Curried Pearl Couscous Salad

2012-06-13_18-51-51_367

Recently, a very fortunate set of circumstances resulted in the creation of my new favorite summer salad dish.

  • I wanted to make something at the beginning of the week to pack for lunches for the rest of the week.
  • I needed to make sure I had protein, veggies and some carbs in my lunches.
  • I had made my dinner plan for the week and I had an abundance of fresh vegetables leftover, with no plan for how to use them.

The veggies in question were half of a head of orange cauliflower from Pleitez Produce, and a bunch of green beans from Walnut Hill Farm. The lunch setting: lunchtime in the break room. The weather: outside, warm all week with a slight chance of thunderstorms; inside, temperature could range from “balmy” to “beginning of the next ice age.” The goal: build a lunch that fills me up but doesn’t make me feel like I’m reversing all the health karma points I have racked up this week in my workouts.

Based on the temperature, I knew I wanted a cold dish, but with a little kick to keep me warm just in case my office felt like a meat locker this week. I decided to combine my old favorite, Whole Foods’ cracklin’ cauliflower, with a pasta salad to give it a little more oomph. I chose pearl couscous (or Israeli couscous) because I love the texture, but you could substitute the grain or pasta of your choice. Quinoa would be my second choice for its superfood nutrition benefits. I used roasted cauliflower, blanched green beans, fresh tomatoes and roasted chickpeas for the mix-ins, then dressed it all in a curry vinaigrette. You could throw in whatever veggies you have on hand.

I have definitely found my new favorite pasta salad! I can’t get enough of this stuff. I think the dressing is what really makes this salad special. The roasted chickpeas don’t hurt. Mmmm. And (bonus!) this is vegetarian and vegan friendly. Just in time for summer barbecue season.

Scroll past the recipe for a Gardenology update!

Curried Pearl Couscous Salad (serves 4-6 as a meal, 8-10 as a side dish)

2012-06-13_18-51-30_238

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup of pearl couscous (uncooked)
  • 1 Tbsp oil (olive, coconut, or vegetable)
  • 1 small head of cauliflower, or half of a large one, cut into florets
  • 1 15-oz. can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 2 handfuls of green beans, snapped and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 cup of grape tomatoes, sliced into halves
  • 1 Tbsp curry powder
  • 3 Tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 Tbsp dijon mustard
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper

Preparation:

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Toss the cauliflower and chickpeas together with the 1 Tbsp of oil, spread in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet, and roast at 400 degrees for 25 minutes. Let cool.
  3. Cook the couscous according to package instructions. I added my 1 cup of couscous to 2-1/4 cups of boiling water, then reduced heat, covered, and cooked for 10-12 minutes. Pour out of pan and into a large bowl. Let cool.
  4. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add green beans and cook for 2 minutes. Then remove green beans from hot water and plunge them into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process.
  5. While everything cools, prepare the vinaigrette. Whisk together curry powder, red wine vinegar, dijon mustard, and olive oil until combined.
  6. To the large bowl of couscous, add cauliflower, chickpeas, and green beans. Toss with the dressing. Add halved tomatoes and stir until combined.
  7. Add salt and pepper to taste. Chill in the refrigerator for at least one hour.

 

In other news, I have some green beans in my garden! Here are some gardenology progress photos:

2012-06-13_18-55-10_320

2012-06-13_18-55-26_975

The first harvest was nine green beans. If I don’t get another thing out of this garden all summer, at least I can be proud of the nine green beans I grew from seeds. Never mind that that achievement probably requires the skill of a third grader. I am a remedial gardening student, okay?! It’s the little things.

For more BYOBB (bring your own brown bag) lunch ideas, type BYOBB into the search bar.

Farmers’ Market 06.02.12 and the Return of Gardenology

Kyle picked up some great stuff at the market this week. The selection at the SOJ Market has expanded so much that it is really easy to do some creative meal planning around what we bring home on Saturday morning. In early spring, I would have to creatively use asparagus three times a week. Now in June, there is so much variety. I couldn’t be happier about the arrival of summer squash, and I even featured it as the Vegology Veg of the Week at the cooking demo last weekend.

Here’s what my handsome gatherer brought home to me this week:

  • Onions (Pleitez Produce)
  • Mixed Greens (Victory Farms)
  • Carrots (Victory Farms)
  • Turnips (Victory Farms)
  • Summer squash (Pleitez Produce)
  • Curry fusilli. . . I think (Bombolini Pasta)

In other news, I am pleased to announce the return of Gardenology. Remember when I started a patio garden last year? If not, you can read about the adventure here: Gardenology. It’s okay, I’ll wait. I have plenty of plant watering, shades wearing and sundress rocking to do while you catch up.

