Sun Dried Tomato Almond Pesto Pasta with Chicken

Sometimes I think it’s a scandal that sun dried tomatoes don’t cost more. I’ve never made them myself (though, living in the Phoenix area, we’re certainly not short on sun…or dryness…or tomatoes), but I do have a dim sense of how much time and effort go into the end product of these shrivelly red strips. The process goes something like this: 1. Pick tomatoes 2. Wash tomatoes 3. Cut tomatoes 4. Season tomatoes 5. Dry tomatoes in the sun for days on end 6. Package tomatoes. Seems like an awful lot of work–and an awful lot of tomatoes, seeing as how they lose around 90% of their original weight and shrink down to less than half their original size upon drying.

Yet there they are, a whole bag of them for only $3.00 at Trader Joe’s. Isn’t our food system strange?

Despite the seemingly inverse relationship between cost and effort in sun dried tomatoes, I for one am quite thankful for their relative inexpensiveness, because I adoooooore them. Chewy, brightly colored, and tangy-sweet, I happen to think they bring their A-game to any dish they grace.

And wouldn’t you know it, they make a pretty spectacular main ingredient in pesto.

This Sun Dried Tomato Almond Pesto Pasta with Chicken took its place on our family’s weeknight dinner plan last week, and it’s definitely an entree I’ll be making again. Whole grain spaghetti, olive oil, tomatoes, and almonds place it squarely in the Mediterranean Diet category–a category I’ve been known to harp on relentlessly for its many health benefits. (By the way, didja see the new U.S. News and World Report ranking of diets for 2017? The Mediterranean Diet comes in at the top of nearly every category they analyzed.)

Health benefits aside, this chicken pasta boasts excellent taste and can be whipped up in about 30 minutes. Add it to your meal plan this week!


Print Recipe
Sun Dried Tomato Almond Pesto Pasta with Chicken
A Mediterranean chicken dish packed with the healthy goodness of tomatoes, olive oil, and almonds.
Course Main Dish, pasta
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Course Main Dish, pasta
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Instructions
Make the pesto:
  1. Add tomatoes, almonds, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic to the bowl of a food processor. Process until nearly smooth, then taste and add salt and pepper to your liking. Set pesto aside.
Make the pasta and chicken:
  1. Make the spaghetti according to package directions.
  2. Meanwhile, season chicken on both sides with basil, oregano, salt, pepper, and garlic powder.
  3. In a large nonstick skillet, heat 1 Tbsp. olive oil over medium-high heat. Add seasoned chicken and cook about 4 minutes per side or until internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
  4. Serve immediately: assemble entree with any combination of spaghetti, pesto, and chicken you like!
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe.

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Lemony Green Beans with Almonds and Feta

Three ways you know you’ve found the best green bean recipe ever:

  1. You make it more than once.
  2. When you serve it at Thanksgiving, it disappears to the last bean.
  3. You actually sneak it out of the fridge to snack on it at night.

Or, perhaps all of the above…because all of these things have been true in our household with these Lemony Green Beans with Almonds and Feta. Who’da thunk a green bean side dish could be so appealing?

I featured this recipe on A Love Letter to Food’s Facebook page during my annual Healthy Thanksgiving Countdown as an alternative to the usual green bean casserole. To take my own advice, I decided to make it for the Thanksgiving dinner we attended with friends. It turned out better than I could have hoped, the beans pan-steamed to crispy crunachability and the feta and toasted almonds soaking up the lemony, garlicky dressing. When everyone was served at dinner, nary a bean was left.

On the heels of this success, I served this again at Christmas dinner. Even my 6-year-old fought me to eat the leftovers–cold. That’s a good sign.

Is it weird that eating this makes me think of the Gollum quote from The Hobbit:

“Is it nice, my preciousss? Is it juicy? Is it scrumptiously crunchable?”

Because yes, it is. And that beats green bean casserole any day, if you ask me.

 


Print Recipe
Lemony Green Beans with Almonds and Feta
Crisp-tender green beans tossed with a lemony dressing and sprinkled with toasted almonds and feta make an incredible side dish!
Course Side Dish
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Course Side Dish
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Servings
Instructions
  1. Toast the almonds one of two ways: either bake them for 3 minutes at 325 degrees or heat a large skillet over medium heat and cook almonds, stirring occasionally, until toasted. Set aside.
  2. Heat a large skillet over medium heat, then add green beans, water, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Cover and cook 7-10 minutes, stirring periodically. Uncover and increase heat to medium-high. Continue to cook another 3-5 minutes or until water has evaporated and beans are crisp-tender and bright green. Remove from heat.
  3. Meanwhile, make the dressing: whisk together olive oil, dijon, lemon juice, garlic, red pepper flaked, and black pepper.
  4. When beans are done cooking, toss with toasted almonds, lemon dressing, and half the feta. Spread on a platter or serving dish and sprinkle with remaining feta. Serve immediately.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Cookie and Kate.

