Spicy Summer Bean and Chickpea Salad

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Summer calls out for salads like this one. It’s bold and colorful and crunchy and spicy and refreshing.

I’ll admit I don’t think about green beans all that often. It’s not that I don’t like them. It’s just that I forget about them amid the bounty of summer vegetables that are crowding the farmers markets by the time they come into season. I’m distracted by the bins of tasseled sweet corn and the spiraling fractals on the romanesco cauliflower and the rainbow colored bunches of carrots and the fragrant mounds of fresh herbs.

And that’s before I get to the fruit.

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But when I saw these green and yellow and purple beans at the market last week, they caught my eye. I sampled one and they were crisp and juicy and sweet enough to eat raw. I couldn’t leave without bringing some home.

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I thought of this salad. It comes from a book, Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast, which was one of my favorites for a stretch during my mid-twenties. I still love the book, and if you’re looking for a way to up your vegetable game, it’s a good one to add to your collection. I don’t turn to it nearly as much as I used to because of all the new books on my shelves competing for attention, but it has some great gems in its pages, including this one.

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The beans get blanched in boiling water for a few minutes, just until they get tender while retaining their crisp snap and then run under cold water to stop the cooking. A bit of onion gets sliced paper thin and sits in lemon juice to get ever so slightly pickled. A bold blend of spices gets toasted and crushed, a clove of garlic gets grated, olive oil gets drizzled in, and then the beans and chickpeas get tossed in with the whole delightful mess.

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It’s a brash, big flavored salad with a generous dose of heat from the cayenne. It’s a substantial salad that makes for a great summer meal, and it makes a good case for me to think about green beans the next time I’m at the market.

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Spicy Summer Bean and Chickpea Salad

Adapted from Peter Berley’s Fresh Food Fast

This salad gets visual interest from the different colored beans, but it can be made with all green or all yellow beans if that’s what you have. I should note that purple beans (like purple asparagus) turn a dark green when they’re cooked, so they don’t add any purple to the finished dish. This packs some real heat. The spice averse may want to dial back the cayenne to a 1/2 teaspoon. I used a small red spring onion here, but I’ve made it before with a regular old regular old red onion, which is just fine. I like to turn the garlic to a pulp by grating it on a microplane but you could use a garlic press or mince it finely with a chefs knife if you prefer. I find it easiest to get the onion sliced paper thin on a mandoline, but I’ve also done it many times with a chefs knife. I like this salad at room temperature or cold from the refrigerator. It holds up well for several hours, so you can make it ahead of time and keep it chilled and covered until you’re ready to serve it.

1 pound assorted green, yellow, or purple beans, ends trimmed
1/4 red onion, very thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas (or one 15-ounce can, rinsed and drained)
1 clove garlic, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seed
1 teaspoon caraway or fennel seeds (I used caraway)
1/2 teaspoon coriander seed
3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
juice of one lemon
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

 Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous sprinkle of salt. Add the beans and cook for about 2 minutes, or until crisp tender. Drain and run under cold water to stop the cooking.

Add the sliced onion to a large mixing bowl and add the lemon juice. Toast the cumin, caraway (or fennel), and coriander seed in a small skillet over medium heat for about 1 minute, or until fragrant. Transfer to a mortar and crush with a pestle.

Grate the garlic with a microplane zester (or press with a garlic press) to form a paste. Add the garlic, toasted spices, cayenne and salt to the bowl with the onion and lemon juice and stir to combine. Whisk in the olive oil.

Add the beans and chickpeas to the bowl and toss to combine. Serve immediately or cover and chill for a few hours.

Yield: 4 servings as a main or more as a side

Lazy Summer

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It’s been one of those weeks where I haven’t wanted to cook.

It happens. Even to me.

Instead, I’ve wanted to luxuriate in summer, put my feet up, watch the Tour de France, eat ice cream treats and raspberries and cherries and peaches and plumcots from the market.

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I spent last week on vacation in Michigan at my aunt and uncle’s cottage on Turk Lake with Dan and my sisters and my brother and his wife.

We ate well, but it was throw-something-on-the-grill sort of cooking along with Emily’s blondies, Erin’s blueberry bars, Ann’s rhubarb sorbet and cherry molasses ice cream, and my chocolate chip cookies. It was a week for beers and dark and stormies and gin and tonics.

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We spent most of our days outside. I barely put on my shoes. I did a little paddle boating, a little kayaking, a little swimming.

