That’s a mouthful….and a delicious one! Bacon-wrapped tuna seasoned with a little cumin and lime meets a cool black eyed pea salad marinated in soy sauce and ginger. Serve with fresh greens and sliced avocado. A great summer supper!
Chill On The Chickpeas
Chickpeas get so much of the attention. It feels like they are everywhere. Bring a little variety to your bean life by using black eyed peas instead. The soy-ginger marinade softens the earthiness that some people dislike about black eyed peas.
When I moved to Louisiana, I learned that black eyed peas were something you only ate stewed down with cabbage on New Year’s Day. Supposedly they bring prosperity. The stewed-down version is a hearty winter meal but I much prefer my black eyed peas in a cold salad.
If you just can’t stand them, go ahead and sub chickpeas or white beans here.
Bring The Heat
I like a little cayenne pepper in this dish. Chili pepper is good but don’t overdo it. You can substitute a seeded jalapeno (I’d only use 1/4 of a pepper) or a Fresno chili (1/2). A pinch of red pepper flakes would also suffice if you are afraid of chili peppers.
I adore arugula so I use it 9 times out of 10 in any dish. The peppery flavor adds another dimension here. Fresh green leaf lettuce or other mixed greens will do just fine if you don’t like arugula but I definitely recommend using some greens. They balance the earthiness of the black eyed peas.
Never even tried black eyed peas? This recipe is a great introduction. I love the soy-ginger marinade on them but I also make a cool salad with essentially the same ingredients using a red wine vinegar/olive oil/cumin mixture instead.
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together soy sauce, rice vinegar and oil. Add ginger and season with salt and pepper. Add rinsed black eyed peas, celery, green onion, bell pepper and cayenne pepper if using. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for 1 hour.
Sear the Tuna
Season the tuna with cumin, salt, pepper and a squeeze of lime juice. Cut the tuna into 6 equal sized pieces. Wrap each piece in a slice of bacon. If your bacon is wimpy, you may want to overlap two slices before wrapping. Heat a cast iron grill pan over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Sear the tuna, bacon side down, for about 1 minutes to crisp one side then roll to cooked the bacon for 30 seconds at a time each until crisp all the way around. Don't overcook the tuna. Remove from heat.
Plate the dish with a handful of greens topped with 2 large spoonfulls of the black eye pea salad. Lay 3 bacon-wrapped tuna pieces on the peas, 1/2 of a sliced avocado on the side. Top with a handful of chopped cilantro and finish with a squeeze of lime juice.
Chickpeas seem to get all the attention these days. Black eyed peas are just as satisfying and add a little variety to your bean life.
If you don’t have fresh cayenne pepper, substitute Fresno chili or a jalapeno, seeded. A pinch of red pepper flakes is also an option.
I love peppery arugula here, but any salad green will do.
As we creep toward the middle of summer, motivation to keep up with the vegetable garden starts to dwindle. When you find that your tomato plants have gotten a little out of control, grab a bowl and start collecting the damaged or overripe fruits. Time to make a rich roasted tomato eggplant sauce that you will be thankful for during cold winter months.
Toss It In The Sauce
For tomato eggplant spaghetti sauce, I use about 8 overripe/damaged tomatoes which ends up being about 6 once you cut off the damaged or rotten parts. For that amount of tomatoes, only use a small eggplant. Otherwise you’ll be making baba ghanoush and not spaghetti sauce (hmmm, that’s an idea!).
Go through your fridge and figure out what other produce needs using up – throw it in! Pieces of onion, carrot, zucchini or pepper are good additions. There is something so satisfying about being able to clean out the produce drawer and not actually throw anything away!
Processing the Tomato Eggplant Sauce
I use fresh basil when I process the sauce. A pinch of sugar adds sweetness (skip if you added roasted carrot to your tomato sauce) and the pinch of cinnamon adds just a touch of warmth for cold winter nights. When you thaw the sauce and heat up for spaghetti, you can add a little dried basil and/or oregano to jazz it up.
Preheat oven to 425°. Place the eggplant cubes in one baking dish (large enough that everything is in one layer). Drizzle generously with olive oil and immediately toss well to coat before all the oil absorbs in one place. Season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper if using.
Cut out and discard any damaged or rotten parts of your tomatoes. Place the tomato chunks, onion, bell pepper quarters and garlic cloves in a separate baking dish. Drizzle with the olive oil and shimmy the dish around to coat everything well. Season generously with salt and pepper. Roast both dishes for approximately 30 minutes. Stir eggplant once. Continue roasting for up to another 30 minutes until tomatoes are broken down and starting to caramelize and until eggplant is caramelized. Remove from oven. (Eggplant may come out before tomatoes are fully caramelized).
Let everything cool down a bit. Carefully transfer contents of both dishes to a blender or food processor (should not be steaming anymore). Blend to desired consistency. I like to add a little more olive oil during processing for richness. Add basil, sugar and cinnamon, process again. Adjust seasoning to taste.
