Za’atar zucchini salad with crusted halloumi

It’s summer! There are outdoor movies, bike parties, art festivals, birthday parties, anniversary parties, housewarming parties…

Heeey, I’m just over here rationalizing why I haven’t posted in a while.

But summer also has lots of awesome produce. And every summer, whether it’s a fluff piece in the local paper or friends in my Facebook feed, I always see people asking, what the hell can I do with all this zucchini? One that I’ve seen popping up recently is zucchini noodles topped with feta cheese, which is what got me thinking about this salad.

za'atar zucchini salad with crusted halloumiSo, what’s going on here?

Zucchini. You’ll want to use smaller ones if you can, because super huge zukes are not great for eating in salads like this — they get all weird and fluffy. And you’ll need to use a julienne peeler or a spiral slicer to get the “noodle” thing going on. (My mister when we sat down to dinner: “How did you make these vegetables like this?”) I use a crummy julienne peeler that I got for $1.99 in Japantown when I visited San Francisco, and it works fine.

Za’atar. Za’atar is a Middle Eastern spice mixture that you could make very easily to your preference. It seems like it’s one of those Italian grandmother tomato sauce situations, where every family has a different recipe. But generally it has some combination of sesame seeds, sumac, oregano, basil, thyme, savory, and salt. So you could be a rockstar and make up a little batch of za’atar… or you could be like me and use a jar of pre-packaged stuff that you impulse bought, while your partner pokes fun at you because the brand name is Urban Accents.

Preserved lemons. They are basically pickles made of Meyer lemons and salt. I probably should have made a post about when I made preserved lemons back when I made them last winter… but I didn’t. You can buy them in Middle Eastern markets, or in the ethnic aisles of some well-stocked grocery stores. My homemade ones were spiced with cinnamon sticks, cardamom, and peppercorns. Yum.

Halloumi. This cheese, much like feta, is salty and delicious. It doesn’t melt, so it’s perfect for browning in a skillet to warm it up and give it some crunch.

Za’atar Zucchini Salad with Crusted Halloumi

Serves 2 to 3 as a main, 4 to 6 as a side

3 small or 2 medium zucchinis (about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds)
1 small red onion
2 ounces halloumi
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 1/2 tsp finely chopped preserved lemon, peel and flesh (a little less than 1/8 of one lemon)
1/2 small garlic clove, minced
2 teaspoons of za’atar, divided
2 cups arugula

Using a julienne peeler or a spiral cutter, make zucchini into long, thin, noodley shapes. Put in a large bowl and set aside.

Cut the tip off the red onion, then cut in half through the root and peel outer layers. Slice into thin half moons. Put in a small bowl and set aside.

Cut the halloumi cheese into small (about 1/2-inch) squares. Put in a small bowl and set aside.

In a measuring cup, mix olive oil, vinegar, preserved lemon, garlic, and 1 teaspoon of the za’atar. Pour a small amount over the halloumi and toss to coat. Do the same with the red onion. Then pour the rest over the zucchini, and add the additional za’atar. Toss to fully coat (I just use my hands).

Let zucchini marinate for 20 minutes.

While it is marinating, heat up a cast iron skillet over medium heat. When one piece sizzles, throw in the red onion. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 4 to 5 minutes until slightly softened and the taste mellows out a little bit. Remove from skillet and set aside to cool slightly.

After zucchini has marinated for 20 minutes, add arugula and cooled red onion and once again toss to combine.

Then go back to your cast iron skillet and turn it to medium heat. When a drop of water sizzles, dump in the halloumi cheese in a single layer. Let cook for 1 to 2 minutes until a brown crust forms, then use a metal spatula to scrape them up and flip to the un-browned sides. Don’t worry about getting every single piece perfect, but try to get some good brown crustiness on as much of the cheese as you can.

Remove from heat and distribute evenly over the top of the salad, then serve immediately.

Mexican(ish) kale salad in Newport, Rhode Island

A couple of weeks ago, my mister and I went to Newport, RI for a wedding. We hadn’t really taken a vacation this year, and it fell the weekend before Veteran’s Day (which he gets off and I don’t, grumble grumble), so we decided to make a long weekend of it.

