Summer Squash Tian

We had a brief stint of summer here, with one day reaching 92, but so far haven’t quite made it to the sustained heat I know is imminent. I am constantly torn between being grateful the heat is holding off, and lamenting the lack of heat training I can do for my upcoming summer races. In any case, as the plants in my garden sprout and grow, it makes me excited for harvest and all the lovely dishes that come with a summer bounty.

Summer squashes like zucchini and yellow squashes are some of my favorite veggies, and their relative cheapness here means I eat a ton of them throughout the summer and early fall. I add them to salads and scrambled eggs, eat them plain with hummus or pesto, and freeze them for when the weather turns me towards soups. Their neutral flavor makes them an easy addition into almost anything, as well as being a delightful standalone.

One of my favorite hot weather recipes is a simple baked dish. Summer squash and sweet potato are accented with onion and spices, then topped with a sprinkle of cheese for an easy but delicious side great for the hot months. You may be wondering how baked vegetables could possibly be warm weather appropriate, but the secret is I actually prefer this one cold! Not only does that make it easy to serve straight out of the fridge for barbecues and leftovers, but it makes for a great make-ahead meal as well.

Simple without being boring, this vegetarian concoction works great as a side dish when you get bored with salad, or as a healthy afternoon snack. For the vegan crowd, you can just leave off the cheese – it’s quite excellent without it – but you may want to add a pinch of salt to your spice mix. Briefly sautéed onions and roasted squashes bring a light sweetness to the dish, complimented with your favorite spices. This one is easy to customize to whatever you’re pairing it with: just change up the spices to match or contrast with your entrée.

I used an Italian spice blend, but you can easily concoct your own mix or just include one spice for a simpler flavor profile. Pairs beautifully with a side of grilled anything, and makes for an easy lunch since it requires no reheating. I’ll admit it’s a little messy and time-consuming to slice and vertically arrange so many items, but it’s worth it for even cooking and presentation points. I like to use a sweet potato, but if you prefer a white or red that is excellent too. The dish is easiest if you can find squashes and potatoes of roughly all the same diameter, but as you can see I have a variety of sizes in mine and it’s completely manageable.

When the over abundance of squash hits your area, give this a try and let me know what you think!

Summer Squash Tian

Adapted from Budget Bytes
Serves 6-8

Ingredients

1 medium yellow or white onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 Tbsp olive oil

3 lbs zucchini and yellow squash (about 6 medium, I used most of one of the bags Costco sells)
1 narrow sweet potato
3 Tbsp olive oil
1-2 Tbsp Miscuglio (or your favorite spice mix)

1 cup shredded cheese (I used cheddar and Gruyère)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. In a small or medium frying pan, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high.
  3. Add onions and garlic and sauté until onions are soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Spread evenly into the bottom of a 9×13″ baking dish.
  4. Using a mandolin or a sharp knife and a lot of patience, slice zucchini and yellow squash into approx 1/4″ slices (I used the thickest setting on my mandolin.)
  5. Using the same method, slice sweet potato into less than 1/8″ slices (I used the thinnest setting on my mandolin.) This ensures the potatoes cook in the same amount of time as the squashes.
  6. In a large bowl, combine squashes, sweet potato, 3 Tbsp olive oil, and spices. Stir until well coated.
  7. Arrange upright in rows, avoiding having large sections of the same vegetable if possible. This is messy, but worth it for even cooking and prettiness.
  8. Cover dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes.
  9. Remove foil, top with cheese, and bake an additional 10-15 minutes until cheese is to your desired level of meltiness.
  10. Let cool briefly before serving, or store in fridge and serve chilled.1

Notes

This does not reheat well but I actually prefer it cold which makes it not only a great make-ahead meal, but also a great side dish for hot summer days.

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Sweet Potato Hummus

Hello from sunny South Dakota! Okay so maybe this isn’t an ideal summer destination, but since it’s where M is for his field season it’s where I find myself every couple months. Pro tip: when traveling make sure you bring a computer with an SD card reader…my new work MacBook is lacking in useful ports and I just have to say it’s a good thing M was around to let me use his computer. But I digress; let’s move back to food.