Place a gallon zip loc bag into a medium bowl or a medium Pyrex measuring cup. Fold the opening over the edges of your vessel. Pour the sauce into the ziploc. Remove ziploc from bowl and carefully roll up lengthwise as you seal to ensure as much air is out as possible. Freeze. Thaw in refrigerator before heating up to use on spaghetti. Should make about 2-3 cups of sauce.
Use up those damaged or staring-to-go garden tomatoes in this rich spaghetti sauce that can be frozen now and thawed out on cold winter nights.
On the list of things I have never even attempted to make at home (along with pasta and sushi) are homemade corn tortillas. The ingredients must be too exotic to find, right? It must take hours. You probably need special equipment.
So I keep buying store bought corn tortillas when I plan to make tacos. And I keep throwing away at least half of the package because I never use them all before they go bad (yes they eventually go bad or at least get overly dried out). I’ve already conquered homemade sushi this year. Certainly I can made homemade corn tortillas?
It helps that I got gifted a tortilla press for Christmas. Nothing like gift guilt to get you motivated.
Got It In The Bag
Homemade corn tortillas require two ingredients. That’s it! Masa harina, which is corn flour, and water. Find it near other flours in any grocery store. As it turns out I had purchased masa harina for my attempt at recreating the shredded chicken and chile tamales that my friend Maria used to make for me. That story later.
I had to buy a huge bag of masa of which I needed about 1 cup for my tamale project. After that, I put the rest in the freezer and promptly forgot about it. So excited when I realized I had another use for it and that I could liberate freezer space!
Lost In Translation
Quick side story on tamales before we get to corn tortillas.
I met a lady named Maria a few years ago. She spoke mostly Spanish. I was trying to learn Spanish at the time and she was eager to learn more English so we used to practice with each other.
One day she was telling me that she was making tamales for her family. She asked me if I liked them. I told her I’d never tried them. Next week she shows up with a couple of her shredded chicken and green chile tamales which were the most exotic and delicious thing I’d ever eaten at that point in my life.
I tried to ask her how they are made but that was a little beyond both of our bilingual vocabularies. Instead, I asked her if she would make a large batch for me and I’d pay her for the ingredients and her time. I was about to have some family in town for the holidays and thought this would be fun and would take care of at least one meal.
“How many you want?” she asked in Espanol.
She looked at me a little funny. I guess 18 was a strange number but she gave me the impression that she made tamales in pretty large batches so I thought maybe she was thinking that was too small a batch.
Fast forward one week. Maria shows up with this huge tray covered in foil. She sits it on my counter and says she will be right back. She brings in another tray. Then another.
This is where we figured out that my Spanish numbers weren’t muy bien. Apparently I had asked for 80 tamales, not 18.
Thank god you can freeze them.
I didn’t truly appreciate what it takes to make 80 tamales until I tried to make 8 myself. The filling was easy enough but rolling them in the corn husk and steaming them proved to be way harder than it looked on YouTube. Video below of my pathetic tamale.
Not much to look at but they tasted amazing 🙂 Let’s hope homemade corn tortillas are easier.
Need to Knead?
So once you mix your masa and water, the question then becomes how much to knead. I tend to underdo it based on my experience with flour based doughs for pie crust. Less is more. I’ve now made homemade corn tortillas 3 times. My verdict is that they do need to be kneaded a bit. The dough needs time to absorb the water (use warm water).
When it came time to learning the cooking process, I went straight to Rick Bayless. I’ve been a fan of Rick’s for years. He is a celebrity chef specializing in Southwest/Mexican food. I like his video style. He looks like a guy you’d want to have a beer (and a taco) with.
Pursuing the Puff
His technique looks pretty simple. Technically it is. I even have the same press and cast iron griddle he used. On my first try I actually got a couple to puff!!
On my next two attempts they did not. I think griddle heat and not kneading enough were the culprits. Still trying to get that part right. The good news is, they are still totally edible and better than store-bought even if they don’t puff.
Tacos offer endless possibilities – from basic with one or two ingredients to super bougie with fancy sauces and pickled toppings. For me, there are 4 important components.
Main filling – either fish, meat or a hearty veggie like cauliflower, mushrooms or beans
Crunch – either a slaw, corn, radish, pickled veggies or raw pepper
Moisture – I love cilantro crema but I’ve used hummus, Greek yogurt or just a lot of lime juice
Cilantro. To me, it ain’t a taco without it.
Here’s my yummy grilled mahi mahi taco from my initial attempt at homemade corn tortillas. I used guacamole AND Greek yogurt, radishes, shredded pickled carrot (you can buy pickled veggies!) and corn.
Found this Easy Vegan Taco recipe online about a year ago and have made it multiple times. It’s the first thing I think of when I see pre-cooked lentils in the produce section at Whole Foods – makes it a super quick weeknight meal. I make the cashew cilantro crema for almost all of my tacos now.
