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  • Favorite Lentil Salad

    I heard that 2016 is the international year of the pulse. Check yours: are you still alive? Just kidding!! I really hope you are still with us, since the lentil salad I am going to share is KILLER (See what I did there?? Too heavy? Ok, ok...enough with the bad jokes).

    But in all honesty, I have been making this lentil salad once a week ever since returning from visiting my sister in California at the end of February. My sister made it while I was visiting, and it was so dang good! Paired with roasted or steamed beets, crunchy fennel and toasted California walnuts, it was a memorable salad for sure. All the spices in this lentil salad just work. Don't be scared-just do it! 

    Bonus: you can prepare the lentils a few days ahead of time, and let them marinate in the supremely flavorful dressing. Have the lentils around for quick and simple week day lunches or dinners-it really isn't easier. In addition, you can roast/steam beets and prepare the crunchy fennel ahead of time, too. Everything will last a few days in the fridge, wtih the lentils being a-ok up to 1 week. 

    Don't have beets? Don't particularly like fennel (uh, what is wrong with you? Jk jk...)? Allergic to nuts? Simply substitute your favorite things instead. Roast or steam another root veggie (carrots! sweet potatoes! aspargus!), make a crunchy slaw out of another flavorful fresh veggie (red cabbage!), and toast up a seed of choice (pepitas! sunflower seeds!). Keep them all in containers in your fridge, and you're poised for salad time, you salad boss. Cool, right??Want a more salad-y affair? Serve over spinach or your favorite lefy green. The dressing on the lentils is plentiful, full of spices and rich extra virgin olive oil, so a simple squeeze of fresh lemon and sprinkle of sea salt will do the trick to dress the greens. However, if you're super ambitious, you can whip up a lemon-tahini dressing (check out mine here, which is also a post on how to steam beets in your oven), and have another option to keep things tasty, but simple, during the week.

    Ok, enough talking! Let us go to salad town (HA! See what I did there?! Let us....lettuce...and salad town?? I swear, I am done with the crappy word play jokes now!). 

    PS: if you're interested in reading about my new adventures in home kombucha brewing, head over the the 'Booch and Bees section at the top of your page! :) Also, the lentil salad recipe is inspired by, and lightly adapted, from the "The Best Lentil Salad Ever" recipe in My New Roots by Sarah Britton. LOVE the book, and her blog, so check both out ASAP!

    Notes: do NOT use regular green or brown lentils here-you MUST use either de puy (French green) or black beluga lentils. You want the mineral-y taste, and you also really need the lentils to retain their shape, not turn to mush once cooked. You can easily source either de puy or beluga lentils from your local food cooperative (like the Willy Street Coop) or Whole Foods in the bulk aisle. And I don't need to tell you to not use canned lentils, right? To speed the cooking process and enhance the digestion of the lentils, soak them overnight in a big bowl with enough water to cover the lentils by 2". The soaking step is optional, but regardless, monitor your lentils during cooking (i.e. set a timer!), as the cooking time in your kitchen will be different from mine. This recipe is no good with mushy, over-cooked lentils, people! You want the lentils to retain some bite, but also be cooked all the way through, since no one likes to digest an under-cooked lentil (am I right?). Since cooking time may vary, start with cooking for 12-15 minutes, taste and add time as needed. The lentils *should* take between 15-20 minutes total to cook. ONE LAST THING: despite all the verbiage, this salad is SIMPLE. If all the spices scare you and/or you don't have them on hand, simply hit up a bulk aisle with spices, and purchase small quantities to start with. 



    The Best Lentil Salad // makes about 5 cups of lentil salad // plant-based; vegan; gluten-free; soy-free; refined sugar-free; nut-free // 

    Lentils:

    • 2 to 2 1/4 cups de puy or beluga lentils
    • water, enough to cover the lentils in the cooking pan by 3"-4"

    Dressing & Other Add-Ins:

