Cucumber Salad with Avocado and Pumpkin Seeds

Dinner, Salads | August 3, 2015 | By

To me, the perfect summer dinner consists of a bunch of different salads. And not just green salads, interesting ones with different components and textures that you can happily fill your plate with. We’re always looking for new ones to add to the mix, grains, beans, greens, potato, whatever goes. On hot lazy days I’m always content with a smorgasbord of salads for any meal; I’m the kind of person who loves to have a million things on my plate so I have a lot of different tastes. And because it’s summer, no one cares about the dishes or what time it is (or that the cucumber I was supposed to use for the recipe somehow disappeared from our cottage fridge). No, summer dinners are for second helpings, loud conversation and the sense of the evening stretching out ahead of you, with no definite schedule. Oh, and a heaping plate of salads.

Serves 6

Ingredients:
1 large cucumber
1/4 red onion
1 tsp salt
1 clove garlic
2 cups of fresh snow peas
1/4 cup feta
1 avocado
4 tbsp pumpkin seeds
Olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice

1. De-seed your cucumber by scooping them out with a spoon, then thinly slice it and place in a large bowlDSC_04282. Thinly slice onion and mince garlic and add to the bowl along with vinegar and salt. Let sit for about 15 minutesDSC_04303. Meanwhile, bring a small pot of water to a boil. Throw the snow peas in and blanch them by letting them cook for about 2-3 minutes before taking off the heat and drainingDSC_04334. Roughly chop the snow peas and add to the cucumber mixture, once 15 minutes is up.DSC_04375. Crumble the feta and slice the avocado and place both on top of the salad, along with the pumpkin seeds. Drizzle with a bit of olive oil, lemon juice and salt if needed. Enjoy!DSC_0442DSC_0440

 

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos

Dinner | July 28, 2015 | By

Tacos are definitely making their comeback. What used to mean heaps of ground meat, sour cream and lots of cheese is now a popular, cool and tasty menu item. Smaller portions and more interesting ingredients are the new idea and are popping up at tons of restaurants. The best thing is that they’re so versatile; I’ve eaten amazing tacos in a restaurant that has picnic benches instead of tables as well as in trendy, expensive places. You can also fill them with anything so vegetarians and meat lovers alike can enjoy them. Tacos are the best communal meal in my opinion, just lay out a bunch of fresh toppings and you’re set for a delicious and healthy dinner, no Taco Bell required.

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 medium sweet potato
Olive oil
Cumin
Paprika

1 19 oz can of black beans, rinsed and drained 
1 white onion
2 tbsp oil
1 cup baby spinach, roughly chopped
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Tabasco

1 avocado
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
Chili flakes
8 tortillas 
Salsa
Pickled onions (optional)

1. Preheat oven to 475 degrees 

2. Cut the potato into small chunks. Spread on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzle with olive oil, cumin and paprika. Bake for about 15 minutes or until soft and brownedDSC_04283. Turn the oven off when potatoes are done, then wrap tortillas in tin foil and place them inside. This will help them warm them up slightly while you finish cooking

4. In a large saucepan, heat 2 tbsp oil. Chop the onion into small pieces and add to the pan, letting them soften for a few minutes. Add the beans and continue cooking for about 5 minutes moreDSC_04295. Meanwhile, mash avocado in a bowl and add juice of 1/2 a lemon, a sprinkle of chilli flakes and salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.DSC_04316. Add sweet potato and spinach to the black bean mixture and allow spinach to wilt for a few minutes. Add juice of 1/2 a lemon, a few dashes of tabasco, salt and pepper to taste and more oil if needed. DSC_04347. Take tortillas out of the oven and assemble tacos by topping them with the bean mixture, guacamole and salsa and pickled onions if desired. Enjoy!DSC_0438

Grilled Potato and Eggplant with Lemon Tahini Dressing

Dinner, Salads | July 22, 2015 | By

No matter what form they come in, potatoes can never be a bad thing. The bland-ness makes them so comforting, but they can also be dressed up and seasoned in any number of ways. Mashed, they too closely resemble a winter meal and fried they seem too unhealthy for a weeknight dinner; but in a salad they’re perfect for a summer night. And while potato salad may evoke expectations of pounds of mayonnaise, this lighter version just uses some yogurt. And potatoes are vegetables, right?

