Pineapple-black bean potluck salad (6 servings)

For someone who tries to use local, in-season ingredients, I sure eat a hell of a lot of pineapple. Sigh.

Pineapple and black beans are not new friends on this blog. They've snuggled together in a tortilla before, smothered in a spicy, silky sauce and topped with cheese. So when I saw this Budget Bytes recipe, which features several classic flavor combinations (Pineapple and black beans! Cilantro and pineapple! Black beans and lime!), I knew I had to try it. Its contrasting sweet and acidic flavors, plus the chewy/crunchy texture combo, make it an interesting dish, and its no-need-to-heat-me attitude make it perfect for a summertime picnic. It's also yet another meal to add to my growing list of dishes to prep on Sunday and eat for lunches throughout the week!

By the way, I want to give a quick shout-out to Whisk Carolina and Stacey Sprenz for ALL they were able to teach me about food photography in one short, interactive class. I think my pictures have already improved a lot, and I'm excited to continue trying out their techniques. Thank you again!

Pineapple-black bean potluck salad - 6 servings
(NEW!! Click here for a printable PDF!)

You will need:

Vinaigrette

  • Juice of 1 lime (3-4 Tbsp)
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup (or agave, if you prefer)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • chipotle powder to taste

Salad

  • 1 1/2 cups dry bulgur wheat
  • 1/4  cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/3 cup toasted cashews
  • 15-oz can pineapple tidbits
  • 15-oz can black beans
  • one tomato (optional)

Steps:

  1. Add all the vinaigrette ingredients to a bowl or jar; whisk or shake to combine. Set aside.
  2. Cook the bulgur according to package directions. (Or read instructions here.) Allow it to cool.
  3. While it's cooling, roughly chop the cilantro leaves. Toast the cashews and chop roughly once they're cool enough. Drain the pineapple and black beans and chop the tomato, if using.
  4. Once the bulgur has cooled off, transfer it to a large serving bowl, along with the cilantro, cashews, pineapple, black beans, and optional tomato. Give the vinaigrette a final mix and pour over the salad; toss gently to combine. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

I stuck to the original recipe here, minus a few changes. First, I substituted maple syrup for the honey since the honey was the only ingredient preventing this recipe from being vegan. I also doubled the garlic powder, and I would double the cumin next time too. I added the chipotle powder for a little heat and the tomato just because I wanted to use what I had left in the fridge. I'd like to try this with another grain -- maybe farro or chewy wheat berries. I think couscous (not really a grain -- I know) would get too soggy, and quinoa's flavor might dominate the dish, but farro could be just right. I also think some sliced green onions would make a nice addition, along with chopped bell pepper (if your insides are more accommodating than mine.) Bring on the summer picnics!

The only thing that could have made this salad better was if I'd also had a spicy pineapple margarita from Calavera, my new favorite Carrboro hangout. ¡Dios mío! If you haven't tried this place yet, do yourself a favor and go. Go right now. Stop reading. Go.

Greek-inspired chickpea salad (4+ servings)

On the past couple Sundays, I've made up a big batch of something that can be stored in the fridge and warmed up for last-minute lunches during the week. One week it was a green bean and pasta salad, another week I made Mexican quinoa salad, and this week, I came up with a lower-carb version of this pasta salad. Filled with lemony brightness and hearty chickpeas, it's satisfying, healthy, and adaptable. It's another great dish to make this time of year, since the weather is warm but not much is growing just yet; in a few months, I'll be able to make it again with local produce! 

You will need:

  • 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 15-oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 cloves garlic, pressed or minced
  • 2 cups cut green beans (thawed if frozen)
  • 2-3 cups halved cherry tomatoes or chopped plum tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • zest of half a lemon (or more, if you like it really lemony!)
  • 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese
  • salt and pepper

Steps:

  1. Heat 1 Tbsp of the oil in a rimmed skillet over medium heat. Once warm, add the chickpeas and cook, shaking the pan frequently, until chickpeas start to brown. (Shaking the pan keeps the chickpeas from becoming overly comfortable in their new home and celebrating by jumping up in the air and splattering oil all over the stovetop you just cleaned an hour earlier. ...Cocky little garbanzo bastards.)
  2. Add the garlic to the pan; cook and shake the pan for another minute. Transfer chickpeas and garlic to a large serving bowl.
  3. Add the remaining oil to the pan over medium heat. Add the green beans and cook for 3-4 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the beans are just tender. Transfer them to the serving bowl.
  4. Add the tomatoes, mint leaves, oregano, lemon zest, and feta to the serving bowl. Toss gently to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve warm or chilled.

In hotter months (and they'll be here before we know it), this could easily be made with un-toasted chickpeas and raw green beans for a speedy meal that requires no heat from the stove!