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Cookbook Review: The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook

For this cookbook review, I could simply post this picture and leave it at that:

Because really, is there any situation for which Muppets can’t offer insightful commentary? I think not. But let’s go into a bit more detail, shall we?

I’d had my eye on America’s Test Kitchen’s Complete Mediterranean Cookbook for quite awhile before my husband gave it to me for my birthday back in September. After all, I’m a big proponent of the Mediterranean Diet as a general eating plan. You’ll discover that before you get very far on this blog…in the form of:

Mediterranean Turkey Burgers

Mediterranean 7-Layer Dip

Chicken Souvlaki

Roasted Chickpea Pitas

Spaghetti with Tuna, Basil, and Lemon

and of course

Building a Mediterranean-Friendly Pantry.

So it’s kind of a no-brainer that a Mediterranean Diet cookbook would go over well around here. This dietary pattern of whole grains, legumes, seafood, fruits and vegetables, and liberal use of olive oil has been shown to reduce risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, ward off type 2 diabetes, and quell inflammation. Owning a whole compendium of recipes along these lines sounds like a great idea!

America’s Test Kitchen is famous for their well considered, trustworthy recipes, and this cookbook lives up to that reputation. It starts out with an informational section on what the Mediterranean Diet actually is, a helpful resource for those who may be less familiar with it:

The book continues with several sample Mediterranean meal plans, followed by nicely organized sections by course and type of food. Mediterranean-specific chapters include Meze, Antipasti, Tapas, and Other Small Plates, Beans, and Pasta and Couscous along with more traditional categories like Vegetables, Seafood, Poultry and Meat, etc. Attractive, vibrant photos provide a visual for at least half the recipes.

One of my favorite aspects of this compilation is that recipes hail not just from Italy and Greece, as Americans might imagine when hearing the word “Mediterranean,” but rather from the entire riviera surrounding that body of water. North African grain dishes, Lebanese dips, Turkish soups, and other unexpected choices round out the contents. I’m finding these recipes have exposed me to cuisines and flavors I don’t normally seek out in my day-to-day culinary endeavors.

Thus far, everything I’ve tried from this cookbook has been a success. From a French lentil soup to cilantro roasted carrots to the Bulgur with Grapes and Feta featured here on the blog, each one has been tasty and unique.

My only complaint about this cookbook is that some recipes and ingredients are a tad unrealistic for the average American home cook. I mean, I don’t know about you, but I’m not exactly ready for octopus, even in the most authentic Mediterranean restaurant. I’m definitely not hauling one home and cooking it up in my kitchen. (Seeing the word “tentacles” in a recipe just makes me snicker uncomfortably.) And while I applaud the concept of expanding my culinary horizons, I genuinely wouldn’t know where to find ingredients like zaatar, freekeh, or dukkah in Mesa, Arizona. Like, I think I’m being pretty adventurous when I pick up saffron.

Despite this one small gripe, I’m thrilled to own this collection of interesting Mediterranean recipes. If all the research is correct, these dishes are setting my family and me on a path toward better health. I’m all for that!

Check out America’s Test Kitchen’s Complete Mediterranean Cookbook here. This holiday season, it could make a great gift for any enthusiastic home cook, the foodie in your life, or simply for anyone interested in a healthier diet.

Pumpkin Hummus + Fall Tortilla Chips

I realize Halloween is over, but can you handle one more pumpkin recipe? I know I can, but then again, I could eat pumpkin pie every day whole year round. For others less out of their gourd for gourds, now that it’s November, pumpkin fatigue may have set in. Understandable. But I hope you’ll make an exception for this Pumpkin Hummus recipe, because not only is it easy, unique, and tasty, it’s also super fun to make with DIY fall-shard tortilla chips.

Aren’t they cute?

When it comes to making hummus, the main thing that usually stands in my way is that I suffer from what I think of as Tahini Block. As in, I really, really don’t want to spend eleven bucks on a jar of ground sesame seeds  when all I’ll use is a couple of tablespoons at the most. Therefore, I generally refrain from homemade hummus unless I can use a tahini-free recipe. This one fits that description! Though tahini adds a signature flavor, as a general rule hummus is extremely adaptable. As long as it starts with beans and ends up with a nice consistency, I say you’re safe to call it authentic even if no tahini is involved.

