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Greek Salad (In a jar!)

Greek salad in a jar!

I was "lucky" enough to be introduced to McDonald's Salad Shakers at the ripe age of thirteen. I guess you could say they made an impression on me, because I'm still amused by salads that come packaged in a shake-able format. What could be better than a salad that travels well, and is easy to mix with the dressing when the time comes?

That will be my one plug for McDonalds on this blog. Promise.

Greek salad to go

Anyway, with Vance working like a bleary-eyed developer at a nutty start-up, our dinners can't be the elaborate affairs they used to be. At least not on weeknights. So I've tried to pick recipes that are quick, healthy, and easy, and can be packaged up for lunch the next day without going through too many dishes. This fits all three of those requirements to a tee.

Lunch in a jar

While these may come in cute packages, they shouldn't be kept for more than a day in the refrigerator. If you need to make them that far in advance, jar up everything but the romaine and add it at the last minute.

Greek Salad with Orzo and Purple Hull Peas

Adapted from a similar recipe in Gourmet Magazine's August 2008 issue (Paul Grimes and Shelley Wiseman). Serves 3-4.

Ingredients

  • 3/4 cup orzo
  • 2 cups fresh purple hull peas, cooked and rinsed under cool running water (alternately, you can use 1 15-ounce can of black eyed peas, drained and rinsed)
  • 2-3 plum tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 2 tablespoons good-quality red-wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 small or 1/2 large seedless cucumber, halved lengthwise, cored, and diced (~3/4 cup)
  • 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, sliced
  • 1/3 cup finely diced red onion
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tablespoon finely chopped oregano
  • 2 to 3 cups coarsely chopped romaine
  • 1/2 pound feta, crumbled (1 cup)
  • 4 to 8 peperoncini
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 4 (16-ounce) wide jars or 3 (20-ounce) jars with lids

Preparation

Cook orzo according to package instructions. Drain and rinse under cold water until cool.

Toss purple hull peas, tomato, and parsley with vinegar, 1 tablespoon oil, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Marinate, stirring occasionally, 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, toss together orzo, remaining tablespoon oil, cucumber, olives, onion, lemon zest and juice, oregano, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper in a large bowl.

Divide purple-hull pea mixture (with juices) among jars and layer orzo salad, romaine, and feta on top. Add 1 or 2 peperoncini, sliced, to each jar.

Serve with pita chips and a nice Assyrtiko or Chardonnay.

Heirloom tomato, purple pea, and farmer's cheese crostata

Summer market tart with slow roasted tomatoes and purple hull peas

One of the things I've grown to miss about Orlando is our membership in the local food cooperative. While we're closer to CSA's than we've ever been, we didn't get here until after the start of the season and so haven't had an opportunity to take part. The nearest food co-op is outside the city, in Hillsborough or Chapel Hill, and that's unsustainable considering my current mode of transportation.

All that to say, we've become spoiled by the Durham farmer's market, our most reliable source of locally grown fare. There's so much in season right now, we never have to try anything new because of the abundance of local veg we already love. The mystery box of produce we'd get from the co-op back in Florida, even with its peculiar, self-peeling "fruit" and occasional off-putting melons, broadened our palettes and forced us to consume copious amounts of greens and vegetables we would have otherwise avoided entirely.

Summer market tart

All of this was top of mind for me during our visit to the market early yesterday morning. A storm had come through the night before, which made for a smaller-than-usual crowd, but also knocked out power at our favorite Saturday morning bakery. No crostatas this week? Horrors. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone to be sure, but not before my morning coffee. (Cue violin music).

Scratch has been making a sweet cherry tomato and farmer's cheese crostata lately. It's the kind of pastry that invades your dreams and forces you to get up early enough to grab one before they're all gone. (Clearly I've fallen off the gluten-free bandwagon). I wasn't about to let a power outage stop me from having a crostata before the day's end. As we wandered from booth to booth, I picked up everything I'd need to recreate them at home, with the addition of a little something extra: purple hull peas. I remember eating copious amounts of purple hull peas growing up, simmered simply with bacon, but never fresh, and certainly never purchased right from the farmer who picked and shelled them.

Slow roasted local cherry tomatoes

If you're lucky enough to have some of these ingredients nearby, go for it! If not, feel free to mix and match whatever beans, vegetables, or cheese you might be able to grab at your local market.

