Asian chopped salad (4+ servings)

Listen: This "recipe" barely even counts as such. It's much more like a formula -- some crunch from this, some protein power from here, some flavor from a splash of this, etc. But it's a delicious, delicious formula, and it's something I can see myself going back to again and again.

Chopped salads are delightful. They're colorful, crispy, and nutritious, plus they're so flexible. I was inspired by the outrageous hues of this salad when I stumbled upon the blog last week, but I decided to change up some of the ingredients for more of a Thai theme. Using the guide below, you can create your own splashy, crunchy showcase of nutrition!

I've put an asterisk beside the ingredients I used in my salad last night!

1st ingredient: Crisp vegetables
Choose any combination of the following to equal 5-6 cups total. Slice or chop whichever veggies you choose into small pieces and place them in a serving bowl.

  • Baby corn
  • Bell peppers
  • Broccoli
  • Carrots*
  • Celery
  • Cucumbers
  • Green beans*
  • Napa cabbage
  • Red cabbage*
  • Snow peas*

2nd ingredient: Protein
Choose enough protein to equal at least one serving per salad portion, or 4 total servings of protein. (I hope that explanation makes sense!) Add the protein to the serving bowl.

  • Black beans
  • Edamame/soybeans, steamed and cooled
  • Flavored baked tofu* (I used Wildwood Royal Thai)
  • Fried firm tofu
  • Seitan
  • Tempeh

3rd ingredient: Flavor enhancers
Go ahead and choose a couple "accessories" to jazz up the final product. Sprinkle them on top of the vegetables and protein.

  • Asian-style hot sauce, such as Sriracha
  • Cashews, toasted and chopped*
  • Coconut chips or shreds
  • Grated ginger
  • Peanuts, toasted and chopped
  • Rice noodles
  • Sesame seeds, toasted
  • Sweet chili sauce*

4th ingredient: Sauce
Start out with a small amount -- just a few tablespoons -- and gently toss everything together. If you need more, you can always add on!

This recipe gives you a great excuse to "shop" the salad bar, especially if you live near a Whole Foods. The salad can be vegan or gluten-free, depending on which ingredients you choose to include. (If you're trying to make it GF, please remember that most soy sauces contain wheat!) I had leftovers for lunch today, and the salad was still nice and crispy!

Please like the MainlyVeggie Facebook page!

If you haven't already, please check out the MainlyVeggie.com Facebook page and share it with your friends!

 

Kale salad with warm maple dressing (3-4 servings)

Kale is the James Franco of salad greens. First of all, both kale and James Franco began their careers with a small but dedicated underground following and later enjoyed a quick rise to fame. Public interest in both peaked about a year ago, although both continue to have a ubiquitous presence on Pinterest. (In fact, did you know that at any given time, the number of pinned James Franco selfies equals the exact number of pinned recipes for kale chips?*) Finally, like actor/writer/student/artist/director/mime/seamstress/Senator James Franco, kale can do just about anything. Whether you boil it, bake it, juice it, braise it, roast it, or serve it raw, kale can stand up to the pressure of your demands and come out the other side looking great.

Like James Franco, kale's merit is often overlooked because of its pretentious attitude and tendency to snap at interviewers.

This salad showcases raw kale's crispy yet supple texture, balancing its slightly bitter taste with a light, sweet dressing. It's perfect for a fall supper -- filling and healthy and infused with the autumnal flavors of maple and smoke. It's easy to put together on a weeknight. The original recipe calls for spinach, but I hate wilted, slimy spinach. Kale holds up well to the warm dressing and keeps nicely for leftovers the next day, providing you keep the toppings separate from the rest of the salad.

