Orzo Cucumber Salad

Let’s talk about a basic salad. One that has the very basic formula of vegetable+grain+lemon juice+olive oil+cheese. Are you with me? I worry that you may be bored with something so simple, something I’m confident you have figured out on your own.

Yet I feel the urge to plug for the very basic salad recipe. There’s something so refreshing about the ability to bring together a satisfying and healthy dish that goes only a few steps beyond bagged salad greens and bottled dressing, something I used to use to fill in the blanks of meals and snacks here and there. I much prefer something like this, don’t you?

Take note: this is another recipe with less than 10 ingredients!

Orzo Cucumber Salad
Version inspired by Real Simple Magazine

3-4 ounces cucumber, chopped
~2 ounces another vegetable, like green pepper, chopped
2 ounces Feta/approx. 1/2 Cup, crumbled
3 small scallions, thinly sliced
1.5 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1.5 Tablespoons olive oil
kosher salt and black pepper

Consider that there are unlimited options for variation here. This other recipe I was considering used sun-dried tomato and red onion. Shallots would work. And if you are fresh out of fresh lemons, champagne or white wine vinegar make sense.

If you're wondering what I am doing with the rest of that sizable green pepper, it is going into this weekend's Super Bowl chili.

If you’re wondering what I am doing with the rest of that sizable green pepper, it is going into this weekend’s Super Bowl chili.

Cook the orzo according to the package directions. Drain; run under cold water to cool and shake well to remove excess water.

Prepare vegetables:
Aside: as you know, I made a resolution to take prompter action on my task list. One such task was to have the kitchen knives professional sharpened, something we never had done. We have a honing device, like this:
which you’re supposed to use often, and an old electric sharpener kinda like this that never provided satisfactory results. In my singular experience, it is surprisingly easy to find a traveling knife sharpener who picks up the phone, makes an appointment to come to your house at your convenience, and then accepts payment on a per knife basis. Easy peasy.

I have noticed a huge improvement in some cases. For some reason, scallions had been giving me trouble with the duller chef’s knife, and is where I felt a serious difference and ease in making thin slices.

In a medium bowl, toss the orzo with the cucumber, Feta, scallions, green pepper, lemon juice, oil, 1 teaspoon salt, and ½ teaspoon pepper.

Mmm feta. Can't I just eat this?

Mmm feta and lemon juice. Can’t I just eat this?

Enjoy cold or at room temperature.

Appetizing Appetizers

You know how it is when you go out to a restaurant, you read over the menu, and you wish you could order a dinner made up of entirely of appetizers? Appetizers can be the most interesting and appealing options. It happens to be the same case sometimes with the food I cook at home! That is my excuse for providing two disparate appetizer recipes in this week’s blog entry.

The truth is, I did a good job cooking last week, including main dishes, but I did a poor job managing my time overall. After spending the days in front of a computer at work, I avoided the computer at home, even when there were important things to do there, including this blog! And I still managed to get an insufficient amount of sleep.

Anyway…I was excited to get eggplant in the farm share, because I had this article filed away for reference. I selected the below recipe, and used up the rest of my homemade garam masala!

A continuation on my garam masala notes: some grocery stores, like my beloved Wegman’s, have a bulk spice section, where you have total control over how much you commit to getting at once. I found great spices at a natural food store, also in Ithaca, called Greenstar. I’m not sure if Whole Foods has this option–it may depend on your area. You can also buy a small portion online through Penzeys (they give recipe suggestions too) or Amazon.com (woo hoo “Add-On Item”) or even eBay.

Baingan Bharta
Adapted from Mark Bittman’s New York Times recipe

1 pound eggplant
1 tablespoon lime juice
1+ tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 medium onion
, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 small fresh chile like a jalapeño, or more to taste, seeds removed as desired and thinly sliced
1/2 pound fresh tomatoes, plum, grape or whatever type you have, chopped
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
or to taste
2-4 tablespoons cup chopped cilantro, including stems, or to taste
1 teaspoon garam masala

I like this method of cooking the eggplant, which I never have tried before. In fact, after reading this article, I realized that, as far as I can remember, I may have only cooked eggplant in the form of “parmesan,” or something closely related. I certainly enjoy it other ways, including the eggplant fries at Ithaca Ale House and baba ghanoush. It was good to branch out at home. And it certainly wasn’t hard!

As you can see, I was really stretching it with the last of some cilantro which had been wilting in my fridge.

As you can see, I was really stretching it with the last of some cilantro which had been wilting in my fridge.

Prick the eggplant with a thin knife or grill skewer.

Broil or roast on a heated cast-iron pan in the hottest possible oven, checking every few minutes to turn as necessary so that the skin turns black and the eggplant collapses. Don’t forget (if you’re me) that every time you open the oven you are in danger of setting off the smoke detector. It should be done in about 20 minutes. You can also do this over a grill set to high heat.
When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, it is extremely easy to peel! Cut away the hard stem.
Chop or mash in a bowl, with lime juice.

I put another kitchen tool to use! This actually probably mashed the eggplant more than I would have wanted.

I put another kitchen tool to use! This actually probably mashed the eggplant more than I would have wanted.

Add oil to a skillet set to medium-high heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring often, until it is golden brown, 5-10 minutes depending on your temperature control.
Add the garlic and chiles and cook for another minute.
Add the tomato, turmeric and salt. Cook until the tomato is soft, 5 minutes or so.
Stir in the eggplant purée and cook, stirring, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and garam masala and turn off the heat.
Serve hot with warmed pita bread, naan or another type of Indian flatbread.