Summer Market Tart with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes, Purple Hull Peas, and Farmer's Cheese

This is a tart that could be made year-round with whatever veg is in season. Treat yourself to one with a simple salad for an over-the-top lunch, or dish them up as appetizers at your next dinner party. Makes 4 single-serving tarts.

Tart Ingredients

  • 1 ¼ cups whole grain pastry flour
  • A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
  • Heaping ¼ teaspoon of salt
  • 1 tablespoon fresh thyme, stems removed and leaves coarsely chopped
  • 1 stick very cold unsalted butter
  • 4-5 tablespoons of milk
  • 1 egg, for an egg wash

Filling Ingredients

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved (use a mix of red and yellow if you

The one where I tell you what's behind that gorgeous burrata photo

Burrata salad

Last week we made what might just be the quintessential summer lunch. It was the most unusual salad I've had probably ever, combining sweet cubes of watermelon with tart, juicy heirloom cherry tomatoes and the most uncanny cheese: burrata.

Burrata was new to me until I came across it in Laurent Tourondel's gorgeous Fresh from the Market cookbook. It's one of those cheeses you'd be hard-pressed to find in a standard American grocery store, since it's short-lived and finnicky.

burrata

Burrata. Image credit: Francesca Palazzi

Luckily, there's a new cheese shop in Durham, Reliable Cheese. They carry a wide range of top-notch cheeses, and the guy who seems to be running the place is incredibly knowledgeable about them. Anyway, they tweeted that they had a fresh supply of burrata in stock so I jumped on the chance to finally make this beautiful salad.

I'd tell you more about this most unusual cheese, but the truth is I'm not an expert on the subject. According to Wikipedia…

Burrata is a fresh Italian cheese, made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella while the inside contains both mozzarella and cream, giving it an unusual, soft texture. It is usually served fresh, at room temperature. The name "burrata" means "buttered" in Italian.

And that's what's so great about it. The outside is deceptively buffalo-mozzarella-like. Inside, the flavor and texture are more like sour cream, which is a surprising and delicious accompaniment to a salad with as many strong flavors as this one has.

To be honest, I'll probably retreat to a standard balsamic vinegar, basil, and heirloom tomato version of this salad the next time I find a source for burrata. But for those who love both watermelon and ginger, this one is a showstopper.

Ginger-marinated Heirloom Tomatoes with Watermelon, Burrata, and Spicy Arugula

If you're lucky enough to stumble upon a source for burrata, give this beautiful salad a whirl. The recipe comes from the lovely Fresh from the Market. Serves 6.

Ingredients

  • 1 piece (6 inches) fresh ginger, peeled
  • ½ cup + 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons aged sherry vinegar
  • 24 baby heirloom tomatoes or multicolored vine-ripened tomatoes, cut into 2-inch pieces
  • ½ cup thinly sliced red onion
  • ¼ cup roughly chopped fresh basil
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups 1-inch pieces red or yellow seedless watermelon
  • 2 cups baby arugula
  • ¼ cup cured black olives, pitted and sliced
  • 2 pieces burrata, 8 ounces each

Recipe

Grate the ginger on the large holes of a box grater. Wrap the grated ginger in a piece of cheesecloth and squeeze over a medium bowl to extract the juice (alternately, press through a tiny sieve). This should result in about 4 tablespoons of juice. Whisk the ginger juice, the ½ cup of olive oil, and the sherry vinegar in a medium bowl to blend. Add the tomatoes, red onion, and half of he basil and toss until well combined. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Set aside for 30 minutes to

Vegan Pad Thai

[caption id="attachment_660" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Gluten Free, Animal Free Pad Thai."][/caption]

There is a corner of the pantry in my kitchen where ingredients go to die. Once used and quickly forgotten, they sit and wait to be cooked with another day, only to long pass their expiration date and have their flavor degrade to something south of sawdust.

That is where I found our jar of refined coconut oil hiding. Lucky for us, it stubbornly refuses to suffer the fate of its neighbors in the Corner We Do Not Speak Of. After months of neglect, it's still good as new. (As long as you don't mind it looking like a mess of rubber cement with grits floating in it.) I'll get back to the coconut oil in a bit…

Cookbooks

Yesterday I was rifling through my stack of cookbooks on the hunt for some gluten free tapas recipes. We're throwing a tapas party for the Relevance crew in a couple of weeks, and there's at least one gluten-free guest coming.

