lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

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.


lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

grilled butterflied leg of lamb

I hope everyone had a nice Labor Day weekend. I, unfortunately, was not feeling my best at all over the long holiday weekend, as I’ve come down with some sort of summer flu bug which seems to be getting worse instead of better as the days pass. I was able to get some things done and still relax and attempt to recuperate a bit but I’ll admit it’s been slow-going. I had this wonderful butterflied leg of lamb planned for the grill this holiday and still pulled it off beautifully somehow, even with as rotten as I’ve been feeling.

We are lamb lovers in my house and easy lamb recipes are one of my specialties. If you follow my blog, you know I’m not big on complicated dishes that require hours of preparation, 50 million pans and a bunch of obscure ingredients. Oh, I have my moments where things get a little more involved but honestly, mostly we just want to eat great food that doesn’t take a degree to prepare, right?

My Lamb and Oregano Shoulder Chops recipe is one of my most popular recipes on Pinterest and that’s because it’s easy and delicious. Oh, and lamb shoulder chops are cheap compared to other cuts of lamb, so….bonus.

I’ve also shared my Grilled Lamb Loin Chops with Oregano, Mint and Lemon recipe, which is always an easy lamb recipe for the grill. Loin chops are on the more expensive side but they’re great if you’re looking for a recipe for a  special occasion or maybe a romantic dinner.

The beauty of butterflied leg of lamb is that it’s a big cut of meat that’s been removed from the bone and splayed out into a cut that’s easy and fast to grill. I was lucky enough this time to find a roast that weighed in at only 2.5 lbs. but this cut typically comes in around 3-5 lbs. When all’s said and done though, you will never go wrong with smothering any cut of lamb with garlic, herbs, oil and a bit of lemon juice or vinegar. If you’re looking for ways to reduce the “gaminess” in lamb, lemon and/or vinegar is your friend. 

Anyway, enough with me blathering on…let’s get to the butterflied leg of lamb on the grill, shall we?

lola rugula grilled butterflied leg of lamb

grilled butterflied leg of lamb with garlic and herbs recipe

  • 10 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • zest of one lemon
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 2.5 lb butterflied leg of lamb, patted dry and excess fat removed. I always keep a thin layer of fat on the roast, to prevent it from drying out while cooking.

In a bowl, mix everything except the lamb together and mash together well. Coat the lamb well on both sides with the marinade and place lamb in a  large dish. Spoon any remaining marinade over the lamb, cover well, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Remove lamb roast from refrigerator about 30 minutes before grilling.

Preheat grill to 425° for at least 15 minutes.

Place lamb roast on the grill, fat side down. Cover grill and cook for about 15 minutes. Flip lamb and cook for another 10 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 130° for medium to medium rare. Remove from grill, cover loosely with aluminum foil and let rest for 15 minutes before slicing and serving.

I have to confess this one got away from me due to my not feeling well and a slower than normal reaction time, so it was at 135° before I caught it and removed it from the grill. It was just a bit more done than we typically like, but the garlicky-herb goodness made up for it.

lola rugula butterflied leg of lamb grilled

Because of the way this cut is typically done, there will be thinner pieces that cook more quickly and thicker pieces that cook more slowly. I like to temp in the thickest part of the cut and adjust my time accordingly.  You can see examples of how the doneness can vary depending on the thicknesses in the photo above.

The garlic, fresh herbs and lemon are all natural accompianments to lamb, so you can’t go wrong with any of them. Add in the beauftiful smokey char you get from cooking on the grill and I promise that your friends and family will love this.

And, if you’re wondering what to make with any leftover lamb you might have, my Easy Lamb Stew recipe is your answer.

lola rugula grilled butterflied leg of lamb with garlic and herbs

Are you a fan of lamb? What’s your favorite cut and way to prepare it?

I’d love to hear what was on your Labor Day Weekend menu!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

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.


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.


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


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.


asian-style steak and vegetable rolls recipe


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.


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 red lentil chili with black beans

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.


  • 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 red lentil chili with black beans

easy summer recipes

There’s not been much time for blogging for this girl lately. First there was painting, to get ready for new living room furniture. Then veggie gardening, followed by flower gardening. And in between, I’ve been working on refinishing a cool side table I found at a flea market; pictures of which I hope to post when the project’s complete!

In the midst of all of this, I’m still cooking fresh, delicious food, without a lot of fuss. It’s summertime and the living should be a little bit easy, right?

So this, my friends, is a roundup of some of the dishes I’ve been making. The photos all came from my Samsung Galaxy, so cut me a bit of slack where the quality is concerned, will you? 🙂

First up, with our influx of spring asparagus from the garden, is an easy, but beautiful asparagus frittata recipe.


easy asparagus with ricotta and capicola frittata recipe

  • 15-16 oz. ricotta cheese
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup freshly-shredded Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup half and half
  • fresh chives, minced
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • a few slices of capicola, diced
  • 1 lb fresh, thin asparagus spears

Preheat oven to 375°

In a bowl, whisk together everything but the asparagus. Pour into a 10-inch (or close) non-stick pan. Gently press the asparagus spears into the top of the mixture.

Bake in oven about 20 minutes, just until edges start to turn golden brown. Remove from oven and let sit for 5 minutes before slicing and serving.

Don’t sweat this if you don’t have pencil-thin asparagus! Just dice up your thicker spears and add them to the mix. Maybe not as pretty but, trust me, still delicious. I’ve done it both ways and it works like a charm. If your spears are super-huge, try blanching them first.