Portobello and pineapple-teriyaki burgers (4 servings)

Tell me those aren't the sexiest tan lines you've ever seen.

"The Sound of Sunshine," by Michael Franti & Spearhead, defines the auditory and visual sensations of warmer weather -- crashing ocean waves and friends chatting on the sand as the sun beats down from above. This Whole Foods recipe, on the other hand, epitomizes the tastes of summer in the candy-like sweetness of pineapple and the toasted earthiness of mushrooms made juicy by the grill. It's like a ray of sunshine for dinner. And who doesn't need that right now? This vegan, gluten-free-optional meal takes a little while to come together because of the time needed to marinate the mushrooms and pineapple, but the cooking step is a snap. Serve these burgers with a colorful bean salad and you've got a healthy, tasty preview of the coming summer!

You will need:

  • 4 portobello mushroom caps
  • 1-20 oz can pineapple rings in juice
  • 3 Tbsp low-sodium soy sauce (use tamari or coconut aminos for the GF option)
  • 2 Tbsp maple syrup or brown sugar
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 Tbsp grated fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
  • Lettuce (optional)
  • Buns (We used toasted pretzel rolls, but you could use hamburger buns, Hawaiian sweet rolls, or gluten-free buns)

Steps:

  1. Wipe off the mushroom caps with a damp paper towel. Use a spoon to scrape out the gills; pop out the stems. Place the mushroom caps in a wide, shallow baking dish. Add the pineapple rings to the dish, reserving the juice for the next step.
  2. Next, make the marinade. Combine 3/4 cup reserved pineapple juice with the soy sauce, maple syrup, garlic, ginger, and sesame oil; whisk ingredients until smooth. (I zapped the mixture in the microwave for 15-20 seconds to make the maple syrup easier to mix in.) Pour the marinade over the mushrooms and pineapple rings; cover and set aside, turning occasionally, for 1-2 hours.
  3. After the marinating time, heat a grill, grill pan, or electric griddle to medium-high and oil the grill surface. While it's heating up, remove the mushrooms and pineapple from the marinade and set aside. Transfer the marinade liquid to a microwave-safe bowl and cook for a minute or two, checking frequently, until the liquid has reduced. Alternately, boil the liquid in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until it's thickened. (This will be your glaze.)
  4. Grill mushrooms and pineapple for 4-6 minutes, gently turning them once after basting with the glaze. The mushrooms won't get very grill-striped, but the pineapple rings will develop gorgeous caramel-colored ribbons as the sugars break down.
  5. Place mushrooms on buns, top with pineapple (and lettuce, if desired), and another coating of glaze.

Bring on the sunshine, please!

Vegan skillet supper with greens, beans, and sausage (4-5 servings)

Skillet suppers are glorious. If composed well, they boast all the nutritional necessities of a filling meal, plus they require very little cleanup. This is one of those meals, and it has two added bonuses: It's vegan and it doesn't take long to make. The sausage, with its crisp and browned exterior and slight kick, pairs well with the creamy beans, brothy tomatoes, and chewy, just-barely-cooked greens. So what are you waiting for?

You will need:

  • 1 Tbsp olive or canola oil
  • 2 vegan Italian sausages, sliced into thin rounds (I used -- and would recommend -- Field Roast brand)
  • 2-3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 15-oz can Great Northern beans, rinsed and drained
  • 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup water or broth
  • One bunch collards or kale, washed, de-stemmed, and cut or torn into ribbons

Steps:

  1. Heat the oil in a large rimmed skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the sausage. Cook and stir until the sausage is browned fairly evenly.
  2. Add the garlic to the pan; cook and stir another minute.
  3. Lower the heat to medium. Add in the bean, the undrained tomatoes, and the water or broth; stir gently to combine. Pile the greens on top and cover. Let cook for 4-5 minutes, or until the kale/collards are bright green and wilted. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Hardy greens should be in season in most places in the U.S. right now!

Roasted cherry tomatoes (4 servings)

Happy 2015, readers! Apparently, I made a New Year's resolution to abstain from updating my blog, and I'm proud to say I was successful until just now. I guess we all falter eventually, huh? Heh.

Anyway, it's definitely winter here and has been "Carolina cold" lately. (As a displaced Yankee, I hesitate to call anything above 32° cold for fear of mockery from my Northern friends and family.) Windy, gray days make me long for the juicy, bright, invigorating flavors of summer, and perhaps nothing typifies that summer savor satisfaction better than a ripe tomato. But sadly, there's no worse disappointment (or waste of money) than a mealy, flavorless out-of-season tomato. Bleurghh. I shudder to think.