    • 4-6 TB extra virgin olive oil
    • 4 TB apple cider vinegar, using a high-quality cultured variety, such as Braggs, when possible
    • 1 TB maple syrup, agave or honey
    • 1 TB dijon mustard, the smooth and spicy variety (no lie, I use Trader Joe's brand and love the stuff)
    • 2 tsp sea salt, plus more to taste
    • freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
    • 1 heaped tsp ground cumin (freshly toasted whole cumin seeds, ground to a powder, are amazing here, but use what you have in your spice arsenal)
    • 1/2 heaped tsp ground turmeric
    • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
    • pinch ground cloves
    • pinch to 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper, using more if you like it spicy, and dial it back for sensitive taste buds
    • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
    • a frew gratings of nutmeg 
    • 1 cup raisins, chopped into smaller pieces, or simply use currants instead for their smaller size
    • Optinoal: a big handful parsley, chopped fine
    • Optional (not in the photos): 1/3 cup salt-packed or brined capers, rinsed or soaked for 5-10 minutes in cold water and drained
    • Optional (not in the photos): 1 small to medium red onion, diced into similar size pieces as the raisins/currants

    Some (My Favorite) Serving Suggestion:

    • Steamed or roasted beets
    • Freshly toasted walnuts, broken into small pieces
    • 1 large bulb fennel, thinly sliced and tossed with a pinch of sea salt, squeeze of lemon, and 1-2 TB chopped fennel fronds
    • Leafy greens, with spinach being my favorite here
    • Additonal extra virgin olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice and a sprinkle of sea salt/Maldon

    1. Sort through the lentils for foreign matter (like small stones), and rinse. Soak overnight with 2" excess water covering the lentils in a large bowl, or simply thoroughly rinse the lentils if you are cooking them right away. If you soak the lentils, be sure to give them a good rinse before cooking as well. 

    2. Cook the lentils (can be done up to 2 days ahead of time): in a large pot, add the lentils and enough water to cover them by 3" to 4". Place a lid on, and bring to a good simmer over medium-high heat. Once a good simmer is reached, turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and set a timer for 10-12 minutes. Taste for doneness, and add a few more minutes to the cook time as needed. The goal is a cooked, but not mushy, lentil that still retains its shape and some bite. Once cooked, remove from the heat, drain the cooking water off, and rinse with cool water one or two times to remove excess starch and stop the cooking process. Set aside, or place in the fridge in a covered container until ready to prepare the salad.

    3. Prepare the dressing: simply combine all the ingredients in a large bowl or container you wish to store the lentil salad in. Glass or non-porous material is recommended, as the spices and turmeric will flavor and color taint otherwise. Thoroughly whisk to combine all the spices, maple syrup/honey, and cider vinegar. When ready, simply combine the lentils, the dressing, parlsey and the onions (if using). Lentils will keep for up to 1 week, in a covered container, in the fridge. 

    4.  Give the lentils a good stir to distribute the dressing, and then if desired, serve with veggies, nuts/seeds, and leafy greens, as well a squeeze of lemon, drizzle of olive oil and sprinkle of salt. However, the lentils themselves make for a delicious salad or side dish. The lentils cand be served cold, or at room temperature. 



    Oh yeah...the dressing. This mixture is powerful, and likely has other super powers beyond tasting amazing.All mixed up...ahoo hooo (Elvis voice there, please)Choppin' up the raisins, or you could simply use currants, but I had these California raisins from my visit with my sister. Also, the bowl (and all the fun pottery/ceramic that you see, for the most part) is handmade by my aunt Karen. This is the first black/white/gray piece of hers that I have, and I am loving it!

    Ok, almost done...Mix, mix, mix...Beets, fennel...whatever floats your boat. I just really love the beets and fennel here...Fennel, it does a body good! Seriously. Get on eating this amazing veg!And...done. Your work is well worth it, as now you have a fabulous salad for the next few days to enjoy. Pat yourself on the back, cause it is delicious and great for you, too.Yes!

  • Fried Summer Squash or Zucchini Pasta Salad

    First off, HAPPY SUMMER! I am so excited. I am running out of time to do my research and write my thesis, but here I am making glorius summer salads. Whatever-you live once, and I LOVE summer. It is right up there with autumn. And, I know I was on a gluten-free challenge, but I also live with an Italian. That means carbs are a reality, especially with pesto season upon us. So what was a girl to do?? Uhh...Trader Joe's to the resecue!! Have you tried their gluten-free pasta made from quinoa and brown rice? I am in love. Indeed, even my boyfriend had a hard time discerning in a side-by-side taste test the difference, and mixed in with a flavorful herby dressing with lots of summer veggies? Win! And at less than $2.50 per one pound bag, you get several servings for an affordable price. Whatever variety of pasta you do use, I think the bite-sized pasta shapes are best here, so save that bag of angel hair, linguini or spaghetti for summer tomato sauce dishes. 

