lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

charred shishito peppers

If you’re a home gardener, shishito peppers are an easy-to-grow, heavily-producing plant that bears fruit earlier than a lot of other types of peppers. These peppers are fast growers too; two plants easily produce about 10-20 peppers every week or so during peak growing season.

Because these aren’t easy plants to find, I start seeds indoors, typically in mid-February. This gives me about a 6-inch plant to put into the ground come early May, which jump starts the growing season here in zone 5 Northern Illinois.

If you’re not much into growing your own peppers but lucky enough to come across these delights at your grocery store or farmer’s market, I suggest you scoop some up. These are mild peppers packed with great flavor. People will tell you that every so many of these peppers are hot and that’s true but “hot” here is not anywhere near a jalapeno. Yes, some peppers have more heat than others but it’s not anywhere near an unbearable or uncomfortable heat, at least in my experience.

lola rugula how to grow shishito peppers

One of the easiest and most typical ways to cook these peppers is to roast them or char them with a drizzle of oil and some coarse kosher or sea salt.  This method brings out their flavor and makes it easy to eat a couple of handfuls in one sitting.

You can accomplish cooking them this way in a number of ways, via a hot grill, a hot, heavy skillet or under a broiler. All you’re looking to do is char the skins a bit and give them a beautiful roasted flavor. If your peppers are large enough, you can actually place them directly on the grill, just keep a close eye on them. You can char them a little or you can char them a lot but, either way, I think you’ll like the end result.

lola rugula charred shishito peppers (2)

All you need to make these are:

  • Shishito peppers
  • Olive oil
  • Coarse kosher or sea salt

When I cook these on the grill, I toss them in a small pan or sheet of foil with the olive oil and salt and spread out into a single layer. Place the pan on a preheated grill and cook for about 7-10 minutes, tossing them around occasionally, until they’re browned a bit on all sides. Use this same method if cooking under a broiler.

lola rugula grilled shishito peppers

To cook them on the stovetop, heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat for a couple of minutes. Add oil and heat the oil for a minute or so – do not let the oil become smoking hot.

Add peppers in a single layer and let brown slightly on one side then, using a pair of tongs, flip them over and let brown on the other side.

lola rugula how to cook shishito peppers

These are perfect for cookouts and parties and are always a huge hit. The bonus is that there isn’t a simpler dish to make.

To really kick them up a notch, toss in some minced garlic and shallots before cooking; I promise you won’t be disappointed.

If you’ve ever seen these and wondered how to cook shishito peppers, now you know how easy it is. Now get out there and enjoy your summer while it lasts.

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

asian style steak and veggie rolls

I had steak and vegetable rolls similar to this many moons ago and finally decided to make them myself. The steak is sliced thin, pounded thinner, then marinated and stuffed with barely-cooked veggies that add a flavorful, nutritional punch. These work as an appetizer or a meal and all of the work is in the prep. They’re a little time-consuming to put together but once there, these cook in under 5 minutes.

You don’t want to skimp out on the meat for these – I use Black Angus Sirloin and it’s worth it, even if it makes these more of a “special occasion” treat than an every day treat. These 2 steaks were 1 inch,  3/4 of a pound and well-marbled.

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Beef (and veggies!)…It’s what’s for dinner.

The steaks here have been trimmed of excess fat and frozen for 40 minutes, making them ready for easy and consistent slicing. When I slice them, I slice the steak on the diagonal at an angle.

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The steaks are the easy part of this. The vegetables require a bit more effort.

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Julienne the veggies into about 2-3 inch long strips.  I don’t get overly worked up about the length, as long as they’re approximate. Lifes’ too short to go crazy over julienned veggies. Besides, I like them to look a little crazy sticking out of my rolls. 🙂

The best way to prepare these – at least for me – is to get the meat sliced and marinating and the veggies cleaned and cut the day before making them. This way, everything is ready to go and throwing them together and cooking them takes me less than 30 minutes.

Are you ready to put together some awesome steak and veggie rolls? Okay…let’s do this thing.

