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Posts Tagged ‘herbs’

kibbutz herb salad

kibbutz herb salad close-up

At the first non-traditional tikkun leil Shavuot that I attended at the Manhattan JCC a few years ago, I took home two principles, one general, one specific. The first was that Jewish learning need not be limited to textual study – this clearly stuck with me as I taught a dance class at my own minyan‘s recent Shavuot evening of learning. The second was how fabulous incorporating fresh herbs into a green salad can make it taste.

Growing up as a dancer (or pretending I was a dancer is probably more accurate) who always watched everything I put in my mouth with trepidation, salads were more a necessity than something to look forward to and savor. And the salads I ate were pretty boring and almost always the same: iceberg, carrots, cucumber, mushrooms, maybe some pepper. Throw on some non-fat ranch dressing from a bottle. Voilà — dinner! As I look back now, all I can think is si triste…so sad.

Now I look forward to salads as an explosion of fresh flavors, with diverse and interesting greens and a few additional veggies to be highlighted with just a splash of freshly made dressing. That fateful Shavuot night captured the essence of this type of salad for me. The woman who taught the class (and please forgive me, but I can’t recall her name) described the salad as a traditional one made on kibbutzim (the Hebrew plural of kibbutz) — collective, usually agrarian, communities that settled in pre-Israel Palestine — using fresh herbs and vegetables grown by the kibbutzniks.

I now have my own window sill garden and I  like to use as many of my own home-grown herbs as possible. I have basil and mint, but no matter how hard I try, I cannot grow cilantro.

my window sill garden

For those looking closely, yup, that’s a little critter climbing up the mint pot (an idea that I got from Monica down in Atlanta – mother to Meira and Maman to Caroline’s kiddos; I bought this little guy in Israel).

I just bought a tomato plant – grape tomatoes to be exact – and it’s so exciting to see the little yellow blossoms fall off as the green bulbs emerge. I can’t wait to seem the little tomatoes pop out.

grape tomatoes, not quite ready

Kibbutz Herb Salad

This salad has become one of my favorite refreshing summer classics and I make variations on it for almost every meal that I go to because it just screams fresh summer to me. The original salad was prepared with the three herbs that I use here – mint, cilantro, and basil – along with goat cheese, toasted pine nuts (pignoli), and sun-dried tomatoes. I can’t recall what greens were used, but I almost always use a mix of arugula and baby spinach – the red leaf lettuce here is milder, but worked quite well. I don’t like pine nuts very much and immediately substituted toasted slivered almonds (you must toast them to draw out their flavor). I usually use fresh or slow-roasted tomatoes and sometimes add some feta or a firm chèvre.

Serves 1 – adjust for appropriate number of guests (amounts in parentheses are for a crowd…aka, a dinner party of 8 such as the one I had a few weeks ago)

 

- 2-3 large handfuls of greens (I used red leaf lettuce here, but often use a mix of baby arugula and spinach) (for a crowd: 10 oz. package of baby arugula, 10 oz package of baby spinach)

- a small handful of each green you plan to use: ~ 10 large basil leaves, ~ 20 small mint leaves (Sam, leave this out), a handful of cilantro (super-tasters, leave this out) (for a crowd: ~25-30 large basil leaves, ~ 50 small mint leaves, tons of cilantro)

- 1 tomato (for a crowd: 4-5 tomatoes or 10 oz slow roasted grape tomatoes)

- 1 handful (~1/4 C) sliced almonds (for a crowd: 1 C sliced almonds)

- 1/2 lemon for juicing (for a crowd: 1-2 lemons)

- 1-2T extra virgin olive oil – the best you can find – info on a recommended one below (for a crowd: up to 1/4 C )

- salt and pepper

Toast the almonds on a dry pan with a pinch or two of salt over low heat. Shake the pan and watch the almonds carefully because you want them to brown but not burn. Once you can smell them, remove from heat. Let the almonds cool while  you prepare the rest of the salad.

Rinse and dry all greens and herbs. Cut everything into  strips. Cut the red leaf into thicker strips that are still bite-sized (when I use arugula and baby spinach, I just rip everything, removing and stems). Chiffonade the basil and mint. Chiffonadeing results in a pretty thin strip and comes from the french word, chiffon – a rag – and the verb, chiffoner – to provoke (but no one ever talks about the verb… I found this one on my own!). To chiffonade, stack all of your leaves, roll them up, and slice through them with a sharp knife in quick parallel cuts. Chop up cilantro if using.

