Watermelon Pecorino Salad

This is such an awesome salad–I’ve used feta, but I think the pecorino would be great as well. The combination of mint and salt and melon. . .

the chef mimi blog

It’s been a long time since I’ve purchased a cookbook. I’m a little embarrassed at how many I own, although I do use them. So I promised myself I’d wait a while. And then there it was.

I was in a cute shop while on vacation, and the cookbook practically screamed at me. The cover was beautiful, but I’m not one to only judge books by their covers. Especially with how sophisticated food styling and photography have become.

But this book was a little different in that there was cheese in the cover photo, which always gets my attention! And right there were two of my favorites – Humboldt Fog, bottom left, and a Foja de Noce wrapped in walnut leaves, top left, a Pecorino that I discovered from the last cheese book I purchased. In any case, I couldn’t resist the book, called “The Cheesemonger’s Seasons.”
download

The recipes are…

View original post 373 more words

Advertisements

Lentil & couscous salad with cherry tomatoes, mint and goat cheese

As you can tell, I like lentils!  And tomatoes.

It’s getting to the kind of weather where I begin to think about “salads” for hot-weather meals.   I know it’s a bit early for this since tomatoes not  ready to pick yet.  While I was writing about lentils, shortly after planting some tomato seeds (Black Krim, Japanese Black Trifle, Black Pearl, Brandywine, Indigo…..) I couldn’t help but think of this salad with some anticipation as I planted the Black Pearl cherry tomato seeds.

Lentil & Couscous Salad with Cherry Tomatoes, Mint and Goat Cheese

This is my adaptation of the recipe from Gourmet 1995, retrieved from Gourmet on Epicurious with a few changes from me.  (This is a great place to browse for salad inspirations.  You don’t need to follow the recipes–just look at the ingredients and make a salad.)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup lentilles du Puy (French green lentils) or brown lentils (or any small lentil that will hold its shape well)
  • 3 tablespoons sherry vinegar  (The original recipe calls for white wine vinegar–but I prefer sherry; use what you have at hand.)
  • 1-1/4 cups water
  • 1 cup couscous
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
  • 1 large garlic clove, minced and mashed to a paste with 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint leaves (spearmint, rather than peppermint)
  • 1 bunch arugula, stems discarded and leaves washed well, spun dry, and chopped
  • 2 cups vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, halved.
  • 1/4 pound feta, crumbled (about 1 cup)

Preparation

  • Cook the lentils in a small pan, covered by about 2 inches of water until tender but not getting mushy.  The lentilles du Puy cook more slowly than other varieties, so if you substitute, watch them carefully to keep from over-cooking them.  My preference is for the french, Spanish brown, or black lentils instead of the brown.
  • When tender, drain well and transfer to a bowl.  Stir in 1 tablespoon of the vinegar, salt and pepper to taste.
  • Prepare the couscous:  bring water to a boil and couscous and salt (use the package directions).  Remove from heat and let stand until the water is absorbed.  Fluff and transfer to a bowl. Stir in 1 tablespoon of the extra-virgin olive oil and cool.
  • Dressing:  Whisk together the garlic paste, remaining vinegar (to taste), and oil.  Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Add the lentils and dressing to the couscous and mix well. Chill well–about 2 or 3 hours.
  • Before serving, add the crumbled goat cheese and the mint leaves.

One problem I’ve found is that the cherry tomatoes can give off a lot of liquid and make this salad too juicy.  I like to toss the halved cherry tomatoes with about 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt and let them stand in a colander for about 15 or 20 minutes before I add them  to avoid the excess juice.  This doesn’t make them “salty”–but do taste before you add the last salt to taste.  This will hold well in the fridge for about 24 hours if you’ve  gotten some of the excess liquid from the cherry tomatoes.

My favorite garnish for this is crispy slices of European style cucumbers and crispy, crunchy radishes on the side as well.

Red, white, and blue roasted potatoes

Happy Fourth of July to all!

mixed color potatoes in colander

I really was planning to do something special today–more smoked lamb and goat shanks–but I admit to turning to a total wuss, wimping out…as I looked at the weather forecast for the week.  Even though those are easy, it still requires some minding of the grill, and I just could not face it.  I resolved to have a quiet, cool Fourth of July–just me and the cat–indoors with the air conditioning…and I woke up this morning wishing I’d not been such a wuss.