Sweet potatoes are used heavily in fall and winter dishes, but are often skipped during the summer months. This is a terrible mistake I’m here to help you rectify. As someone who lives alone most of the year but still buys sweet potatoes at Costco, I can easily eat them for every meal of the day. This recipe has the wonderful bonus of letting me have them as a mid-afternoon snack as well, which is how I spent a pleasant afternoon on a lawn in Lead.

It was a long time before I started to enjoy hummus and at first I really only liked the flavored ones, with roasted red pepper being my favorite. At this point I pretty much like all of them (excepting avocado hummus, because my “crazy” palate thinks avocados are awful) but this one is definitely my newest favorite. Chipotle and sweet potato is one of my favorite combinations and it is as excellent as ever in this one.

The standard creamy hummus texture is packed full of sweet potato, complimented by smoky and spicy adobo chipotle peppers. My low spice tolerance and I kept our version quite mild, but this recipe is supremely easy to kick it up if spicy is your thing. My version used one pepper and two tablespoons of adobo sauce, so add more of each and/or some ground chipotle if you really want it spicy.

This hummus pairs well with pretty much anything, but carrots and bell peppers turned out to be my favorite. It’s also great on a wrap or sandwich if you want to use it in more of a main dish. Its deliciousness makes it easy to eat the rainbow of vegetables any time of year, but I’m looking forward to having it with carrots right out of the garden later this summer. Admittedly I don’t currently own a full-size food processor and I borrowed one to make this hummus (thanks Amanda!), but this might be the recipe that convinces me I need my own.

Sweet Potato Hummus

Adapted from Sweet Peas and Saffron
Makes about 4 cups

Ingredients

1 (15 oz) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
3 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp tahini
2 Tbsp adobo sauce (from chipotle can)
1-2 chipotle peppers
juice of one lime
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 tsp chili powder

2 cups cooked and mashed sweet potato1

optional: chipotle powder, to taste

Directions

  1. Combine all ingredients except sweet potatoes, starting with 1 pepper and 1 Tbsp adobo sauce, in a 7-cup food processor.
  2. Pulse until mixed, scraping the sides at least twice.
  3. Add sweet potatoes and process for at least one minute, scraping the sides again, until mixture is smooth.
  4. Taste and add another pepper, more adobo sauce, or additional spices as necessary, processing again for 30-60 seconds if you do.
  5. Serve with your favorite veggies or crackers, and store leftovers in the refrigerator.

Notes

To make puree: scrub 2 large sweet potatoes and stab a few holes in them. Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 40-60 minutes, or until easily pierced with a fork. Let cool about 10 minutes, then remove skin and mash with a fork. Let cool to at least room temperature before using in hummus (overnight, if you want to do this part ahead of time) or plan on letting your hummus chill in the fridge for an hour or two after you make it.

Brazilian BBQ Quinoa Bowls

It is rare that I go out for lunch, typically opting to bring my own (or scrounge an affectionately called “Workiva Special” from the complimentary office snacks) since it’s much cheaper and much easier to make healthy choices. However, on the days I am not on top of life and don’t want to eat yet another quesadilla, my favorite quick, inexpensive, and reasonably healthy spot is a local Brazilian BBQ place. Since you pick your base, your toppings, and your sauce, it’s easy to customize and they offer lots of vegetables. (Plus they have sweet potatoes, which is a sure way to win me over.) My go-to order is brown rice with greens, roasted root vegetables, black beans, steamed collard greens, and their mango BBQ sauce: delicious, filling, and a hefty serving of vegetables all in one.

Since all of these components are pretty simple to make, craft night with friends seemed like a great chance to try my own version. Although it requires a fair amount of prep work and oven time, it’s definitely not complicated and allows all your guests to adjust their bowls to their own preferences. If you use vegetable broth or water to cook the quinoa, your vegetarian and vegan friends can easily join in. And if there are any leftovers, everything reheats great.

