How to Compose a Seasonal Salad, Featuring Fresh Arugula with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Feta

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A commitment to seasonal cooking often requires a certain degree of improvisation. If you want to be the type of cook who can wander through a farmers’ market, purchase the best that the season has to offer, and then plan meals around your market haul later, it helps to have a few generic meal recipes in your back pocket that lend themselves to seasonal substitutions. I have thrown together a salad like the one pictured above dozens of times in many configurations, by substituting what I have on hand for the basic components and then pulling all the flavors together with a dressing. This version featured local arugula, spicy roasted chickpeas and tomatoes, crumbled feta cheese, and a lemon herb vinaigrette.

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If you have been eating fresh tomatoes all season, I recommend that you try roasting them to deepen and sweeten the flavors. These roasted tomatoes were like candy, offering the sweet component of my salad.

My basic formula for a seasonal salad is this:

  • Greens – tender greens like arugula, spinach, and spring mix are my favorites, but I occasionally change it up with romaine, kale, or cabbage
  • Something sweet – dried or fresh fruit, tomatoes, and carrots are good choices
  • Something crunchy – fresh vegetables work well, as do nuts and seeds
  • Something fatty – creamy ingredients like cheese and cream-based dressings are good; so are oily ingredients like olives and marinated artichokes, and avocado is always a welcome addition
  • Something acidic – vinegar and citrus based dressings are great for cutting through the fatty ingredient
  • Protein (optional) – to make my salad a complete a meal, I add a protein component like legumes, tofu, tempeh, or quinoa
  • Something salty or spicy (optional) – salt and spice are great for balancing a sweet component and these flavors are usually covered in the protein component, fatty component, or dressing.

One component can deliver a lot of these flavors and textures. For example in this salad, the chickpeas offer the protein, crunch, and spice, while the feta offers the fat and salty flavors. As summer turns to fall, it’s fun to experiment with different ingredients and preparations to modify the final product. My guess is that the deep, hearty flavors of the spicy roasted chickpeas will start to take over, as cucumbers and fresh tomatoes become a distant memory.

Scroll below the recipe to find another one of my tricks for preparing meals with local, seasonal ingredients, even when life gets hectic.

Arugula Salad with Roasted Tomatoes, Chickpeas and Feta

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Ingredients:

  • 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 3 Roma tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika (or sub chili powder)
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 cups arugula
  • 4 ounces fresh feta in water, drained and crumbled
  • Salad dressing to taste (try this Lemon Thyme Vinaigrette)

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Toss the sliced tomatoes in 1 Tbsp olive oil, then spread out the slices in a single layer on a large baking sheet.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk the cumin, paprika, cayenne, and salt into the remaining 1 Tbsp olive oil. Add chickpeas and toss to coat. Pour chickpeas out into a single layer on the same baking sheet as the tomatoes.
  4. Bake tomatoes and chickpeas at 400 degrees F for 30-40 minutes.
  5. In a large bowl, combine arugula, feta, and dressing. Add roasted tomatoes and chickpeas and gently toss to mix. Serve immediately.

Another one of my keys to quick seasonal food preparation is to pick up all my local ingredients in one place by using Relay Foods online grocery shopping, now available in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, D.C. If you have never used Relay Foods before, please enjoy $30 off your $50+ order by clicking the coupon on the left side of this page. Then please let me know how you liked it!

SOJ Chef Demo 07.21.12

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This Saturday at the South of the James market, little pops of flavor and color were everywhere.

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Chef Sam Baker used the bountiful produce at the market this week to create small bites of local flavor, including some familiar combinations as well as some fresh ideas.

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The Chef started out with a creative sauce to get people thinking about how to combine the flavors of the season into a cohesive dish. The sweetness of the simmering peach and sweet pepper reduction drew a small crowd early on.

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This sauce is made with fresh diced Drumheller’s Orchard peaches, sweet peppers, red wine vinegar and raw honey from Alfredo’s Beehive. The peach and sweet pepper reduction was served over herb seared tuna from Barham Seafood and a slice of Norma’s yellow watermelon with lemon basil.

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Pan seared zephyr squash provided a vegetable accompaniment that felt grilled, but without the hassle.

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Present at all of the market stalls this week were tomatoes, in every size, shape and color. These tomatoes from the Village Garden are called banana legs tomatoes.

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There were so many different varieties of tomatoes at the market that I decided to make them the Veg of the Week. I was excited to share some facts about tomatoes, and absolutely thrilled to use tomato-shaped bullet points on my white board. Sometimes, it’s the little things.

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After a brief downpour around 10:00, we started up the small plates again with a melon caprese salad. Pictured here is a summery dish of sliced tomatoes, sliced seasonal melon, and Goats R Us pineapple walnut chevre, topped with fresh lemon basil and the peach sweet pepper reduction.

