Baba Ghanoush by Alexa Arnold

We're right in the middle of what I hope is New York's last heat wave of the summer, but nevertheless, it's roasting season. I've been on a crazy baba ghanoush kick – partly because I don't have a lot of other eggplant tricks up my sleeve, and we've gotten so much eggplant in our CSA over the past few weeks. But also because it's delicious, it's the perfect picnic or potluck food, and having to withstand a little extra heat in your kitchen during an already too hot season is literally the hardest part of this recipe. I've been eating it for dinner on weeknights with cucumbers or crusty bread, and bringing it to work with a side of chick peas, feta, tomatoes and pita for a hearty lunch. 

Baba GHanoush

Serves 5.

Ingredients:
> 1 eggplant
> 2 cloves garlic
> Juice of 1 lemon
> 1 tablespoon tahini
> 1 tablespoon olive oil
> 1 teaspoon cumin
> 1 teaspoon garam masala
> 1 teaspoon flakey sea salt
> 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
> Pita or cucumbers and additional olive oil for serving

Preparation:
1. Slice the eggplant and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle the eggplant with olive oil while the oven heats to 400 degrees. Roast for 20 minutes, or until super soft and smoky.
2. Add all of the other ingredients, except for the sesame seeds, to a food processor. Once the eggplant is cool enough to handle, transfer it to the food processor. Mix until you've reached a smooth and creamy consistency, adding a bit more olive oil or lemon juice as needed.
3. Scoop the mixture into a serving bowl. Drizzle olive oil and sprinkle sesame seeds on top. Serve with pita, crusty bread, or cucumbers.

Nectarine, Cherry Tomato + Cornbread Panzanella by Alexa Arnold

Plucking a little, golden cherry tomato directly from the vine, or straight off of a market table after it's been sitting in the sun, is a pleasure I look forward to for months. It's not just about taste, either. I love the whole new excited energy that fills the air when the first tomatoes show up at market. People are buzzing around a little more quickly, buying one too many quarts, and eating them by the handful in line before they've even had a chance to pay. They're like some kind of magnetic, magical force that's impossible to resist. By mid summer, the anxiety calms, but tomatoes are no less popular. They start to show up on every dinner table, in every restaurant with the usual suspects, and I do my best to eat my fair share – tossed back whole, or halved and tossed with mozz and balsamic, or blistered under the broiler then scooped over fresh beans, or as a fresh sauce, or in a panzanella, like the recipe that follows. Regardless, each year I fall into the same panic that they'll be gone before I've really had a chance to enjoy them, and so I turn to canning, a preserving process that any cook who's as moved by tomato season as I am can likely find a great deal of satisfaction in. 

I learned to can by necessity. Right after college, I started managing a farmers market in Kentucky. Every Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday, April through November, I'd wake up before the sun and drive from my home to the market office to pack supplies into the giant bread truck we'd transformed into our market van. Once it was fully packed, I'd head downtown, arriving in an empty park, right before most of the farmers. One by one, they'd each arrive, and we'd all spend hours pulling tables, tents, signage, and produce out of trucks and into formation on the sidewalk, until the entire space had been transformed into a vibrant marketplace – all before 7am. Until 3pm, customers came and went, farmers sold food and shared tips and tricks for how to prepare it, musicians set up and played their tunes, and chefs whipped up simple recipes and shared samples on site. I manned the visitors table, showed customers around, and made my rounds between farm stands to collect daily attendance fees and catch up. Farmers are a generous bunch, so what wasn't bought by customers or sold to local restaurants was often donated, to food banks and to me. I'd go home each week with dozens of pounds of some of the freshest food in the state, along with suggestions for what to do with it from farmers and chefs alike. This is where I first learned of panzanella, a salad made of chunks of stale bread and the freshest, juiciest tomatoes, dressed in olive oil and vinegar. After sampling it at the market for the first time, I loaded up on tomatoes and ate it for a week straight. And for the tomatoes I couldn't use up in panzanella, I learned to preserve. 

I hadn't made a panzanella, let alone with cornbread, for years, until I was reminded of it by this recipe on Food52. It felt immediately right; panzanella always reminds me of that first summer at the market, and cornbread never fails to bring me right back to Kentucky (specifically, right back to the porch at Billy's BBQ). I added nectarines because they're a delicious and juicy partner to tomatoes, and with a bread as dense as cornbread, extra juice doesn't hurt this dish. The rest of the ingredients you likely already know by heart: basil, mozzarella, balsamic vinegar and olive oil. They all come together in a rich and deeply reassuring way. The buttery cornbread bolsters the sweetness of the nectarines and tomatoes and rounds off their acidity, while the mozzarella adds a subtle backdrop. 

