Vegan Lentil Salad with Grilled Zucchini, Roma Tomatoes, and Pepper Jelly-Sage Vinaigrette

DSCN1851Yield: 6 servings

I discovered a brand new and brilliant way to cook lentils, courtesy of America’s Test Kitchen: brine them to soften the skin and then bake them in a dutch oven so they don’t crash together and break apart while they simmer.  You can find their method HERE, along with some tasty salad ideas. (Note: I obviously didn’t use chicken broth.  I could have used vegetable broth, but water worked yielded lentils full of flavor.)

After trying that method, I had a beautiful bunch of them with which to do something.  I also had local red onion, zucchini and orange Roma tomatoes from my trip to the farm market.  There was nothing left to do but combine everything into a salad!

I wanted a special, but simple, dressing–some kind of vinaigrette–but I wasn’t sure what.  Scanning the door of the fridge, my eyes alighted on an unopened jar–a gift–of pepper jelly made here in Virginia.  Voila!  Then, mentally reviewing the herbs in the garden, sage somehow sounded perfectly earthy and just the right note to counter the heat of the jelly.  Voila again!  But it seemed like it needed one more “warm”  spice.  The barest hint of clove or mace was just exactly right.

This combination of ingredients makes this recipe the perfect celebration of late summer (salad) while looking forward to the cool months ahead (dressing) because I always think of pepper jelly and sage in conjunction with the festive flavors of the winter holidays.

3 cups cooked French lentils

1/4 cup diced red onion (if desired, cover with  soymilk and drain before using to remove a little of the bite)

2 orange Roma tomatoes, diced (red is fine; the orange ones were just so beautiful at the farm market)

1 6-inch zucchini, sliced in thirds lengthwise, lightly salted, grilled 2 to 3 minutes on each side, cooled, and diced (I used my Lodge indoor grill pan over medium-high)

Sea Salt to taste (don’t be stingy!)

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Pepper Jelly-Sage Dressing (recipe follows)

In a large bowl, toss together all ingredients except dressing.  Check for seasoning and adjust if necessary.  Drizzle with dressing and gently toss to evenly distribute.  Serve immediately, or cover and refrigerate to allow flavors to marry before serving.

Pepper Jelly-Sage Dressing:

1/4 cup pepper jelly (I use a locally made brand)

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon mustard

6 tablespoons olive oil

Pinch sea salt

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Pinch garlic powder

Tiny pinch of ground clove or mace (a bare hint is all you want but it adds a little somethin’-somethin’!)

3 tablespoons fresh sage, minced or chiffonade (I like the latter, simply stack and roll 3 to 4 leaves and thinly slice into tiny ribbons)

In a small bowl, whisk together pepper jelly, vinegar, and mustard.  Whisk in olive oil in a slow stream and keep whisking until it emulsifies (thickens and comes together).  Add salt, pepper, garlic powder and clove or mace to taste and then whisk in sage.



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Vegan Zucchini, Onion, and Yellow Squash Gratin

Yield: 6 to 8 servings as a side dish

Olive oil

1 medium-large zucchini, trimmed, split lengthwise, and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices

2 small yellow squash,  split lengthwise, and cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices

1 small yellow onion (or half of a medium-large), peeled, halved, and cut into 1/4-inch slices

Sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Red pepper flakes to taste

3 tablespoons nutritional yeast

1 tablespoon vegan butter (I like Earth Balance)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup Panko bread crums (any bread crumb will do, but I love the crunchiness of Panko)

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs (I use equal parts sage, basil and oregano, but use what you have)

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.  Oil a 9-inch glass or ceramic pie dish with non-stick spray (or olive oil).  Add both squashes, drizzle with a little more olive oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes.  Toss and then spread to an even layer.  Top with sliced onion and sprinkle with additional salt, pepper and 1 tablespoon of the nutritional yeast.  Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.   Meanwhile, stir together the melted butter, olive oil, bread crumbs, remaining 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast and herbs.  After the vegetables have cooked for 20 minutes, remove the foil from the dish, sprinkle the top of the veggies evenly with the bread crumb mixture, and return to the oven for 10 minutes.  I like the top very brown and crispy, but if you prefer less color and crunch, simply remove the gratin from the oven after about 8 minutes.  Serve immediately or at slightly warmer than room temperature.

