Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Apple Walnut Salad

Summertime means salad time in my mind. All I want is something light and crisp to eat, none of these heavy meals. Just give me fresh fruits and veggies, and very little else, and I will be one happy camper.

I made this salad for a shabbat dinner I hosted at the beginning of the summer. I made it because all my normal go-to salad ingredients were being used in other dishes in the meal, so I had to think a little out of the box. I had three different kinds of beautiful greens from my CSA box, so I put them all together, chopped up a few apples, sprinkled on the nuts, and tossed it all with my new obsession, my homemade honey mustard vinaigrette. It was so good, that I made it again the next week. And the next. In fact, I’m eating it right now.

The point is, this salad is simple, crisp, refreshing, and delicious. The sweet apple is nicely offset by the tart cherries, and the walnuts add something to crunch on. The honey mustard vinaigrette is light enough that it doesn’t take away from the freshness of the salad. The whole thing is quick to throw together and always comes out well. This is not a salad that can be your entire meal, but it is a lovely accompaniment to a light sandwich or a chilled soup. I highly recommend eating it outside on a warm sunny day or a breezy summer evening.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Recipe ReDux: Brownie Bites

This month’s Recipe ReDux theme is “Bars and Bites for Brown Bags.” It’s actually very fitting that this comes at a time when I’m running around like crazy (to be fair, when am I not?). You see, for two weeks every summer, my family goes down the shore. This year, I’m back and forth during the week so that I can go to work. This means that my fridge is annoyingly empty yet I have little desire to fill it.

But I still have to make my lunch so that I have anything to eat at work. That’s where these brownie bites come in! These bites are delicious, packed with seedy goodness, feel like a decadent indulgence, and can happily hang out in my fridge or freezer while I ignore them half the week.

Similar to my no bake oatmeal cookies, these brownie bites start with nuts and dates. The dates keep things together while the nuts add some heft. Then I add seeds. Here, I chose a mixture of chia and hemp seeds because, well, they happen to be in front of my face when I made these. Sesame or flax seeds would also work well, or replace the seeds with the equivalent amount of ground walnuts and call it a day. Finally, some cocoa powder and vanilla are added in to round out all the flavors.

Take the mush, roll it into balls, pop them in the fridge, and consider dessert for the week made. For me, I like to eat these as my afternoon indulgence snack. You know, around 3 pm when you’re not really hungry but you need a quick break from work? Yea, that’s when I eat these. It’s like a quick piece of paradise in the middle of the afternoon.

What snacks go into your lunch box?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Honey Mustard Vinaigrette

Everyone knows that my go to salad dressing is my balsamic vinaigrette. I’ve used it so much that it totally has its own reputation by now. But a few months ago, I sadly smashed a full, unopened bottle of balsamic vinegar leaving me with too little balsamic and a salad that had to be dressed for dinner in a few hours. So I had to think of something else to use to dress my salad and I decided to try my hand at a honey mustard vinaigrette.

Oh. My. Goodness. This stuff is good. So good, I think I’m ready to replace my usual go to vinaigrette with it. Instead of balsamic, I used white wine vinegar, but I’ve also made a version of this without any vinegar if you don’t have it on hand. I love the sweet mustard flavor that comes through in this dressing. I keep the seasonings minimal so that they don’t overpower the mustardy goodness, and I thinned it out a little with some water because I decided that there was plenty of oil in there already.

Side note: I’ve discovered that by using just a little water in a vinaigrette, you manage to maintain all the flavor, keep the dressing thick enough to really coat your salads, but you get to thin it out slightly, which also helps stretch the use of each batch. The trick is not using too much water, which will make your dressing a thin, runny mess that pools at the bottom of your salad bowl. Nobody wants that.

Anyway, I highly encourage branching out from your usual routine and trying something new every once in a while. You never know when you’re going to come across a new favorite!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Israeli Salad

Last week I moved. It was a little bit traumatic, as all moves are, and incredibly sad for me. My apartment was very much home for the last two years. I loved the little kitchen, I loved the large mirror that made the place feel big and grand, and I loved the backyard that could host dozens of friends at once. I loved the neighborhood; the friends who lived within 5 minutes walking distance, the coffee shop that was my go-to study spot for most of graduate school, the hole in the wall grocery store that always managed to have exactly what I was looking for.

The view from my new place
My bright, but tiny new kitchen
Unfortunately, the building was unable to offer me the lease that I needed, so the apartment has been passed on to a couple who I hope will be able to love and cherish that place as much as I did. In the meantime, I’ll be finishing out my stay in Philadelphia in a small studio that has huge windows, incredible natural light, and little to no kitchen. It is certainly an adjustment for me, to say the least.

In the meantime, my head is full of boxes and mess, and my heart is heavy with news of hate and destruction around the world. It is these times of chaos and sorrow that most often have me turning to the kitchen. There is something comforting and soothing about making food, whether for yourself or others. There is something wonderful about sitting down to eat food that brings back memories from the past. It isn’t just the typical comfort foods that have this effect. Sometimes it’s something as simple as a salad.

Israeli salad goes by many names and has numerous variations in the Middle East. This is the simplest form, something you can throw together in minutes, serve with pride, and eat with pleasure. There is no cooking involved, making it the perfect summer recipe. The only real trick to making this salad authentic is dicing your ingredients finely. Large chunks of tomato and cucumber are equally delicious, but there is something about the fine dice of a traditional Israeli salad that makes it so much more enticing.

