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Pasta Salad with Avocado-Tarragon Dressing

8 Oct

Eat your Green

The other night I went with my sister and a friend to the Hollywood Bowl.  One of the best things about seeing a concert there is bringing a picnic!  It’s one of those things I always want to do but usually don’t take the time to do, and instead just buy food somewhere nearby.  This time, we did it the right way.  My contribution was this pasta salad.

Summer may be over, but avocados are still going strong.   They are the base of this dressing, along with licorice-y tarragon and tart lime juice.  The contents of the salad itself are flexible, of course, but I used a blend of interesting pastas that came in my last Foodie Pen Pal package.  I also used grape tomatoes, spinach, and red bell pepper.

The main character here, though, is the dressing.  Avocado is filled with healthy fat and creaminess, so you really don’t need any cream or mayo or anything of the sort.  I added a tiny splash of extra virgin olive oil just to loosen things up a bit, and add a hint of flavor.   Tarragon is considered a pain reliever and is also filled with antioxidants.  It aids digestion as well.  Who knew?

Pasta Salad with Avocado-Tarragon Dressing

serves 4

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 lb. short cut pasta of your choice
  • 1 large (or 2 small) avocados, halved and pitted
  • juice of 1 lime (about 2 tbsp)
  • 1/4 cup (loosely packed) tarragon leaves
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves, chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced

METHOD:

1.  Bring a pot of water to a boil and add the pasta.  Cook until al dente, according to package directions, and drain.  Immediately rinse with cold water to stop the cooking and bring down the temperature

2.  While the pasta cooks, scoop the avocado flesh out with a spoon and put into the bowl of a food processor or a blender.  Add the lime juice, tarragon, salt, and cayenne.  Process until completely pureed and smooth, about 1 minute.  Stream in the olive oil to smooth the dressing out even further, or omit if desired.  Transfer dressing to a large bowl.

3.  Add the cooled (it’s okay if it’s a little warm still) pasta to the bowl on top of the dressing, and add in the remaining ingredients.  Toss everything together to coat well with the dressing.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to eat.  Serve cold.

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Nachos with Lemony Avocado

9 Jun

kitty approved

I cheated a bit.  I’ll admit it.  I couldn’t venture far from the guacamole category when using up my avocados.  I tried, I really did!  The idea of this blog is to show you how I use up my CSA and farmers market produce, and it would be a lie if I didn’t say that I have a hard time staying away from guacamole.  This recipe involves a super-stripped-down guacamole, though, with only three ingredients – avocado, salt, and lemon.  The avocado is filled with healthy fats that are good for your heart and immune system.  It’s creamy, rich, and delicious.  When you add a generous amount of lemon juice, it serves to awaken your taste buds.

time to wake up

The humble lemon doesn’t get a lot of love.  It’s such a great accompaniment and flavor enhancer.  It’s also loaded with antioxidant and antibiotic properties.  And of course, vitamin C.

So where do the nachos come in, you ask?  Of course this simple lemony avocado dip could just be a dip for plain old chips.  But I thought it would do well to grace a healthy version of a dish that is typically loaded with fat and calories.  Nachos!  And what’s more, these nachos are absolutely loaded.  This is the time to raid your refrigerator.  If you have leftover cooked chicken, beef, or beans, pick one and toss it in.  Any leftover greens, like spinach or arugula, they belong in there too.  Dig out that jar of salsa that only has a little bit left.  Why not?

The combination I’ve suggested below is just that – a suggestion.  It happens to be a delicious combination of flavors, so if you have these things on hand, try it out.  When you’re done, top it with your lemony avocado and enjoy.