I laid in the hammock and read Wolf Hall, which was one of the best books I’ve read in a long time.

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And in the evenings, I looked out over the serene, glassy lake and felt lucky to have a place like this in my life.

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No recipe today.

Mango Lime Popsicles

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These popsicles taste like summer. They are icy and refreshing with a turn toward the tropical. They taste intensely of mango, with just enough lime to enliven the whole thing.

They remind me of one of my favorite agua frescas, the one I inevitably, invariably order when I find myself sitting at O’Hare for any length of time within a reasonable distance of Tortas Frontera, the airport outpost of the Rick Bayless empire. The mango lime flavor combination just hits the spot for me. It makes everything, even waiting at the airport for a delayed flight, better.

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Here, I’ve taken that flavor combination and frozen it into popsicles. I can think of nothing I’d rather let drip down my arm while sitting outside on a hot summer day.

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I start with frozen mango pulp. It’s easier than peeling and pureeing fresh mangoes, but you could certainly do that if you like. I break up the frozen block and gently thaw it in a saucepan over low heat until it turns to liquid.

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Then I put some water and sugar in a saucepan and add some lime peels and heat until the sugar dissolves to create a thin lime-infused syrup.

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I let the lime syrup steep while I squeeze lime juice into the thawed mango pulp. Then I strain the syrup to remove the pieces of peel.

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Then it’s a simple matter of stirring the mango-lime juice mixture into the syrup and then pouring the resulting mixture into popsicle molds, popping them in the freezer, and waiting for them to freeze.

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There are about a million different popsicle molds out there, but most of them are plastic. I’ve been trying to cut down on the plastic in my life over the last few years. These stainless steel molds are the best plastic-free popsicle molds I’ve found. They’re sturdy, easy to clean, and my popsicles never taste plasticky, which is a win for me.

This might just be my summer of popsicles. I’ll get to making more, just after I have another one of these.

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Mango Lime Popsicles

I can’t get enough of these popsicles. They’re sweet and refreshing. They taste like mango with just a hint of lime. I start with frozen mango pulp (which is 100% mango, no sugar, stabilizers, or preservatives added) which I find available at Latin grocery stores. You could start with fresh mangoes and puree the flesh in a blender or food processor or use the frozen chunks of peeled mango in the frozen fruit aisle of your grocery store if you have trouble finding the pulp. If you don’t have popsicle molds, you could freeze this mixture into a shallow pan and scrape it with a fork every 30 minutes to make a granita. You can use any popsicle molds you like, or even tall shot glasses or small disposable cups to make these. If you are using molds that don’t have lids to hold the sticks in place, let the popsicles freeze for about 2 hours or until they start to set up and then add the popsicle sticks.

14 ounces (397 grams, about 1 3/4 cups) mango pulp
2 limes
1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar

If using frozen mango pulp, break it up into chunks and place in a medium saucepan. Heat over low heat, just to thaw. You don’t want to cook it, you just want to melt it. Set aside.

Add water and sugar in a small saucepan. Using a vegetable peeler, peel off large pieces of lime rind and place in the saucepan. Heat over medium high heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and let the lime steep for about 10 minutes.

Juice the limes and add the juice to the thawed mango pulp. Strain the lime syrup into a large mixing bowl or pitcher (something with a pouring spout would be idea) and discard the lime peels. Add the mango pulp and lime juice to the syrup and mix until combined. Pour into popsicle molds, leaving a few millimeters at the top to allow for expansion. Place in the freezer. When the popsicles have begun to set, after about 2 hours, place the popsicle sticks in the center of the popsicles (if your molds have lids to hold the popsicle sticks in place you can do add the sticks before putting them in the freezer). Freeze until solid, at least 5 hours or overnight.

Run molds under cool water for a few seconds to unmold.

Yield: varies depending on molds, this made a little more than fit in my molds, I froze the extra in a jar and scraped it to make granita

Indian-spiced Yogurt Chickpeas

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In the summer, I love to make the sort of meals that can be tossed together in a big bowl and served at room temperature.  I get cranky in the heat, and it’s better for everyone if I don’t spend much time standing over a hot stove. It’s better still if, after everything is done, I can step away from the kitchen with a cool drink in my hand and relax for a while before eating.