For those of you interested in learning to preserve tomatoes, which I wholeheartedly recommend, I suggest consulting experts, like the blogger behind Food in Jars or the Ball Canning Guide, and not deviating too far from their recipes. Canning is a wonderful way to enjoy fresh tomatoes all winter long, and it's pretty unlikely that a canning project can go wrong, so long as you follow tried and true recipes.

Nectarine, Cherry Tomato + Cornbread Panzanella

Panzanella recipe adapted from Food52.
Cornbread recipe barely adapted from Mark Bittman.

Serves 6.

Ingredients:
For the panzanella:
> 4 large nectarines, pits removed + fruit cubed
> 2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
> 4 cups cornbread, cubed (recipe below)
> 1 bunch fresh basil, ribboned
> 5 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into bite-sized pieces
> 4 tablespoons olive oil
> 4 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
> 1 tablespoon Maldon's sea salt
For the cornbread:
> 2 tablespoons butter
> 1 1/2 cups buttermilk
> 1 egg
> 1 1/2 cups cornmeal
> 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
> 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
> 1 teaspoon salt
> 1 tablespoon sugar

Preparation:
1. Make the cornbread: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. In a cast iron skillet, melt the butter over medium heat, then turn the burner off. In a mixing bowl, whisk together all dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg and buttermilk, then combine with the dry ingredients. If it seems too dry, add a bit more buttermilk. Pour the batter into the cast iron skillet and spread it evenly across the pan. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the edges have browned. If you stick a fork in it, it should come out clean. Let cool, then transfer to a cutting board and cut the cornbread into small cubes. Crank the heat on the oven back up to 400 degrees, and transfer the cubed cornbread to a large baking pan. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the bread is firmer, like a crouton. (Note: the cornbread can be made a day ahead of time, but I found Bittman's recipe to yield a bread that was dense and firm, yet soft enough to soak up the fruit juice.)
2. While the cornbread is baking, make the salad: Add tomatoes, nectarines, basil, mozzarella, olive oil, balsamic, and sea salt to a large mixing bowl. Toss until combined, then let sit for 10-15 minutes to let the fruit get juicy. 
3. Once they've cooled, add the cornbread croutons to the mixing bowl. Toss until combined, then let the whole thing sit for another 10-15 minutes, so the cornbread can soak up the juices. 

Summer Slaw by Alexa Arnold

Here we are again: it's mid-August, and the New York City heat is unrelenting, as if the thermometer outside is permanently stuck at "hot and sticky". A few days ago it rained, but the temperature didn't drop a bit. We're promised an afternoon rainstorm and I'm feeling hopeful, but for now, I'm parked inside with our rickety air conditioner on full blast. 

Growing up, I was never a huge fan of summer. I know, it's an unpopular sentiment, but in the midwest and the south, the humidity was unbearable, like some kind of sustained misery, and each year I found myself counting down the days until the seasons changed and we'd get a much needed break from the swampy, thick, airless heat. Simple things, like walking from the front door to the mailbox, became something to dread. And as a kid whose skin burned easily, the hot summer sun felt especially oppressive, like it was something I had to hide from. In New York, while I didn't expect the summers to be so scorching, the same has held true. I still feel the same sense of paranoia on the sunniest days (if you're a pale kid like me and have ever had a burn so bad your skin has blistered, surely you can commiserate), and I'm still not-so-patiently waiting until we can spend the days outside without breaking a sweat, and survive in this city without a big box of air conditioning pumping through our tiny apartment. 

But on the plus side: the produce. If there's anything to be thankful for during these days, it's the plentiful bounty that comes as a direct result of warmer weather. No other season makes eating well this easy. Meals in the summer feel less fussy, and when it's so hot that you can't bare to turn on the stove, dinner tends to look a bit more like assembly and less like cooking. Cherry tomatoes, sliced in half, and tossed in a bowl with mozz, basil, olive oil and crusty bread. A batch of quick-cooking quinoa, topped with whatever vegetables and herbs I have on hand. A medley of lettuces and greens, tossed in a simple garlicky-lemon dressing. These are the moments where I find myself saying a few words that rarely make it out of my mouth, "I love summer". 

