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Grilled Asparagus with Feta, Almonds and Basil

grilled asparagus blog

Sometimes, you need something that really brings the spring feeling to your plate. For me, asparagus is that “something”. Asparagus means winter is over. That the green things are growing again, and that I can expand my fresh vegetable intake beyond root vegetables, winter squash and cabbage. The beginning of spring vegetables, to me, is the greatest time, because it speaks of all the delicious, fresh things to come.

Now, I feel somewhat guilty saying this, but I’m ready for the winter to be over. It’s been cold even down here in Texas (and I certainly know that it doesn’t even compare to what those of you in the north have endured!), and for longer than usual. I’m embracing spring. I’m ready for rain, thunderstorms, and green, growing things. For now, I’ve temporarily forgotten that with springtime comes our barrage of gigantic Texas insects, followed by all-too-warm temperatures. Come August, when it’s 100 degrees for days on end here, I’ll be wishing for the cold once again. But right now, I’m ready for the warmth.

So in order to encourage spring to come along, I grabbed some asparagus and uncovered my grill. It’s finally light enough in the evening that I can grill without needing a flashlight. (Come on, tell me I’m not the only one that’s done that!) Truth be told, I love grilling. It’s quick and easy, and there’s one less dish to wash when you’re done. It also imparts a lovely flavor to just about anything.

In this case, a brief visit to the grill makes this asparagus tender and full of flavor. Toss it with some lemon juice, almonds, feta (omit for dairy-free/vegan), and basil, and suddenly, you’ve taken an already-fresh flavor and completely kicked it up a few notches. It’s bright, fresh, and definitely is that “something” that brings spring to your table.

It really only takes a few minutes to make, and is totally worth every moment. I enjoyed this as a side dish on a mundane weeknight, but it’s certainly dressy enough for company, or even for a holiday dinner – Easter or Passover Seder (served with a vegetarian main or fish dish), perhaps?

Print Recipe

Grilled Asparagus with Feta, Almonds and Basil (gluten-free, vegan-adaptable)

2 t extra virgin olive oil

1 t lemon zest

1 t lemon juice

1 bunch asparagus, woody ends trimmed

Salt and pepper to taste

2 T crumbled feta cheese (omit for dairy-free/vegan)

2 T sliced almonds

1 T chopped fresh basil

Preheat grill to medium heat. In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon zest and lemon juice. Pour over the asparagus, and season with salt and pepper.

When grill is hot, place asparagus in a single layer over direct heat on the grill. Close the lid and grill for a minute or two, and move so that the other side of the asparagus spears touch the grill. Continue to grill just until tender (the time may vary depending on the thickness of your spears and heat of the grill). Remove immediately. Toss asparagus spears with feta, almonds, and fresh basil and serve immediately.

Serves 4.

Pan-Seared Brussels Sprouts

pan seared brussels sprouts

A few weeks back, I shared in the Eating the Food group that I was having pan-seared Brussels Sprouts along with some eggs for breakfast. This started a conversation not only about Brussels Sprouts (and their deliciousness, of course) but also about getting more vegetables into your breakfast. I must confess: I don’t always get veggies in first thing in the morning. I do enjoy them (especially with eggs), but it just doesn’t always happen. Of course, that realization got me thinking and inspired this post about getting more vegetables into your day.

So I’ve been motivated once more to be sure I’m giving vegetables their due. While I have no issues in the spring and summer, when I go to the farmer’s market and come home with more vegetables than any normal human can possibly consume in a week, (What can I say? They all look SO GOOD and I get starry-eyed and have to bring them all home with me.) winter-time makes vegetable consumption more difficult. This is when I focus on those veggies that are longer storage varieties, such as root vegetables, winter squash, cabbage, and of course, Brussels Sprouts, so they still taste fresh. I also try my hardest to make these veggies easy to make, so I’ll be more likely to consume them even on busy weeknights.