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This chickpea dish is perfect for days like that. It doesn’t look like much, but it’s something special. It’s fragrant with Indian spices and creamy from the yogurt sauce. The chickpeas make it feel substantial but the lemon and fresh herbs keep it light. It’s been a staple in my summer kitchen ever since I first learned about it on Dana’s site back in 2009.

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It’s incredibly simple to throw together. A kicky blend of brown mustard seeds and cumin and fennel seeds get heated with some coconut oil to make a spice infused oil. Then the oil and spices get poured over a waiting bowl of chickpeas. Some cooling yogurt and a squeeze of lemon juice go in next, and then the whole thing gets topped with a flurry of sliced green onions and mint.

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I usually serve this with some fragrant basmati rice, but it’s also great on it’s own or with some naan or as a side in an Indian meal. I’ve done some variations on this, sometimes adding cucumber slices or tender leafy greens like spinach. I sometimes add cilantro along with or instead of the mint. I usually use scallions, but because I had some milder green spring onions on hand I used those this time. I like it best with coconut oil, but I’ve also enjoyed it with peanut oil and canola oil, and although I’ve never used it in this, I’m sure ghee would also be delicious here.

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All of which is to say that this dish is very flexible. And it can wait patiently on the kitchen counter while you pour yourself a cold drink.

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Indian-spiced Yogurt Chickpeas

Adapted from Food and Wine via Dana Treat

These chickpeas are a regular in my summer kitchen. The brown mustard seeds give it a subtly spicy kick, the yogurt gives it a creamy richness, the lemon and mint brighten the flavors. I like this with coconut oil, but any neutral oil will work. It will taste best with full fat yogurt (of course) but it’s also still really good with low or no fat yogurt. I usually make it with Greek yogurt, but it’s also good with thinner yogurt varieties, which simply make it saucier. I usually serve this with basmati rice, but it’s also great with naan or as part of a larger spread of dishes. 

3 cups cooked chickpeas (from about 1 cup dried or 2 15-ounce cans), rinsed and drained
2 tablespoons coconut oil (or peanut oil or other neutral oil)
1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds
3/4 teaspoon fennel seeds
3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 cup plain yogurt
juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-2 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced
handful of mint, thinly sliced

Place the chickpeas in a large heat safe mixing bowl. Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat until shimmering. Add the mustard seeds and cook for about one minute or until they begin to pop. Add the fennel and cumin seeds and cook for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and immediately pour over the chickpeas. Stir to coat. Add the yogurt, lemon juice, and salt, and stir until the chickpeas are coated. Add the green onions and mint and fold in gently.

Serve at room temperature. (This can be stored overnight in the refrigerator, but bring to room temperature before serving.)

Yield: About 4 servings as a main, more as a side.

Lime Meltaways

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Here. Have a cookie.

These cookies are delicate, buttery and limey. True to their name, they are meltingly tender from a generous amount of confectioners’ sugar and a little bit of cornstarch.

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The great lime shortage of 2014 means I’ve been using limes a little more sparingly than usual. But prices are coming back down and these cookies are a great way to celebrate. (I sent this batch to my father for Father’s Day because he’s a big fan of lime desserts.)

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Apart from the addition of lime juice and zest in the dough, these are much like many slice-and-bake butter cookies. But the hit of lime makes these a particularly summery kind of cookie.

These cookies come from Martha Stewart, and like with most classic recipes, she nails it. They’re just what you’d expect from a cookie called a lime meltaway. And they’re really, really good.

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After these cookies have baked and almost cooled, they take a tumble in confectioners’ sugar. Far be it from me to contradict Martha’s instructions, but I found that sifting the confectioners’ sugar over the cookies and flipping them over to get the other side worked better for me than shaking the cookies in a bag with the confectioners’ sugar, where the sugar tended to clump.

If you’re looking for a new cookie to bring along to summer barbecues and picnics, this is a great one.

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Lime Meltaways

Adapted from Martha Stewart 

These are pretty simple slice-and-bake butter cookies. The dough benefits from resting overnight in the refrigerator, which allows the flavors to develop, but they’re still delicious if you bake them the same day you make the dough. Martha recommends shaking these in a bag with powdered sugar, which you can do if you like, but I found that the sugar clumped on a few cookies and didn’t coat them as evenly as I would have liked, so I’ve changed the instructions to recommend sifting the powdered sugar over the cookies with a fine mesh strainer. These will keep for about a week in an airtight container, so they are also a fine make ahead dessert.

