Last year, I read probably the most inspiring food book I’ve ever encountered: Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life. Ever since the 5th grade, when I wrote a report on Barbara Kingsolver, I have been intrigued by this author I considered more or less local (she was a long-time resident of Tucson; I live roughly 90 minutes north in Mesa). Most people know her for her best-selling novels, but Animal, Vegetable, Miracle is a memoir of Kingsolver’s family’s journey across the country, leaving Tucson (waaahhh!) for rural Virginia, where they attempted to make a go of running a self-sustaining farm. If you have any interest in the idea of eating seasonally/locally, or wonder why some people find it worthwhile, please read this book. It, more than anything else, motivated me to make the effort to support local agriculture and eat what the seasons provide.
That being said, unfortunately, in the Phoenix area, eating seasonally can be a bit of a joke. In her memoir, Kingsolver calls February “Hungry Month” since it’s the time when (in her part of the country) plants lie dormant and nothing grows. In Phoenix–or at least in our backyard garden–Hungry Months include May through September. Then again, Kingsolver also mentions that eating locally in the desert Southwest is defined (by the powers that define these things) as within a 250-mile radius. So I guess we’re off the hook for not having to harvest dead grass for our salads during these summer months.
My point here is that, even though it’s difficult, I try–and want to keep trying harder. I get to the farmer’s market when I can, and I certainly don’t buy $6 asparagus in August or $5 strawberries in January. When I saw this soup recipe, it got me excited to bust over to my nearest Sprouts and bag up armloads of vegetables that happen to be on sale right now because they actually belong to this season. (Maybe not in central Mesa, but somewhere not too far away.) The result was fabulous. This soup, while very simple, had an unusual flavor that took me by surprise. The savory-tart combination of broth with lemon juice was the perfect background for the freshness of summer vegetables corn, tomatoes, and zucchini. Not to mention that with the veggies chopped ahead of time, it was done in 30 minutes! If you’re a year-round soup lover like me, this will make you realize that “summer soup” doesn’t have to be a contradiction in terms.
Summer Vegetable Soup with Shrimp and Lemon
(Adapted from Fine Cooking Fresh)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, finely diced
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 qt. chicken broth
1 c. diced tomato
2 small zucchini, cut into medium dice
1 1/2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
1 lb. red potatoes, cut into medium dice
Kosher salt and black pepper
1/4-1/2 lb. pre-cooked shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 Tbsp. chopped fresh herbs, such as basil, parsley, or cilantro, or a mix
Juice of one lemon
Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large stock pot or Dutch oven. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, another minute or two, being careful not to let it brown. Add the broth, the remaining vegetables, and 1/2 tsp. salt. Simmer until the vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add the shrimp until heated, 1-2 minutes. Reduce heat to low and add fresh herbs and lemon juice. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if desired.
Pop quiz: what’s the world’s most popular fruit? Apples? Bananas? Tomatoes, if we’re going to be fussy and technical?
Nope, none of the above. Numerous reports name the world’s most widely consumed fruit as the mango. Around the globe, mangoes outrank apples by 3 to 1 and bananas by 10 to 1. We Americans have some catching up to do in terms of our mango savvy. If this were the Olympics, the Brazilians and Indians would be slaughtering us.
I’m not actually sure I had ever eaten a mango before about the age of 25. My dad has always told me the story of his near-death-experience-mango-allergy, so genetics being what they are, I always steered clear for fear of some terrible case of sticky-sweet anaphylaxis. Fortunately, whenever I did eventually get up the guts to taste some, mangoes were kind to me and did not bring me any closer to death. Quite the opposite. They’re loaded with Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and fiber, so if anything, they should add to my lifespan. So indulge me while I give you a second mango-related post in the space of three days.
This dinner is one of those powerhouse meals that manages to be healthy, delicious, and gorgeous at the same time. It’s ideal for company, as it looks straight out of a magazine and is almost entirely prepared ahead of time. To make this for dinner last night, I made the mango salsa a day ahead (gives the flavors more time to meld anyway) and put the tilapia in the marinade in the early afternoon. Served with rice and steamed broccoli, it’s just what summer ordered!
