Fall is an amazing time of the year. Yes, winter has the gift-giving holidays, and spring is when love and yummy leeks start to bloom, and summer berries cannot be beat. But there is something about the air – when it is still warm, but you get a cold breeze – that brings in the new season. It seems Mother Nature likes to play around, alternating between hints of winter and reminiscence of summer. Like in Southern California when the weather just starts to cool off, and then the *bleeping* Santa Ana winds dry out your skin, hair, and make you want to simply drink water for dinner. I miss that.
I also miss some of my favorite fall rituals – like checking out the UCI Farmers Market on Saturday mornings for the latest fruits and veg to arrive. Or, going to Pottery Barn, Crate and Barrel, and Williams-Sonoma just to oodle at all the lovely fall things – red, orange, and eggplant purple decorations and kitchen tools begging to be purchased and used all while the house warming faint whiff of the latest Cinnamon Vanilla Apple Crisp potpourri fills the air. A little much? Yeah, I know. But I must admit – I’m a junkie when it comes to fall cooking and decorating. Did it just so happen that our Newlywed 10% discount at all of the aforementioned stores just coincidentally fell during the fall season? I think not, my friends.
But, minus the absence of the Santa Ana winds, the lack of commercialized retail stores, and weekend restaurant-abundant farmers markets, there have been other new fall things I am growing to love up in my new surroundings. Like purple peppers. Seriously – the alliterating tongue twister is true. I have never met a Peter Piper, but there are such things as packs of purple peppers. And we’ve got some. Yay!
The farm basket has been plentiful lately, with the end of summer sweet corn, juicy tomatoes, delicate lettuces, and, of course, peppers. So, inspired by the turning season, and adding a bit of harvest summer/early fall fruits and flavors, over the last few days I have traveled back to my vegetarian days and pulled out the OMG-I-totally-forgot-there-was-no-meat-in-this-dish recipes. I have had the hankering for fresh, flavorful, main course salads, and both of the ones I provided here left us satisfied (even Rob, who will never turn down a steak with the accompanying fried onion strings and loaded baked potato, loved them!).
I remember wine tasting in a field kitchen at the Honig winery (amazing experience) in Napa Valley and being told that anyone who doesn’t eat meat is crazy – “all the flavor is in meat!” Not true. Not all. One of the things I love about vegetarian cooking is how fun it can be to experiment with getting the maximum amount of flavor out of the ingredients used. Sometimes, the best taste is just in the genuineness of the food’s raw form. Other times, it’s realizing that a sharp bite of mustard or very aged cheddar cheese will explode in your mouth with the accompaniment of a bright, sweet Fuji apple. Or that if you want to add a hint of “What is that?” that a little Agave Nectar, or even the char of a grill mark on lettuce or fruit can bring a boring salad to a whole new level.
My biggest tip for salad lovers: always remember the lemons. Lemons, when used correctly are not bitter or sour – they are bright and clean and often act like salt, bringing out flavors in different ingredients while humbly hanging out in the background. Experiment, try it out, have a ball, and make lemonade out of your lemons – or yummy salads. Oh – and don’t forget to light your new fall-scented candle for ambiance.
Grilled Tomato & Apple Salad with 2-Mustard Vinaigrette (serves 4)
- 2 vine ripe tomatoes, halved
- 1 Fuji apple, cut into eighths.
- 1 large bunch of arugula (about 1 – 1 1/2 handfuls)
- 1 large bunch of baby red lettuce (about 1 – 1 1/2 handfuls)
- 3 slices Muenster cheese
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme
- 1 garlic clove
- Olive oil to drizzle
- 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
- 1 tbsp grainy mustard
- 1 tsp Blue Agave Nectar
- 1-2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- juice of 1/2 a lemon
In a large bowl, rub the bottom and sides with the clove of garlic. Mix the ingredients for the vinaigrette, minus the olive oil, in the bowl. Slowly pour in the olive oil, whisking as while pouring, emulsifying the mixture. Set aside.
In another bowl (or on cutting board), drizzle olive oil, s&p on the cut fruit. Place the tomatoes cut-side down, and the apples on one of the fleshy sides on a hot grill pan, or outside grill. After about 4-5 minutes, turn the fruit (if you see that the fruit is starting to soften, but no grill marks are made, then the pan/grill is not hot enough).
Meanwhile, add arugula and baby red lettuce to the large bowl with the dressing. Cut the slices of Muenster cheese into thin strips and roll into pinwheels (this cheese is soft enough to roll, and stay rolled, when sliced thinly). Add to the salad bowl.
When fruit is done, sprinkle with fresh thyme leaves and add to bowl. Gently toss to incorporate dressing, and mix salad. Serve and Enjoy!
- 1 c dried couscous
- 1 c water
- 2 tbsp butter
Bring butter and water to a boil, and then add large dash of salt. Turn off the heat and add the couscous and stir. Cover and leave sitting for about 5 minutes, or until all liquid is absorbed. Fluff with a fork, and keep covered.
- 1/2 c dried cranberries, roughly chopped
- 1/2 c pistachios, roughly chopped
- 3 scallions (white and light-medium green, discard tops), chopped
- 1/4 c fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 tbsp fresh dill, chopped
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
- 1 1/2 tsp Blue Agave Nectar
- 1/4 c fresh Feta cheese, small diced
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
To make the dressing, add the lemon juice and Agave to a small bowl. Add the pieces of Feta, crushing them with the back of a spoon. Whisk in the olive oil, and s&p to taste (you may find you will need more pepper than salt, as Feta cheese is briny).
To make the salad, toss the couscous, pistachios, cranberries, scallion and herbs in a large bowl. Top with the desired amount of dressing, and taste for s&p (again, I found I only needed a bit of pepper).
Serve warm over a small bed of lemony greens (greens topped with just a spritz of lemon juice).