Chickpea Caesar Salad with Lemony Thyme Breadcrumbs

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Oh blog, how I have missed you! It’s only been one week, but I hate that I missed my 2 posts-per-week mark. Alas, the Fall semester is back in full swing and that’s just what happens when you are working on your Master’s and a food blog at the same time. Luckily I only have a few more months to go before this grad school journey has come to an end. I’m hoping to get into a new routine to keep the blog consistent, but things might get a little hectic this semester.

In other news, Eric and I moved to an adorable farm for our last four  months up in the mountains. We eat dinner every evening outside joined by the company of a sweet white lab, a cat, and a goat. You could say I’m in heaven. When I take my veggie scraps to the compost every day I save some scraps for Crook (named that because he has a crooked neck due to scoliosis), the goat who acts like a dog and comes to you when you call him. Life has been quite good lately.

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Today I’m sharing a chickpea Caesar with the most amazing breadcrumbs ever. The breadcrumb idea is an adaptation of my Aunt Donna’s lemon-thyme breadcrumbs, and let me tell you they are simply fabulous. I used up a stale baguette I had lying around the house, seasoned it with fresh thyme, lemon zest, and Parmesan cheese. The result is these bright crunchy cubes of deliciousness. I would say that the chickpeas are the star of the salad, but I’m not ashamed to admit it’s really the breadcrumbs. I may have had some self-control issues as I was dividing them not-so-evenly among the salad plates. And you know what I did with the leftovers? Rolled them all in a big flour tortilla for a delicious lunch wrap. Ohhhhh yes.

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I love a good Caesar salad. It’s so savory and salty, and it has such a nice richness that not a lot of salads can offer. I had the idea to add chickpeas because they are my go-to for vegetarian protein substitutions. They are lightly seasoned with paprika, garlic powder, and thyme and then crisped up in some olive oil. If you’re not a vegetarian and you wanted to make this salad with chicken, I’m sure it would work very well in place of the chickpeas.

I’m sorry for the lack of posts last week, but hopefully you can make this salad soon and all will be forgiven after you taste it!

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Chickpea Caesar Salad with Lemony Thyme Breadcrumbs

Serves 4 

Ingredients:

2 cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed

5 Tablespoons olive oil

1/4 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon Herbes de Provence

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

2 heads Romaine lettuce, chopped

Fresh Parmesan, for shaving over the top (roughly 1/4 cup over each salad)

1 batch Caesar Salad Dressing

For the lemony thyme breadcrumbs– 

2 cups cubed stale bread

1 heaping Tablespoon Parmesan cheese

1/2 teaspoon lemon zest

1 teaspoon fresh thyme, chopped

2 Tablespoons olive oil

Directions:

  1. Make the breadcrumbs: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the bread cubes, thyme, lemon zest, Parmesan cheese, and olive oil until all the cubes are nicely coated. Lay the bread cubes in a single layer on a cookie sheet and bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, shaking the cubes around halfway through the cooking time. Set aside.
  2. In a large pan over high heat, add the 5 Tablespoons of olive oil and heat until the oil is shimmering. Add the chickpeas to the oil and season with the paprika, garlic powder, Herbes de Provence, and salt and pepper (to taste). Allow the chickpeas to crisp up in the oil, about 8 minutes or so. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly.
  3. Divide the romaine evenly between the plates. Top each bed of lettuce with chickpeas, freshly shaved Parmesan, and a healthy drizzle of the Caesar dressing. Top with breadcrumbs and serve.

 

Stromberg Salad

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Today, I am sharing another recipe that goes all the way back to my childhood. For as long as I can remember, my Dad made this salad that we ate alongside our dinner every night. As I grew older, I was so thankful that my parents got me in the habit of eating fresh food and having a salad every night. Continuing the Stromberg tradition, I now taught Eric how to make this salad so we can eat it with the dinners that I make every night for the 2 of us.

People ALWAYS asked how my Dad made the dressing. There is something about it that tastes so different from regular balsamic vinagrettes that you find in restaurants. I distinctly remember all of my friends and any other dinner regulars that we had gushing over my Mom’s home cooked meals and my Dad’s salad. One summer evening, there was a man who was installing a drain in our backyard to help with flooding. In Stromberg fashion, my Mom fixed him a plate of pasta and my dad made him a bowl of salad so he could eat something while he worked. We were watching him through the window as he sat down to eat the salad. His face was lighting up with each bite as he devoured it. A short while later he had a look of disappointment as he realized he finished the bowl and there was no salad left. He looked down at it momentarily, tilted his head back, and proceeded to drink every drop of dressing left in that bowl. He grinned like a child who just finished a bowl of ice cream.

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While it made me laugh, his reaction to the salad is not that uncommon. To this day, we usually break out a few slices of crusty bread to sop up all the extra dressing. It’s just so good.

