Gourmet Veggie Mama

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A Mediterranean Feast

Okay… so I’ve been on a bit of an unscheduled blog-cation. I’ve been busy with other deadlines (yay for being busy!), and with the heat and the inevitable crankiness that comes along with it,* especially when one is pregnant, I just haven’t been feeling like cooking much… or writing.

* I really think there should be a diagnosable disorder, a la SAD, for people who live in hot climates during July and August. Heat-induced irritability is all too common!

The cooking came back first — and honestly, I’ve been feeling pretty inspired and have some fun stuff to share — so now I just have to get over the writer’s block. I’ll start with a fun one — a Mediterranean feast that the hubby whipped up not too long ago.

Mediterranean feast ~ Gourmet Veggie Mama
None of it took too terribly long to make, and it’s all very do-able in advance, so this make the perfect (cool) lunch for us a couple of days in a row. The cucumber salad was my favorite — with cucumbers from our own garden, which are coming in like gangbusters nowadays — and the feta-yogurt dip was sublime. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but the flavors together were just awesome (and it had a strange spiciness to it that I still can’t quite account for). Store-bought pita, cut into triangles, and some pitted kalamata olives completed the meal. We’re working on perfecting the recipe for roasted-pepper hummus (we’ve got plenty of peppers coming in from our garden right now too) — so stay tuned for that in the near future.
All in all, it was a delicious, protein-filled meal that left us feeling full, but not icky — and that’s a big plus in these dog days of summer. Enjoy!

Cucumber and Mint Salad
Author: 
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 2 cucumbers
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ¼ cup red onions, finely chopped
  • 2 Tbsp white wine vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2½ tsp sugar
  • ¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh mint (or less, to taste)
Instructions
  1. Halve the cucumbers lengthwise, and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds. Cut into thin slices.
  2. Toss the cucumber with the salt in a colander and allow to drain in the sink for 30 minutes. Tap to remove any remaining water, and then dump the cucumbers onto a clean dish towel spread on the counter, using its edges to blot any excess moisture.
  3. While the cucumbers are draining, soak the onions in a small bowl of ice water for 10 minutes (this tames their bite a little bit), then drain using a fine mesh sieve.
  4. In a medium bowl, combine the cucumbers, onions, white wine vinegar, olive oil, sugar, pepper and mint. Taste and adjust seasoning if needed. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 20 minutes before serving.

Feta-Yogurt Dip
Author: 
Prep time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 4
 
Ingredients
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced or pressed
  • 1⅓ cup feta cheese, crumbled (about 8 oz)
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • ¼ tsp lemon juice
  • black pepper, to taste
  • 1 tsp za'atar spice mix, plus more (to garnish)*
Instructions
  1. Add the garlic, feta and olive oil to the food processor and process until the cheese is roughly crumbled. Remove half of the cheese to a bowl.
  2. Add the Greek yogurt, lemon juice, pepper and za'atar seasoning to the food processor with the remaining feta. Process until smooth.
  3. Add the Greek yogurt mixture to the bowl with the crumbled feta and mix well. Garnish with a sprinkle of za'atar seasoning and serve.

* Za’atar seasoning can be purchased in Middle-Eastern markets, or substitute 1 tsp toasted sesame seeds and 1/4 tsp each dried oregano and thyme.

20-Minute Homemade Tomato Soup

The days of soup-and-grilled cheese lunches are fading fast, with temps breaking into the 90s here in Austin (already — ugh!), but we may just have a few rainy days left in April. Last week, we had a few gray, chilly-ish days, and grilled cheese and tomato soup was just what the doctor ordered. However, we didn’t have any canned tomato soup on hand, so I decided to improvise. And you know what? I’m probably never going to bother to buy canned tomato soup again. This was creamy, delicious and almost as easy as the canned kind.

20-Minute Homemade Tomato Soup ~ Gourmet Veggie Mama

Sure, you could just open a can, but this is so much better and it only takes a few minutes more. This soup also freezes well, so next time we have a rainy day, all I’ll have to do is thaw it out. Golden.

Try it on your next rainy day!

5.0 from 1 reviews
20-Minute Homemade Tomato Soup
Author: 
Cook time: 
Total time: 
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • 1 28-oz can fire-roasted tomatoes
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 cup cream
  • parmesan rind (if available)
  • ½ tsp herbes de provence
Instructions
  1. Combine the tomatoes and stock in a large saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Stir in the cream and toss in the parmesan rind (if using) and the herbes de provence, lower the heat and simmer for 15 minutes.
  3. Remove from the heat, remove the rind, and blend using an immersion blender (or cool slightly and blend in a conventional blender).
  4. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm with a grilled cheese, and enjoy!