The wedding was truly lovely; I hate most weddings so this is saying something. With the rest of our time in Newport, we learned about some mansions (I’m sorry, “summer cottages”), did some shopping, watched an embarrassing amount of HGTV in the hotel room (what, we don’t have cable at home!), and of course: ate.

I always do my food research before we travel. Walking around all day and then potentially not being able to find a restaurant where I can eat anything besides a salad: nightmare. I always have a few places that I’ve checked the menu on saved on a Google map. Does anyone else make an extensive Google map of restaurants, museums, and shops they want to visit whenever they are planning a trip? Mine is always filled with used book stores and weirdo museums.

…Anyway, in my research, I discovered it was restaurant week in Newport. Score! The glee was short lived as I remembered: prix fixe menus are the bane of the vegetarian.

But I searched and searched and finally found the one restaurant in Newport that had a vegetarian prix fixe option. Perro Salado was serving a Tuscan kale and white bean salad and a pumpkin and mushroom chile relleno. The desserts where a spiced apple flan and a molten chocolate cake. And? Margarita included.


While the place didn’t really strike me as the Mexican restaurant it was billing itself as, the food was phenomenal. “We should leave a few bites of the desserts so we don’t look like pigs,” said my mister. “No.”

But you know what was the star of the show, really?

Mexican(ish) kale salad

Mexican(ish) Kale Salad

Serves 2 as a main dish, 4 to 6 as a side or appetizer

1 bunch dinosaur kale (also known as lacinato kale)
2 tablespoons olive oil, separated
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 lime, juiced
1 clove garlic, mashed with salt
1 cup cooked white beans (just over half of a 15-ounce can, drained and rinsed; I used great northern)
1/4 heaping teaspoon crushed red pepper
2 ounces cotija cheese, finely crumbled

Wash kale, then tear into bite sized pieces, removing tough stems. Dry well, then put in a large bowl. Drizzle with lime juice, one tablespoon of olive oil, and salt. Get in there with your hands and massage it all up until the kale starts to soften slightly and shrink in size. Let it sit while you prepare everything else.

Mash up your clove of garlic. Mince it finely, then sprinkle with a pinch of salt and work it in with a fork until you’re left with a paste.

Finely crumble your cotija (I always just use my hands) and set aside.

Heat the other tablespoon of olive oil over low heat and add the crushed red pepper. Heat until oil is fragrant and spicy and delicious smelling. Add your beans. You’re not really cooking them — you don’t want them to fall apart — you’re just gently heating them. Keep over low heat until warmed, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic paste and heat for one minute more.

Scrape the warm beans into your kale, making sure to get all those lovely garlic and pepper bits in there. Toss to combine, then portion onto plates. Sprinkle each plate generously with cotija.

Serve immediately, with a wedge of lime to squeeze on more juice as desired.

More Beyond Meat experiments: autumnal chicken-free salad

So, remember Beyond Meat? Well, I found out that Roots Market is selling it in five pound food service bags. So you can guess what I picked up last week.

They sell the big bags frozen, which answers a question you may have had — yes, it freezes fine, so there’s no need to worry if you want to stock up. It’s still at a pretty high price point — I paid about $40 for the five pounds. But once they roll out nationwide I hope to see the price drop quite a bit.

With so much Beyond Meat at my disposal, I decided to tackle something I wasn’t all too optimistic about: chicken salad. I was worried that without cooking it into something, the Beyond Meat wouldn’t be up to snuff.

It’s not like I have a super refined chicken salad palate. I mean, I ate a ton of chicken salad as a kid. Just not good chicken salad. Canned chicken breast (blech) mixed with mayonnaise, salt, and pepper. That’s it. My dad stocked up on the canned chicken from Costco, so we had pyramids of it in the pantry. Mayonnaise lasts forever in the fridge. It was quick, easy, and we always had the ingredients.