Elevate the Chanterelle
Chanterelle mushrooms are a rare visitor to the farmer’s market. They come late spring/early summer in humid, rainy weather. Some people are lucky enough to have them growing in their backyard (and most of those people have no idea what a treasure they have). Usually you’ll have to find someone who actually forages for them in the woods or swamp. They make a great taco filling.
‘Fraid of Fungus?
Check out my previous post featuring my Caramelized Onion & Mushroom Frittata for ways to conquer your fear. Chanterelles are a good place to start as they are probably the least mushroomy of mushrooms. Make sure you can recognize them so you don’t miss out!
If you get lucky enough to come across these at a Farmer’s Market, grab them and make these delicious chanterelle and corn tacos. Saute chanterelles in oil and butter, add fresh corn cut from the cob to the pan until hot. Top with cilantro crema, chopped chives, crumbled goat cheese. Yum!!
Got tips on how to make perfect homemade corn tortillas? Please share in the comment section!
Do you love tuna salad sandwiches like I do? Everyone has a preference on what makes a perfect tuna salad. There are also a million adaptations – yogurt instead of mayo? Hard boiled eggs? Pickles? Capers? BBQ sauce? (YUCK – but I’ve seen it). I learned a recipe for “real” tuna salad in college when I worked prepping food in a seafood deli/restaurant. That restaurant is long gone, but the memory of their perfect tuna salad stays with me. And now I’m sharing it with you!
Chunk Light or Chunk White?
When I was younger and just starting to fend for myself in terms of providing my own meals, canned tuna was a pantry staple. I grew up in New England and my mom always bought Geisha brand. When I moved to the south, I couldn’t find it so started just grabbing whatever off the shelf.
I had a few really bad tuna salad sandwiches before I realized that there were three different kinds of tuna in a can.
“Solid white” is made from bigger, higher quality white albacore tuna and is essentially one really solid piece in the can. “Chunk white” is also white albacore but slightly lower quality cuts that are in chunks when you open the can.
“Chunk light” tuna is made from skipjack or yellowfin tuna. It is noticeably darker, sometimes pink, and a lot more pungent. I think it mislead me making me think “lighter was better”. I bought the chunk light several times not realizing my mistake. In my opinion, chunk light belongs on the cat’s dinner plate and not in your tuna salad sandwich.
As my palate got fancier, I discovered jarred tunas like the Tonnino brand shown above. Packed in oil or water, don’t let these fancy packages fool you. Read the label to see what kind of fish you are buying.
In general, stay away from oil packed if you plan to make tuna salad. It’s just too greasy. I’ve used the oil-packed tuna in other recipes. There’s a place for it, just not in your tuna salad sandwich.
The Taste of Home
The place I worked in college was called Boston Seafood and it was in Gainesville, Florida. Being from New England, I gravitated to it because they served all the New England classics. Chowdah, lobstah and steamahs.
Boston Seafood was part take-out deli and part eat-in restaurant. They had a huge live lobster setup in the back and flew in live Maine lobsters several times a week. The lobster rolls were legit. The crab salad was perfection. And, of course, they made tuna salad for sandwiches in the restaurant but you could also buy it to go from the deli. One bite and you knew you were light years away from Starkist or Bumblebee.
Keep It Real
Part of my job was to prep all those delicious salads. They provided me the recipes to make huge batches. I was in heaven. On my very first day, my job was to make the yellowfin tuna salad. I asked where the canned tuna was and instead got directed to a large tray of freshly steamed yellowfin tuna. It was a moment of realization. Tuna doesn’t have to come out of a can!
If You Can Boil Water…
I get that one of the purposes of canned tuna is to have something you can through together quickly and easily. I’d argue that steaming a piece of fresh tuna is worth the extra 5 minutes it takes. If you can boil water, you can steam a piece of tuna. Your tuna salad will thank you.
Not In Tune With Your Tuna?
Ever find that you’ve purchased a piece of fresh tuna from the grocery and then you stare at it in the fridge for a few days, not really in the mood for it or not sure what to do with it? It happens. It happened to me this week.
When I see fresh yellowfin in the fish section (read the little sign, “fresh” means “hasn’t been frozen”), I almost always buy it. I usually cut it into chunks, wrap it in bacon and sear on my cast-iron grill pan then serve with cumin-chickpeas and avocado (recipe coming soon). That idea was based on an old Food & Wine recipe from 2005. I’ve been making it for years and have a couple variations scratched out on my old recipe.
I just wasn’t in the mood for that this week (although now that I’m looking at my notes I’m re-inspired!) but I wanted to use the tuna because it was fresh and I felt like it was a crime to throw it in the freezer.
Like I said, if you can boil water you can steam tuna. You need a steamer basket that fits over a saucepan. Water, wine, lemon, couple spices, bay leaf. Done. No steamer basket? You can throw the tuna directly into the water/wine mixture. Now you’re poaching instead of steaming.
