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Summertime…and The Cookin’ Is Easy

As we move into the hottest…and most glorious days of the summer season, blazing stove burners, hot ovens and steaming pots and pans are the last things on our minds. We’re more inclined to laze the afternoons away in a hammock or by the seaside.

And while all that might be true, we still need to maintain our vitality…summer won’t last forever (as we know all too well come January). If we try to subsist for too long on fruit, snacks and smoothies, we’ll find ourselves weak and lethargic by the beginning of autumn. Even though the weather is warm, we need to keep our internal ‘fire stoked’ so that we have strength and vitality for the cooler weather that will come all too soon.

Try this simple menu. It has lots to choose from…varying tastes and textures, light cooking, crisp freshness, high protein and nutrient dense to keep us nourished…so we sail from summer right into autumn.

Artichoke Salad with Greens and Grapes
A more festive and elegant salad is not to be had. Light and fresh, but rich enough to be decadent, this is a symphony of flavors and textures that makes any occasion just a bit more special.

Makes 3-4 servings

extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, thinly sliced
1 red onion, thin half moon slices
sea salt
8-10 marinated or frozen artichoke hearts, split in half lengthwise
1 red pepper, roasted over an open flame, peeled, seeded, sliced into thin ribbons

juice of 2 lemons
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons umeboshi or red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons brown rice syrup
generous pinch black pepper

2 bunches watercress, stem tips trimmed, left whole
25-30 fresh green or red grapes, removed from stems
2-3 fresh green onions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

Place a small amount of oil, garlic and onion in a skillet and turn heat to medium. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and sauté for 1 minute. Stir in artichoke hearts and red pepper ribbons and sauté just until heated through, about 2 minutes more.

Prepare the dressing by whisking together lemon juice, oil, ume vinegar and rice syrup, adjusting seasonings to taste.

To plate the dressing, arrange watercress on a platter, with grapes sprinkled around the rim. Spoon sautéed artichoke heart mixture over the top and drizzle lightly with dressing, serving the balance of the dressing on the side for those who want to use more. Sprinkle with scallions and serve immediately after dressing.

Cook’s Tip: To add some real fun and interest to this salad, freeze the grapes before putting the salad together.

Spicy White Bean-Tomato Pate
A great special occasion starter, served with elegant toast points or crackers, this is also great at a picnic or any other outdoor celebration. Mound it in a bowl and serve it with delicious whole grain bread.

Makes 5-6 servings

extra virgin olive oil
2-3 cloves fresh garlic, finely minced
1 red onion, finely diced
sea salt
generous pinch crushed red pepper flakes
2 cups cooked/canned cannellini beans
1/3 cup oil-cured sun-dried tomatoes, diced
grated zest of 1 lemon
juice of one half fresh lemon
generous pinch dried basil
2-3 leaves Romaine lettuce, washed well, left whole
1 sprig fresh parsley, finely minced

Place a small amount of oil, garlic and onion in a deep skillet and turn heat to medium. When the onions begin to sizzle, add a pinch of salt and the red pepper flakes and sauté for 1-2 minutes. Add beans, tomatoes and lemon zest, season to taste with salt and cook, stirring for 1-2 minutes.

Transfer bean mixture to a food processor. Add lemon juice and dried basil and puree until smooth. If the mixture is too thick, add 1-2 tablespoons olive oil or water to loosen. Note that olive oil will create a much richer pate than the water.

To serve, lay lettuce leaves around the rim of a platter. Mound pate in the center and sprinkle with parsley. You may also press the pate into a shallow bowl for a more casual presentation. Serve with crackers, pita or toast points. Makes 2-3 cups pate.

Cook’s Tip: Use canned organic beans in place of cooking them from scratch. Just rinse well before use.

Quinoa Tabouleh with Avocado
I was never a big fan of tabouleh because I did not care for the wet texture of it. My husband loves it so I had to figure out a way to work it into my cooking. So I tried the classic recipe with quinoa in place of bulgur and viola! I fell in love with tabouleh.