Anyway, I promise this is way better than just fatty-salty. It’s got a lot going on; it’s creamy-salty-sweet-herby-tangy-crunchy. It’s an autumnal, Thanksgiving-y blend, with veggies and cranberries and pumpkin seeds all rounded out with a hearty dose of fresh sage and thyme. I even used Greek yogurt in place of some of the mayonnaise for a little bit of sass. And… the Beyond Meat holds up perfectly. I think it tastes delicious, but it’s been a while since I’ve had chicken. My omnivorous mister says: “It is a pretty good ringer for boneless, skinless chicken breast. It is nowhere close to a juicy roast.”

I’m cool with that.

autumnal chicken-free salad(Since this post was originally published, I have edited the recipe to reflect the slightly changed retail formulation of Beyond Meat after the national rollout.)

Autumnal Chicken-Free Salad
Adapted from Cranberry-Walnut Chicken Salad by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 6

1 3/4 pound Beyond Meat Lightly Seasoned Chicken-Free Strips, shredded
1-2 celery ribs, finely diced
1 medium shallot, finely chopped
3/4 cup dried cranberries
1/2 cup hulled, roasted pepitas
1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt *
1/2 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, stripped off the woody stalk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Fill a medium pot with water and bring to a boil. Add Beyond Meat Chicken-Free Strips and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain, then place in a medium bowl filled with cold water and ice. (Alternatively, let cool and then chill in the fridge if you are doing this ahead of time. You can also safely use the strips “raw”, but the texture is much better and they are easier to shred if you cook them.)

Once cool, shred the Beyond Meat strips with two forks (or your hands, I won’t judge).

Chop up your celery and shallots. The size of the dice is up to personal preference, but I like to go pretty fine for two reasons: the shallot benefits from having the flavor dispersed pretty evenly, and my mister is not a huge fan of raw celery so I have to chop it finely so it’s not too stringy.

So, toss your chopped veggies on top of the Chicken-Free Strips. While you’re at it, add the dried cranberries and pepitas.

Mix mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, vinegar, herbs, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. When you add the thyme, crush the leaves slightly with your fingers to get the oils going. Stir everything together until dressing is combined.

Pour dressing over the other stuff and toss until everything is fully coated. Give it a taste and salt and pepper to taste. I like to serve over a big bed of baby spinach, but it’s obviously equally at home in a sandwich, wrap, on crackers. Do what you do.

* Vegan substitutions: Instead of mayonnaise, use an equal amount of Veganaise or your choice of vegan mayonnaise. Instead of Greek yogurt, try So Delicious Dairy-Free Greek Yogurt. If you can’t find that locally, you can try straining your favorite plain soy yogurt to thicken it — start with double the amount of yogurt — or simply use more vegan mayo.

Mark Bittman is always almost perfect, as evidenced by this chik’n, lettuce and chive salad

So, do you have Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian? It’s quite the tome, but worth its real estate on the bookshelf. I highly recommend picking up a copy if you don’t have it.

In fact, do you want one of mine? Yes, both my mister’s mother and my little brother purchased this book for me. It really killed me with my little brother — he gave it to me second. You see, he’s not always the most thoughtful little brother. So when he gave me this book for Christmas and told me that he’d looked up all the reviews and decided that this was definitely the best vegetarian cookbook out there, it broke my heart that I already had it. Kid was spot on with this one.

The thing about Bittman is that I find a lot of his recipes to be almost perfect. I love his dishes as jumping off points, but I rarely make them as directed more than once. This salad, for example: it was likely meant as a side salad, was just screaming for some protein to make it a meal salad. That, and the first time I made it as directed, it had way too many chives. Perhaps that is more authentic. But if my mister and I were going to eat it, the chives needed to be seriously cut down.