Next up is what I call “Italian Salsa”. This is delicious simplicity at its best.

fresh tomatoes mozzarella basil bruschetta recipe

This is a recipe where you’ll just have to figure out the proportions on your own.  I’ve never come close to measuring this, as sometimes I make a little and other times I make a lot. Just start off easy on the garlic…

fresh italian salsa recipe

  • Fresh tomatoes, diced
  • Minced garlic
  • Fresh mozzarella, diced
  • Fresh basil, chopped
  • Olive oil
  • Bread slices, either fresh or toasted

Mix everything but the bread together in a bowl and let sit for about 30 minutes, to let the flavors develop and the cheese soften. Serve on fresh or toasted bread slices.

Next on the list is grilled whole rainbow trout. Grilled seafood is one of summertime’s true pleasures and, if you usually only grill meats, I highly recommend you try this. Again, not an exact recipe, but super easy to make with stunning results. I have a fantastic fish basket that’s made for the grill, but you can do this right on the grill grates, if needed; just make sure you’ve oiled the grates well before placing the fish on.


 whole grilled rainbow trout with fresh herbs and lemon recipe

  • whole rainbow trout, cleaned
  • minced garlic
  • fresh herbs of your choice (I used parsley and chives here)
  • olive oil
  • a few thin slices of real butter
  • fresh lemon slices

In a small dish, mix garlic, herbs, olive oil and butter until well blended. Set aside and let soften.

Using a very sharp knife, make diagonal slices on the exterior of the fish, cutting just through the skin to the flesh, about 1 inch apart.

Using a brush (or your clean hands), brush the interior and exterior of the fish with your herb and garlic mixture. Place fresh lemon slices inside the fish, in a single layer. Squeeze one or two of the slices over the fish first, for extra lemon flavor.

Place fish on a hot grill and cook until skin is crispy, about 8-10 minutes. Carefully flip fish over and cook on the other side until skin is crispy all over. Remove from grill and let sit about 5 minutes before serving.

Last, but not least, is a favorite of ours: lemon and parmesan pasta. In the world of recipes, this has to be one of the easiest but tastiest recipes around. Have no doubt, this is for lemon lovers so, if you don’t like lemons, you won’t appreciate this. But if you do like lemons….oh, the sheer joy….

I’ve made lemon pasta a number of different ways and even posted another variation of it, with shrimp and broccolini, here.


 lemon pasta with asparagus and seared sea scallops recipe

  • 2/3 cup olive oil
  • 1 cup freshly-grated good quality parmesan
  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice  – zest them first (about 4 lemons)
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 lb. spaghetti or linguine – reserve 1 cup of cooked pasta water
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil and parsley
  • 1/2 lb fresh asparagus, cut into 1 inch slices and steamed just until fork-tender
  • 1 lb sea scallops, cleaned and tough muscle removed
  • A tablespoon of olive oil and/or butter to sear the scallops in (I prefer to use a bit of both)

In a bowl, whisk together olive oil, parmesan, lemon juice and black pepper.

Cook pasta and drain, reserving 1 cup of cooking liquid. Add pasta back to pan and toss with lemon juice mixture and 1/2 cup of your reserved liquid. Add lemon zest and herbs, along with steamed asparagus, and toss well. If pasta is still a bit dry, add remaining cooking liquid. Plate, top with seared sea scallops and serve.

To sear the sea scallops (preferably while the pasta is cooking), get a good cast iron or grill pan nice and hot. Drizzle a bit of oil (I also llike to add a pat of real butter) into the pan and add your scallops, which have been patted dry. Sear well on each side until golden and starting to brown just a tad at the edges. Be sure not to crowd the pan or the scallops will steam in their liquid, instead of searing. If scallops start to brown too quickly or burn, reduce heat. When scallops are cooked all the way through, move to a plate and cover with foil to keep warm.

Well, that’s some of what I’ve been up to this summer! How about you? Have your cooked, traveled, or been writing the great American novel? I’m sorry I’ve not had time to catch up with everyone, but hopefully I will soon.

Happy summer, everyone! Relax a little and enjoy!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

black bean burgers with chipotle mayo

Want an easy, healthy, delicious meal to throw together? Put black bean burgers on your menu this week. They’re quick to come together, full of vitamins and fiber and trust me, they’re delicious. This time I put them on onion rolls, but choose whatever type of roll or bun you prefer. Also, feel free to add your favorite greens (arugula?) and other burger toppings. Also, feel free to adjust the heat and spices to your own tastes,,,,remember, play with your food and make it your own.

homemade spicy black bean burgers with chipotle mayo recipe lola rugula

spicy black bean burgers with chipotle mayonnaise recipe

First, make the chipotle mayo, so the flavors have time to come together

  • 2 chipotles in adobo sauce, finely chopped
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise with olive oil

Mix ingredients together well in a small dish.

Now, onto the black bean burgers:

  • 1 20.5 oz. can low-sodium black beans, rinsed, drained and dried of excess moisture (I drain mine and put them into a paper towel lined dish in the fridge, overnight. If you don’t have that much time, just make sure the beans are patted dry very well)
  • 2 tablespoons finely diced red pepper (I use roasted red peppers, to add a smoky flavor)
  • 1-2 scallions, whites and greens, chopped fine (mine from the garden were huge, so I only used one this time)
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350’

Place the black beans in a medium-size bowl and, using a potato masher or fork, roughly mash the beans up. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well.

Form mixture into patties, then place on a pan that’s been lightly greased with olive oil. This batch I made just 3 huge burgers with but it will depend on how big you want them for the buns you’re using. These also make great sliders if you have the mini-buns.

homemade black bean burger recipe lola rugula

Bake for 12 minutes and then flip the burgers over and cook for another 12 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool for 5 minutes before placing on bun with chipotle mayo and serve.

homemade black bean burger recipeYes, those are some of my half-sour fermented pickles on the plate! So, if you were wanting a new Meatless Monday recipe to try, this is a great one. Beware the mayo though – it’s definitely got a kick to it.