For the roasted vegetables I chose sweet potatoes, bell peppers, and eggplant, but you can obviously pick whichever ones you want. Just make sure to adjust your baking times accordingly, as everything can take somewhat different times to reach their optimal texture. Potatoes take the longest, followed by things like broccoli or Brussels sprouts, and peppers or summer squash take the least. Keep an eye on things in the oven and you’re good to go.

Stir-fried steak is easy and doesn’t take any extra oven space, but shredded (or diced) pork or chicken are also great options. Not a meat-eater? Just skip this step entirely, the bowls are delicious without any animals in them too. I tend to eat quinoa in lieu of rice, but any similar grain will work great. I like to cook my quinoa in broth to give it a bit more flavor, but if you don’t have any around just use water as normal. Spinach goes with everything so I sautéed some here, and also added some black beans because why not.

Now, let’s talk about some sauce.

As a huge fan of barbecue sauce in general, the mango version at Five on Black is a fun twist on a classic. I slightly adapted a recipe with a similar profile and it really takes these bowls up a notch. Obviously you can substitute your favorite homemade or store-bought sauce, but if you have the time I hope you give this one a shot. Lightly sweetened with maple syrup, a vaguely tropical flavor profile from the mango, and a little kick of chipotle, this sauce hits all the right taste buds in all the right places. Definitely use a very ripe mango for the best flavor, and adjust the syrup and adobo sauce amounts in order to lean sweeter or spicier. I’m pretty wussy about spice so I didn’t add any extra, but if you like a spicy experience you could easily double or triple the adobo sauce, or even add an extra chipotle pepper.

Tons of veggies, good sources of protein, and a magnificent sauce come together in a wonderful and healthy meal, perfect for all weather. Give my version a try or create your own, but be sure to let me know what you come up with!

Brazilian BBQ Quinoa Bowls

Inspired by Five on Black
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

3-4 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 bell peppers, seeded and sliced
1 eggplant, peeled and cubed
2 Tbsp olive oil

2 lbs steak, thinly sliced1
1 Tbsp olive oil

3 cups broth or water1
1.5 cups quinoa

8-10 cups spinach and/or kale
1 tbsp olive oil

1 recipe Mango Chipotle BBQ Sauce (below)
1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed
optional toppings: chives, green onion, etc

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, adjusting shelves to fit two pans. Line two baking sheets with aluminum foil.
  2. In a large bowl, mix sweet potatoes and 1 Tbsp olive oil until well coated. Spread in one layer on one of the prepared baking sheets.
  3. In the same bowl, mix eggplant and 1/2 Tbsp olive until well coated. Spread in one layer on half of the other baking sheet.
  4. In the same bowl, mix eggplant and 1/2 Tbsp olive until well coated. Spread on the other half of the baking sheet.
  5. Place sweet potatoes on the top rack and roast for about 40 minutes, until softened and lightly browned.
  6. After about 20 minutes, place eggplant and peppers in the oven and roast for about 20 minutes, until peppers are starting to blacken and eggplant is nicely browned.
  7. Meanwhile, cook quinoa in broth or water according to package directions.
  8. When the vegetables are almost done, heat 1 Tbsp olive oil over medium-high in a large wok or frying pan.
  9. Add the steak and sauté until browned. Drain, remove from pan, and set aside. (Obviously skip this for vegetarian/vegan modification.)
  10. Wipe out extra meat juice from the wok, and heat another tablespoon of olive oil.
  11. Add spinach/kale and sauté until wilted and heated through.
  12. For each bowl, start with quinoa, and arrange veggies, beans, steak, and greens on top. Drizzle with mango BBQ sauce, and optionally top with green onion.
  13. Enjoy hot and refrigerate any leftovers in separate containers, for easy build-your-own dinners and lunches.

Notes

For a vegetarian or vegan meal, skip the meat and use water or vegetable broth to cook the quinoa.