For more information on the chiffonading technique, check out this little article I found on foodista: Chiffonading on Foodista

Chop tomato.

chopped and chiffonaded greens and veggies, toasted almonds

Mix greens and herbs in large bowl. Pour a little bit of excellent olive oil into one hand and massage into the greens (keep second hand dry so you can add salt and pepper). This ensures that all the leaves are dressed without being drenched. This is the methodology that the Israeli chef shared with us and I always use it for this salad. I really like this tactile methodology.

Unio Extra Virgin Olive OilA note on extra virgin olive oil. Since my last trip to California, I have been on a search for a great olive oil that tastes like olives and I found one! While I have written a draft of a post about my search as well as some emerging thoughts on whether cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil actually requires a hechsher, it’s not quite ready. But, I can’t resist sharing with the amazing Spanish oil that I found (it does have a Spanish hechsher: Certified Kosher by the Federacion de Comunidade Israelites ) that actually tastes like olives and is made from arbequina olives native to the Catalan region of Spain on the French border. It is called Unió and is easy to find at Whole Foods (~$17 for a 750ml bottle).

This olive oil is amazing just served on the table in a little dish to accompany bread. I save it for dipping and salad dressings and do not cook with it.

Right before serving, add tomatoes and squeeze half a lemon over the greens. Toss with a few pinches of salt and a few turns of pepper. Throw the now-cooled toasted almonds on top and toss again. Taste for seasoning and adjust as necessary.

kibbutz herb salad

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well-dressed

quinoa mango salad with lime cumin dressing

I’ve been playing around with quinoa since before Passover to find some good recipes; since it’s a great source of non-meat protein, I figured this would be a prefect choice to bring over to lunch with my vegan friend “farmer Laura.” Like tofu or rice, quinoa tends to take on the flavor of its sauce, but I have sometimes been disappointed with quinoa if it isn’t well-dressed.

Actually, I have sometimes been disappointed with people if they aren’t well-dressed. And by this I mean not appropriately attired for the setting. Flip-flops in the lab or an office. White socks with black shoes. White at a wedding if you’re not the bride. A full-Windsor knot tie with a button-down collar. My classmate in the hospital did not appreciate when I shared this commentary with him.

But I digress.

Back to the quinoa. Because I was really happy to find not one, but two, quite well-attired quinoa salads for different moods. One spicy and sweet with the best that  warmer weather has to offer. The other hailing from a warm climate, but  more savory and using mainly pantry staples.

A few words about preparing quinoa. It is pretty versatile and most of the products I’ve seen sold in my neighborhood are pre-rinsed, obviating one preparation step for removing the bitter-tasting saponin covering. The easiest way I’ve found to get fluffy quinoa is to boil quinoa in salted water (1:2 ratio) for about 15 minutes in a covered pot, remove from the heat, fluff with a fork once the water is absorbed, and then allow the quinoa to fully cool in the covered pot. Only add the dressing and other ingredients to quinoa that has cooled to avoid a slimy mess.

Quinoa-Mango Salad with Lime-Cumin Vinaigrette

when I found some beautiful watercress!

when I found some beautiful watercress!

Adapted from Julie at Kitchenography’s Quinoa, Watercress and Mango Salad with Lime-Curry Vinaigrette. I eliminated the red pepper, doubled the mango, substituted cumin for curry, and made the dressing a bit sweeter, spicier, and saltier. The star here is the mango,  but the dressing is pretty kicking as well.

Serves 3-4

- 1 cup quinoa, rinsed (if not using pre-rinsed quinoa)

- 2 mangoes, diced

- 1 bunch watercress, stems removed (or 2 handfuls baby spinach in a pinch) – watercress has a bit more assertiveness to balance out the sweetness of the mango

Lime-Cumin Vinaigrette

- Juice of 1 lime (~3 tablespoons) – don’t forget to zest first

- 2 teaspoons cumin

- pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

- 1 teaspoon freshly grated ginger

- 1 1/2 -2 t brown sugar or honey (my preference is sugar – demura sugar works well also)

- 3 tablespoons canola oil

- Salt and pepper

- Lime zest for garnish

Put 1 C quinoa, 1/2 tsp salt, and 2 C water  in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, cover pan and cook for 13 to 15 minutes, until water is absorbed. Fluff with fork. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa sit covered until it has cooled completely.

