Monday, June 25, 2012

Roasted Vegetable Salad

I love this cold roasted vegetable salad.  I mentioned this in a previous post, but just to say it again: I think this is one of the best things to eat during the summer.  You get all the concentrated flavor of the vegetables from roasting/grilling, but serving this chilled helps fight off the summer heat.  The flavors are also a firework symphony.  This is vibrant, bright, and fun.  You have sweetness, earthiness, creaminess (avocado), mellow warmth, bright acidity (lime juice in the dressing), umami (also from the dressing)... Really, do I need to say more?  This salad goes on the must-make list.

You'll need: 1 medium-sized eggplant, 1-2 ripe tomatoes, 2-3 bell peppers, and 1 ripe avocado.  I like to use red, yellow, and orange bell peppers for the colors they add, but green would work just as well.  If you like the flavor of garlic, you can also throw in 3 cloves of garlic.
  1. Slice the eggplant into medallions about a finger's-width in thickness.  Brush the medallions with olive oil on both sides
  2. Slice the bell peppers into matchsticks.  Toss with olive oil.  
  3. Score the tomatoes on the bottom with an X.
  4. Toss the garlic cloves in a healthy dose of olive oil (optional).
  5. Arrange the eggplant, bell peppers, tomatoes, an garlic cloves onto a baking sheet.  Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.  Flip the eggplant medallions and toss the bell peppers around a bit and then turn off the oven leaving the vegetables inside for another 20 minutes.
Alternatively, you can grill the eggplant and bell peppers.  You can also roast the tomatoes over the grill by scoring them on the bottom and wrapping them in aluminum foil.


After the vegetables have been roasted and cooled, peel the skin off of the tomatoes and garlic cloves (if using).  Slice the eggplant into matchsticks like the bell pepper.  Chop the garlic clove and the tomatoes.  Dice up the avocado (without the skin, obviously).  Combine all the vegetables into a large bowl/container.

Up till this point, this probably sounded like a very boring/normal recipe.  But this part is the most important part: the dressing.

I make a salad dressing out of lime juice that is my go-to for all salads.  It works wonders on romaine, spinach, etc.  Juice one lime (I can often get about 2-3 tablespoons).  Add enough sugar to cut the acid.  I think I probably use 3 tablespoons, if not more, but taste it as you go.  You don't want it to be sweet, but you also don't want to make the oh so sour! face when you try it.  Then I add 3-4 good dashes of Maggi seasoning sauce, maybe a scant quarter teaspoon.  This stuff is the magic ingredient.  I know many people may not keep this in their kitchens, but honestly, it is amazing.  I add this to omelets and fried rice.  I use it to marinate chicken and ribs.  When I was growing up, sometimes for dinner all I wanted was Maggi sauce on white rice.  It is somewhat like soy sauce, except... bolder in taste.  And it isn't actually made from soy.  I really can't describe it any better.  Just go buy it.  You can probably find it in your local grocery store (it is a Nestle brand of seasoning).

Adjust the dressing to your taste.  It should be a good balance of sweet, sour, salty, and umami.  I probably use 4-5 tablespoons of this to dress the vegetable salad.  Toss/stir and then allow the salad to chill in the fridge for at least an hour.  Often, I wait 4-5 hours before serving.  (In a plastic container with a lid, this will keep in the fridge for about 5 days, if it lasts that long.)

The end result is a roasted vegetable salad that is cold, refreshing, and vibrant.  The lime brings a bright flavor that compliments the earthy, warm flavors of the eggplant and bell peppers, while the roasted tomato has a soft acidity to it that works well with the avocado's creaminess.  All of the flavors harmonize with the umami, sweet, sour, and slightly salty dressing.  This salad can be a meal in and of itself, but it also works great as a side to steak, grill chicken, ribs, pork chops, you name it.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

My Short List of Recipes for the Summer

Now that it is officially Midsummer's Day, I feel like I can share with you my short list of my favorite recipes for the summer.  Personally, I think the best summer recipes are ones that are light, refreshing, and generally served cool or cold, like carpaccios or fruit salads.  Summer is also the time for grilling and for eating popsicles.

