lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

Asian-inspired Spicy BBQ Meatballs with Rice Noodles and Pickled Veggies

It’s easy to get stuck in a food rut, so I often try to play around with new ideas. This time, I had in mind an Asian-inspired bowl of pasta and meatballs, so to speak, but as a fun dish packed full of flavor. Thai chili  garlic paste adds some serious heat

This dish has layers of flavor, so there are a few separate components here that are going to come together in the end; don’t be daunted by the multiple steps, this is a great Asian-inspired noodle bowl.

lola rugula asian inspired pasta and meatballs

First up are quick-pickled vegetables. These are very basic and easy quick-pickled veggies; you can add a myriad of spices and herbs to these, but this is really all that’s needed to add some brightness to the finished dish. Don’t be afraid to change the veggies up to your liking – cauliflower, zucchini, celery…whatever you like!

easy quick pickled vegetable recipe

  • 4 large scallions, julienned
  • 2 baby sweet peppers, julienned
  • 5 baby carrots, julienned
  • 1 small cucumber, peeled and seeds scooped out and discarded, julienned
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon sugar

Mix all of the ingredients into a small glass dish and stir well to combine. Let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour or refrigerate overnight.

You can scoop out the veggies for this recipe and discard brine or add fresh veggies for another batch of future pickles.

Asian-inspired spicy barbeque sauce recipe

  • 1/4 cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 1 teaspoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon Thai chili garlic paste
  • 1 tablespoon mirin
  • 1/2 cup water

In a small saucepan, bring all ingredients to a boil, reduce heat and simmer about 15 minutes, or until sauce starts to slightly thicken. In the meantime, make your meatballs.

garlic and ginger meatballs recipe

  • 1 lb. ground pork
  • 2 large scallions
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 2-inch piece peeled ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons olive or sunflower oil, for frying

Place ground pork in a bowl. Mince together scallions, garlic, and ginger and add to pork. Add sesame oil and stir well to combine. Form into small, 1-inch balls.

Heat a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add oil and let heat for at least 2 minutes. Add meatballs and brown on all sides, for about 12 minutes total.

Remove from skillet and, using tongs, add them to your hot barbeque sauce.

rice noodles and cilantro

To a medium-size pot of boiling, salted water, add a healthy handful of rice noodles. Stir well and cook at a low boil for about 4 minutes. Drain.

In the meantime, chop up a handful of fresh cilantro for serving

plating (or bowling, actually)

  • Divide the rice noodles into 4 bowls
  • Scoop out a few meatballs and sauce and place on top of noodles
  • Add a spoonful of pickled veggies to the side
  • Sprinkle with fresh cilantro

Serve while noodles and meatballs are hot.

lola rugula garlic and ginger meatballs with asian bbq sauce

I just can’t emphasize enough how bright and full of flavor this is, while still being pretty simple to bring together. If you don’t have mirin, just switch it out with some light, not-too-sweet white wine.

I tried to keep this simple because that’s how I typically roll, but afterward, I thought that some toasted sesame seeds would have been a nice addition to this.

If you just can’t stand cilantro (and I understand that many of you can’t) just add some fresh parsley for that bright finishing, herby touch. Chives or scallions will also work. For the pickled veggies, add what you have on hand – cauliflower, asparagus and even jalapenos (if you need more heat) will all work.  And this is honestly spicy. If you want to take down the heat, just use 1/4 cup of hoisin sauce or plain old barbeque sauce in place of the Thai chili garlic paste. I always tell you to not be afraid to play with your food and here’s a great example of that.  Have fun with your dishes and don’t be afraid to try new things.

If you like this recipe, I bet you’ll also love my Udon Noodle Bowl recipe and my Veggie Spring Rolls recipe.

Enjoy!

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

ajvar recipe

One of the beautiful things about growing your own vegetables is that you’re able to grow so many more varieties than what you can find at the supermarket.  Farmer’s markets offer a better variety than the stores but even then, your selection can be limited. One of my favorite places to discover new vegetables is Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds. They always have an incredible variety of heirloom veggies and I’ve had very good results with most of their seeds.

This year, I discovered ajvarski peppers which, after a bit of online searching, appear to be bulls horn peppers, a variety of peppers traditionally used in making ajvar (pronounced AY-vahr).

lola rugula ajvar peppers

Ajvar is a Serbian roasted red pepper sauce (I read where some call it Serbian Salsa).  Basically, it’s a roasted red pepper sauce with eggplant, garlic, vinegar, and oil added. It’s great on fresh bread, toasted bread and crackers, so it’s an easy appetizer recipe to make.