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asian-style steak and vegetable rolls recipe

Marinade

For the marinade, I use my basic marinade recipe, with a few additions, to add some Asian flair.

  • 1/2 cup oil – I typically use olive oil (+ 2 tablespoons for cooking rolls)
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce or tamari
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic (+ 1-2 tablespoons for cooking rolls)
  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger
  • 2 thinly sliced scallions
  • 1 teaspoon white miso paste
Prepare the Beef:
  • 2 sirloin steaks, about 1 inch thick and 3/4 pounds each, frozen for 40 minutes and sliced thinly on the diagonal (see photo above)
  • When steaks are sliced, pound them on both sides until thin
  • Place beef slices in a shallow dish and cover with marinade. Cover dish and marinate for anywhere from 4 to 12 hours.
Prepare the Veggies:
  • 8 asparagus spears, julienned
  • 8 scallions, whites and greens, julienned
  • 8 small sweet peppers, julienned
  • 10 baby carrots, julienned

Quantities are approximate and attributed to what I actually had on hand when recording it for this post. Obviously, if you’re using regular bell peppers, it will only take 1 or 2, the same with regular size carrots. For the record, I also added some fresh pea tendrils to some of this batch, but hey…I like to play with my food.

To Make the rolls:
  • Meat
  • Veggies
  • Toothpicks
  • 1 tablespoon white sesame seeds
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced

Remove the beef slices from the marinade and blot well well with paper towels. Set aside.

In a heavy pan or grill pan, heat a tablespoon of olive oil and some minced garlic over medium-high heat. Add julienned vegetables, keeping them in groups, until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. I prefer my peppers and carrots cooked a minute or so longer and my onions cooked about a minute less…adjust to your preference. Set aside.

Place a few pieces of each veggie on the end of a slice of beef and roll, securing with a toothpick. Repeat with remaining beef slices and vegetables. Now we’re going to cook our rolls.

Heat another tablespoon of olive oil over medium-high heat and saute 1/2 batch of rolls for about 2 minutes on each side. Repeat with 2nd batch. Serve sprinkled with sesame seeds and sliced scallions.

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This made about 35 rolls for me, There are so many veggies that will work in these – you should use whatever you have on hand and truly love. Broccoli or broccolini, mushrooms (especially shiitake or enoki), baby leeks, kohlrabi, cabbage, greens, and even eggplant will all work. Think of the veggies you love and put them to work here. Fresh cilantro or parsley…Yes! Add them. Greens, such as kale, pea tendrils or arugula (my favorite!) – please add them.

I’d love to hear your variations on these – I’ve had a lot of fun playing with different variations.

Do you play with your food? I hope so. Enjoy!

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

the ultimate basic marinade

This is a marinade that has served me well time and time again. It’s great on beef, pork, salmon, tuna, and even lamb chops. It’s a great starter marinade recipe, which you can customize to your tastes or recipe if desired.

lola_rugula_perfect_easy_marinade_for_beef_portk_lamb_salmon

  • 1/2 cup oil – I typically use olive oil
  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 thinly sliced scallions
  • 1/4 teaspoon each kosher salt and pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl and whisk well. Marinating time depends on your cut of protein – salmon and tuna only need an hour at most, whereas lamb, pork and beef can be marinated for just a couple or hours or overnight. The longer the marinade, the stronger the flavor.

The beauty of this marinade is that you can make a ton of customizations to it. Want to go more Asian? Add 2 teaspoons of soy sauce, a tablespoon of minced ginger and a teaspoon of sesame oil. If you have sesame seeds, add a teaspoon of those, too. A teaspoon of miso paste works great in this, too (although you’ll want to omit the salt if you add miso)

Don’t have soy sauce? Substitute Worcestershire sauce.

Don’t have balsamic vinegar? Try red wine. rice or white balsamic vinegar, for a lighter flavor.

Want to kick the heat up a bit? Add a bit of sriracha, crushed red pepper flakes or hot chile paste to taste.

Got some fresh limes, lemons or oranges? Add a tablespoon of fresh citrus juice to really brighten this up.