Anyway. Love you, Bittman. Never change. Except just the teensiest bit.

chik'n, lettuce and chive salad

Chik’n, Lettuce and Chive Salad
Adapted from Lettuce and Chive Salad, Korean Style by Mark Bittman in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian

Serves 4

1/4-1/2 cup sweet chili sauce (you can totally make your own, but I used the bottled stuff)
6 ounces vegetarian “chik’n” bits (Beyond Meat, Quorn tenders, Morningstar strips — I only had time to go to the crummy grocery store so I made do with Morningstar Farms Grillers Chik’n Burgers, sliced) *
cooking spray
4 eggs *
2 tablespoons dark sesame oil
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 – 1/2 crushed red pepper flakes
1 small clove garlic, minced
9 ounces butter lettuce or butter lettuce mix
5 ounces baby spinach
1/2 ounce chives, chopped into 1″ pieces
toasted sesame seeds, to garnish

Put your “chik’n” into a bowl and cover with sweet chili sauce. Let marinate for about a half hour if you can, otherwise just marinate it as long as you can muster while prepping other stuff.

In a cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, toss your chik’n pieces in. Cook, turning occasionally, until browned and crispy. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

Heat nonstick pan with cooking spray over medium heat. Beat eggs until combined, then dump in the pan. Cook until fairly dry, scraping constantly with a non-metal utensil to break up the eggs and prevent burning or over-cooking. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, stir sesame oil, soy sauce, vinegar, sugar, red pepper flakes, and garlic until fully combined.

Toss rinsed and dried lettuce(s), spinach, and chives in a large bowl. (A note about the chives: You should have about 1/2 ounce after they’re all trimmed up — if you’re growing your own or buying big farmer’s markety bunches rather than those terrible plastic clam-shelled chives [I know, I know], use a little more to account for the waste that you’re going to chop off the ends.)

Drizzle salad with dressing a little bit at a time until dressed to your preference. You probably won’t have to use it all. Add chik’n and scrambled eggs. Toss the whole dang thing to combine, then shake on some toasted sesame seeds for garnish.

* Vegan notes and substitutions: Obviously, use a vegan chik’n substitute, like Beyond Meat rather than Quorn. Pressed tofu would be great, as well. Omit the eggs, and add some more of your vegan protein to compensate. Alternatively, some roughly chopped peanuts or cashews would be a tasty way to add some more vegan protein.

Ensalada de lechuga con elotes, aka cheesy creamy spicy salty corn salad

One of my favorite ways to stretch a side dish is to eat it on a pile of greens and call it a salad. Bean salads, fresh salsas, potato or chickpea or egg salad — it all works, and since these dishes usually have some kind of dressing incorporated into the dish, there’s no need to worry about making something separate to drizzle on top.

In fact, I’ve already posted a few of these recipes here. Make a side, throw it on greens, and it’s a meal!

So when I saw a recipe for a salty and spicy Mexican street corn side dish, I knew what its fate would be.

elotes green salad

This is a very light meal, so if you want to make it a bit heartier, go ahead and amp it up with a bit of added protein. Quorn Chik’n Tenders or pressed cubed tofu, lightly pan fried, would be perfect in this. You’ll just have to add a bit of extra mayonnaise to stretch the dressing.

Ensalada de Lechuga con Elotes
Adapted slightly from Elotes Salad by Five and Spice

Serves 4

4 ears of fresh corn
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small lime, juiced
2 heaping tablespoons mayonnaise*
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 heaping cup cotija cheese, crumbled*
1 ripe but firm avocado, diced
8-9 ounces lettuce (butter leaf, green leaf, or an heirloom mix are all nice)
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 ounces Quorn Chik’n Tenders or cubed tofu (optional)

If you’re adding tofu or Quorn, cut into bite-size pieces if needed. Add a bit of olive oil to a cast iron skillet over medium heat. Pan fry, flipping occasionally, until lightly browned. Set aside to cool slightly.

Shuck and wash corn, then slice the kernels off the cob. Toss with olive oil and spread on a baking sheet. Broil for 5-10 minutes, stirring once or twice, until the corn is lightly browned and starting to get crispy. You’ll hear the kernels starting to pop in the oven — that means they’re getting good and ready. Once they’re browned, remove from oven and set aside to cool slightly.

Stir mayonnaise (use 3 tablespoons if you are using an added protein), chili powder, cayenne pepper, and lime juice together in a medium bowl. Add the corn and crumbled cotija and stir to coat.