 I started my peppers inside in February and they were about 10-inch tall plants when they went into my garden in early May. They’ve done well in my home garden, taking a while to turn red as most colored peppers do but they’re reaching their stride here in zone 5 in September.  I currently have multiple peppers turning red on my plants, even though they were a bit slow-going at first.

These are gorgeous peppers with a thick skin and fragrant smell, especially when roasting. I’m not exaggerating on this – these are really, really fragrant peppers.

lola rugula ajvar bulls horn peppers

If you want to speed up the ripening of colored peppers, simply put them in a paper bag with a few ripe tomatoes and seal the bag with a clip. Leave at room temperature until fully ripened. Ideally, the peppers should be starting to turn already and then they’ll take anywhere from 3 to 7 days to ripen. Never refrigerate them until they’re ripe – refrigeration will stop the ripening process immediately. I have great luck with quick-ripening my peppers this way. If you’re a home gardener, you know how long it can take (and how much plant energy it takes) to ripen peppers on the plant.

I admit my ajvar here is a small batch recipe, as I only had 3 peppers to start and make this with. As it turned out though, 3 peppers were just enough to make a good-sized appetizer plate for Sunday football for two. This recipe made enough ajvar to fully pack one ramekin and help us devour a small loaf of French bread. 🙂 In all, this makes about 1 healthy cup of ajvar.

lola rugula ajvar

homemade ajvar recipe

  • 3 red bullhorn or bell peppers
  • 1/3 large eggplant, cut in half
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, gently smashed
  • 2 teaspoons white vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil + 1 tablespoon for brushing eggplant
  • 4 oz. feta cheese
  • 1 small loaf French bread, sliced (I toasted mine)

Preheat broiler. Place peppers and eggplant on a baking sheet or roasting pan. Brush the eggplant on both sides with 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Broil, turning occasionally until peppers and eggplant are well charred on all sides. The eggplant will likely cook the fastest and, if so, remove it to a plate and let cool until the peppers are done cooking.

When the peppers are well charred, use a pair of tongs to pop them into a paper bag, roll the bag to seal and let the peppers rest at least 10 minutes. What this does is steams the skins from the peppers, making the skins easier to remove. Remove the skins, stems, and seeds and discard. (I add mine to our compost bin)

In the meantime, scoop out the innards of the eggplant and place it in a food processor. Discard (or compost) the skin.

Add the garlic, vinegar and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil to the processor.

Add the peeled peppers.

Pulse until well-blended but still a bit coarse – it should still have a little texture to it. If too dry, add more olive oil until a smooth, spreadable mixture is formed.

Serve with feta cheese and fresh or toasted bread (or crackers).

lola rugula ajvar 2

This is so, so good! Very garlicky and the vinegar adds a brightness and tang to it, while the olive oil smooths it all out.

If red bell peppers are all you can find, by all means, use them. You can also add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes if you want a little spice to your ajvar.

Of course, you can also char the peppers and eggplant on the grill; whichever method is easiest and most convenient for you.

There’s something just so rustic and satisfying about schmearing roasted deliciousness on bread and devouring it. Ajvar does not disappoint. Make yourself a batch and dig in.

Enjoy!

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

Golden Heirloom Gazpacho

My summer celebration of garden tomatoes continues with this gorgeous golden gazpacho recipe. If you’re a home gardener or have just been overly ambitious at your local farmer’s market and wonder what to do with a lot of tomatoes, gazpacho is an easy and delicious solution.  I just recently posted my classic garden gazpacho recipe and this is a twist on that recipe using small golden heirloom cherry tomatoes.

