Summer, no matter how long, hot, or dry, never overstays its welcome in my home. The season always ends up feeling shorter than the rest, abruptly cut off by the rude interruption of an autumnal cold snap, or forced to jump into the conversation late thanks to a long-winded spring shower. Every moment of warmth in between is savored, if not greedily seized, because it’s just never enough to satiate my cravings. While June, July, and August fly by, I’ve been known to mow through more fully grown watermelons than seems humanly possible, trying in vain to quench a never-ending thirst for both the fruit and the season itself. Cleaning up the wreckage after yet another destructive melon binge, I started thinking about what was left once the juicy pink flesh had been devoured. Surely, there was something better to do with all of that perfectly good rind than lay it to waste in the trash.
Meanwhile, another sort of refuse was piling up in considerable tonnage; cucumber peels, in all their green glory, suddenly seemed too precious to take for granted, much like the fleeting days of summer. Both leftovers possessed a uniquely refreshing, watery constitution, and were neutral enough to bend in either a sweet or savory direction with equal success. Surely, the two could join forces and become something much greater than their individual parts.
Jam is the answer. Cucumber-melon jam, a piece of the season preserved for months to come, without detracting from the immediate gratification of the fresh produce itself. The key for success is to make sure that every last piece of green skin is peeled away from the watermelon rind, since it’s tough and somewhat bitter- The one leftover element that’s only worth saving for the compost heap. Simple and vibrant, the combination could also pair beautifully with a handful of fresh mint, or even basil for a more unconventional approach.
From trash to treasure, rinds and peels haven’t been given their fare share of the culinary spotlight, but I think it’s about time to change all that. One taste of this sweet, simple condiment, and you’ll never be able to justify throwing away the excavated shell of another watermelon ever again.
1/3 Pound Cucumber Peels
1/2 Cup Water
2 Tablespoon Lemon Juice
4 Teaspoons Calcium Water*
1 1/2 Pounds Watermelon Rind, Peeled and Chopped
2 Cups Granulated Sugar
4 Teaspoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin Powder
1 1/2 Teaspoons Vanilla Paste or Extract
Before you begin, prepare the calcium water. To do so, combine 1/4 teaspoon calcium powder (the small packet included in the box of Pomona’s pectin) with 1/4 cup water in a small container with a lid. Shake well to dissolve. Leftover calcium water can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a year.
Place the cucumber peels, water, lemon juice, and calcium water in your blender and thoroughly puree. Once smooth, add in the prepared watermelon rind and blend on a moderate speed. Depending on your textural preferences, puree the mixture until completely smooth, or leave it slightly chunky. Both approaches are equally tasty!
Transfer the liquid base to a medium-sized saucepan and place over medium heat on the stove. In a separate bowl, mix together the sugar and pectin powder. Bring the liquids up to a boil before adding in the sugar mixture, stirring vigorously for 1 to 2 minutes to dissolve the pectin while the jam comes back up to a boil. Once it returns to a vigorous bubble, stir in the vanilla, remove from the heat and pour into 4 or 5 clean half-pint glass jars. Simply let cool and seal with an air-tight lid to make “freezer jam” which will keep in the fridge for about a month, or follow these suggestions to properly can the jam and put it up for about a year.
Makes 4 – 5 Cups
No longer is it a rare feat to see talented bloggers bridging the gap between online text and printed, published prose, but it still takes an incredible amount of determination to successfully make the leap. Considering the wealth of creativity that exists out there in the blogosphere, I can’t imagine a better place to start scouting new authors. Among all of those young hopefuls, Richa Hingle of Vegan Richa always struck me as particularly deserving, so much so that I recall pestering her many years ago about creating her own cookbook already! Pulling from a seemingly inexhaustible trove of inspiration, her recipes stood out as being both familiar, with delicious reference points that were easy to understand, while simultaneously forging a new culinary path. Buffalo Chickpea Pizza? Cauliflower Sandwich Bread? Why didn’t I think of that?
Now showcasing her unique flare for the Indian cooking that began her passion for food, Vegan Richa’s Indian Kitchen is a breath of fresh air on the crowded bookshelf of new cookbook releases. Humbly claiming to have no formal culinary training, this very approach is what makes Richa’s recipes so compelling. They don’t put an on airs or devolve into confusing procedures with unknown ingredients. While Indian food is still somewhat intimidating to the casual cook, Richa does wonders to demystify the complex flavors of myriad curries, easily guiding the willing reader to all new edible delights.
