It’s almost the end of July, and that means the long hot days of humidity smelling like wet grass are followed by roaring thunderstorms and heavy rains all through the night. And if you garden, this is most certainly your garden’s favorite time of year!
This summer I set up two planters on our back patio and pretty much threw in whatever plants and seeds I could fit. Along with some festive patio lighting, a clean-up of our table and chairs, and a shrub trimming, the space is finally livable again. It also smells wonderful with a fresh lavender plant, a bountiful herb garden and two very healthy and fast-growing cherry tomato plants beside a lettuce bed and assortment of vegetables that are currently fighting for nutrients and light!
If, like me, your herb garden and zucchini plants are ready to burst forth, this herb garden ratatouille is the perfect summer dish to showcase your summer harvest. I’ve made a few variations of this sliced vegetable ratatouille over the years, but this version from Tasty has a rich sweet tomato sauce base to help soften the vegetable slices as they bake, and is topped with an incredibly robust herb sauce that really celebrated my home-grown herbs. It’s also a beautiful display and can easily be shared for a potluck. My adaptation from the original recipe was to remove the eggplant (not my husband’s favorite vegetable), double up on zucchini and add one sliced potato, but you can easily eliminate that for a simple low-carb summer dish.
- 3 large zucchini, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
- 2 large yellow squash, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
- 1 Idaho potato, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
- 6 roma tomatoes, sliced into 1/4″ rounds
- 1 red pepper, diced
- 1 yellow pepper, diced
- 1 onion, diced
- 28 ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 2 TB olive oil
- 1 garlic clove, finely diced
- 2 garlic cloves, finely diced
- 2 TB olive oil
- 8-10 fresh basil leaves, diced
- 2 TB fresh parsley, diced
- 2 tb fresh thyme, diced
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a large pan, add olive oil, garlic, onions and peppers and cook on medium heat until onions are soft and translucent, then stir in crushed tomatoes. Transfer this sauce base to bottom of a large casserole dish. Arrange sliced vegetables in alternating patterns on top, however you like! I prefer rows in a rectangular dish, but you can also arrange in a circular pattern in a round baking dish. Mix herb sauce and add to top of ratatouille. Cover with aluminum foil and bake for 40 minutes, then uncover and for additional 20 minutes. Serve while hot, but also tastes great cold the next day!
Final version bubbling up right out of the oven…
Last week my friend Or’Shaundra and I took our 8-year-old sons to my local library for movie night featuring “Ant-Man and the Wasp”. When we arrived, the librarian was visibly perplexed and shaken by our appearance, especially as our two young boys took front row seats grabbing bags of candy and chips, munching happily away. Nowhere in their marketing materials did they say the PG-13 movie was restricted to “teens”. Our boys had already seen the film but she made it clear the night was reserved for young adults, and I felt both annoyed and ashamed. Are we bad moms?! The movie was set to begin in 5 minutes and, not wanting conflict, she quietly promised that if the older hoards didn’t turn out then we could stay, but only if the other young adults approved. Well, the neighborhood was deserted for spring break and as suspected only two other kids showed up so the librarian begrudgingly took their pizza orders and my friend and I were promptly kicked out. Because NO PARENTS ALLOWED.
Long story short, we spent a glorious two hours browsing the recipe book section and sitting by a fire where I came across a delightful new Palestinian cookbook “Zaitoun” by Yasmin Khan. As a crossroads of multiple countries, the Middle East is a region rich with grain and vegetable harvests, with meats like fish, chicken and lamb reserved more for select meals rather than daily consumption, so the local cuisine can be seen as inherently vegetarian. Kibbeh is a simple yet staple dish traditionally made as a hearty pie with meat and a crunchy grain crust, and is fragrant with spicy cinnamon, sweet onions, pine nuts, and fresh chopped parsley. For this dish, I used textured soy proteins and lentils to replace minced lamb and it paired beautifully with an acidic diced Jerusalem salad.
For the Crust
- 1 3/4 cups fine bulgur wheat
- 1/3 cup Lightlight smart ground meatless meat crumbles
- 1 onion, roughly chopped
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- chopped parsley, to serve
For the Filling
- 1 1/2 cup steamed lentils
- 2/3 cup Lightlight smart ground meatless meat crumbles
- 1/3 cup vegetable broth
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 3 TB olive oil
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground allspice
- 3 garlic cloves, diced
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Place the bulgur wheat in a large bowl and pour over enough boiled water to cover, then set aside to soak for 30 minutes. Heat 2 TB olive oil in a large pan and fry up the onion for the filling just until translucent. Add the spices and garlic for the filling,then fold in the lentils and meatless meat crumbles and stir in the vegetable broth and let simmer for 10 minutes, stirring frequently. In a separate pan, toast the pine nuts on low heat for 3-4 minutes then set aside. In a small food processor or bowl using a hand blender, add the chopped onion for the crust along with the crust spices and meatless meat crumbles and blend until you have a smooth paste. Add this to the bulgar once the water has been soaked up and mix together. In large 12×10 baking dish, press half the crust mixture into the base. Top with the cooked filling and pine nuts, then finish the remaining crush mixture. Score the surface diagonally in a cross-hatch fashion with a knife, then bake for 45 minutes. Once baked, serve with fresh chopped parsley.