Saved by friends!  An impromptu invitation to join them for grilled chicken this evening.  So–I’m having my quiet Fourth, but with friends and neighbors.

close-up of cut purple, pink/red, and yellow potatoes

Not to go empty-handed, I am making some patriotic roasted potatoes–red, white, and blue–Red Thumb, Russian Banana (okay, bit of fudging here), and Purple Majesty potatoes (new ones from the farm).  Since it’s HOT (my thermometer is reading 98°F now), I’ve decided that those roasted potatoes are going to turn into something that can be eaten at “room temperature”, that will be light and refreshing, and compliment the chicken.

I’m taking  newly dug tri-colored potatoes and scrubbing their delicate skins carefully, cutting as needed to have them equal sizes so that they cook at the same rate, tossing them with a little olive oil; then into a preheated pan and into a 350° F oven until they are tender.

cut and oiled potatoes on baking sheet

I’ve done what America’s Test Kitchen recommends and placed cut sides in contact with the baking sheet so that at least some of the potatoes will brown to give roasted flavor. Now for some complimentary and contrasting flavors to finish these. Since all these do taste a bit different, and for me one of the fun things about this is to be able to taste the individual potatoes and to compare them–think about comparing wines–I want light seasoning–nothing to overwhelm the potatoes themselves. The only seasoning at this point is kosher salt.

Since it’s hot outside (my thermometer is now reading 99.7°F ), I’m thinking light and cool flavors.  I don’t want “potato salad”–so vinegar is out, but I do need something “bright”–and light, and something cool.  Time to check out the herbs on the deck, and the crisper drawer.

lemon, tarragon, chives, mint, and chili peppers.

Chicken makes me think tarragon.  Cool makes me thing mint–hmm.  Let me smush a couple of leaves together and see how that smells.  Tarragon–warm, mint–cool.  Need some brightness to set off the earthiness of the potatoes–lemon zest, and maybe just a bit of lemon juice over the potatoes while they are still warm.  Seems a good start–but not quite there yet.  Needs a little “spice”–some very finely minced red chili pepper might just do it.

After the potatoes had been in the oven for 30 minutes, I used the tip of a paring knife to check doneness–not quite; and, not quite brown enough.  (I probably should have used the heavier half-pan baking sheet instead of this one–drat.) I kicked the oven temperature to 450°F for another 15 minutes and checked again.  Perfect!  Brown potatoes–so out of the oven, ready for the first seasoning.

roasted potatoes--browned edges of the red, yellow and purple  ones.While still hot, I tossed them with the zest of one lemon and most of the juice of the lemon–nice bright flavor to contrast with the brown and earthy potatoes.  After cooling a bit, I tossed in about a tablespoon each pretty finely chopped French tarragon and mint. That got the first taste of cool mint, followed by the warm flavor of French tarragon.  So far so good.

I let them stand for a bit and tasted again–the lemon flavor is there but not overwhelming–the juice has added just a bit of tartness, but not enough to taste like a “potato salad”. Now, I’m debating chives and chili pepper.  I taste the chili pepper–it’s not screaming hot–and I think that just an occasional bit of heat as you eat the potatoes would be nice.  I seeded and removed the ribs, and finely minced about 1/5 of the pepper and tossed that with the potatoes. (Still debating about the chives–I really don’t want them to taste like ersatz baked potatoes.)

seasoned IMG_6935After standing for a bit longer, I tasted again, and decided that chives are not what is needed here–I probably should just leave them alone!

So the final seasonings are the zest of one lemon, lemon juice, mint, tarragon, and just a touch of  red Serrano chili pepper, and a very light sprinkle of a good fruity, extra-virgin olive oil.  I hope that after standing a bit more (not to be refrigerated before we eat the at ambient temperature–or maybe a little less–thermometer now at 100.6°F ) there will be flavors of warm and cool herbs, the brightness of lemon (juice and zest), and an occasional burst of heat from the chili pepper.