Add diced avocado and fold gently to integrate. It’s good to use a fairly firm avocado in this recipe so it doesn’t turn to mush when you mix it in. Ripe, for sure, but just ripe. Give it a taste, and add salt and pepper to taste. I actually didn’t add any salt — cotija is a very salty cheese.

Rinse and dry lettuce, then tear into bite-sized pieces. Arrange on plates, and top with generous scoops of the corn mixture.

* To make this recipe vegan, substitute Vegenaise (or homemade vegan mayonnaise of your choice). For the cotija, substitute 1/4 to 1/3 cup of your favorite vegan parmesan alternative — cotija is basically Mexican parmesan. I imagine Daiya cheddar or pepperjack shreds would also work in a pinch. Or you can simply omit the cheese and add salt and nutritional yeast to taste.

Marinated squash and fig summer salad and my dirty little secret

I love to cook.

You would hope so, wouldn’t you? Since I’m documenting my recipes on the internet and all.

But here’s my dirty little secret:

I buy a lunch almost every day at work.

I currently work right across the street from a Whole Foods, and their salad bar, hot bar, deli, and other prepared foods are just too convenient.

I’m one of those people who snoozes the alarm eight times and sleeps until the very last minute before scrambling to get out of the house in the morning. So I’m pretty much incapable of bringing a lunch unless it has been prepared and packaged the night before. Sometimes this happens. But more often, I forget about this crucial task and instead spend my evening working on a project, watching Doctor Who, or harassing Smells McGee.

I rationalize my lunch habit to myself by saying that it makes me eat healthier; I try to stick to the salad bar (“though that doesn’t always happen,” say my pants). I tell myself that I like variety, and if I were to buy and prep all that fresh produce that I like to load up on my salad, it’d go bad before I used it all. I tell myself that it’s really not that expensive, because at least I’m not loading up my salad with a pound of chicken breast.

These excuses have been enough for me so far. I mean, I’m still eating lunch from Whole Foods pretty much every day. But in just over a month, I am being forcibly relocated from my beautiful downtown office across the street from Whole Foods (not to mention walkable to three sushi joints, the vegetarian sandwich shop/juice bar, the tea house, the pizza place, and occasionally the cupcake truck). I’m being relocated to…

An office park in the middle of the ‘burbs. With nothing you can get to on foot. WHYYYYY??

I guess I’ll have to start bringing my lunch more often. Maybe I’ll even bring this salad, which was loosely inspired by a dish on the Whole Foods salad bar. Obviously you should be taking advantage of the summertime nectar of the gods, fresh figs, if you can get them — if you’re not so lucky, just use dried ones.

marinated squash and fig summer salad

Marinated Squash and Fig Summer Salad
Serves 4 as a main dish

1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
1 heaping teaspoon fig jam
1 heaping tablespoon fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste (I like a lot)
1 medium yellow squash
1 medium zucchini
5 ounces baby spinach
5 ounces arugula
1/2 cup slivered almonds
6-12 (depending on variety) fresh figs, quartered
shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano to garnish

Stir olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, cheese, jam, salt and pepper into a storage container. Make sure the jam is fully dissolved. Remove the thyme leaves from the woody stalks, and crush slightly between your fingers before adding to the marinade.

Chop the ends off your zucchini and yellow squash, then cut lengthwise. Slice thin half moons (I like using the food processor slicing disc for this). Add to the marinade. Stir and shake to make sure all the slices are coated. Let marinate in the fridge for at least two hours, as long as overnight if you can plan that far ahead.

Mix spinach and arugula in a big bowl until integrated. Dump the marinated squash, almonds, and quartered figs on top, and toss to combine. I used Black Mission figs, which are pretty petite. If you’re using a larger variety of fig, you can use fewer and may want to dice them into eighths. Add more of the marinade as needed to fully dress the salad. Top off with some generous shavings of a good Parmigiano-Reggiano.

If you want to save leftovers to bring for lunch instead of buying your lunch out yet again: I would recommend preparing just as much as you are going to eat for the first meal. Then toss everything except the greens in a jar, and keep the greens separate to mix when you’re ready to eat.

