Friday, January 22, 2016

Apple, Cheese and Walnut Salad

I don’t know how good I am at lightening up my meals and snacks in January. On the one hand, I quite like delicious, perky things like these lentils and this celery salad. On the other hand, I made a batch of these cookies earlier this week (with craisins in place of the apricots), and I just took a pan of brownies out of the oven.

To tip the balance slightly in favor of good behavior, I’ll share with you this delicious apple salad I made recently. The photos aren’t that great, since I have trouble with lighting this time of year, but you get the idea. It’s mostly apples, with a savory bend provided by scallions, parsley, salt and pepper. It also gets a big pucker-y kick from lots of lime juice.

I really liked the lime juice, here, and don’t think any other citrus juice would serve quite as well in its place (lemon juice might be good if it is sweetened slightly). I also really liked the walnuts and walnut oil combo. I used a good, roasted walnut oil and toasted the walnuts in the oven. Actually, I toasted the walnuts just to the edge of edibility, I think, but they were really, really flavorful.

I got my hands on a nice white cheddar cheese gently flavored with apples and cinnamon (I can’t remember if it was a Wisconsin or a Vermont product.) This beautiful cheese was perfect in this dish, but any good cheddar, especially a white cheddar, would be nice. Other cheeses would work, too, as long as you like them with apples.

Really, I was never much of a fan of the apple-cheese combination, but I loved it in this salad. Maybe that cheese takes the dish a little out of the light and healthy spectrum, but I’m happy for the protein in a fresh and zesty side. Besides, those brownies can’t have all the fun!

Apple Salad with Lime Juice, Walnuts and Cheese
Based on a recipe in Bon Appetit magazine

¾ cup chopped walnuts
2 apples, cored and coarsely chopped
½ cup scallions, thinly sliced
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1-2 limes)
2 tablespoons walnut oil
½ cup diced white cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Spread the walnuts out on a baking sheet. Toast in the preheated oven for 8-10 minutes or until browned (but not burned). Set aside to cool.

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the apples, scallions, parsley, salt and pepper. Toss together. Add the lime juice and walnut oil. Stir to coat well. Stir in the cheese cubes and walnuts.

Makes 4-6 side dish servings. Leftovers can be refrigerated for a few days, but the salad is best served right away.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Warm Lentils with Lemon Dressing


I’ve been feeling a bit under the weather, and it’s very frigid weather. I’d like to stick with the fresh flavors and healthy profiles of something like a salad, but I’ve been too cold. I did make some simple bean soup as well as a pot of Soup Beans lately, but I’ve also found that I can have my salad and my warmth all together. Sort of.

This is a very simple dish of warm lentils cooked with a bit of carrot, onion, celery and herbs (you could replace the fresh herbs with dried.) One then basically makes a salad out of them without waiting for them to cool. It’s not only warmer than a bean salad, but it’s faster as well. 

You might be able to use a different bean here, or add and subtract vegetables. I really liked the olives, parsley and green onions, but I think sun-dried tomatoes would be a good addition, or diced fresh tomatoes if they are in season.

You could also probably serve this dish as a salad, that is, cold. Since it’s January, however, these warm lentils are just right.

Warm Lentils with Lemon Dressing

3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
¼ cup finely chopped carrot
¼ cup finely chopped onion
¼ cup finely chopped celery
3 cloves garlic, divided
3 cups water
1 cup dried lentils
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 sprig fresh rosemary
½ teaspoon coarse salt
2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup chopped pitted Kalamata olives
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
¼ cup finely chopped green onions

1. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Add the carrot, onion and celery. Cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are slightly softened and just beginning to brown, about 8-10 minutes. Meanwhile, finely chop 2 cloves garlic. Stir the chopped garlic into the vegetables and cook 30 seconds more.

2. Add the lentils, water, thyme and rosemary. Bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat and boil gently 20-30 minutes or until the lentils are tender.

3. While the lentils are cooking, prepare the dressing: Chop the remaining garlic clove. Sprinkle with the salt and continue chopping the salt into the garlic. Continue chopping and scraping the salt and garlic together into a paste as described in this post.

4. In a small bowl, combine the garlic-salt paste, lemon zest, lemon juice, oregano, black pepper and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Whisk together until smooth. Set aside.

5. Drain the tender lentils and place in a medium-size bowl. Add the Kalamata olives, parsley and green onions. Pour over the dressing mixture and stir to coat. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4-6 servings.

Another recipe like this one: Lentil Soup with Winter Vegetables and Kale

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Celery Salad with Almonds and Dates

So, how are those resolutions going? That bad, huh? That’s why I don’t do resolutions.

Actually, I don’t need as much will power as one might think when it comes to eating healthier in January than I did in December and November. Perhaps because I get my year’s worth of sugar and refined flour and stodgy fare in those months, I tend to develop a taste for light, green, crunchy things. Even celery.

Okay, so I’m not into munching exclusively on a big bowl of cellulose. Toss it with some lemon, almonds, and dates (hey, I haven’t completely lost my craze for sweet things), though, and we’re talking something simple and satisfying. Never mind that it’s actually pretty healthy.

Actually, I was eating this salad in between batches of cookies and bags of minty and chocolaty candies back in the sugary months. It was a delicious way to try convince myself that I wasn’t eating all that badly during the holidays. I think I’ll bring it out again, since I actually got brave enough to step on the scale recently. (It wasn’t that bad.)

This salad is best eaten right away, because the dates soak up the dressing and get a little mushy. If, like me, you don’t mind mushy dates (I’m so into dates right now for some reason!), the refrigerated leftovers will be good to go back to for a few days.

This salad is also quick and easy enough to keep making more when you run out. Try different nuts and dried fruit, or add some fresh parsley, or how about some thawed frozen peas? Even if you don’t have a celery-based resolution to keep, this is a good side dish or light lunch salad to brighten up some of the dreariness of winter.

Celery Salad with Almonds and Dates
Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine

½ cup sliced almonds
8 large celery stalks, thinly sliced (include any nice leaves)
6 dates, pitted and chopped
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
3 tablespoons freshly-squeezed lemon juice
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup coarsely shaved Parmesan cheese

1. Lightly toast the almonds on a baking sheet on a 350 F oven or in a dry pan over medium-low heat on the stove. Set aside to cool.

2. In a medium-size bowl, combine the celery, dates, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper flakes. Pour in the lemon juice and olive oil. Toss together to coat well. Add the Parmesan cheese and toss together to distribute. Taste for seasoning and adjust as desired.

Makes about 6 servings.