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks, 170 grams, 6 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (120 grams, 4 ounces) confectioners’ sugar, divided
zest of 2 limes
juice of 2 limes
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups (190 grams, 8 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons (20 grams) cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and 1/3 cup of confectioners’ sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes. Add the lime zest and juice and the vanilla extract and mix on medium-high speed until the liquid is incorporated and the mixture is again pale and fluffy, another 3-4 minutes.

In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, and salt. Add to the butter and sugar mixture, and beat on low speed until the dry ingredients are just incorporated.

Divide the dough in half, and place each half on a piece of wax paper (or parchment paper) about 14 inches long. Roll the dough in the wax paper into a log, about 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Chill in the refrigerator until firm, preferably overnight, but for at least 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 350°F and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the refrigerator, and using a sharp knife, slice the logs into rounds 1/4-inch thick. Place the rounds on the baking sheet, leaving at least an inch of space between each one.

Bake for about 12 minutes, or until cookies are just beginning to turn slightly golden at the edges, rotating the pan halfway through baking. Let the cookies cool in the pan on a wire cooling rack. After they have cooled for about 10-15 minutes, sift the remaining (2/3 cup) confectioners’ sugar in an even layer over the cookies, then flip the cookies over and sift sugar over the other side until the cookies are covered in a light coating of confectioners’ sugar.

Let the cookies cool fully, for at least an hour, before storing in an airtight container.

Yield: About 40 cookies

Rhubarb Syrup

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It’s getting to the time of summer when it seems that what I want more than anything is a cool drink in my hand.

It can be anything from water to lemonade to cold brewed iced tea, but something I’ve done more and more in the last few years is make homemade syrups to add sweetness and flavor to sparkling water for my own not-too-sweet homemade sodas. (A home carbonating system, like this soda stream with glass bottles makes that incredibly convenient, but I’ve done this with store bought sparkling water as well.)

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I prefer sodas with a flavor that can balance the sweetness of the sugar. Citrus syrups are winners for this, as are things with spices like ginger or cardamom, hints of floral flavors like orange flower water, and aromatics like lemongrass. One of my favorite syrups at this time of year is made with rhubarb.

It was something I remembered a little more than a week ago when my friend Charlotte was in town and we got to talking, in a circuitous way, about things to do with rhubarb. This is a great thing to do with rhubarb.

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I love rhubarb’s puckery sour flavor. It works well for a soda that isn’t a candy-level of sweet. I also love the way it turns the syrup a brilliant deeply saturated shade of pink.

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It’s a color we don’t get naturally in food very often, and it’s lovely to look at.

Syrups like this are a snap to make. It’s a simple matter of simmering some kind of flavoring with equal parts sugar and water until the sugar dissolves and then allowing it to cool to room temperature before straining it at storing it in an airtight container.

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For this syrup, I just chopped up a few cups of rhubarb and tossed it in a saucepan, zested a lemon for some extra brightness, and poured some sugar and water over the whole thing.

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I let it simmer for about 15 minutes, long enough for the rhubarb to turn soft and release its juices into the syrup.

Then I strain it through a chinois, which is a fancy extra-fine mesh strainer, but any fine mesh strainer will work just fine. If you want to be extra careful about straining out the tiny thready rhubarb bits, you could line a strainer with cheesecloth. Then I let it cool and funnel it into a bottle and have it ready in the refrigerator for whenever I want one of those cool summer drinks.

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Rhubarb Syrup

If you’re looking for something other than pie or crisp or compote to do with rhubarb, this is a great option. I love this rhubarb syrup in soda water, but it would also be great in cocktails (especially with gin) or poured over vanilla ice cream or added to black iced tea for a little extra sweetness.

2 cups rhubarb, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
zest of one lemon
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup water

Add the rhubarb, lemon zest, sugar, and water to a medium saucepan. Bring a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 15 minutes, or until the rhubarb is slumped and soft. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain through a fine mesh strainer and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Yield: about 3 cups

 

 

Lentil Arugula Salad with Feta and Red Wine Shallot Vinaigrette

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This salad is creamy and tangy and salty and earthy. The lentils give it a heartiness while the arugula lightens the dish and adds some much needed greenery. But what makes it work is the pungent bite from the shallots and the acidity from the red wine vinegar in the dressing combined with the creamy tangy richness from the feta cheese.

