Orzo Pasta Salad with Roasted Eggplant, Zucchini, Red Peppers and Sweet Corn

Square white bowl with creamy orzo pasta salad with roasted red peppers, zucchini, and eggplant. On a blue and white striped tablecloth.

Cooking in the summer is so easy, it’s just a matter or picking out what looks best at the market on the way home from work (if you’re fortunate enough to live near fresh produce stands, that is). I love walking into the New Apple Market on West Broadway to admire whatever it is that’s new on any given day, sometimes picking out a bouquet of inexpensive peonies for my bedroom. Pasta salad is the best thing to have floating around in the fridge in the summer, meals come together in minutes and packed lunches are ready to go for the week. Orzo is my go-to shape for pasta salad, it retains its bite and shape even after being coated in a creamy dressing for up to 4 days. I prefer the taste of jarred and marinated roasted red peppers for this recipe, they add a sweet and tangy kick and come packed in brine that serves as an ingredient for the dressing. If you can find good quality jarred and roasted zucchini or eggplant slices use them as well. I sometimes find that these pantry staples can have a greyish taste so make sure they’re a brand worth using in place of the freshly roasted version. The corn, prepared however you like, is a pleasing addition to the orzo and adds a whole other layer of bright sweetness to the finished result. Add crumbled chèvre or Macedonian feta for some extra creaminess or a can of drained chickpeas for  additional heft.

orzo pasta salad with roasted eggplant, zucchini, and red peppers:

1 package of orzo

1 eggplant, cut into small cubes

1 zucchini, cut into small cubes

1 jar of roasted red peppers + 1/4 cup of brine

About 3 ears worth of corn, roasted/grilled/or boiled and cooled

1 bunch of scallions, thinly sliced

1/4 cup of green olives, pitted and cut into very small pieces

1 bunch of fresh basil, cut in a chiffonade

1 small bunch of parsley, finely chopped

Olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cook the orzo in lightly salted water according to package instructions. Rinse with cold water until the orzo is room temperature. Transfer to a large salad bowl and drizzle with olive oil and stir to prevent the pasta from sticking together.
  2.  Arrange the cut up eggplant and zucchini on a large parchment-paper lined baking sheet. Coat with olive oil using your hands to ensure even coverage. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring once or twice. Remove from oven and set aside.
  3. Dice the marinated roasted red peppers and add to the orzo. Stir in the corn, eggplant, zucchini, scallions, green olives, fresh basil, and parsley. Toss the mixture with the dressing, stirring thoroughly so that the pasta and vegetables are completely coated. Add plenty of freshly cracked pepper and salt to taste before allowing to sit 15 minutes before serving.

for the creamy dressing:

1/4 cup of roasted red pepper brine

Juice of 1 lemon

1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar

2 Tbsp. mayonnaise

1/4  cup olive oil

1 garlic clove, finely minced

Kosher salt and freshly cracked pepper

Combine all the ingredients in a jar and shake until completely emulsified (or whisk in a bowl until you get the same result).

This is music that best scores my solo endeavours, making dinner late at night on my own while I’m in my nightgown, walking around in the rain with headphones on, or reading library books on the couch. Endearing, sweetly nostalgic songs that buffer the slightly overwhelming feeling of being surrounded by too much empty space.

Plums – Parking Lots

Big Green Salad for a Crowd

Big oval bowl full of green salad and radishes.

American Thanksgiving! Or, Thanksgiving, as my friends and family in Washington state call it. I’ve been in Seattle for the past five days eating numerous reincarnations of turkey and all of the accompaniments: two dinners on Thursday, leftovers on Friday, and slightly hungover turkey hash brunch on Saturday. This has been a delicious journey, especially since my family has never been keen on traditional Thanksgiving fare (let’s make it clear that I’m in no way complaining about roasted prime rib and Caesar salad being the usual suspects). So when I received the main dinner coordination plans it looked as though everything absolutely essential to an American Thanksgiving feast had been accounted for; pumpkin pie, turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes – it was all taken care of. I decided I wanted to bring a gigantic, beautiful, and crisp green salad to Thanksgiving dinner using a combination of really pretty greens to get the meal off to a gorgeous start. I make green salads all the time, always using different ingredients but generally sticking to the same basic tenets which are a) to make sure your greens have been carefully washed, dried, and chilled and b) to mix the dressing right in the bottom of the bowl and then toss it with your hands. I also like to ensure my vegetable and fruit additions are sliced very thinly so that they can be more easily tossed into the leafy greens. On that note, I also like to soak my red onion slices in water or lemon juice once they’ve been sliced, there’s nothing that ruins a salad faster for me than the taste of acrid burning onion.