Want fresh herbs? Add parsley, cilantro, rosemary….use your imagination.

I’ve used the basis of this marinade in a lot of recipes. It’s particularly good on flank and skirt steak, salmon, chicken breasts and thighs, and lamb chops. It even works great on veggies, especially on the grill.

If you’re looking for an easy marinade recipe that you can customize and call your own, this is it. Give it a try and let me know what you think.

Remember what I always say: never, ever be afraid to play with your food.

Happy Sunday, everyone! Enjoy.

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

easy lamb recipes

Quite often I am awed and inspired by what my followers deem my most popular recipes because, quite often, they are not the recipes (nor the accompanying photos) that I aspire to be popular. A few people take the time to comment here on my site but many more share my recipes over and over again, particularly on Pinterest. If you’ve ever searched Pinterest for lamb recipes, chances are good you’ve seen one of mine. The fact that people search for how to cook lamb does not surprise me – a lot of people aren’t really comfortable preparing it.

My first attempt at cooking lamb many (many) moons ago went horribly wrong. It was an attempt to cook some sort of thin lamb chops – probably blade or shoulder chops – which seemed simple enough until I cooked them to an angel hair’s breath of dryness and toughness. They were flavorless and disappointing, to say the least. I swore I’d never make lamb again.

Flash forward just a year or two after that to me enjoying an Easter celebration in Connecticut, where I lived at the time. A good friend there, as luck would have it, is Greek. Her mother had a huge lamb roast cooking in the oven that day and the smell was enough to make me drop to my knees and send up a prayer. Rubbed with garlic, oil and spices and slow roasted to medium rare, I realized that I had no idea the real beauty of lamb or its possibilities.

So, how do you cook lamb shoulder or blade chops? These cuts are less expensive than a loin cut, so ideally you should involve a marinade and then a quick cook at a moderate to high temperature. The marinade helps break down the toughness of cut but the final cook should be fast and simple. You can also braise these (brown and then simmer slowly in liquid) but watch them closely so as not to overcook. Larger cuts of lamb shoulder can be braised for longer.

Here’s the photo of my most popular lamb recipe on Pinterest:

lemon oregano lamb shoulder chops recipe lola rugula

Not an incredibly staged photo, is it? But it’s still quite popular and I believe that’s because of its simplicity and, yes, it’s lack of photographic staging. We all like recipes that are somewhat simple and approachable and this easy lamb recipe is both. Lamb shoulder chops also make this recipe affordable, which we can all appreciate. What’s better than lamb with garlic, lemon, and oregano? Not much, I tell you.

Mint is also a traditional herb for lamb and once you’ve tasted the pairing you’ll understand why. My second most popular lamb recipe is lamb loin chops on the grill, made with mint, oregano and lemon:

lola rugula grilled lamb loin chops with garlic, oregano and mint recipeLoin chops are a more pricey cut of lamb but they don’t require marinating and they’re like any good loin chop – lean and tender.

One day I’ll feature my leg of lamb recipe but I can tell you this: it involves lots of herbs, olive oil and garlic, just like that long ago Easter lamb. I have, however, shared what I love to do with my leftover leg of lamb and that’s to make lamb stew.

easy lamb stew recipe

For me, there’s nothing more satisfying than a big bowl of this, along with a good book and a glass of red wine. A little crusty bread doesn’t hurt either.

I hope that if you’ve had a failed attempt at cooking lamb like I have, you’ll be willing to try these and give it another go. I promise you that lamb can be easy and flavorful with just a little bit of effort.

Happy spring everyone!

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

playing the fiddleheads

Warning: weird vegetable alert. In case you didn’t know it, you can eat the unfurled fronds of an ostrich fern. Yes, you heard that right. You can not only eat them but, if you’re like me, you can enjoy them immensely.

Fiddleheads are, at least to most of us, a delicacy that is only to be had in the late spring months of May and June. Mostly found on the east coast and in Canada, fiddleheads are harvested once a year and, like ramps and morel mushrooms, savored for their taste as much as their scarcity.

