craving tuna, because sometimes that happens.

Her recipe calls for a bunch of veggies minced fine in a food processor. I didn’t have carrots, but I did have radishes, and I was too lazy to get out the processor. Also, I had just written this nifty knife post and was feeling a bit choppy. So off I went.

creamy-protein-salad-base-ingredients  She then calls for a rather heavy amount of mayo (vegan, natch), as well as some sunflower seeds to mix in with the chickpeas. I like mayo, especially on French fries (which is tremendously Gallic of me). But I also really like some good sour yogurt, and I’ve been upping my probiotic game. Yogurt feels lighter to me as well. So I mixed yogurt, mustard, and mayo together….

creamy-protein-salad-base-ingredients

…then added the veggies and tuna. Voilá! A perfect creamy protein salad base just became a really yummy lunch.

creamy-protein-salad-base-tuna

Lately, btw, I’ve been very happy with Thomas’s Everything Bagel Thins, seen above. I’ve been Noom-ing (post in the works about this super cool new diet/fitness program), which, for one thing, means that I’m watching my proportions of food. Rather than dividing food into “great stuff that you don’t want to eat but have to because it’s good for you” and “all the stuff you want and can’t have,” Noom simply assigns food a green, yellow, or red designation. Green is the least calorie dense, and red is the most. Red isn’t bad, but you just need to be careful how you allot your red points, as well as your yellows. You can knock yourself out with greens, which are mostly fruits and vegetables, but also include some nice things like yogurt. Anyway, the Thomas’s Bagel Thins are just 100 calories of yellow. And I find that when I have a small amount of complex carbs with lunch, I don’t get hungry so quick. As noted, I love carbs. This is the first program in a while that hasn’t made me feel like some sort of felon for admitting that.

Today, I went ahead with Isa’s fake tuna salad, which adds some dulse flakes to the mix for a nice little hit of the sea. (I told you she’s a genius.)

But really, this would work with any cooked protein. Tuna and beans, obviously, but also leftover chicken or turkey (I don’t eat them, but you might), as well as any number of seafood items, particularly lobster if you’re really in the mood for debauchery. Quick, easy, tasty, and you really don’t need to measure. But just in case you feel like you do, well, here’s a rough and highly adaptable recipe.

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The Perfect Creamy Protein Salad Recipe

salad argentina style, heaped on a pizza

Salad Argentina Style

I fall in and out of love with salad. When I make the effort to create a really good one, I wonder why I ever eat anything else. But when I’m lazy and do the same old same old, and I wonder why I bother.

When I travel, I expect hit and miss. Over the last few years, I’ve had great success with simple salads in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Ireland. In Italy, surprisingly, I had some plates of green as depressing as anything I’ve seen in the US. In the Caribbean and Colombia, I resign myself to getting my fresh raw produce via smoothies. The tropics are not conducive to glorious greens; often, the only lettuce I see is a  hydroponic variety devoid of flavor and texture.

So when we decided to hit Buenos Aires for a couple of weeks this winter, I thought, well, I’m not going to expect much. Most people, including many Argentines that we met along the way, equate Argentina with beef. In fact, if you say “carne,” Spanish for meat, in Argentina, beef is assumed. I figured for a vegetable, I’d probably be offered pork.

I have never been so delighted to be proven wrong. Salad Argentina-style, at least in BA, is a glorious, creative wonder. Certainly, it helps that we were there in the height of summer. The climates of Argentina and Uruguay remind me of those in the California where I grew up: sunny, dry-ish, and fertile. Geographically, the soil is rich and good, not needing a bunch of weird treatments. Farmers get respect.

Most importantly, food tastes like it’s supposed to, and salads taste green. My first one arrived not as a salad, but as a pizza from La Pharmacie, a restaurant near our 10-day home. A crisp crust spread with a dense tomato sauce and thin slices of melted mozzarella featured a lush layer of peppery, tender-crisp raw arugula on top. Meaty, fruity olives perched on top. The great thing about this meal: I didn’t think I was ordering a salad, but I got one anyway, and I also began to completely rethink the concept of pizza. Why shouldn’t it just be a crispy base for a ton of fresh vegetables?

