lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

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.


lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

Fennel, Tomato and Cucumber Salad

If you follow my blog on Facebook, you may have seen me share a photo of this salad recently. This is a salad that celebrates summer veggies. It’s cool, crisp, colorful and, of course, delicious. It seems almost too simple of a recipe to post but I sometimes get asked what to do with fennel and this is seriously one of my easiest suggestions.  People often pick up fennel at a farmer’s market or receive it in a CSA box and wonder what the heck to do with it.  Recipes don’t have to be complicated and, if you’re not a regular home cook, I know you don’t want them to be. This is a great way to introduce yourself to fennel while enjoying other summer veggie delights. Roasted fennel is also divine – try throwing some on the grill or pan roasting it, to really intensify its flavor.

I’ve been growing fennel the last couple of years and I think it’s a great addition to a home vegetable garden. It’s not susceptible to disease or bugs and, if you can keep the groundhogs from chewing off the tops (true story last year), not much bothers it, at least in my case.I do tend to pick it while it’s young, which yields a very tender and crisp fennel. It also helps thin out my patch of it, as I inevitably plant them too close together every year.

The tomatoes and cucumbers pictured here are also from our garden. The tomatoes are Black Vernissage heirloom from Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company, one of my favorite places to buy seeds. They’re gorgeous little 3-inch tomatoes packed with flavor.  The cucumbers are a pickling variety, which is all I typically grow, but any type of cucumber will work here.

lola rugula fennel tomato and cucumber salad

This isn’t so much as a recipe as a salad suggestion. You can increase or lessen the quantities of any of the ingredients to suit your tastes.

lola rugula fennel and tomato salad recipe

fennel, tomato, and cucumber salad

  • Fresh fennel, sliced
  • Tomatoes, diced
  • Cucumbers, sliced or diced
  • Red onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive Oil
  • Rice vinegar, unseasoned

Add your vegetables to a bowl, sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle olive oil and rice vinegar over, toss and serve.

Easy, right? That’s what I love!

I prefer to use rice vinegar on this because it has a very light flavor, but it’s also good with red or white wine vinegar and even white balsamic vinegar. I use the unseasoned variety of rice vinegar but if you like a little sweetness, use seasoned rice vinegar and omit adding any additional salt.

You want just a hint of oil and vinegar on this, to really let the flavors of your veggies shine through.

lola rugula tomato fennel and cucumber salad recipe

Isn’t it beautiful? This salad screams summertime.  Fennel is easy to find now in most supermarkets and farmers markets so, even if you’re not a home gardener, you shouldn’t have any problem getting some.

Variations: thinly sliced sweet yellow, orange or red peppers work great with this. If you prefer, you can also serve it on a bed of greens. A little fresh parsley, basil or mint also change this up a bit, as does a little thinly sliced summer squash.

Don’t be afraid to play with your food! Enjoy!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

Classic Potato Salad with Peas

I love experimenting and creating new recipes but who doesn’t love good old-fashioned potato salad? Mine’s pretty much a classic skins-on potato salad with peas added for their bright flavor and nutritional punch. I prefer to use red potatoes because I love their flavor and texture, plus their skins look so beautiful in this salad (another nutritional punch)! Of course, you can peel the potatoes if you prefer but if you’ve never tried it this way, give it a shot and see what you think.

Red skins, bright green peas, celery and red onions all combine to make this a very colorful and flavorful salad, so it makes an attractive and delicious side dish for a summer cookout or picnic.

