The photo at the top is of my backyard. Well, it’s what my backyard looks like in June, when the landscape is lush and green and the river flows freely. At the moment, my backyard looks more like this:
Still beautiful, I know; we bought this house largely because of the location. But it’s March, and all that icy splendor is losing some of its charm right about now. I mean, the view hasn’t changed all that much in the last five months.
This is the time of the year when I crave green. I scan bare branches daily for signs of buds. Weeds are welcome, as long as they’re green. (My tolerance will wane as spring approaches, but right now, I’m desperate.) Even bare patches of brown grass can lift my spirit with the possibilities they suggest.
This springlike mood filters into the kitchen as well. Enough with the chilis and stews — it’s time to move on to lighter fare. My husband will be dragging the grill out to the deck as soon as the snow has melted enough to clear a path. Meanwhile, we’ll start with dinner salads.
We love the toasted chickpeas (below) all by themselves as a tasty snack. They’re slightly crunchy on the outside and creamy on the inside, nutty, salty and spicy. Total yum. Sprinkled on a salad, they add protein and substance. (Son makes amazing falafel that we serve with this salad instead of the chickpeas; watch future posts for that recipe.)
We all love the greens, carrots and chickpeas, but beyond that, we each want different toppings. Hubster likes cheddar, tomatoes and sautéed onions; Son likes black olives and shaved Parmesan; I prefer Gorgonzola or feta but otherwise will take all the fixin’s. Sometimes I add grilled veggies (or fish or chicken or steak), or blanched green beans, or avocado. Hubster and I will occasionally take a very old-fashioned scoop of cottage cheese on the side.
The dressing goes together really quickly. It also makes a perfect sauce for a cold pasta or potato salad. I use low-fat sour cream and mayo and skim milk to keep it relatively healthy.
Dinner Salad with Chickpeas and Gorgonzola
1 head Boston lettuce, rinsed and dried
1 bunch fresh spinach, rinsed, trimmed and dried
1 carrot, peeled
1 pint grape tomatoes
1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola
1 can ( 14 oz.) chickpeas, rinsed and drained
2 tbs. oil (olive or veg or canola)
1/2 tsp. Cajun seasoning (or Old Bay, or a pinch of cayenne)
1/2 tsp. salt
Tear the lettuce and spinach into bite-sized pieces and place in a large bowl. Use a peeler to cut the carrot into long, transparently thin strips and toss gently with the greens. Halve the tomatoes (or leave them whole) and add to the salad. Sprinkle the cheese on top.
Warm the oil in a big skillet over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, pour the well-drained chickpeas onto a kitchen towel and pat to dry as well as possible. When the oil is hot but not smoking, tip the chickpeas into the pan (gently, so you won’t get splattered). Sprinkle with the Cajun (or other) seasoning and stir. Cook for about 10 to 12 minutes, stirring every now and then, until they are browned and crispy. Sprinkle with the salt. Try to save some for topping the salads. Serve with some crusty bread or popovers, if you’re not carb-phobic.
Low-fat Ranch Dressing
This is even better with a mashed anchovy or a teaspoon of anchovy paste. You don’t taste fish, just a deep rich umami flavor. If you have fresh herbs on hand, by all means add some.
1 small clove garlic, minced
½ cup mayonnaise
½ cup sour cream
1 tbs. Dijon mustard
¼ cup milk, or more if needed
2 tbs. chopped parsley
Sprinkle the garlic with the salt and mash with the side of a knife until the garlic becomes a paste. (This ensures that the garlic is distributed evenly in the dressing; if you don’t mind an occasional bite into a piece of raw garlic, skip this step.)
Stir together the mayo, sour cream and mustard. Scrape the garlic up and stir into the dressing. Thin with milk until it’s a consistency you’re happy with. Season with black pepper and stir in the parsley.
I mix this right into a jar, so I can pop the leftover dressing in the fridge and have one less bowl to wash.
We’re off to Florida for a week. I’m new to this whole blogging thing. so I may wait until we’re back in the Frozen North before posting again.