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Lentils look so boring, and to be honest, when they aren’t prepared well, they can be, but I’ve eaten this salad three days in a row without growing tired of it. It’s easy to throw together a big batch, and it keeps well. It’s good cold or at room temperature.

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There’s nothing fragile or delicate about this dish. It’s kicky and sharp and sturdy. It would definitely travel well. I could see bringing it along on a picnic or to a summer cookout.

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It’s simple, which means every component is important. The vinaigrette will be better if you start with a good quality dijon mustard and red wine vinegar and olive oil. The lentils should be cooked to the point where they are tender but not yet mushy. The arugula should be spry and lively. And if there is a feta that you love, especially if it is on the creamier and not so aggressively salty side of the spectrum, that’s one you should use.

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And don’t tell Dan, but this is also excellent, and more classically French, with a soft goat cheese in place of the feta.

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This has become a regular lunch for me. It’s something I can make ahead and have available in the fridge for the next several days. I made it for dinner last week, and the next day, when Dan saw that I was making peanut noodles–something else he likes–he said “I was almost hoping we were just going to have leftovers for dinner because that lentil salad was so good.”

I can’t remember the last time he asked for leftovers for dinner.

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Lentil Arugula Salad with Feta and Red Wine Shallot Vinaigrette

This lentil salad is creamy, tangy, salty, and earthy, with bright acidity. I used a Bulgarian sheep’s milk feta, which was less salty and creamier than the most common grocery store varieties like Athenos, but use any feta you like. You can also substitute a soft goat cheese for the feta. If you want a shortcut, I’ve made versions of this starting with the precooked lentils at Trader Joe’s, which means this can come together in minutes instead of about a half an hour. You could also cook the lentils a day or two ahead of time and then throw the rest of it together later. I use salt packed capers, which need to be soaked and rinsed of excess salt before adding them, but brined capers are fine here too. This salad is a great make ahead dish. It keeps well in the refrigerator for several days.

1 cup green or brown lentils
1 bay leaf (optional)
3 ounces (2-3 cups loosely packed) arugula
2 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained
3 ounces feta, crumbled
1 tablespoon minced shallot (about 1/2 medium shallot)
1 tablespoon dijon mustard
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
salt and fresh cracked black pepper for seasoning

Fill a medium saucepan about half-full with water, cover and bring to a boil. Add the lentils and the bay leaf (if using) and reduce heat to low. Cook the lentils, uncovered, in barely simmering water for 20-25 minutes, until just tender. Drain the lentils and discard the bay leaf.

In a large mixing bowl, add the minced shallot, the red wine vinegar, and the dijon, and stir until combined. Add the olive oil and a pinch of salt and whisk until emulsified.

Add the lentils and stir until coated. Then add the arugula and capers and toss until coated and well combined. Add the crumbled feta and toss until distributed throughout. Taste to see if it needs more salt (this will depend on your feta). Add a few good cracks of black pepper. Serve, warm, cold or at room temperature.

Will keep, refrigerated, for about 3 days.

Yield: About 4 servings as a main, about 8 as a side

Cold Brewed Iced Tea

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It was a weekend of heat and sweat. Dan and I walked nearly ten miles as we criss-crossed Andersonville and Ravenswood and over to Lincoln Square and into Uptown as we went to open houses for seven condos and one house. We opened closets, chatted with real estate agents, and fell in love with one place that was over our price range.

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We tried to imagine our lives in those spaces. Mostly we just felt like we were in other people’s homes.

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On Saturday, in between open houses, we stopped for gelato at Paciugo in Lincoln Square. We sat in the square and rested our feet while we geared up to look at more places that wouldn’t turn out to be right for us.

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That night, we went to a concert at the Metro. Kishi Bashi was playing. It was an all-ages show, and if the Metro has air conditioning, there wasn’t any evidence of it. We found ourselves packed in with a bunch of teenagers. It was a high energy, dance-y kind of show, which meant pretty much all of us were sweating profusely.

As I stood in the midst of those young folks and attempted to squeeze my way to the front of the balcony where my 5-foot-2-self might stand a chance of seeing anything, I found myself thinking about the first rock concert I ever went to. It was in 1995 and R.E.M. was touring for Monster. Radiohead was the opening act. We were in the nosebleed seats at the Breslin Center in East Lansing, Michigan. I was fifteen and I remember a man behind us telling my friends and I to sit down. I remember feeling like it was one of the first real things I had ever done. I remember fearing, still, that nothing would ever happen to me, as though such stasis were possible.

