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.

Fun with coconut bacon: warm and smoky spinach salad

So, coconut bacon. Have you tried it? It’s one of those vegan foods you can buy pre-packaged or make from scratch, and I went the former route mostly because… well, because I saw an IndieGoGo campaign for Phoney Baloney’s Coconut Bacon, thought, “hm, sounds interesting,” and pledged a few bucks. I then promptly forgot about it until three bags of the stuff ended up on my doorstep.

I didn’t really know what to expect. How much could coconut taste like bacon, after all? Well, if you ignore the fact that I am probably the worst person to ask about what bacon tastes like, the answer is that it varies. It’s crispy baked coconut, which works really well as a bacon bit sort of deal as long as it is in a situation that allows it to remain crispy. It also is, you know, coconut, so there is a light coconut flavor lurking behind the intense salty/smoky coating. It strikes me as the kind of thing that would work in certain sandwiches, salads, and definitely breakfast or baked goods.

The mister, on the other hand, used it in a stir fry. And he added it kind of early on. While I don’t remember the specifics, I do remember that it tasted like an overall pretty decent dish except for the inexplicable pockets of soggy smoked coconut pieces. :| When I was cleaning up after dinner that night, I said, “If I save this will you eat it?” He laughed and replied, “I guess that means you won’t?” (We did not save it.)

On the other hand, sprinkled on this salad at the very last minute and enjoyed immediately, the bacon stays crisp. The light coconut flavor that shines through under the smokiness complements the salad rather than competing. It is good, and you should eat it. The end.

warm and smoky spinach salad

Warm and Smoky Spinach Salad
Adapted from Spinach Salad with Warm Bacon Vinaigrette by Smitten Kitchen

Serves 2 as a main, 4 as a side

5 ounces baby spinach
2 large white button mushrooms
1 large egg, hard cooked
2 tablespoons grapeseed oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon smooth Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika
2 small shallots
1/2 cup coconut bacon (I used Phoney Baloney’s)
freshly ground black pepper to taste

First, prep your stuff. Slice your mushrooms very thinly. Slice the hard cooked eggs into slightly thicker medallions. Cut the shallot into thin slices. Then put the spinach in a large bowl, and top evenly with mushrooms and egg. Reserve shallots.

In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Whisk in vinegar, honey, dijon, and smoked paprika. Add shallots and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and immediately pour over the salad. Toss to combine, then evenly sprinkle coconut bacon over the top and toss again. Serve immediately.

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.

Yeah.

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.