This salad is made of tomatoes and cucumbers, both of which are refreshing and hydrating. I like using Persian cucumbers because they tend to be crisp. This is the season for tomatoes, so make sure to get some ripe, juicy ones from your local farmer’s market. Or, if you’re finding that the tomatoes you buy are falling a little flat, sub in cherry tomatoes for the extra flavor. Add a little red onion or scallion for a bite, some parsley for flavor, and olive oil and lemon juice to top it all off. That’s it. Simple, delicious, refreshing, and addictively comforting. 

Now this place is beginning to feel like home.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Recipe ReDux: Bourbon Baked Peaches

It's time for another Recipe ReDux!  It's also time for some celebration!  You see, this week marks The Inventive Vegetarian's third birthday!  I can't believe it's been so long, and I am so incredibly grateful to everyone who has stopped by to read, comment, and say hi.  This experience has gone above and beyond anything I could have imagined.

This month's Recipe ReDux theme is all about using spirits in the kitchen, which I think fits in nicely with our birthday festivities.  So for this month, I decided to make us all a little treat - something that is ridiculously easy to prepare, feels decadent, and is small enough that we can keep it all to ourselves.  I made bourbon baked peaches!

I always associate bourbon and peaches and have used them together many times over the years.  They just balance each other so nicely!  So when I wanted to make a "spirited" and celebratory dish, I immediately thought of bourbon and peaches.  But right now my refrigerator is full of leftovers, so I didn't want to make something big.  Instead, I made a single serving that is more satisfying than a pie or a cobbler could ever be. 

We start with one plain peach.  I'm so lazy, I don't even bother peeling it.  Next we mix together some brown sugar, cinnamon, vanilla, and bourbon, and pour it over our peach.  Stick it under the broiler for 8-10 minutes until everything is starting to brown, and add a scoop of your favorite ice cream.  Voila!  Dessert is served!

How do you celebrate?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Roasted Pineapple Guacamole

Wow….it’s been a very long month for me. Let’s recap, shall we?

After all the graduation festivities from last month calmed down, and after I (sadly) said goodbye to some great friends I’ve made over the last two years, I started scrambling to find a new apartment. Apartment hunting is never fun, but luckily I found one and will be moving there in 2 weeks (yikes!).

Next came the Second Annual Guac Off! I had signed up for this amazing competition way before I realized that my friend’s wedding was actually the same day, at the same time, three hours away. Oops! So I had two friends represent at the competition (THANK YOU LADIES!), but only after throwing a party to determine what guacamole recipe to use. We decided on a roasted pineapple guacamole, following last year’s theme of sweet and savory. Also following last year’s theme, we came in second place for the People’s Choice Award (by only one vote!). At least it was all for an amazing cause.
Arches National Park at sunset right before a crazy thunderstorm

Next up was my road trip in which my friend and I drove nearly 2000 miles in 10 days by taking the most roundabout route from San Francisco to Denver. On the way, we saw multiple amazing sites and national parks, drove into an alarming number of monsoons and thunderstorms, and completely wore ourselves out. It was crazy, incredible, and something I would totally do again in a heart beat.

Then this past Monday (just a day after I got home) I was very excited to host a healthy cooking demonstration in my apartment in which we talked about how to make healthy, fresh meals on the go. Thank you so much to everyone who joined me for that! We made some great recipes, including overnight oats three ways, a number of salads, and a tasty quinoa chickpea stew. I promise to share some of these recipes and strategies on the site at a later date!

Now I’m back to a regular schedule, focusing on things like work and moving, and of course, picking up where I left off on the blog. I’ve been meaning to share my almost award winning guac recipe ever since the competition, but life kind of got in the way. Now I finally have the time!

What I love about this recipe is that the pineapples get even sweeter and juicier when you roast them, and provide a wonderful burst of flavor when mixed in with the more traditional guacamole flavors. This recipe makes 2 avocados worth of guac, though you can always make more or less (we had 40 avocados going into the Guac Off). If you’re already barbecuing outside, leave the oven off and thrown these pineapples on the grill instead. You could also sear them off in a pan or a toaster oven if turning on the broiler is too much heat for you this summer. Whichever way you do it, definitely get a nice caramelization on the pineapple pieces. It’s totally worth it.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp

Big things are happening over here, so we're celebrating!  I graduated last week with a master's degree in nutrition.  The last two years of school have been some of the busiest, most stressful times I can remember, but the truth is, I loved every minute of it.  Nothing has ever convinced me more that going into this field was the right decision.  While the next 8 months are a little up in the air for me, I'm very excited to finally have some free time and not be super stressed out all the time.

To celebrate this accomplishment, we're turning to the season's best produce - strawberries and rhubarb! To be honest, this recipe was mostly inspired by seeing other people posting crisp recipes in their cast iron skillets, so I figured I should give that a try too, right?  I'm not sure if the skillet makes a difference in the taste, but it sure looks pretty!  I also decided to use chia seeds to thicken up the sauce, rather than using a starch, to up the nutrition profile a bit.  Feel free to substitute for corn or tapioca starch, or grind the chia seeds before hand to make them less noticeable in the crisp.

The combination of strawberries and rhubarb is a classic that never goes out of style.  I love combining the two in pies and crisps the few weeks each year that rhubarb is available.  This time, I dabbled with coconut oil in the crisp topping instead of my go-to butter substitute.  I was concerned because I'm not a huge fan of the coconut flavor, but I was pleasantly surprised with how subtle it was in this topping.  I will definitely be using coconut oil more often!

How do you celebrate?