Mangoes, Strawberries and Lime – Oh My!

Okay – so this is not much of a recipe post, but more of a celebration of seasonal fruit.

We’re right on the threshold of summer and the promise of all the sweet fruit I love – plums, peaches, cherries, nectarines – is right around the corner. Cooking and eating at this time of year is all about keeping things simple, celebrating perfectly ripe, fresh food and trying to not mess it up too much.

I’m always happy to see Champagne mangoes appear in markets in late spring. “Champagne” is a sexy marketing name, the variety is actually an Ataulfo or Manila mango from Mexico. The flesh is super sweet and has almost zero fiber – to me this readily available fruit is as close as I can get to mango heaven without having to move to the tropics.

No-Cook Summer Recipe: Tabbouleh with Fresh Basil

What to make when it’s too hot to cook
Do you ever feel like you’re in a food rut?

I think we all get into a habit of cooking and eating certain things over and over again, either because your seven year old whines for it on a daily basis or simply because you can whip it up with your eyes closed and one hand tied behind your back.

Although my pantry shelves are sagging under the weight of a large array of boxes, bags and jars – all the interesting ingredients I can’t seem to stop myself from collecting for experimentation purposes, I’ve been watching myself reach for the same things to serve as the basis of a quick, one-dish meal when dinner time is nigh and I don’t have a plan; usually some kind of pasta or couscous.

Somewhere along the line I’ve strayed away from good old bulgur. Remember tabbouleh? All you need is hot water and it magically swells into a nourishing meal.

Way back before we made couscous the new “instant” side dish, there was tabbouleh to save the day. Many a college dorm room or apartment kitchen of mine was scented by that little spice packet that came in the tabbouleh box, with its telltale aroma of dried mint and slightly stale cumin.

I had a few friends over for a summer dinner party the other night, and wanted to have most everything made ahead. I had a Middle Eastern flavor theme going, so pulled out one of my favorite cookbooks, Spice by Ana Sortun, and there was a recipe for tabbouleh that jumped out at me.

It turned out to be the perfect thing to round out a summer meal – fast, fresh and I didn’t have to cook it! Well, not unless you count boiling water as cooking.

What I loved about this version was that it uses basil and walnuts, which was a nice twist on the usual parsley-mint-tomato combo.

Summer Tabbouleh with Fresh Basil

Adapted from Spice by Ana Sortun

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1/2 small red onion or shallot, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
1/2 cup fine or medium bulgur
1 packed cup fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons fresh parsley leaves
1 cup toasted walnuts or almonds
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

In a medium bowl, combine lemon juice, onion, garlic and salt. Let sit about 5 minutes to soften the onion.

Stir in the bulgur along with 1/4 cup hot water. Cover and let stand about 15 minutes, or until the bulgur swells and is tender. Add a bit more water, if needed, if the bulgur is still chewy, and cover until absorbed.

Pulse the basil, parsley, nuts and oil in a food processor until a paste forms. Season with salt and pepper. Add the paste to the bulgur and stir to blend.

Serve topped with grated sharp cheese (such as feta) and toasted pita bread.

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Rosemary Lemon-Ginger Vodka Spritzers

A beachside refresher

Our vacation got off to a tremulous start – what with the 5.2 earthquake and all – but we managed to get everyone safely in the car and on the road to Rosemary Beach, our almost impossibly lovely destination on the Florida Panhandle.

This place is one of those scarily-proportioned planned “towns” that seem to spring up out of the swamp land as if by magic. What I mean by scary is just the absolute perfectness about it all; it’s so self-contained and pristinely designed that it just doesn’t seem real.

And, in keeping with the Mediterranean theme of the architecture, there are rosemary bushes springing up everywhere. I don’t think that rosemary would grow here as a native plant, but it does seem to thrive in this climate, because the plants seem to grow into large hedgerows.

Rosemary might just be my favorite herb and every spring I put out numerous small plants in my garden. I always hope that one or two of them will make it through the winter, but so far that hasn’t happened.

Seeing them casually growing here to the size of happy Great Danes kind of overwhelms me. I’m starting to feel like cooking something. Or maybe I’m just thirsty.

We came up with this refreshing cocktail recipe while lounging on the beach yesterday. It’s pretty good. Might be just about time for another!


Rosemary Lemon-Ginger Vodka Spritzers

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
¼ cup peeled, chopped fresh ginger
2 large springs rosemary, plus more to garnish
Pinch of fine sea salt (seems weird, but it really makes the syrup pop with flavor)
Fresh lemons, halved
Ice cold vodka
Chilled sparkling water

Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the ginger, rosemary and salt; remove from the heat and let steep for about 10 minutes. Strain the syrup and chill.

To make a drink, squeeze fresh lemon juice to taste into a glass filled with ice. Pour in 2 ounces vodka and about 1 tablespoon syrup. Top off with the sparkling water. Take a sip, and add more syrup if you like. Add a rosemary spring for garnish. Cheers!

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