Truth is, you don’t need any of the fancy spices either. Water and wine will do it. No wine? Use lemon juice.
While your tuna is steaming, you can prep the rest of the salad ingredients. For me, there must be finely chopped red onion and celery. I use real mayonnaise because I just don’t get the same satisfaction from using yogurt or a mayo-yogurt combo. Call me old fashioned. I’d rather get my tang from real lemon juice.
The secret ingredients that make this tuna salad taste like it was right from a seafood deli are white pepper and celery seed. I had never heard of either until my experience in that deli and I’ve never made tuna salad without them since. I did a Google search recently looking for other tuna salad recipes using these ingredients. Haven’t found one yet.
White pepper is simply ground white peppercorns. Celery seed is seed from celery. Nothing magical until you mix them with mayo, lemon juice and tuna fish. The white pepper has a heat to it. A distinctly elegant but bold pepper flavor that I find works very well with seafood vs. black pepper. I also use white pepper in my Dijon and Dill Egg Salad recipe.
To make the perfect tuna salad, let the steamed tuna cool to room temperature. Use your hands to break it down into chunks. Add your mayo, celery, red onion, white pepper and celery seed. Using a fork, work the ingredients together until the tuna is broken down into shreds. Squeeze a generous amount of lemon juice on. Season to taste, parsley if you’ve got it.
The absolute key to perfect tuna salad is to chill it overnight before eating. Two hours isn’t enough to let the flavors meld. Check it the next day, add mayo and lemon juice if needed to moisten it up. It’s worth the wait!
Put water, wine and spices in a saucepan that has a steamer basket. Cut the ends of each side of a lemon and add to water. Set saucepan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Set steamer basket on top and place tuna inside. Cover, and steam over simmering water for about 7 minutes, turning tuna once, until tuna is cooked all the way through. Flake with a fork to check that all pink is gone. Remove from heat, set tuna aside to cool. Discard water and spices.
Flake the tuna by hand into a medium mixing bowl. Add mayo, shallot, celery, white pepper, celery seed. Work the ingredients together with a fork until all tuna is shredded and well combined. Squeeze half a lemon over and season with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for at least 12 hours. Check seasoning before serving adding lemon juice and a touch more mayo if needed. Option to add chopped parsley.
This is an adaptation of a tuna salad recipe that I learned to make in college when I prepped food for a seafood deli and restaurant. The secret is two-fold. First, use fresh tuna and steam it instead of opening a can. Second, white pepper and celery seed.
Make it the day before and refrigerate overnight for best results.
I’m a fan of bean burgers. Cruise the freezer aisle of Whole Foods and be blown away at all the options. In general, they are all pretty good and are easy weeknight eating. I’m still on a quest to find a delicious, easy to make bean burger of my own. This corn & black bean burger recipe was an experiment that turned out to be a tasty success.
When Burger Was King
As a kid, I hated ground beef. Didn’t like burgers, didn’t like “normal” ground beef tacos. I was a hot dog girl. Part of the aversion to beef was the unexpected crunchy onion bits that were often found in ground beef dishes. This included fast food burgers.
I remember going to a friend’s birthday party when I was very young. It was at Burger King (can you believe that was a destination for a kid’s birthday party?). This was back in the days before there were chicken fingers at Burger King. It was just burgers and whalers.
My mom politely told the host mother that I didn’t like hamburgers so not to fret if I didn’t eat mine. I guess I must have at least nibbled it because I remember getting praised by my parents later that night for at least trying it.
Embracing the Cow
Sometime during college I did overcome my burger aversion. I feel like it was a very late night or very early morning when I discovered the absolute perfection of a McDonald’s hamburger WITH the crunchy onions, pickles, mustard and mayo. There is still a place for that. And while I don’t think there really is a place for Hamburger Helper in MY home, I did live in a dorm in college so I understand that too.
But other than the very rare occasion when I hit the drive through, I pretty much never eat ground beef. Or burgers. Or steak. Give me lamb, Clarice. Better yet, a bean burger.
By choice, I eat almost exclusively a plant based diet. While I do love animals, it isn’t really about saving them. For me it is more about eating whole foods. Local, small, sustainable. Not mass produced, which most meat is. I find that I’m just as satisfied without meat. Plus if you cut out meat, you get to eat bigger portions or you can eat more often since veggies digest faster.
I’ve ALWAYS loved beans. I think the kidney bean was my first love. My mom had a pretty simple chili recipe (which did start with chopped onions and ground beef) that used dark red kidney beans. I loved their texture and picked around the beef base to get them.
Beans are a great substitute if you are cutting meat out of your diet because they are a great source of protein (which means they will fill you up and you won’t be starving ten minutes later). Bean burgers offer endless flavor options and are pretty darn versatile on the dinner plate.
After kidney beans, I think refried beans (which are made with pinto beans) were my next discovery. That creamy, beany spread that showed up on my plate in a Mexican restaurant. Gross to think about that now, but it was part of the journey.