Mango Chipotle BBQ Sauce

Adapted from 1 Big Bite
Makes 3-4 cups

Ingredients

1 very ripe mango, peeled and diced
1 (15 oz) can, fire-roasted diced tomatoes (drained)
1 medium onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2 Tbsp maple syrup
1 chipotle pepper (from a can of chipotles in a adobo)
1 Tbsp adobo sauce (from the same can)
1 Tbsp molasses
1/2 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce2
1 tsp salt

Directions

  1. In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients and bring to a boil.
  2. Reduce heat to medium low, cover with a lid, and simmer for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  3. Remove from heat and puree completely using an immersion blender1.
  4. If desired, stir in additional syrup or adobo sauce to suit your preferences.
  5. Store in sealed container in the refrigerator.

Notes

If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular one or a food processor, but let the sauce cool for about 10 minutes first.

2 This recipe is vegan if you choose a vegan Worcestershire sauce.

Sweet Potato Grilled Cheese

Happy April! Meatless March is over but, psych! Here’s another vegetarian recipe. I actually did not struggle too badly with the no meat thing until the last week, at which point I suddenly had the giantest of cravings for a Canyon Creek burger from Ted’s Montana grill. I still have not satiated this craving, but it’ll just be all the better when I do.

Regardless, in case you are not aware, April is National Grilled Cheese Month! Yep, that’s a thing. ‘Merica. I happen to super love grilled cheese and as such will be employing the theme this month; check for a new flavor every week. Hope you enjoy the series!

First off I went with one of my favorite things, sweet potato. You may have noticed I have a slight obsession so if it’s not your thing just close this tab and come back next week. If it is your thing, however, trust me when I say this is a grand adventure for your mouth. Several weeks ago a friend was making dinner and ran out of the main course (in her defense, I arrived quite late) and offered to make me a grilled cheese. On a whim she threw some cooked sweet potato in with it and on that day began a new era.

In my version I upped the flavor complexity a bit by mashing my sweet potato with goat cheese and a little chipotle, and then layered it with sliced Gruyère. I opted for sourdough bread from a local bakery but I think a seeded multigrain would also be excellent, as well as a fluffy potato bread. Whatever you decide to envelope your cheese delight with, I’m sure you’ll be thrilled with the outcome.

Creamy sweet potato with the slight tang of goat cheese pairs beautifully with Gruyère, and the chipotle adds a nice little kick. I made mine pretty mild (shocking, I know) but you can definitely play with the ratios to suit your fancy. Step up your grilled cheese game and make yourself a Real Adult Dinner this evening.

But if you want to pair it with chocolate milk, I won’t judge.

Sweet Potato Grilled Cheese
Makes 1 sandwich

Ingredients

1/4 cup cooked, mashed sweet potato
2 Tbsp goat cheese
1/8 tsp ground chipotle, to taste (or cinnamon!)

2 oz Gruyère cheese, thinly sliced

2 slices bread
butter or oil

Directions

  1. In a medium pan (big enough to fit both slices side by side), heat a little butter or oil over medium-low.
  2. Meanwhile, mash together sweet potato, goat cheese, and chipotle; add more spice if necessary.
  3. Spread sweet potato mixture on one slice of bread, and arrange Gruyère in a single layer on the other.
  4. Place a lid (or a plate, or whatever you have around) over the pan and continue to cook low and slow until the Gruyère is melty and the sweet potato is hot.
  5. Gently transfer one side on top of the other, and cook an additional 30-60 seconds so the flavors meld.
  6. Remove from pan, slice in half, and enjoy immediately.

Notes

I like this method of grilled cheese preparation because it doesn’t require flipping the whole sandwich, and I think the cheese melts faster, but feel free to use your own preferred method!

Sweet Potato Lasagna Shells

For this month’s mindfulness challenge, I am doing Mindful Eating II: Meatless March. This is less an effort about specifically giving up meat since I don’t feel particularly dependent on it (especially when M is out of town), and more an effort to continue to venture into new recipe worlds and expand my go-to repertoire.