Big green tossed salad in an oval bowl with radishes and red onion

big green salad:

1 packet of arugula, washed and dried completely

1 packet of baby spinach, washed and dried completely

1 packet of watercress, washed and dried completely

1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, torn into large pieces

1 bunch of radishes, sliced into thin half moons

3 stalks of celery, sliced into thin half moons

1/2 small red onion, sliced thinly, soaked in water for 20 minutes, and then drained completely

1 English cucumber, partially peeled in strips, sliced, and then drained on paper towel for 20 minutes

1 bunch of fresh basil, cut in a fine chiffonade

1 bunch of fresh mint, torn into small pieces

1/4 cup of dried cherries or cranberries, snipped into small pieces with scissors

Juice of half a lemon

1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar

1/3 cup fruity olive oil

Kosher or sea salt to taste

Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

Whisk together the lemon juice, sherry vinegar, and olive oil in the bottom of a large salad bowl adding a generous amount of salt and pepper to taste. Add the leafy green portion of the salad first, tossing with your hands to coat with the dressing. Add the sliced vegetables next, continuing to toss the salad with your hands. When all of the salad ingredients have been coated with the dressing top the salad with the fresh herbs  and dried fruit. Adjust for seasoning and serve.

As for musical accompaniment to my salad making, I have to admit that it was primarily good old fashioned conversation in this case; I would argue that it’s the most important part of a celebratory meal. The common denominator that brings us all together.

Another Rainbow Salad

Rainbow Salad

After a day of way too much strawberry ice cream I needed a meal that was ridiculously, obviously healthy; there is no way this salad could be misconstrued as anything but colourfully nutritious. I have cucumber, radishes, strawberries, yellow sweet peppers, grated carrot, avocado, romaine lettuce, edamame, parsley, pepitas, chia seeds, and black sesame seeds. I made a salad dressing out of dark sesame oil, rice vinegar, soy sauce, minced garlic, 1 tsp. brown sugar, and grated ginger (basically, raiding my pantry for ingredients that would work well together). I dressed the salad and let it sit for about 10 minutes to get the crunch out of the chia seeds and because, well, I just happen to like my salad on the soggier side.

Rainbow Salad

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Fantastic salad for dinner with my mom tonight, a rainbow salad with cocktails and Miss Marple. This is what’s in it: baby Swiss chard and kale, spinach, grated carrots and beets, cucumbers, yellow peppers sliced into very thin pieces, cherry tomatoes,  pickled shallots, Macedonian feta with a texture like wet clay and a taste that is creamy and mellow, fresh basil, and a red wine vinegar vinaigrette. It’s so fun layering the ingredients to create such a pretty looking Sunday night dinner and especially  nice when you’re with someone who loves cooking just as much as you do.

Yam Hash Browns and Eggs Breakfast on Salad Greens

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The possibilities and inspirations behind the salads I make are near endless. I get so much pleasure from composing a rainbow plate of salad from seemingly random combinations of ingredients. I have a salad almost everyday for lunch and am always bringing out containers of grated carrots and beets, deeply green leaves, pomegranate seeds, pickled shallots, pitted Castelvetrano and Niçoises olives, leftover roasted vegetables from the night before, toasted nuts and seeds, etc. to assemble an impromptu salad at the kitchen table where I eat my lunch at work. Perhaps it’s a placebo effect, but when I eat salads regularly I feel like I’m genuinely doing something nice for my body. It’s such a good feeling to experience a revitalized sensation of lightness after eating a gigantic meal of plants and other nutritious ingredients in their most honest state. Lately I have been combining my two favourite meals, breakfast and a big salad, into a sort of hybrid series of recipes. These yam hash browns couldn’t be simpler to make and can easily be adjusted in terms of quantity depending on the number of people you’re cooking for.

yam hash browns and eggs breakfast on salad greens:

1 yam, washed and cut into small pieces (leave the peel on)

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1/4 tsp. chili powder

1/4 tsp. dried dill

Kosher salt to taste

2 cups of mixed salad greens, my favourite combination right now is spinach, iceberg lettuce, and Italian flat-leaf parsley

5 or so cherry or grape tomatoes, halved

1 lemon, juiced

Drizzle of olive oil

Freshly cracked black pepper

1-2 eggs, either poached, soft-boiled, or fried

*Lately when I make this I have been using some smoked Maldon sea salt as a finishing touch, this adds a wonderful subtle flavour reminiscent of the bacon that so often accompanies eggs.