    This pasta was inspired by Deb at Smitten Kitchen. Is there any recipe that she shares that isn't simple and delicious? Now, I know what you are thinking: frying zucchini or summer squash? Won't that be super greasy and heavy, on top of an oil-based herb dressing? Asnwer: no (and yes, I too was skeptical at first!). If executed properly, pan frying is actually a dry cooking method; the water in the produce steams away, and higher temperatures, thanks to the oil, produce a brown, crispy texture. The key is to keep the oil at the proper temperature, as oil that is not hot enough can seep into the food, and too hot oil can be a smokey mess. Be sure that when you add batches of the zucchini or squash, that it sizzles right away-and doesn't just sit there in a pool of oil. Yes, you're probably adding some extra calories here, but to help bulk-up the dish and dilute any frying oil that does make it into the zucchini, I added a ton (yes, a metric ton) of fresh veggies. Tomatoes, arugula, green onions, garlic...be creative with what you add in addition to the zucchini, and suit to what is in season. My additions were based on what was in my fridge/CSA box. A nice dose of lemon juice and zest really lighten this salad and make the flavors pop-so don't skip the lemon!!

    I used  olive oil for the frying step, but please feel free to substitue any oil you'd like for this (yes, I do know that it has a lower smoke point than other oils). Virgin coconut, sunflower, grapeseed, etc. would work, too. But please, please use a good quality extra virgin oil for the pesto...it is a requirement, not a suggestion, since it is the basis for the salad's dressing. Not a fan of nutritional yeast or it freaks you out? Then omit it, or add your favorite locally sourced hard italian-style cheese, such as romano, asiago, parmesan (look for a veggie rennet type if you're a true stickler about this, as traditional is made from animal rennet) or even ricotta salata. 

    p.s.: I betcha a picnic or cookout would be a great occasion to make this! And, bonus! You can make it up to a day ahead of time, and let the flavors meld in the fridge. Boom! You're awesome.



    Fried Zucchini or Summer Squash Pasta Salad // plant-based, vegan, gluten-free option, soy-free, sugar-free, nut-free option // Serves 4 as a main, 8 as a side //

    For the Zucchini/Summer Squash:

    • 3-4 small/medium zucchini or summer squash
    • 3-4 TB olive oil (enough to cover the pan bottom), or other oil for pan frying 
    • Sea Salt

    For the Pesto:

    • 2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves, or other fresh herb combination, like parsley and basil
    • 4 TB extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 or 2 large cloves garlic (2 if you like it super garlic-y)
    • 1 TB fresh lemon juice 
    • 1 TB nutritional yeast
    • 1/4 tsp sea salt
    • 1/4 cup walnuts or pinenuts (use sunflower seeds or just omit entirely for nut-free), toasted

    For The Salad:

    • 2 cups gluten-free or other favorite pasta (I used Trader Joe's Quinoa and Brown Rice Rotini)
    • 1 1/2 to 2 cups tomaotes (I used small San Marzano; a similar cherry/grape tomato is perfect here)
    • 1 1/2 TB capers, rinsed (salt packed or brined will both work), OR finely chopped kalamata or other quality olive
    • 3 scallions/green onions, white and green parts
    • 1 TB red wine vinegar (or lemon juice)
    • Zest of 1 lemon
    • 4 heaping cups arugula or spinach
    • Sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste
    • Nutritional yeast, if deisred (or favorite hard Italian cheese) for topping

    1. Bring a pot of salted water to the boil, and cook pasta to al dente. Drain and set aside to cool a bit. While you wait for the pasta to cook, carry on:

    2. In a medium to large pan, bring the 1/3 cup oil up to tempertaure over medium-high heat. Slice zucchini or squash into 1/4" rounds. Fry in a few batches, to make sure the oil stays hot. The zucchini/squash should sizzle immediately when added to the oil. Cook until golden brown, then flip. Transfer to a paper towel lined plate or cooling rack to allow excess oil to drain, and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Repeat with remaining zucchini.

    3. In a food processor or blender, combine all the ingredients for the pesto. If necessary, add a TB or two of water or more oil to help blend. Taste, and adjust seasoning. 

    4. Cut tomaotes into small bite-sized pieces, chop scallions into small rounds, and add to a large bowl or container. Add the remaining ingredients for the salad, fried zucchini, and the pesto. Gently toss in the cooked and slightly cooled pasta, and adjust seasoning/lemon juice and zest. Serve with freshly cracked black peper and nutritional yeast, if desired. Pasta will keep for up to 4 days, covered in the fridge.



