Southwestern Salad with Lime, Cumin and Oregano Dressing

With cherry tomatoes, sweet corn, peppers, cucumbers, black beans, red onion, avocado and tortilla chips


For the past two years, Roo and I would go to a bar near his uncle’s townhouse before climbing Beacon Hill to watch the fireworks.

The first year I may have had too many drinks on an empty stomach; stumbling on seemingly flat cobblestone paths and wondering why the townhouse’s doors were so hard to open.

The second year I learned my lesson and didn’t pass on the appetizers Roo ordered. (While I may have found Jack Williams commentating on the 4th amusing1, most of the guests did not.)

This year the party was canceled, which left Roo and I to debate if we’d go downtown by ourselves or stay home.

“The Fourth is my favorite holiday.”

“Really? Because all this time, I had no idea.”

“Oh stop,” I said, crossing my arms, “you knew.”

“I know. But that doesn’t mean we should go down to the Esplanade at 6 a.m. to fight for a spot, only to suffer from heat stroke by noon.”

“I heard it’s supposed to rain on Wednesday.”

“Even better!”

“Well, what do you want to do, Mr. My-Favorite-Holiday-Is-Christmas-So-I-Shouldn’t-Even-Have-A-Say.”

“One, Christmas is awesome. There are presents, a tree that makes your house smell great, and Irish Coffees to drink in front of the fireplace. And two, we could make our own sangria.”

“I don’t know how a smelly tree can beat fireworks, but you had me at sangria.”

1 Because he acted like he wasn’t wearing pants behind the anchor desk, of course.

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Cherry Tomato Quinoa Salad

This past weekend Roo and I spent the day at Peggotty Beach in Scituate to celebrate a friend’s birthday.  Leading up to that point had been a bit worrisome as the birthday girl wanted to spend it at a roof deck pool.  I didn’t have the heart to tell her that we were not cast members of The Hills and didn’t have access to such amenities.  Suggestions were thrown about via email for a few days, as well as a trend of useless facts (“40,000 Americans are injured by toilets each year,”), but thankfully we found a desirable destination due to Roo.

Roo and I drove down to Scituate together, parking the car at his mother’s house.  J was the first to arrive, and we were able to catch up a bit before the birthday girl – driving the rest of the group – showed up.  And she did not disappoint.  She was actually still in party planning overdrive; spending the day before at KMart and The Christmas Tree Shop, buying practically everything one could think of to bring to the beach.  There were beach chairs, towels, coolers filled with drinks, snacks (including a vegetable and a fruit platter) and even an easy-up tent.  Hours before we were to leave for Scituate, she called me with concern, wondering if I had a boom box to keep everyone entertained as we lay there in the sun.  It kind of made me love her more.

Sunbathing, rummaging through the coolers and not talking about work was how we spent our day.

No boom box necessary.

Only when the sun started to go down and the shore nearly cleared out, that we began to pack everything up.

(photo taken by B)

Today I couldn’t help but think of the salty air, pebbly sand beneath my feet, and the hiss and pops of bottles being opened from wonderfully overflowing coolers.  Our third floor apartment is once again hot – and air stubbornly stagnant – despite three fans blowing full blast in the kitchen.

I made another salad.

Like all salads I make, it may not be the prettiest, but it had what I was craving for the day.  A salty bite from feta, juicy, just picked tomatoes, and crunch, with a bit of sweet, from toasted almonds, only to be balanced by a lemony herbaceous oregano vinaigrette.

If you’re run down from this heat – that seems more and more inappropriate, like creepy Uncle Stan when he puts his hand on your knee – then take the day off from the kitchen.  Salads are the new spa day.  Maybe.

Ok, not really, but they’re delicious.

Adapted from Simply Recipes

Serves two generously

Ingredients

One cup cooked quinoa, cooled to room temperature

Quarter to half a head of lettuce (how hungry are you?), washed and dried well, torn or cut into easily edible pieces

A pint of cherry tomatoes, or three beefsteak (or whatever you have on hand that’s ripe) tomatoes, cut into easily edible pieces

1 cucumber (about the length of your hand, from the tip of your middle finger to the wrist), peeled and chopped

3 scallions, thinly sliced (not terribly necessary, just trying to use up my CSA)

One handful of slivered almonds, toasted and cooled to room temperature

Juice from one lemon

Quarter cup of olive oil

1 teaspoon of dijon mustard

1 tablespoon of dried oregano

Sea salt to taste

Cracked pepper to taste

Equipment

A very sharp knife

A small pan

A salad spinner, if on hand (but it’ll make your life so much easier for only $30!)

A rice cooker or a medium sized pot (can hold up to four cups)

A small bowl that can hold up to a cup of liquid

A whisk

I find that cooking a half cup of quinoa yields about two cups of quinoa.  In a pot add half a cup of quinoa and one cup of water to a boil.  Reduce the heat so that the contents simmer for around 20 minutes or until the quinoa opens up.  The quinoa will reveal a little curly cue tail (like a spiral) and it will be soft to chew (softer than cooked barley).  Drain any remaining liquid and set aside to cool to room temperature.  If you have a rice cooker, throw the quinoa in, adding the water to the “white rice” 0.5 cup level, and press quick cook.  If you and your dinner guest are absolutely famished, you may want to eat a cup of quinoa each over your salad.  I typically serve half a cup of quinoa per person.  With the leftovers you can always make quinoa patties.