Pan-searing is one such way to accomplish that “easy-to-make” goal. It only takes a few minutes and really highlights the natural sweetness of the Brussels Sprouts, thanks to the caramelization that happens in the pan. They’re delicious alongside meatloaf and mashed potatoes, pork chops, or even with eggs at breakfast. Even if you’ve previously shunned Brussels Sprouts, I encourage you to revisit them with this method. You might just find them not only tolerable, but they could become your new favorite veggie!

For step-by-step instruction, check out my “how-to” video on YouTube for these Brussels Sprouts (and feel free to subscribe, so you won’t miss an episode!):

Print Recipe

Pan-Seared Brussels Sprouts (gluten-free, paleo, vegan)

1 1/2 T coconut oil

1 lb Brussels Sprouts, sliced roughly into 1/4 inch thick slices

Salt and pepper to taste

Heat a cast-iron skillet to medium heat. Add coconut oil and allow to melt and coat pan. Spread out sliced Brussels Sprouts into a single layer in the skillet. Allow to sear without moving for about a minute, or until the sprouts start to brown. Stir around to flip the sprouts and brown the other side for another minute or so. Continue to stir every so often, spreading the sprouts back out, until they are browned on edges and just tender throughout. (Total cooking time is about 5 minutes.) Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serves 4.

Autumn Kale Salad with Apples and Candied Pecans

kale salad thanksgiving

If your Thanksgiving menu is anything like mine, it’s filled with the traditional fare: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, rolls, casseroles, pies, and more. All of these dishes are iconic, and I wouldn’t leave any of them out for anything. But honestly, it’s all so heavy. So when I’m brainstorming for vegetable or additional side dish ideas, I want something a little lighter to balance it all out. Something fresh. Something green.

Now I know kale has been the latest darling in the “healthy eating” industry. I’ve posted recipes with kale before. I love it, personally, and eat it because it tastes good to me. But lately kale is everyone’s favorite “detox” vegetable. I’m not a believer in detoxing – I have juiced and such in the past, and I enjoy the flavor. I sometimes even feel the green juices give me a boost of energy. I will admit, in the past I did have a touch of obsession with ensuring I got what was in reality a crazy amount of greens into my body on a daily basis, thinking I was healthier for doing so. (I wasn’t healthier…) I’ve since backed off and have listened to my body and just focus on whatever vegetables are fresh and sound good to me at the time. (And sometimes, that’s kale!) But I’ve never believed that squeezing juice out of fruits or vegetables somehow “detox” your body – that’s what your liver does, all on its own. It doesn’t mean that the vegetables, including kale, don’t have great vitamins and such – they do. They’re just not magical.

Anyway. I digress.

Thanksgiving. And this salad. It’s fresh. It’s easy. It can be made in advance. unlike lettuce-based salads, and can still hold its crunch. In fact, I find it’s tastier made a bit in advance of eating. It allows the lemon juice to really meld and mingle. With the sweetness of the apples and cranberries, and the candied pecans, it’s a lovely autumn salad. Most of all, it’s a great, refreshing addition to your Thanksgiving menu.

Print Recipe

Autumn Kale Salad with Apples and Candied Pecans (gluten-free, vegan, grain-free)

1 bunch kale, leaves torn into bite-sized pieces

1 T olive oil

A couple pinches of kosher salt

1 carrot, julienned

2 stalks celery, sliced

1/4 c dried cranberries

1 crisp apple (such as Honeycrisp), cut into 1/2 inch dice

1/4 c flat-leaf parsley, leaves coarsely chopped

1-2 T lemon juice

Candied Pecans (recipe follows)

Drizzle the olive oil over the kale, and sprinkle with salt. Massage the oil evenly over all of the kale leaves. Add the carrot, celery, cranberries, apple, and parsley, and drizzle with a bit of lemon juice. Toss well and taste. Adjust salt and lemon juice as desired. Top with candied pecans and serve.

Serves 4-6.