Last month I made a delicious sweet potato lasagna out of the fantastic cookbook I got for Christmas: Run Fast, Eat Slow. Although I would love to share these recipes with you, as the authors do not make them freely available online I don’t feel I should either. I can say that 100% of the recipes I’ve made from it are just absolutely fabulous, and I highly recommend you buy it. I’m not affiliated in any way, just a super huge fan!

In any case, inspired by the sweet potato ricotta mixture that made up one of the lasagna layers, I created a meatless dish with similar flavors. I’ve always been intrigued by those jumbo pasta shells and often see recipes in my Pinterest feed, but somehow have never actually made them. I determined now was a good a time as any and set out to make sweet potato lasagna shells.

Sweet potato, ricotta, and spinach make a glorious filling, surrounded by a typical but delightful spaghetti sauce. You can never have too much cheese so some shredded Parmesan graces the top of the dish. The finished product is creamy and a fun mix of sweet with just a little spice from the sauce, which makes it a great way to jazz up an otherwise traditional pairing.

I used a convenient jarred sauce as I was crunched for time, but this would be extra delightful with your favorite homemade version. Extra diced and sautéed veggies, a little crushed red pepper, a splash of red wine, and you’re good to go. I decided I didn’t want my shells to be drenched in sauce, but if you like alllll the sauce then definitely use the larger end of the range listed in the recipe.

My friends know I could eat sweet potatoes all day every day, but I have to stress this is probably one of my new favorite dishes. I split my recipe into two 8×8″ pans and placed one in the freezer to bake later, and I’m already excited to have it again. It reheats great for leftovers and goes excellent with a side salad or roasted veggies.

This is a slightly time-consuming meal since you have to cook the shells and stuff them before baking the whole shebang, but it can be made more weeknight friendly by making the filling and the sauce ahead of time, or even assembling the dish completely and refrigerating until you’re ready to bake it. This may increase the baking time a bit so make sure you check the shells are heated through.

And just in case the crew you’re feeding can’t possibly give up meat, this dish would be excellent with some diced bacon or your favorite ground meat in the sauce.

Sweet Potato Lasagna Shells

Inspired by Run Fast, Eat Slow
Serves 8-10

Ingredients

1 box jumbo pasta shells (40+ shells)

1 medium onion, diced
1 large bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp olive oil

32-48 oz spaghetti sauce (use the larger amount if you like lots of sauce)
2-4 Tbsp red wine (optional)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

1 cup shredded Parmesan  or mozzarella cheese
freshly ground pepper, to taste

2 cups cooked sweet potato puree
16 oz whole-fat ricotta cheese
1 cup (packed) finely chopped spinach
2 eggs, beaten

Directions

  1. Cook pasta according to package directions, 1 minute less than al dente. Drain, rinse in cool water, and set aside.
  2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large pan over medium-high heat.
  3. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic and sauté until onions are softened and translucent.
  4. Add spaghetti sauce, red wine, and pepper flakes reduce heat to low, and simmer for at least 10 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, mix together sweet potato, ricotta, spinach, and eggs until completely combined.
  6. Transfer ricotta mixture to a large Ziploc bag and snip a 1/2″ slice off the tip.
  7. Stuff shells with the filling, about two tablespoons per shell.
  8. Spread about 1 cup of sauce on the bottom of a 9×13″ baking dish.
  9. Arrange the shells in a single layer in the dish. You should be able to squish about 40 shells into the pan. (I had a couple ripped shells, and a couple extra filled ones, which made a great mid-cooking snack.)
  10. Spread remaining sauce on top of the shells and sprinkle evenly with shredded cheese. Add freshly ground pepper, to taste.
  11. Cover pan with foil and bake until sauce is bubbly, about 30 minutes. Remove foil and bake an additional 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and lightly browned.
  12. Serve hot with your favorite roasted vegetable (goes great with Brussels sprouts!)

Notes

If you’re feeling omnivorous, some bacon, pancetta, or Italian sausage would be great additions to the sauce.

If you’re vegetarian such that you don’t eat eggs, you can just leave these out. The texture will be a little different (a bit runnier) but the flavor will still be great.