Saturday, June 25, 2011

Not Your Ordinary Potato Salad with Herbed Yoghurt and Lemon Dressing

How do I know that Summer has finally arrived?  It isn't by looking at the calendar, but by peeking out into my Urban Jungle on the porch!  The sun is so warm and the days so long that my herbs suddenly seem to be bursting out of their window boxes and the tomatoes are up to the balcony ceiling!  I decided to celebrate by making the herbs the center of attention in this Not-Your-Ordinary Potato Salad recipe. 

I enjoy this recipe for a number of reasons.  Not only does it give me a chance to enjoy all the "fruits" or my labor, but I also think there's just nothing that says "Summer" quite like potato salad.  If that isn't cause for celebration enough, this recipe happens to be a dramatic departure from the unappealing, over-dressed and mayonaisse-laden potato salad that comes in giant tubs at the supermarket.  This version is fresh, low in fat, super tangy and wonderfully flavorful.  I add a generous helping of greens and some farm-fresh eggs to make it a meal, but in smaller portions it also makes a wonderful accompaniment to any sort of grilled protein or meat!

So here is a hearty and healthy salad made with lots of love, from garden to plate.  Really, I think that is what this time of year is all about.  Happy Summer, everybody!  :)

Not Your Ordinary Potato Salad with Herbed Yoghurt and Lemon Dressing
serves 4 as an entree

Juice of 2 lemons
1 cup Nonfat Greek-style yoghurt (I used Fage)
2 T olive oil
1/4 cup fresh chives, very finely chopped
1 garlic scape, very finely chopped (or 1 clove garlic, minced)
1/4 cup fresh mint, very finely sliced
salt and pepper to taste

2 lbs red potatoes or fingerling potatoes, large-diced
6 cup fresh mixed salad greens, torn into bite-sized pieces
4 hard-boiled eggs, sliced

First, bring a large pot of water to boil.  Add the potatoes and a little salt and cook until just tender, about 7 minutes.  Drain and set aside. 

Whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a large bowl.  Add potatoes and sliced eggs and toss until completely coated.  Allow to cool in the refrigerator until potatoes are no longer warm (so as not to wilt the lettuce).  Once cool, add salad greens and toss lightly to combine.  Serve chilled or at room temperature.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Polenta with Red Pepper and Walking Onion Pesto

Those who know me well know that I love making things from scratch - especially things that are often available in convenience forms!  Not only does it bring me a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction, but it also tastes infinitely better when you make something yourself.  You also have the added benefit of controlling exactly what is going into your dish (versus premade convenience food that often has preservatives and other junk). 

Polenta is one of those ridiculously simple but wonderfully flavorful Italian staples.  While it is time-consuming to prepare from scratch, once you try your own you will never go back to that nasty stuff in a tube!  The coarse texture, complex nuttiness, and comforting warmth of scratch-made polenta straight from your stove is miles away from the over-processed and flavorless stuff you find at the store.  When making this recipe, be sure to start with the best grain you can find!  I used Anson Mills' Red Trentino Flint Polenta Integrale, but the varieties are endless.  Just make sure you look for a coarse corn meal.  The label might say anything from "corn grits" to "corn meal" to straight "polenta" but they are all pretty much the exact same thing.  Just make sure you do not buy any "instant" polenta as it will not apply well to a slow-cooked recipe (but hey... if it is all you have time for, at least it will be better than the tubed stuff!).

My favorite way to eat this polenta is to have leftovers for breakfast with a poached egg on top.  It also makes an excellent dinner alongside a fresh, green salad. 

Polenta with Red Pepper and Walking Onion Pesto
1 cup toasted walnuts
3-4 walking onions, chopped (about 1 cup - may substitute green onions)
3 large roasted red peppers
2 lemons, zested and juiced
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup olive oil

7 cups water
1 T salt
1 3/4 cups coarse cornmeal (red polenta integrale works well)

Start the polenta.  In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, bring the water to a boil.  Add salt and pour polenta in a thin stream, whisking constantly.  Switch to a wooden spoon and stir constantly for two minutes.  Reduce heat to medium-low (so that you still get a vigorous bubble but not a full boil) and cover.  Check every five to ten minutes and stir vigorously for a minute or so each time.  The polenta is done when most of the moisture is absorbed and the mixture clings to the spoon, anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes. 

Meanwhile, make the pesto.  In a food processor, pulse the walnuts, onions, red peppers, lemon juice and zest, and salt until evenly chopped.  In a slow stream with the processor running, add the olive oil.  Scrape the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and process again until pesto is evenly blended.

When polenta is cooked, add 1 cup of the pesto to the pot and mix well.  You can serve immediately at this point or continue to the next step for polenta squares (this can also just be done with whatever you have left-over).  Grease a 9x9 square baking dish with a little olive oil and pour the polenta into the dish while it is still hot.  Use a spatula to flatten the top, then allow to cool in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight before cutting into squares.  To serve polenta squares, fry in a little olive oil until lightly browned on each side, or just gently warm them up in the oven or microwave.  Serve with a poached egg or a green salad (tossed with a little leftover pesto) for a light meal.