Now that I think about it, the very first bean burger recipe I ever made was a pinto bean burger. Click the image below to check out that recipe from Cooking Light.
Salad Bar Nightmares
I think chickpeas were the last bean I embraced. Most of my early experience with chickpeas was finding them on the buffet salad bar lineup. They were marinated in Italian dressing and straight from a can. Yuck. I did not have a taste for vinegar as a child, and I thought that was just what chickpeas tasted like.
The chickpea is now my favorite. I have an obscene number of cans in my pantry. I can’t go to sleep at night if I’m out of chickpeas (or avocados). As vegetarianism and veganism blossom, the chickpea is enjoying the celebrity of the brussel sprout only it’s likely to last longer.
One note – I pretty much never eat veggie burgers on a bun. I either use them as part of a grain bowl meal or as taco filling. Cut a burger in half and you have two half-moons that fit perfectly into a hard corn taco shell. It’s not my idea, found it out the internet and then my head exploded because I hadn’t thought of it before.
The key to a bean burger is finding the best way to keep it together so it doesn’t crumble when you cook it. You can always use an egg and some breadcrumbs, but the fashionable way to do it is using cooked quinoa. Sometimes I use both.
Ultimately the goal is to make a hearty bean burger that has minimal “filler” ingredients and that is a “one bowl wonder”. I’m still experimenting. Got a favorite veggie burger recipe? Share below!
1fresno chili, thinly sliced and seeded (optional)
1/2cupcilantro, roughly chopped
salt and pepper
Preheat oven to 350°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine all bean burger ingredients. Using the back side of a knife, scrape the corn cob to release the milk into the bowl. Discard the cob. Use a potato masher (or a fork) to mash about 3/4 of the beans leaving some whole for texture.
Wet your hands. Take a large spoon and scoop about a 1/4 cup of mixture. Shape with your hands into either burgers or sliders (should make about 6 burgers or 9 sliders). Place on the lined baking sheet. Bake for 12-18 minutes or until they look cooked and have dried out a bit.
Use immediately, refrigerate or freeze. My favorite way to eat these is as a taco filling with a hard corn shell, guacamole and shredded cheese.
Bean burgers are easy to make. The options are endless so don’t feel too tied to the recipe – improvise! I always pop a few in the freezer for quick weeknight meals.
If you love nachos, you are going to love this Roasted Sweet Potato Fiesta Bowl! Healthy roasted sweet potatoes topped with spicy cumin black beans, seared fresh corn, avocado, queso fresco, yogurt, cilantro and Fritos. It has all the flavors and crunch you’re craving in a hearty, vegetarian dinner. Yum!
My inspiration for this dish was born from a similar sweet potato recipe I saw on Instagram. You can click the image below to check it out.
I was also feeling guilty about some sweet potatoes I had been neglecting on my counter.
Use ’em up!
A friend of mine sells these gorgeous purple potatoes at my local farmer’s market. I tend to stockpile them. You can ignore potatoes for a while if you store them in a cool, dark place but I had been pushing the limits on mine. The purple gave the dish a colorful twist. Of course, regular orange sweet potatoes will work just fine.
I cut them in half lengthwise, drizzled on olive oil and seasoned them well with salt and pepper. Then I roasted them for about 30 minutes to get them gooey-soft. I think regular sweet potatoes will cook at little faster than these purple ones did. Bonus!
While the potatoes are roasting, I prepared some black beans on the stove with shallots, chilis and cumin. Then I seared the kernels from one ear of corn over medium-high heat. Alternatively, you could use a can of corn that has been drained or thawed frozen corn if a fresh ear isn’t available. But fresh is so much better….
I used crumbled Queso Fresco, cilantro and lime juice to finish it off. Put a little dollop of Greek yogurt on the side.
Once the potatoes are done, the whole thing comes together in about 2 minutes!
1small Fresno chili or jalapeno, seeded and sliced
1mediumear of corn, husk on
1avocado, peeled and diced
4tbspQueso fresco or cotija cheese, crumbled
1handfulFrito's corn chips or tortilla chips
Preheat oven to 425°. Cut sweet potatoes in half lengthwise (peel first if desired). Place potatoes cut side down in a baking dish, drizzle well with olive oil and season well with salt and pepper. Roast for 25-30 minutes until easily pierced with a fork, turning potatoes over about halfway through.
When potatoes are about 8 minutes from being done, heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add sliced shallot and chili and saute for a minute until soft. Add 1 can rinsed and drained black beans. Season with 1 tsp cumin, salt and pepper. Stir and reduce heat to low. (Don't start the beans too early on they will dry out.)
Microwave one unhusked ear of corn for 1 min, 30 seconds. Using a dish towel to handle the hot corn, carefully husk the corn and cut kernels off. When potatoes are just about finished, heat a small saute pan over medium-high heat. Add 1 tbsp olive oil and wait 30 seconds. Add the corn and season well with salt and pepper. Allow corn to sear for about a minute then toss it and leave for another minute or so. Remove from heat.