Kicking things off with a hearty breakfast offering, the Savory Oat Hash (Kanda Poha) on page 27 was just my speed. Oats always make an appearance at day break around here, regardless of seasons or holidays. There’s no reason why the whole grain staple needs to be plain and dull, though. Richa’s approach kicks up the classic to a whole new level; spicy, savory flavors reinvent the old fashioned oat. Textural issues can be one of the biggest pitfalls to preparing this temperamental grain, but none of that struggle was evident here. Comforting, easy to eat, but not the least bit mushy, it was an invigorating change of pace to the typical morning routine.
Seeking ways to use up a considerable stockpile of quinoa, the Potato Quinoa Patties (Aloo Tikki) on page 40 immediately leapt out as a “must make.” Employing red quinoa rather than white, the results were as visually impressive as they were crave-worthy. The spud-based batter was surprisingly easy to work with, holding together beautifully all through the process of pan frying and effortlessly developing a crisp, golden crust around the edges. An incredibly moist, tender interior lurked just beneath the surface, boasting a nuanced, harmonious blend of spices, much more complex than I would have managed solo with my default mix. Paired with a simple chickpea curry, I had myself a complete meal in no time at all. This recipe is a definite keeper, to be made again many times over.
Intrigued by the unconventional blend of curry and puff pastry, I simply couldn’t resist giving the Makhani Vegetable Pot Pie on page 132 a try. Though I feared that the filling appeared impossibly soupy at first, a terrible miscalculation of liquid additions, it thickened beautifully after cooling. For anyone with a more timid palate, or those still uneasy about exotic flavors, this should be the gateway to Indian cooking. Mild overall and subtly sweet, the melange of spices, rich coconut gravy, and fresh vegetables should make this an easy crowd-pleaser, no matter the audience. Plus, when using frozen puff pastry to crown the dish, you’d be hard-pressed to craft a quicker, more impressive meal.
Granted, perhaps you should take my words with a grain of salt, and a big pinch of cumin while you’re at it. Richa has been a dear blog buddy for longer than I can recall, and her cookbook was offered to me free of charge. Why should you take my words of praise at face value? Quite frankly, if you missed out on the opportunity to taste even a single dish from Richa’s Vegan Kitchen, you would be doing yourself, and your taste buds, a terrible disservice.
In honor of labor day and what might be summer’s last hurrah, the only suitable recipe to share would have to be one cool customer, unencumbered by complex procedures or obscure ingredients. Luckily, I have just the dish to fit that bill.
Step away from the stove! Raw, vegetable-based noodles are the key to beating the heat and simultaneously lightening up this satisfying savory treat. Delicate strands of carrots and cucumbers mingle together in crisp tangles of “pasta,” as vibrant as they are flavorful. Inspired by classic cold sesame noodles, the Chinese takeout staple has graced my table countless times but never in such a fresh format.
Cashew butter takes the spotlight for this round, adding a unique nuance to the nutty, lightly spiced sauce. Deceptively simple in composition, it doesn’t sound like anything particularly special on paper, but one taste and you’ll be hooked on that creamy cashew elixir, lavishing it over everything from salads to grilled tofu and beyond. Although you may end up with more than you need for this particular dish, trust me: It won’t be a struggle to polish off the excess in short order.
Carrot Cashew Noodles
6 Tablespoons Smooth Cashew Butter
1/3 Cup Vegetable Broth
2 Tablespoons Braggs Liquid Aminos or Low-Sodium Soy Sauce
2 Tablespoons Rice Vinegar
2 Teaspoons Light Agave Nectar
1 Teaspoon Toasted Sesame Oil
1 Clove Fresh Garlic, Finely Minced
1 Inch Fresh Ginger, Peeled and Grated
1/2 – 1 Teaspoon Sriracha
5 Large Carrots, Peeled and Shredded with a Julienne Peeler or Spiralizer
1 English Cucumber, Peeled and Shredded with a Julienne Peeler or Spiralizer
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/3 Cup Toasted Cashews, Roughly Chopped
This dish comes together very quickly and doesn’t keep particularly well once assembled, so make sure you’re good and hungry before you begin!
Start by preparing the sauce. Place the cashew butter in a medium-sized bowl and slowly add the vegetable broth, stirring constantly to loosen and smooth out the thick paste. Simply add the remaining ingredients, whisk thoroughly until homogeneous, and set aside. Kept separately in an air-tight container, the sauce should keep in the fridge for 1 – 2 weeks.
To finish the dish, toss together the carrot and cucumber noodles and begin by adding about half of the sauce. It may be difficult to combine everything with tongs or a spatula, so don’t be afraid to get in there and mix it up with your hands. Add more sauce as needed (don’t forget that carrots and cucumbers come in all different sizes, so your mileage my vary), incorporate the scallions, and toss to combine.
Move the mixture out onto a serving plate, top with chopped cashews, and enjoy!