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the yam on a small baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, stirring to coat. Add the chili powder, dill, and salt and stir once again until evenly distributed. Bake for 45 minutes or until browned and crispy on the outside.

2. In a large bowl toss together the salad greens, lemon juice, olive oil, black pepper, and a small pinch of salt. Arrange on a large plate, adding the halved tomatoes to the salad in a small mound.

3. Pile the baked yam hash browns beside the tomatoes and cover with an egg (or two) before finishing with smoked sea salt if you have it, although kosher salt would do just fine.

I’m going to see Slowdive in November and I am !!so!! excited about it (especially because I just found out that Low are going to be the openers! As a result I’m in full shoegaze British invasion mode. Lush reminds me of some of My Bloody Valentine’s  more obvious pop songs and are correspondingly lovely and ethereal.

Lush – For Love

Greek Salad with Lemon Chicken

Greek Salad with Lemon Chicken

Great big salads full of contrasting textures, flavours, and colours will always be one of my favourite choices for dinner. After a long day spent chatting with customers and being generally very extroverted I find a half an hour spent carefully preparing a salad and all of its components both calming and re-energizing. I can preoccupy myself with something as tediously minute as slicing a cucumber at uniform lengths or quartering cherry tomatoes and eventually I begin to feel back in my own body again. I’m not suggesting everyone take this long to make a salad at the end of the day, but for me it’s therapeutic. I like to make this salad on a big platter rather than a bowl, as you can layer the ingredients and display them beautifully in an organic presentation. You could make this vegetarian and omit the chicken; you could also add Kalamata olives (with or without pits), large rustic croutons made of day old bread, sundried tomatoes packed in oil, capers, or thick curls of Parmesan cheese.

greek salad with lemon chicken:

3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

2 Tbsp. olive or grapeseed oil

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

1/2 tsp. salt

Pinch of freshly ground pepper

 

1/2 of a red onion, sliced into the thinnest half moons you can manage

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

 

4 cups of green lettuce (I like romaine or iceberg), torn into bite sized pieces

4 cups of spinach, sliced into thin ribbons

1 cup of sliced tomatoes, I often use cherry or grape tomatoes outside of season but any flavourful kind of tomato will be delicious

1 cup of sliced cucumbers, with the skin left unpeeled if possible

1 green pepper, sliced thinly

2/3 cup of crumbled feta

 

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

3 Tbsp. red wine vinegar

1/3 cup of olive oil

1/2 tsp. dried oregano

Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste

1. For the chicken: place chicken in a shallow baking dish and cover with remaining marinade ingredients. Allow to marinade for 10 minutes or up to several hours. Bake at 360 degrees for 40 minutes or until no longer pink inside. Set aside while you prepare the salad.

2. Combine the onion and the lemon juice in a separate bowl, allow to sit for at least 10 minutes.

3. Layer the lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, cucumbers, green peppers, red onion, and feta on a large platter.

4. Slice each chicken breast into several pieces and arrange on top of the salad. Whisk together the dressing ingredients and drizzle over the salad and chicken. Allow people to help themselves.

These past 2 weeks have been so happy for me; my mom and my sister have finally moved here from London, Ontario and are starting a very brave and new beginning in Vancouver. The vast majority of their things were shipped across the country in boxes and this included all cooking and dining essentials, resulting in their presence for dinner almost every night. It feels so amazing to have dinner with my family, something I haven’t been able to do in almost 4 years. My sister has been picking the music some nights while I make dinner and this Koop song has been a favourite, it reminds me of a trip hop version of the “To Catch a Thief” score – beautiful and romantic, while slightly dark and creepy.

Koop – Jellyfishes