When potatoes are nice and soft, remove from oven. Divide potatoes between serving plates, top each with half of black beans, corn, avocado, crumbled cheese and cilantro. Crumble corn chips on top. Put a dollop of Greek yogurt on the side. Squeeze the juice of 1 lime evenly over each dish and serve.
The idea of growing garden fresh tomatoes is so appealing in the spring. You turn over your garden and get fresh dirt and bask in the joy of all your little starter tomato plants peeking up at you just promising to produce perfectly ripe fruit by summer. But around the first week of July, your joy turns to frustration and stress as your plants get out of control, your tomatoes start rotting before you even realize they are ripe, heavy plants topple over crimping off their own nutrient supply and vegetable bugs start to attack. Here are some tips to help you regain control of your bounty.
Not So Rotten Tomatoes
I’ve had a bumper crop of tomatoes this year. Not only have I grown more perfect tomatoes than I’ve ever grown, my tomato plants are still under control and it’s almost July. I’ve been able to keep up with eating the perfect tomatoes as I harvest which means I’m eating BATs (bacon, avocado and tomato sandwiches) every day.
Tomato Plant Tips
Tomato plants get out of control quickly. Here’s a few tips to help encourage your tomato plants to behave:
Plant starter tomato plants as deep as possible, leave just a few leaves visible above ground
As the plant grows, trim off the stems lowest to the ground to encourage upward growth. Keep stems trimmed off the first foot of your plant stem.
Remove suckers (see below)
Watch for signs of stink bugs
Stake up tomatoes, readjust periodically
Watch for thick stems that fall over (see below)
Suckers Are Starters!
Suckers are the stems that start growing out of the “Y” between two established stems. They are called suckers because if you don’t remove them, they suck the life out of the main plant. The tomato plant will put it’s energy into that new growth, which will then also sprout it’s own sucker thus further directing plant growth aware from the main stem. You want to carefully snap off these suckers by bending them until they make a clean break.
Good news! These are actually little starter tomato plants. Ideally you will pull off suckers when they are pretty small and just toss them. But eventually one will shoot out to a pretty decent size before you find it. Snap those off and gently shove the broken end of the stem into fresh dirt as deep as you can get it. After about 20 minutes, it will look like a dead plant.
Back To Life
Water the little fella daily for the next few days. Don’t drown him. The picture above was a sucker that was practically a whole new tomato plant when I found him but you can do this transplant method with a single stem sucker.
Voila! In a couple of days, you’ll notice the plant has begun to come back to life. Below the surface of your dirt, that broken sucker stem has regenerated new roots. Now in a few weeks when your mature tomato plant craps out, this little descendent will just be starting to flower.
Stinky Little Buggers
The evil stink bug will usually appear just when your tomato plants are full of ripe, luscious fruit. These little buggers stick their proboscis into your tomatoes and suck out the deliciousness for themselves. If they hit a seed, they inject digestive enzymes that break down the seeds and start destroying your tomato from the inside out. They can destroy an entire plant’s production in no time leaving your tomatoes with white spots on the skin and holes that turn to rot.
Cilantro To The Rescue
I have an organic garden so I don’t use pesticides. The remedy I use for stink bugs is the same thing I use to keep bugs of any plant – cilantro water. After you’ve used up a bunch of cilantro, keep the stems and put them in a mason jar. Fill with water and refrigerate. After the stems have had time to infuse (1 day), transfer the water to a spritzer bottle and go to town on your tomato plants. Spray right onto the tomatoes and leaves. Keep unused water refrigerated in the spritzer bottle for up to a month.
Everyone Needs A Little Support
There are many arguments about the best way to support tomato plants. Go on Pinterest and you’ll find tons of creative ideas. I used to be a tomato-cager but untangling them at the end of the season eventually cured me of my cage habit. Now I use basic wooden or metal garden stakes and good old kitchen twine. Tie up the stem as it grows, and make the ties extra long so you can make a bow…then it is easy to undo and re-tie as needed vs. knotting.
Trim and Trim Often
You can see that a branch has gone rogue but it has some fruit growing on it so you don’t want to cut it. Just do it. It will end up dragging the whole tomato plant down with it. It is necessary collateral damage to having healthy plants.
I try to study my tomato plants weekly and trim like I’m Mr. Miyagi on his bonsai tree. It is actually kind of spiritual to me.
Either way, you’re going to lose some plants now and then. We had a little tropical storm here last night and I woke up to find a big branch had blown over. Sometimes you can just lift it right back up and tie it off, but if the stem has split you just have to cut it and move on.
In this case my broken stem left me with a couple nearly full-size green tomatoes. Some people like to fry those up. I prefer to leave them outside in the heat and hope they turn red.
Enjoying The Fruits Of Your Labor
So many ways to use delicious vine-ripened (or window sill ripened) tomatoes. Check on my post on Fresh Tomatoes for ideas and subscribe below to make sure you don’t miss any new ones!