You will need:

  • 1 bunch kale (I prefer Lacinato/dinosaur kale because it's easiest to wash), de-stemmed (watch a tutorial here), rinsed, patted dry, and torn into bite-sized pieces 
  • 3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 2 tsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp pure maple syrup (I don't want to hear about any of this Mrs. Fancypants' Pancake-Flavored Syrup Concoction, people. Only the real stuff will do.)
  • dash of onion powder
  • salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 2 Tbsp chopped pecans, toasted
  • 1/8 cup chopped sun-dried tomatoes without oil (if you can find the smoked variety, your salad will improve tenfold)
  • 1/4 cup shredded or diced smoked cheese (Whole Foods' perpetually helpful vendeur de fromage suggested a lovely naturally-smoked Gouda)

Steps:

  1. After your kale is de-stemmed, rinsed, dried, and torn, toss it into a big serving bowl and give it a massage. (No, really! Squeeze and knead the leaves a couple times to break them down and make them less bitter.)
  2. Pour the vinegar, oil, maple syrup, onion powder, and salt and pepper into a microwaveable mug or measuring cup. Microwave it in 30-second increments until it's warm but not super hot. Stir the dressing with a fork or small whisk until it's basically uniform, but don't worry too much if you can't get it all mixed together.
  3. Pour about half the dressing over the kale and toss to combine. If you need more dressing to cover the leaves, go ahead, but you probably won't use all of it because it's thin.
  4. Place equal portions of the kale on dinner plates and top each serving with pecans, tomatoes, and cheese. Serve immediately. 

 

*Really, really not true.

Spicy roasted okra (~3 servings)

Within the first year of living in Chapel Hill, I passed a culinary milestone: I tasted okra. Do we have okra in Pennsylvania? Yes, we do, but I never knew anyone who dared to make it. In fact, I grew up frightened of okra. My only connection to it was a cautionary tale, rehashed by my parents, of two unsuspecting, naive eaters being passed a slimy, gummy substance that made them both gag. I knew that trying okra could lead to dire consequences (everyone knows okra is a gateway veggie that usually leads to greener, often leafier produce), so I was in no hurry to try it myself.

But once an adult daughter moves away from her parents, she often rebels against her upbringing. Unsupervised and unapologetic, she will often take risks and experiment with things her parents may have frowned upon -- nay, gasped at -- back home. Okra, you say? Roasted and wrapped in crispy coating? Set me UP!

Truth be told, when roasted, okra is quite lovely. It lacks the mucus-like ooze (let's be honest, friends) of its boiled brethren and is instead crispy on the outside and pleasantly soft on the inside. Pair that with a spicy coating, and you've got a zesty, crunchy vegetable that will surprise even the most hesitant of okra-haters.

You will need:

  • 1 lb okra
  • 1/8 cup cornmeal
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp chipotle powder
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp coarse salt

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450˚ F.
  2. Rinse the okra and pat it dry with a towel to remove any remaining water.
  3. Using a paring knife and cutting board, slice off the stem ends and tips of the okra pods, and then slice the pods in half lengthwise. Place the okra halves in a large zipper bag. 
  4. Sprinkle the cornmeal, spices, and salt into the bag. Seal it up and shake it gently to coat the okra evenly.
  5. Spread the okra out on a baking pan lined with non-stick foil. Bake 18-20 minutes, turning once, or until the okra is crispy and starting to turn brown.

I based this recipe on one from The Fitchen, leaving out the jalapeños (I'm a wimp), adding garlic, and subbing cornmeal for the millet flour. Besides the flavor, what I really like about this recipe is that it doesn't require any oil! Although the slimy texture disappears after the okra is roasted, it does make the cornmeal coating stick to the raw vegetables, so no oil is necessary. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by this recipe! I know Bryan and I were!

Zesty lemon pasta with broccoli (~3 servings)

We've all got that one friend who, no matter the event or the group of surrounding peers, can liven up any situation. Maybe you're at a interminable family dinner with the most dull of relatives, but if that particular friend is in attendance, the laughter flows freely and the times speeds by. You barely even notice how soul-crushingly boring your family is, because you're so focused on the enthusiasm your friend -- literally and figuratively -- brings to the table.

