Category Archives: Sides

ROASTED BEET SALAD

[A quick note: Anders, our fine sommelier, had hoped to bring us Part II of his Wine Tasting Basics today, but due to travel & time constraints, I’m afraid we’ll have to anticipate his return for one more week.  In the meantime, roast some beets!]

beet tops 2

The people we love come with us.  They show up in the form of a borrowed word or phrase, an acquired habit, or an inside joke.

File respectively under:
-my photographer Sonya and the adjective “junky,”
-my new bff Coco who’s given me her oh-so-satisfying “Okay then!,”
-my Hindu mother who went to parochial schools in India and the fact that I cross myself when an ambulance drives by,
-my college roommate Rebecca’s many nicknames for me, including “Furlybum”  and “Mighty Mighty OJ.”  (Don’t ask because I’m not really sure I can explain.)

Even beyond the silly, surface ways, our relationships change us, hopefully for the better.  I like to think that the measure of a healthy partnership of any kind is knowing that you are an improved, fuller version of yourself in the context of that related space, and that the other person enjoys the same benefit as well.

I can identify dozens of things that are different about me since I first met Jill seven-and-a-half years ago.  Some are direct descendants of her habits & quirks, others have come more obliquely as I’ve grown in relationship with her, but I am grateful for all of them.

Witnessing her deep patience has allowed me to slow down a bit in my own life; I’m able to sit out in the backyard for a while and be still, be quiet.  My appreciation of animals, the two cats and dog in our house, the birds we feed in the back, even the little lizards who greet me on the gutter drain in the mornings, have all swelled by observing her.

When I look in the mirror now, I see through a lens tainted by her bias, which is a much more flattering light than I used to put myself in.  I really like the person I am, and I wouldn’t be that person without Jill.   She has converted me to the cult of football, transferred over her cinematic obsessions with Greta Garbo & Meryl Streep, and all-in-all brought out the very best parts of myself by cheering, supporting, & loving me fiercely.  And what have I done for her?

I got her to love beets, of course.

beets, pecans, & feta 2

Jill was a total beet skeptic before I made this salad, but it had such an impression on her that she planted beets in our garden soon afterwards.  Even if you don’t grow them on your own, consider adding fresh beets to your fall staples.  They’re usually not so expensive, keep in the fridge forever, and roast up so easily, I’m going to call them foolproof.

Serve this salad over lettuce or on its own, and feel free to tinker with the ingredients—adding dried cherries or cranberries, switching out the nuts, etc.  Come to think of it, this mixture would go nicely over a bed of couscous or quinoa, too!

ROASTED BEET SALAD

ingredients: finished beet salad

beets
feta cheese
pecans, toasted & chopped
thyme, fresh or dried (optional)
olive oil
salt  & pepper

oven: preheat to 425

Cut the tops & bottoms off of the beets.  [If you like, save the beet greens to wilt down in a pan with a little olive oil & garlic—yum!]  Dice into pieces that are roughly the same size and easy to eat.

Transfer the beets to a roasting pan or baking dish.  Drizzle generously with olive oil, then season with salt, pepper, & a few sprinklings of thyme.  Toss to coat, then roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes, until the beets give when nudged with a fork (if you like yours softer, roast longer).

Let the beets cool a bit but not too long before combining with crumbled feta and pecans.  Serve on its own or over lettuce, spinach, greens.  If the latter, I recommend making your own quick vinaigrette with balsamic vinegar & some olive oil.  (I’m especially partial to a fig-infused balsamic, which complements the flavor of the beets perfectly).

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MARINATED SALAD

I can’t take any credit for this recipe. All of it goes to Veena.

marinated salad top view

This is one of those dishes that acquires a following, the kind that makes people come back for seconds and beg a recipe card, the kind they start making themselves and hooking others onto. Like those charts they showed us in high school about how quickly & widely an STD can spread, only far less terrifying.

There’s nothing unlikeable about this dish (I know, Emma, I can hear you protesting—go ahead and leave out the capers, okay?)

a) You can make it ahead of time, in fact, in tastes much, much better that way.

b) It lasts an incredibly long time in the fridge.

c) Works equally well in all seasons.

d) Is dirt cheap.

e) OH YEAH, it’s also crazy-delicious & good for you.