At the Kishi Bashi show last weekend, I felt like I was the cranky old person, glad that the show started on time and that the music wasn’t too loud. Because the bus was delayed, we walked home, adding more miles to our feet.

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On Sunday, all the walking caught up with me and I ended up with a Texas-sized blister on the sole of my right foot.

I wore myself out.

I could have used some iced tea.

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Cold Brewed Iced Tea

This is my favorite method for making iced tea. Without the heat, the tea’s bitter flavors are muted and the tea’s naturally sweeter flavors come to the fore. I like fruity teas for this. I used Republic of Tea’s Ginger Peach this time. I also really like their Blackberry Sage flavor as an iced tea. You can use whatever tea you like. This method takes about two seconds of active time, but you do need to let it steep overnight or for at least 8 hours.

1 quart cold water
2 tea bags

Place tea bags in the water. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours or overnight. Remove tea bags. Serve over ice.

Yield: about 4 servings

Quinoa Cakes with Asparagus and Mushrooms

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When I hear the  words quinoa cake, I’m skeptical. They sound so earnest. So healthful. And sort of like they would be a pain in the ass to make.

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If I hadn’t tasted these at a chef demonstration by John Chiakulas of Beatrix at the Green City Market and discovered first hand just how freaking delicious they are, I likely never would have made them.

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So many vegetable and grain fritters or croquettes are dense and heavy and have a tendency to fall apart, but it turns out quinoa might be the ideal grain (well, technically, grass) for this treatment. These cakes get crisp on the outside and have an almost bouncy, toothsome texture in the middle. The blend of the softer white quinoa with the firmer, almost seed-like red quinoa provides structural support and textural variation to these cakes.

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They’re savory from bits of sautéed onion and garlic, and they’re held together with a couple of beaten eggs, a bit of parmesan cheese, and a little bit of rice flour. They hold together pretty well in the pan if you let them fully cook on one side before you try to flip them. Like when making pancakes, you might need to sacrifice the first one as you get the timing and the temperature of the pan right, but you’ll get the hang of it after you cook a couple of them.

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These particular quinoa cakes are topped with lightly sautéed asparagus and oyster mushrooms and a sprinkle of feta and soft herbs, because those happen to be in season and plentiful right now, but I could imagine topping them with just about anything. Chef Chiakulas said that at the restaurant they change the topping every few weeks or so.

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They could be made half-size and make wonderful appetizers for a party. The flavor base is fairly neutral and could be taken in many different directions. They could be topped with cucumber and tzatziki or shaved carrots and harissa and tahini or roasted cauliflower and romesco sauce or just about any vegetable you like sautéed in olive oil with a little garlic and a sprinkling of cheese and herbs. Or they could be topped with wilted greens and a poached egg for an incredible breakfast.

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I can already tell I’ll be making these again and again. Dan said these might be his favorite quinoa preparation ever. It might be mine too.

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Quinoa Cakes with Asparagus and Mushrooms

Adapted from John Chiakulas of Beatrix

These quinoa cakes are great for a light meal, and if you make them smaller, they would make great appetizers (think plant-based crab cakes). I plan to make these for breakfast topped with a poached egg. The two kinds of quinoa make for pretty presentation, but they also improve the textural balance. You could make these with all white quinoa if you don’t have red quinoa. I wouldn’t make them with all red quinoa, which I think would be too seedy. You could make the quinoa cakes ahead of time and reheat them briefly in the oven before serving or serve them at room temperature. Top them just before serving.

Quinoa cakes

2 cups cooked white quinoa (from about 2/3 cup dry)
1 cup cooked red quinoa (from about 1/3 cup dry)
1/4 medium yellow onion, minced
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
2 eggs, beaten
1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons rice flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt

Asparagus and Mushroom topping

1 small bunch (about 1/2 pound) asparagus
8 ounces mushrooms (I used oyster mushrooms, but cremini or hedgehog or other mushroom varieties would be good too)
2 spring onions (or 1 leek)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
a small handful of fresh herbs (such as parsley, tarragon, or basil), stems removed and leaves chopped coarsely
about 1 ounce of feta, crumbled
salt and pepper, for seasoning
wedge of lemon, for seasoning

Heat a bit of olive oil a skillet over medium heat add onions and garlic and sauté until light golden and tender. Let cool.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs. Add the cooked quinoa (both kinds), the cooked onions and garlic, parmesan cheese, rice flour, and kosher salt and mix until well combined. Let the mixture rest for at least 10 minutes.