Candied Pecans (gluten-free, vegan)

1 t coconut oil

1/2 c raw, shelled pecans

3 T brown rice syrup

A couple pinches of kosher salt

Dash of cinnamon

In a small skillet, melt the coconut oil over medium heat. Add the pecans, brown rice syrup, salt and cinnamon. Stir to coat completely. Keep stirring over heat until sugar bubbles and clings to pecans, pulling away from the pan and becoming “drier”. Once everything really seems to stick together in a “glob”, remove from heat and turn out to a parchment-lined baking sheet, spreading out the pecans as much as you can with the back of a spoon. Allow to cool completely and break into small pieces.

Cheater’s Ratatouille, or Pesto Zucchini, Tomato and Eggplant Bake

I love ratatouille. It’s an awesome dish that seems to just sing the highest notes of the end of summer and the start of fall. (Yes, I realize it’s now officially fall. Around here, however, it’s still in the mid-90s, and so it’s still very much feeling like summer.) It’s fresh, but comforting.

But alas, it takes some time. Especially if you want it to look pretty. (My recipe was more on the tasty side, less on the aesthetics.) Let’s face it – we don’t always have that kind of time.

That’s where this cheater’s version comes in. It’s not exactly ratatouille. It’s streamlined – just zucchini, tomato, and eggplant. Plus a not-so-secret ingredient:

Pesto.

I love to make pesto. It can be easily made dairy-free (like this Basil-Walnut Pesto) or you can go for the traditional basil, Parmesan, and pine nuts version. Or any version you desire, really. But often I make a great deal on the weekend, and then scramble to find ways to eat it up during the week. This “ratatouille” is one such way to make great use of pesto. If the pesto is already made, then it’s a cinch to put together – just layer the vegetables, smear some pesto in between layers, and pop in the oven.

Then, as soon as it’s not mouth-scalding hot, then devour!

So while it’s not a traditional ratatouille, it’s a flavor punch for sure. So call it ratatouille, or call it a pesto zucchini, tomato and eggplant bake if you prefer. Whatever you decide, be sure to call me to dinner when you make it.

Print Recipe

Cheater’s Ratatouille/Pesto Zucchini, Tomato and Eggplant Bake (gluten-free, dairy-free if using vegan pesto)

1/2 lb sliced zucchini

1/2 lb sliced tomato

1/2 lb sliced eggplant

Salt and pepper

1/2 c pesto (for vegan/dairy-free, try this Basil-Walnut Pesto)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly oil a 1 1/2 quart baking dish. Alternately layer zucchini, tomato slices, and eggplant in a single layer. Sprinkle with salt and spread a few spoonfuls of pesto evenly over the vegetables. Repeat with another layer of vegetables, salt, and pesto. Keep repeating until you use all of the vegetables and pesto.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are soft and bubbly.

 

Homestyle Meatloaf

Meatloaf. It’s one of those polarizing meals, it seems. Most people either hate it or love it. Personally, I think that has a lot to do with what meatloaf you grew up eating – some people had some unappetizing versions that haunt them forever. (Or maybe it was those bad memories of the song “I Would Do Anything For Love” that’s so haunting?)  In my mind, though, there is only the ultimate comfort food version of meatloaf, packed full of flavor, warming, and the perfect neighbor to a big pile of mashed potatoes on your plate.

My Mom wasn’t a great cook, but she had a few dishes she made that were definitely family favorites. Her meatloaf evokes fond memories for me. While my version is likely quite a bit different than hers, one thing remains a constant – the ketchup topping. I’ve opted instead to use a corn syrup free version – and sometimes might even make my own – but it’s still ketchup. Sure, there are more refined ways to top a meatloaf. But in my opinion, meatloaf isn’t about refinement. It’s about comfort. And by the way my family manages to devour the entire pan, I’d say comfort wins.