Now let’s talk tortilla. DIY fall shaped tortilla chips, to be exact. Of course you could buy tortilla chips at the store–I mean, who really needs to make their own chips?–but once you’ve cut your own shapes with delightful fall-themed cookie cutters, there’s no going back. Pumpkin and leaf-shaped dippers add a whole extra layer of seasonal character alongside this pumpkin hummus.

So for your next play date, Thanksgiving potluck, or Tahini Avoiders Anonymous meeting, give this fun combination a try!


Print Recipe
Pumpkin Hummus + Fall Tortilla Chips
A savory, tahini-free pumpkin hummus paired with fun DIY tortilla chips!
Course Appetizer
Prep Time 10 minutes
Servings
Course Appetizer
Prep Time 10 minutes
Servings
Instructions
To make the hummus:
  1. Place garlic clove in the bowl of a food processor and run on low briefly to mince. Add all remaining ingredients and process until smooth. Serve garnished with pepitas, if desired.
To make the chips:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil.
  2. Using fall-themed cookie cutters, cut shapes out of tortillas. (You can either discard the remaining tortilla scraps or include them for other, funky-shaped chips.) Spray both sides of cutouts lightly with olive oil cooking spray, then sprinkle to taste with herbs and spices. (Or for sweet chips, try sprinkling with cinnamon and sugar.)
  3. Place on prepared baking sheet and bake 7 minutes, then flip chips and bake another 7 minutes. Serve with pumpkin hummus.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter to Food Original Recipe

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Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta

I know it’s still only September, but I’ve already got Thanksgiving on the brain. Somehow, once the weather starts cooling down, it feels like one big slip and slide ride to the holidays. And as a foodie, Thanksgiving is definitely a holiday to look forward to. While I enjoy a traditional Thanksgiving dinner as much as the next person, I also love the idea of trying new recipes (especially healthier versions of classics) for the feast. Last year, on A Love Letter to Food’s Facebook page, I did a ten-day countdown to a healthier Thanksgiving, featuring ten different recipes for better-for-you sides and desserts.

This year I already know what healthy side I want to take to Thanksgiving: this Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta.

It may not bear much resemblance to mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, or dinner rolls, but stick with me. When we tried this recently as a side with grilled chicken, it was a match made in heaven. I can only assume the same for how it would pair with turkey.

If you’re new to bulgur, join the club. Though a variety of different grains have become available in mainstream grocery stores these days, bulgur hasn’t caught on as much as the “cool kids” of quinoa, couscous, and wheat berries. If you had asked me a year ago to tell you anything about this particular grain, I would have drawn a blank (except for an internal snicker at how its name sounds kinda gross, like “Aunt Tillie can’t make it to Thanksgiving because her bulgur is acting up again”).

The deeper I get into trying to follow a Mediterranean diet, though, the more new foods I’m exposed to. I now know that bulgur is essentially just hulled whole kernels of durum wheat. Translation: it’s a whole grain, and it’s good for you. It’s low in fat and sodium, extremely high in fiber. Plus, it has a pleasing chewy texture, soaks up marinades and dressings beautifully, and can be used in place of just about any other similar grain, like quinoa, couscous, or even rice. I’m a believer.

This Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta is adapted from America’s Test Kitchen’s Complete Mediterranean Cookbook (which I’m LOVING RIGHT NOW and will soon be posting about!). It’s a no-cook recipe, as the bulgur kernels take a soak in lemon juice and water for 90 minutes to soften up to the point of chewy edibility. Once the soaking is complete, the now-chewy grains are tossed with grapes, feta, fresh mint, slivered almonds, and an olive oil-based dressing.

As a side for Thanksgiving–or any other meal–give this refreshing and different salad a try!


Print Recipe
Bulgur Salad with Grapes and Feta
A refreshing, healthy salad featuring high-fiber bulgur, grapes, and feta cheese.
Instructions
  1. In a large bowl (the bowl you intend to serve this salad in), soak bulgur in a mixture of 1 c. water, 1/4 c. lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp. salt. Cover and let sit for about 90 minutes, or until bulgur has softened and become chewy and no liquid remains.
  2. Meanwhile, make the dressing: in a measuring cup, combine 1 Tbsp. lemon juice, olive oil, cumin, cayenne powder, and 1/4 tsp. salt.
  3. When all liquid has been absorbed in the bulgur, pour dressing over the grains and toss to combine. Add feta, almonds, grapes, green onions, and mint and toss again. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve immediately or refrigerate.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook by America's Test Kitchen.

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