Roasted Chickpeas and Sweet Potato Spinach Salad

My dear friend and business partner and I are teaching a class on vegetarian cooking, and for the class we wanted to share a recipe for roasted chickpeas. Roasted chickpeas are super easy to make and are a great snack all on their own. They are satisfying, crunchy, and they can be flavored a bunch of different ways.

Roasted chickpeas are a crowd pleaser, and great for kids, but we also wanted to find a way to incorporate them into another dish. My sister in law found this Melissa Clark recipe and made it for an outdoor BBQ the other weekend. I fell in love with this salad, and I knew that I had to put it into my salad repertoire ASAP. Yes, I'm posting two salad recipes in a row... but this salad is more of a meal than a salad. It's addictive and has one of the best dressings ever. It's one of those salads that really surprises you with how good it actually tastes.

I've adapted the recipe slightly to fit my own preferences. I'm using plain whole milk yogurt instead of Greek; I find it creamier and smoother. I also added a generous amount of za'atar to my dressing. Za'atar is a generic name for a family of Middle Eastern herbs, and it is also the name of a common spice mixture frequently used in the Middle East. The spice mix usually involves some combo of ground thyme, oregano, marjoram and sesame seeds. If you can't find za'atar you can substitute any type of herb (dried or fresh) that you like. Dill or parsley would be nice here. A mix of ground thyme and oregano would be good, too. You can also just omit the herbs entirely; the dressing is good with just the yogurt, oil, lemon juice and garlic. 

Roasted Chickpeas

2 cups cooked chickpeas (1 15 oz. can or from 1 cup dried chickpeas)
1-2 teaspoons of your favorite spice (paprika, cumin, coriander, chili powder, or a combo of any)
pinch of salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive or grapeseed oil

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

If you are using canned chickpeas, start by rinsing and draining the the chickpeas.

If you are starting with dried chickpeas, soak them in cold water overnight or  for at least 8 hours. Drain them then add them to a pot, and fill the pot with water (at least 4 cups of water for every 1 cup of chickpeas). Let the chickpeas and water come up to a boil then simmer until the chickpeas are tender and fully cooked. Timing varies depending on the chickpea, but if they are presoaked the chickpeas should cook in about an hour and a half.

Spread the chickpeas in an even layer over clean kitchen towel or over paper towels. Pat the chickpeas dry. Transfer the dried chickpeas to a sheet pan and add the the spice, salt, pepper and oil to the chickpeas. Toss until the chickpeas are evenly coated in oil.

Roast the chickpeas for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown and crispy.  If you are making these chickpeas for the salad recipe below, you can roast them at the same time that you roast the sweet potatoes.
In a small bowl or mason jar, combine the ingredients for the dressing. Whisk the ingredients together or shake the jar until they are fully incorporated. Add the dressing to the salad and lightly toss everything together until all of the ingredients are well coated. The salad can be dressed up to 1 hour before serving.

Roasted Chickpea and Sweet Potato Spinach Salad with Yogurt Dressing
Adapted from Melissa Clark of The New York Times
Serves 4-6

for the salad-
2 cups roasted chickpeas (see recipe above)
1½ lbs.  or 3-4 medium-sized sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed into 1-inch pieces
drizzle of oil
salt and pepper, to taste
6-8 cups spinach
4-5 green onions, thinly sliced

for the dressing-
¾ cup plain whole milk yogurt (European-style)
1 garlic clove, finely minced
juice of ½ a lemon
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon za’atar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Peel and cube the sweet potatoes into 1-inch pieces. Place the cubed sweet potato onto a baking sheet and drizzle with oil (about 2-3 tablespoons). Season with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper. Roast the sweet potatoes for 25-30 minutes or until browned, tender and cooked through. The sweet potatoes can be made at the same time as you roast the chickpeas. Once cooked, allow the sweet potatoes to cool slightly.

Add the spinach to a large salad bowl. To the spinach add the cooled roasted chickpeas and sweet potatoes. Top with sliced green onion.