Which brings me to this slaw, inspired by the corn slaw recipe in Ottolenghi's book Plenty More, and a salad (or "slawlad", as Grayson and I have been calling it) that I've been making variations of since the moment sweet corn entered the scene in early July. To say I adore Plenty More is an understatement. It's truly a manifest of love for vegetables; its pages brimming with colorful, thoughtfully placed photos, all fighting for my attention. I've dogeared so many pages at this point that the place holding system's become irrelevant: I want to make every single recipe in this book. And when the weather is this hot – the kind of weather that essentially screams for a surge of thirst-quenching greens and crunchy vegetables – Ottolenghi's slaw as it's written, or in the variation you'll see below, is like a tall, hearty, drink of water. All I can say is, this ain't your grandma's colorless slaw that you might have scooped onto your plate, and then promptly avoided with your fork, at a family potluck. This slaw has no place next to a bowl of saucy baked beans, but rather is the star of the show. It's refreshingly cool, a little crisp and crunchy, then creamy with a little bite. Take the quinoa or leave it – I liked the heartiness that it added, which made it feel like a complete meal, rather than a side dish. 

Summer Slaw

Adapted from Ottolenghi's Grilled Sweet Corn Slaw
Serves 8-10.

Ingredients:
For the slaw:
> 5 corn cobs, lightly brushed with olive oil
> 1 large red onions, or 3 small red onions, thinly sliced
> 1/2 head white cabbage, thinly shredded
> 5 carrots, julienned
> 2 chiles (or jalepeños or serranos, depending on your heat preference)
> 1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes, halved
> 1 bunch mint, finely chopped
> 1 bunch cilantro, finely chopped
> 2 cups quinoa, cooked
> 1 cup white wine vinegar
> 2 cups water
> Salt and pepper
For the dressing:
> 2 tablespoons mayonnaise
> 3 teaspoons grainy mustard
> 1 tablespoon olive oil
> Juice of 1 lemon
> 1 garlic clove, crushed and minced

Preparation:
1. Quick-pickle the cabbage, carrots and onions: Place the vinegar and water in a small saucepan with a teaspoon of salt. Bring to a boil until the salt is dissolved, then remove from the heat. Place the cabbage and carrots in a large mixing bowl, and the onions in a small bowl. Pour two-thirds of the vinegar liquid over the cabbage and carrots, and the remaining liquid over the onions. Toss until coated, then let sit for 20 minutes. Strain and rinse the vegetables and pat them dry, then place together in the large mixing bowl. 
2. Grill the corn: Place a cast-iron or ridged grill pan over high heat until it starts to smoke. Chargrill the corn for 10 minutes, or until all sides get some color. Once they're cool enough to touch, remove the kernels and place them in the bowl with the cabbage, carrots and onions. (Note: this is not exactly an air-conditioning-less-apartment friendly part of this recipe. While this step adds a smokiness to the slaw, it's also one that can be skipped if you don't have access to an outdoor grill or are avoiding turning the stove on. Raw sweet corn, in my opinion, is equally delicious.)
3. Make the dressing: Place mayonnaise, mustard, olive oil, lemon and garlic in a small bowl and whisk until combined. 
4. Mix it all together: Add the remaining vegetables, quinoa and herbs to the large bowl and toss, until thoroughly mixed. Pour the dressing over the slaw, a little at a time, and continue to toss, until completely coated. 

 

Macerated Berries with Vanilla Ice Cream by Alexa Arnold

With all of the heartbreak that's happening in the world right now, it almost feels wrong to sit here and write a blog post about sugar berries. I feel sick, outraged, horrified and devastated. I feel unsure of what my role in justice should be, yet responsible and desperate to do something, anything. We live in the midst of wildly atrocious events, and I know a lot of people are hurting. I'm trying to make sense of it all and I'm trying to listen. I'm trying to learn how to do more than just name my privilege – trying to understand how to use it to propel the voices of those who are least valued and most hurt by the system forward. I'm trying to move past my inclination to retreat into silence, and speak up, even though my words might be imperfect. 

The kitchen always offers solace and room for contemplation. As I sit here in the comfort of my own home, a bowl of berries on my lap, feeling entirely helpless, I can only do what I know: demand radical, structural changes; refuse to feel numb to the violence; and use food as a tool to comfort, love, connect and heal. Food breaks down barriers and grounds us. Food is learning, sharing and understanding. This recipe is not groundbreaking, or any kind of metaphor for how complicated the world feels, and is in no way an answer to the injustices that need to be addressed. It's simple, because that's the kind of food I turn to for comfort. 