P.S. If your local grocer does not offer mangoes, or if they are out of season, I recommend purchasing them frozen. Trader Joe’s sells pre-peeled, pre-chopped mangoes in their frozen section, which is what I almost always use for this recipe. Frozen fruits are typically picked at the height of ripeness, so you’re much better off buying frozen than fresh if the fruit you’re looking for is not in season.
Herb-Marinated Tilapia with Mango Salsa
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)
For the marinade:
1/2 c. olive oil
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1 1/2 tsp. dried parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp. dried basil
1 1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
3/4 tsp. salt
4 large tilapia fillets
For the salsa:
1 1/2 c. mango, peeled and diced
1/3 c. red pepper, diced
1/3 c. red onion, minced
1 small jalapeño, seeded and minced
2-3 Tbsp. fresh cilantro, chopped
3 Tbsp. lime juice
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
salt to taste
For best results, prepare the salsa ahead of time (up to 48 hours) by combining the mango, red pepper, red onion, jalapeño, and cilantro. Stir in lime juice and lemon juice. Season with salt to taste.
Place tilapia fillets in a large Ziploc-type bag. Whisk together the olive oil, lemon juice, parsley, garlic, basil, black pepper, and salt. Pour over fillets, coat with the marinade, squeeze excess air out of the bag, and seal. Marinate refrigerated for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Place tilapia fillets in a glass baking dish, draining off excess marinade. Bake for 13-15 minutes or until fish flakes easily with a fork. Serve topped with mango salsa.
When I made this familiar dish the other night, I said to my husband, “This is my favorite vegetable experience.” Spoken like a real food nerd, I know. But seriously, as vegetable experiences go, this is a smokin’ good one. Broccoli, zucchini, and carrots at their roasted crispy-sweetest, layered in fluffy couscous with perfectly al dente feta, held together with the undergirding tartness of a homemade balsamic vinaigrette. Holy couscous salad, Batman!
While you may assume this is a side dish–and it very well serve as one–it always serves our family as an entree. (Well, an entree that leaves a little room for dessert.) As a vegetarian meal, it’s got it all: carbs, protein, and veggies.
Here’s the lowdown on how to make it:
Roasted Vegetable Couscous Salad
(Recipe is original except for dressing from Food.com)
For the salad:
2 medium zucchini, cut into 1/2 in. x 2 in. matchsticks
2 carrots, cut into 1/2 in. x 2 in. matchsticks
1 head broccoli, cut into florets
2 Tbsp. olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
4 oz. crumbled feta cheese
1 1/2 c. dry couscous
For the dressing:
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. light brown sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, toss zucchini, carrots, and broccoli with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Roast 25-30 minutes, turning vegetables every 10 minutes or so.
Meanwhile, make the couscous according to package directions.
Also make the dressing: mix all ingredients except the oil together. Add oil to mixture and mix well with a whisk/fork.
Toss couscous with roasted vegetables, feta, and dressing.
Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a side dish.
If this dish were a person, it would be that eccentric, crazy-dressing English teacher who had a really good heart. The one who could make the most embittered 17-year-old dude love Shakespeare, even as she paired yellow leopard-print tights with purple snakeskin boots. You know what I mean? With pork, I would never think to pair the flavors of pineapple and onion, but that is exactly what this unusual main dish does, and to great success. Because the onions caramelize as you cook them in the pan, they attain a sweetness that melds beautifully with the tangy-tart pop of pineapple. A hint of cumin and oregano reminds the palate that this is indeed a savory dish (we’re talking pork chops, after all), rounding it out as one of those heavenly sweet-and-savory Gestalt combos.
I found this recipe while perusing a library book I recently checked out, Real Food for Healthy Kids. I’m always on the lookout for healthy dinners my kids won’t turn their noses up at. Frankly, I’m a little surprised the authors included this recipe, though, since the flavor is so unconventional. Maybe they figured the pork and pineapple theme would remind kids of Hawaiian pizza? Whatever their reasoning, I’m glad they left it in. Paired with rice and a vegetable, it makes a straightforward weeknight meal I will make again. Look for a review of this cookbook on the blog in the near future!