Next up: I followed another blogger’s recreation of one of the many tempting recipes from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook: Scallion Biscuits with Whipped Goat cheese and Tomato Salad. I’ll let you read it here because she already includes helpful substitution suggestions (like for me, I used variations of milk and half and half in place of the whole milk and whipped cream in parts of the recipe). Also, because I have decided I mostly hate the process of working with cold butter to make pastry, I employed the cheating method: cutting the butter up into small pieces, putting them in the freezer to get super cold, and using a food processor to combine the butter and flour and then make the dough.

I served this as a first course for guests on Friday. And then I had leftovers for lunch on Saturday!

Note that both of these recipes used tomatoes…from my garden…more on that soon!

Here I am with the entrée I served.

Keep Indefinitely

I bought red miso paste this weekend to use in a new recipe. Yes, this is another “specialty” ingredient that I anticipate using only occasionally. So why didn’t I resist the urge and skip this recipe?  Well, upon seeking out the item at Fairway, I found one brand, which came in a jar.  I inspected the label and read “Refrigerate and keep indefinitely.”  How perfect!

Plus, it was pretty interesting to open up the red miso container and see this message:


Sounds good to me!

I know what I’ll be making next!

As a side note, this week is Earth Week, and I hope it caused you to pause for a moment here and there to think about how you can consume less and reduce waste. The newest step I am going to take is to purchase a rain barrel that will capture rainwater I will then use for my garden this summer.

Back to my “earthy” meal: I picked this unusual recipe merely because I had a head of fresh broccoli leftover. Anther head had been prepared via the simple and boring – yet still tasty – method of steaming, and served alongside pasta.

This was my first encounter with Bagna Càuda, and had I not looked into it further, I would have assumed it is always made with miso paste. But I learned that it is an Italian dish, specifically Pietmontese, made and served similarly to a fondue for dipping (Italian) vegetables like carrots, fennel, and artichokes. The name means “hot bath,” and usually involves olive oil, garlic, and anchovies, and sometimes incorporates butter or cream. It sounds comforting and delicious; why is this the first I’ve heard of it? Well for starters, perhaps I should have continued my subscription to Bon Appetit … Ironically, my reading loyalty has instead gone to Cooking Light .

I love the folks at Tasting Table, but their style of writing recipes in this particular series annoys me. They write that the recipe yields two servings, plus leftover bagna càuda that can be refrigerated for up to a month. But they don’t tell you how much bagna càuda to put on your two servings of broccoli, and how many servings you will have left over! The original bagna càuda subsection of this recipe called for 4 sticks of butter. Needless to say, I cut that down to one, and made sure that I had leftovers from that.


Roasted Broccoli with Miso Bagna Càuda
adapted from TastingTable’s adaption of a recipe from Stephen Thorlton, sous chef at San Francisco’s State Bird Provisions
Serving size: at least 3 servings as a side-dish. It really depends on what you consider to count as one serving of a broccoli dish!

~1 bunch broccoli, cut into florets – mine yielded 13.7 oz of florets
3 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

Bagna Càuda:
1 stick unsalted butter
2 large garlic cloves
, finely chopped
3 ounces scallions, white and light green parts only, very finely chopped
1.333 Tablespoons red miso paste (I know, I know…)
2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Finishing touches:
~1/2 Tablespoon lemon zest and ~1/2 Tablespoon orange zest, plus ~2 Tablespoons each freshly squeezed lemon and orange juice (or the zest and juice of 1/2 Meyer lemon, if you have that)
2 Tablespoons Parmesan cheese, finely grated
2 Tablespoons toasted panko or bread crumbs (optional)

Make the broccoli: Place a baking sheet in the oven and preheat the oven to 475°. This is when a little alarm goes off in my head to turn on the hood van in the kitchen, and/or open some windows. 9 times out of 10 that I use my oven at more than 400°, and especially when the broiler is involved, you can expect the smoke alarm to go off. Then it’s off to the dining area with a chair and a towel, waving frantically in the air while attempting to simultaneously plug at least one of my ears. I hope I’m not the only one.
To a large mixing bowl, add and mix together the first 5 ingredients (through red pepper). Carefully remove the baking sheet from the oven (mine was in the oven for about 10 minuets) and add the broccoli to the baking sheet, shaking the pan to evenly distribute. Return to the oven and roast until the broccoli is charred and tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
DSC_4384Transfer broccoli from baking sheet back into the mixing bowl. Add panko to baking sheet, and place in oven, which has been turned OFF, for about 5 minutes until toasted. The leftover heat should be enough.

Make the bagna càuda: To a large saucepan set over medium heat, add the butter. Once the butter begins to melt, add the garlic and scallions. Whisk to combine. Once the garlic is very fragrant and lightly toasted, after about 5 minutes, turn the heat down to very low or off and whisk in the red miso paste. I read elsewhere that miso paste has a very bitter taste if burned, so it is important to avoid a high boil.

While whisking, drizzle in 2 heaping tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil.

Transfer broccoli to serving bowl, or individual plates. Spoon the bagna càuda over the broccoli. Serve sprinkled with the zest and juice, grated Parmesan cheese, and toasted breadcrumbs (if using).

I served mine with half a pulled pork sandwich with Dinosaur Barbecue sauce, the leftovers from Matt’s Sunday session with our smoker.