In a small bowl or mason jar, combine the ingredients for the dressing. Whisk the ingredients together or shake the jar until they are fully incorporated. Add the dressing to the salad and lightly toss everything together until all of the ingredients are well coated. The salad can be dressed up to 1 hour before serving.

Avocado Mango Spinach Salad

It was an unusually hot spring day here in Los Angeles and we were going to have a BBQ birthday celebration outside for my lovely sister in law. I wanted to bring a light and flavorful dish to go with all the grilled heavy things, and I went off to the market with only the idea to get ingredients for some kind of salad.

At the farmers' market I picked up beautiful California avocados and a big bunch of cilantro (thank you California for all of your avocados!) I stopped at a grocery store for a few extra things and I saw some really perfectly ripe mangoes. Mangoes and avocados always go so nicely together and they are two of my favorite fruits forever and always. That's when I knew what salad I wanted to make. I decided to pick up some spinach. I wanted a green that would hold up a little to the warm day and the substantial mango and avocado. Butter lettuce or even thinly sliced Napa cabbage would go well in this salad too.

I made a gingery Asian-inspired dressing. These ingredients can hold up to a lot of flavor and the mango, avocado and cilantro go really well with ginger, lime, rice wine vinegar and sesame oil flavors. You don't need all of the ingredients listed, but I do think this type of dressing works better than a more classic French or Mediterranean vinaigrette.

Like all salads this one is infinitely interchangeable depending on your preferences. The stars of this show are creamy avocado and tangy sweet mango... the rest is up to you.

Avocado Mango Spinach Salad
Serves 4-6

for the salad-
5-6 full cups baby spinach
1 large ripe mango, cubed (or 2 if you want even more mango)
1 large ripe avocado, cubed (or 2 if you want even more avocado)
3-4 scallions, sliced thin (red onion or shallot would be good too)
1/4 cup sunflower seeds (or sub with roughly chopped cashews)
handful of cilantro, roughly chopped

for the dressing-
2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons Mirin* (optional)
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger with its juice
1 teaspoon liquid aminos or soy sauce
1 teaspoon agave or honey
juice of 1/2 a lime
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup oil (you want something pretty neutral like grape seed or safflower oil. Avocado oil would work well too)

Add the spinach to a serving dish. Pile the other salad ingredients on top of the spinach.

To make the dressing, combine the vinegar, Mirin, freshly grated ginger (you can do this with a Microplane... or you could even chop super fine if you need to... add more or less depending on how much ginger you love), liquid aminos, agave, and lime juice. Whisk in the sesame oil and grape seed oil (or shake everything up in a jar). Taste the dressing. This step is crucial. If its too tangy add some more oil. If you like it sweeter add more agave or honey. If you don't eat sugar leave the agave and honey out. If you want it saltier add more liquid aminos/soy sauce/salt. And so on and so forth...

Gently toss the salad with the dressing, be careful not to break up the avocado too much. Add as much dressing as you need to lightly coat all of the vegetables. You may have excess salad dressing depending on how heavily or lightly you like your salad dressed.

*Mirin is a sweet rice wine with very low alcohol content that is often used in Japanese cooking. You can usually find it in grocery stores next to the rice vinegar and soy sauce. I like having it on hand because it adds a really nice bright sweetness. It's totally optional here and shouldn't require a special trip to the store.

Roasted Delicata Squash

Squash season is my favorite time of year, and in my book Delicata holds the title for "best squash."

Delicata has such a buttery soft texture when roasted, it is naturally sweet, and the skin is fairly thin and edible. Sometimes it's nice not to have to bother with peeling hard squash. 

The seeds are also edible. In fact, they're delicious. You can cut the squash into rings and leave the seeds in tact. They'll roast along with the squash, and they add a nutty crunchy element to your dish. My dear friend over at The Yellow Bungalow is also a big fan of this type of preparation.

I add rosemary and a splash of balsamic vinegar to the squash, salt and pepper to taste, and pop these guys in the oven. They cook fast. I like them slightly on the darker end of roasted, but feel free to leave them as long as you prefer.