This got me thinking about the reasons people choose a gluten-free diet — some for allergies, some for Celiac disease, and some for general health. All that to say I decided to spend a couple of weeks being more cognizant of the gluten in my diet, and cutting back intentionally to see if there is a measurable difference in how I feel or how my skin reacts.

Over the next week or two, I'll be choosing gluten-free options for lunch and dinner (and breakfast, after that hunk of coffee cake I just made is gone — darn). Tonight's dish was both vegan and gluten-free, but also completely delicious and worth making if you love Pad Thai.


Which brings me back to the refined coconut oil. It's a wonderful alternative cooking oil for high-heat applications, making it great for stir frying the tofu and vegetables in Pad Thai. Use it, love it, and don't forget about it in the back of your pantry.

Vegan Pad Thai

This recipe uses some ingredients that may seem exotic, but don't let that stop you. I've linked to a few of them on Amazon, in case your local megamart is fresh out of Mirin, but most of the ingredients really can be found in the international foods section of major grocery stores.

If you are gluten intolerant, be sure to check the labels of all of these ingredients before preparing this dish. But you should be able to find gluten-free versions of everything listed here.

This recipe was adapted from the excellent Skinny Bitch in the Kitch cookbook. Serves 3-4.

Ingredients

    6 ounces rice stick noodles
  • ¼ cup agave nectar
  • ¼ cup mirin (Eden Foods Mirin is Gluten Free)
  • 3 tablespoons ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons tamari
  • 1 ½ tablespoons lime juice
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha (or other chili sauce)
  • 2 tablespoons refined coconut oil
  • 14-16 ounces Extra-Firm tofu, cubed
  • ½ red onion, cut into ¼-inch slices
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3 scallions, halved

Andalusian Gazpacho for the soul

Andalusian Gazpacho

It's tomato week here at the Kite house. It's been about 4 months since Vance and I had two "normal" weeks together, home alone, without travel, without company, without places to go and hotels to stay in — so I finally had a chance to plan the Saturday through Thursday meals (Friday we let someone else cook). Suffice it to say that the week's produce haul included at least $15 worth of local heirloom tomatoes.

On top of being tomato week, it's also veggie week. Durham has so many local, sustainable options for meat that we've been consuming far more than our usual share of land animals. Acme, Six Plates, Dos Perros, and Piedmont (to name a few) have treated us well, but also left us with the urge to drink copious amounts of ginger tea at the end of the night. With that in mind, we're eating plenty of grain salad, soup and veg for a few days.

In preparation for our first Relevance "family" dinner, we're also cooking our way through the menu, starting with the gazpacho. This Andalusian gazpacho is one I served to Vance when he took a train from Florida for our third anniversary. It's silky smooth and deceptively simple. Serve it with some crusty bread and a bit of olive oil for a light meal that will leave you feeling refreshed.

Classic Andalusian Gazpacho

This recipe comes straight from the beloved Gourmet Magazine. Use the best ingredients you can find and have a good-sized food processor or blender on hand.

Ingredients

  • 1 (2-inch-long) piece baguette, crust discarded
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar (preferably "reserva"), or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
  • 2 1/2 lb ripe tomatoes, cored and quartered
  • 1/2 cup mild extra-virgin olive oil (preferably Andalusian hojiblanca)
  • Garnish: finely chopped red and green bell peppers

Preparation

Soak bread in 1/2 cup water 1 minute, then squeeze dry, discarding soaking water.

Mash garlic to a paste with salt using a mortar and pestle (or mince and mash with a large knife). Blend garlic paste, bread, 2 tablespoons vinegar, sugar, cumin, and half of tomatoes in a food processor until tomatoes are very finely chopped. Add remaining tomatoes with motor running and, when very finely chopped, gradually add oil in a slow stream, blending until as smooth as possible, about 1 minute.

Force soup through a sieve into a bowl, pressing firmly on solids. Discard solids.

Transfer to a glass container and chill, covered, until cold, about 3 hours. Season with salt and vinegar before serving.

Grilled Peach Salsa: To the rescue!

One of the best parts about our recent move is Durham's proximity to Western North Carolina (relative to the drive we used to have to make from Orlando, that is). Brevard (about a half-hour outside of Asheville) is one of my favorite small towns — great antique stores, antique cars, a few local restaurants, and plenty of hiking and mountain biking to be had.