 

 

10 Easy Salad Ideas

I love a good salad for lunch. I’m not much of a sandwich person, and leftovers are great, but we’re not that lucky every day — sometimes dinner gets gobbled right up! So when a friend of mine recently made a special request for a round-up of great salad recipes to make ahead and take for lunch, I was definitely game.

I’ve scoured the internets and my own favorite recipes and come up with a list of 10 great make-ahead salads that would make a wonderful lunch. Enjoy!

1. Tomato and mozzarella salad. This is the easiest thing to put together, especially now that beautiful, ripe tomatoes are in abundance. Just throw a bunch of cherry tomatoes (halved if they’re big) and/or chunky chopped tomatoes (freshness is essential) in a bowl with bite-sized chunks of fresh mozzarella (either tiny perlini or traditional-sized mozzarella balls cut into bite size cubes. Throw in a good glug of olive oil, a splash of nice balsamic vinegar, a little salt and pepper, and a handful of basil leaves cut into ribbons.

Tomato-licious.

2. Barley salad with parsley, walnuts, and ricotta salata. This salad has all my favorite things: A nice whole grain as its base, a salty cheese and walnuts for protein , and parsley for an added nutritional punch. It’s definitely going on my list to try soon!

3. Quinoa salad. One of my all-time favorites is a nice quinoa salad, just because it’s so darn versatile. You can pretty much throw in any fresh veggies you have lying around (I’m especially fond of avocado, tomato, and scallions), season with whatever herbs you like best, dress it with olive oil and lemon, and call it a day. Or, throw in some pine nuts or walnuts for extra crunch.

Lunch time!

4. Tortellini salad. One of my recent culinary adventures also turned out to double as a great lunch the next day. You could easily make this ahead the night before, or just do what I did and have it for lunch the next day as leftovers.

Not bad for leftovers! Not bad at all.

5. Arugula and lentil salad with goat cheese. Goat cheese? Lentils? Arugula? I’m in! Besides having a lovely peppery flavor, arugula has the added bonus of staying nice and crisp longer than other salad greens, so this would be a nice one to pack for lunch at the office.

6. Farro salad with roasted kale and beets. Farro is my favorite grain right now. Haven’t you heard? It’s the new quinoa. Or maybe something else is even hotter, and I haven’t heard about it yet. In any case, this salad makes excellent use of it.

Yes, please.

7. Roasted garlic, olive, and tomato pasta salad. I made a modified version of this recipe for dinner last night (more on that later), and it was delicious. Sure, roasting garlic takes a while, but at least it’s mostly downtime. Stick it in the oven and go curl up on the couch with your significant other (or your cat, or a book) and enjoy some quality time while it roasts. Other than that, it should be super-quick to put together the night before.

8. Farro, green olive, and feta salad. Here’s another twist on farro salad. The ingredients are mostly non-season-specific, so you can easily make this whenever you want throughout the year. Of course, if you want to incorporate fresh seasonal veggies, it’s easily adaptable, but I love the briny tang of the green olives with the lemon zest and feta cheese.

Yum!

9. Cilantro-lime chickpea salad. This salad looks amazing: not only tasty, but healthy and vegan to boot! I love cilantro and lime together. I think they’re just the perfect summer flavors.

10. Kale salad with ricotta salata, pine nuts, and quinoa. This is pretty much the perfect make-ahead salad, since it gets better after the flavors have a little time to meld. The dressing will even soften the crunchy kale slightly, which is a good thing, since it can be a little tough when raw.

Delish.

This is tasty, hearty, and surprisingly filling for a salad. Once kale is back in season, this will be making lunch appearances around here often!

Quinoa salad with edamame, ricotta salata, and avocado

I’m pretty bad at lunches. As much as I plan ahead for dinners, I just don’t for lunch. Half the time lunch ends up being leftovers, and the other half of the time, I am scrounging the fridge, freezer, and pantry for something acceptable to eat.

This weekend, I did a little better than usual, though. I threw together a delicious quinoa salad with edamame, avocado, and ricotta salata.

Let’s do lunch.

I am a huge fan of quinoa, so I always have it around. It only takes 10-15 minutes to cook, and then it can be tossed with a little dressing, add some veggies and/or some cheese, maybe some toasted nuts, and you’re good to go. I don’t know why I don’t think of this more often! Now I will.

This particular incarnation had ricotta salata (leftover from kale salad earlier in the week), frozen edamame from Nora’s stash, and a nice lemony dressing, with some sliced avocado served over the top for good measure. Hubby called it a “perfect lunch” — I’d say that equals success!

Quinoa Salad with Edamame, Ricotta Salata, and Avocado

1/2 cup dried quinoa
juice of one lemon
1 Tbs olive oil
salt and pepper
2 oz ricotta salata (or other crumbly cheese, like feta), crumbled
1/2 package frozen edamame, cooked and shelled
1/2 avocado, sliced

Prepare the quinoa according to package directions. Rinse in a mesh colander with cool water and drain well (or just let it cool in the refrigerator, covered, if you are making it ahead). Transfer to a large bowl. Add the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste and toss well. Add the crumbled cheese and shelled edamame and toss again. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve with the sliced avocado on top.