Mexican-Style Pan-Roasted Pork with Pineapple
Adapted from Real Food for Healthy Kids
2 Tbsp. flour
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pepper
1 to 1 1/2 lbs. thin-sliced pork chops
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp. dried oregano
1 20-oz. can pineapple chunks in juice, drained, juice reserved
1 c. chicken broth
Combine flour, cumin, salt, and pepper in a shallow bowl. Dredge pork chops in mixture to coat and set aside on a plate.
Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add pork chops and cook until the underside turns golden brown, about 2-4 minutes. Turn and cook until the other side browns, 2-4 minutes more. Remove from pan and keep warm under foil on a plate.
Add the onion and oregano to the pan and cook until softened, 5-7 minutes. Add the pineapple and cook and stir for 1 minute. Add the broth and 2 Tbsp. of reserved pineapple juice. Simmer until the sauce has thickened, about 3-4 minutes.
Serve pork on individual plates (with rice, if desired) and spoon pineapple-onion sauce over the top.
If you’re a parent of young children, you are familiar with that incredible window of productivity known as your child’s nap time. Since my 2-year-old blessedly still takes an afternoon nap, I try to get as much done as possible during those couple of quiet(er) hours of the day. My 6 and 4-year-olds are still very much awake at that time, but Legos are a beautiful thing for keeping them entertained…well, Legos and pummeling each other to the ground in what they call “Wrestle Fight.” (Did I mention they’re girls?…haha, just kidding.)
When my 2-year-old was younger and wouldn’t sit through a TV show while I made dinner, I relied on nap time to get prep work done on dinner, easing the pain of her standing at the baby gate screaming her guts out while I chopped vegetables…really not fun for either of us. Since then, the routine of doing dinner prep in the afternoons has become second nature, especially if I want to make a meal that takes longer than a Phineas and Ferb episode. When I meal plan, I typically gravitate toward recipes that I can chop/grate/mix/layer ahead of time.
This is one such recipe. You can mash the chickpeas, chop and process the onions, parsley, and garlic, mix it all up with some egg, spices, and bread crumbs, and mold the result into patties in maybe 20 minutes:
Finished patties before cooking
Stash in the fridge until dinner time and it’s ready to bake. Same goes for the tzatziki…without the baking, obviously. This leaves your 24 minutes of Phineas and Ferb for things like checking Facebook and enjoying a glass of wine.
Baked Falafel and Tzatziki Sauce
(Adapted from Allrecipes.com)
3/4 c. Greek yogurt
1/2 cucumber–peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1 tsp. dried dill weed
1 1/2 tsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 15-oz. can garbanzo beans, drained
1 small onion, chopped
2 1/2 Tbsp. dried parsley
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. dried cilantro
1 tsp. salt
1 dash pepper
1 pinch cayenne pepper
1 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. baking powder
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3/4-1 c. dry bread crumbs
In a small bowl, mix the Greek yogurt, cucumber, dill weed, lemon juice, garlic powder, salt, and pepper. Chill for at least 30 minutes.
In a large bowl, mash chickpeas until thick and pasty. In a blender, process onion, parsley and garlic until smooth. Stir into mashed chickpeas.
In a small bowl combine egg, cumin, coriander, salt, pepper, cayenne, lemon juice and baking powder. Stir into chickpea mixture along with olive oil. Slowly add bread crumbs until mixture is not sticky but will hold together; add more or less bread crumbs, as needed. Form balls and then flatten into patties. (I got 13 smallish patties.)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil. Spray foil with high-quality vegetable oil cooking spray, then place falafel on foil and spray them as well. Bake for 10 minutes, then flip and spray falafel again. Bake another 10 minutes. Finally, broil 1.5-2 minutes on each side.
Serve with tzatziki sauce (and other fixin’s as desired, such as pita, tomato, spinach, etc.)