Makes 4-5 servings

1 cup quinoa, rinsed very well
2 cups spring or filtered water
Sea salt
Cracked black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon brown rice syrup
6 to 7 sprigs flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped (about 1/3 cup)
2 cloves fresh garlic, very finely minced
½ red bell pepper, roasted, peeled, seeded, cut into small dice
2 to 3 plum tomatoes, seeded, cut into small dice
½ cup small dice cucumber
½ avocado, ripe, but firm, cut into small dice

Add quinoa and water to a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Add a pinch of salt; cover and reduce heat to low. Cook until quinoa has absorbed all the water and has opened (a small “tail” forms on each grain, like a tadpole), about 25 minutes. Transfer quinoa to a mixing bowl, fluff with a fork and allow to come to room temperature.

While the quinoa cools, whisk together ½ teaspoon sea salt, 1/8 teaspoon black pepper, lemon juice, oil and rice syrup. Set aside.

When the quinoa is cooled, fold in oil mixture and all the vegetables, tossing very gently to incorporate, but not break the avocado into mush. Serve within 2 hours of making this dish or it will get soggy. (If making ahead, do not add the oil mixture until close to serving time.)

Cook’s Tip: It is important to wash quinoa very well, as it is coated with an oily substance called saponin that can make it taste bitter.

Pesto Pizza with Artichoke Hearts
A yummy festive dish…just fancy enough to work at a cocktail party, but casual enough for a casual evening of snacks and old movies.

Makes 6-8 servings

1, 10-inch whole wheat focaccia, fully baked
¾ cup fresh basil pesto (recipe follows)
1, 6-ounce jar marinated artichoke hearts, drained, thinly sliced
½ cup finely minced oil-cured black olives
generous pinch crushed red pepper flakes
extra virgin olive oil
1 ripe tomato, thinly sliced into rounds, do not peel or seed

Preheat oven to 350o and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Prepare pesto. Spread a thin layer evenly over focaccia. Top with artichoke heart slices, black olives and sprinkle with red pepper flakes. Arrange tomato slices over top of pizza and drizzle lightly with oil.

Bake until crust is golden at the edges and tomatoes are wilted, about 15 minutes.

Fresh Basil Pesto
1 cup pine nuts or walnuts
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
2 teaspoons white miso
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons brown rice syrup or honey
spring or filtered water

Place pine nuts, oil and basil in a food processor and puree until smooth. Add miso, vinegar and rice syrup and puree until smooth, slowly adding water to achieve desired consistency. Do not thin too much. Makes about 2 cups pesto.

Cook’s Tip: The balance of un-used pesto can be frozen or used in another recipe within 24 hours.

Vanilla Flan
There is nothing quite like a light, delicately sweet flan to end any meal--from a casual weeknight dinner to a holiday feast fit for royalty. Don’t let its elegant presentation intimidate you--it doesn’t get easier than this one.

Makes 4 servings

1 ½ cups unsweetened organic almond milk
2 teaspoons brown rice syrup
grated zest of 1 lemon
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, pulp removed
pinch sea salt
2 tablespoons agar flakes
1 tablespoon arrowroot, dissolved in small amount cold water

5 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon brown rice syrup
½ (one half) teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Fresh mint sprigs and raspberries, for garnish

Place milk, rice syrup, lemon zest, vanilla pulp, salt and agar in a saucepan and place over low heat. Cook, stirring, frequently, until agar dissolves about 20 minutes. Stir in dissolved arrowroot, stirring until mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Spoon mixture into 4 lightly oiled 6 ounce custard cups or ramekins. Set aside for 20 minutes. Place in refrigerator until firmly set, within an hour.

To serve, invert ramekins onto individual serving plates. Make the glaze by combining maple syrup, rice syrup and vanilla in a saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a high boil, foaming. Remove from heat, whisk in lemon juice and cool for 1-2 minutes. Whisk to loosen and spoon over each flan. Serve garnished with fresh mint leaves and seasonal berries.

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