Sauce is that friend. It makes drab, predictable dishes new again! It makes ordinary ingredients taste exotic and exciting! It takes the edge off listening to your Aunt Edna tell the story about her trip to Fort Lauderdale -- AGAIN! (Okay, so maybe that last one is a bit of a stretch.)

In this situation, a bright, acidic, just-barely-decadent sauce livens up doughy noodles and nutritious-but-not-always-exciting broccoli. I based the sauce on this recipe, adding some basil and changing up the proportions a bit. If you are lucky enough to find a lemon-flavored pasta (I used Trader Joe's lemon pepper pappardelle), you'll end up with extra lemony zestiness!

You will need:

  • Half a pound of dried wide noodles (pappardelle, fettuccine, mafalde, tagliatelle, etc.)
  • One bunch of fresh broccoli, cut into florets
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • Fresh basil leaves
  • Grated Parmesan

Steps:

  1. Start the water boiling in a large stockpot.
  2. Meanwhile, cut the garlic clove in half and rub the inside of a large serving bowl with the garlic. (I know that sounds weird, but it gently whispers "garlic" to the dish instead of screaming in its face.)
  3. Zest the lemon and place that zest in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Cut the lemon in half and squeeze the juice into the jar. Finally, pour in an amount of olive oil equal to double the lemon juice you were able to squeeze out. (Just eyeball it.) Season with salt and pepper, put the lid on securely, and shake the heck out of it.
  4. Once the water boils, cook the pasta until just al dente. Add the broccoli florets to the boiling water for the last three minutes of that cooking time. Drain thoroughly and immediately transfer the pasta and broccoli to the serving dish.
  5. Pour the sauce from the jar onto the pasta; toss gently to combine. Top with torn basil leaves and a handful of grated Parmesan; toss gently again. Serve immediately.

I'd love to try this again with roasted garlic and some artichoke hearts! Sliced black olives would probably be lovely, too.

Warm lentil salad with grapes, cheese, and mint (4 servings)

Unusual flavor combinations are both arresting and intriguing. They make me stop and think, "Hmm, now how would those things taste together?" This recipe from Vegetarian Times is a perfect example, since it features grapes, mustard, lentils, nuts, cheese, and mint. I like all those things separately, but I wasn't sure how they'd get along together. One way I break down a strange list of ingredients is to try to pair or group elements from the recipe, thinking about how two or three ingredients harmonize. In this case, I figured the earthy depth of the lentils and mustard would pair well and then be offset by the sweetness of the mint and grapes, which would, in turn, be balanced by the richness of the nuts and cheese. Texture is another factor to consider, and this combination of ingredients runs the gamut from soft (cheese) to crunchy (pecans) to juicy (grapes). See? It isn't that scary!

I'm already looking for an excuse to make this one again and bring it to a picnic or potluck. It's versatile (I swapped the feta for bleu cheese and the pistachios for pecans) and easy to transport (it could be served warm or even cool). Bryan and I had this last night as our main dish, but it would also work well as a side dish alongside grilled tofu or pasta. If you're willing to take a little risk with something new and unusual, I think you'll love it!

You will need:

  • 2/3 cup dried brown lentils, picked through and rinsed
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 2 tsp whole-grain mustard
  • 1 1/2 cups red grapes, halved
  • 1/4 cup chopped, toasted pecans (or roasted pistachios)
  • 3 Tbsp finely chopped mint
  • 1/4 cup crumbled bleu cheese (or feta)

Steps:

  1. Bring lentils and 1 1/3 cup water to a boil in a small pan. Reduce to a simmer and cook with the lid vented for 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, pour the oil and vinegar into a small jar or container with a lid; add in the onion powder and mustard, too. Shake (shake, shake your moneymaker) and set aside.
  3. Once the lentils are cooked, transfer them to a serving bowl. To the same bowl, add the grapes, pecans, mint, and cheese, and then pour the dressing over. Toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper and then serve the salad warm or cool.

I hope the leftovers are just as tasty for lunch today!