Salad Argentina style-a pizza topped with fresh arugula from La Pharmacie in Buenos Aires

I intentionally order a salad from Cabernet restaurant in Palermo. This beauty featured tender crisp mixed greens surrounded by paper-thin, perfectly ripe pears, sprinkled on top with hazelnuts and blue cheese. (Sorry about the light here, but perils of restaurants, etc.)

Salad Argentina style-a pear-hazelnut-blue-cheese-arugula combo

Back at Pharmacie, this Caprese was simple and stunning, with sweet roasted peppers in crimson and saffron, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts, and plenty of basil. (And, needless to say but I’ll say it anyway, non-optimal light.)

Salad Argentina style-the wonderful simple caprese from la Pharmacie in Buenos aires

Salad Argentina-style: A few guidelines

Here’s what the salads had in common:

  1. A base of flavorful, thoughtfully chosen greens. Optimally, get the best you can find, wash them yourself (rinsing a lot, bc the good stuff is dirty), spin them dry, and pile them on the plate—or the pizza.
  2. Something sweet. Roasted peppers and roasted cherry tomatoes were favorites, but fruit, particularly pears, were frequent add-ins as well.
  3. A little cheese. If you’re vegan, you’ll skip this. But having access to really excellent cheese is one of the reasons I never can quite commit to being a vegan. There simply isn’t a substitute for the creamy yum of farm-fresh cheese.
  4. Something savory. Olives of all kinds, or artichoke hearts, or bamboo hearts (easier to get down here). Or nuts. Usually not all of those things, which allows the flavors to shine.

It’s not so different from the directions in the salad post I’ve already done. The main thing is, Salad Argentina helped me snap my winter-dulled palate back into life. As I get back in cooking mode here, these faves from other cooks can brighten up your late winter kitchen. Because admit it: You gotta be a little tired of soup at this point.

Tieghan at Half Baked Harvest is always rock solid—I actually just typed “rock salad,” which I sort of like. This recipe for broccoli and avocado salad is excellent.

I haven’t tested this vegan salad made from spiralized sweet potatoes (from Laura at The First Mess), but the combo of chipotle with miso seems like a spectacular transition one for early spring—which, they tell me, is coming.

Yotam Ottolenghi creates such glorious, flavorful salads. If you love vegetables, get his book Plenty. This salad introduces what for me was a revolutionary idea: mix herbs with impunity. Don’t worry so much about the grams, just look at the proportions: about 2 parts cilantro (aka coriander) and parsley to 1 part basil and dill, 3 parts arugula (rocket), and 4 parts some type of young lettuce; just be sure you get something with flavor. Play with the nuts and seeds. Know that when Brits say mange tout (it means “eat all”), they mean “snow peas,” because sometimes they forget that they hate the French (which is sort of adorable). Use the recipe as a jumping off point, and discover joy and wonder on a plate.

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quick pickled vegetables sparkle up a plate at Le Chou Fou

Quick Pickled Vegetables

Quick pickled vegetables are exactly what they sound like. You make a pickling brine, quick. While it heats and then cools, you slice some veggies paper thin. When the brine cools, you add the veggies.

Done.

quick pickled vegetables sparkle up a plate at Le Chou Fou

Jump to recipe.

Here’s why these things are genius: Quick pickled vegetables sparkle up ANY meal, and they do it fast. Planning a sandwich for lunch? Throw a few pickled veggies on for crunch, bite, and color. Add ’em to a bowl of rice and beans, or on top of some Asian pasta with nut butter sauce. You just changed the game from biz as usual to an impromptu party. Mix some pickled radishes into your salad bowl for a burst of sweet tart happiness. I had some on hand recently to top off the Baja Mole Bowl. Lovely.