Kale salad with ricotta salata, pine nuts, and quinoa

With the end of kale season nearing, and temperatures rising,  I decided to try a kale salad with the big bunch of curly kale that showed up in our CSA box this week. There are legions of kale salad recipes out there, but nothing quite struck my fancy until I stumbled upon this recipe on Epicurious.

This simple salad is perfect for showcasing the kale, and besides, I’ve loved ricotta salata ever since I discovered it. It’s a delightfully salty cheese with a great, fresh flavor — perfect for crumbling over salads or pasta.I added some quinoa and toasted pine nuts to make it a bit more substantial, and called it a meal.

Ka-POW!

It was perfect for one of those hot evenings, when it was just asking too much to turn on the stove. Even better, the salad keeps well in the fridge, and it made for a delicious lunch the next day.

Kale Salad with Ricotta Salata, Pine Nuts, and Quinoa
Adapted from this recipe from Gourmet, January 2007

1 bunch kale, stems and center ribs removed
2 shallots, finely chopped
juice of one lemon
1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
4 1/2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup crumbled ricotta salata (about 2 oz)
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
2 cups prepared quinoa (from 1/2 cup dry)

Cut the kale crosswise into thin slices. Whisk together the shallot, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Add the olive oil in a slow stream, whisking until combined well.

Toss the kale, ricotta salata, and pine nuts in a large bowl with the dressing, then season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve the salad on a bed of quinoa.

Chilled beet soup with mint

With temperatures climbing into the 90s here in Austin, you might be surprised when I say it’s still soup weather. Chilled soup weather, that is. So, while I wait on some delicious ripe tomatoes to make gazpacho, I thought I’d share my favorite quick and easy chilled soup recipe. All you really need are some beets, orange juice, and a blender.

Time for lunch!

I highly suggest that you roast the beets ahead of time and store them in the fridge, so everything is nice and chilled when you’re ready to make the soup. That makes it about a 5-minute endeavor!

Chilled Beet Soup

4 beets, roasted* and chilled
1/4 cup orange juice, or more to taste
One sprig of mint, leaves picked
Salt and pepper to taste
Greek yogurt for serving

Peel the beets (using a paper towel to rub off the skin works best), cut off the root and stem ends, and quarter each one. Throw them in the blender with the orange juice, mint leaves, and a pinch of salt. Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary. Serve cold with a dollop of Greek yogurt.

* Preheat the oven to 400°, trim and scrub your beets, and wrap them in foil. Roast until you can easily pierce them with a fork, 30 minutes to an hour (depending on size).

10 easy lunches for a toddler

It can be really hard to come up with inspiration for quick, easy lunches for yourself, let alone a toddler, too. Since Nora goes from zero to famished in 3.2 seconds (and I am sure she is not alone in that), I like to have something quick at my fingertips so we can maximize our play time, and minimize the amount of time I spend with a whiny toddler hanging on my legs as I try to put lunch together.

Sure, now she’s satisfied.

Here are some of my favorite lunch ideas, in case you’re in need of inspiration:

1. Mac and cheese. Cook some pasta (macaroni or whatever small pasta you have handy), mix it with shredded cheese, a little butter, and a splash of milk on the stovetop, and voila! Throw in some veggies (my favorites are broccoli or baby greens like spinach or kale), or serve some on the side for a complete meal.

2. PB&J. You can’t beat a good ol’ peanut butter and jelly sandwich for a quick, easy, and cheap. Peanut butter is good protein, and kids love it on a sandwich with the extra sweetness of jelly. If you don’t like jelly, you can always do peanut butter and bananas or even nutella instead. Be sure to serve it on whole grain bread for added fiber and protein.

3. Grilled cheese. As long as we’re talking sandwiches, a grilled cheese is easy and tasty, too. Serve with fruit and veggies for munching on the side. Nora still prefers hers cut into bite-sized pieces, which she pulls apart and devours cheese-first.

4. Quesadilla. Along the same lines, a quesadilla is basically a grilled cheese with tortillas instead of bread. Easy-peasy, and you can sneak some extra veggies in, too!

5. Cottage cheese. I love cottage cheese and crackers for lunch, and guess what — so does Nora! She gobbles the stuff down with a spoon. It’s great protein, and you can either mix in some fruit (pineapples, anyone?) or serve fruit or veggies with it.

6. Yogurt with fruit and graham crackers. Nora eats YoToddler for lunch once every couple of days, because she loves it so much, and it’s so darn easy and healthy. Serve it with some berries or a peach, and add a graham cracker as “dessert,” and we’re in business!