Chocolate-marbled banana bread

Oh. Hello there.

Certain words, when incorporated into food descriptions, make any dish immediately sound  appetizing. Stuffed. Toasted. Encrusted. Another favorite is marbled. "Chocolate-marbled banana bread" sounds a gazillion times more drool-worthy than just "chocolate banana bread." Of course, adding chocolate enhances the bread, too!

This is a great weekend recipe, and by that I mean it's a great one to bake when you've got a little extra time on your hands and don't mind dirtying a few dishes (or every single bowl in the kitchen, if you bake the way I do.) It's chewy, sweet (although not overly so), and comforting, and the marbled look gives it that little extra something special. Oh, and it's vegan! (Thanks, PPK!)

You will need:

  • 1 cup mashed very-ripe bananas (1-2 bananas, depending on size)
  • 3/4 cup sugar (coconut sugar works well, if you're into that sort of thing)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 Tbsp canola oil
  • 1/3 cup almond or soy milk
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
  • a handful of vegan chocolate chips (optional)
  • 6 Tbsp boiling water, divided

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F and prep a loaf pan with non-stick spray or a little oil. Set aside.
  2. Using a fork, mash the bananas in a large bowl until they're pretty smooth. (I'd echo Isa's advice and say it's worthwhile to measure out a cup afterwards to make sure you have the right amount.) Add the sugar, vanilla, oil, and milk to the same bowl; mix with a wooden spoon until everything is incorporated.
  3. Next, add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt to the same bowl, and mix gently only until everything is just incorporated. (I think I over-mixed here, as my loaf didn't look as fluffy as Isa's version! It still tastes amazing though, so don't worry too much.)
  4. Measure out one cup of this batter and move it to a different bowl. Keep this to the side for now. (This will become the chocolate part.)
  5. Use a mug and a fork to stir 3 Tbsp of the boiling water into the cocoa powder until it's dissolved. Pour the cocoa mixture into the one cup of banana batter, tossing in a handful of chocolate chips if desired. (Um, yes.) Mix the chocolatiness (yes, it's a word) into the one cup of batter until it's smooth and beautifully brown.
  6. Add the remaining 3 Tbsp of boiling water to the original (plain) banana batter; mix until it's relatively smooth.
  7. Scoop alternating 1/2 cups of the plain banana batter and the chocolate-banana batter into the greased loaf ban. Don't worry about it looking pretty just yet! After all the batter is in the pan, swirl a butter knife in a random pattern through the pan, creating a marbled effect.
  8. Bake for 50-55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. Let cool before slicing and serving.

And that's it! It's not a difficult recipe, but it does involve quite a few steps. As I said, my loaf came out more dense than Isa's, judging by her picture, and I think that's down to slightly over-mixing and maybe using a bigger pan than she used. But nonetheless, it turned out delicious, and Bryan and I have each had at least two pieces per day so far! (P.S. How amazing would this be with peanut butter chips mixed into the chocolate batter?)

***Update (8/8/14):

I made this a second time and added 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder, which made a more classic, top-rounded loaf. I also discovered this recipe makes enough batter for three mini loaves -- perfect for thank-you gifts or just-because-I-freaking-felt-like-it presents. The second time around, I used Trader Joe's gluten-free baking mix instead of all-purpose flour, since I'm planning to give one of these to a friend who's nice enough to take our butts back and forth to the airport later in the week. (Can't wait to be back in PA for a couple days! Boehringer's is tops on my list of food priorities!)