Serves 6

Ingredients:
1 1/2 lb small white potatoes
1 medium eggplant
2 cloves garlic
Oil to coat vegetables, about 6 tbsp
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp coriander
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/2 cup tahini
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup fresh basil, roughly chopped
1 tbsp water
1 tbsp salt

1. Turn on your BBQ to high heat

2. Wash and cut potatoes and eggplant into medium chunks. Place into a large bowl
DSC_0428 3. Mince garlic and add to the bowl, along with the oil, cumin, coriander and a sprinkle of salt. Mix wellDSC_04304. Place on the BBQ in a metal tray, pan or wrapped in foil. Cook, covered for about 25-30 minutes or until vegetables are soft and browned. 
DSC_04345. While vegetables are cooking, whisk together yogurt, tahini, lemon juice, water, salt and 3/4 of the basil.DSC_04316. Place vegetables in a large bowl and toss with the sauce. Top with the rest of the basil Enjoy!DSC_0438

Tomato Watermelon Gazpacho

Dinner, Soup | July 19, 2015 | By

Growing up, soup was my favourite thing to have for dinner. Not because of the soup itself but because of the flatbread that inevitably went along with it. My mum would always make a rosemary parmesan bread on soup nights, something that filled the house with the most amazing smell and made everyone excited about an otherwise not-so-exciting dinner. While that used to be the highlight of the meal for me, I’ve since realized that soup can be pretty great on it’s own. Especially gazpacho; it’s perfect for dinner on a hot day and is super easy to make. Refreshing and delicious, it makes it easy to get excited about soup!

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 cloves of garlic
1/2 white onion
3 large tomatoes (any colour)
1 cup chopped watermelon
1/2 jalapeno pepper
1 cup basil leaves
2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tbsp lemon juice
Black pepper

1. Roughly chop garlic and onion and pulse in a food processor.
DSC_04282. Roughly chop the tomatoes and add to the processor, along with the watermelon. Pulse until the mixture is still chunky but well mixed. 
DSC_0430 DSC_04313. Mince jalapeno and add to the bowl, along with the basil leaves, salt, oil, lemon juice and some black pepper. Again, pulse until the mixture is still chunky but all ingredients are evenly distributed.
DSC_04344. Pour into bowls and enjoy! This can be served topped with fresh herbs, avocado or anything else you would like. 
DSC_0440

Grilled Avocado with Sesame Tuna Stir-Fry

Dinner, Seafood | July 15, 2015 | By

When we took a family holiday to Palm Springs in April, one of the things I was looking forward to the most were the avocados. I didn’t like them up until about a year ago when I tried guacamole and realized what I had been missing, so I have a lot of catching up to do. The avocados were so good that we ended up making guacamole every single day we were there, with drinks before dinner. One night – before going to a Mexican restaurant for dinner I might add – we thought we’d better switch up our snack, but after a quick look around the grocery store we gravitated back to the bins of ripe avocado. I think that must be the epitome of happiness – when your worries consist of planning cocktail snacks and the only organized event of the day is pre-dinner guacamole by the pool. 

Serves 2

Ingredients:
1 avocado
1 tbsp oil
1/4 white onion
1 garlic scape (or 1 clove of garlic)
1/2 red pepper
1 carrot
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tsp soy sauce
Tabasco
1 can tuna
1 green onion
Sprouts (optional)
Lemon juice
Salt and pepper

1. Turn on your barbecue to high heat.

2. Halve an avocado and drizzle each side with olive oil and salt. Place face down on the grill and cook for about 5 minutes or until grill marks appear.
DSC_04293. In a small saucepan, heat the 1 tbsp oil.

4. Finely chop onion and garlic scape and add to the oil, stirring until softened and slightly browned
DSC_0428
5. Chop the carrot and pepper in a small dice and add to the pan along with sesame oil, soy sauce and a dash of tabasco, stirring often until vegetables have softened. (You may need to cover the pan part way with a lid to help steam the veggies)

6. Once the veggies are cooked, add the tuna, break it into flakes and mix well. 
DSC_0431DSC_04337. Place the filling inside the avocado and top with chopped green onion and sprouts if desired. Drizzle with lemon juice, salt and pepper. Enjoy! (Not a lot will fit inside the avocado, so feel free to place the rest of the vegetable mixture around it on the plate)
DSC_0435 DSC_0436

Orecchiette with Pesto, Swiss Chard and Peas

Dinner | July 8, 2015 | By

One summer when I was younger, my parents and I took a summer holiday in the south of Italy, in Puglia. We had a long plane ride over and the Italian airport was anything but efficient. It was overwhelmingly hot out and although we were happy for this weather, we were tired, grumpy and dreaming about going for a swim. We managed to make it to the house we had rented where the owner had left us a huge bowl of homemade pasta with fresh pesto. I remember that pasta tasting indescribably good, and eating it on the outdoor patio in the warm breeze is one of my favourite memories from that trip. It was the moment we could finally relax and let go of the stresses from the day and from home. And while I’m sure most of us don’t have the time to make pasta from scratch, this recipe is almost as good; an attempt to recreate that happy, carefree dinner. 