Using the baking sheet so that the potatoes are spread out and don’t steam, and preheated does really help get browned roasted potatoes.  If they are too crowded, they will only “steam” and not brown–not really roasted.  The browning is, after all, the whole purpose of turning on the oven!

It’s not smoked lamb shanks, but it’s going to be a pleasant evening with friends–and I do think that something similar will return to go with those lamb shanks when they happen later–when the temperature does not turn me into a total wimp!

…and yes, I’ve done that final taste–yum!  No chives though.

roasted potatoes, with herbs and chili peppers in serving dish.

Leftovers? Possibly–it is a big dish of potatoes for three, but leftovers here are desirable.  Tomorrow they can become a roasted potato salad–perhaps with just a splash of balsamic vinegar, adding some fresh tomato, and cucumber, and, perhaps, some celery, radishes, crisp sweet onion or some freshly snipped chives.

Happy Fourth of July!  A son goût!  

More herbs and a few leeks….

Sunday, as the day after the farmers’ market (when I have to get up at 4 a.m.) is usually a pretty lazy day for me, but I did do a little planting today:  some quinoa–mostly just to see what it’s like when I’m not getting it in a box.  I curious to see if the leaves can really be used like spinach.

My biggest task was planting some leeks.  I love them, but I’ve not ever tried to grow them so this will be fun too.  I know I was amazed the first time I tasted REALLY fresh broccoli–you know, the home-grown, just-picked kind.  I hope there will be a similar experience with the leeks, too.

I’ve added a couple more herbs–Spanish tarragon (a.k.a. Tagetes lucida) which did not do well for me last year); papalo (a first time one for me) since I’m always looking for potential substitutes for cilantro; epazote (again–more since it did overwinter), Thai basil, cinnamon basil, lime basil, and lemon basil. The burnet is back and looking healthy as is the Greek oregano, the marjoram.  The Syrian oregano didn’t come back so that needs to be replaced.  I’m most pleased that the French, or summer, thyme is back and looking great; I’ve added some English thyme, too.

My mint is looking really scruffy–unknown kind that I got from a friend and keep for the awesome flavor.  I’ll need to see what I can do to help it along.  Might be time to repot it.  The lemon grass and the fern-leaf dill are looking good too.

Even though I’m always looking for stand-ins for cilantro, I’ve given up on culantro–flavor is okay, but the leaves are very tough, and I seem to have no “luck” at growing it–so on to something else.  I do want to add Vietnamese coriander to the collection too.

Even though it’s not an herb, I’m most happy to see my planter of alpine strawberries is doing well again this year–I may not get lots of berries, but the flavor is so great.  They never really make it into the kitchen–just get eaten out of hand as I pick them.

Ready for some spring and summer flavors–updates to follow as things grow.

planter of alpine strawberries

alpine strawberries

Cool pink things for summer

After the wonderful strawberry ice cream yesterday afternoon, I more “cool pink” for supper: watermelon with feta cheese and mint.

It’s right up there with beet soup for a refreshing summer meal or side dish.  I probably should not even call it a salad:  no dressing or anything except the natural juices.  I’ve seen suggestions for dressings such as buttermilk/lime, but I’ve not tried that–have some buttermilk in the fridge so maybe I’ll taste it with that  when I make more this afternoon.

There really is no recipe for this:

  •  watermelon, cut into pieces or cut with  melon-baller.  Use however much you think you might eat–I usually add some extra  because I will usually eat more.
  • mint–preferably spearmint  (Kentucky Colonel is especially good), chopped medium or cut into chiffonade–several sprigs
  • feta cheese–your favorite feta cheese, cut into small cubes or crumbled.
Toss the watermelon and the mint and let this chill in the refrigerator for about an hour.  You want the mint and melon to “meld”–if you don’t do this, you get separate flavors of mint and melon (which is not bad either) instead of something like mintmelonmint.  After this melding, add the feta cheese, and eat!
If the melon stands with the feta cheese, the texture of the melon becomes a bit soggy, presumable from the salt in the feta cheese,  so it’s best made freshly.  You can let the mint/melon mix stand in the fridge longer, though.
I suspect that other salty cheese could be substituted for the feta–e.g. pecorino or some of the Greek cheeses.