Garlic butter roasted mushrooms (2 servings)

Sometimes, as an Eastern Pennsylvanian who has moved to North Carolina, I forget that people down here don't understand Pennsylvania Dutch terms. Of course, I'm not surprised that Southerners are unfamiliar with the blatantly "Dutchy" turns of phrase (Obviously, nobody here parts ways with, "Y'all come back now, vuntz!") but I was surprised to learn how many of the things I grew up saying without a second thought are actually part of a very specific regional vernacular. Admittedly, most of these linguistic lightbulb moments came to me when I was teaching. In a moment of frustration, I once scolded a group of restless pupils, telling them, "Stop rutsching and just do your work," only to have them respond with blank stares. (Hey, at least it shut them up momentarily.) Just the other day, I discovered that no one here says, "It's spritzing" when the rain comes down in fine droplets. I've also learned that "Hush your fussin'!" is the South's version of the "Stop grexing!" that my Mom-Mom sometimes hissed at me and my sister if we whined too much.

Image from http://suzyssitcom.com

But I miss the colorful local language of Lancaster and Berks County. Each time I go home, I hear less and less of the true Dutchy accent, as in "Meet me dahn at the Ranch Haas," or "I'm from Berks Cahney." Pennsylvania Dutch is, of course, not actually Dutch but a corruption and modernization of German. It's characterized by unique words and phrases but also for the order of words, as in, "Throw the cow over the fence some hay." (That one always makes me giggle.) As with modern German, Pennsylvania Dutch has some situation-specific, difficult-to-translate words. Some of my favorites are "nix nootz" to describe a trouble-making but good-hearted child, or "schusslich" to describe hasty, sloppy, last-minute actions.

However, the PA Dutch word I most miss, simply because it describes the action it names so well, is "fress." To fress is eat, but it's a specific kind of eating; fressing is like grazing or snacking leisurely throughout the day. We fress on holidays, when we're already stuffed so full of gustatory goodness but we don't want to hurt the host's feelings, so we pick at the cheese plate. We fress when it's hot outside and a heavy meal would make us lethargic, so we just eat a few bites of whatever we can find in the fridge. We fress at picnics and holidays, where there's so much temptation that choosing one or two main dishes is too difficult, so we take bits of this and that and load up our plates until they start to bow. In my understanding, fressing isn't so much about the quantity or type of food; it's more about a variety of small samples, often spread out over time.

Bryan and I are most likely to fress at the end of the week, when energy levels are low and leftovers are diverse. Usually, by the end of the week, I have an assortment of ingredients sitting around, either due to purposeful exclusion ("I don't feel like putting tomatoes in this dish tonight") or accidental amnesia ("What the hell did I buy this leek for again?") and "Fressing Friday" is a wonderful (wunnerful goot?) opportunity to use up those things. Friday evening is a time for dressed-up finger foods, dips, side dishes, and cut-up fruits. It's a chance to relax and unwind without going to any extra trouble. And one of my favorite last-minute fressing dishes is Smitten Kitchen's garlic butter roasted mushrooms. I halved Deb's recipe since it was just two of us.

(I know, I know -- you were just starting to think, "Soooo... is there a recipe in all this, or are you just waxing nostalgic this week?")

You will need:

  • 1/2 pound medium sized button mushrooms, cleaned and stemmed
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 Tbsp vegetable or canola oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp butter, cut into small chunks
  • Parmesan cheese

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 450° F. Coat the insides of a small baking dish (you could even use a round pie plate) with a little non-stick spray or oil and set it aside.
  2. Place the mushrooms in a resealable plastic bag; add the garlic, vegetable/canola oil, and a dash of salt and pepper to the bag, too. Toss gently to combine. 
  3. Place the mushrooms, gill-side up, in the baking dish. Spread the butter pieces out on top of the mushrooms and sprinkle with a bit of parmesan. 
  4. Roast the mushrooms for 15-20 minutes, or until the mushrooms are tender and the buttery sauce around them is bubbling. Top with chopped parsley, if desired, and serve warm.

These mushrooms are chewy, dense, and earthy. The garlicky-buttery juice they roast in is flavorful but not overpowering. I served this two Fridays ago with a sliced Fuji apple, some leftover roasted green beans, chunks of warm pretzel bread (Thank goodness for the Elysium that is A Southern Season), whole-grain mustard, and salty hunks of cheese. At the end of a long week, it was a feast for all the senses and a welcome respite!