The tomatoes I used here are Blue Gold Berry Tomatoes that I ordered from Bakers Creek Heirloom Seeds. They’re a very prolific plant, bearing beautiful fruit early and often throughout the growing season.

lola rugula golden gazpacho

These are not a super-sweet cherry tomato, which to me is perfect for a well-balanced gazpacho. And, unlike my classic garden gazpacho, here I keep everything a little bit lighter and brighter here with white wine vinegar, lemon juice and shallots.

lola rugula garden gazpacho

golden gazpacho recipe with heirloom cherry tomatoes

  • 2 lbs. yellow or gold cherry tomatoes
  • 1 medium clove of garlic
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, stems and seeds removed and cut into quarters
  • 1 medium cucumber (again, I use pickling cucumbers because it’s what I grow and have on hand), ends removed, peeled and seeds scooped out and discarded
  • 1 medium shallot
  • 1/2 medium jalapeno (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Diced cherry tomatoes, minced chives and/or minced parsley for garnish

In a blender or food processor place everything EXCEPT half of the tomatoes and blend extremely well.  Using a ladle, scoop out 3/4 of the contents and pour through a mesh sieve into a large bowl. Add remaining tomatoes and puree again until well blended. Strain all but a cup of the remaining gazpacho into your bowl. Add the final cup of the pureed, unstrained tomato mixture to your bowl and stir well.  Chill well.

Garnish with diced tomatoes, minced chives, and minced parsley before serving.

I prefer to leave a cup of it unstrained, as it adds texture (and good fiber!) to your final gazpacho. It’s completely personal taste as to whether you strain all, a portion of, or none of the final mixture.

Also, you can do this in either a blender or a food processor or even with an immersion blender but, in the end, you just want it to be as finely blended as you can without completely liquefying the entire batch. A little texture is a good thing where gazpacho is involved.

lola rugula golden gazpacho with cherry tomatoes

As with my classic gazpacho recipe, I like adding some jalapeno for a little kick. If adding, be sure to taste your jalapeno first so you can anticipate the heat level in the finished gazpacho. You can always add a little more to the second puree but you can’t remove it once it’s there, if you know what I mean. 🙂 The jalapenos I grow are much, much hotter than the mass-produced variety I buy at the store, so you always have to be careful in how much you use.

The lemon juice and ground turmeric is key to giving this brightness and depth. A little bit of black pepper works too, but again, you have to play a bit with it and see what you like.

Also, as I mentioned in my classic gazpacho recipe, I occasionally enjoy mine as a gazpacho smoothie and just drink it from a glass. It’s seriously like a glass of goodness because of all the antioxidants packed into it.

lola rugula easy gazpacho with heirloom cherry tomatoes

If you’re overloaded with summer tomatoes and are wondering what else to make with them, my fried green tomatoes recipe is another delicious solution.

Craving a good, easy pasta recipe? Try my fresh no-cook tomato sauce! It’s not only quick and easy but it’s also incredibly delicious and satisfying.

Are you overloaded with summer tomatoes? I’d love to hear what you do to enjoy them. And, as I always say, don’t be afraid to play with your food!

Wishing you all a wonderful, healthy and well-nourished weekend. Enjoy!

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

summer garden gazpacho

Gazpacho is such a delicious way to take advantage of your summer garden harvest and (bonus) it’s easy to throw together. Look up gazpacho recipes and you’ll find a ton of them, each unique in their own way, but there are basically two gazpacho camps: chunky and smooth. Personally, I like them both if they’re done well. In my opinion, you can’t really go wrong with fresh tomatoes blended with cucumbers, onion, garlic and olive oil, with a little acid and salt thrown in.

My version of gazpacho is a little bit of both worlds; the base blended smooth and then some small diced tomatoes added at serving time. The most important thing in making a great gazpacho is to use really, really ripe tomatoes. You really want the tomatoes to shine here.

lola rugula garden gazpacho

Garden Gazpacho Recipe

  • 2 lbs. very ripe tomatoes, cored. Remove the seeds and juice from half of them. In the recipe photos shown, I used a mix of large and small heirlooms with a couple of Romas.
  • 1 medium cucumber, completely peeled, ends removed and seeds scraped out
  • 1 medium clove garlic
  • 1/3 of a medium-sized red onion
  • 1 medium sweet pepper, either red, yellow or orange, stem and seeds removed (I used orange in the recipe photos shown)
  • 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 medium jalapeno, seeds and stems removed (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Additional diced tomato and slivered basil for garnish

Add everything except half of the tomatoes to a food processor or blender and puree until smooth. Pour 3/4 of the pureed mixture into a large bowl, add the second half of tomatoes and puree until smooth. Pour into your bowl and stir everything together well.

You can also use an immersion blender when making gazpacho, but I find a food processor or blender makes quicker work of this.

The reason I remove the juice and seeds from half of my tomatoes is so that the gazpacho doesn’t end up too runny. If you’re using soley Roma tomatoes, you’ll probably be fine without this step but heirlooms and larger slicing tomatoes tend to have a lot more juice to them.