All finished? So, as you can see, my garden has grown a little since last year. I have also learned a bit from my failures adventures in gardening last summer, so I am hoping that I will grow something (anything!) in this 4-by-8-foot vegetable incubator I have built with my own two hands.

I decided on a raised bed because our soil is full of clay and rocks, and I didn’t feel like trying to blend it with better soil to try to make it work. Plus I am pretty sure that is an advanced maneuver, which I am clearly not ready for yet. A layer of landscaping fabric separates our backyard dirt from the organic garden soil that I used for planting. This is supposed to help minimize weeds and keep that nasty clay dirt away from my lovely little plants. I think it is working well, although I am pretty sure I have a weed or two in there that looks like a tomato plant so I’m just nurturing it for now until it grows big enough for me to identify it as an intruder.

How about some progress photos?

April 8, 2012

May 19, 2012

June 3, 2012

I have a feeling that the garden is progressing kind of slowly, but most of the seeds sprouted and I don’t believe I have killed anything yet, so I should eventually get some vegetables out of it. I am not expecting much since I am horrifyingly incompetent when it comes to gardening, but I am doing my best.

Let’s have a closer look.

Zucchini flower – good sign, no?

Empress Green Beans

You say tomato

Pokey Peppers, taking their time

I planted:

  • Several types of tomatoes
  • Green beans
  • Eggplant (no sign of life yet, maybe they were duds)
  • Zucchini
  • Sweet peppers
  • Jalapeno peppers
  • Some herbs

I used heirloom seeds for almost everything and organic soil that is meant for vegetable gardens. I just realized that might be why my garden seems a little slow. No chemical growth-boosters! I had an issue early on with bugs eating the leaves on my green bean plants, so I started using an organic spray called EcoSMART Garden Insect Killer. The active ingredients are rosemary oil, peppermint oil, thyme oil and clove oil. As far as I can tell, this has been working, and I am glad that I don’t have to either use chemicals or spend hours handpicking bugs off of the plants.

I will post another update when I have some garden news for you. Please leave tips in the comments or send me an email if you have any useful advice to share. I need all the help I can get!

Summer is for Tomatoes (Farmers’ Market 07.09.11)

Do you like the new header? In case you haven’t noticed, I change the header image seasonally to reflect what we see locally during that time of year. Spring 2011 was greens, Winter was pomegranates and snow, Fall was apples and pumpkins, etc. For me, summer is all about the tomatoes, and I have patiently waited until tomatoes were abundant at the market before I traded the purslane for tomatoes in the header. This photo was taken in August of last year, so we aren’t really seeing this variety quite yet. However, I have seen the first of the heirloom and modern varieties this weekend, so it’s finally time to celebrate the star of the summer.

Farmers’ Market 07.09.11

I got to the market earlier this weekend to avoid the crowds. . . no such luck. The South of the James Market has really exploded in the last few years! I remember meeting friends there two years ago, with a standing appointment at 9:15 AM “to beat the crowds” and get there before the fresh eggs were sold out. Most people showed up between 10:00 and 11:00 so we tried to get in and out before we had to fight our way to the zucchini.

This year, I have had a much more flexible schedule and I have tried getting there at 10:30, 9:15, and 8:30 and I have met the same crazy crowds every time! Kyle and I arrived yesterday between 8:15 and 8:30 (the market opens at 8:00) and almost didn’t get a parking spot. And I still had to muscle my way to the squash, peppers, and tomatoes.

I have a tendency, especially before coffee, to groan about the inconvenience of the throng of people standing between me and my fresh vegetables, sometimes loudly complaining about people from certain far-flung neighborhoods “invading” my beloved market. How awful of me! Lately I have made a conscious effort to find the calm within, hold my tongue, and appreciate how wonderful it is that so many people have taken an interest in supporting local farmers and putting fresh, seasonal food on their dinner tables. This is a very good thing. Ommmm.

Here’s what I brought home this week!