While the quinoa is cooking, prep the veg.  Make sure that your lettuce is absolutely dry so the vinaigrette will adhere to it to make a properly dressed salad.

In a small bowl, juice one lemon.  Slowly drizzle in the olive oil into the bowl as you whisk.  You should use about a quarter cup for the two to come together, but not all lemons yield the same amount of juice, so keep adding until the mixture is emulsified.  Add the oregano, whisk together and add salt to taste.  Set aside.

Put a handful of slivered almonds into a small pan over medium heat.  Toast the almonds, shaking the nuts in the pan about twice a minute until lightly browned.  Keep an eye on it as it can burn quite quickly from the toasted stage.  Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

To plate up your salad, put down the lettuce as your base.  Then add the diced cucumbers, quartered tomatoes, cooled quinoa, and top with the toasted almonds.  Sprinkle a bit of feta on top.  Serve with cracked pepper.

Marinated Chickpea and Red Onion Salad

The heat has been pretty unbearable this week. Our cats have been found in the tub, sprawled out against the white tile, trying to tell us that the air conditioning in our uninsulated apartment is insufficient. The fact that Roo and I can’t even sit on the same couch together without sweating, with the a/c on 60 degrees and the fan blowing full speed is kind of ridiculous.  Then again, living on the third floor of a triple decker that hasn’t had any work done to it since the beginning of time is also pretty ridiculous.

I felt especially bad when Monkey laid down on a Target bag that previously held a pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. The cool condensation trapped against a plastic bag was just too much temptation for our furry little ferret.

I was totally snarfing down ice cream as I took this photo. Bad owner.

Despite my previous protest of not making salad after salad this summer, I caved. I’ve been making salads for the past couple of days and Roo hasn’t said a word. He actually commented, “this is really good,” on several occasions, and my paranoia of him leaving me over lettuce has actually subsided. He’s even mentioned that he would definitely eat some of them again; this salad being one of them.

The key to this dish is the marinade and the almost pickling effect it has on the ingredients. Another positive is that this salad contains loads of protein, and many, many delicious components (don’t worry, it’s still simple, and easy to adjust what you want in it), that aren’t the usual horror show that’s the American salad seen in chain restaurantsIceberg lettuce, unripe, mealy tomatoes and cucumber slices that taste like raw wet cardboard?  No thanks.

Again, this was a ploy to use up a lot of what I received from my CSA.  But you know what?  It worked.  I really do love it when the stir-fry approach to dumping everything into a wok works when applied to chopping everything up and throwing it onto a plate for a salad.

Adapted from Saveur

Serves two to three generously

Ingredients

8 tablespoons olive oil

4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

half teaspoon of dried oregano

half teaspoon of dried thyme

1 teaspoon of dijon mustard

1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes (I like things spicy, if you don’t start with a quarter teaspoon)

1 clove of garlic, minced

1 cup of dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained or 1 can (12 – 15 ounces) of chickpeas drained, rinsed and drained again

1 cube of sharp cheddar cheese, two inches by two inches, cut into even smaller cubes *this is your salad, if you hate cheddar, go with something else, like provolone, and cut the pieces into what you’d like to have speared onto your fork along with the other veg*

1 large ball of fresh mozzarella, cut into half, then cut into even smaller pieces (save the other half for a caprese salad or whatever your fancy)

1 red onion, sliced thinly (we love red onion and love lots and lots of it on our salad)

Half a head of lettuce, leaves torn into easily edible pieces (be sure to make your lettuce leaves as dry as possible!)

1 cup of fresh basil leaves, torn into easily edible pieces *you MUST use fresh basil! It really makes the salad special*

1 ear of cooked corn (either from the night before, or that day), cooled, and kernels cut off the cob

1 cucumber, about the length of your hand (from tip of middle finger to wrist), chopped

2 carrots, peeled and cut into easily edible pieces (I prefer stick form)

1 red bell pepper, chopped

Equipment

A very sharp knife

A small mixing bowl (if you have a set of three for mixing bowls, I use the smallest one for this recipe)

A whisk

A spatula

*Maybe a small pot (for chickpeas that have soaked overnight)

Whisk in your small mixing bowl the oil, vinegar, dried thyme and oregano, dijon mustard, garlic and crushed red pepper flakes.

If you are using chickpeas that have been soaked overnight, make sure they’re soft enough.  If they’re not, throw the chickpeas in a small pot with water over a burner set on medium heat.  Bring the chickpeas to a boil, then back down to a simmer.  Sometimes I have to cook them for 30 minutes, sometimes an hour.  Check them periodically, and when they’re soft enough, drain the chickpeas, rinse them with cold water to cool them down a bit, and throw into your dressing bowl.

If you are using chickpeas from the can (or your overnight chickpeas are soft enough), after they have been rinsed and drained, throw them in your dressing bowl.  Add the mozzarella, sharp cheddar and onions.  Stir to combine everything so that it’s all coated with the dressing, with a spatula.  Let the mixture marinate at room temperature for about an hour, stirring once or twice in the meantime.

While you’re waiting, plate the (please be dry) lettuce, basil, cucumber, red pepper, carrots and corn on two (or three) plates for your meal.  I like the lettuce to be at the very bottom, topped with the basil, and then the other veg just thrown about on top.

When it’s time to eat (!) top the plates with the chickpea mixture.  I love to add cracked pepper on top, I can’t say why, but it just makes it so much better.

Try to pick up everything with your fork, or at least some basil, chickpea, cheese and <insert other veg here>.  Devour.  Like a lady of course.