Nosh: Black Olive-Lemon Vinaigrette

Ahhh, summer!  Salads!  Light eats!  No-cook meals!  The body-image-terror-inducing moments of having to put on a bathing suit in public!

Though salads can, admittedly, get boring.  It’s true, I’m afraid.  And it’s not like I’m secretly expressing a salad bias; I love a good salad.

But yes.  They can get boring.

Which is why it’s so very important to have a veritable arsenal of dressings at your disposal.  Mix it up, keep it sassy.

Since there are only two of us, I generally make dressings in small batches, both because I don’t want to get bored with what I’m eating and also for practicality’s sake.  I don’t want it to go bad before I can finish eating it.  You can make however much you want, but remember: if you make it fresh and aren’t a food chemist with a stock of chemicals lying about, then it won’t last in the fridge for months.  If you can’t finish it within a week, note it so you can make less next time.

Here’s what I used:

  • 1 small shallot, rougly chopped
  • Zest and juice from one Meyer lemon, or a regular lemon if Meyer lemons aren’t available.  A small orange would also be a delicious substitute.
  • 5-6 (or so, it depends on the size of the olives in question, and your own personal taste) pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1/4 cup white balsamic vinaigrette
  • 1 scant tablespoon (a good healthy dollop, really) grainy mustard
  • black pepper to taste
  • Quantity to be determined: Extra-virgin olive oil (be zen, dears, all will be explained in time)
  • a squeeze of honey (optional)

I was going to say that I wouldn’t try your patience by showing the ingredients before blending them but the fact is?  I forgot to take pictures at the beginning of this process.  So just bear with me, ‘kay?  ‘Kay.

Toss everything except the pepper, olive oil, and honey into a blender.  (Citrus tip: remember to zest first before juicing.  You’ll only need to make the mistake of juicing first once before never doing so again, but if you can avoid it at all…)  Blend.  If you’re having a hard time getting the ingredients to move around, you can add in some olive oil so your blender has something to work with, but you really don’t need to figure out how much you’re going to use.  The amount of olive oil will be determined partly by how much oil you like in your dressing (I don’t like it to be more than half of the total weight of the dressing).  Part of it will be determined by how much oil your olives exude, which probably won’t be much but hey, why go overboard?

Speaking of going overboard, I haven’t stated that you should add salt.  Olives are already plenty salty, so bear that in mind when seasoning your dressing.

When you’ve got everything blended so that it’s nice and smooth, let it settle for a minute so the oil will start to separate from the rest of the dressing.  Just so you can see what proportion of oil you’re working with.  Once you see that, add as much oil as you deem appropriate and crack in some pepper.  Give it all a whirl in the blender and then taste it.  Does it need more pepper?  Salt?  Is it too tart?  Here’s where you squirt in the honey, if you so desire.  Toss it all into a jar which you can cap and shake vigorously for future uses.

A week's worth of dressing!  Yes, we eat a lot of salad.

A week’s worth of dressing! Yes, we eat a lot of salad.

This is one of those 8-oz jars, so it’s not a super-giant amount.  That being said…DAMN, I eat some veggies!

For the record, it goes REALLY well with some falafel and hummus and feta and salad on a pita.

Lunch it like a boss.

Lunch it like a boss.

When you make your own salad dressings, you can provide yourself with whatever flavors you want, in whatever combination.  You don’t have lemons?  Use oranges.  You don’t like thyme?  Use oregano.  However you put it together, you know the dressing isn’t jam-packed with salt and preservatives.  You’re not beholden to an entire bottle you don’t want to “waste”.  And it takes maybe…mayyyyyyyybe…ten minutes, if you’re a slow zester.

Enjoy!

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Nosh: Chilled Cucumber Soup

It was way too hot to cook yesterday.  I mean, really cook, like hunkered down in the kitchen for hours to do anything that involved pans and extreme amounts of chopping and flame-type of cooking.  I’m sure you’re all aware of this by now, but I don’t like hot weather.  I (currently) joke that it’s because I lived in Texas for a few years and I’ve had enough hot weather to last a lifetime, but that’s putting too much of the blame on the great state of Texas.  Sorry, Texas.  It’s not you, it’s me.  I just don’t like summer; never have, never will.  So when the mercury rises and it’s like walking into a wet dishrag full of humidity, I want easy easy easy and refreshing things to cook.

This soup?  Is one of those things.  In the past I’ve had difficulty finding cucumber soup recipes I’ve been happy with, as they are often little more than buttermilk and/or sour cream with cucumbers and some scallions.  If I wanted to eat that, I’d dip some cucumbers in ranch dressing and be done with it.  But this recipe is different.  It’s light and creamy, not fatty and glunky.  And it’s got some added spark to it thanks to mint leaves and lemon juice.  Easy, highly recommended, and delicious.