Fortunately, cherry and grape tomatoes are tasty any time of year. Yes, local, in-season tomatoes are even better, but their little siblings make a good substitute during the coldest months. Here, I served them on top of crisped polenta slices and ayocote morado beans I'd made in the crockpot a few days earlier. Sweetened by roasting and jazzed up with garlic and cilantro, the tomatoes lightened the polenta's density and balanced the beans' savory flavors.

You will need:

  • 2 pints cherry or grape tomatoes
  • 1 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp oregano
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • fresh cilantro leaves

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°. Line a rimmed baking sheet with non-stick foil or spritz it with non-stick spray.
  2. Rinse the tomatoes and pat them dry on a clean towel. Place the tomatoes in a large bowl and drizzle the oil over them. Toss gently to coat them evenly. Sprinkle the garlic, cumin, oregano and red pepper flakes, plus a big pinch of salt, over the tomatoes and toss gently again.
  3. Spread the tomatoes out on the baking sheet. Roast for 25-35 minutes, or until the tomatoes are sizzling and beginning to shrivel.
  4. Remove the pan from oven and allow the tomatoes to cool slightly. Return them to the large bowl and add cilantro leaves. Lightly smash the tomatoes with a wooden spoon. Serve warm.

I think the tomatoes would also work well with a variety of other pairings, such as pasta, rice, or vegetarian chorizo. They would even be great over toasted bread with a little melted feta or queso blanco on top. Ooh, or with scrambled eggs and refried beans! Now my wheels are turning...

Pizza quinoa (5-6 servings)

Every home cook should have a handful of go-to recipes that are quick and easy to put together on a busy night. Some of my stand-by classics include rice and beans, crispy tofu wraps, black bean and toasted corn tacos, mini pizzas, and, more recently, pizza quinoa from GirlMakesFood. Cheesy, tangy, and hearty, it's comforting in its simplicity and powerful in its nutritional content. Plus, it all comes together in about 20 minutes!

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 cups dry quinoa, rinsed and rubbed lightly (Apparently I've had a thing for food that needs to be massaged lately)
  • 2 cups water
  • 2 cups spaghetti, marinara, or pizza sauce (I made this over the weekend with a thawed batch of roasted tomato-garlic sauce and ohhh, was it ever perfect!)
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup shredded mozzarella cheese
  • a few handfuls of torn baby spinach

Steps:

  1. Once the quinoa has been rinsed and rubbed to remove its bitter coating, add it to a medium stockpot, along with the water. Bring the quinoa to a boil, reduce to low, and simmer with the lid on for 15-20 minutes, or until the water has been absorbed.
  2. Stir in the sauce, cheese, and spinach. Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve.

I'd love to try this with leftover roasted vegetables folded in with the quinoa. If your sauce is fairly plain, you could punch up the flavor with roasted garlic, fresh basil leaves, smoked paprika, or fresh oregano!

Vegan baked lentils and brown rice (4-5 servings)

I have an old, brown blanket that I love to snuggle under to read or watch TV. It's seen better days; the fluffy, plush surface on one side is starting to wear a little thin, and the stuffing on the other side is beginning to pop out. The blanket isn't much to look at. You'd never see it in a West Elm catalog or at Crate and Barrel. But I love that blanket. It's warm and soft, and I know it's going to make me feel good whenever I drape it over myself on a chilly evening, no matter how stressful the previous hours have been.

This dish is the food equivalent of that blanket. It's not particularly pretty or trendy or stylish, but it's filled with the predictable sort of comfort I crave at the end of a long day. Its rich, earthy colors and simple flavors fill me up and let me know I'm home.

Plus, it's so simple to make. I love "dump-and-bake" recipes, as unattractive as that name sounds. It's basically just a veganized version of this Food.com recipe. I hesitate to call it a casserole, because to me, casseroles involve more layers and textures, but I suppose it's a very simple sort of casserole. Whatever you call it, it's an easy, soothing, healthful meal, and I think you're going to love it.

You will need:

  • 3/4 cup green lentils, dry

  • 1/2 cup long-grain brown rice, dry

  • 1/2 cup unsalted cashews, toasted

  • handful of dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes (opt.)

  • 1/4 teaspoon oregano

  • 1/4 teaspoon thyme

  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder

  • 1/2 Tbsp onion powder

  • 2 2/3 cups vegetable broth

  • 1 1/4 cups white wine

Steps:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  2. Place all ingredients in a 1 1/2-quart ungreased casserole dish and mix gently.
  3. Bake, covered, for 90 minutes, or until the lentils are tender. Let rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

And that's it! It bakes for a long time, but the prep couldn't be much easier. I think I might add chopped celery and carrots next time and maybe some mushrooms for a little more depth. I love that the simplest foods are often the best!

