Roasted Fig Salad

Roasted Fig Salad

Roasted Fig Salad

There’s more to Rosh Hashana than round challah, brisket, kugel, and apples dipped in honey. It’s a celebration of the new year, a time to start fresh, and I couldn’t think of any better way to begin the holiday than at my sister’s apartment where she and her husband hosted their first grown-up dinner/family holiday meal. I’m not going to discuss the meal as a whole because I’m hoping to convince her to guest blog about the experience, but I will talk about one of my contributions: roasted fig salad.

One of the things I was asked to bring was the salad course and I knew almost immediately that I wanted it to include figs. For one thing, figs have been on my mind lately and I’ve been looking for an excuse to experiment with them a bit. Second, in general I like fruit in salads (it’s that whole sweet-savory palate thing) but in this case figs seemed extremely fitting for both seasonal and symbolic reasons.

Fig Salad0001 Fig Salad0002 Fig Salad0003

But, of course, there’s a twist: roasting the figs. This is very simple to do and requires no more effort than it takes to quarter a bunch of figs, chop some rosemary and cook those ingredients in the oven with olive oil. Roasting the figs deepens their flavors and infuses them with the savory elements of fresh rosemary.

After the figs have been roasted all that’s left is to toast the walnuts, whip up a quick balsamic vinaigrette and toss it all together with arugula and shaved manchego cheese. The bitter, astringent, peppery and tangy flavors of those ingredients work to balance the sweetness of the figs.

This recipe is great not only for Rosh Hashana, but for anytime you’re craving a filling and delicious salad, so long as fresh figs are available.

Here’s the recipe:

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Heirloom Tomato & Avocado Salad Revisited

Heirloom Tomato & Avocado Salad

Heirloom Tomato & Avocado Salad: a simple celebration of summer flavors

August: Traditionally hot and humid, it’s the month I used to fill with doctors appointments before heading back to school. Of course, that was many years ago and since that time I’ve added a few new associations: the air and water show, which I dread because it takes place mere blocks from my apartment; and heirloom tomatoes, which I love and dream about throughout July. Dread and a dream, a reassuring balance knowing those two events will occur every year.

And with heirloom tomatoes I always want avocado. It started the very first time I worked with heirloom tomatoes during culinary school when I was charged with creating a southwest-style side dish for a banquet. I scrounged through notes and books until I discovered an heirloom tomato and avocado salad with a cumin vinaigrette. There were no words to describe how good it was except to say it blew me away. Not only did I ace that assignment, but one of the toughest instructors took home the leftovers. Granted, I’d wanted them but was in no position to fight her.

Heirloom Tomato

Now every August when heirloom tomatoes are at their pinnacle, the first dish I make is indubitably a combination of heirloom tomatoes and avocado. It’s a beautiful collaboration of rich, creamy avocado that cuts into the sweet and acidic tomatoes, which in and of themselves burst with flavor.

While by no means complex, last year’s salad was a bit busy with chicken, champagne vinaigrette and toasted almonds. This year I wanted to create a simple celebration of flavors to enhance the tomatoes with peppery arugula, aged balsamic vinegar and a bit of chiffonade basil. Simple and delicious and a highlight of the season.

Heirloom Tomatoes Halved tomato Diced avocado

Here’s the recipe:

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Camera Drama Ends Well with Roasted Red Pepper Beef Salad

Roasted Red Pepper Beef Salad

Roasted Red Pepper Beef Salad

It’s strange how people develop routines and when one thing goes wrong, the whole routine is out of whack. That’s pretty much what happened to me this week after my camera broke. Well, it only half broke, the truth is that it’s still functional but the focus is hit-or-miss and the macro setting is kaput.

No macro + no focus = unappetizing food photos. And that’s something I desperately want to avoid.

