Dip into Summer

The original significance of Memorial Day has become lost to most modern revelers, happy enough to celebrate a day off of work for any reason. According to the tireless research of WalletHub, 60% of Americans are eating at barbecues, beer sales will be higher than any day except the Fourth of July, 41.5 million people are traveling, and about 41 percent of us are shopping Memorial Day sales.

Over the years, it’s become a joyful day demarcating the unofficial beginning of summer, as we cast off heavy knit sweaters and relegate plush quilts to the back of our closets at long last. Even for those still dutifully clocking in today, there’s a sense of optimism in the air, looking ahead to the long hours of sunshine. Most importantly, though, is the promise of fresh produce both sweet and savory; an abundance of seasonal fruits and vegetables, and all the culinary possibilities they bring. Hard-hitting journalism by the New York Times uncovers and ranks the tastes of summer, and while I might dispute many of those findings, it’s a good indication of what might be on grocery lists and dinner tables in the coming months. To that questionable index, I’d like to suggest another category to consider: The essential dips of summer.

Here’s what you’ll find on my table as the days heat up:

Hummus-Tzaziki, otherwise known as Hummiki, blends the best of both worlds with a refreshing crunch of cucumber woven in. Zesty lemon and dill brighten the flavor profile further, imparting a bold and sunny flavor throughout.

Composed of rich, creamy chunks of avocado, contrasted by crunchy cubes of jicama, this Chimchurri Avocado Salsa is a clear departure from the more typical tomato-based dip. Peppery, lemony, herbaceous, and vinegary all at once, it’s perfectly suitable to serve with with chips, crowning soups and salads, or an hors d’oeuvre in and of itself.

Take advantage of the tender baby spinach shooting up from gardens across the nation and use it in this creamy Saag Paneer Dip! Impressively cheesy, the cashew base carries delicately nuanced spices that put bland old sour cream spinach dips of yore to shame.

Back in the dark ages when eggplant was my foe, I invented this zucchini-based work around to babaganoush, dubbed Zukanoush. Even though my intolerance seems to have died down and I can enjoy the purple nightshade again, I’m still hooked on this version, packed full of everyone’s favorite green squash. You’ll never feel overwhelmed by a glut of zucchini with this formula on hand.

Caramelized Onion Dip is really a staple food all year long, but it’s such a crowd-pleaser, it should have an automatic, honorary invite to every party. If you can get past the terrible photos from over a decade (!) ago, you’re in for a real umami treat.

Given all the delicious options, how are you celebrating the start of summer? Do you have the day off, or are you quietly plotting your next adventure for the coming months?

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The Loaf of My Life

Darkly burnished to a deep caramel color, the exterior crackled with every bite, crisp crust shattering upon impact into a thousand explosively flavorful crumbs. Venturing deeper into the slice, the chewy matrix of long-fermented wheat gluten tangled into a soft, springy pillow cradling a shallow pool of hummus. This was my first experience with Tartine bread, and it was nothing short of transcendent. Even this most basic loaf, a simple staple made of only flour, water, and salt, conveyed a passion for the craft that translates to a remarkable finished product. For better or for worse, I was hooked.

The trouble with falling in loaf (yes, pun intended) with one of these beauties is that it spoils you, making it difficult if not impossible to enjoy the average supermarket loaf ever again. Then, to get your fix, you have to seriously commit yourself to this new relationship; each handsome slab of yeasted glory is a full three pounds by weight, which is no small undertaking for a single eater.

No matter how many sandwiches I made, the loaf never seemed to dwindle. Wasting such a gem would be unthinkable, so it was high time to seek alternative eating options.

Bread pudding is capable of condensing unreasonable servings of bread into deceptively small portions, making the dessert ideally suited to this task. After the third or fourth forkful, the full slice equivalent will be the last thing on your mind, drowned out by the comforting scent of cinnamon and ginger, carried by a wave of succulent summer peaches. Comfort food isn’t just for the colder months, although with that said, I can just as easily envision this same satisfying formula with apples, pears, or a perfectly autumnal combination of the two.

Turning on the oven in the heat of August may give you pause, but don’t let it stop you entirely. Just make sure you have plenty of vanilla ice cream on hand to cool things down.