Less than a week ago – before the world fell even more apart – I ruined a pie crust. I had big plans for this crust, but with the oven cranked up high on an already sweltering day, plus a heavy dose of impatience, it quickly softened, stuck to the counter, and refused to be moved onto the pie plate. I felt defeated. I tossed back several handfuls of the perfectly-ripe berries I'd picked up earlier at the market before I remembered that dessert needn't be so complicated. I set the crust aside and thought of the desserts of my childhood: Breyer's vanilla bean ice cream with Dad, and strawberries dipped in sugar with Mom. Both have remained favorites throughout all of my life, both are not complicated, but the exact opposite of complicated. And that's what I like about them. 

I piled the berries into a bowl and coated them in a thin layer of sugar. You don't need much. Stirring occasionally, I watched the berries soften and their juices start to form a puddle in the bottom of the bowl. I pulled out the ice cream and scooped a small dollop into my serving bowl, then drizzled the berries and their juices on top to serve. 

Macerated Berries with Vanilla Ice Cream

Serves 4-6.

Ingredients:
> 4 cups mixed berries
> 3/4 cup sugar
> 2 pints vanilla ice cream

Preparation:
1. Rinse the berries and place in a wide bowl. Combine with sugar. Let sit for at least 45 minutes, stirring occasionally. (Softer berries, like raspberries and blackberries, won't hold up as well if you let them sit too long – though I enjoy them when they've turned to liquid, too.)
2. Serve over ice cream. (Though they wouldn't be out of place ladled over greek yogurt with a handful of granola.)

Quinoa Spinach Burgers with Radicchio Tahini Slaw by Alexa Arnold

A couple of years ago, not too long after G and I first met, I learned to cook. We were poor college students, and after exhausting all of the entertainment options that the tiny town in North Carolina, where we spent our first summer together, had to offer, we turned to the kitchen. It started innocently: G suggested we take turns cooking each night. He'd been gifted a new set of cookware from his parents when he moved away for graduate school that he was eager to use. Our culinary strategy was simple, and one that required little skill or knowledge outside of knowing what we liked: throw any assortment of vegetables into a pan or a pot, add some seasoning, and cook. We kept this up for a few days; the two of us standing over the stove, evaluating whether or not we should add an extra tablespoon of red chili flakes to reach the level of heat we desired. Or in the case of G's first attempt at making homemade chili with the fresh tomatoes and peppers we picked up at the market, whether or not he should mix in a whole bag of oyster crackers (spoiler: he went for it; huge mistake). As projects I'm excited about tend to go, I approached learning to cook with equal parts excitement and ambition, that quickly turned into borderline obsession. And then almost without meaning to, I completely took over. 

Sometime after I'd started cooking nearly every night, I got on a veggie burger kick. Red beans with chickpeas; black beans with tiny chopped peppers; quinoa with oats and cheese. I fell in love with coming up with new combinations as the seasons changed. Over that summer, we must have eaten every single combination of beans and grains and vegetables, mixed together, grilled, and stacked between two buns. 

Until this spring, it's been years since I've made veggie burgers, though over the last few months, I've been making this slaw and these patties – separately, together, always in bulk. I always forget that spring doesn't come until late April in New York, yet by February I'm already craving greens and herbs and lighter lunches. Thus began my search for the perfect surge of greens, yet still something warm, comforting and filling enough to get me through the last of the cold days. The slaw on its own is tangy and nutty, but not too sweet, and the burgers are hearty enough to enjoy sans-bun, which is how I've mostly been eating them. 

Quinoa Spinach Burgers with Radicchio Tahini Slaw

Makes 10 burgers.
Recipe inspired by Green Kitchen Stories' patties and Faring Well's slaw.

Ingredients:
For the burgers:
> 2 cups cooked quinoa
> 3/4 cup rolled oats
> 4 cups spinach, chopped
> 1 cup parsley, chopped
> 1/2 cup feta
> 1 yellow onion, chopped finely
> 3 cloves garlic, minced
> Pinch each salt and pepper
> 3 eggs
> Coconut oil for frying
> Burger buns (I used these whole wheat buns, but feel free to substitute!)
For the slaw:
> 2 heads radicchio
> 3 tablespoons tahini
> Juice of 1 lemon
> 1 teaspoon grainy mustard
> 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
> 1 clove garlic, minced
> Pinch each salt and pepper

Preparation:
1. In a heavy bottomed skillet, sauté onion and garlic in coconut oil until soft and translucent in color. While it cooks, finely shop the spinach and parsley.
2. Add quinoa, oats, spinach, parsley, feta, onion, garlic, eggs, salt, pepper to a large mixing bowl. Use your hands to combine completely. Set aside in the fridge for 20 minutes.
3. Meanwhile, prepare the slaw. Using a mandolin, finely slide radicchio and place in a large mixing bowl. Combine tahini, lemon, mustard, apple cider vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper in a small jar and shake until emulsified. Pour the vinaigrette over the radicchio and mix until combined. 
4. Once the burger mixture has set, form 10 small patties with your hands. Heat the coconut oil in a heavy bottomed skillet. Add each patty to the skillet, flatten them a bit, and fry on both sides for 2-4 minutes each, or until crispy. 
5. To serve, place each patty on a toasted burger bun and top with a hearty pile of slaw. Add a smear of mustard, if you like. 

