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.

“Almost Spring” Lemon Kale Soup

While other parts of the country have lovely breezes and tree blossoms, springtime in Bozeman varies from 65 and gorgeous to torrential rain and 20-mph winds. As the wettest and most temperamental time of year, April and May can see the entire weather spectrum in the span of just a few hours. This means while my morning ride might be delightful, my commute home is just as likely to be a drenching headwind. Such is life.

Because of this, however, my food desires can also change at a moment’s notice, which makes it challenging to do my normal weekly lunch and dinner prepping. If I make soup on Sunday, by Wednesday it could be 75 degrees (which is what happened this week); if I plan out some tasty salads, Tuesday will be met will a blizzard. Clearly this isn’t a huge crisis but as someone who likes to eat with the weather it does pose some difficulty.

In light of that, this soup spans the spectrum of weather, equally warming on a chilly day as it is fresh and spring on a warmer ones. A light broth (either vegetable or chicken) surrounds a light but filling mix of white beans, vegetables, and a touch of lemon. I have used both vegetable and chicken stock and they are excellent, so don’t feel you’ll be missing out by going the vegan route here.

Any white beans you have around will work nicely here, so I used a mixture of cannellini and butter beans for interest. Great northern beans would also be great, or whatever your favorite one might be. It takes 3 cans so mix and match to your heart’s content. For interest I added some grated zucchini and yellow squash, which won’t overpower the flavor but gives it some texture and an always-welcome veggie boost. Celery would also work nicely, although personally I rarely buy it.

I’m of the opinion that it’s highly challenging, if not impossible, to have too many leafy greens in a soup, so I don’t honestly measure. Just keep adding handfuls until it looks like enough. I probably added around six cups here, but there’s no rules with kale (or spinach, or chard, or whatever you want) so add as much as or as little as you like. The way I look at it is the more you add the more you’re basically eating soup and salad in one go, which seems like a win in my book.

The added lemon juice brightens the flavor without really tasting very lemony, but start with half the amount if you’re unsure about it. It gives a freshness and a springtime note to what could just as easily be a winter soup. As an added bonus, this soup comes together in just over 30 minutes, so if on those days you’re home late and starving because you completely underestimated how long you’d be out with your coworkers, you can still make a warm and healthy meal in a pretty reasonable amount of time.

Complainy carnivores in the house? This soup would be excellent with some cooked and shredded chicken and it’s easy to add that to individual bowls if you have a mixed crowd to please. It’s also extra delightful with bread, so pick up your favorite focaccia or crusty baguette (great for dipping) to have on the side.

“Almost Spring” Lemon Kale Soup

Adapted from Fork Knife Swoon
Serves 4-6

Ingredients

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp rosemary
1/2 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp oregano

6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
juice of 1 lemon
3 (15 oz) cans white beans1, drained
1 medium zucchini or yellow squash, grated (about 1-2 cups)
salt and pepper, to taste

3-6 cups baby kale2, to taste (I like a lot of greens, so I used closer to 6 cups)

Directions

  1. Add olive oil to a large pot, and heat over medium until warmed.
  2. Add onion and garlic and sauté until onion is softened and translucent.
  3. Stir in herbs and continue to sauté until onion is just starting to brown.
  4. Stir in stock, half the lemon juice, beans, and zucchini, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer about 15 minutes, seasoning with salt and pepper if desired. Taste, and add more lemon or spices as desired.
  5. Carefully stir in kale and continue to simmer until softened, 5-10 minutes3. Serve hot with a tasty bread for dipping.

Notes

I’ve used two cans cannellini beans and then one can of either butter beans or great northern beans. Feel free to mix and match and substitute your favorite white beans.

If you’re not a fan of kale, substitute any dark, leafy green of choice. If you’re using something more delicate, like spinach, add it just before serving as it does not keep its shape as well as a heartier leaf like kale.

Although kale holds its shape nicely it does darken into a muddier green over time, so for the bright green color it’s best to serve fairly promptly.

Hipster Joes

As Meatless March continues I have come to realize that although it’s not particularly difficult for me to go vegetarian (other than when going out to eat…Montana is not full of options, especially if you also don’t feel like eating a pound of cheese), it is incredibly easy for me to end up eating all sweet potato all the time instead. In an effort to fight this predilection and expand my horizons, I did my best to find some vegetarian dishes that didn’t rely on sweet potato.

One that has actually intrigued me for awhile are sloppy joes. I really enjoy sloppy joes although it rarely occurs to me to actually make them, but in addition to being, well, sloppy, they are also not a particularly healthy meal. Several months ago I came across the idea for sloppy joes made with lentils instead of meat which greatly intrigued me. I’d never even bought lentils before but have liked many dishes that contain them, so it seemed the perfect time to try.

I adapted a recipe I found online, mostly changes to suit what was already in my pantry. After adding extra veggies, cutting the sugar, and using apple cider vinegar instead of Worcestershire sauce (which I never have), my concoction turned out delicious; not too saucy and not too sweet, which is just the way I wanted it. Conveniently, not only are these vegetarian but they are also inherently vegan which is nice if you’re cooking for a range of diets. The flavor is excellent, I love having the huge range of veggies, and texturally they are thick and hearty like a proper sloppy joe should be. I’m sure M would frown at the lack of meat, but I genuinely think they are fantastic.

Having recently seen a recipe where a burger was served in a pita rather than on a giant bun, I had the epiphany that this would be superb for sloppy joes since the filling would be so much better contained. It also results in a much more ideal (in my opinion) filling to bread ratio. In all likelihood I’ll use pitas even for regular sloppy joes in the future because it is just so much easier to eat. (I bet it’d be extra great for kids, too.) To retain the vegan-ness you’ll obviously have to find vegan pitas or flatbread or what have you, but I assume such a thing exists somewhere.

With trendy ingredients like lentils and a multitude of veggies and then neatly packaged into a pita, these started to feel less “sloppy” and more “farmers’ market”, so I’ve christened this recipe Hipster Joes in order to credit the proper genre. Feel free to keep ’em sloppy, if you prefer. I try to have something green with at least two meals per day, and these go great with roasted veggies or a salad.

Hipster Joes

Adapted from the Minimalist Baker
Serves 6-8

Ingredients

3 cups vegetable broth or water
1 1/2 cups lentils, rinsed and drained (I used green)

2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 onion, minced
1/2 bell pepper, chopped finely
2-3 cloves garlic, minced

1 cup minced spinach
1 (15oz) can black beans, rinsed and drained
1 (15oz) can tomato sauce
3 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 Tbsp brown sugar (optional)
1 Tbsp chili powder
1 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp paprika
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
salt, to taste
freshly ground pepper, to taste

3-4 pocket pitas, halved and gently split open

Directions

  1. Combine broth (or water) and lentils in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a constant simmer, cover, and cook until tender, about 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.
  3. Add onion, peppers, and garlic and sauté until onions are tender and golden.
  4. Reduce heat slightly and stir in all remaining ingredients. Continue to heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is hot, adding the lentils once they are cooked through.
  5. If desired, add additional spices, salt, sugar, or vinegar to suit your tastes, allowing to simmer at least 5 minutes after any additions.
  6. Briefly heat pita pockets (I used the microwave) and fill with mixture. Serve hot!

Notes

Leftovers were great for me, just reheat lentil mixture and pitas (or burger buns) separately so the bread doesn’t get soggy.