While quinoa is cooking, whisk the vinaigrette ingredients together (or just put in a small jar and shake) and set aside.

Note – I keep ginger in the freezer. It thaws quite quickly and is easy to grate on a little grater like the one that I bought in Chinatown several years ago (not sure which Northeastern city I was living in and which Chinatown was nearest) or with a Microplane.

grated ginger

When the quinoa has cooled, toss with enough dressing to moisten (about 1/2-2/3 the dressing). Add the watercress (or spinach) and mango, and toss, adding enough additional dressing to lightly coat. Taste for salt and pepper and add additional as appropriate.

Serve garnished with a sprinkle of lime zest and cayenne pepper for color and a kick.

090

NOTE: you can prepare the quinoa portion with dressing a day or two in advance – the mixture improves as the flavors sit) and then add mango and watercress at the last minute, splashing on some extra dressing. Additionally, leftover salad does equally well in the fridge for a day or two as watercress does not wilt much with this dressing (spinach holds  up almost as well). last bite, still good 2 days later

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad with Pantry Staples

Mediterranean Quinoa salad

Adapted from Lauren at East Village Kitchen. This is a very simple salad that mainly uses ingredients you have around your pantry, plus fresh basil (that I have on my windowsill). Despite what I have said in the past about sun-dried tomatoes, if you reconstitute them in hot water in the time it takes to cook the quinoa, they will be pretty good and the right consistency (but don’t let them soak for too long!) — I prefer this to the jarred, packed in oil variety.

Serves 3-4

- 5-6 sun-dried tomatoes

- 3 T olive oil, divided

- 1 onion, chopped

- 1 C quinoa, rinsed if not using pre-rinsed

- 1/4 C white balsamic vinegar (or white wine vinegar)

- 1 lemon

- fresh basil

- salt and peppers to taste

Cut sun-dried tomatoes into strips with kitchen shears and cover with boiling water. Soak for 15-20 minutes while preparing quinoa (DO NOT SOAK FOR LONGER!). Drain water and allow reconstituted tomatoes to cool in ~1 T of olive oil.

Heat 1-2T olive oil in saucepan over medium heat and saute chopped onions until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add a pinch or two of salt.

Add 1 C quinoa and 2 C water (or follow instructions on quinoa package) to pot containing translucent onions and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, cover pan and cook for 13 to 15 minutes, until water is absorbed. Fluff with fork. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa sit covered until it has cooled completely.

Once quinoa has cooled, add vinegar and about 2 T of freshly squeezed lemon juice (or more to taste).

Add sun-dried tomatoes plus the olive oil that they have been sitting in. The oil is now also infused with some of the tomato flavor.

Chifonnade a small handful of fresh basil (~1/2 C) over the top (again, kitchen shears are pretty handy here if you want to take a short-cut ) and mix with quinoa. As the basil gets crushed, its flavor releases and mixes with that of the concentrated tomatoes.

Add salt and pepper to taste. If too acidic, add a splash of olive oil. Like the other quinoa recipe, this one also improves with about a day in the fridge.

Mediterranean Quinoa Salad

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with lavender plant

 

In thinking about Passover and adapting some recipes for that looming, food-centric week, and recollecting a few Passover chol hamoeds spent in Miami where some clubs serve special Passover drinks (never very tasty, though), I thought I would share a very easy method for sweetening drinks, cocktails the “old-fashoined” way. This is very much aligned with my “Passover philosophy” of going back to basics and also brings me a little bit closer to figuring out how to recreate the lovely cocktails I had last week.

Simple syrup is just a well-saturated mix of water and sugar. Nothing more to it. Pretty simple! I believe it’s called a “simple” syrup because it isn’t maple or some syrup found in nature. But, I’m not sure.

Simple Simple Syrup

simple simple syrup close-up

Purists will say that the water to sugar ratio should be 1:1. I’ve seen it diluted down to 2:1 and this is what I tried for my first experiment since I was thinking about that not-too-sweet Lavender Cosmo that I had last week. Adjust to taste — a 1:1 is probably best for cocktails when you’re concerned about not diluting the drink too much.