Homestyle Meatloaf (grain-free, dairy-free)

1 small onion

1 celery stalk

3 cloves garlic

1 carrot, peeled

1 T olive oil

1/2 lb spicy ground pork sausage

1 lb ground beef

1 lb ground pork (or another pound of ground beef)

1 egg plus 1 T chia meal

¾ c almond flour (can substitute gluten-free breadcrumbs or oats)

1 t kosher salt

1 ½ t freshly ground black pepper

2-3 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked and chopped (1 t)

2-3 leaves fresh sage, leaves chopped (1 t)

1/3 c minced fresh parsley leaves

2 tsp plus 1 dash Worcestershire sauce

1/3 c ketchup (I like to use either Annie’s or Organicville, or sometimes even make my own)

 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

 Cut onion, celery rib, garlic, and carrot into large pieces. Place in a food processor and blitz until the vegetables resemble a coarse paste.

 In large skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add vegetable mixture and cook, stirring, for about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

 In a large bowl, combine the sausage, ground beef, ground pork, eggs and chia seed meal, almond flour, vegetable mixture, salt, pepper, herbs, and 2 teaspoons Worcestershire. Form into a loaf and put into loaf pan. Mix remaining ketchup with dash of Worcestershire sauce, and cover loaf with sauce.

 Bake loaf for one hour.

Dairy-Free Coffee Panna Cotta

I’m definitely a fan of coffee in desserts. Okay, let’s face it: I’m really just a fan of coffee. I love using it in unexpected places – in rub mixes for meat, for example. I’ve used it before in brownies. I love it in ice cream, and lately, I’m really digging starting my morning commute with a jar of cold brew coffee. I figured I’d go ahead and continue with my coffee routine, and make this unbelievably easy dessert with a coffee flair - panna cotta.

Panna cotta is one of those desserts that are excellent for dinner parties. They’re make-ahead, and really only take a few minutes to prepare. Then, they keep in the fridge until ready to serve, and you can whip them out, add any finishing touches you desire, and you’re ready to go. I don’t know about you, but that’s the way I like to do things. I’m not very good at playing hostess and putting together something complicated in the kitchen at the same time. I have to concentrate in the kitchen. So when I have guests, I try my hardest to plan my meals so that I can do as much preparation as possible before they arrive, making things easy for me while I’m hosting.

Anyway, back to this panna cotta. It’s creamy. It’s not overly sweet. In fact, it’s a perfect treat after a late summer dinner – creamy and cool. The coffee flavor is definitely there, but it’s not overly strong. In contrast to many of my favorite foods, this isn’t one of those in-your-face flavor punches. It’s gentle, a little rich, somewhat subtle, but especially satisfying.

You can certainly serve this with garnishment – some shaved chocolate or a chocolate or vanilla sauce. I preferred to keep things simple for the time being, and served mine unadorned.

Print Recipe 

Coffee Panna Cotta (gluten-free, dairy-free, grain-free, refined sugar-free)

2 T + 1/2 c strong brewed coffee, cooled

1 1/2 t unflavored gelatin

1/4 c coconut palm sugar

1 1/2 c full-fat canned coconut milk

Pinch of salt

4 panna cotta molds, bowls, or dessert dishes

Pour the 2 tablespoons of coffee into a bowl and sprinkle over the gelatin. Let stand until softened.

Pour the remaining coffee into a small saucepan along with the coconut palm sugar, coconut milk, and salt. Stir until dissolved, and place over a medium heat. Allow to warm until just before it comes to a boil (when there are bubbles just starting around the edges). Remove pan from heat.

Scrape all of the softened gelatin into the pan and whisk until it has fully dissolved.

Divide the mixture equally among the 4 molds or dessert dishes. (You may wish to first pour the mixture into a pitcher or measuring cup for ease of pouring.) Place in the refrigerator for at least 4 hours or until set. Allow to sit out at room temperature around 30 minutes before serving.

Serves 4.

Sriracha-Lime Grilled Okra

 

In late Texas summers, when it’s been hot and dry for weeks on end and the tomatoes and strawberries have long wilted under the sun, what’s still growing without fail? Okra.

And boy, how does it grow!? I just have a modest number of plants, but I go outside every afternoon to water, and find a handful of pods ready to be picked. It seems they appear almost overnight. A bud one day, a 3-inch okra pod the next. Not that I’m complaining. It gives me plenty to pickle, share with friends, and eat in all sorts of ways.