It calls for a little bit of lemon oil at the end as a garnish, which can be kind of spendy if you buy a bottle at the store.  The first thing I did was make it myself.  Sure, sure, you’re thinking, “Hey, you said this was easy!  And now you’re making gourmet oil?  What gives, Ms. Bait & Switch?”

Relax.

Zest your lemon before you cut it in half to juice it.  Take the zest and put it in some kind of receptacle (saucer? Pyrex? small storage containter?) and add some mild oil to it.

Congratulations! You’ve just made lemon oil.

Cover your oil and put it off to the side.  You’re done with it until you’re ready to eat.

Not surprisingly, the main ingredient in cucumber soup is cucumbers.  You’ll need about two pounds, and then you peel and seed them.  Tip: if you don’t want to pull out a second utensil to seed the cucumbers (which, as my regular readers know, would in all likelihood be the magnificently multitasking teaspoon) because of whatever reason–it’s all the way across the kitchen and who wants to walk, or it violates your austerity principles because more than one utensil is flashy, or your kitchen drawers are being guarded by wild dogs–then I have an easy solution.  Take your handy, old-timey, had-it-in-the-family-for-a-thousand-years-because-grandma-gave-me-hers vegetable peeler that you think you know everything about, and flip it around to use the handle as a de-seeder.

Yes, way.

Wanna see it again?  Check it out.

OMG Shut up!

Then chop, and assemble the rest of your ingredients.  I didn’t have eight large mint leaves as the bugs have kind of had their way with my mint this year, so I just assembled a handful of small ones.  And I used two garlic cloves instead of the proscribed one because it is a sickness that I can’t help but you’ll end up with a cutting board that looks something like this:

Cukes, mint, de-seeded jalapeno, garlic, red onion. Yes!

To make things even easier, this beautiful recipe goes in a food processor, so even the chopping is kept to a bare minimum (if you don’t have a food processor, then do please cut them a little smaller–though it won’t have to be too much–and use your blender.  If you don’t have a blender, then I don’t know what to tell you except they’re usually on sale and a reliable one can be had pretty inexpensively).  Toss your veggies and lemon juice and some water in there…

Cooking like this = awesome.

…and give them a whirl to break them down a little and create space for the yogurt, if you have a smallish processor bowl (like I have) and don’t want to fill it to the tippy-top so that it’s pushed against the lid and not mixing correctly.  If you’ve got a large processor bowl, by all means, add the yogurt now.

You’ll want to use a good, thick Greek-style yogurt for this.  We eat a lot of yogurt and buy it by the giant bucketsful, so I had to measure mine out.

So what if it’s a little bit more than six ounces? That means once the yogurt is in with the veggies, I get to lick the spatula without concern that I’m cheating the recipe. 🙂 Yes, I planned it that way.

But the individual cups you get at the grocery store are usually six ounce servings, so just get one of those.  See?  Once again, easy.

Add the yogurt if you haven’t done so already along with the rest of the spices.  Salt.  Maple syrup.  At first I wasn’t sure if I was down with the maple syrup but then I thought, well, it’s going to add a slight bit of depth to a soup that has an incredibly bright flavor profile.  So yeah, I came on board, and it was perfect.  I also added fresh ground black pepper (again, because the flavor is so bright, I wanted something to add some contrast) and cayenne.  Yes, cayenne.  That was entirely my improvisation and you don’t have to do this at all, but I adore the combination of foods that are physically cold, but spicy.  Chilled hot salsa.  Ginger beer.  So why not?  I couldn’t think of a reason why not.  And it was goooooooood.

Blend it all together and put it in the fridge.  Normally I don’t make a fuss about what you should store things in, but I will offer this caveat: plastics can absorb tastes and odors, especially if they’re sort of old.  Glass and stainless do not.  This soup only has its own innate goodness to rely on and won’t be further cooked or prodded, and is going to spend at least two hours interacting with itself.  Do yourself a favor and stash the soup in the fridge in glass or stainless so it doesn’t absorb any inadvertent smells hanging around in your plastic containers.  Keep it pure and beautiful.

At the end of at least two hours, after you’ve lazed in your air conditioning and beaten the heat with a cocktail and a good book, take your soup out and check for seasonings.  More salt?  No?  Yes?   Bueno.  Then top it with a drizzle of your beautiful, pre-made lemon oil and a few more slivers of mint, and enjoy a cool, refreshing, simple, non-glunky, light, gorgeous summer soup.

Om nom nom.

Have a salad and some grilled eggplant, if you really want to get crazy.  That’s what we did.  It was a total vegetarian feast, and it was gooooooooood.

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