Perfect Summer Salad (or, Why We Listen to Oprah)

Oy vey. It’s been quite an eventful three weeks! During that time, I moved. That’s really all that’s happened, but I truly hate moving, especially considering that the last time I moved was a mere three months ago. My new apartment is quite lovely, though now I have a galley kitchen and an oven that may or may not be the devil. I have named him Archibald. (I thought about Beelzebub, but that seemed like I was asking for trouble, so I went with Cary Grant’s real first name.)

Anyhow.

Listen to Oprah. Or rather, listen to the people Oprah tells you to listen to, namely Toni Bark. A friendship with this MD/aerial silk-doing wonder woman might be difficult since you’d probably die of jealousy. Nevertheless, the woman is intimidatingly brilliant and kickass. I was first introduced to Ms. Barks and her healthy body tips through this absolutely delicious salad recipe from O magazine. I’ve adapted it very little due to its perfection, so I’m still going to call it Toni Bark’s Perfect Summer Salad for the sake of fairness.

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Toni Bark’s Perfect Summer Salad

  • Raw beets
  • Organic greens
  • Blueberries
  • Avocado
  • Walnuts (or pecans if you can’t find any contamination-free walnuts)

Dressing (full recipe serves 4-6)

  • ½ cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp. spicy brown mustard
  • 1 large clove garlic, finely minced
  • Juice of ½ lemon

1. Peel the beets using a sharp vegetable peeler. (If possible, by the beets with stems and roots still attached – that way you can hold on to that long, tail-like end of the beet while you peel.) Slice thin with a mandolin or sharp knife. Peel and slice the avocado. Combine sliced beets and avocado with remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl.

2. Combine dressing ingredients. I like to use a mason jar for easy shaking, or you can use a blender if you prefer not to mince your garlic ahead of time. If serving one, toss salad  with 2-3 tablespoons of dressing and serve immediately.

Tip: Preparing this for work? Wait until just before eating to peel and slice the avocado. Make sure to bring a knife from home if your office kitchen isn’t well-equipped or if you’re worried about cross contamination. (Disclaimer: I do not advocate work violence. Keep that knife in yo’ lunchbox.)  Also, tiny bottles from the mini-bar make great, non-leaky containers for salad dressing.

Bon appétit!

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Variations on a Theme: Couscous

**Update 3/13: Ingredients have been changed to gluten-free**

Hello hello! My goodness, it was a strange semester. I won’t go into the sordid-ish details here, but suffice it to say that 2011 was thoroughly exhausting but also thoroughly fun. I actually feel like a grown-up now instead of like a fourteen-year-old masquerading as a college student. I still look about fourteen, though.

Amidst studying for finals and pretending to write a NaNoWriMo novel (read a slightly misquoted interview with my lovely novel-writing friend and me here), the number of posts around here dwindled quite a bit, as you probably noticed. Or maybe you didn’t notice. That’s okay. I never liked you, anyway.

The amount of cooking I did dwindled, too. In fact, I’m not really sure what I ate during most of November. I mostly remember drinking lots of Starbucks chai and occasionally hiding Chik-fil-A bags behind me as I walked through the Union so that people wouldn’t think I was anti-gay or something. I waffle when it comes to waffle fries.

When I did get around to cooking, though, I made couscous.

Couscous is far easier to cook than rice or pasta. The most involved of today’s recipes takes 30-40 minutes, tops.

Couscous hails from Morocco and other cool African places,  and my take on it is not exactly traditional. Usually served as an accompaniment to meaty things like lamb, I prefer to eat couscous as a main course. I eat sides as main courses a lot since I’m cooking for one, and we all know that the sides are usually better, anyway. Couscous is wildly versatile, too, and sometimes it’s even better cold, which makes it great for on-campus lunches when I’m not near a microwave. Below is basic couscous recipe, then three couscous variations. Add, adjust and subtract ingredients as you like, and send me your own variations. The final recipe for Roasted Radish and Carrot Couscous with Goat Cheese (oy, that’s a delicious mouthful) is my favorite. It’s lovely and warm in these winter months. Luckily, you can find gluten-free brands of couscous, or you can substitute quinoa if you prefer. I personally find the nuttiness of quinoa too strong for any of these recipes.

Basic Couscous Recipe
Makes 1-2 servings

3/4 cup water or gluten-free chicken broth
2/3 cup dry gluten-free couscous
Approximately 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 teaspoon olive oil

In a small saucepan, bring liquid and olive oil to a boil over medium heat. Quickly stir in couscous, then cover and remove from heat. Allow couscous to sit for five minutes. Then, return to low heat, add Parmesan, and stir until the Parmesan melts. Eat alone, or add some of the other stuff that follows.

Fluorescent lighting is weird, you guys.

Lemon Parsley Couscous
(adapted from Southern Living)
Makes 1-2 servings

1 Basic couscous recipe
1 red bell pepper, diced
1/2 tablespoon parsley
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/3 cup feta cheese

Make the couscous. Stir in the other stuff. Not even kidding. It’s that easy. Serve cold (my favorite) or warm. This recipe was originally intended as a side for a shrimp dish.

Pesto and Pine Nut Couscous
Makes 1-2 servings

1 Basic couscous recipe
1/3 cup (or more) of gluten-free pesto
1 tablespoon of pine nuts
1/3 cup feta cheese
1 handful of cherry tomatoes, halved or whole

Make the couscous. Stir in as much or as little pesto as you’d like. If desired, toast the pinenuts in a dry skillet over medium heat. Shake the skillet as you go to prevent burning. Toss pine nuts, feta, and tomatoes with the couscous. Serve warm or cold.

Roasted Radish and Carrot Couscous with Goat Cheese
(kudos to Food Network Magazine for roasting tips)
Makes 1-2 servings

You guys, radishes are a revelation. I was working my way through a list of root vegetables in the Food Network magazine, and I actually stopped with radishes since they’re so delicious. I suspect I don’t hear people rhapsodizing about radishes more often because they’ve never had a radish roasted. The roasting takes out the bitterness usually associated with radishes. I’m particularly proud of this recipe for some reason. It’s not complicated, but I first made it just trying to use up the random things in my fridge, and it turned out astoundingly well. We’ll actually need sort-of steps for this one.

1 Basic couscous recipe
12-15 small red radishes, quartered
2-3 carrots, chopped into coins
1 tablespoons olive oil
1-2 teaspoons gluten-free dried thyme
1/2 cup (or way, way more) of goat cheese

1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Toss radishes and carrots with oil and thyme. Spread radishes and carrots onto the baking sheet. Don’t crowd the veggies! Cook for 20-30 minutes, checking every five minutes or so to prevent burning.

2. Make basic couscous recipe. Combine all the roasted goodness with the couscous and as much goat cheese as you’d like. Serve to warm your soul on a winter’s day.

Up next: You know? I really have no idea. Cheers!