The big secret to the dressing? Tomatoes, onions, and cucumbers. I know you’re probably thinking okay, a lot of salads have those ingredients… What’s the big deal? But the juices from those ingredients are essentially part of the salad dressing. You start by chopping up tomatoes, cucumbers, fresh herbs (usually basil and/or dill, depending on what we have on hand) and onions. A fat pinch of coarse sea salt and several cranks of freshly cracked black pepper helps them sweat and release their juices. Then, you add your oil, vinegar, cream, and blue cheese (which is optional, but it adds great flavor). I will also take a moment to go over my usual spiel that you should be using the highest quality olive oil and balsamic vinegar you can find. It’s really important to use the good stuff for a salad like this!

I remember peeking over my Dad’s shoulder as a child, wanting to learn the art of making this salad.  He taught me to look at the color of the dressing as a gauge. He would take a spoon to the bowl and take a sip to confirm that it was just right. Measuring out ingredients for this recipe was particularly tricky, and in all honesty I’m not 100% sure the measurements are as good as the color test. If all else fails, look at the picture below and try and match your dressing to that color.

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The dressing cannot be made separately in a jar or small bowl. The key is allowing the tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions to become the dressing. You leave everything sitting at the bottom of the bowl, top it with lettuce, and toss everything together just before you are ready to eat.

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This salad is at its peak in the heat of summer, when we have our very own garden heirloom tomatoes, basil, and cucumbers. If you can get your hands on some heirloom tomatoes, they are perfect for this salad.

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I mean, just look at how juicy and beautiful those garden tomatoes are! This is another one of those dishes where there are not many ingredients, so you want to use the highest quality of each ingredient that you can get.

This recipe is so simple, it’s barely a recipe. But trust me when I say that it’s an amazing salad.

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Stromberg Salad

Serves 4-6 

Ingredients:

2 large heirloom tomatoes, sliced in rounds and then quartered

1 cucumber, peeled and diced

1/2 medium yellow onion, diced

2 Tablespoons fresh herbs, such as basil and/or dill

2 fat pinches of coarse sea salt

10-12 cranks freshly cracked black pepper

1/8 cup high quality balsamic vinegar

1/4 cup high quality extra virgin olive oil

1/4 cup heavy cream

2-4 Tablespoons blue cheese, crumbled  (optional)

1-2 heads lettuce, depending on size (I used 1 1/2 heads of read oak lettuce), torn or roughly chopped

Directions:

  1. In a large bowl, combine the tomatoes, cucumbers, onion, salt, and pepper.
  2. Add in the balsamic vinegar, olive oil, herbs, blue cheese, and heavy cream. Toss to combine. Allow to sit for a few minutes so all of the flavors can meld together.
  3. Place torn lettuce on top of the mixture. Toss salad together and serve immediately.
  4. Sop up remaining dressing with crusty bread. If you happen to have Gouda cheese on hand, a slice of toasted bread with Gouda and this dressing is out of this world!

Grilled Peach & Arugula Salad

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Right now, I’m on a peach kick. Whenever a new fruit or vegetable makes its way into the season, it feels like I’m getting a present. Peaches made their debut at the market a few weeks ago, and since then it has been a treat to eat them when they are truly at their best. What I love to do with peaches lately is throw them on the grill (Wait, what!?). If you have not grilled your peaches yet, you do not know what you are missing out on. Peaches are the perfect grilled fruit—they have just enough firmness to stand up to the grill, and yet just enough juice to nicely caramelize on the outside. Seriously, nothing says summer more than a grilled peach.

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The trick to grilling your peaches is to prep them the right way. I slice each peach in half and remove the pit. I then slice a small portion of the rounded bottom off of each peach, so that they can lay flat on the grill without rolling all over the place. If you are having a hard time picturing what I am describing, the bottom of your peaches should look like this:

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See how there is now a flat bottom? This will guarantee a nice caramelization on both sides of the peach. The grill really does transform the peaches. They become intensely sweet and yet they have this surprisingly smoky flavor that makes them somewhat unusual.

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What I love about this salad is that it has such a nice balance of flavors. You get the slight smokiness from the charred peaches and toasted walnuts, the richness and tang from the blue cheese, the pepperiness from the arugula, and a light dressing that melds it all together. Also, I’d like to take a moment and say that if you live in Upstate SC and can get your hands on some Clemson Blue Cheese, it is an absolute must for this salad. It’s so creamy and tangy and it’s seriously the most perfect match for the grilled peaches. I served this salad for my family after a hot summer afternoon on the lake. It was extremely refreshing and still very savory and satisfying. According to my sister Erika, this salad was “the most refreshing salad I’ve had in a very long time.” Give it a try and see if you agree with her!