Note: this dish is also delicious with 1/4-inch thick slices of tomatoes (from a cored medium-large tomato) arranged over the top of the onion before the vegetables are sprinkled with the bread crumbs.

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Annie’s Vegan Herbed Cucumber and Chickpea Salad

Yield: 4 servings

On a recent Saturday afternoon, I had the most lovely lunch with my magnificent friend Ann Dearsley Vernon.  A few years back, she retired after a three decade career as Education Director/Education Director Emerius of the Chryser Museum.

If possible, her calendar is fuller now than then.  Everyone loves to be in the company of this bright, beautiful, disarming, elegant, tough, and witty 73 year old.  So, in addition to a slate of social engagements, she is a highly sought-after speaker, event chair, judge and, otherwise, active volunteer committed to a number of causes near and dear to her heart, from art education to civil rights to the YWCA and more.

In my case, we were combining business with an opportunity to catch up.  The only thing that has slowed down this powerhouse in the last two years was, unbeknownst to her, congestive heart failure due to heart damage sustained during a childhood bout with rheumatic fever.

Barely 9 months ago, Ann had a heart pump known as the LVAD (left ventricular assist device) installed.  Though it dramatically changed her life in some ways, it also saved it.  Henceforth, she will forever be joined to a computer and set of batteries neatly tucked into a compact black shoulder bag that operates the pump through a wire that enters her body beneath a sterile dressing.

I had the honor of interviewing Ann about her experience with this revolutionary “HeartWare” device for an article in the Top Docs/Women’s Health issue of Hampton Roads Magazine, to be published later this summer illustrated by captivating paintings she has created about her journey (think Frida Kahlo meets Marc Chagall).  (I’ll be sure to post a link once it hits the stands.)

So, though she’d been jurying an art school exhibition for 3 hours, she breezed home, fetched me from her garden, and nonchalantly put together a perfectly light and perfectly delicious lunch to enjoy while we talked…and talked…and talked.

While she didn’t write down how she made this bean salad—that’s not her way—she described what she did and I tried to duplicate it.  I used chickpeas, as that’s what I had, but her version featured creamy cannellini beans.  Either way, it’s absolutely addicting.

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon mustard

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1-15.5 ounce can chickpeas (or cannellini beans), rinsed and drained

Approximately 1/2 cup finely sliced spring onions (I like a ratio of 2/3 white to 1/3 green parts of the onion)

1 medium cucumber, sliced in half lengthwise, seeds scooped with a spoon and discarded, then each half slit lengthwise in half again, and sliced crosswise into 1/4-inch pieces

3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh herbs (I used a ratio of 1:1 basil and oregano, but some parsley would also be good, so use whatever you have)

In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, vinegar, mustard, and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Set aside.  In a medium bowl, gently toss together chickpeas or beans, spring onions, cucumber and herbs.  Season to taste with additional salt and pepper.  Drizzle dressing over, toss gently again, check for seasoning, adjust as desired, and serve immediately or chill until serving time.  Toss again before serving.

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The Blooming Platter Cookbook’s Vegan Fresh Pea and Tarragon Hummus is a Featured “Celebrity Recipe” on the Jazzy Vegetarian

Last week, as you may have read in an earlier post, I had the distinct honor of being a featured guest on Laura Theodore’s Jazzy Vegetarian radio show.  Too fun!

During our email correspondence following the lively interview–Laura has energy to burn!–she asked if she could post the recipe I shared on air on her blog.  I didn’t even have to think about that…the answer was, of course, “Are you kidding?  Absolutely!”  You can find my easy and beautiful spring recipe for Fresh Pea and Tarragon Hummus from The Blooming Platter Cookbook right HERE.

Check out the Jazzy Vegetarian blog, radio and TV shows, recipes and more.  Plus “JV” is also on FB…I hope everyone will “lick” it or “like” it…your choice!

Thanks again, Laura!