Sweet Corn/Black Bean/Avocado Big Salad

Slicing sweet corn off the cob always reminds me of my great grandfather. He supported his family as a farmer in Iowa, growing soybeans commercially (sup farm bill). But when he retired to northern Minnesota, he kept a large “garden” which was really more of a mini-farm. His garden had no soybeans — he only grew the things he’d actually eat. Being in the midwest, of course he grew sweet corn. And whenever we ate that fresh corn, he always sliced it off the cob.

I thought this was the best thing ever, and so of course I had him slice my corn off the cob too. I liked not getting corn stuck in my teeth, but mostly I loved picking up the sheets of still-connected kernels and stuffing them in my mouth.

Of course, it wasn’t until much later that I realized why he sliced his corn off the cob; let’s just say, getting corn stuck in his teeth was not a problem for him.

sweet corn/black bean/avocado big salad

This is definitely a meal salad, not a wimpy side meant to be put next to the “real” food. The combo of greens, starchy sweet corn, and beans are a complete and healthy meal all on their own, and it’s a perfect summertime meal for when you can’t bear to turn the oven or stove on.

Sweet Corn, Black Bean and Avocado Salad
Inspired by Fresh Corn and Avocado Salsa by The Pioneer Woman Cooks

Serves 4

2 ears fresh sweet corn
1 ripe but firm avocado, diced
1/2 small red onion, diced
1/2 jalapeno, minced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 of one 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 lime
3/4 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
pinch of salt
fresh ground pepper
7-9 oz baby spinach
cilantro, if you’re into that sort of thing

Shuck, de-silk, and rinse your sweet corn, then carefully use a sharp knife to slice the kernels of the cobs. That’s right, we’re eating it raw. Trust me, it’s delicious. It helps if you cut a small slice off the top of the cob so you have a flat surface to balance it on while you hold it by the stem.

Dice your red onion to about the same size as your corn kernels, then put in a small bowl of ice water. Let this sit while you prepare the rest of your ingredients. This will help cut the sharpness of the raw onion which can be a little unpleasant.

Dice your red bell pepper the same size as your onion. Cut the top off of your jalapeno, and remove the ribs and seeds to your preference to dial down the spice. Cut it in half, then cut one half into thin matchsticks. Rotate your matchsticks and chop again so you end up with a very fine dice.

Cut your avocado into a medium dice — a bit bigger than your corn, red onion, and red bell pepper. This is where having a slightly firm avocado comes in handy — it will hold its shape better than a very ripe one. An easy way to dice is to cut that avocaddie in half, pop out the pit (carefully!), then score it with the knife while it is still in the skin. When you use a spoon to scoop out the flesh, it will come out already diced.

Dump the avocado pieces in a medium bowl, and juice the lime right over it. Depending on how acidic you like things, you might want to hold back a little bit on the juice — start with one half of the lime and work up once you’ve made the rest of the salad to taste. Toss well, making sure it is well coated — this will prevent the avocado from browning. Drain your red onion and dump it on top, along with the bell pepper, jalapeno, and half a can of rinsed black beans. Add the apple cider vinegar, sugar, salt, and pepper, and toss it up! You could conceivably add a bit of olive oil in there too, to make it more “dressing-y,” but I think the avocado is more than enough.

Let this bowl chill in the fridge as long as you can stand, at least 30 minutes. A couple hours is best, but who has that time on a weeknight? If I don’t have dinner ready within a half hour of when my mister gets home, he starts snacking. And nothing chaps my ass like pre-dinner snacking. (Of course, on his nights to cook I wait what I think to be very patiently, then get hassled for getting hangry. Which is actually completely legit.)

When it’s time to serve, dump the baby spinach in a large bowl, dump the corn on top, and toss until everything is beautifully intermingled. I suppose if you want to save a dish you can make the corn in a big bowl to start with, and mix the spinach in… but I always find that I end up with all the good stuff falling to the bottom no matter how much I toss.

Of course, this is the kind of dish that people want to put cilantro on. I realize this. So go ahead and do it. Just don’t put any on mine.