I also had the opportunity to spend a few days in San Diego for a work conference this week and enjoyed some beautiful ocean views.
With the recent elections and shift to crisp, fall weather, our family jumped right into hot soup season and what better dish than this hearty and healthy Senate Bean Soup!
One popular story claims the history of this dish goes back to World War II when the country was under rationing and the US government kitchen staff had to come up with creative ways to bulk up their lunch options. But another story contends it goes back at least 100 years and was simply a favorite amongst senators. Whatever the origination, it is a popular dish and has been served in the dining room of the Senate every day since, hence its name. The original recipe used a mashed potato base with ham, which I replaced with leeks and topped it off at the end with some crispy, pan-fried vegan Benevolent Bacon which added a nice smoky flavor to the soup once stirred through.
Made with just a few easy ingredients, this thick and buttery dish was scrumptious served with some toasted sourdough and was a big hit with kids and adults alike. The key elements in the prep were using dry navy beans and puréeing about 1/3 of the soup after it was all cooked down to create a thick soup base while still retaining much of the chunky beans and vegetables.
- 2 cups dry navy beans
- 2 leeks, trimmed and slivered
- 3 celery stalks, diced
- 2 carrots, diced
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 4 cups vegetable broth
- 2 TB olive oil
- 1 tsp dried thyme
- Benevolent Bacon, diced and pan fried
Soak navy beans 6-8 hours, then drain and rinse. In large soup pot heat up olive oil then cook garlic and leeks until translucent, about 3-5minutes. Add carrots, celery, beans, thyme and vegetable broth and cook on medium for 45 minutes, stirring constantly, until beans are soft. Remove 1/3 of soup and purée in blender then add back to soup. Or use a hand blender and purée briefly enough to thicken the broth but not break down all the beans. In a separate pan, add additional 1-2 TB olive oil and fry the bacon until it starts to darken. Set aside for 1 minute to cool, then serve fresh with each serving of soup. Salt and pepper to taste.
This week I stumbled upon a term that has really stuck in my mind: AWARENESS.
I’ve been on a bit of a journey of mental and physical health this summer. I hesitate to call it diet and fitness, because those are industry terms that really don’t resonate with me. But I’ve come to learn that when you are in tune with your body, really living every moment of every day, getting back in touch with nature and remembering you exist in a bigger space than your living room and all the while learning to eat and drink in moderation, you go to bed with some sense of inner peace and you wake up with energy. Wow. I don’t require a glass of wine to put my kids to bed every night! Not eating chips makes me feel less shame! What a revelation! At least, I attain this goal about 30% of the time… but now that I know the journey ahead I’ve made it my goal to get to 100%.
I guess my inner hippie got the best of me this week as I was really focused on Buddha bowls. Buddha bowls are essentially hearty grain-based dishes topped with an assortment of roasted or cooked vegetables and tossed with a vegetarian protein usually along with nuts or seeds. Their flavors can be soulful and complex, with unexpected items thrown together much like a garbage salad. They are really a vegans’ dream because they are filling entrees, rich in nutrient-dense foods, and they are easy to throw together and fun to eat! One my favorites to make at home is a barley bowl topped with sautéed kale, sauerkraut, tofu, sunflower seeds and avocado. Weird? No. But today I really wanted some red wine so I went for a Tuscan italian theme. I’d say this is comparable to a bruschetta bean salad mixed in with the nutty, chewy texture of Farro and tossed in a vibrant fresh herb vinegar dressing. It’s very versatile so you can also substitute other beans like chickpeas or white beans.
- 1 can large butter beans, drained
- 1 can kidney beans, drained
- 2 vine ripe tomatoes, diced
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1/2 cup pitted green olives
- 1 avocado, diced
- 1 1/2 cup Farro
- 1 container firm tofu
- 1 TB fresh tarragon, finely chopped
- 1/8 cup fresh chives, finely chopped
- 1 TB whole grain mustard
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- 1/8 cup olive oil
Boil 4 cups of water in medium sauce pot then add Farro. Turn down to medium heat for 25 minutes, stirring frequently. Once complete, pour through strainer and set aside to cool. To prepare your tofu, this can be eaten raw, pan-fried or my preference Roasted. In separate bowl, combine all other ingredients and toss with dressing!