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Vegan Whole Wheat Penne Pasta with Roasted Butternut Squash and Kale, Walnut, and Rosemary Pesto Cream Sauce

I love my Kale, Walnut, and Rosemary Pesto, but I’ve enjoyed so much of it recently, that I wanted to transform it just enough to be a fresh take without taking away from its beautiful balanced flavors.  So I decided to combine it with some soy creamer and use it as a sauce to coat golden butternut squash and chewy-tender tubes of whole wheat penne pasta.

Roast the butternut squash in advance so it’s ready to go when you are ready to eat!

Yield 4 servings

8 ounces whole wheat penne pasta

1 cup Vegan Kale, Walnut, and Rosemary Pesto

1/2 cup plain soy creamer

2 cups 1-inch pieces of roasted butternut squash (Halve squash lengthwise, remove seeds and pulp, cut into pieces, toss with a tiny bit of olive oil, and roast approximately 20 minutes in a 450 degree oven, stirring after 10 minutes.  I find it easier to peel it when it is cool enough to handle, but you can peel it before roasting.)

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Optional garnish: sprigs of fresh rosemary

In a large pot of boiling, generously salted water, cook pasta just until al dente, about 8 minutes.   Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, whisk together pesto and soy creamer.  If you want the sauce to be a little looser, whisk in olive oil, a tablespoon at t time, until desired consistency is reached.  When pasta is cooked, drain, return to pot, and place over medium heat.  Immediately add sauce and toss together quickly.  Then add butternut squash and toss gently again.  Check for seasoning and adjust as necessary with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Remove the pot from the heat and serve the pasta immediately topped with sprigs of rosemary if desired.

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Vegan Lemon Verbena Ice Cream

Yield: approximately 1 quart

If you follow this blog, you know that I am a huge fan of Wheeler del Torro’s vegan ice cream. This founder and owner of Wheeler’s Frozen Dessert Company in Boston and author of The Vegan Scoop is a culinary genius. I’ve tried several vegan ice creams, with and without tofu, but wasn’t completely satisfied until I experimented with his formula.

The base for many, if not most, of Wheeler’s ice creams is a cup of soy or other vegan milk, 2 cups of soy creamer, 2 tablespoons of arrowroot (a natural starchy thickener) and 3/4 cup of sugar. You will scarcely believe how smooth and creamy the end results will be because the arrowroot thickens the base and, more importantly, reduces the formation of ice crystals.

Last summer I made lots of varieties and would hate to have to choose a favorite. This summer, with my first ever full-blown herb garden in full bloom, I decided to inaugurate ice cream season with Vegan Lemon Verbena. And, boy, am I glad I did. It was 97 here on Saturday. If you’re a frequent visitor, you know that lemon verbena is one of my favorite new herbs. The amount called for sounds like a lot, but it was really just about 3-4 nice-size stems.

If you don’t grow this plant, run, don’t walk, to your nearest garden center or farmer’s market and buy yourself a lemon verbena plant. It is unbelievably versatile for both savory and sweet dishes.

1/4 cup unsweetened soy milk
2 tablespoons arrow root powder
3/4 cup sugar
approximately 70 lemon verbena leaves, rinsed and completely dried (about 3-4 stems)
3/4 cup unsweetened soymilk (plain or vanilla would also be nice)
2 cups soy creamer
Optional garnish: sprigs of fresh lemon verbena

In a small bowl, whisk together 1/4 cup soy milk with arrowroot powder until smooth. Set aside. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, place sugar and lemon verbena leaves until leaves are finely minced. Pour remaining soymilk, soy creamer and sugar mixture into a small to medium saucepan and stir to combine. Place over medium heat and bring just to a boil. Remove from heat and quickly whisk in soy milk-arrowroot mixture until very smooth. Allow to cool to room temperature, whisk again if lumps remain, and then cover and refrigerate several hours or overnight. At this point, you may simply freeze the mixture according to your manufacturer’s directions. Or, if you prefer not to have the actual leaves in your ice cream, simply strain the mixture through a fine sieve, pressing on the solids, and then freeze. Scrape the finished ice cream into an airtight container and store in freezer. Serve garnished with a sprig of fresh lemon verbena.

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