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Tomatoes were certainly abundant, but the Drumheller’s Orchard white and yellow peaches were the true stars of the show this week.  In addition to the fresh sweet and tart peaches, the catches of the day from Barham Seafood were prominent. It was very cool to see their soft-shell crabs change color in the pan.

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Soft-shell crabs are loved by many, but I’m not personally sold on them. Which is fine since I do not eat seafood anyway. But I can appreciate a nice plating, and the next dish offered a visually intriguing small plate. I could tell from the looks on market goers’ faces when they tasted this one that it was a hit.

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Chef Sam served the soft-shell crab, seasoned with cumin and black pepper, over a sliced heirloom tomato, and topped with a slice of pan seared peach, a dollop of pineapple walnut chevre, and some Empress Farm FROG jam. In case you didn’t know, FROG jam contains Fig, Raspberry, Orange and Ginger.

While it rained on and off for the whole market this past weekend, several shoppers stopped by the Chef Demo Tent for free samples and cooking tips. Like the scattered thunderstorms we had that day, the small plates featured in this week’s demo were seasonal, interesting, and sometimes completely unpredictable.

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Thank you to Amy’s Garden, Barham Seafood, Cabbage Hill Farm, Drumheller’s Orchard, Empress Farm, Goats R Us, Norma’s Produce, Victory Farms, Village Garden, Walnut Hill Farm Produce, and all of the other featured market vendors for producing this week’s fresh and tasty ingredients.

Veg:ology Turns Two!

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Last month, Veg:ology turned two years old. Kyle, the Weber grill, and I celebrated with a backyard bash at our new home. It was a star studded event, featuring several local celebrities who were able to make the short trip from the farmers’ market to our house:

  • Excellent Eggplant
  • Zany Zucchini
  • Heirloom Tomato
  • Beautiful Basil

We entertained them with fun facts about the growth of Veg:ology, the little vegetarian cooking blog that could. Some things haven’t changed much since year one. Zucchini is still one of the top search terms that lead people to the blog.

Top 3 Search Terms

  1. Chocolate Orange Cupcakes
  2. Vegology
  3. Zucchini

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Cupcakes have taken over the top spot from my beloved zucchini. I think we all know what needs to happen next. Zucchini cupcakes, anyone?

The most viewed post on Veg:ology is Chocolate Orange Cupcakes with Dark Chocolate Ganache. (Warning: these are seriously addictive.)

The most popular advice post is How to Save a Crumbled Cake. (I still owe this girl a proper birthday cake… maybe next year.)

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Our honored guests roasted in the hot sun while I reviewed some pretty major events that occurred over the last year.

We moved to VegologyBlog.com.

We joined Facebook.

We attended our first blogger conference:

We had our first food photo published in National Geographic Traveler (iPad edition).

We joined Eating Richmond and Virginia is for Bloggers.

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While sipping my celebratory glass of old vine zinfandel, I realized that my favorite part of cooking out is drinking and waiting. There is a whole lot of waiting involved in grilling, and who could resist a nice beverage while he or she waits? Grilling is not just a man’s sport; women can play too! With wine!

After my revelation, I wrapped up the sentimental bit of our trip down memory lane, and then removed the eggplant and zucchini from the grill for plating.

I don’t always eat my dinner guests, but when I do, I prefer to grill and stack them.

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In lieu of a birthday cake, we had vegetable napoleons. I couldn’t imagine a more festive way to mark the occasion. Thank you to all the friends and family of Vegology who read, comment, cook, and share their experiences here. I have learned so much from the food blogging community, and the support I have gotten from other bloggers and from readers has been incredible. I wish I had more to give you to express my gratitude; for now, this recipe will have to do. Enjoy!

Grilled Vegetable Napoleons

Serves 4

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Ingredients:

  • 1 large eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch slices
  • 1 – 15 oz. can white beans, drained and rinsed (Great Northern, or Cannelini if you’re fancy)
  • 1/2 cup olive oil, divided (see directions for measurements)
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 Tbsp fresh oregano
  • 1 cup basil leaves, divided
  • 2 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced
  • 8 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced into rounds
  • 4 sprigs of fresh rosemary
  • 2 tsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:

  1. Heat the grill.
  2. Brush both sides of each slice of eggplant and zucchini with olive oil. Sprinkle both sides with salt and pepper.
  3. When grill is ready, arrange the eggplant and zucchini slices directly on the grates. Grill until grill marks appear and vegetables appear cooked throughout, about 5 minutes per side on a charcoal grill, then remove.
  4. Heat a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 Tbsp olive oil, white beans, and garlic to the pan. Cook over medium heat for 1-2 minutes, then over low heat for 15 minutes, then remove from heat.
  5. Heat 1/4 cup olive oil over low heat. Chop 1/2 cup basil leaves then add to pan. Cook for 3-5 minutes, then cool and transfer to a food processer. Coarsely chop, then drain through a fine mesh strainer into a bowl. Set basil oil aside.
  6. When the white beans are done cooking, transfer to a food processer. Add 3 Tbsp olive oil, 3 Tbsp water, and the lemon juice and oregano. Puree until smooth then add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. On a round plate, add 1/4 of the white bean puree. On top of the puree, build the following layers, in order: tomato, eggplant, mozzarella, zucchini, 2 leaves basil, then repeat. There should be enough to make 4 plates.
  8. Put a toothpick or skewer through the center of the stack to hold in place. Insert a rosemary skewer next to the toothpick and through the stack from the top to the bottom.
  9. Drizzle each stack with basil oil and balsamic vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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.

Patty Pan Squash

I have had great luck with squash from Walnut Hill Farm this summer. Remember these eight ball zucchini that I ended up having to cook in the microwave? They were from Walnut Hill and so are these.

I have been intrigued by these flying saucer shaped squash for a long time. They have been calling my name all summer, but this week I guess they called a little louder. My only regret in fixing this meal is that I couldn’t find the time to swing by Blockbuster and pick up a B movie sci-fi flick to pop in for dinner and a movie. I was quite eager to celebrate this ingredient’s quirky shape in as many ways as possible.

The delectable patty pan squash. Pairs well with alien guts.

These squash come in white, yellow, and green varieties. According to my research, they are best when they are 2-3″ in diameter. The squash that I picked up were about 3-4″ diameter but still tasty. This is a low calorie vegetable that is a great source of vitamins C and A, magnesium, and iron. I was familiar with which squash types were summer varieties and which were winter varieties, but while digging for some info on these gourds, I learned the criteria for classification. The main difference between the two varieties is that summer squash may be eaten in their entirety (seeds, rind, and all), while winter squash are often seeded and peeled before cooking.

I read that they are sometimes nutty in flavor and I thought, what better way to bring out their nuttiness than roasting? I made up this dish on the fly and it was very satisfying. The roasted patty pan squash held up well in the sustained high heat and it came out slightly sweet, dense and almost meaty. We loved the texture, color, and flavor of the roasted vegetables. Maybe it’s a stretch, but I think this dish could be considered a vegetarian’s “meat and potatoes” kind of meal.

Roasted Patty Pan Squash with Red Potatoes

Ingredients

3 medium-sized patty pan squash

10-12 small red bliss potatoes

1/2 medium onion

Olive oil

Dried oregano*

Fresh basil*

Coarse salt*

Black pepper*

*I don’t usually measure herbs and spices – I just wing it. I apologize if that makes this a hard recipe to follow. But if I wanted to be precise (and if I didn’t have a talent for burning cookies), I’d be a baker!

Preparation

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

2. Cut the onion into large chunks and slice the patty pan squash into wedges.

3. Place the squash, onion, and potatoes on a large deep baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil.

4. Finely chop some fresh basil. I usually do a quick chiffonade by stacking and rolling the leaves into a little cigar shape and then slicing the roll from end to end. See a helpful demonstration of this method here.

5. Add dried oregano (or fresh if you have it) and fresh basil to the vegetables in the pan. Sprinkle with coarse salt and black pepper. Toss to coat the ingredients in olive oil and seasoning.

6. Bake uncovered at 400 degrees for 35-40 minutes.

7. Serve with couscous, pasta, or rice.

I served mine with parmesan couscous and this chickpea salad that I adapted from a recipe in Better Homes and Gardens. Uh oh, do I sense a double recipe post? Oh yes I do.

Summer Chickpea Salad (see the original recipe here, which I have adapted)

Ingredients

2 cups chopped tomatoes

15 oz. can chickpeas

1/2 large cucumber, peeled, quartered, and sliced (about 1 cup chopped)

1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper

1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 teaspoon coarse salt

1 clove garlic, minced

1/8 teaspoon honey

Preparation

1. In a large bowl, combine tomatoes, chickpeas, cucumber, bell pepper, cilantro, and onion.

2. In a separate bowl, combine olive oil, vinegar, salt, garlic, and honey. Mix well with a wire whisk.

3. Pour dressing over vegetable mixture, tossing to coat. Cover and chill for 4 hours or more.

I just love dinners outside in the summer. I think the lingering humidity in the air, the soft light as the sun sets behind the brick buildings that line my block, and the lively sounds of the neighborhood make the flavors of this season taste so much better.