Go vegetarian on Taco Tuesday with a super easy grilled squash and black bean taco!
Beat the Meat
Black beans seasoned with cumin, chili powder and lime are the base for this vegetarian squash taco. It’s as easy as it sounds. Rinse and drain a can of black beans, put in saucepan, add seasonings and heat just to hot. I find if you cook them more than a few minutes they dry out.
Cut the summer squash into thick lengthwise slices. The goal is to get a sear on them before they cook to mush. You can just season with salt and pepper, but I love Greek seasoning on summer squash. If you’ve never tried Greek seasoning, this squash taco recipe is a good reason to buy some and fall in love. It goes on literally everything.
No Summer Squash? No Problem
Feel free to substitute zucchini for the summer squash in this recipe. Just as good.
Fixin the Fixins
I encourage you to made homemade salsa for your squash tacos. It’s summer after all, not like it will go to waste. Finely dice up ripe tomatoes, white or green onions and squeeze on some lime juice. Season with salt and pepper. Stir in chopped cilantro. Voila! You just made salsa! Add a little hot pepper to jazz it up if you dare.
Too lazy to make salsa? Use store bought. Or, just chop up some tomato. Close enough.
If you don’t love sour cream, use plain Greek yogurt. Just as good, maybe better.
2mediumsummer squash, sliced lengthwise into thick slabs
extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper
1tspGreek seasoning, optional
1canblack beans, drained and rinsed
6yellow corn taco shells
1/2cuplight sour cream
1/2cupQueso Fresco, crumbled
1avocado, pitted, peeled and diced
Heat oven to warm (170°). Put 6 taco shells on a piece of foil or shallow baking dish and place in oven while preparing taco filling.
Heat a cast iron grill pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, spray well with cooking spray. While pan is heating, season squash slices well with salt and pepper, and Greek seasoning if using. Lay squash in hot pan and allow to sear about 4 minutes before turning. Re-spray the pan as you flip each piece over and sear for another 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Put black beans in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add cumin and chili powder. Stir occasionally. Once hot, squeeze juice of 1/2 of a lime in and stir. Turn off heat.
It is easiest to bring everything to the table and let your dinner guests build their own. I like to put a squeeze of sour cream on the bottom of my taco shell, then the black beans, then squash. Finish with cheese, salsa, avocado, cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice.
Summer’s hottest days are here….and so is summer eggplant! I can’t resist the dark purple beauties when I see them at the market. Roasting eggplant until it is gooey and caramelized is my favorite way to prepare it. Throw some crisp, red bell pepper in the mix and some roasted cherry tomatoes and you’ve got a hearty eggplant linguine pasta dish.
I didn’t learn to love the wonderous eggplant until adulthood. It is one of those veggies that can easily put you off because it is often cooked poorly. Too dry, or bitter, or soaked in too much oil. Sometimes I still struggle to get eggplant just right, but the easiest way – and probably the tastiest way – is roasting.
To Salt Or Not
If you are making eggplant parmesan or other recipes where the eggplant will be pan sauteed, you might take the time to salt it and let it sit to draw out some of the water. This reduces bitterness and is a worthwhile step if you don’t want soggy eggplant. Good idea if you plan to grill it. This keeps the slices firm enough that they don’t just steam and fall through the grill grates.
When you roast it for this eggplant linguine, you don’t want to lose the moisture so no salt-and-wait needed!
What I love about roasting eggplant is the 2-minute prep. Cut off the stem, cut into thick slices, cut into cubes. Done.
If you’ve never liked eggplant, I challenge you to try it after a hot oven and olive oil have worked their magic.
Toss your cubes into a baking dish. Drizzle a generous amount of quality extra virgin olive oilbut don’t drown them. Quickly toss well to coat before the oil absorbs. Season generously with salt and pepper. I like to throw a few pinches of crushed red pepper on too.
Roast at 425 degrees uncovered for about 30 minutes. Give the baking dish a little shimmy towards the end but don’t stir otherwise or you won’t get the magic of the caramelization.
Tip: Have a good piece of french bread or a baguette on hand. Use it to sop up the last bits of eggplant and oil from the baking dish after you remove the eggplant. Trust me.
Eggplant Linguine’s Best Friend
If I have a fresh red bell pepper, I cut that into thick slices and throw it in as well on a separate side of the dish. Eggplant and red bell pepper are best friends. This combo alone makes a great topping for fresh pasta (drizzle pasta with olive oil), but I like to pair it with roasted cherry tomatoes which gives you a little sauce to keep everything moist.
Finishing with creamy crumbled goat cheese is a must for this dish as is fresh basil. Be generous with both on your eggplant linguine.