7. Whatever you’re eating. This is my go-to lunch for Nora, actually. I often eat leftovers from dinner the night before for lunch, and save some extra for her. She loves eating what Mommy is eating, and it’s so much better not to have to fix two separate meals.

8. Edamame and rice. You can buy frozen, cooked edamame and reheat it in the microwave. Add some leftover rice, and it’s a lovely Asian-inspired lunch.

9. Cream cheese and black olive sandwich. This is another easy, favorite sandwich, and I love it, too! Cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches are lovely, too. Add some fresh berries or baby carrots to munch on the side.

10. Hummus with carrots and pita. Oh, how I wish my child loved hummus like I do! It’s such a good, healthy protein, but she won’t touch the stuff. Maybe someday — I keep trying. If you are luckier, you can tempt your little one with hummus and carrot sticks and/or pita bread for dipping.

Please share your favorite quick lunch ideas in the comments. I can always use some new inspiration!

Egg salad

I am always on the lookout for a good, easy, and preferably portable lunch. Leftovers from dinner are the best, as far as I’m concerned, but that’s not always an option, and I need something to feed two hungry adults and an even hungrier toddler most days. If I can make it ahead, I am even happier, since the hubby often takes his lunch to work, and toddlers tend to go from zero to starving (and screaming) in about 3 seconds.

Egg salad is an old go-to favorite that I haven’t made in a while, probably because I associate it with picnics and spring. It’s super-simple, and adding fresh dill really makes all the difference. I like to serve it as a sandwich on lightly toasted rye bread — delicious!

It is hard to make egg salad look good.

I think we can surmise that Nora also liked it.

Nom nom nom.

Egg Salad

6 eggs
3 Tbs mayonnaise
1 tsp Dijon mustard
fresh dill, chopped

Cover the eggs with cold water and add a dash of salt and a dash of white vinegar (optional). Bring to a boil, cover, and simmer for one minute. Remove from the heat and let sit, covered, for 12 minutes. Drain and add cold water to the pot. Repeat until the eggs are no longer hot.

Peel and chop the cooled eggs. In a medium bowl, stir in the mayo, mustard, and dill to taste. Use as a sandwich stuffing, preferably on rye bread.

Farro, green olive, and feta salad

In looking for new grains to feed Nora, I stumbled across this recipe for farro, green olive, and feta salad. Not only did it look like a meal that might expand her taste buds a bit, it also looked like a tasty lunch for me! I made it for lunch the other day, and it was great.

Lunch time!

This salad has a lightness to it that’s hard to find in winter cuisine, and the feta, olives, and lemon combine to give it a kick.

While I was pleased, Nora wasn’t too thrilled. She had a few chunks of the feta and seemed to like the farro, but she spit out the parsley and gave me a horrible look. I didn’t see her try an olive, and I think the lemon flavor might have been a bit too acidic for her. Of course, this is the same girl who has grabbed and bitten into a lemon on more than one occasion (they make great teethers, apparently) and not been phased, so who knows.

Regardless, the salad made a great lunch for me, with plenty leftover for this weekend, too. I think I may try just plain farro with the kiddo as a side dish, but apparently this was a little much for her… or she was just in an obstinate mood. Hard to say!

Farro, Green Olive, and Feta Salad
Original recipe from Sunset, January 2012

1 cup farro wheat
2 Tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 Meyer lemon
1/2 tsp pepper
1/2 cup chopped parsley leaves
1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
2/3 cup green olives, pitted and halved

Bring 4 cups of salted water to a boil and stir in the farro. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook until just tender, about 20 minutes. Drain and spread out on a rimmed baking sheet to cool and dry a bit, about 5 minutes.

Whisk the oil, zest and juice of the lemon, pepper, and parsley together in a medium bowl. Stir in the feta, olives, and cooked farro.

A taste of my childhood

I am trying more and more to make things for Nora’s meals that I can eat, too, or vice versa. This is really the only practical course, since she’s always interested in what I’m eating, and preparing two separate meals is just a little silly. That was how, not too long ago, the two of us came to be sitting together at the dining room table eating cream cheese and black olive sandwiches for lunch.

Whoosh.

It made me flash back to my own childhood a little bit. Cream cheese and black olive sandwiches were a perennial favorite in my lunch box, and, as it turns out, I grew up to favor the same whole wheat sprouted grain hippie-style bread my mom did, so the taste really did bring me back.

This sandwich is so easy that I actually can’t believe I hadn’t had one in such a long time. It’s just black olives folded into cream cheese spread on lightly toasted bread. Nora and I shared some blackberries to go with it. She seemed to like the sandwich, although she preferred the open-face version she (accidentally) created.

All the better to get to the cream cheese...

I’m glad I re-discovered this one, and it will definitely be on the lunch menu again soon.

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