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1 box orecchiette
1 bunch swiss chard, red or green
1 tbsp oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup pesto – my recipe can be found here: http://the-countertop.com/?p=38
1 cup frozen peas
2 tbsp water
Salt and pepper
Lemon juice

1. Cook pasta according to directions on box. Drain and pour into a large serving bowlDSC_0412 2. In a small frying pan, heat the oil then add the garlic.

3. While the garlic is cooking, cut the stems out of the chard and roughly chop it. Add to the pan and saute until wilted.DSC_0414DSC_04174. Place peas and water into a bowl and cover with paper towel. Microwave for about 2 minutes or until softened and cooked through.

5. Prepare or defrost your pesto (you can use store-bought as well) and pour over the pastaDSC_0421DSC_04246. Add the chard and peas. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste. You can serve this dish right away or chill in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. Enjoy!DSC_0426

Soba Noodle Stir-Fry with Peanut Sauce

Dinner | June 14, 2015 | By

Anyone who lives in Toronto knows that we’ve had a pretty miserable week, in terms of weather. On top of the torrential downpour, it’s been dark, windy and humid – not ideal conditions for an outdoor job, that’s for sure. By the time Friday rolled around, all I wanted to do was get home, change out of my soaked uniform and eat something warm and carb-y. This recipe is what I came up with and while very comforting, it’s also packed with veggies. It will definitely serve two but I may or may not have eaten it all myself. It was one of those weeks. 

Serves 2 

Ingredients:

1/2 pkg soba or rice noodles
1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 carrots
2 stalks of celery
1/2 red pepper
1/2 bunch of kale (stems and leaves separated)
1/2 zucchini, cut into matchsticks
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp orange juice
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp peanut butter
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 tbsp soy sauce
A few drops of tabasco
Juice of 1/2 a lemon
2 tbsp water
2 green onions, thinly sliced
Sesame seeds

1. Cook noodles according to directions on package. Drain and rinse with cool water.DSC_0411 DSC_04172. Heat a large frying pan with 2 tbsp oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook for a few minutes, until softened.
3. Chop celery, carrot, pepper and kale stems (not leaves) into small pieces. Add to the pan. Stir and add in the soy sauce and orange juice. Place a lid part-way over the pan to steam the veggies.DSC_04124. While veggies are softening, whisk together peanut butter, sesame oil, soy sauce, tabasco, lemon juice, water and green onions.
5. Roughly chop the kale leaves and add to the pan. Stir and let them wilt for a minute, then pour in peanut sauce and the noodles and toss together. Serve, sprinkled with sesame seeds. Enjoy!DSC_0419

I’ve also started an Instagram account for this blog where I will be posting everything I make and eat, at home and in restaurants. Follow “thecountertop” if you would like to stay updated!

Grilled Pizza

Dinner | June 3, 2015 | By

I’ve definitely had my fill of delivery pizza, after living in a dorm room and having it be a weekly (if not more often) occurrence. Something I used to think of as a special treat, I would now always rather have it homemade. It does require more effort, but if you make the dough and sauce ahead, you can assemble your pizzas and have them cooked in no time. The ultimate comfort food, it is made infinitely better when grilled on the barbecue. These take less than 10 minutes to cook and taste like they’ve come out of a wood oven – putting Pizza Pizza to shame. 

Makes 8 small pizzas

Ingredients:

Dough:
(The dough recipe I used is from a Food Network cooking magazine)
1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Sauce:
(This will probably be too much for the pizzas, feel free to make a bit less or just freeze the leftovers)
One 28 oz can diced tomatoes
1 white onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup chopped basil
1/2 tsp chilli flakes
A pinch (each) of dried oregano and parsley
Salt and pepper to taste

Toppings:
(This is what I used but feel free to choose anything you would like)
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 medium ball of mozzarella, grated
1/2 cup olives, pitted and roughly chopped
1 pepper, diced
1 tomato, diced
Arugula
Chili flakes
Salt
Grated parmesan (optional)