Nachos with Lemony Avocado (serves 2)

this is not bar food

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups lightly salted tortilla chips
  • 1/2 cup cooked chicken, beef, or beans
  • 1/4 cup cilantro leaves
  • 1/2 cup spinach or arugula leaves
  • 1/2 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella
  • 1 avocado
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup salsa

METHOD:

1.  Preheat the broiler.  In a baking sheet, spread out a single layer of the chips (they can overlap slightly).  Top with the meat or beans, the cilantro, the spinach or arugula, and the cheese.  Place under the broiler and cook until the meat is warmed through and the cheese has browned in places, about 6 minutes.

2.  While the nachos cook, remove the pit from the avocado and dice the flesh.  Put into a small bowl, sprinkle with salt and lemon juice, and mash with a fork.  Get it to a chunky consistency.

3.  When the nachos are done, get them out of the oven and top with the salsa, followed by the lemony avocado mixture.  Serve immediately.

Spinach Almond Pesto with Tomatoes

2 Jun

popeye is welcome any time

My husband has told me many times that when he was a kid, he suddenly wanted to eat spinach all the time because of Popeye.  I didn’t ask him if he only wanted spinach out of a can – I can only hope not.  But really, spinach has to be the vegetable most easily marketed to children, or at least it was when we were kids.  I’m guessing the average modern kid doesn’t have any interest in Popeye and Olive Oyl.

But I digress.  Spinach is a pretty unassuming green.  I wanted to feature it next after arugula, because even though they look somewhat similar, they are so completely different.  Spinach tastes like earth.  I don’t know a better way to put it, honestly.  It tastes green and earthy.  It tastes like something your body really wants you to eat.  And there are many good reasons for that.  It is generally considered the most nutrient-rich vegetable there is.  It is loaded with Vitamins K, C, and A.  It has more folate and iron in it than you would believe.  It’s been proven to be effective against even aggressive prostate cancer.  This is a serious vegetable, people.  Serious.

But there are only so many spinach salads and creamed spinach side dishes you can take before you start wanting something more interesting.  Enter pesto, the easiest and most variable sauce on earth.  This pesto is quite rich, so I decided to cut that richness with some diced Roma tomatoes.

sweet tarts

Roma tomatoes are not the most beloved of tomatoes – they are the ones most people buy out of season at the grocery store, when they are mealy and wooly on the tongue.  Not pleasant.  Well right now Romas are in season, and they are crisp, tart, and sweet.  They are bold little guys and they stand up nicely to this rich spinach and almond pesto.  Incidentally, tomatoes are also associated with prostate health, so this pesto is a very prostate-friendly one.  Tomatoes are also good for your colon.

The obvious thing to do with pesto is to thin it with a little pasta cooking water and then toss it with your pasta.  That certainly works here, but I would encourage you to think outside the box.  It could be an appetizer served on toasted baguette slices.  It could be a pizza sauce alternative.  It could be a dipper for garlic bread or grissini.  Or even a sandwich spread.  The recipe below will make more than you’ll be able to eat in one sitting if you are feeding two people.  This is a good thing.

Spinach Almond Pesto with Tomatoes (makes about 2 cups)

colorful. flavorful. done.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds
  • 4 cups (loosely packed) spinach leaves, thoroughly washed and dried
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 2 tbsp grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (or more if preferred)
  • 5 medium sized Roma tomatoes, diced

METHOD:

1.  Place the almonds in a small skillet over medium-low heat.  Toast, stirring often, until just becoming golden brown and fragrant, about 2 minutes.  Be careful not to burn them.  Turn off the heat and place them in the bowl of a food processor or blender.

2.  Add the spinach, garlic, parmesan, and a generous pinch of salt and pepper to the processor.  Process until the spinach is finely ground and a cohesive paste is just starting to form, then stream in the olive oil until a more saucy paste begins to form.  Use your judgment and be careful not to add too much oil.  Stop the processor occasionally to scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary.  When everything is well combined, transfer to a bowl.

3.  Stir in the diced tomatoes.  Taste for seasoning, and add more salt and pepper if needed.  Serve or refrigerate in an air-tight container for up to two days (or freeze for up to a few months).