Spiced Cauliflower Couscous with Peas, Radishes, Feta and Mint by Alexa Arnold

I've come up with a lot of reasons not to cook or write lately. I could list them here, but it all kind of boils down to that I'm human and I get into a routine of making fried eggs for every meal when other parts of life feel hard and exhausting, just like the rest of us. This season turned over so fast. I feel like I've been trudging ahead at full speed, and suddenly I looked up and the naked tree I'd been staring at all winter through my kitchen window was filled with apple blossoms. A week later, and it's now full of green. I'm taking this as nature's way of telling me to slow down, get settled, and catch up with the season that I love so much. For me, that slowing down part always begins in the kitchen.

Before heading to the market, I scrolled through my Instagram feed in search of a little inspiration, and stopped at Andrea's photo of a big bowl of cauliflower 'couscous', topped with all of my spring favorites. I love her photos and her recipes, and am seriously in awe of how she somehow balances blogging and farming full time. From a single photo, I felt that familiar feeling of excitement pump through my veins – I had to make this, today, right now, as soon as possible. For some reason, I didn't want to peek at how she prepared this dish – the idea of seeing her photo, grabbing some ingredients and seeing how similar, or not, our versions ended up felt more exciting.  

As a kid, I rarely ate cauliflower. We generally only crossed paths at the kind of family gathering where someone brought one of those already prepared vegetable trays – tasteless celery, baby carrots, cold cauli florets and a tub of ranch dressing. Or sometimes it would show up steamed at dinner and I'd have to pick my way around it. But my feelings for cauliflower have come a long way, and over the past few years it's become a staple in my diet and the star of many of my favorite meals. And since I discovered that this crunchy cruciferous vegetable could be transformed into something so soft and fluffy and delicious, I'm more often than not willing to choose it over a scoop of rice. 

My version didn't turn out that differently from Andrea's. She added parsley, walnuts and pumpkin seeds, while I opted to spice the couscous with cumin, garam masala and then top it with pine nuts. I added my standard vinaigrette while she kept things simple with a squeeze of lemon. The feta adds a nice tanginess, and the peas and radishes made me feel like I hadn't missed out on spring after all. And because the fried-egg-for-every-meal rut is one I'm not ready to dig myself out of anytime soon, I added one on top for good measure. 

Spiced Cauliflower Couscous with Peas, Radishes, Feta and Mint

Serves 4.
Recipe very much inspired by Dishing Up the Dirt.

Ingredients:
> 1 head cauliflower
> 1 bunch radishes (about 1 cup, thinly sliced)
> 1 bunch mint
> 1.5 cups peas
> 3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted
> 1 cup feta
> 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes
> 1 teaspoon cumin
> 1 teaspoon garam masala
> 2 tablespoons olive oil
> Juice of 2 lemons
> 1 teaspoon grainy mustard
> 1 teaspoon honey
> Salt and pepper to taste
> Optional fried eggs for topping

Preparation:
1. Chop the cauliflower into quarters, trim away the greens, and break apart the florets. Transfer the cauliflower to a food processor and pulse until it's completely broken down into rice-sized granules. Be careful not to over mix – you don't want it to be pureed. 
2. Warm 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Transfer the cauliflower couscous to the pan, add the cumin, garam masala, salt, pepper, and half of the red pepper flakes. Let cook until it's lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Stir in the pine nuts and continue to cook for another 3-5 minutes. Be careful not to over cook – you want the rice to stay light and fluffy, not mushy. 
3. While the couscous is cooking, thinly slice the radishes and mint. Transfer to a large bowl, and add in the couscous, peas, and feta, and stir until combined.
4. Prepare the dressing: add lemon juice, mustard, honey, salt, pepper, and remaining olive oil and red pepper flakes to a small jar. Shake until combined. Drizzle over the couscous and stir until coated. 
5. Serve as is, or top with a fried egg.