A couple of notes about my recipe: I dice my potatoes before cooking for two reasons:

  • I like to rinse the starchiness off of them before cooking
  • They cook faster, which is a big bonus in the middle of summer

Also, I don’t add sugar to my potato salad – I prefer mine savory over sweet but if you want to add some, it’s your call.

lola rugula classic potato salad recipe

red skin classic potato salad with peas recipe

  • 12 medium red potatoes (3.5 lbs.), scrubbed well, diced into large chunks and rinsed well
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt (for cooking the potatoes)
  • 3 tablespoons white vinegar
  • 4 boiled eggs, diced
  • 1 1/4 cup diced or sliced celery
  • 3/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1 1/2 cups green peas (if using frozen, thaw and drain well)
  • 1/2 teaspoon each kosher salt and black pepper
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 (generous) cup mayonnaise (I prefer the olive oil kind)
  • Minced parsley or scallions for serving (optional)

Place clean, rinsed potato chunks in a large pot, cover by a few inches with cold water and bring to a boil. Cook for about 15 minutes or just until fork-tender, and drain well. (I typically skim the starchy bubbles from the top with a slotted spoon as they’re cooking to help prevent boil-overs) Rinse briefly with cold water, drain very well and return to pan.

While they’re still warm, sprinkle potatoes with vinegar, stir well and set aside to cool about 30 minutes. I stir mine again a few times while they’re cooling, to help speed up the cooling process.

In the meantime, dice your boiled eggs, celery, and red onion. If using frozen peas, make sure they’re thawed and drained well. Add everything to your cooled potatoes.

Add salt and pepper and stir everything together.

Add Dijon and mayo and stir well, until it’s all incorporated and everything is evenly covered.

Refrigerate for at least 4 hours – I like to let mine sit overnight for the best flavor. Sprinkle with freshly chopped parsley or scallions before serving.


  • If you don’t like peas, omit them
  • If you prefer your potato salad more “mustardy” add more Dijon or switch it out for classic yellow mustard
  • Skins are also optional – peel the potatoes if you prefer
  • If you don’t have red onions, white onions or diced scallions will work just fine
  • Like potato salad with bacon? Hey, throw some bacon in there.
  • Again, if you like your potato salad sweet, you can certainly add a little sugar

lola rugula classic red skin potato salad recipe

Aside from the peas, this is a classic skins-on all American potato salad and one that’s always a hit with my family and friends.

How do you like your potato salad? (or do you hate it?) Leave me a comment and let me know!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

papaya seed dressing

Spring has officially arrived here in Northern Illinois and yet they’re calling for an inch or two of snow tonight. Sigh.

We had a week or so of nice 50+ degree weather though and we even grilled out a couple of times, so I know these latest flurries won’t stick around long.

Thinking spring thoughts, I was excited to see a display of gorgeous papayas on my last trip to the grocery store. As the weather starts to warm up, I’m always looking for delicious ways to amp up the flavor in my green salads so that they don’t get boring. This is an easy, nutritious, delicious salad dressing that I quickly threw together in my blender. Papaya seeds are high in protein and a good source of calcium and magnesium. You may not suspect it but their flavor is similar to black pepper and they add a definite kick to this dressing.

Salad dressings are so easy to make at home and if you’re trying to stay away from processed foods, dressings are a good way to start. Most store-bought dressings are loaded with junk – read the labels and you might be surprised at everything that’s in them.

lola-rugula-papaya-seed-dressing-recipepapaya seed dressing recipe

  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar
  • 1/4 cup roughly cut onion (I used about 3 large slices)
  • 1 tablespoon agave nectar
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground mustard
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 heaping tablespoons papaya seeds
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

Place everything except olive oil in a blender and blend on high speed for a couple of minutes. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil until everything is well blended.

You can certainly play around with this recipe quite a bit. If you don’t have ground mustard, add a bit of dijon. If you don’t have rice vinegar, try champagne or tarragon vinegar. If you want some extra color, add some chopped chives or scallions. Use raw honey instead of agave nectar. Add a bit of garlic to the mix. Never be afraid to play with your food.

Oh, and how to tell if a papaya is ripe? Ideally, buy them at the store while they’re still partially green. Let ripen at home for a few days and then enjoy! The skin of the papaya will turn yellow as it ripens and have a little bit of give when you touch it. You don’t want it overripe, so don’t let it get too soft.