Fresh Refrigerated Pasta
If you Follow Frittata, you already know I’m too intimidated (or lazy) to make my own fresh pasta. I used fresh refrigerated brands, usually Buitoni or Rana. You can obviously serve this over any pasta you have on hand, but to me fresh linguine pasta makes it feel more like a summer dish. You can usually find refrigerated fresh pasta near other refrigerated foods or sometimes in the produce section of the grocery store. If your grocery doesn’t carry these, click the Buitoni image to buy on Amazon.
Preheat oven to 425°. Place the eggplant cubes and sliced bell pepper in one baking dish (large enough that everything is in one layer). Drizzle generously with olive oil and immediately toss well to coat before all the oil absorbs in one place. Season with salt, pepper and crushed red pepper if using. Place the cherry tomatoes in a separate baking dish. Add garlic cloves if using. Drizzle with the olive oil and shimmy the dish around to coat everything well. Season generously with salt and pepper. Cover the tomato baking dish tightly with foil, leave eggplant uncovered. Roast for approximately 30 minutes until tomatoes are broken down and bubbly and eggplant is caramelized. Remove from oven.
When there is about 7 minutes left on the roasting time, prepared 1 lb of fresh linguine (such as Butoni) as directed. Drain all but about 3 tbsps of cooking water.
Divide the pasta between 4 bowls. Top each with a spoonful of roasted tomatoes and a little juice, eggplant and pepper. Crumble goat cheese on top, finish with sliced basil.
Optional: Bring the empty eggplant baking dish to the table and serve with a crusty french bread, sourdough or baguette for sopping up every drop of the goodness.
I get so excited about growing garden fresh cherry tomatoes in the summer that I tend to overdo it. When I have too many to eat (never refrigerate them!) I make a batch of my Roasted Cherry Tomato Pasta Sauce for serving over pasta.
When eggplant season hits, I kick things up a notch by adding caramelized, gooey, fabulous roasted eggplant and roasted red bell pepper to the mix.
I always serve this Roasted Eggplant, Red Pepper and Tomato Sauce over fresh linguine. The recipe makes enough for 4 adult portions…I just make this amount and eat on it all week.
There is nothing that defines summer more than the taste of a fresh, vine-ripened tomato. One juicy bite and you realize that the tomatoes you are buying in the grocery store are just crap. A fresh garden tomato is delicious simply sliced into thick slabs with nothing more than a pinch of salt (but even better with a drizzle of great olive oil). Tomatoes are also endlessly versatile and can be paired just about anything.
Keep scrolling for my best ways to use summer’s bounty of fresh tomatoes.
You Say Tomato, I Say Tomato
Who cares how you say it, it’s how you eat it that matters.
Let’s start simple. Like I said above, skip your normal dinner salad and just lay some thick slabs of fresh tomato on plate, sprinkle with kosher salt and drizzle with good olive oil. Yum.
Kick that idea up a notch by layering in fresh summer cucumbers and a crumble of goat cheese.
Put a fat slice of heirloom tomato on your trendy avocado toast (if you want to get serious about your toast, put a fried yard egg with a runny yolk on top of the avocado before the tomato).
Everything Is Better With Bacon
As soon as the first perfectly ripe tomato comes off the vine, I pull out my farmer’s market bacon and my favorite pumpernickel or rye bread. Time for BATs! You’ve heard of BLTs but who needs lettuce when you can use avocado???
Take Your Tomato Dancing – They Like to Salsa
There are always a few bruised or damaged tomatoes in the mix. The best way to use these up fast is homemade tomato salsa. It’s too easy to even build a formal recipe file for – dice up fresh tomatoes, white onion and a jalapeno (seeded if you don’t like the heat). Pinch of salt, squeeze of lime juice. Cilantro. Stir, done.
Lately I’ve been experimenting with bean burger recipes (still haven’t found “The One” so share if you have). Recently discovered that a bean or veggie burger makes the perfect 5-minute weeknight taco. Here’s the one I had for lunch today – white bean burger taco with avocado and fresh salsa, dollop of Daisy.
When I have an abundance of cherry tomatoes, I use them for my Roasted Cherry Tomato Sauce. It’s an easy weeknight recipe that goes perfectly over fresh angel hair pasta. Top with fresh torn basil, crumbled goat cheese and a drizzle of quality olive oil.
Another way to use up the damaged or starting-to-rot tomatoes (or the salsa you made from your fresh tomatoes) is to make your own homemade Bloody Mary Mix. Start by pureeing a bunch of overripe tomatoes in your food processor. Add a shallot and a seeded jalapeno (unless you started with salsa that already had onions and jalapeno in it) plus the juice of a lime. Pinch or two of kosher salt. Process to your desired consistency. If you hate chunks, strain it through a colander lined with a coffee filter.
I like to make Bloody Mary’s in a mason jar. I use 2 shots of Tito’s per cup of tomato juice, add a few dashes of Pickapeppa Sauce (sub Worcestershire) and about tsp of horseradish. Shake well and pour over ice. Garnish with celery and pickled quail egg.
The Search Isn’t Over
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