Heat a bit of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Firmly pack some of the quinoa mixture into a 1/4 cup measure to form a cake. Really pack it in there–you want it to come out in one piece. Invert the measuring cup and gently shake out the formed cake into your hand. (If it falls apart, pack it back in, tighter if possible, and try again.) Gently place into the skillet. Sauté until golden brown on the first side, about 5 minutes, and carefully flip over and cook on the other side until that side is golden brown and the cake is cooked through. Transfer to a serving plate. Once you have the hang of it, form more cakes and add them to the skillet, leaving enough space in between to allow for maneuvering with your turner. Repeat until all of the mixture is used up and all of the quinoa cakes are cooked.

Prepare the asparagus. Rinse under cold water to remove any grit. Trim off the woody bottoms and discard. Thinly slice the stalks on the bias. Clean the mushrooms and slice into bite-sized pieces. Clean the spring onions, trim off the root and any parts of the top that look dry or wilted. Thinly slice both white and green parts (if using a leek, use only the white part).

Heat olive oil in a large skillet. Add the onions (or leek) and sauté until pale golden. Add the asparagus and a pinch of salt. Sauté for 1-2 minutes, then add the mushrooms and sauté for an addition 1-2 minutes. Add the herbs. Taste to see if it needs more salt or pepper. Spoon over the quinoa cakes. Sprinkle with crumbled feta and squeeze the lemon wedge over the top. Serve.

Yield: 10-12 quinoa cakes.

Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie

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This pie is a homely little dessert.

But there’s a reason it’s named crack pie. It is rich and sweet and salty and addictive. It’s a pie for the sweet-toothed who like a generous dose of salt in their desserts. It has enough sugar to bring on a high and crash. So slice it into slivers, and proceed with caution.

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It’s another one from Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar, which inspired this cake and this tart. This time, though, I played it straight and pretty much followed the original recipe.

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I’ve seen a few versions of this recipe floating around the internet that differ from the one in the book in two significant ways. First, they omit the corn powder, which is probably not such a big deal. I assume someone somewhere along the line decided to leave it out because it seems like a strange ingredient for the home cook, but really, it’s not so hard to find. All you need is freeze-dried corn (which I’ve seen at Whole Foods and the Spice House and at local health-food stores and on Amazon) and a food processor or coffee grinder or a blender. The corn powder helps to round out the flavor and firm up the texture, but you can leave it out and leave all the firming up to the milk powder and have a good crack pie. Second, they neglect to instruct you to freeze the pie for at least 3 hours or overnight, which Tosi says they always do at the bakery and is crucial to achieving the dense, rich texture that’s one of the key reasons this pie is so good. In my opinion, the corn powder is optional, but the freezing is not.

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This pie is pretty easy to make, even if some of the steps are unconventional. The crust is essentially a big oatmeal cookie that gets zizzed in a food processor and mixed with a little extra brown sugar and butter and salt and patted into a pie tin.

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I had to exercise some restraint to refrain from eating the oatmeal cookie part all by itself. (The great thing is that when you break it up to put it in the food processor, a little piece of the cookie might accidentally not make it into the bowl, and that little piece just might turn out to be a tasty snack.)

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The filling needs to be made in a stand mixer. Tosi says this is essential to getting a smooth, dense, gooey texture at the end. Making the filling is a simple matter of mixing the sugars and the milk powder and the corn powder and the salt followed by the butter, followed by the cream and vanilla extract, followed by the egg yolks for a couple of minutes at each step.

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When this pie comes out of the oven, it looks hopelessly sunken and all kinds of wrong, a flat beige disk with a shiny top and wrinkled edges. But stick with it.

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After it cools completely, after it spends the night in the freezer and the morning in the refrigerator, after it gets sprinkled with confectioners’ sugar, this unassuming pie lives up to its name. It’s sugary, oat-y, salty crack.