  • Summer squash (CSA)
  • Cucumbers (CSA)
  • Purple sweet peppers (Walnut Hill Farm)
  • Heirloom tomatoes (CSA)
  • Green beans (CSA)
  • Cilantro (CSA)
  • Blackberries (Walnut Hill Farm)
  • Jalapeño Penne (Bombolini Pasta)
  • Red potatoes (CSA)

I diced up one of the heirloom tomatoes last night and threw it on a pizza with pesto and arugula, and it was so juicy and delicious! The tomatoes + greens + pesto combination reminded me of another pizza that came out of my kitchen last year: Pesto Pizza with Escarole and Heirloom Tomatoes. Looking at this recipe from last year reminds me that if I’m lucky I will be able to enjoy tomatoes through October – three cheers for Hanover County tomatoes!

Another Gardenology Update

This week I lamented the loss of the only tomato I have ever grown. I wrote about it here, called my best friend for moral support, whined about it at work, and retold the story while out to dinner with friends on Friday night. I knew that this late in the season, with no flowers on the tomato plant, and my only tomato gone forever, I wouldn’t have the satisfaction of plucking a tomato from my garden and putting it on my dinner plate this year.

A week after the tragedy occurred, Friday night’s thunderstorms (and half a bottle of wine) washed away my sorrow. And then Saturday morning brought a miracle!

I will protect these babies with my life. What a beautiful summer this is turning out to be.

Gardenology Update 7.7.11

It has been about seven weeks since I planted my potted plant balcony garden, so I thought it might be time for an update, especially considering the recent scandal that took place there.

The number one piece of good news that I have about the garden is that I have three little jalapeños on the pepper plant!

Aren't they cute?

Some herbs are doing well, and some herbs are. . . not. Specifically, the cilantro. It dried out and started flowering within 3 weeks of planting it. I know I have a history of killing plants, but I’m blaming this one on the weather. After 1-2 weeks of diligently removing the flowers every night in an attempt to coax the plant back into leaf-producing mode, I gave up. As soon as a coworker pointed out to me that I could just let the failed cilantro experiment go and it would start producing coriander seeds, I threw in the towel. And started researching Indian recipes.

Sadface cilantro, jubilant rosemary

The cilantro has just started to produce little clusters of green coriander seeds. My best friend Melissa visited this weekend, and being the curious cats that we are, we popped two seeds off the plant and tasted them raw. They taste like cilantro. Go figure.

The rosemary is doing very well, and I have already used it twice with red bliss potatoes. The first time was tossed with potatoes in olive oil and roasted; the second time was in creamy rosemary mashed potatoes (to die for).

I have gotten some use out of the basil too, and the parsley is still hanging in there but remains untouched by my mighty garden-to-table spatula.

Still I have only produced one tomato on the patio tomato plant, which is one more than I have ever produced on any other plant, so I’m pretty darn proud of that tomato.

Wait a minute. . . . .

Where did it go?

The only tomato I ever grew has literally disappeared in the middle of the night, straight from my second floor balcony. It’s a mystery and a tragic loss. There was no evidence and there were no witnesses, although I think Isabelle might know something.

Ever since the incident, she has been dropping hints like, “that’s just nuts!” and “what a squirrelific situation!”

I did a little research (i.e., called my mother) and discovered that in periods of drought, squirrels will steal garden tomatoes for hydration. I wish I could have seen the little squirrel pluck my tomato, which was 3-4 inches in diameter, off the vine and carry it up to his nest. Must have been comical for anyone but me, as I am still mourning the loss of the fruit of my labor, and Isabelle, who probably sat idly by, helpless to stop the theft as it occurred.

I’ll let you know if I get another tomato. Izzie and I are planning a complex squirrel trap to humanely catch the thief in the act, should another tomato appear on the plant. This one isn’t going anywhere until I’m ready for it. Fool me once, squirrel.

Farmers’ Market 06.04.11, Garden Update, Team in Training

Sometimes we drive through the Byrd Park area to get to the farmers’ market. Yesterday we saw this while making our weekly drive (soon-to-be bike ride).

How very crunchy.

How very Virginia.

I arrived at the market after 10:00 this Saturday, which is a little late for me. I blame the mojito marathon I participated in on Friday night. When you come into a pound of mint for $7.00, you have to find creative ways to use it. My solution involved limes, soda, and Bacardi select. And suddenly seven friends appeared at the door – funny how that works.

Kyle joined me at the market for the first time this year, and we had a great time chasing ibuprofen with iced coffee and bagels, running into some friends and coworkers, and selecting produce from our Victory Farms CSA share.

Here’s the loot!