I eat these as a side, on their own, or on top of a salad. 
Delicata is in the top righthand corner of this display

Roasted Rosemary Delicata Squash
Serves 2-4

One medium-sized Delicata squash
Olive oil (about 2 tablespoons)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 sprigs of fresh rosemary, leaves removed from stem
Drizzle of balsamic vinegar (about 1 tablespoon) 

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Cut the squash into rings about 1/4-1/2 an inch thick depending on your preference. The thicker you cut the squash the longer it will take to roast.

Lay the rings out on a foil or parchment-lined baking sheet (not 100% necessary, but makes for easier clean-up).

Drizzle the squash with olive oil. Season with rosemary, salt and pepper. Drizzle with balsamic.

Roast in the oven for 12-15 minutes or until the squash is browned and cooked through. Halfway through cooking, check the squash and carefully flip each side over so that the squash evenly browns on both sides.

Serve warm or at room temp. Drizzle with more balsamic if you prefer.

Roasted Delicata on top of a Kale, watermelon radish, cucumber salad dressed with a simple dijon and balsamic vinaigrette 

Summer Rolls

At some point in my summer roll making practice, I decided to deviate from tradition. It took awhile, but after years of making them, it dawned on me that summer rolls are a vehicle that can be filled with whatever I want (i.e. rice paper wrappers are to summer rolls what flour tortillas are to burritos). Sometimes I add a protein, sometimes I add classic vermicelli noodles, and sometimes I add whatever ingredients I'm in the mood for that sound like they'd be good wrapped up together.

I made these as an appetizer for a potluck dinner on a recent hot late summer day (or middle summer day, as LA summers last until nearly Thanksgiving). These are basically salad in summer roll form. They should really be called salad rolls. I filled them with big meaty slices of avocado, fresh herbs and other veggies. You can fill these with your favorite vegetables. You could throw in some protein for a more substantial app. You could go out of left field and fill them with smoked salmon cream cheese, capers, and the other fixins' that usually go on a bagel. Have fun with it. You can make these hours before (or even the night before) you intend to serve them, which is an added bonus to the dish. 

I served these with a peanut sauce, but you could even serve this with your favorite salad dressing, or even plain soy sauce.

You get the point, the recipe is versatile.

I love these on summer days, when all you want to do is sit back with something ice-cold, talk to your friends, share something light to eat, and hang out on a porch in the slowly cooling night air. 

Salad Rolls
Serves 6-8

for the rolls-
1/2 a red bell pepper, cut into thin strips
1/2 an English cucumber, cut into thin strips
1 Hass avocado, sliced
1/2 a lemon
3 radishes, cut thin 
2-3 cups baby kale/greens (or your favorite lettuce)
fresh mint
fresh cilantro
fresh basil

for the peanut sauce-
1/3 cup creamy natural peanut butter (unsweetened is best, but you can definitely use regular peanut butter, just add less sweetener to the sauce)
2-3 tablespoons hot water
2 tablespoons light soy sauce (or to taste)
juice of half a lime 
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or to taste, you can sub sugar for maple syrup or omit entirely)
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced or grated fine
1 inch ginger root, minced or grated fine
pinch of dried chili flake

for the rolls-
Start by prepping all of your veggie. I make a station for myself on a large cutting board:
I cut the veggies (I used a mandolin for the radish), I squeeze lemon juice over the avocado (to keep it green and for added flavor), I remove the herbs from their stems, and I put everything into their own separate piles.

Next, I heat some water, and get a big 9 x 13 baking dish that I can pour a few inches of water into. You could also use a big bowl.

Then I take the rice paper wrappers (spring roll wrapper rice paper). You can find the wrappers in Asian markets, and they are also often in the Asian section of your grocery store. I have found them at Whole Foods, Gelson's and other big chain markets. You dip the wrapper into the warm water until it just starts to soften (about 10-20 seconds depending on the temp of the water). You don't want the wrapper to get too soft, or it will break apart. You just want it to become pliable. It will continue to absorb the water and soften when you place it on the cutting board.