Southern Peach Bread Pudding

3/4 Pound Crusty Bread, Sliced into 1-Inch Cubes (About 7 – 8 Cups)
1 Tablespoon Arrowroot
1 1/2 Cups Fresh Peach Puree*
1 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
3/4 Cup Coconut Sugar or Dark Brown Sugar, Firmly Packed
1/4 Cup Melted Coconut Oil
2 Teaspoons Ground Cinnamon
1 Teaspoon Ground Ginger
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
1 Cup Chopped Peaches
1/4 Cup Chopped Pecans

*To make peach puree, simply pit fresh peaches and toss them in your blender, processing until completely smooth. Peel the fruits first if the skins are particularly tough or your blender is a bit under-powered.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease a 9 x 13 inch baking dish.

Toss the bread and arrowroot together in a large bowl, mixing well to coat the pieces with starch. Set aside.

Separately, combine the peach puree, non-dairy milk, oil, sugar, cinnamon, ginger, and salt, stirring until the mixture is homogeneous. Pour the liquid mix all over the bread, and let stand for about 10 minutes to soak in a bit. Gently fold in the chopped peaches, making sure that they’re well distributed throughout.

Transfer to you prepared baking dish and sprinkle evenly with chopped pecans. Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until golden brown all over. The edges should appear set, but the interior will remain quite soft and moist; be careful not to over bake it.

Let cool for at least 15 minutes before serving. You can either take the time to make nice, neat slices, or just grab a large spoon and scoop it out onto plates. Either way, it’s best served warm, and with a generous serving of vanilla ice cream melting over the top.

Makes 10 – 14 Servings

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Be a Peach, Will You?

Peaches have been on my mind lately, and not just because they’re at the peak of perfection right now, flooding the markets across the country. Peach madness is actually coming to a close in the bay area, where unusually warm weather has facilitated early harvests and particularly exceptional yields. In its wake, I’m left with memories of almost a dozen peach-centric menus dreamed up by my good friend Philip Gelb, mastermind and chef behind Sound & Savor. Each dinner presented the humble fruit in an entirely new light, inspired by a diverse range of cuisines and almost no repetition between meals. It would be impossible to pick out just one favorite set of plates, let alone a single dish, but there is one in particular that inspired me to head straight for the kitchen as soon as the bold flavor combination touched my lips.

Wasabi and peaches may sound like odd bedfellows, but once you’ve tried them together, the suggestion doesn’t sound so crazy. Bright, assertive spice takes the lead, flaming out quickly to the round, soothing sweetness that only a truly superlative fresh peach can provide. A subtle floral quality can be found in the very best fruits, adding another dimension to this duo. Blended into a velvety vinaigrette and lavished over a simple summer salad, it shines with a clarity of flavor that’s difficult to beat, no matter how basic it may seem on paper.

The best thing you can do with superlative ingredients is just not mess them up. Seek out only the juiciest, sweetest peaches to prove that point with every invigorating bite.

Wasabi-Peach Dressing

1 Very Ripe, Large Peach
2 Tablespoons White Miso Paste
1/2 – 1 Tablespoon Wasabi Paste
3 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Cup Avocado Oil

Salad:

2 – 3 Persian Cucumbers, Thinly Sliced
1 (10-Ounce) Package Cruciferous Crunch Collection (Or About 6 – 7 Cups Shredded Slaw Mix; 1 Cup Shredded Broccoli Stems (Optional), 2 Cups Shredded Brussels Sprouts, 2 Cups Shredded Kale, 2 Cups Purple and/or Green Cabbage)
1 Large Peach, Thinly Sliced
1/2 Cup Chopped, Toasted Pecans

To make the dressing, pit the peach and chop it into rough chunks. Toss it into the blender along with the miso, wasabi, and lemon juice. Blend to combine, pausing to scrape down the sides of the canister if needed to incorporate everything. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in the oil, allowing it to emulsify into a silky-smooth and thick vinaigrette. Add more wasabi to taste if desired.

For the remainder of the salad, simply toss together all of the vegetables and fruit. Add enough dressing to coat but not drench the mixture (you’ll likely have extra leftover dressing, which keeps well in an airtight container for about a week in the fridge,) top with chopped pecans, and serve right away.

Makes About 4 Servings

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More Than a Hill of Beans

Sunshine floods the open field with warmth, kissing every blade of grass as it rises to greet the day. Work and school are but a passing thought, quickly swept away by the gentle breeze. It’s summertime, and the day is primed for a picnic. Spread out a blanket, open up the carefully packed basket, and unveil the savory spread crafted to power a full day of play. Everything is perfect… Until the bean salad hits the bench.