Keep thinking spring and enjoy!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

bean and veggie salad with cumin dressing

Happy Labor Weekend all! I hope everyone is having a fun and amazing summer. I’ve been canning and freezing up a storm from my garden, but it’s always worth it when the days become shorter and colder. Brrrrrrrrr.

Thought I’d share one of my easiest salad recipes with you this holiday weekend. I’m not even going to try and give you measurements on this, because it’s different every single time I make it. The only constants are the cilantro, cumin, cider vinegar and olive oil. There are always beans, veggies, garlic and onion involved, but the beans, veggies and even the onion vary, depending on what I have on hand or what I’m in the mood for.

Give it a whirl and see what you think!


bean and veggie salad with cilantro, cumin and cider vinegar dressing

  • beans of your choice (I personally love to mix them – black beans, garbanzo beans, dark red kidney beans, etc.)
  • diced veggies of your choice
  • minced garlic
  • chopped fresh cilantro
  • ground cumin
  • cider vinegar
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Toss the beans, veggies, garlic and cilantro together in a large bowl. Sprinkle on some ground cumin, to taste. (remember, you can always add more, so go easy at first) Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle on a bit of olive oil and cider vinegar. You just want to coat everything well, without drowning it all. Toss everything well – best when it sits at least an hour.

As a side note, using a great cider vinegar here is worth it. I highly recommend Bragg‘s  which can be found at most markets and grocery stores. It’s organic, live and raw, so it’s very good for you.

Hope you all have a wonderful holiday weekend! Bon Appetit!

lola rugula red lentil chili with black beans

corn relish salsa

It’s that time of year again! (I mean canning time, of course) First on the canning schedule this year was corn salsa (or corn relish, if you prefer). Skelly’s Farm Market, a local farm stand, is selling the sweetest, juiciest sweet corn right now and I just had to preserve some of it. I’ve not canned corn salsa in a few years, so we were long overdue for a new batch.

Luckily, I was able to track down my old recipe in my pile o’ recipes, full of scribbles and notes and such. This is, obviously, a canning recipe, but feel free to cut it in half and make some for the fridge. It’s great as a salsa or relish and the possibilities for it are almost endless.

You can also customize this as you like, though if you are canning it, try and stick close to the measurements. If, for example, you don’t want yours very spicy, substitute some celery, or bell peppers or more corn for the hot peppers.

lola-rugula-hot-corn-salsa-relish-canning-recipehot corn salsa relish canning recipe

Makes 6 pints

  •  18 ears sweet corn, shucked and cleaned, cut off the cob (8 cups)
  • 2 tablespoons butter (do not use a butter substitute)
  • 1 onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
  • 2 large jalapenos, finely chopped
  • 3 large cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 large red bell pepper, diced (1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 large orange bell pepper, diced (1 1/2 cups)
  • 3 stalks celery, sliced (3/4 cup)
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 cups cider and/or white vinegar

Have your jars, lids and bands sterilized and ready to go.

In a large pan, melt butter until bubbly. Add onion, jalapeno and garlic. Saute for about 5 minutes, until onion is translucent. Add bell peppers, celery, sea salt and pepper. Saute another 5 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add vinegar and bring corn mixture to a boil. Remove from heat and pack corn salsa into sterilized canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch head space.

Wipe rims of jars, place seals and bands on jars, and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.

Remove jars from bath and let sit, undisturbed, for 24 hours. If any seals have not sealed correctly, place in refrigerator, otherwise, place sealed jars in cool dark place to store.


I’m sure I’ve said this before but I’ll say it again. The biggest time-suck with canning is making sure everything is sterilized and ready to go. Once everything’s ready, it’s really a pretty quick process. These should seal almost immediately upon removing from the hot water bath; mine take 5 minutes at the most.

This is one of the best ways to preserve fresh sweet corn and it makes a lovely gift, since it’s not something you can usually find on your grocer’s shelves.

Again, we like ours pretty hot, so I tend to add a lot of jalapeno. Feel free to mix it up with a different hot pepper or just substitute sweet bells for the hot ones.

I hope you’re all enjoying your summer so far!