I’ve served this alongside sandwiches and burgers, in the midst of a potluck spread, with pita & hummus, as an easy dinner-party vegetable. I bring it to work on a regular basis because it keeps so darn long and goes with almost anything else I decide on for lunch. This salad is also a great choice to make for a family who is grieving, just had a baby, or is in a similar state of overwhelm—you can provide a healthier counterpoint to the usually carb-and-cheese-laden dishes that tend to be delivered in such circumstances.

My mom’s been making this salad for as long as I can remember; the tradition in our family evolved such that we always had it on New Year’s Day, along with the equally famous shrimp creole (that’s coming this winter, ya’ll, don’t worry) & wild rice. Marinated salad works wonderfully alongside this main course, but also serves another purpose; allowing everyone to fulfill their black-eyed pea quotient in a tasty way.

If you are not familiar with the food commandments down here below the Mason-Dixon line, one very strong and non-negotiable one is that you must eat black eyed peas on the first day of the new year, or face twelve months of bad luck. For kids who were tortured by the taste, the compromise became one bean per month, but I’m pretty sure with this dish, you and/or your kids won’t have any trouble eating more than twelve peas.

MOM’S MARINATED SALAD

This is dead easy to make, I promise you can’t mess it up. Feel free to substitute fresh herbs for the dried or dried beans for the canned. You can also used canned corn instead of fresh, but since corn on the cob is so plentiful, cheap, & delicious right now, I recommend you go that route.

Any combination of beans will work, so throw in what you have on hand (cannelini beans are nice, as are pintos). Make sure not to use any with added salt or flavor. If you normally object to red onion, I heartily encourage you to try it here—the vinegar will cut much of the bite, and it just looks so much prettier than white or yellow would.

ingredients: marinated salad

1 can each:

dark red kidney beans

garbanzo beans (a.k.a. chickpeas)

black eyed peas

green beans*

2 ears’ worth of fresh corn kernels corn

1 small jar marinated artichoke hearts, roughly chopped

Drain the beans in a large colander & rinse. Transfer to a sizeable bowl, then add corn and artichoke hearts.  Heat the following in a small saucepan:

1 cup white vinegar

1 cup sugar

Once the sugar has fully dissolved and the mixture boils, remove from heat.

Stir in:

½ red onion, very thinly sliced

2 T capers

1 T dried parsley

1 T garlic powder (less if you aren’t a garlic fan)

1 tsp. chives, minced salt & pepper (be generous!)

Let the vinegar mixture sit for about 5 minutes, then pour over the vegetables. Mix thoroughly and then drizzle with a few tablespoons of olive oil. For the best taste, allow to sit on room temperature for 1 hour before serving or storing in the fridge for future use.

*If you want to use fresh green beans, you’ll need to blanch them first.

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: SNAP PEA SALAD

Ya’ll.  I am so tired and so full.  My in-laws are in town.

Jill’s parents are what you might call “good country people,” Louisiana folk who grow big gardens, hunt deer, & wear me out even though they are fifty and sixty years older than me, respectively.  I think it’s because they work so hard and all of the time that they can eat the way they do; which is to say that if I ate what they eat all of the time, I’d be six months out from a triple-bypass surgery and forty extra pounds.

snap pea salad

Our running joke when we come home from their house or when they leave ours is “I need something green, please!”  Most of what we eat with them is fried—for example, tonight’s meal consisted of onion rings, fried shrimp, this coleslaw, squash casserole (with cheese!), and double-chocolate brownies.  With whipped cream.

So, I think I’m going to make this salad tomorrow and eat it all myself.  Let’s hear it for vegetables.

SNAP PEA SALAD

The following is not a prescriptive recipe; please feel free to tinker.  And it tastes even better if you can make it an hour or two before serving.

ingredients: snap peas

2 cups snap peas, washed & trimmed*
3 carrots, grated (yielding about 1 cup)
1 ½ T fresh ginger, minced
¼ cup cilantro, picked
toasted sesame seeds for garnish

dressing:

¼ cup bottled garlic dressing (I used Annie’s Roasted Garlic Vinaigrette because I am obsessed)
1 T toasted sesame oil
1 T rice wine vinegar or the juice of ½ a lime
soy sauce or salt to taste

Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Toss with dressing & adjust salt, etc. to taste.  Serve immediately or refrigerate until you’re ready.