Swampy, limp green beans slither throughout the miasma, already looking well past their prime. Watery dressy hemorrhages outward, pooling at the bottom of the bowl in a murky sludge. Fresh vegetables are scant, if at all discernible, limited to stringy chunks of celery at best. Though perpetually invited to these outdoor excursions for its stability at any temperature, the average bean salad is a terrible, ungracious guest. Mere blandness would be a blessing in most cases, but the list of culinary crimes committed to this dish could fill a novel. After so many years of innovation in food, why does it still have to be this way?

It’s high time we take a stand to build a better bean salad. Traditionalist and adventurous eaters alike can benefit from the very same sturdy base, constructing unique legume dishes to suit every occasion. Select each ingredient with intention rather than just slapping together the standard formula, and you’ll never be disappointed by the result. Infuse real flavor into the mix each step of the way for the very best side dish your summer cookouts, barbecues, and road trips have ever seen.

Like any strong master plan, the following suggestions are just that; a guide, not a formula recipe, meant to inspire your own bean salad adventures. Mix and match your favorites, incorporate new ideas, color outside the lines! My only golden rule? No canned green beans. Quite frankly, they’re an insult to vegetable preservation and have no place in the modern grocery market.

In case you’re still feeling stuck in the same old bean salad rut, here are some of my greatest hits…

Spicy Southwestern: Black beans, pinto beans, cilantro, red onion, bell peppers, lime juice, avocado oil, chipotle pepper, grilled corn kernels, avocado

Mideast Feast: Chickpeas, lentils, parsley, shallots, cucumbers, lemon juice, red wine vinegar, olive oil, black pepper, cherry tomatoes, kalamata olives, crumbled vegan feta

Asian Persuasion: Edamame, lima beans, cannellini beans, scallions, rice vinegar, sesame oil, shredded carrots, crushed red pepper flakes, diced mango, sliced almonds

Don’t let a bad bean salad ruin your summer celebration! It’s just as easy to throw together a bright, bold, and refreshing blend fit for a real party. Start mixing it up and tell me, what’s your favorite blend?

Basic Bean Salad Blueprint

3 (15-Ounce) Cans Beans, Rinsed and Drained or 4 1/2 Cups Total Cooked Beans (Cannellini Beans, Chickpeas, Black Beans, Kidney Beans, Pinto Beans, Lima Beans, Black-Eyed Peas, Lentils, and/or Shelled Edamame)
1 Cup Loosely Packed Fresh Herbs, Finely Chopped (Parsley, Cilantro, Dill, Mint, and/or Basil)
1/2 Cup Alliums, Finely Chopped or Thinly Sliced (Red Onion, Sweet Vidalia Onion, Shallots, Scallions, or Leeks)
1 Cup Crisp Vegetables, Finely Chopped (Celery, Shredded Carrots, Cucumbers and/or Bell Peppers)

1/3 Cup Vinegar or Citrus Juice (Red Wine Vinegar, Apple Cider Vinegar, Rice Vinegar, Balsamic Vinegar, Lemon Juice, Lime Juice or Orange Juice)
1/4 Cup Oil (Olive Oil, Avocado Oil, Rice Bran Oil, Grapeseed Oil, Sesame Oil, or Peanut Oil)
3/4 – 1 1/2 Teaspoons Salt
1/4 Teaspoon Pepper (Ground Black Pepper, Cayenne Pepper, Chipotle Pepper, or Crushed Red Pepper Flakes)

Bonus, Optional Mix-Ins (Avocado, Halved Cherry Tomatoes, Pitted Olives, Corn Kernels, Chopped Walnuts, Sliced Almonds, Diced Mango, Shredded or Crumbled Vegan Cheese… Get Creative!)

Preparation couldn’t be simpler: Once you’ve selected your star players, toss together the beans, herbs, alliums, and crisp vegetables in a large bowl. Separately, whisk together the vinegar or citrus, oil, salt, and pepper. Pour the dressing over the goods and toss to coat. Mix in as many bonus ingredients as your heart desires. Enjoy right away or stash in the fridge until you’re ready to serve. Try it both chilled and at room temperature!

The finished bean salad should keep for 2 – 4 days if kept refrigerated, depending on the selected components.

Makes 4 – 8 Servings (4 as an Entree, 8 as a Side)

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