My favorite quick pickle candidates are:

  • Carrots, especially the multicolored ones. Carrot sticks bore me, and I don’t like the way the carrot core so often tastes like wood. Slicing the veggies super thin and then giving them a brine soak makes them fun again.
  • Radishes. I’m crazy about those white/pink/purple radishes known as Easter Eggs. Radishes fulfill their destiny when pickled.
  • Onions. Raw onions cause stinky nightmares without a soak in some water. The brine perfectly mitigates their sulfurous nature.
  • Bell peppers, seeded and sliced.
  • Celery, slivered. You may also want to de-string the stalks, a tedious but worthwhile process if you don’t like having to gnaw through a tough old celery string.

You may be surprised that cucumbers aren’t on the list, but I’ve never really liked the texture of pickled cucumbers. So I choose denser veggies with a more intense crunch factor. Of course, cukes are the classic pickle base, and they make swell quick pickles if you don’t mind them a little less crisp. But cucumbers have so much water that I never eat them unless I’ve seeded and salted them, then let them stand until some of the water drains out.

For me, cauliflower is TOO dense, so I nix that, even though it’s a popular choice. I never eat raw cauliflower when it’s on a crudite platter, either, and it does seem to be left in a forlorn little mountain long after the carrots, celery, and peppers have been dipped and consumed. I’ve also seen pickled green beans, a great candidate in the crunch department. The problem is, they turn a REALLY ugly color. If this doesn’t bug you, go for it. Broccoli, for me, combines the density issue of cauliflower with the hideous color transformation of green beans. I’m highly visual. But as always, do what floats your boat, not mine.

While there’s nothing wrong with mixing the veggies together in the brine, I like to keep them separate and distinct. I would slice all the veggies, put them in separate containers, then pour the cooled brine over the top of each. You just need it to cover. If you run out of brine, it’s super fast and easy to make another batch.

Pickling brine scarcely needs a recipe, it’s so simple: 1 part vinegar to 2 parts water, with a generous pinch of sweetener and a discreet amount of salt. You can also add some mustard seeds or cloves or some other spice you like as you please. I gently heat the mix on the stove, stirring to make sure the sugar and salt dissolve, then cool completely before adding to the veggies.

As usual, I’ve included a recipe, but you really don’t need one. In fact, this is SO easy, teach your kids to do it and get them in the raw veggie habit for life.

Quick Pickled Vegetables: The Recipe

 

Kale Salad That You’ll Actually Want to Eat

In the kale post (and in the soon-to-be released video), I lament the sad state of kale salad everywhere. Mistreated, disrespected kale garners undeserved Yuck Faces and eye rolls far too often. “NOT KALE,” I have heard many a time.

Jump to recipe.

kale, destemmed and ready to slice thinSo why does this happen? 3 reasons:

  1. The cook fails to remove the big, chewy stems, evident in the picture above.
  2. S/he then tears or hacks the leaves into big, indigestible chunks (as opposed to the delicate shreds the vegetable deserves, pictured directly below).
  3. Adding insult to injury, the cook now throws the kale into the salad bowl as if it were ordinary lettuce.

shredded kale for kale salad

To which I must bellow, Unfair to the eater and the kale! Why, for the love of Michelle, would one create any barriers to ingesting this nutritional powerhouse? Of course kale teems with fiber and vitamin A. But Did You Know that every bite also delivers loads of calcium and potassium? Well, it does (and you can read up on vitamin stats to your heart’s content at this link.)

But the primary reason that I find kale so easy to love is its sturdiness. The stuff holds up under an avalanche of pretty much any dressing you want to slather on it, including heavy ones based in mayo or nut butter. (i provide an easy one with these ingredients below.)

ingredients for an almond butter dressing for kale salad

In fact, it holds up a little too well. Which is why I recommend the kale massage, in which you place the de-stemmed, ribbon-cut slices in a bowl with olive oil and salt, put on some sexy music, and give it a good rub-down for about 2 minutes. The results, especially when tossed with some sweet crunchy cabbage or romaine, will make your palate smile.

