lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

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 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

dried rattlesnake bean and vegetable soup

I had the pleasure last summer of growing rattlesnake beans for the first time. I had never heard of them and was intrigued because they can be eaten just like green beans when they’re young or eaten as dried beans when left to grow and dry on the vine. Anyone who’s grown green beans knows how quickly they can grow, so the advantage to growing rattlesnake beans is that if they go past their young, tender stage, you can let them go to dried beans and still enjoy them. Genius, I say! If you’ve been wondering how to grow rattlesnake beans, they’re easy to grow and delicious.

I ordered my beans from Territorial Seed Company and planted them in early May. Rattlesnake beans are pole beans, so you need to give them a fence or support to grow on and boy do these things grow. I did not have the foresight to take a picture of them on the vine but here’s a shot of them while they’re young:

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Aren’t they beautiful? The dark purple striping makes a stunning contrast to the green pod and these really are delicious when harvested at this stage. If you’re wondering how to cook young rattlesnake beans, they can be cooked any way you cook regular green beans. They’re wonderful steamed, roasted and added to soups and other dishes. We had a very healthy harvest of these before I let them go to the drying stage.

Growing them here in Zone 5 was very easy for me. I planted the seeds against a garden fence with some compost and manure mixed in. These are very fast growers and occasionally I had to train the vines around the fence, to make sure they had some much-needed support. I harvested them as green beans until late July or early August and then let the rest of them mature and dry on the vine, picking them as they became fully dry. Then I shelled them and stored them in a storage container in my pantry, where they’ve kept well as I work my way through them.

lola rugula how to grow rattlesnake beans in zone 5

As you can see, the dried beans are just as gorgeous as the green ones – their distinctive markings make it easy to see why they’re called rattlesnake beans.

So here we are, in the middle of a cold Midwestern winter, and what’s the best way to cook these dried rattlesnake beans? In soup, of course! Packed full of veggies, this is a great version of a clean-out-your-fridge recipe. Mine here simply reflects what I had on hand for veggies, so please don’t be afraid to use whatever you love and/or have on hand. There are no rules to veggie and bean soup, except that you make it with the veggies you enjoy. And if you don’t have dried rattlesnake beans, then use whatever beans you like. Don’t like beans? This is still a great vegetable soup recipe, so don’t be afraid to omit or change things up. Be prepared, this is a long list of veggies but don’t be daunted…I’m just cleaning out my fridge for soup…

lola rugula how to cook rattlesnake beans recipe

rattlesnake bean and vegetable soup recipe

  • 1 cup of dried rattlesnake beans
  • 1 cup of small pasta, such as ditalini
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1/2 large white onion, diced
  • 8-10 baby carrots, sliced
  • 2 celery stalks, sliced
  • 5 small sweet peppers, diced
  • 4-5 medium-size turnip greens, tough stem removed and chopped
  • 1 cup small spinach leaves, torn or chopped
  • 1 small zucchini, diced
  • 15 asparagus spears, tough ends removed and sliced
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 cup bean broth
  • 1 2-inch piece of Parmesan rind (optional)

In a medium saucepan, add dried rattlesnake beans and fill with water. Bring to a boil for 2 minutes, cover and remove from heat. Let sit, covered, for 1 hour. In the meantime, cook the pasta, prepare the veggies and start the soup.

In a medium saucepan, cook the ditalini or other small pasta for 10 minutes or just until al dente. Drain and rinse with cold water. Let sit until ready to use.

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add garlic, onions and carrots and cook just until they start to sweat, stirring a few times, about 5 minutes.

Add the rest of the veggies and continue to cook until they all start to wilt and soften, about 7 more minutes.  Season with pepper flakes (if using), salt and pepper and stir well. Add vegetable broth, water, bean broth and Parmesan rind (if using).

Add the rattlesnake beans. You will not add the pasta until the soup is almost done. Bring to a boil, partially cover and reduce heat to a slow simmer.

Simmer for one hour or until beans are tender. Add pasta and bring back to a simmer. Remove from heat and serve.

We had a good 2 bowls of this before we sat back and wondered at the incredible flavor of these beans. Rattlesnake beans have a meaty, hearty flavor but cook quickly and stay tender. I love these beans and will definitely add them to my “things you should definitely grow in your vegetable garden” list.

Happy soup season everyone…here’s hoping for an early spring!

lola rugula cold cucumber salad recipe

udon noodle bowl

Sometimes the stress of the holidays or just daily life can be overwhelming and drag down your defenses. This often leads us to eat the wrong things, which can weaken our immune system even more.

A great way to recharge your system is a bowl of my ramen-style udon noodle bowl recipe. It’s packed full of veggies and protein and can be customized a lot of different ways, to suit your personal taste. If you’re ever looking for a clean-out-your-fridge recipe, this is a good one. You can even make this vegetarian by adding tofu instead of shrimp.

The key to this dish is to really pack it full of a big variety of your favorite veggies and use a good-quality broth. I typically have homemade broth on hand, but you can certainly use store-bought instead.

lola rugula how to make udon noodle soup bowl recipe

Also, feel free to change up the noodles. I’ve used soba noodles in this dish and they’re also very good. Soba noodles can be a great gluten free option, but you have to check the ingredient lists because some of them still contain wheat. Rice noodles or vermicelli are also options.

Also, I add white miso paste and wakame to my bowls when I have them on hand, as they both add great, healthy benefits. They’re not necessary though, so if you don’t have them, don’t sweat it. There’s really no hard and fast rules to my Asian-inspired bowls, I just like to have fun with them and see how deliciously healthy I can make them.