Makes 2 – 3 Main Dish Servings; 4 – 5 Side Dish Servings
(As I begin packing my bags for the next great adventure, it’s becoming clear that if I don’t share the last roundup of photos from my time in Texas now, I probably never will. There are still many more photos from my time in the “friendship state”- If you’re interested in seeing the full set, browse on over to my Flickr album.)
Vegan Breakfast Platter with Vanilla-Pecan Pancakes from Kerbey Lane Cafe
Garden Breakfast with Tofu Scramble from Bouldin Creek Cafe
Vegan ‘Harvey P’ Rueben from Shhmaltz
Beet Mushroom Walnut Burger from Counter Culture
Avocado Carpaccio and Black Bean Taco from Tyson’s Tacos
Vegan Crab Cakes with Smoked Vegetables from Lady Luck
The Classic Vegan Cheese Detroit-Style Pizza from Via 311
Spicy Veggie Prawns with Collard Greens from Nice-N-Ful
Cauliflower Steak with Curried Lentils and Caramelized Onions from Hyde Park Bar & Grill
Jackfruit BBQ Plate from Unity Vegan Kitchen
Just like the changing of the seasons themselves, the life cycle of a garden is predictable, yet invariably astonishing. It seems so improbable that such tiny seeds could ever be filled with life and produce edible fruit that it truly takes me by surprise, every single year, when I can reach out and pop that first tiny cherry tomato into my mouth. It’s the most natural process on earth and still it tastes like magic.
The first few harvests repeat this very same process; the wonder, the amazement, and the adoration of such impeccably fresh produce growing right in my backyard. Doing anything more than just eating the little red gems raw, still warm from the sunshine, seems like a crime against vegetables. Then, like clockwork, the tomatoes start to take over. There’s never more than a half-dozen working vines out there, and yet they’re suddenly producing more tomatoes than I know what to do with. Now it doesn’t sound like such a bad idea to get them into the kitchen anymore.
Adding a short but intense blast of heat contributes a beautiful char to the tiny tomatoes, introducing a slightly smoky note and concentrating their inherently umami flavors at the same time. The midsummer heat makes it a bit challenging to enjoy hot tomatoes though, so after chilling them down, they became the star ingredient in a salad inspired by one of my favorite stews: Posole.
Admittedly, I had never eaten hominy cold before, or outside of the classic soup for that matter, but it proved a delightful addition to this Tex-Mex mixture. Flavorful like fresh corn but more toothsome like miniature gnocchi, those chewy kernels lent the blend a heartiness akin to pasta salad, without all the gluten.
Speaking of those predictably unpredictable seasons, almost as soon as I had my picnic set up and ready to enjoy in the great outdoors, the sky decided that was the perfect moment to open up and begin to pour. Thus, I can now speak from experience to say that this salad does indeed keep well, for up 3 – 4 days in the fridge, and it’s even tasty when eaten warm.
While tomatoes are still plentiful and at their peak, celebrate the season with a unique preparation. It may be tough to sacrifice such perfect specimens, but I promise that the leap of faith will pay off in even bigger flavors.
4 Cups Cherry or Grape Tomatoes
1/2 Cup Red Onion, Diced
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
1/2 (1 1/4 Pound) Savoy Cabbage, Shredded
1 (29-Ounce) Can Cooked White Hominy, Drained and Rinsed
2 Ripe Avocados, Diced
1 Jalapeno, Seeded and Finely minced
1/2 Cup Fresh Cilantro
1/4 Cup Sun-Dried Tomatoes
1 Clove Garlic
1/4 Cup Lime Juice
1 1/2 Tablespoons Chili Powder
2 Teaspoons Ground Cumin
1 Teaspoon Light Agave Nectar
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1/4 Cup Olive Oil
Preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Toss the cherry tomatoes and diced red onion with the olive oil and oregano, and spread them out in one even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 15 – 25 minutes, until the tomatoes are blistered and beginning to burst. Let cool before proceeding to assemble to salad.
While you’re waiting for the tomatoes to cool, go ahead and prepare the dressing. Simply toss the cilantro, sun-dried tomatoes, and garlic in your food processor or blender, and slowly pour the lime juice in while running the machine on low. Thoroughly puree, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister if needed. Once mostly smooth, introduce the chili powder, cumin, agave, and salt next. Run the motor again while drizzling in the olive oil to emulsify.
Finish the salad, by tossing together the blistered tomatoes and onions, shredded cabbage, hominy, avocados, and jalapenos in a large bowl. Pour the dressing on top, tossing to coat. Chill for at least an hour before serving to allow the flavors to fully meld.
Serves 8 as a Starter or Side Dish