kale gets an olive oil and salt massage

Kale salad follows the same rules as other salads: 3 pieces of flair added to the kale/cabbage combo. Some suggestions here:

  • Apple, carrot, beet, and radish are all delightful for crunch; grate any one of them, or cut in a fine julienne.
  • Dried fruit adds wonderful chewiness; for a juicier sweet, sliced kiwi and grapefruit work beautifully.
  • Add roasted veggies like squash or cauliflower.
  • Sprouts and microgreens provide a nice flavor contrast when sprinkled on at the end.
  • For meat-eaters, kale and pig are friends. Crackling bacon is a glorious kale salad adjunct for the unapologetic carnivore.
  • Roasted walnuts or tamari-spiked sunflower seeds add meatless crunch.
  • kale salad ingredients include kale and cabbage, carrot, grapefruit, and an almond butter dressing

As usual, a main salad can go more flair-wild. Should you choose the nut butter dressing here, you’ll get some protein. But add more if you like. In addition to the usual animal options, goat cheese is wonderful for vegetarians, smoked tempeh or coconut bacon for vegan.

For a fully-spelled out recipe for a superb, flair-crazy vegan kale salad, see Teagan’s amazing detox version here. (I eat this one about once a month, but I always shred the kale rather than tearing it roughly as she suggests.) Or make up your own, and instead of carefully choosing three pieces of flair from the list above, go crazy with 5 or 6 or even more. And the fine thing is, kale’s chewy goodness won’t get lost in the shuffle no matter how many things you throw at it.

kale salad with grapefruit, sunflower seeds, and shredded carrot

Kale Salad: The Recipe

 

Classic vinaigrette two ways, one with mustard, one with pesto

Classic Vinaigrette

As noted in this Salad Principles post, the revised formula for classic vinaigrette requires:

  • Stingy use of acid
  • Generous use of oil
  • Judicious hand with salt
  • Insanity with pepper

Here’s a guide to help you customize your version.

Classic Vinaigrette features oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and sometimes mustard

Classic Vinaigrette: Acid

  • Cider is my go-to for most American and Northern European cuisine.
  • Tarragon vinegar is my favorite for a more French version of a salad (which is usually just greens and dressing).
  • Both cider and tarragon mix wonderfully with Dijon mustard, or the mustard of your choice (although I personally would skip the French’s yellow).
  • Balsamic vinegar is my go-to for salads accompanying Italian meals.
  • Rice vinegar is the natural choice for East Asian salads.
  • Lemon brings wonderful sparkle to sturdy garlic-friendly cuisines, like Middle Eastern, Greek, Spanish, and Provençal; it’s also an excellent option for North African cuisine.
  • Lime gets my vote for Caribbean, Latin American, Southeast Asian, and East and West African cuisine.
  • Classic Vinaigrette: Oil

  • Extra virgin olive oil is meant for salads—NOT FOR COOKING. It has a relatively low smoking point, meaning that the oil will start to smoke when you heat it. If you’re going to spend big bucks for EVOO, then for heck’s sake don’t screw it up by heating it. And if you’re not spending big bucks, it’s probably not REAL evoo. Here’s a good article on the sort of scam that is extra virgin olive oil.
  • Avocado oil is the next best thing.
  • Walnut oil is lovely in a fall-ish salad with walnuts.
  • Flaxseed oil doesn’t have much flavor, but it has a nice lightness to it, as does sunflower oil.
  • Oils to avoid: Peanut, canola, corn, anything generic and referred to as “vegetable oil.”

Classic Vinaigrette: Salt and Pepper

Freshly ground in both cases is lovely, and in the case of pepper, essential. If you use salt from a bigger container, always pour it into your hand first, then pinch the right amount from there. Go sparingly. With pepper, all bets are off.

Finished classic vinaigrette goes great on a simple classic tossed salad; you’ll find a recipe for two variations at this link. I usually just make a small amount fresh every night for salad, but you can definitely make a bigger batch. Just be sure to shake it up really well before each use.

Enjoy!