Cucumber Confessional

I love cucumbers. Full stop. People profess their love to many types of foods, saying they could eat them everyday and never get bored. I actually do; everyday, I’ll eat at least one whole cucumber, sprinkled with just salt and pepper, or dipped in hummus, or chopped up in salad. Tiny Persian cucumbers, large English cucumbers, plain pickling cucumbers- I love them all.

Why hasn’t this obvious obsession factored more clearly into my writing or recipes? It’s not interesting, quite frankly. I’m not doing anything exciting with them, just eating them in mass quantities. Even this idea that I’m here sharing today is far from earth-shaking. Barely the tiniest twist on a time-honored classic, surely it’s been done before. However, it’s good enough that it bears repeating: Make shirazi salad while summer produce is at its peak, but replace the tomatoes with watermelon.

That’s it, that’s the whole recipe. Adding a whole recipe card with formal measurements is really overkill when so much of the dish is based on the produce itself and personal taste. If I can be honest and break down that fourth wall for a minute, the recipe card is for Google. For you, I trust you can figure it out.

Consider the chopping an opportunity to practice your knife skills, to meditate, or simply revel in the aroma of summer. The minute you slice into a cucumber or watermelon, that aroma floods the air, setting the mood like candles for a romantic evening, only with notes of whimsy, sunshine, and a cooling breeze.

To anyone complaining about the amount of liquid leftover at the bottom of the bowl: Congratulations! You completely missed the point. That heavenly elixir, my friend, is a beautiful meeting of the worlds, the best parts of fruits and vegetables, sweet and savory, existing in harmony as one. Don’t you dare dump it out. When you pick up the mostly empty bowl, the only option is to bring it to your lips and drink every last drop.

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Make Pasta Salad Grate Again

Macaroni and cheese is the foundation of every childhood diet, often the first thing kids learn to make for themselves. Meanwhile, macaroni salad is the catalyst for every summer picnic or backyard barbecue worth attending. How is it possible that these two keystone American staples have never met before? The share the same beloved noodle and the same creamy consistency; what’s kept them apart for all these years?

Mind you, I’m not talking about leftover mac and cheese eaten cold, straight out of the fridge, due to sheer apathy or lack of energy. We’ve all been there and I think we can agree, that is not the pinnacle of culinary achievement the concept truly deserves.

This summer, let’s make it happen. Macaroni and Cheese Salad is the stuff of dreams, made in brilliant full color.

Like the original inspiration, it doesn’t take crazy ingredients, tons of time, or extenuating effort to make possible. Just some noodles, some cheese, and a craving to kick-start the process.

Enough noodling around. What is a macaroni and cheese salad?

It’s quite simple, really. Take al dente elbow noodles and toss them in a creamy, mayonnaise dressing along with your favorite cheese shreds, tender green peas, and a touch of fresh scallions, and that’s it! Like magic, the combination becomes increasingly irresistible overtime as the flavors meld and grow more harmonious. Like any any good picnic offering, it’s ideal for making ahead of time, sitting out like a champ all day, and tasting just as fresh as the minute you made it, regardless of the conditions. That means it’s also an excellent addition to any packed lunchbox for school, work, or travel.

What can you add to level-up your macaroni and cheese salad?

That’s an easy one, my friend. Think of all the things you love in either of the original dishes, and you’ll be golden. That means…

  • Rich caramelized onions
  • Crisp meatless bacon bits
  • Umami sauteed mushrooms
  • Spicy vegan pepperoni
  • Chopped tofu “eggs”
  • Wilted spinach or arugula
  • Fresh basil
  • And beyond!

At long last, this is the mashup the world has been hungry for, even if that need was never verbalized. Just show up at your next big summer shindig with a big bowl of this luscious pasta powerhouse, and you’ll be the guest of honor going forward.