Maple-lime sweet potato and black bean tacos (4 servings)

In my estimation, there are three levels of vegan cooking. Level I means simply leaving out the animal products without replacing them -- skipping the layer of cheese on top of a casserole, for example. There are times when this is perfectly workable and when the eater wouldn't even know anything was missing. However, there are other occasions where the final product is missing the richness or depth that the original ingredients contributed. Next, Level II vegan cooking involves making easy substitutes -- changing out oil for butter, soy sauce for Worcestershire, or non-dairy sour cream for the regular stuff. Again, this works well most of the time, and it's certainly easy. Level III is a little more complicated and requires replacing animal ingredients with creative substitutes that match the flavor, complexity, and texture of the originals.

When I cook vegan meals (and I do so three or four dinners per week, usually), I'm normally at a Level II. I'm trying to find more interesting ingredient substitutes though. Today's taco recipe is somewhere between Level II and Level III; it replaces the honey from these honey-lime sweet potato, corn, and black bean tacos with maple syrup (another lovely fall flavor) and makes up for the missing cheese with a dairy-free spicy sauce. I love sweet potatoes and could tell their roasted sweetness would be nicely offset by the acidity of the lime, but I knew leaving out the cheese would remove the rich, creamy accent flavoring. A quick search led me to this smooth and spicy chipotle sauce, which ended up being the perfect complement to the tacos.

You will need:

  • 1 1/2 lbs sweet potatoes, diced into 1/2-inch cubes (You don't have to bother with peeling them.)
  • 3 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp paprika
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 lime
  • Red pepper flakes
  • 14.5-oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1/2 Tbsp onion powder
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 3 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • Chopped fresh cilantro
  • 8 small flour tortillas, warmed

Sauce ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup raw, unsalted almonds (whole, sliced, or slivered -- doesn't matter), soaked for several hours
  • 1/4 cup canola or similarly neutral-tasting oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1-2 chipotles in adobo
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 Tbsp lemon juice

Steps:

  1. Preheat oven to 425° F. Line a baking sheet with foil and set aside.
  2. Once you've diced the potatoes, transfer them to a mixing bowl. Sprinkle them with the olive oil and toss gently. Sprinkle the potatoes with cumin, paprika, coriander, the zest of the lime (save the lime for juice later), and red pepper flakes to taste. Lightly season with salt and pepper. Toss gently again, and then spread the potatoes out on the baking sheet. Bake for 15-20 minutes, tossing halfway through.
  3. Meanwhile, place drained black beans in a small stockpot over medium-low heat. Add in the onion powder (Feel free to use fresh, diced onion if your insides are tougher than mine!), garlic, maple syrup, and oregano, along with the juice from the lime. Stir and cover. Allow the beans to simmer gently while the sweet potatoes roast.
  4. While the sweet potatoes and beans are doin' their thang, make the chipotle sauce. Drain the almonds. (If you forgot to soak the almonds, don't worry. I'm guessing your sauce will just come out a little less smooth.) Using a blender or food processor (or an immersion blender and wide-mouthed, tall jar), blend all the sauce ingredients until smooth. Add more water if the sauce is too thick.
  5. Once the sweet potatoes are tender inside and slightly crispy outside, remove the pan from the oven. Top each tortilla with a spoonful of black beans, a scattering of sweet potato cubes, a drizzle of sauce, and a sprinkling of cilantro leaves. Serve immediately with hot sauce on the side, if preferred.

A quick anecdote about a mistake that turned into a proud moment: When I was blending the sauce, I started out with 3/4 cup water, which made the sauce way too thin. I mean, it was practically broth. I went through a panicked conversation in my head about what I could use as a thickener -- "Yogurt? Nope, won't work for a vegan recipe. Cream? Still nope. Cooked rice? Don't have any. Cornstarch? Seems weird here. Cooked, mashed vegetables? No -- oh, wait! Sweet potatoes!" They had just finished roasting, so I tossed in a couple cubes at a time, blending them into the sauce, until it had reached a thicker consistency. The potatoes gave the sauce a little extra flavor, too! Hooray for thinking on my feet!

CookingClassy's original taco recipe called for corn, but I decided to leave it out to save some calories. I'm sure it would taste great, but I was trying to cut corners, admittedly. Next time, I might cut the sweet potatoes down to one pound, as I had just enough beans for eight tacos but probably a cup of leftover potatoes. Hey, they'll make a nice side dish for something later in the week!

P.S. The leftover sauce is great on top of a vegan taco salad! Start with a bed of mixed greens and shredded carrots, crisp up some Yves veggie ground round in a skillet and add it to the greens; then add a few dollops of salsa and a drizzle of the chipotle sauce. Guacamole, beans, and diced tomato would also be great additions to this salad!