This time, I opted for grilled.

Grilling okra is a speedy way to get flavor into this unique veggie without making it slimy – a texture that often is off-putting to okra critics. It takes just a few minutes to do, and with a simple sauce brushed over, it’s divine. Especially when that sauce involves Sriracha.

If you have not become acquainted with the wonders of Sriracha sauce, I highly encourage you to seek it out. I’m not often a big proponent of store-bought sauces, but this is definitely an exception. It’s spicy and adds that perfect punch to just about anything – scrambled eggs, fried rice, and of course, pho. I’ve always wanted to make my own – one day I will – but until then, it’s the “rooster” sauce for me. Combined with lime and ghee in this quick sauce, it’s a bold wake-up for your taste buds, which pairs perfectly with mild okra. It’s quickly becoming my go-to way to prepare it.

Print Recipe

Sriracha-Lime Grilled Okra (gluten-free, casein-free)

About 20 tender pods okra

1 T Sriracha

Zest of 1 lime (about 1 teaspoon)

Juice of 1 lime (about 1 1/2 tablespoons)

1 T ghee, melted (can substitute vegan butter or coconut oil for dairy-free/vegan)

Salt to taste

Heat a grill to medium heat. Skewer the okra pods so that there is a little space in between each pod. In a small bowl, whisk together the Sriracha, lime zest, lime juice, and ghee. When the grill is hot, place the okra on the grill. Brush one side with the Sriracha mixture. Allow to grill until lightly browned/blackened in spots, about 1-2 minutes. Turn over and brush other side. Grill another 2 minutes or until browned and the okra pods are softened/tender. Flip once more and brush any remaining sauce over. Remove, salt to taste and serve hot.

Serves 2-3.

Cucumber Salad with Tahini and Basil

My ridiculously successful cucumber season is coming to a close. I’ve eaten more cucumbers this summer than ever, and have given many away. But even still, I haven’t tired of them. I truly love cucumbers. And this year, thanks to the slightly lower temps (our usual never-ending stretch of triple digits only amounted to about two weeks so far), I’ve been able to grow cucumbers well into August. It also helps that I’ve been growing Armenian cucumbers – they seem to enjoy the heat. I will be a bit sad when they’re gone.

Before I am out of cucumbers, however, I wanted to make another unique cucumber salad. While most of my cucumbers have gone into light, refreshing salads (like this Watermelon Cucumber Salad), I wanted something creamy and a touch more substantial, but still cool and dairy-free.

Enter tahini.

I love tahini, but typically use it up making copious amounts of baba ganoush. Truth be told, the flavors in my baba ganoush were the inspiration for this salad. Tahini, lemon, garlic, and my favorite additions of cumin and smoked paprika were all at play here. But instead of my usual parsley, I swapped it out for basil. After all, that’s an herb that is also quite successful in my garden.

What resulted was a quick and easy salad that would pair perfectly with grilled chicken, some kabobs, or whatever you’d like to make for an upcoming Labor Day barbecue or picnic. It’s delicious even made a few hours in advance, and is allergy-friendly, so everyone can partake. Before summer is over for good, I highly suggest you find a reason to make this! It’s delightfully different.

Print Recipe

Cucumber Salad with Tahini and Basil (gluten-free, vegan)

About 1 lb cucumber, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch cubes

2 t kosher salt

3 T tahini

1 t lemon zest (from 1 lemon)

2 T lemon juice (from 1 lemon)

1/2 garlic clove, minced

1/4 t ground cumin

Pinch or two of smoked paprika

Salt and pepper to taste

3 T chopped fresh basil

Place the cucumber in a colander and toss with the salt. Allow to sit in the sink and drain while you prepare the dressing.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper.

Rinse the cucumbers and allow to drain again. In a large bowl, stir together the cucumbers and tahini dressing until evenly coated. Add in the basil and stir again.

Serves 4.