     The zucchini and summer squash, all green and gold and glorius!

    Cut into rounds...and ready to pan fry:

    Fried and fabulous (did you know that is a food cart here in Madison??):

    Ok-we're making progress! The arugula, tomatoes, green onions, capers (I got my salt-packed capers from Fraboni's Italian market in Madison. Love that place, and spend waaay too much when I go there! Fun Fact: my boyfriend's grandfather had a butcher shop right accross the street from the Fraboni's on Regent street, back in the glory days of the Greenbush area in Madison!).

    Ok, now for the pesto! You may toast your nuts (ha!) or sunflower seeds if you are using them. Really, I included this picture because my boyfriend, as awesome as he is, got me an All-Clad Copper Core 10" fying pan for by birthday. Can I tell you how amazing nice cookware is? Such a treat after dealing with my sub-par pans for years! I will slowly have nice cookware...one piece at a time!

    Everything for the pesto into a blender or food processor:

    And there you have it-a delicious vegan pesto perfect for this recipe OR for anything you'd like to use it for.

    Now we gently toss everything together. You are done! Make sure to taste for seasonings and lemon-I usually have to spike mine with another pinch of sea salt. But do your thang!

    Enjoy now, or cover and place into the fridge. You can snack on this all week, or share it at a summer picnic or cookout. Enjoy and HAPPY SUMMER!

  • All Hail (Vegan) Ceasar Salad

    The sun is shining! I have cacao nibs! And the confectionery course I help coordinate (woo spring break!) is over! Now, to just get through the 2-week one in July, do my research, write my thesis and graduate by December....check! No paper cuts, coffee burns or spills were had, so life is good. Know what else is good? Warmer weather, and this salad. And chocolate. But maybe not chocolate on this salad, but for sure for dessert (because hey, you had salad!). I just saw this bar at my local grocery last night, and *almost* got it...but then remember my bag of chocolate bars that my lovely, kind, caring boyfriend got me for valentines. 

    Anyways, this salald! This salad is perfect for well, anything. You can prepare everything the day before for easy day-of prep. I bet the Easter bunny would have liked it. You would think it would be heavy with the creamy cashew base, but using a generous hand with the lemon cuts the richness so well. The "parmesan" sprinkle is not to be omitted-it adds the perfect amount of salty-nutty factor. The original recipe hailed from a beloved cookbook, and used almonds for the dressing. I tinkered with it, and came up with this. To my delight, the author also posted a very similar recipe. Delish. I have brought it to several family gatherings (with people who are non-vegans, including dairy farmers!), and everyone loves it. Even the meat eating farm boys liked the kale. I was impressed and proud.  

    This salad is excellent with just about any sort of salad fixin'. I have made homemade, spicy croutons and tossed them in classic Caesar salad-style, but then experimented with making tofu "croutons" (i.e. firm tofu that has been pressed, and then tossed in coconut oil, sea salt, cracked pepper and garlic powder, then pan-seared in a hot-hot cast iron skillet). Oh my...so delicious both ways! And if you're not into tofu or bread crumbs, then toast some chickpeas (see how to below!) I love this salad with salty kalmata or salt-cured olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, and carrot strips. But, red pepper, thinly sliced onions, marinated tempeh, roasted squash, zucchini, roasted sweet potato...etc would all be welcome addtions. Yes, not traiditonal, but really...we're already making Caeasar vegan, so you might as well go with it. In fact, make a salad bar out of it, and choose your own toppings! Take THAT, Whole Foods!

    Notes:

    The dressing as written is perfect, however, I have had mighty success with adding 1 whole head of roasted garlic (how to roast garlic: preheat oven to 400F, cut the top of a head of garlic to expose a bit of each clove, drizzel with olive oil, wrap in tin foil and roast for 45 minutes to 1 hour, until golden and tender. Cool a bit, then squeeze the entire bulb and the roasted cloves into the blender). I have also added a few tablespoons of chopped fresh parsley after blending; a few teaspoons of fresh or dried dill after blending is great, too. Try dipping fresh veggies into extra dressing, or make this dressing soley for dipping raw veggies in. Think of it as a vegan, more awesome Ranch-y dressing...

    To make this soy-free, omit tofu. To make this gluten-free, use GF bread to make croutons. To make this paleo, use the crispy tofu or chickpea option. 