Every time I bring the Italian to the market, we get twice as much pasta than I would have bought without Kyle’s influence.

  • Broccoli (CSA)
  • Cilantro (Pleitez Produce)
  • Chidori kale (CSA)
  • Kohlrabi (CSA)
  • Red potatoes (CSA)
  • Black pepper linguine (Bombolini Pasta)
  • Dill shells (Bombolini Pasta)
  • Summer squash (CSA)

Some of the spring produce is phasing out (strawberries) and we are seeing more of the summer produce coming in (squash). I love looking back on my farmers’ market posts over the last year to see when certain fruits and vegetables start popping up at the market. It is also cool to see what is in season in different parts of the country by reading other blogs and chatting with my friends in different states. I would love to showcase what’s growing around the country (and world?) in a compilation post.

Show me what’s up at your local market! If you would like to participate, please send photos to vegologyblog [at] gmail [dot] com to get featured!

And now for a patio garden update…

Gardenology Update

I took these photos on Saturday. It has been three weeks and I haven’t killed anything yet!

My first tomato!

Flowers on the jalapeno plant- no signs of peppers yet.

 

The herbs have had a rough start but they're hanging in there!

Baby cilantro - I think this is a good sign?

I just looked back at my initial gardenology post when I first potted the starter plants, and I can’t believe how much the tomato plant has grown! I’m crossing my fingers that it continues to thrive in the little nook of sunlight that it calls home.

Team in Training Event

In other news, my Dad is participating in his second century ride today. He is riding the 100-mile America’s Most Beautiful Bike Ride in Lake Tahoe with his Team in Training team. Dad started to be a serious cyclist last year at the age of 52 and rode in his first century ride last October. He rides for an amazing organization called Team in Training and he raises money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, ranking as a top fundraiser for the state of Maryland in both the Seagull Century in October 2010 and the AMBBR in June 2011.

Dad did a warm up ride yesterday and posted this photo from the ride on his facebook page. Simply beautiful.

Credit: Nick McDonald

Dad has already started raising money for his third century which will take place in October of this year. He will complete the Seagull Century on Maryland’s Eastern Shore in just four and a half months. I am beyond proud of him for his determination in both cycling and raising money for LLS, and I look forward to getting the news that he has safely crossed the finish line later today, and cheering him on in person later this year.

If you are interested in finding out more about Team in Training and LLS or you would like to make a donation, please visit Dad’s fundraising page.

Gardenology

I don’t exactly have a green thumb. If killing house plants was a crime, I’d be public enemy #1. When I used to have office plants, I always knew it was time to water them when. . . I caught my coworkers watering them, while shaking their heads in disapproval (or pity?). Twice I have tried to grow a window sill herb garden from seeds. The first time, the dry soil yielded a sickly looking sprout that died within 24 hours of poking itself through the surface. The second time, I grew a few sprigs of cilantro, and then a bit of mold.

I have never had any land of my own, so it doesn’t bother me much that I can’t grow a garden. I tell myself it’s not my lack of gardening skills, it’s my lack of space that holds me back. The outdoor space that I can call my own (temporarily, in exchange for monthly rent) includes a 3’x5′ spot on a shady fire escape (shady in two senses of the word) and an 8’x10′ covered balcony. I never really thought it was possible to grow anything in my space, so I didn’t fret about it. However I recently realized that there is about an 8’x4′ space between my balcony and my neighbor’s that gets about 6 hours of sunlight per day (a completely unscientific estimate). So, despite my poor track record, I am starting a patio herb garden!

Laugh all you want. I’m sure you seasoned gardeners can find all the things that are wrong with this picture and are willing and able to point out ten gardening sins I have already committed just by potting these starter plants. Please share any tips you have, because I really desperately want to be a good plant mother. Don’t call social services yet – I can change!

But honestly I believe I’ve done a good job so far. I picked up these starter plants at Ellwood Thompson’s and the Home Depot, along with some organic potting mix. I think I spent way too long over-analyzing the ingredients in the potting mix (as if I knew the first thing about plant nutrients) but I think I’m off to a good start. In two pots I have planted cilantro, rosemary, parsley and basil.

In two more I have planted jalapenos (middle of the 3-pot photo) and patio tomatoes (below).

I will let you know how it goes. When it poured rain all day today and I got to thinking about my exposed plants drowning in the deluge, I already started brainstorming an alibi. Here’s hoping we won’t have to add six more plants to the long list of veg-garden-ology victims.

Wish me luck!