*To trim, just snap off the ends & remove the middle “string.”

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES-POTATO SALAD

le potato salad side angle

Big week coming up, right? The birth of our nation, stars, stripes, fireworks, cold beer, fired-up grills, pools full of kids, etc. We Americans celebrate in style.

My parents came to this country in the late 1960s from India. Like most immigrants, they have always been fiercely patriotic. “Only in America” was a reverential phrase, oft-repeated in the course of my growing up. Someone has done something marvelous, risen above circumstances, innovated, liberated, volunteered, changed careers in middle age, made something out of nothing.

Only in America.

Of course, it isn’t exactly true that America is the ONLY place one can do such things, but when you’ve entered this place with fresh eyes, as my parents did, the freedoms, opportunities, and equalities we celebrate every year on the Fourth of July occur like realities and not just abstractions.

I am fiercely proud to call myself first-generation; the first of my family to be born here. I’m fiercely grateful to my parents for the courage and sacrifice it took to come to this country (the first plane trip of my mother’s life took her to JFK International Airport: she was twenty-one years old and dressed in a sari).

To honor them, and this place, I’m going to try to remind myself that my freedom is real, as real & palpable as the slices of cool watermelon I plan to consume this weekend, and that many millions in the world thirst after the freedom I am able to take for granted every day.

As a matter of tradition, I’ll make this potato salad, which my Mom loves (her birthday is Thursday, as a matter of fact. Happy birthday, Mom! You are a badass & I love you!) We’ll drink imported beer, listen to Hindi music, & celebrate some dead-and-gone Patriots with crazy ideas and a lot of gumption, who built this thing we call democracy.

Only in America.  And thank goodness for that.

SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: POTATO SALAD
serves 4-6

There are infinite variations on this, of course, whereby you could include a couple of chopped, hard-boiled eggs or crumble in some cooked bacon, but I like to keep my potato salad nice & simple. ‘Cause I’m old school like that.*

2-3 lb. red potatoes, scrubbed

½ of a red onion, diced

2-3 stalks celery, diced

4-5 tiny or 1-2 big dill pickles, diced

¾ cup mayonnaise (not the fake stuff! puh-lease not the fake stuff!)

½ cup Dijon mustard (not the yellow stuff! puh-lease not the yellow stuff!)

a big handful of fresh dill, chopped

salt & pepper, to taste

shiny new potatoes 3

Place the potatoes in a large pot & cover with cold water. Bring the water to a boil & cook potatoes until fork-tender, between 15-20 minutes depending on potato size. Drain & cool potatoes before chopping them into fork-friendly cubes.

This really couldn’t be easier. Place all of the ingredients (except s&p) in a bowl—mix carefully until everything’s evenly distributed. I like to use a spatula for this part so as not to upset the taters too much.

Taste-teste and add salt, pepper, maybe more dill if necessary. Be sure to refrigerate if you’re not serving right away.

*Remember those little old men at the end of The Incredibles? “No school like the old school!”

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: COLESLAW

You know those recipes you would beg, borrow, or steal for? Yeah, this is definitely one of them.

coleslaw

Take this coleslaw to a potluck, grill-out, or summer picnic, and I guarantee you’ll have people clambering not only to lick the bowl clean, but also to ask you for the recipe.

I actually didn’t have to beg terribly hard to get this recipe myself—lucky for me, my friend Kathy is a generous recipe-sharer. She’s also responsible for broadening my culinary horizons and know-how when I was just wee college student some half-a-dozen years ago!

This crunchy, spicy slaw goes well with just about any grilled meat or burger. Feel free to adjust the proportions in the dressing to suit your tastes. Coleslaw definitely qualifies as a summer classic, and I’ll eat it in pretty much any incarnation. How do you like yours?