[caption id="attachment_650" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="This peach salsa adds tons of natural sweetness and color to simple dishes."][/caption]

We're enjoying a little time out here for the 4th, which means a change in diet to match the rest of the family, which means meat at every sitting. (Ah, meat belly.) Of course we're sticking to the humanely raised rule, but that doesn't help it all to feel less heavy. Anyone who's switched from being vegetarian (or mostly) to eating meat one or more times a day can vouch for that one.

For that, we turn back to veg. Specifically, we turned to freshly made salsa. Being peach season in the South, Vance and I came up with the idea to do a grilled peach salsa with roasted red peppers, basil, and mint to top off our portion of protein. This recipe ended up being a great way to bring a little freshness back into our diets, not to mention adding a little flare to the dinner.

Salsa or no salsa, I'm going to need a major helping of greens tomorrow. I'm starting to feel like a caveman.

This crazy colorful salsa would be great on chicken, mild fish, or pork. Also, mom liked it on a pita chip.

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (preferably extra-virgin)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 2 large firm but ripe peaches (about 1 pound), halved, pitted
  • 1 large red bell pepper, quartered, seeded
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar

Preparation

From Bon Appétit, July 1996.

Prepare barbecue (medium-high heat) or preheat broiler. Mix oil, basil, mint and garlic in small bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Lightly brush cut side of peaches with half of oil mixture.

Grill or broil peaches, cut side only, until light brown, watching closely to avoid burning, about 2 minutes. Cool peaches. Grill or broil pepper, peel side only, until charred, about 8 minutes. Place pepper in paper bag; let stand 10 minutes. Peel pepper. Cut peaches and pepper into 1/2-inch pieces. Transfer to medium bowl. Add vinegar and remaining half of oil mixture. Season salsa to taste with salt and pepper, toss gently to blend. (Can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Easy dishes for lazy cooks like me

[caption id="attachment_639" align="aligncenter" width="540" caption="Celebrate strawberry season with some homemade strawberry soda!"][/caption]

I have to admit, working up the motivation to create a fantastic meal is a lot harder when you're cooking for one. It's been three years (this week! hooray!) since I married Vance and in that time I've always had someone with whom to share meals, help with the cleanup, and take care of leftover consumption. So today, after cooking up breakfast and lunch for myself, I couldn't bear the thought of washing another dish.

That spring risotto with local snap peas and asparagus I had planned will have to wait. (I treated myself to a solo dinner at Vin Rouge instead — it's becoming a regular favorite of mine for moments of weakness when I'm in no mood to prepare dinner). In the meantime, there are a couple of easy, painless, one-dish things I've been making this week that I'd love to share.

First, it's strawberry season here. Some friends from the office went strawberry picking at Waller Family Farm this week and picked the most delicious, sweet strawberries I've ever tasted. A small crowd gathered around a bowl of them Friday afternoon marveling at how good they were — and that's saying a lot considering the six candy dispensers perched nearby. Strawberry season ended a while ago back in Florida, so it's exciting to see them still growing strong here this far into spring. To celebrate, I put together a concoction I'm calling Strawberry Soda, however un-soda-like it may be.

[caption id="attachment_644" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Baked Eggs with Tomato Sauce and local Asiago cheese"][/caption]

I also made baked eggs with tomato sauce a couple of times this week, using the tomato sauce from last week's Asparagus and Chèvre Crêpes with Tomato Sauce. Both of these recipes are hardly recipes at all; they're merely simple preparations of some basic ingredients. But seeing as how I was on the verge of a tantrum at the thought of washing another dish today, these will have to do!

Strawberry Soda

This simple concoction looks fancy, but it's really quite simple. Make it when strawberries are at the peak of sweetness (or add additional simple syrup if they're not).

Ingredients

  • 3 strawberries, cut into 1/4 inch dice
  • 1 tablespoon simple syrup
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Sparkling water

Preparation

Place the diced strawberries in an iced tea glass (or something of similar size). Pour the lemon juice and simple syrup over the top and mash with a muddler (or the back of a wooden spoon, though that didn't work as well for me). Fill the rest of the glass with sparkling water and serve.

Seriously, how easy was that?

 

Baked Eggs and Tomato Sauce

This is a great way to use up any leftover tomato sauce, though it was particularly good with last week's sauce. It's super simple — great for when you're busy preparing coffee or bacon and you just

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