Place the softened wrapper onto the cutting board, and begin adding your filling to it.
You can layer these however you like. I started with herbs. Next, I added my cut veggies.
Then I added my greens. At this point, you're ready to roll. You can basically wrap these like you would a burrito.

Fold over the sides first. Don't worry about perfection, just worry about making sure everything gets wrapped up tightly and is secure.
Next wrap the bottom part of the wrapper over the vegetables, and make sure the wrapper is tightly securing everything.
Roll the wrapper up tight, and your roll is finished. Don't worry if it doesn't feel like the wrapper is perfectly stuck on, it will get stickier as it sits.

And there you have it. You can now keep making the rolls until you have used up all of the veggies. The amounts given should give you about 8 rolls.
Slice the rolls in half diagonally, and serve with your favorite dipping sauce.

for the peanut sauce-
In a small bowl, combine the peanut butter with a little warm water to loosen it. Add the rest of the ingredients to the bowl, and whisk together. Taste and adjust the flavors according to your liking. You can add more water if you like your sauce thinner, or you can add more peanut butter if you like it thicker. 

Big Colorful Summer Salad

My dad is visiting from Jerusalem, and inspired by the salads that he loves to eat on a daily basis, I whipped this up as a main component for a light summer dinner. Along with the salad, I served smoked salmon and turmeric spiced basmati rice. The cool bright vegetables were a perfect compliment to the smoky salmon and aromatic rice.

I don't want to be misleading. This isn't an Israeli salad. For one, most Israeli salads are made up of a combination of tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and olive oil. Traditionally, these salads don't have lettuce, but in this case, I had a beautiful head of red leaf lettuce, and I wanted to include it to make the salad a more substantial dinnertime dish. Also, dressing for Israeli salads are super simple, and this salad includes a Dijon based vinaigrette. This salad is inspired-by, not in-the-tradition-of.

Those bright magenta things are thin slices of watermelon radish. Watermelon radish tastes similar to regular radish, but has a subtle sweetness to it. They are delicious and gorgeous and I love when they are in season. I found these at my local supermarket, but usually I spot them at the Hollywood Farmers' Market. 

The point is, for this salad you can throw in all kinds of chopped veggies on top of crisp lettuce. Think: big, colorful, and well-dressed.

Big Colorful Summer Salad
Serves 4-6

for the salad-
1 medium head red leaf lettuce, chopped
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 small persian cucumbers, diced
1 small red bell pepper, diced
3-4 red radishes, sliced thin
1 watermelon radish, peeled and sliced thin
2-3 scallions, sliced thin
1 generous bunch of dill, roughly chopped

for the dressing-
2 heaping teaspoons good quality Dijon
juice of 1/2 a large lemon (or a whole lemon depending on its size)
1 small garlic clove, finely minced (or you can use a press)
1/3 cup olive oil
1/2 teaspoon oregano
Drop of honey
pinch of salt and pepper

Wash and dice all of your veggies and herbs. Add them to a large salad bowl.

Whisk together all of the dressing ingredients (or put them in a mason jar with a tight lid and shake it up). Taste the dressing. Add more lemon, dijon, honey, oil or salt. Dressings are all about finding the balance YOU like. Ingredients differ in terms of flavor, and proportions may have to be adjusted. Dip a piece of lettuce into the dressing if you need a better idea of how it will taste on the salad. 

Right before serving, sprinkle salt over the salad and toss. Then add the dressing to the salad. Toss until all the components are evenly coated. 

You can add crumbled feta or grilled chicken to make a meal out of the salad itself. 

Marinated Red Bell Peppers

I am a sucker for anything pickled or preserved, and I'm a sucker for my grandmother's cooking She serves these marinated red peppers at dinner nearly every night. These peppers are a nice tangy, garlicky, accompaniment to any meal. I really like them alongside fish or chicken. They would make a great topping for a hot dog on the 4th of July.