COWBOY KICKOFF COLESLAW
adapted from the Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas (via K. Glenney)

This recipe makes a LOT of slaw, so feel free to halve it.

vegetables: yellow bell pepper

4 cups shredded cabbage
(I used both green & half red)

2 cups shredded carrots

2 bell peppers, julienned
(I used one orange & one yellow)

2 chopped jalapeños
(just 1 if you’re heat-shy)

½ bunch cilantro,
picked off the stem & rough-chopped

slaw vegetables dressing:

1 cup mayonnaise

2 T maple syrup

2 T vinegar

2 T Dijon mustard

1 T Worcestershire sauce

1 tsp. chili powder

1 tsp. cumin powder

1 tsp. coriander powder (if you don’t have it/can’t find it, not a dealbreaker)

1 clove garlic, minced

juice of ½ a lime

salt, to taste

Combine all the raw vegetables in a bowl. Whisk the rest of the ingredients together in a separate bowl, then pour over the vegetables. Toss to coat & refrigerate until time to serve. Best if made ahead! Those are four of the sweetest words in the English language: best if made ahead.  Sigh.

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SUMMER CLASSICS SERIES: PASTA SALAD

“Hot town, summer in the city…”

It’s June. My town (Houston) is hot, and it’s only going to get hotter as the weeks roll by. Luckily, along with the heat come ears of sweet corn, ripe Texas peaches, and these adorable yellow heirloom tomatoes, straight outta the Blue Jean backyard.

tiny yellow heirlooms!

I love summer, unabashedly. Cutoff shorts, tank tops, sunscreen, fluffy beach towels, oversized shades, sweat—bring it on, I say! To honor the sultry season, here at Blue Jean Gourmet we’ll be featuring favorite summer dishes every Tuesday from now until Labor Day. Everything from potluck-friendly dishes (like the one below) to pitcher-friendly beverages and crowd-pleasing desserts…Blue Jean Gourmet will be celebrating summer right, and we hope you will celebrate with us!

Some recipes will be familiar (Southern-style potato salad, anyone?), while others will offer a twist on old favorites (a colorful, Southwestern-style coleslaw with a kick!) As always, I promise to provide straightforward, delicious food which is well-worth making, and worth making again and again. If you have any suggestions or requests for summer food favorites as we move forward, please leave a comment or send a note to bluejeangourmet (at) gmail (dot) com.

Let the Summer Classics Series begin!

orzo up-close

This pasta salad recipe is a lighter twist on the mayonnaise-heavy classic, and it’s perfect for summer because a) you can make it ahead of time, b) you can feed a crowd with it, c) the method is very straightforward, and d) the dish highlights all that’s lovely about summer produce. I like to call this recipe “farmers market friendly,” because you can easily adapt this salad to whatever vegetables looked the best at your local vendor.

If you’re not familiar with orzo, now is the time. Generally described as a rice-shaped pasta (personally, I think it looks more like little teardrops, but whatever), you can find orzo in little bags next to all of the other boxed noodles on the pasta aisle. Orzo’s one of the things I always keep in my pantry because it’s so versatile. The bag may be small, but be warned—it cooks up to fairly large amount!

My friend Lee originally introduced me to this recipe (hey you!), and she suggests making this dish more carnivore-friendly by adding chopped prosciutto at the end. Frankly, I’ve never done this, because the dish is so darn tasty as it is…but then again, so is prosciutto.

In tribute to Lee (who works at my high school and in whose office I spent a great deal of time reading Dostoevksy), I’d like to connect classic food with classic literature. A few of my fellow book-nerds and I have decided to take on a “big” book for the summer, a classic we haven’t gotten around to reading yet. Mine? Joyce’s masterwork, Ulysses. I’m a little nervous but a lot excited (book-nerd, remember?) and curious if any of you out there are taking on a substantial summer read. Check out the “100 Greatest” lists at The Guardian, Random House, or Time Magazine for inspiration, and let us know what your suggested favorites are! I know we’ve got a bunch of fellow book-nerds (and teachers and librarians) reading this blog.

So, to sum up:

1) Tuesdays will be Summer Classics Days here at Blue Jean Gourmet from now until Labor Day. Send us suggestions for dishes to feature/adapt!
2) We like classic literature, along with classic food, here at BJG. What are your favorites among the great books? Taking on any big ones this summer?
3) This pasta salad is really, really good and easy to make. Try it!

Sautéed Vegetable Orzo
adapted from Lee Avant

You can use whatever veggies you want—I’ve just listed my favorites. Do your best to chop uniformly so the vegetables will cook evenly.  This salad will taste even better the next day, if there’s any left!