Watermelon-Cucumber Salad with Basil

If you follow me on Instagram or Twitter, I’m sure you’ve seen my cucumbers. I’m growing Armenian cucumbers for the first time, and boy, are these things prolific. I love them. They seem to enjoy this Texas heat – they’re never bitter no matter how hot it gets. They are more mild than a typical cucumber, and ever-so-slightly sweet. But they certainly take over. I planted them in a 4 foot square raised bed, and they’ve filled that bed entirely, climbing up and over the trellis, nearly filling the neighboring bed and a good bit of the lawn all around. But because of their ease to grow, I’m definitely growing them again next year.

Meanwhile, however, I am accumulating cucumbers like nobody’s business. I’ve brought them to work and dumped them off on coworkers. I’ve given a few to my husband’s coworkers. People that show up at my house go home with at least one. I’ve even brought them to my soccer games, donating them to anyone who wants them. I’ve juiced them in my green juices. I’ve snacked on them, eating as much as I can handle. I love cucumbers. But even I can’t keep up – I still have two, each about 18 inches long, in the fridge right now. Good thing I also have watermelon – because that means this salad can be made.

This is one of the easiest salads I’ve made in a while. It’s only 5 ingredients. It’s lovely just snacked on by itself (which is what I did), or enjoyed along grilled chicken or fish. I love the perfectly refreshing combination of cucumber and watermelon, highlighted by the punch of basil. It’s bright and cool and the epitome of summer.

But seeing as how I’m still growing cucumbers, I think I’ll need more watermelon.

Print Recipe

Watermelon-Cucumber Salad with Basil (gluten-free, vegan)

3 c cubed seedless watermelon

1 1/2 c thinly sliced cucumber (if you don’t have Armenian cukes, English cucumbers will do)

1 T chopped fresh basil

2 t lemon juice

About 1/4 t kosher salt

In a large bowl, toss the watermelon, cucumber and basil with lemon juice and salt. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings.

Grilled Mango Ice Cream (Dairy-Free)

Friends, I apologize. I thought I’d shared this amazing little recipe with you about a year ago. But browsing through some things, I realized I hadn’t. That’s darn-near shameful. Keeping such a lovely little summer treat like this from you. It’s just not right.

So I figured I shouldn’t delay any longer. I mean, after all, summer won’t last forever. (Although where I live, it tends to feel like it does…) Grilled fruit is definitely something you ought to be enjoying now, and ice cream, well, ice cream never goes out of style. But to combine the two? That’s a newer, fresher approach, and something you should try right away.

This is another easy-peasy vegan ice cream that uses coconut milk as the base. What I particularly love in this recipe, though, is that the slight coconut flavor combines beautifully with the mango, giving a full-on tropical feel. Of course, I gave it a bit of an Indian edge, adding a bit of garam masala and ginger to the mix. The spices don’t overwhelm the flavor, but they add a lovely background note that compliments the sweet mango and creamy coconut. It makes this the perfect little treat to end a meal (preferably one cooked outdoors, so you didn’t heat up the house). I definitely hope you become a fan!

Print Recipe

Grilled Mango Ice Cream (Gluten-Free, Vegan, Refined Sugar-free)

2 ripe mangoes, cut on either side of the pit, but not peeled

1 T coconut nectar (or honey or agave)

1 can coconut milk, chilled in refrigerator

½ c coconut nectar (or honey or agave)

1 t vanilla extract

¼ t salt

½ t ground ginger

½ t garam masala

 

Heat the grill to medium-high heat. Meanwhile, brush cut mango pieces with coconut nectar. Oil grates and grill mango pieces until well-marked with grill marks and starting to soften, about 2-3 minutes on each side. Remove and allow to cool.

Peel and dice mangoes and reserve 1/3 cup. Place remaining mangoes, coconut milk, coconut nectar, salt, ginger, and garam masala in a blender or food processor and puree. Taste and adjust sweetness if needed.

Follow your ice cream maker instructions and process the mango-ice cream puree in the ice cream maker. Stir in the reserved mango pieces in by hand. Store in freezer to firm up for at least 4 hours.