We have tried growing ostrich ferns here in our zone 5 area of Northern Illinois but, thus far, have not had much luck. (read: any) We have a relative in a neighboring town who grows them by the truckloads and who we’ve hotly debated pillaging them from but, alas, have not.

All a matter of time, in my book.

But, for now, I order them fresh from a grower out east. As much as I’d love to tell you who, I fear their supply will diminish from my post and, therefore, leave me fiddlehead-less, which is not acceptable. What I will tell you is that to order and ship them isn’t cheap – figure around $50 for 2 pounds – but, at least in my book, worth it.

Behold….the fiddlehead:

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That, my friends, is a thing of beauty.

I lived in Connecticut for quite a stretch of time and these little beauties can be easily found there while they’re in season. That’s how I stumbled upon them and, to this day, relish in their deliciousness. It is why I pay a pretty penny to still be able to enjoy them.

Rule number one with fiddleheads – if you’re not buying them from a reputable establishment, be sure you’re purchasing them from a reputable seller.

Rule number two: don’t eat fiddleheads raw. They can cause stomach upset if eaten raw and then you won’t be thanking me for turning you on to them.

Rule number three: aside from NOT eating them raw, you can prepare them almost any way you prefer to prepare your other veggies…steamed, roasted, grilled, etc.

I prefer mine roasted or grilled, with a drizzle of olive oil, some roughly-chopped garlic, and some coarse salt. Simple, yes, but divine. 15 minutes or so is all it takes; like most veggies, you don’t want them crunchy but, for the love of all that’s holy, don’t turn them into mush.

What do fiddleheads taste like, you ask? Asparagus, mostly, at least to me. They’re a bit grassy…earthy…green.

They do not, however, taste like chicken. Just sayin’.

 

 

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

fire roasted baba ghanoush

I grow eggplant every year in my garden because it’s one of our favorites. I’ve grown a few different varieties and we’ve loved them all. The plants don’t require any special care and aren’t prone to many diseases; I’ve never had a problem growing them here in Northern Illinois. I do cage my plants, as the fruits can become pretty heavy, especially if you’re growing a large variety, such as Black Beauty.

I recently posted one of the newest eggplant recipes I’ve created, which is Eggplant Bianca, but this recipe here is a classic. Though there a certainly a ton of baba ghanoush recipes out there, I thought I’d share with you how I make it and just how easy it is.

Fire-roasting the eggplant gives this appetizer a wonderful, smoky flavor that’s hard to resist, even for people who don’t typically like eggplant. You can do this process on a gas stove or in the oven, which I’ve done, but I’ll warn you that the stove top method is a bit messy. A grill makes much easier and cleaner work of this.

As with most of my recipes, measurements are approximate.

lola-rugula-baba-ghanoush-recipefire roasted baba ghanoush recipe

  • 2 large eggplants
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil + more for drizzling
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley

Using a fork, pierce the skin of the eggplants all over – don’t go crazy, 6 or 8 times is plenty.

Place eggplant on hot grill, turning occasionally, until the skin is completely charred all the way around and eggplants are completely soft. Remove from grill and let rest on a cutting board until cool enough to handle.

Using a sharp knife, cut each eggplant open, scoop out the softened pulp and place it in a bowl. Discard skin.

To the eggplant pulp, add the remaining ingredients. Using a fork, mash together very well. Transfer to a serving bowl and drizzle about a teaspoon of olive oil on top.

Serve with bread, toasted pita chips, crackers or toasted tortillas (pictured).

If you want to use the stove top method, using a pair of long tongs, carefully char the eggplant all the way around above a gas burner, making sure the eggplant is completely softened. To roast in the oven, place eggplant on a pan and roast at 425, turning occasionally, until fully charred and softened.

Some people like to remove the seeds from the eggplant when making this, but I don’t bother. Also, this is definitely better hand-mashed than pureed in a food processor or blender; you want it to have some texture.

Baba Ghanoush is best served immediately, while still a bit warm or at room temp. If making it ahead, bring to room temperature before serving.

Enjoy!