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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


  • 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


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.


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.


  • 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


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).

Shaved Asparagus and Couscous Tangle

26 May

lounging around

Guess what?  Asparagus is still in season.  In our house we’ve had it roasted, steamed, sauteed, every which way.  How about raw, you ask?  Yes, we do that too.  Now I fully admit that picking up an asparagus spear and sinking your teeth into it might not sound like the most enticing thing.  That’s why we shave it.

Shaving asparagus is kind of therapeutic.  You take each spear, one by one, and run your vegetable peeler along it to create super thin asparagus noodles.  It’s fun.  You should try it.  They will have just as much folate and potassium, in fact maybe even more nutritional value because you’re not cooking any of it out.  In the end you have a pile of asparagus ribbons that are just begging to tangle with some other vegetables, fruits, and grains.  Let’s indulge them.

Corn - check!

There’s that sweet corn again.  Also excellent raw, with its sweet pop-in-your-mouth kernels.  You can easily cut the kernels off the cob by placing a small bowl upside down inside a larger bowl.  Stand the corn cob on top of the bottom of the smaller bowl, and run your knife down the cob, all around it, to remove every last kernel.   They will fall into the larger bowl and you’ll save yourself a mess.


Tomato - check!

If tomatoes are available in your neck of the woods, please grab one and add it to this tangle.  (And no, tangle is not a technical term, it is what I decided to call this dish for reasons that will become obvious when you see the finished product below).  Let’s power up the antioxidant value of this dish, yes?  Chop up a tomato and throw it in.

After we add some citrus and herb action, we can serve this cool veggie-fruit conglomerate over warm Israeli couscous.  Sounds good, right?  It really is.  It’s a refreshing blend of flavors, textures, and temperatures.  It makes a fabulous light dinner.

Shaved Asparagus and Couscous Tangle (serves 2)

the tangled web we wove


  • small bunch asparagus, about 10 spears
  • kernels from 1 corn cob (about 1 cup)
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 2 tbsp lime juice
  • 1/4 tsp coarse salt, plus a pinch later on
  • 2 tbsp finely chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup (uncooked) whole grain Israeli couscous
  • extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling


1.  Shave the asparagus into thin ribbons using a vegetable peeler.  Place the asparagus ribbons, corn kernels, and tomato in a medium bowl.  Drizzle with the lime juice, salt, and parsley.  Toss everything to combine.  Set aside.

2.  Let the asparagus et. al. mingle together while you cook the couscous.  Bring a scant 3/4 cup water to a boil, then add the couscous and a pinch of salt.  Reduce heat to simmer and cover the pot.  Let simmer for 8-10 minutes, or until the water is absorbed and the couscous is tender.

3.  Divide the couscous between two shallow bowls and top with a heaping pile of the asparagus, corn, and tomato mixture.  Serve while the couscous is still warm, drizzled with a little extra virgin olive oil on top.

Chunky Guacamole Pitas

24 May

my pretties

Somehow all seems right with the world when tomatoes are ripe and in season.  In most parts of the world, I’m sorry but it is not that time yet.  In southern California, it is just starting, amazingly enough.  Not a lot of farmers have them yet, but this one guy at my market has beautiful ripe on-the-vine tomatoes already and they are out of this world.   Gloriously red, plump and juicy.

Tomatoes are one of my favorite foods, in part because they are magnificent raw or cooked.  They are packed with lycopene and thought to help prevent various cancers.  This salad pairs them up with another nutritional powerhouse, one that happens to also taste incredible, the avocado.

ready for destiny

When I buy avocados, I can’t help it.  I have to make guacamole.  It’s just ingrained in every fiber of my being.  I also happen to make pretty incredible guacamole, if I do say so myself.  This time, though, I wanted to change things up a bit.  It’s guacamole without being guacamole.  More like a guacamole salad, if you will.  The tomato and avocado are chunked, and nobody gets brutally mashed.  There’s a whole different texture here, but with the lovely familiar flavors of guacamole.

And what should we do with this chunky guacamole, you ask?  Why, put it in a pita.  No need to add cheese or meat – this is a sandwich that does perfectly fine as is.  It’s spicy, tangy, creamy, and crunchy all at once.  It is, in a word, lunch.

Chunky Guacamole Pitas (serves 2)

we've got chunky guacamole up in here


  • 1 avocado, halved, pitted, and diced
  • 1 medium-large vine-ripened tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • juice of 1 lime (about 2 tbsp)
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of cayenne OR 1 jalapeno, seeded & diced
  • one whole wheat pita, cut in half


1.  Gently toss the avocado, tomato, and cilantro with the lime juice, salt, and cayenne (or jalapeno).  Be careful not to mash the avocado.  Coat everything evenly.

2.  Divide the chunky guacamole between the two pitas, putting it inside to make pita sandwiches.  Serve immediately.