Chill well and serve in small bowls or ramekins, topped with diced tomatoes and slivers of fresh basil.

Another fun way to enjoy gazpacho is by making gazpacho shooters.

lola rugula gazpacho shooters

These tasty little shooters are always a hit at summer get-togethers and holiday parties.

lola rugula garden gazpacho shooters

Gazpacho Shooters Recipe

  • 1 oz. vodka, per serving
  • 1/2 cup gazpacho, per serving
  • Cherry tomatoes and fresh basil leaves for garnish, per serving

Blend vodka and gazpacho well and pour into glasses – I use a ladle and a funnel to keep them neat – it may seem like a little extra work (and dishes to wash) but it’s worth the effort.

Garnish each glass with a toothpick speared with a fresh basil leaf and cherry tomato.

Okay, to be fair, these aren’t really gazpacho shooters as much as they’re gazpacho cocktails. I serve them, as pictured, in whiskey glasses and they are definitely more than a shot.

Gazpacho is very easy to customize and garnish to your personal taste. Think fresh chives, parsley, lemon slices, diced or shaved cucumber, etc. I’m always telling you “don’t be afraid to play with your food” and this is a perfect example of a recipe that you can play with.

Some people add bread to their gazpacho for texture, some people don’t. Some people add a little jalapeno or hot pepper, some people don’t. Some people like green peppers some people like sweeter red (or orange or yellow) peppers.

Also, I used pickling cucumbers here, because it’s what I grow and had on hand. Always make sure you peel any type of cucumber you use, to get rid of any bitterness. I scrape out the seeds from mine for the same reason.

lola rugula gazpacho

Beautiful, isn’t it? Gazpacho made with garden ingredients doesn’t get any fresher or more delicious. And seriously, don’t be afraid to play with this recipe to find what you like best.

As a footnote, aside from using very ripe tomatoes, you also want to be sure to use a good quality extra virgin olive oil. It really does make a difference. In the shooters, of course, use the best vodka you can.

I also like to enjoy mine as a gazpacho smoothie and just drink it from a glass. It’s seriously like a glass of goodness because of all the antioxidants packed into it.

Enjoy what’s left of summer and thanks for stopping by!

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

Cucumber Salad

I’ve been posting some of my classic recipes recently, such as my potato salad with peas and my easy refrigerated pickled beets, so here’s another classic for you. This simple little salad has a number of different names – cucumber salad, refrigerator pickles. pickled cucumbers,  and the obvious, cucumbers in vinegar. No matter what you call it, it’s easy to make and a fabulous way to preserve your cucumber bounty, whether it’s from your garden or your over-ambitiousness at the farmer’s market. Because of the vinegar, this dish stores easily in your fridge for weeks and makes a perfect side to grilled ribs and chicken. They’re also great on burgers and hot dogs and nothing can be easier to make.

I prefer to make mine with rice vinegar, as it’s not as sharp as white vinegar, but white will certainly work.

lola rugula refrigerator pickles recipe

Cold Cucumber Salad

  • 2 lbs. pickling cucumbers (about 6 medium)
  • 1 medium white onion, sliced thin
  • 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black  pepper
  • 2/3 cup unseasoned rice vinegar
  • 1/3 cup water

Remove the ends from cucumbers and discard. Slice the cucumbers thin – I prefer mine sliced over shaved with a mandolin, but you can try it both ways to see what you like – and place them in a large container with a lid. Thinly slice your onion and add to the cucumbers.

Sprinkle the cucumbers and onions with salt and toss well. Sprinkle with pepper, add vinegar and water and toss well again. Using the back of a large spoon or a potato masher, gently press everything down in the bowl.

Cover and refrigerate for 2-3 days, stirring them up and pressing them back down a few times. The cucumbers and onions will release their moisture and create a brine as they mix with the salt, vinegar, and water.

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

You now have quick pickles, basically, and they’re oh, so good!

If you have fresh dill on hand, it’s a delicious addition to this. Also, you can toss with fresh tomatoes before serving – just don’t add them ahead of time, as tomatoes will lose their flavor when refrigerated too long.

You can also use red onions here but be warned that they can turn your salad pink, especially the longer it sits.

Did you have this salad (or pickles) growing up? What did you call them? I’d love to hear about it! And now you know an easy way to preserve them when you’re wondering what to do with a lot of cucumbers.

Enjoy!

lola rugula deli style medium rare roast beef

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.