I use white vinegar in the recipe because that's what my grandmother uses. I've only changed the recipe slightly, and next time I make these I'll try them out with red wine vinegar. Also, my grandmother usually makes these with a mixture of red and orange peppers. I picked up some lovely red peppers at the farmer's market, but I didn't see any orange ones. Use what you have. Green peppers will not taste as good because they are not as sweet. According to Baba, the exact measurements aren't important, and this recipe is as simple as something roasted and marinated can get.

As I mentioned, these guys are tangy AND garlicky. If you're not into garlic, skip it or add less. If you just started dating someone and you are making that person dinner for the first time, maybe don't serve them this recipe for that meal. Actually, do serve them this recipe. Garlic breath is cancelled out when both people have it. Just make sure you both eat the peppers.

Marinated Red Bell Peppers with Garlic

3-4 large red (or orange) bell peppers
3 cloves of garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon kosher salt
pinch of sugar
1/2 cup white vinegar
3-4 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 425°F.

Lay your peppers out on a foil or parchment lined sheet tray or baking dish. Poke a few holes in each pepper with a small knife, so that the peppers can let out steam as they cook. Place the peppers in the oven for 30-40 minutes, or until blackened, softened, and until the skin gets wrinkly and starts to peel off. It helps to flip the peppers over halfway through the cooking process.

Once cooked, transfer the peppers to a clean paper bag and let them continue to steam and then cool for 20-30 minutes.You can use a plastic bag, but I prefer paper. Sometimes, I'm too impatient to let the peppers steam and then also cool, and I try to peel the peppers while they're hot and have barely steamed. This is dumb on my part. 1) They're harder to peel. 2) They're super hot. Patience is helpful here.

Over a bowl, peel the peppers. If any juice escapes while you are peeling the peppers, save the juice. It is gold. Remove the stems and seeds from the peppers. Again, do this over a bowl or a plate and reserve any juices that have collected inside the pepper.

Slice the peeled peppers into strips. Add the peppers to the bowl of their reserved juices. Add the sliced garlic, peppercorns, salt and sugar to the peppers. Mix them about with your fingers. Cover the peppers with white vinegar. Add the olive oil. Let the peppers marinate overnight before serving. You can also transfer the peppers and their liquids to the jar and store them in that. Peppers will keep (but won't last) for 7-10 days.

Serve as a side salad to any savory meal. Or eat them on their own straight out of the bowl/jar.

Kale, Date & Almond Salad

The other night I ate at Rustic Canyon for the first time.  I'm a big fan of Huckleberry, which is owned by the same folks. My expectations were high and overall the meal was quite lovely. The place was packed and the ambience was lively. The cocktail I had was perfect and the beer and wine selections looked great.  Everything we ate tasted good, but there were two dishes that stood out more than the others.

Service was outstanding for the first half of the meal.  For the second half of the meal, our waitress seemed to forget about us entirely. We were more or less ignored once our first round of drinks had been replenished; this made ordering dessert a little difficult. Service isn't something that matters to everyone, but it does matter to me. I'm particularly sensitive to service when the price tag of the meal is high. Regardless of what I'm paying, if a place has pretty good food and excellent service I'll almost definitely return to that establishment.  If a place has great food and terrible service I'm unlikely to go back.  Maybe it was an off-night because they were so busy (there happened to be celebrities there that night), or maybe that's just how it is. Rustic Canyon was yummy, but I'm not sure I'll go out of my way to return.

Back to the food... the gnocchi with oxtail, strawberry sofrito, pine nut, and fennel pollen was the stand-out dish, and the kale salad was a close second. I really like kale, but it's not something I tend to order at restaurants. On the menu the salad was described as having 'honey' dates, walnut, Parmesan and lemon.  It sounded good and different, and it tasted even better than I imagined. The kale was bright and slightly bitter, the dates were velvety and sweet, the lemon vinaigrette was creamy and vibrant.

I came home wanting to eat it again.  Here is a take on the great salad I had that night.