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Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie

Slightly adapted from Christina Tosi’s Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook

This is a sugar custard pie, a descendant of the old Southern category of chess pies. It’s something like pecan pie without the pecans. Yet it’s got that oatmeal cookie crust and a generous sprinkle of salt that make it a whole different beast. The corn powder is simply freeze-dried corn that has been pulverized in a food processor. You can find the freeze-dried corn at natural food stores like Whole Foods or online. You can also omit the corn powder if you’d prefer. But don’t skip the freezing step–it’s key to creating the dense, rich texture that makes this pie so good. Tosi calls for a 10-inch pie pan, but the disposable pie pans at my grocery store all seem to be 8¾-inch (interior upper rim diameter) like these, which are equivalent to standard the 9-inch pie pans you’re likely to have at home. The times I list here reflect how long this took to bake in one of those pans. 

Oatmeal Cookie Crust

84 grams (6 tablespoons) room temperature unsalted butter, divided
45 grams (3 tablespoons) light brown sugar, divided
20 grams (1½ tablespoons) granulated sugar
1 egg yolk
40 grams (¼ cup) all-purpose flour
60 grams (¾ cup) old-fashioned rolled oats
.25 grams (scant pinch) baking powder
.25 grams (scant pinch) baking soda
2 grams (½ teaspoon) kosher salt, divided

Filling

150 grams (¾ cup) granulated sugar
90 grams (¼ cup + 2 tablespoons) light brown sugar
10 grams (2 tablespoons) milk powder
12 grams (2 tablespoons) corn powder (optional)
3 grams (¾ teaspoon) kosher salt
113 grams (8 tablespoons, 1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
80 grams (¼ cup + 2 tablespoons) heavy cream
2 grams (½ teaspoon) vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Make the oatmeal cookie crust. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine 57 grams (4 tablespoons) of the butter, 38 grams (2½ tablespoons) brown sugar, and the granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high until the mixture looks fluffy and pale yellow, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg yolk, and mix on medium speed until the sugar granules dissolve and the mixture looks very pale (closer to white than yellow), about 2 minutes.

Turn the mixer to low speed, and add the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and 1 gram (¼ teaspoon) salt. Mix just until the dry ingredients are fully incorporated, about 1-2 minutes. Dump the mixture onto your parchment lined sheet pan and flatten it out with your hands until it’s about ¼ inch thick. It won’t come close to filling the sheet pan, and it’s fine if it’s an irregular shape as long as the depth is mostly even (you’re basically making one very large oatmeal cookie). Bake until golden brown at the edges and set in the middle, about 15 minutes. Cool completely.

When the cookie is cool, break it into pieces and add them to the bowl of a food processor. Add the remaining brown sugar and salt and pulse until the mixture is broken down into fine crumbs.

Melt the remaining 27 grams (2 tablespoons) butter. Transfer the crumbs to a small mixing bowl and add the butter and mix until you can form the mixture into a ball. Press the mixture evenly along the bottom and up the sides of your pie tin and place on a sheet pan.

Make the filling. Preheat oven to 350°F.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, add the both kinds of sugar, the milk powder, corn powder (if using) and salt and mix on low until combined. Add the melted butter and mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened, about 2-3 minutes. Add the heavy cream and vanilla, and mix on low for another 2-3 minutes, or until the mixture looks homogenous with no streaks of cream remaining. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Add the egg yolks, and mix on low speed for another 2-3 minutes or until the mixture is glossy and thoroughly combined. You don’t want to aerate the mixture–this is supposed to be dense, so keep the speed as low as your mixer will go and stop mixing as soon as the yolks have completely disappeared and the mixture looks homogenous.

Spread the filling over the crust, and bake for 15 minutes. Open the oven door and reduce the temperature to 325°F. Keep an eye on the temperature (if you have an oven thermometer or an oven that notifies you of its temperature) and when it reaches 325°F, close the door and bake the pie for an additional 10 minutes (if you don’t have a precise way of monitoring your oven temperature, leave the oven door open for about 5 minutes and then shut it and bake 10 minutes). The pie should still jiggle in the middle, but look mostly set around the edges. If it still jiggles at the edges, bake for another 3-5 minutes.

Transfer the pie to a wire rack to cool to room temperature. Then freeze it for at least 3 hours or overnight. (Well wrapped, the pie will keep for 5 days in the refrigerator or for a month in the freezer.) Transfer the pie to the refrigerator at least 1 hour before serving.

Sift confectioners’ sugar over the top of the pie. Serve in small slices. Store any leftovers in the refrigerator.

Yield: 1 (9-inch) pie, serves about 8-12 depending on how you slice it.