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Straight Fire

I’m not crazy about kale. This might be my most controversial unpopular opinion given the meteoric rise in popularity its seen over the years. When it comes to dark leafy greens, kale is hard to beat; it can be eaten raw or cooked, comes in a variety of colors and shapes, offers a potential array of vitamins and minerals, and is readily available at a reasonable price, even if you splurge on organic. That’s an incredible claim to fame for a vegetable previously used only as decoration in deli cases.

Despite all that, kale is never the first type of greenery I’ll reach for in the produce section, or the second, or even the third. I don’t outright dislike it, but I feel like so many other options just suit particular dishes better. Arugula gives me the peppery bitterness I crave in a salad. Collard greens melt into tender ribbons in stews and braises. Spinach is better for adding green color to baked goods since it has a fairly neutral flavor. Boston or Bibb lettuce are ideal on burgers or sandwiches for a juicy crunch. Given such a wealth of choices, kale tends to fall towards the bottom of my list.

Obviously, I’m not an arbiter of taste. Kale remains king on menus across the US, from fast food to five-star, low brow to high end. I can’t fully understand it but don’t begrudge kale’s success one bit. If anything, that repeated exposure has proven its value in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise experienced. Case in point: The Fire Kale Salad from Daily Juice.

It lingered in my memory long after my first visit to Austin despite being a rushed grab-and-go meal at the time. Prepacked in a plastic clam shell, it fit the bill for something fresh and healthy after days of indulging, as one does while traveling. While I quietly wished it was made with romaine or mesclun or just about anything else, I forgot about the kale entirely after one bite.

This kale was tender but still held up to the creamy cashew dressing, standing firm where other weaker greens would have wilted into a watery lump. The whole thing glows red from a final dusting of paprika on top so you know exactly what you’re getting yourself into. The warm heat from blended jalapeños is apparent up front, growing stronger and brighter over time. Crisp cucumbers provide a cooling foil, a refreshing relief right when it’s needed most. That added layer of crunchy texture harmonizes beautifully with the handful of toasted cashews tumbling between the frilly leaves. Such a simple combination simply works.

Normally, I’d rattle off a list of alternate greens to swap in, but kale is really the one for the job here. You could go with purple kale instead of plain green, but that’s about it. Everything that usually disqualifies it from my other recipes is exactly what makes it perfect in this one. Whether you love it or hate it, this kale salad is straight fire.

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More Bang for Your Buckwheat

Overlooked, underappreciated, and widely misunderstood, buckwheat has faced numerous obstacles gaining traction in mainstream markets, despite its extensive history and remarkable nutritional profile. Despite the name, buckwheat isn’t actually a type of wheat at all, and is in fact a fruit seed from the same plant family as rhubarb. Most people don’t realize that there are different types of buckwheat as well, which vary greatly in quality and flavor.

Big Bold Health has unleashed possibly the most potent, ground-breaking strain as the world’s first ever certified organic, US-grown Himalayan Tartary Buckwheat.

Also referred to as HTB for short, this unique genus of buckwheat is redefining the superfood field as we know it. HTB is packed with immunity-supporting phytonutrients, magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, and prebiotic fiber. If you don’t have time or patience to cook with the flour, you can also get a concentrated dose of its key phytonutrients in supplement form. HTB is also an essential ingredient bolstering Big Bold Health‘s protein shake mix, which easily turns into sweet treats with serious benefits.

For those seeking the full buckwheat experience by cooking and baking with the finely milled flour, even greater nutritional riches await, as HTB contains two times more protein per gram than quinoa.

The biggest barrier to widespread embrace of HTB is the distinctly earthy, bitter flavors created by the rich phytonutrients themselves. Generally speaking, HTB can be substituted 1:1 for up to one third of the wheat flour in many conventional recipes. Lacking gluten, it has none of the elasticity found in other blends, producing more fragile baked goods.

It’s a delicate balancing act, best highlighted by the art of classic soba noodles. Hearty and slightly chewy, with a delicate toasted, nutty flavor, they embrace the harsher, more polarizing taste of buckwheat with grace.

