Despite my undying love for New York City and all of its glories, I hate that sunshine there is at a premium. With much of the year swathed in gray, there’s something endlessly appealing about the 364 days of sunshine that Phoenix has to offer. I’ll probably never truly fit in here on the left coast (I’m an out-and-out East coast ex-pat, who bleeds 100% DC love when cut), but lemme just say that when Cali kids speak of their junkie-esque need for light on the regular, I kind of get it. My move out here to the lawless desert has provided me with blissful sunshine and true blue skies that could cure the seasonally depressed in an instant, and I’m totally hooked.
Nothing speaks more to my adjustment to the bright perfection out here in AZ than my urges to whip up all sorts of cold salads. From chilled pastas and crisp veggies sopping up vinaigrettes, to a simple toss of fresh berries, splashes of liquer and a chiffonade of mint, these chilled dishes keep my kitchen cool and my mood light. Tabbouleh is a favorite of mine – this herby salad is a quick accompaniment to grilled meats, a homey companion on a mezze platter of hummus and olives, or a throw together potluck favorite that pairs up with any and everything on the buffet line. Best of all, it’s a throw-together dish that is forgiving in terms of time – you can prep it ahead or even serve it right away. Arabic for “little spicy,” tabbouleh is the marriage of tart, spicy, savory and sweet – all that you want for a cool summer supper. Continue reading Simple Tabbouleh →
I actively eschew the cold – if anyone was born to relish in the blissful summer, it was me. Sunkissed skin and bare toes. A swing or two in the hammock or a walk along the sandy shore. And dad firing up the grill next to the side porch, with the lot of us sitting on the steps (dogs included), sipping a cold beer waiting for the meat to finish up. I live for those days.
This menu is not only a celebration of those lazy summer evenings when we’d tuck into thick steaks seared on the grill, but also an ode to the perfect produce of the summer. Farmer’s market tomatoes, string beans, potatoes and greens all have a home in bright and glorious side dishes. Rosemary works as both a flavoring and a utensil. And the skill required to prepare this meal is minimal – feed a few or a dozen with little to no effort other than chopping a veg or two and flipping on the grill. And that’s not even including any delegation – get some mark to shuck your corn or snap your string beans and you’re living easy. Which is entirely what summer is all about.
Orzo is like a dependable friend – versatile, mixes well with others, but distinct and fun on its own. I’m an out and out fan. In lieu of the traditional radiatore pasta or bowties for a potluck stunner, why not outstanding orzo? This particular combination features peppery arugula, sweet tomatoes and salty mizithra cheese all gussied up with a light vinaigrette. It looks sunnier than Miss America in the Sahara desert.
Mizithra cheese is a rather fun addition – a hard sheep milk cheese made in Greece. It’s salty like feta, but drier and crumblier – perfect for a lively pasta salad. If you can’t find mizithra, you can certainly use ricotta salata or feta cheese. Also, try to use the best olive oil you can get your hands on – when you have a recipe with so few ingredients and little to no cooking, it helps to keep the flavors strong.
Orzo Salad with Arugula and Mizithra Cheese
1 lb. of orzo
2 heirloom tomatoes, diced
3 c. of arugula leaves, loosely chopped
1/2 c. of olive oil
6 oz. of mizithra cheese, crumbled
1/4 tsp. of salt
1/4 tsp. of pepper
4 tbs. of rice wine vinegar
3 tbs. of sliced green onion
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt heavily. Add the orzo to the boiling water and cook according to the package directions. Drain and cool with running water. Drain again well and add to a large mixing bowl. Toss the orzo with the tomatoes, arugula, olive oil, cheese, salt, rice wine vinegar, pepper and green onions. Chill for at least 20 minutes and then serve.
Summertime has always meant trips to the farmer’s market – from the dripingly ripe tomatoes to the sweetest ears of corn, I couldn’t help but swoon over access to ingredients as flavorful and delicious as these. Despite my dependence on the convenience of grocery stores, shopping at the market was a reminder of the fact that we can all make a commitment to using the freshest ingredients possible. Summertime meant easy access to the most incredible veggies, and took the focus off of planning before shopping. You could go with a blank slate and a lack of a menu, and just resign to be inspired by what was available. It was liberating, really.
This salad is a winner for the spontaneous and the planners alike – during the summer, heirloom tomatoes are readily available and simply begging to be tucked into. Green beans are crisp and sweet and ready to snap the ends and crunch away. You can even access buttery heirloom potatoes for use in this salad that come in just about every shade. The entire salad is held together by a basil vinaigrette that manages to brighten and highlight all of the flavors of the veggies. It makes a gorgeous potluck and the perfect accompaniment to grilled meats, but it’s nourishing enough as a main course and absolutely vegan. Like I said before, the perfect summer celebration.
Summer Salad of Fingerlings, Heirloom Tomatoes and String Beans
1 lb. of haricots vert or string beans, snipped of stems
1 lb. of fingerling potatoes
1 c. of heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved (or 1 c. cubed tomatoes)
juice of half a lemon
3 tbs. of red wine vinegar
2 cl. of garlic
1/2 c. of basil leaves
1/4 c. of olive oil
1/2 tsp. of black pepper
1 tsp. of salt
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt heavily. Add the potatoes to the boiling water and cook until tender, about 10 minutes. Drain with a slotted spoon and cool with running water. While the water is still boiling, plunk in the haricot verts and blanch for 1 minute. Drain and cool with running water. Add chilled potatoes and green beans to a large bowl. Add the tomatoes to the bowl and set aside.
In a food processor, add the garlic, basil, salt and pepper. Blitz to mince finely. Add the lemon and vinegar and blitz again. While the motor is running, stream in the olive oil. Turn off the food processor and pour dressing over the vegetables. Toss and chill for at least 15 minutes. Serve.