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Grilled Peach & Arugula Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

4 peaches

1 Tablespoon olive oil

5 oz arugula

4 oz blue cheese (Preferably Clemson Blue Cheese, if you can find it)

1/3 cup walnuts

For the dressing—

2 Tablespoons Champagne vinegar

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

½ of a shallot, finely diced (around 2 Tablespoons)

1 teaspoon honey

¼ cup roasted walnut oil

Salt and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Directions:

 

  1. To prepare the peaches for the grill, slice each peach in half and remove the pit. Slice off a small portion of the rounded bottom of each peach so that they can stand flat on a plate. Drizzle the peaches with olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside.
  2. Heat the grill to medium heat (if you don’t have a charcoal or gas grill, a grill pan over the stove works fine as well). Grill the peaches, about 3-4 minutes per side, until slightly charred and caramelized. Set aside.
  3. Toast the walnuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, shaking around occasionally, until fragrant (Around 4 minutes or so…Be careful—they burn fast!). Remove from the pan and allow them to cool for a few minutes. Roughly chop the nuts and set aside.
  4. To prepare the dressing: Combine the Champagne vinegar, diced shallot, Dijon, and honey in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the walnut oil until the dressing is nicely emulsified. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  5. Prepare the salad on a large platter, starting with the arugula. Arrange the grilled peaches on top of the arugula. Crumble the blue cheese and distribute it evenly on top of the salad. Finish by topping it all off with the toasted walnuts and the dressing.

 

Orzo Salad with Marinated Feta       

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One of my obsessions lately is creating happy hour in my own home. There is something so satisfying about sitting on your own porch with a perfectly paired beer, wine, or cocktail with homemade nibbles that make you feel like you’re at a top notch restaurant.

This weekend I was in the mood for Mediterranean food, and the words marinated feta popped into my head. Eric always laughs at me when I have these light bulb moments, but it’s honestly where I get a lot of my recipe ideas.  I’ll just be going about my day when all of a sudden I see food combinations in my head and I have to stop what I’m doing to jot it down right away. In this case, I Googled marinated feta and found a recipe but tweaked it to suit what I was in the mood for. At this point, the orzo salad was basically just an excuse to make marinated cheese. However, I was extremely pleased with this experiment. This pasta salad is the perfect summer side dish! I served it with homemade hummus, toasted pita, and olives.

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Over the years I have come up with a specific method when it comes to making pasta salads. It is imperative that you dress the noodles when they are piping hot and still have a little bit of starchy pasta water coating them—that way, the flavor of the dressing really soaks into the noodles. However, I don’t like to throw all my veggies and cheese in when the noodles are so hot because they can lose their crunch and become limp. The solution that I have found that gets you perfect pasta salad every time is to divide your dressing: Use a little over half of the dressing with the hot noodles, and then save the reserved dressing for when they have cooled down a bit. Then you can toss in your veggies and other ingredients with the remaining dressing and you get a perfectly dressed pasta salad with deep layers of flavor throughout.

But back to the star of this pasta salad: the marinated feta. Roasted lemons and garlic give you a deeply concentrated flavor that takes the feta cheese to a whole new level. Fresh oregano and thyme give it a freshness to balance out the saltiness of the cheese while complementing the lemon. You could just eat this cheese on a piece of toasted pita and call it a day. But this salad is super easy to throw together, so there is really no reason not to make it a meal!

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Orzo Salad with Marinated Feta

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

1 lb orzo pasta

1 paint cherry tomatoes, quartered

1 large cucumber, peeled and diced

1/3 cup diced red onion

¼ cup fresh chopped dill

1 clove garlic, minced

Zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

¼ cup fresh squeezed lemon juice

½ cup good quality olive oil

Salt & freshly cracked black pepper, to taste

For the marinated feta– 

8 oz feta cheese, sliced ½ inch thick

2 lemons

3 cloves garlic

2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme

1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

½ cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil

*Recipe for marinated Feta adapted from Bon Appetit

Directions:

  1. Start by making the marinated feta: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice one of the lemons in thin rounds and place on a baking sheet with the whole cloves of garlic (peel and all). Drizzle over 2 tablespoons of olive oil and bake for 10-12 minutes, or until the lemons are lightly charred and the garlic is nicely roasted. Allow to cool slightly.
  2. In a small dish, combine the feta slices with the remaining ½ cup of olive oil, the juice from the remaining lemon, the pepper flakes, oregano, and thyme. Peel the roasted garlic and crush it with your hands, distributing the garlic throughout the dish. Stir very gently to combine.
  3. Cover and chill the feta for at least 4 hours, but preferably 8-10 hours.
  4. Cook the orzo until al dente.
  5. While the orzo is cooking, prepare the dressing: Combine the minced garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, oregano, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the olive oil until all ingredients are nicely combined.
  6. As soon as you drain the orzo, place it in a large bowl. Dress the orzo with roughly ¾ of the prepared dressing. Reserve the remaining ¼ of dressing for later. Allow the orzo mixture to cool slightly, around 30 minutes.
  7. When the orzo has cooled, add in the cucumber, tomatoes, red onion, dill, and remaining dressing. Toss to combine.
  8. Using your hands, crumble the marinated feta in large chunks and add into the salad. Drizzle a few tablespoons of the marinating liquid over the salad. Gently stir to combine.
  9. Chill salad in the refrigerator until ready to eat.