Plain soba is just the start. Spiked with a splash of vinegar, the acid helps to neutralize bitterness and even bring out a faintly sweet aftertaste. Fiery chili crisp brings the heat with crackling spice, setting off sensory fireworks with every bite. Long strands of cucumber join the tangle to cool things off, intertwining bright, fresh herbs with tender edamame.

Blending Japanese noodles with Chinese condiments, it’s a fusion of my favorite summertime sides. Smashed cucumber salad, drizzled with fragrant hot chili oil is cool yet invigoratingly spicy, with a touch of mala‘s numbing tingle. Zaru soba, on the other hand, is mild and refreshing, simple and understated. Combining the two creates an addictive savory experience that seems to hydrate and revitalize right down to the soul, quenching thirst and hunger in one go.

Though the flavor of HTB is distinct, it’s easy to embrace in such a harmonious dish.

For a 10% discount off your order on BigBoldHealth.com, use the code hannahkaminsky10 at checkout.

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Lettuce Feast

Don’t lose your cool as temperatures rise. There’s no need to sweat the details in the kitchen or the dining room when you could whip up an easy, breezy, no-cook meal in minutes.

Equal parts spicy and refreshing, each crisp bite will wake up your senses with an invigoratingly spicy, creamy almond sauce. Staying perfectly chilled with a refreshingly juicy, sweet and savory mango-tofu salad, the combination of tastes and textures can’t be beat.

Swaddled in fresh lettuce leaves, you don’t even need to break out the forks or knives. It’s a party starter, last minute meal, and relief from the heat all in one.

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Extra Virgin, Extra Special

One of the most important ingredients in my pantry, tied for a photo finish with salt, is olive oil. Always close at hand, in at least two or three varieties, it’s my top pick for baking and cooking, both sweet and savory. We’ve talked about the subject at length, but there’s still so much more to learn about such a historical, essential staple.

Reinvigorated by an inspiring Flavor Your Life Virtual Influencer Event, I’m taking another deep dive into this golden-green elixir. Assembled for the express purpose of sharing the rich, delicious heritage of authentic extra virgin olive oil from Europe, they’re on a mission to banish subpar, rancid blends from kitchens everywhere.

Extra virgin olive oil is the gold standard since it’s made simply by pressing olives without heat or chemicals, which makes it virtually free of the bitter acidity plaguing lesser, cheaper blends. A panel of trained, expert tasters test for defects, ensuring that each drop encapsulates a harmonious balance of fruitiness and spiciness. If the oil doesn’t have that signature essence, it won’t receive an Extra Virgin rating, no matter the painstaking processing methods employed.

Contrary to common belief, extra virgin olive oil has a high smoking point of 400°F, which is why it gets top billing in my cookbooks as a go-to for almost all recipes. The best dishes start with quality ingredients; there’s no two ways about it. That’s why I was so eager to put Le Stagioni d’Italia to the [taste] test.

Billed as having a robust flavor of artichoke and almond with a medium bitter, spicy aftertaste, as well as a green, ripe, fruity aroma, this powerful profile is a clear winner. Featured in a number of rice dishes during the online event, I was hungry for a piece of the action at home, with my own personal touches. Though the golden risotto was quite tempting, glowing luminously even on my dull computer screen, I had to go with cooler, more summery fare.

Sweet cherry tomatoes are slowly roasted to concentrate their natural sugars into tiny umami bombs, bursting with flavor across the landscape of plump carnaroli rice. Though these short grains are typically used for risotto or paella, they’re brilliantly tender yet toothsome once chilled, creating a more texturally satisfying salad than long grains that tend to get dry and brittle over time.

Amplifying the inherently rich profile of the oil itself, I decided to fold actual artichoke hearts into the mix, and instead of using cottage cheese as called for in the original recipe, finish each serving with a creamy dollop of almond ricotta. Infused with fresh herbs and zesty lemon peel, it’s bright, vibrant, complex, luxurious, and yet still approachable and comforting all at once. That’s the beauty of good olive oil; such versatility knows no bounds.

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