Monday, July 1, 2013

UnRecipe: Medite-grainian Salad and All Things Green

I get a little bit of culture shock when warmer weather hits and I have to change my cooking habits. It's hard for me to transition from months of slow-cooked stews, hearty soups and spicy stir frys to meals where I should probably limit the use of the stove, just to keep the house from any additional heat. Salads are an obvious choice, but I need a transitional dish, something that could be eaten warm or cold, with a lot of the flavors that transport my palate to a summery state of mind. Mediterranean style dishes always work for me -- perfectly fresh and summery, but a hearty enough meal that doesn't leave you feeling hungry later. 

Grains, vegetables and beans, with a Mediterranean flavor - Photo by Wasabi Prime

Worthy of a Meatless Monday, I threw this quinoa/barley salad together that I was calling a Medite-grainian Salad. Which is a terrible pun of a name, I know, but this is what happens when you work from home and are left to your brain's own terrible devices. It came about as a craving for food from one of my favorite garlic-heavy/anti-vampire restaurants, Mediterranean Kitchen. Their house garlic sauce is legalized crack. You smell like garlic for a couple of days after eating their food, which makes you unpopular with dates, but pets love you. As best as I can tell, their sauce is a mixture of a ton of fresh lemon juice, garlic aplenty, cracked pepper, some dried oregano and possibly other dried spices, all blended together with olive or vegetable oil. So simple, but so delicious -- on everything. I've made at-home versions, but they of course never taste exactly the same so I keep going back to Mediterranean Kitchen whenever I can for the next hit of The Good Stuff.

My latest version of Homemade Garlic Crack Sauce looked more like a spring pea puree, mostly because the herb garden has been fully revived, including our lemon balm plant that makes yearly plans to take over the known universe. I'm always cutting handfuls of leaves off that plant and chopping them up to use like parsley with dishes. The lemon balm leaves are delicate and it gives everything a citrus-fresh flavor, which pretty much goes well with everything, even desserts -- cocktails, too. I used a bunch of lemon balm in my garlic sauce, so I think that's what ended up giving it that final green color as well as a pleasant herbal flavor.

If you want to reek of garlic goodness, this is typically how I make the sauce: juice and zest of 3 large lemons, a whole head of peeled garlic cloves (yes, the whole thing), 1 tablespoon of dried oregano or half a tablespoon of chopped fresh, about a cup's worth of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. The trick is to emulsify the sauce in a blender, versus just whipping everything together with a whisk. Put all the dry ingredients in with a pinch of salt and pepper, and half the oil, just to get things started. As it blends, drizzle in the rest of the olive oil so that the whole thing comes together into a nice opaque, creamy sauce. May have to add more oil -- sometimes I add some plain vegetable oil, as it helps keep the olive oil from hardening when you refrigerate the sauce. Taste as it blends to see if you need to add more salt or pepper. The lemon juice has a nice sharp flavor, so you can get away with not adding much salt.

Green garlic dressing to keep this salad vampire-free - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I wanted to make a warm whole grain salad and just fill it with all my favorites, like chickpeas, sundried tomatoes, pickled peppers, kalamata olives and more fresh herbs. Dressed with the garlic/green goddess sauce, I knew it would be a really tasty dish, served either hot or cold, so perfect for hot summer days. The only heat required was cooking the grains -- I used a mix of quinoa and barley, about a 2-to-1 ratio, so mostly quinoa. I used the rice cooker instead of the stove, so even though it blows off a bit of steam, you're not standing over it while it cooks. I used the same amount of water you'd use to cook barley and quinoa over a stove, and the rice cooker did a great job of hands-off cooking while I was chopping ingredients.

Rice cooker magic and pan-toasted chickpeas - Photos by Wasabi Prime
For this dish, I toasted the chickpeas in a pan with some oil. I was craving that slightly crispy outer-shell and creamy interior texture, but just the plain, rinsed chickpeas from a can will do fine. I love the briny taste of olives and peppers, but any fresh vegetables like bell peppers, zucchini or tomatoes are dandy. I'd suggest cucumbers, but they give off quite a bit of liquid and if you're making this salad for leftovers later, the cucumbers will end up getting soggy, so I'd use zucchini instead. Any favorite vegetable would do, so that's what makes this salad so UnRecipe-worthy -- do what you like, celebrate your favorite vegetables and herbs, it's a totally customizable dish.

Taking the cooked grains and tossing it with the chickpeas, vegetables and enough of the dressing to flavor to your taste, and the salad is done. The dressing itself is pretty flexible -- fresh lemon juice with some olive oil, salt, pepper and some vinegar would do fine, it's just to enhance the flavor of the ingredients, not overpower it. I had leftovers of the salad for several days and even added some roasted chicken later in the week, but it's perfectly fine meatless.

It's a perfect dish to ease one into warm weather summertime cooking, a reminder to keep it simple and just take it all in stride. It's summer, yo!

Summertime whatevah-style cooking - Photo by Wasabi Prime

No comments:

Post a Comment

Commentary encouraged. Fresh baked cookies, super-encouraged. (hit the 'post comment' button twice, sometimes it's buggy)