- Cold water (I use tap)

- Granulated sugar (plain white is just fine)

Boil cold water. Add sugar. Adjust heat to low and stir mixture until sugar is completely dissolved. That’s it. Très simple!

immediately after adding ~2T lavender

immediately after adding ~2T lavender

 

after 20 minutes of infusing, the lavender is turning the syrup slightly yellow

after 20 minutes of infusing, the lavender is turning the syrup slightly yellow

 

eventually all of the color drains from the lavender into the syrup, turning the syrup into a rosy, translucent liquid to match my mahogany table

eventually all of the color drains from the lavender into the syrup, turning the syrup into a rosy liquid to (sort of) match my mahogany table

Once the syrup has cooled, close with a stopper (or a stopper with a spout) and refrigerate. You should probably drain the herbs out too.  That’s if you didn’t infuse your herbs in the bottle you want to store the syrup in. Whoops — my bad! I’ll probably use this infused syrup for everything from tea (hot and iced) to cosmos over the next few days, so it should be fine. But in the future, fresh leaves will likely not fare well after a day.

A few tricks and ideas:

- I made my syrup in a kettle — it was easier to pour into bottles since I only have a small funnel (yes, it is from the flask that I bought and have never used … but I am tempted to bring it on a date!)

- I let my syrup cool in the bottles — probably not the best idea because your bottles can shatter. Whoops! Plus, if you want to infuse fresh basil or mint and then want to strain — best to strain into the bottle. I didn’t quite think that one through.

- Infusing infusing infusing – I just threw about 2 T of dried lavender buds into one of the bottles and kept the other one “pure” for my iced tea. But you can try a whole host of different herbs and spices for different cocktails, sorbets, etc. Vanilla, roses petals, chile peppers (I like spicy sweet), mint, basil, rosemary…the list goes on and on.

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Last night I meet a new friend, Katie, for drinks at Garden at the Cellar on Mass Ave between Central and Harvard Squares. We were given a wine menu, but I immediately flipped the menu over to search for cocktails. Two immediately caught my eye, and with my penchant for fresh herbs, I’m sure you can guess which I ordered.

Garden at the Cellar - Cocktail Menu

The bartender, Heather, was nice and friendly, without being overbearing. You could tell that she really enjoyed her work and created the unique concoctions that I was so excited to imbibe. 

Heather, ready with a smile and a drink

Heather, ready with smile and drink

Heather explained that the Lavender Cosmo is a simple syrup *infused with lavender* (sound familiar?), vodka, in this case, Svedka, a dash of cranberry juice, and a sprinkling of dried lavender. Shake, drain, and pour into a chilled glass. She was kind enough to make a little extra for Katie to try.

Lavender Cosmo - Garden at the Cellar

Unlike most cosmos, this one is not too sweet. It’s like the “Sex and the City” ladies all grown up, maybe moved to Cantabrigia. A little more sophistocated, a little more intellectual. No more Peter Pan syndrome. We’re ready for real life here, but with a hint of Paris …well, maybe Provence. One can only take a SATC analogy so far.

My one critique of the Lavender Cosmo is that while absolutely beautiful, the lavender buds are difficult to drink around and I did find myself having to … how can I say this delicately?… dispose of them in my napkin. I guess, like high heels, sometime aesthetics win over practicality. Even in Boston and Cambridge with all those cobblestones, I usually just walk on the paved streets (no Manolos, but some pretty rocking heels nonetheless) and avoid the cars driving by…

Katie soon enough ordered the Basil Lemon Drop. Fresh basil leaves (when available, which they were in this  gastropub adorned by an edible potted garden) were muddled before us into a simple syrup (or otherwise would have been infused into simple syrup, as with the lavender), shaken with Stoli and lemon juice, and then poured into a glass whose rim was dipped in a mix of sugar and minced basil. The drink was then further garnished with a slice of lemon and a sprig of basil flower. And not the flower of just any basil plant. The flower of a Thai basil plant. Thai basil is purple. And so are its flowers. (By comparison, my own large leaf Italian basil plant has white flowers.)

Basil Lemon Drop - Garden at the Cellar

Stunning as my (Philadelphia) Bubbie would say.

Again, Heather poured a little extra into a small glass for me to try (probably since I was snapping so many pictures!). This green and purple beauty was a little sweeter than the Lavender Cosmo, given its sugared rim, but still not overwhelmingly sweet like you might expect from the lemon drop shot that its name suggests. I’d call this drink the ultimate in sophistication … this one is Paris, sitting outside a bistro at 10 pm in November under the heating lamps and canopy as it gently rains outside and friends, new and old, keep dropping by to say hello.

I had to run off to a fundraiser, but Katie promised to let me know what  food she ordered and whether it lived up to the high expectations set by our drinks.

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