No, this isn't a popsicle, but my popsicles
didn't photograph beautifully and they
tasted too good so I stopped taking
pictures and ate them instead.  So here is a
yogurt and honey parfait. Almost the same thing,
just not frozen.
Let's talk about the popsicles first.  I am a big fan of frozen treats.  I like ice cream, gelato, and sorbets.  (I even enjoy eating frozen peas, but that's probably not universally considered a "frozen treat," so we don't have to focus on that.)  I really enjoy reading recipes on making ice cream or sorbets at home, but I don't have an ice cream maker and I don't think it would be a good idea for me to invest in one simply because I don't want to give myself diabetes.  That said, the idea of making my own ice cream at home is still fun.
Unfortunately, without an ice cream machine you'll have a hard time getting the dreamy, light, and creamy texture of store bought ice cream, but you can get something close to it.  So what is summer recipe #1?  Frozen yogurt and honey popsicles.  These are deliciously easy to make.
  1. Get some store bought plain yogurt (normally I buy mine in 32oz plastic containers).  Open it, stir it, close the lid and come back in a few hours, or better yet a day.  The yogurt will probably have separated a little bit, so that there is some water on the top.  Carefully pour that off.  You can do this a few times, or you can move on to the next step.
  2. Pour in some honey.  I normally do about 1 teaspoon for every quarter-cup of yogurt.  Blend the yogurt and honey with a hand held mixer, or some vigorous whisking.
  3. Pour the yogurt into little plastic/paper cups.  You can add some chopped up peaches or cherries if you'd like.
  4. Put a plastic spoon into the middle (this will work as the popsicle stick).  I find that the best popsicle molds are actually individual yogurt cups (e.g. Activia) which have been washed and saved.
  5. Freeze for 4-6 hours, depending on the size of the popsicles you are making.  To remove the popsicles from the mold, just quickly run some hot water around the outside of the mold.

Another favorite recipe of mine is roasted eggplant, tomato, bell pepper, and avocado salad.  You grill/roast the vegetables (everything except for the avocado), and then you serve the salad chilled with a deliciously easy dressing.  I eat this salad as a full meal, but it also tastes great with chicken, steak, ribs, you name it.  I also love that you can prep the ingredients in one day, make the salad another day, and eat it two days later and everything still tastes amazing.

My third favorite summer recipe is my mom's zucchini "carpaccio" with avocado, shrimp, and pistachio (recipe and pictures coming soon!).  This recipe just thinned sliced zucchini and avocado dressed with lime juice and olive oil.  Add some grilled/sauteed shrimp and some crushed pistachios, and you have a beautiful harmony or flavors that'll quickly become your go-to summer lunch, especially since this recipe tastes better after some time "marinating" in the lime juice and olive oil.

I have other favorites that include lightly sauteed sweet corn, potato blinis with salmon, and a melon/cantaloupe salad that I've already written about, but we've got the whole summer ahead of us.  For now let's just enjoy the peaches, nectarines, and cherries that the farmer's markets have given us.  There's plenty of time for sharing recipes.

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Best Banana Bread You'll Ever Taste

This is the stuff, my friends.  Look at it.  Moist, dark, full of flavor.  Well, you can't tell the last thing just by looking at the picture, but I assure you it is true.  This banana bread has rum, dark chocolatecaramelized sugar, and deep vanilla and warm spice tones.  What more could you ask for?
It is delicious sliced cold with a glass of milk for breakfast.  It tastes good fresh out of the oven, and it tastes even better on the second day, once the flavors have really melded together in the fridge.  This is breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dessert... heck, you can have this for dinner.

One-quarter cup of rum and one full tablespoon of vanilla extract go towards making this the most flavorful banana bread I've ever eaten.  The salt also rounds out the flavor of the banana and the dark chocolate chips that are studded throughout the bread elevate this to the status of heavenly.

The first time I made this recipe I actually forgot to count how many cups of flour I had put into the batter so I wasn't sure if it was 2 cups or 3 cups.  The batter seemed liquidy in the pan, but when it finished baking, it had a lovely bread-pudding texture that I absolutely adored.  The second time I made this, I actually used the right amount of flour and I got a true banana bread.  I actually prefer the bread-pudding results, but it's a personal preference thing, so both ratios are included below.