1. Fill a bowl with 1/2 cup warm water and mix in the yeast and sugar. Stir and let sit for 15 minutes or until bubbly on topDSC_04132. In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Pour in the olive oil and yeast mixture and mix until well combined.
3. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Oil the bottom of a bowl and place the dough in, covering with plastic. Let sit in a warm place for about an hour or until doubled in size.DSC_0419DSC_0424 4. To make the sauce, heat some olive oil in a sauce pan and add the onions and garlic. Cook for a few minutes, until softened, then add tomatoes, herbs and chilli flakes. Bring to a simmer, stirring often and breaking up tomatoes with the spoon, then season with salt and pepper
5. Divide the dough into 8 parts and roll out, as thinly as possible, on a floured surface. Place the crusts on a pizza sheet, or baking sheet. They are too thin to place on the barbecue when weighed down by toppings, they’ll go right through the slots of the grill (that’s where my first one went!)DSC_04286. Spread crusts with sauce, cheese and any toppings you would like. DSC_0421DSC_04297. Grill, covered, on a preheated barbecue, at about 400-500 degrees until crust is browned and cheese is melted, about 7 – 8 minutes. DSC_04328. Take off the grill and top with arugula, salt, chilli flakes and grated parmesan. Enjoy!DSC_0434

Baked Falafels with Lemon and Kale

Dinner | May 27, 2015 | By

Anyone who knows me, knows that my favourite kind of meal is a big salad with lots of different things in it. I especially love having leftovers in the fridge that I can easily pull together with some greens. And after 8 months of eating (sub-par) caf food, I was excited to get back to making salads, or any kind of meal, and having control over what went in them. I also had to get back into the habit of making my own lunch to take to work everyday. While I enjoy doing this, mornings are always rushed and it’s sometimes a struggle to cobble together an appetizing meal. I whipped up these falafels yesterday in less than 30 minutes and they are the perfect addition to my lunchtime salads. Baked instead of fried, they are healthy and filling; something to look forward to after a long morning of work. 

Makes 12 falafels

Ingredients:
One 19 oz can chickpeas
2 cloves garlic
1 cup baby kale
2 green onions
1 cup cilantro
2 tsp cumin
Zest and juice of 1/2 a lemon
1 tsp chili flakes
1 tsp baking powder
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp salt

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Rinse and drain chickpeas, then pour into a food processor. Roughly chop garlic, kale, onions and cilantro and add to bowl.DSC_0414 3. Add the rest of the ingredients and pulse until all ingredients are mixed together (it should be fairly lumpy)DSC_0417DSC_0419 4. Line a baking tray with parchment paper. Form the mixture into small discs and place on tray.
5. Bake for 15 minutes, or until firm and slightly brown on top.
6. Enjoy! These are delicious drizzled with tahini and lemon juice.
DSC_0422

Sesame Chickpea Burgers

Dinner | May 17, 2015 | By

A sign of summer comes, in my house, when we have our first burger dinner of the season. The barbecue, neglected for the winter, is finally accessible and our meals become centred around grilled meat and fish. When I first stopped eating meat two years ago, I struggled to find tasty meat substitutes and especially veggie burgers. Although there are some decent brands at the grocery store that I’ve tried, they all aim to replicate meat, which I didn’t like, as I had chosen to give that up in the first place. I started experimenting with making my own patties at home, using different beans and grains, and have being doing it ever since. These chickpea burgers are a little soft, so may take some getting used to for those who only know the texture of meat burgers, but are extremely flavourful and easy; all the ingredients just get thrown into a food processor together. Now, with warmer days upon us and the BBQ season in full swing, I can happily participate in burger dinners, without feeling like I’m giving up an essential part of summer eating. 

Makes 4 patties

Ingredients:
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 cloves garlic
1 tbsp ginger
1 carrot, grated
1/3 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped
1/3 cup walnuts
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp tahini
Zest of a lemon and the juice of half
1 tsp salt

1. Roughly chop the garlic and ginger, and pulse for a few seconds in a food processor with the chickpeas. Add all of the other ingredients and blend until mixed together with no large chunks. 

DSC_0410   DSC_0413

2. Divide the mixture in 4, shape into patties and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if you wish. You can cook them from here, but I like to freeze them first for a few hours so they stick together better.
DSC_0416

DSC_04193. When you are ready, you can either do these in a pan with some oil, or on the grill. Cook for around 4 minutes per side, or until the edges become brown and crispy. I served mine on a green salad, topped with avocado, lemon and s&p. Enjoy!
DSC_0445 DSC_0448