1 package orzo (rice-shaped) pasta orzo ingredients

1 red onion or 2 shallots (the latter has a milder flavor), chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

2 portabello mushrooms, cubed

1 zucchini, cubed

3-4 fresh tomatoes, cubed

grated parmesan, cubed feta, or bocconcini (tiny mozzarella balls)

olive oil

1-2 T butter (adds flavor)

optional: chopped fresh basil, fresh lemon juice, chopped prosciutto (find with the specialty cheese & deli meats)

Cook orzo in boiling, salted water until toothsome (6-8 minutes). Drain and set aside in a large bowl or serving dish.

Heat olive oil & butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion & garlic and sauté until fragrant. Toss in mushrooms and zucchini, cooking until desired tenderness is achieved (5-8 minutes).

Mix cooked veggies in with the pasta, adding the uncooked tomatoes. Blend in cheese and prosciutto (if using), adding more olive oil if needed to keep the pasta coated. Finish with a squeeze of lemon juice and garnish with basil.

Serve immediately or cover with foil & keep warm in a low oven. Enjoy!

finished orzo

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LEAH’S STRAWBERRY SALAD

strawberry salad

I was so nervous to meet Leah. She was the “best friend who came before” of my closest graduate school friend, Arianne. You’ve been there, right? There’s a new awesome person in your life and now, someone from their “old life” is coming into town to visit? They’ve got more history with your new awesome person than you do—a decade’s worth or more of memories, incriminating stories, photographs of old haircuts, mix tapes, the works. Not to mention, I had heard a million stories about Leah—she was confident, fearless, a foodie, a talented seamstress, and a firefighter to boot. Like, the kind that flies around in helicopters fighting forest fires.

You could say I was a little intimidated.

Of course, I shouldn’t have been worried. Although Leah’s list of dazzling attributes only grew after meeting her in person, among those attributes is “totally approachable.” The three of us had a blast together laughing, cooking, dancing, talking–plenty of friendship & good feeling to go around. And I learned another important thing about Leah: if she were a character in a Homeric epic, “maker of beautiful salads” would be her epithet:

(I'm afraid it's not a fancy Sonya picture; I took this one myself!)

(I'm afraid it's not a fancy Sonya picture; I took this one myself!)

While I’m good at making things yummy, I’m not always good at making them look pretty. Leah is one of those people who seems to do both effortlessly, and I strive to be like her someday. That’s why this salad is dedicated to her, to Arianne, and to those lovely occasions where your new friends and old friends get along swell.

LEAH’S STRAWBERRY SALAD strawberry salad 2
adapted from Food to Live By: The Earthbound Farm Organic Cookbook
serves 4

This salad is elegant and lovely, even if you can’t make it into a work of art! A great choice for summer, as it pairs perfectly with grilled meat. In the winter, I swap cranberries & Bosc pairs for the strawberries and use a store-bought, fig-flavored balsamic for the dressing.

In the summer, the “trick” is that you infuse your own balsamic using a few strawberries to impart flavor. Do this step as far ahead of time as you can and throw the rest of the salad together just before serving.

Now, blue cheese may make some of you nervous; I know it’s not for everyone. If you absolutely can’t stomach it, substitute crumbled feta or small cubes of a really sharp cheddar. You really want a strong cheese to stand up to the sweetness of the berries & the tartness of the balsamic.

for the salad:

1 bunch spinach or lettuce, washed, dried, & torn into small pieces
1 pint strawberries (approx. 12-15), sliced
½ cup blue cheese, crumbled (less or more if you like)
½ cup candied pecans, chopped (substitute plain or toasted pecans)

Prepare the vinaigrette before assembling salad:

4 T balsamic vinegar (good quality)
2-3 strawberries
¼- ½ cup olive oil, depending on how oily you like your dressing
salt & pepper
macerating strawberries
Remove green tops from the strawberries and chop them roughly. Place into a small bowl along with the balsamic. Press down with a fork or the back of the spoon to help release the strawberry flavor. Let the mixture sit, on room temperature, for at least an hour.

Assemble the salad. When ready to serve, carefully discard strawberries from balsamic mixture (if you’re willing to invest in a bit more effort, you can blend the berries and balsamic together). Drizzle olive oil in slowly while whisking (or blending) constantly. Add salt & pepper to taste; whisk to combine. Dress the salad and enjoy!

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