Kale, Date & Almond Salad with Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette
Serves 2-3

4 cups kale (lacinato/tuscan kale would be best, but I used the regular variety), thinly sliced into ribbons
1/4 cup almonds, toasted and chopped (hazelnuts, pecans, or walnuts would also be good)
5 dates, pitted and halved
salt and pepper
juice of one lemon, Meyer if in season
drop of honey
3 tablespoons olive oil, or more depending on taste
crumbled goat cheese (optional)
shaved parmesan (optional)

Add the kale, toasted nuts, and pitted dates to a bowl. Lightly season the salad with salt and pepper.

In a small bowl or jar, add freshly squeezed lemon juice, a drop of honey, and a little more salt and pepper.  Whisk the olive oil into the lemon juice mixture until creamy and emulsified.  Taste your dressing and adjust accordingly.

Toss the salad with the dressing until the leaves are well coated.  Let the salad sit for at least 15 minutes before serving so that the kale properly absorbs the dressing and softens.

Top with crumbled goat cheese, or shaved parmesan if you're in the mood for that.

Simple Salad and Simple Dressing

I love making salads. It's a funny thing to love to make. Salads are often an afterthought when one is preparing a meal for friends. Salads are that thing you eat when you're trying to be healthy, or when you're trying to incorporate more greens into your diet. Salad is often treated as a second class citizen in the culinary world.

I hold salads and salad dressings in high esteem.  As a kid, I would always ask my mom for seconds of salad. As an adult, I crave them on a daily basis. Part of my love of salads coincides with my love of condiments.

I'm a sucker for a good sauce or add-on.  A great dressing or vinaigrette is my personal favorite kind of sauce.  The best kind of dressing is one that masters a balance of tangy, salty, sweet, and oily.  One of the staples in my arsenal is an exceedingly simple dijon balsamic vinaigrette.  Personally, I prefer a tahini dressing; but a great balsamic dressing is always a crowd pleaser.

It is imperative that you start with a great balsamic when you make this dressing. There are a lot of guides on the internet for picking the best balsamics (here's one). Above all else, check the ingredients. Added sugar or caramel is super whack. Avoid buying vinegar with any kind of added sweetener.

Back to the salad itself... for dinner parties, I like to keep my salads simple. Usually, I stick to 3 ingredients: something leafy, something crunchy, something unexpected/fun - this could be an ingredient with a great color, flavor, or texture (i.e. watermelon radishes, thinly sliced zucchini, carrot ribbons, pickled shallots, and so on.)

This salad is super easy, and the earthy pine nuts and sweet currants go well with the spicy arugula. Tangy sweet balsamic dijon dressing brings it all together.

Arugula, Currant and Pine Nut Salad with Balsamic Dijon Vinaigrette
Serves 4-6

for the salad:
7 ounces of arugula
2 tablespoons pine nuts (or however much you want), lightly toasted if desired
3 tablespoons dried currents (or however much you want)
salt and pepper

for the vinaigrette:
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon whole grain mustard (optional)
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely minced shallot (totally optional)

Put al of your salad ingredients in a large bowl.  Season your arugula with salt and pepper. Yes, before you dress the salad.

Add the balsamic and mustards to a small bowl. Whisk in the olive oil until the dressing is emulsified. If you're using shallot, add it to the dressing and stir. Ok, here's what should happen at this point:
TASTE IT. Taste your dressing for Pete's sake. You might need more oil. You might need more mustard. You might need more balsamic. Every ingredient differs, everyone's taste differs.  If you like your dressings on the sweet side add a little honey or agave to the mix. Start with a 1/4 teaspoon and go from there.  A great way to taste your dressing is to dip a leaf of arugula into it. If it tastes the way you want it on the rest of your salad your dressing is good to go.

Just before you're about to eat the salad, drizzle some of the dressing around the sides of the bowl. Gently toss the leaves in the dressing. Your hands are best for this operation. Start slowly, you can always add more dressing.  Once your leaves are glistening with your desired amount of dressing, serve!