Nothing says summer more than street food and beer – but it’s even better when you can make it at home! I was looking for a reason to use the fresh basil, mint and cucumbers picked from our neighbors Dory and Andy’s garden who thankfully have quite the green thumb and are so generous with the neighborhood kids tramping through their carefully tended vegetables and raspberry bushes.
This tofu and veggie Banh Mi with pickled daikon and carrots is fresh, bright and crunchy with a hint of spice and is totally crave-able. Sadly, it doesn’t compare to the outstanding lemongrass tofu Banh Mi we used to buy at Nhu Lan Bakery in Chicago but hey it definitely hit the spot. I also experimented with adding the same ingredients to lower calorie Vietnamese rice paper wraps which was also a big hit.
- 2 jalapeños, seeded and sliced
- 1 English cucumber, julienned
- 1 tofu block of your choice (I would recommend Trader Joe’s baked sriracha tofu)
- 1 bunch fresh cilantro
- 1 bunch free Thai basil
- 1 bunch fresh mint
- French bread roll or Vietnamese bread roll, both toasted slightly in oven or toaster oven until crunchy
- 2 TB mayonnaise (vegan or regular)
- 1 TB sriracha
- Juice of 1/2 lime
Pickled Daikon and Carrots
- 2 carrots, peeled and julienned
- 1 medium daikon, peeled and julienned
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup rice vinegar
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Pinch of salt
Bring the pickle mixture to a boil in medium sauce pot, then sit and let cool. Pour over carrots and daikon in a mason jar or glass Tupperware container, then seal and let marinate at least 1 hour in fridge but up to 12 hours overnight is ideal. To make sriracha mayo just combine mayo, sriracha and lime juice in small bowl. If you want it thicker to smear on bread base just leave out lime juice and squeeze on top of sandwich once assembled instead. Assemble sandwich with all ingredients and gulp down with beer!
Ok. I admit it. I googled what Jennifer Aniston eats. Turns out she’s a fan of salads, no surprise there!
Apparently her favorite go-to salad is a crisp cucumber, bulgur, chickpea salad with fresh mint and parsley. Bulgur is actually a great grain to add to your diet as it’s in rich in vitamins, fiber, antioxidants, iron and other vital minerals as well as making it a solid plant-based protein. Bulgur is also a low glycemic food with fewer calories yet twice the fiber of rice – about 25% of your daily needs in one cup. And seriously it is THE quickest and easiest grain to prepare; just add 1.5 cups hot water to 1 cup of bulgur and let it sit in a bowl for 10 minutes then fluff it with a fork!
For this lemony tabouleh I omitted the feta and pistachios that are featured in The Jennifer Salad but I will try that next time for some crunch. I opted for medium grain bulgur but you can also try coarse grain or fine grain depending on your palette. Just combine all ingredients once the bulgur is cooled. I paired this with kalamata olives, tomatoes and whole wheat pita pocket which was great after a summer’s July 4th bike ride and day outside. Remember – don’t skimp on the fresh herbs!
- 1 cup cooked bulgur
- 1 cucumber, skinned and diced
- 1/2 red onion, diced
- 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
- 1/2 cup fresh mint, chopped
- 1 – 2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
One of my all-time favorite ingredients are lemons. It’s such a versatile citrus packed with vitamin C and adds a distinct tartness to any roasted vegetable. It’s also become my go-to for soup broths that are laden with heavy grains or beans. The lemon juice complements the soft creamy fennel, earthy fire roasted tomatoes and hearty barley in this stew so nicely along with a sprinkle of salty Parmesan on top!
This original recipe came from Eating Well but I switched the white beans to chickpeas and added the lemon juice which really brightened it up. This ones in my fridge for the entire week and only cost about $20 (I doubled the recipe).
- 4 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 medium fennel bulb, cored and chopped
- 5 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1 15-ounce can chickpeas, rinsed
- 1 14-ounce can fire-roasted diced tomatoes
- 6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
- ¾ cup quick-cooking barley
- 1 5-ounce package baby spinach (6 cups)
- ¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
- Juice of 1 lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
Heat oil in a large soup pot over medium-high heat. Add onion, fennel, garlic, and basil; cook, stirring frequently, until tender and just beginning to brown, 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the chickpeas, tomatoes, broth and barley into the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the barley is tender, about 15 minutes. Stir in the lemon juice then add spinach and cook until wilted, about 1 minute. Salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat. Serve and top with Parmesan cheese.
A little summer stroll…
Enjoying a rare date night dance at friend Tom and Haeley’s wedding… whiskey in hand