But as someone who’s become accustomed to using a camera while cooking (think wooden spoon in one hand, camera in the other), this was quite a setback. So much so that I spent most of the week bringing my poor little point-and-shoot to camera doctors all over the Chicago area. And I was afraid to cook anything important without my camera by my side lest I miss something good.

In the end I was forced to make a very adult decision: yesterday afternoon I purchased a brand spanking new DSLR, a Canon EOS Rebel XSi.

I’m still trying to learn how to use my new toy, so please be patient while I get the hang of it. You wouldn’t believe all the buttons and options this thing has! My first attempt at using it was for this roasted red pepper beef salad, and I took the photo before I’d even looked at the manual. What can I say, I was too hungry to study.

Despite the distraction of a new toy, I did take a few minutes to enjoy this fabulous roasted red pepper beef salad. There’s no exact recipe for it as I used ingredients I had on hand including leftover top sirloin, my new favorite cut of meat, so consider this “recipe” to be a “guide” instead. The flavors in this salad work extremely well together, although I felt it could have used a bit extra punch, so next time I’ll add some very thinly sliced red onions.

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Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa

Black Bean & Tomato Quinao

Black Bean & Tomato Quinao

I like quinoa but can find it difficult to work with. It’s easy to cook, that’s for sure, but sometimes the flavor’s I pair it with just don’t seem to meld quite right.

But I tried it again recently after stumbling upon this recipe on Epicurious.com for black bean and tomato quinoa (Gourmet, July 2007), a peaceful melding of central American flavors that reminds me of the food I ate in Costa Rica.

Black Bean & Tomato Quinao: beans, cilantro, tomatoes Black Bean & Tomato Quinao: fluffy cooked quinoa

It sounded perfect: not only would I get to use super-healthy quinoa, but I could pair it with black beans, my new best friend! Yes, remember those from black bean brownies welcome to my world? I’m still appalled with myself for ignoring such a delicious bean for so many years. Shame on me, and shame on you if you don’t try this earthy and fragrant warm salad!

Oh, and did I mention my favorite part aside from it tasting great and being healthy? Black bean and tomato quinoa is quick and easy to make because all the ingredients can be prepped and mixed while the quinoa cooks.

I served this salad warm as a side dish to salmon seasoned with salt and fresh lime juice. Ah, yes, life is good.

Here’s the recipe:

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Passover Recipe: Asparagus & Spinach Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Asparagus & Spinach Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Asparagus & Spinach Salad with Lemon Vinaigrette

Passover is one of my favorite holidays, not as much for the religious aspect as for the feeling of tradition and togetherness as the extended family sits down for a meal together. My family isn’t very religious and our Seders are quick – never more than 20 minutes (I’ve heard rumors of returning to the table after dinner for a second part but have never experienced that myself) – and are filled with laughter.

Laughing during a religious ceremony? Yeah, we don’t take it too seriously. There’s always a bit of manipulation by the “leader” to make sure that specific “participants” read as the “wicked” or “simple” son, and I always got into the dayenus by leading the whole group in at least two rounds of the song. Not to mention all the fun the kids have searching for the afikoman.

And then there’s the food. I love the Passover meal, not to be confused with the often over-processed, gut-clinging, matzo-based diet many Jews subsist on during the week of Passover. No, I’m talking about the traditional food my family serves during the seder.

There’s always a tender brisket, my mom’s amazing matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, hard-boiled eggs, harosets, apple-matzo kugel, not to mention great desserts (and no, we do NOT serve coconut macaroons or sponge cake – gag!). Delicious food, but very, very heavy.

This year one of the dishes I was assigned was a vegetable side, in addition to harosets and dessert. We’ve never served a salad before, but I thought it would be the perfect way to add a lighter, healthier component to the meal.

I tried to cover all the bases with this salad – something a bit sweet but overall subtle, and I wanted to incorporate asparagus, a spring vegetable that has somehow become synonymous with Passover. The result was a refreshing and filling asparagus and spinach salad with lemon vinaigrette.

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