    How to roast chickpeas: Preheat oven to 400F. drain and rinse 1 15oz can of chickpeas, and dry thoroughly on paper or kitchen towels. Place on a baking tray (lined or unlined), and drizzle 1 tsp of coconut or olive oil, and sprinkle 1/2 tsp sea salt, 1 tsp garlic powder and 1/8 tsp cayenne. Bake for 15 minutes, shake the pan around, then bake for another 10-15 minutes until crispy. Toss in the salad at the last minute to maintain optimal cripsy factor. To store, place completely cooled chickpeas in an air-tight container (they may get a bit un-crispy, so beware. Re-crisp by popping into a warm oven for a few minutes on a baking tray.).



    Vegan Caesar Salad // serves 4 as an entree, or 8-10 as a side salad // Vegan, Gluten-Free Option, Soy-Free Option, Sugar-Free, Paleo option //

    Dressing:

    • 1/2 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight if using a conventional blender
    • 2-4 TB fresh lemon juice, to taste
    • 1 TB extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 large or 2 small cloves garlic 
    • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
    • 2 tsp dijon mustard
    • 2 tsp tamari, organic soy sauce, or vegan worstershershire 
    • 1 TB nutritional yeast
    • 1/2 tsp sea salt
    • freshly cracked black pepper to taste 
    • 2-4 TB water if needed to thin to help blend
    • Fresh parsley, chives, dill or dried dill, if desired

    Nutty "Parmesan" Sprinkle

    • 1/4 cup almonds, pecans or cashews, or a mix thereof
    • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast
    • 2 TB sesame seeds
    • 1 TB hemp seeds (optional)
    • 1/2-1 tsp salt (to taste)
    • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

    Salad:

    • 6-8 cups romaine, washed, dried and chopped into bite-sized pieces
    • 6-8 cups kale of any variety, washed, dried and cut into thin ribbons
    • grated carrots, sliced cucumbers, kalmata or salt-cured olives, cherry/grape tomatoes, or any other vegetable desired

    Optional Add-Ins:

    1. Prepare the dressing by adding all the ingredients in a blender. Taste for seasonings, and adjust as desired. Stir in any fresh or dried herbs, do not blend as they will lose their potency and may become bitter. Store dressing in a glass jar or container.

    2. Chop any vegetables for the salad. 

    2. Make the nutty parmesan sprinkle, simply combine allthe ingredients into a food processor and process until finely chopped. If ambitious, toast the nuts and seeds in a shallow skillet until lightly brown and fragrant, then process them. Store in an container or jar with lid. 

    3. Add the greens to a large bowl, and add in desired vegetables, a good sprinkle of the parmesan, and any optional add-ins. Drizzle dressing over, and toss. Serve with extra parmesan, and more cracked black pepper if desired. Since the greens in this salad are pretty hefty, you may let the salad sit for up to 30 minutes to help tenderize the kale. Be sure to toss in any crispy components (tofu, croutons, chickpeas) at the last moment to retain crunch.



    Everything all ready to go. You can pre-assemble for easy smaller salads, or just make one big-ass salad and enjoy! 

    The crunchy veg in here is so refreshing...add what you like! I really love cucumbers and tomatoes (uhh, especially summer-sun ripened tomatoes! Can't waaait!).

    You can use any of your favorite greens here, but I like the heartier ones for this salad. Lacinato kale and romaine are below, all washed, sliced/chopped into thin ribbons, and ready to be dressed-up. It is kind of like salad prom...right?! Chopping the leaves into thin ribbons is key for optimal dressing-coating, as well as chewing the heartier leaves of kale. But, if you like larger chunks, than do your thang! 

    The salad, all ready to be devoured! This is the entire thing, all tossed together, with extra nutty parmesan and cracked black pepper on top. Take note that I let this sit for 10-15 minutes to help the dressing tenderize the kale leaves, but toss in the crispy chickpeas, croutons and tofu at the last minute to help retain crispness. PS: it was really sunny at my Mom's house when I took this pic! And, love that bowl set...my Mom re-finished this set years ago, and I remember her using it when I was little for salads. I only now appreciate how awesome this type of salad set really is!

    Super delicious salad for all...it is only right. Also, my Mom kills it with the festive table cloths. Always. Love her for that!This is the salad, only with the croutons I mentioned above, from Thanksgiving last year. It was devoured by the dairy-lovin' family I have. So really, if this salad is approved by dairy farmers in Wisconsin, you have to trust that it tastes pretty damn good. Go get some!!