Of course, if you like things hot, this is a great dish for adding a little fire. You can add some hot peppers in the veggie mix or just drizzle a little of my hot chili oil over the top of it before serving.

lola rugula ramen udon noodle bowl recipe

udon noodle bowl recipe

  • 1 10 oz. package of udon noodles, cooked according to package directions
  • 12 oz. large raw shrimp, thawed, if frozen and shelled and deveined
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6-8 cups fresh vegetables – here are the ones I used here:
    • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
    • 1/2 medium onion, sliced
    • green cabbage, sliced
    • red radishes, sliced
    • 5-6 stalks asparagus, sliced
    • 8 baby carrots, julienned
    • 5 portobello mushrooms, sliced
    • 2 broccolini stalks, sliced
    • 4 small sweet red bell peppers, sliced
    • 1 medium celery stalk, sliced
    • 1 cup (loosely packed) fresh spinach
    • 6 scallions, sliced (plus more for serving)
  • 4 cups good-quality vegetable broth
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/4 cup wakame, resconstituted in a cup of hot water
  • 1 generous tablespoon white (shiro) miso paste
  • 1 teaspoon sesame oil
  • for serving:
    • fresh cilantro, chopped
    • scallions, sliced
    • boiled eggs, peeled and halved
    • hot chili oil (optional)

Cook the noodles, drain, rinse with cool water (to stop the cooking process) and set aside.

Grill the shrimp in a hot grill pan or under the broiler just until they’re pink, turning once halfway through cooking time. Set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat, Add garlic and regular onions and cook just until they start to soften, about 3 minutes. Increase heat to medium-high, add the rest of the fresh vegetables and cook just until they all start to soften a bit, about 5 minutes. Stir the veggies often, so they don’t burn.

Add broth and water. Bring to a boil, immediately reduce heat to medium and simmer about 20 minutes. The veggies should be tender but not mushy.

Add cooked shrimp, wakame, miso pasted and sesame oil, bring back to simmer and remove from heat.

Serving:

Scoop a cup and 1/2 of noodles into each bowl. Ladle hot shrimp and veggie mixture over noodles, being sure to include some of the broth.

Top each bowl with 2 egg halves and a generous sprinkling of fresh cilantro and sliced scallions. Drizzle a teaspoon or so of hot chili oil (if using) over everything and serve.

lola rugula homemade ramen style udon noodle bowl recipe

I love my veggie broth bowls and think you will, too! I have to emphasize that you can customize this to your tastes and/or what you have on hand.

All kinds of proteins work well in these bowls – think beef, turkey, chicken, shredded pork, tofu, tempeh, firm white fish, scallops, salmon, etc…play around with it and see what combo you like best. Try adding beans, if you love them. And don’t ever be afraid to use leftovers in this recipe; in fact it’s a perfect vehicle for your leftover proteins and veggies.

The types of veggies you use are limited only by your imagination, so load up on your favorites.

This recipe may sound like a lot of ingredients and it is, because of all the veggies, but trust me, it’s all prep time. This is a great example of mise en place, meaning you have everything in its place and ready to go. Once the veggie prep is done, this noodle bowl dish comes together pretty quickly.

These udon noodle bowls are calling your name..do not ever, ever be afraid to play with your food.

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.

lola_asian_steak_and_veggie_rolls_recipe_1

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

fried green tomatoes with fresh tomato salsa

Summer is barely past us and I”m already thinking about what veggies and flowers I want to grow next year! It’s part of my winter ritual to browse online and through catalogs, finding something new and different to grow. I love growing stuff. And eating stuff.

A big part of being a great cook and eating well is knowing how to create a myriad of dishes using fresh fruits and vegetables. Grow or shop fresh, learn to cook and prepare veggies to perfection and celebrate the beauty of the bounty from the earth. Challenge yourself to work with the real thing and not the store-bought version.

lola-rugula-how-to-make-fried-green-tomatoes-recipe

For me, one of the highlights of my late-summer harvest is tomatoes. In case you missed my recent post on fresh tomato sauce, I love creating an amazing and delicious pasta sauce with the best tomatoes of the season. It’s packed full of garlic, shallots and herbs and it freezes perfectly, for you to enjoy many months into the snowy weather.

Another highlight of the end-of-tomato season is this:

lola-rugula-fried-green-tomatoes-recipe

fried green tomatoes with fresh tomato salsa

Fresh tomato salsa
  • 2 ripe tomatoes, diced
  • 1/4 cup diced red onion
  • 1/2 jalapeno, diced
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro
  • 1/2 lime, for juice
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a small bowl, combine all ingredients and stir. Set aside until ready to serve.

Fried green tomatoes:
  • 5 medium green tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (your choice, I like whole wheat)
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • Salt and pepper
  • 3/4 cup sunflower or olive oil (these are moderate heat oils because I don’t high-heat fry my fried green tomatoes)

Slice tomatoes into 3/4 inch slices, discarding (please compost!) tops.

Arrange your breading station: Place 1 cup of the flour on a plate. Beat 2 large eggs in a shallow bowl or dish. Place remaining 1/2 cup of flour and all of cornmeal on another plate and stir to combine.

Dredge a slice of tomato in flour, coating both sides and shaking off any excess. Dip floured slice in beaten egg, flipping and swishing until coated, letting excess drip off. Finally, dip slice into cornmeal/flour mix and coat well on both sides. Place battered slice on a platter and repeat with remaining slices. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Refrigerate for 1 hour.

lola-rugula-fried-green-tomatoes-recipe

Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium heat. (My big cast iron skillet works perfectly for these). Oil should be hot but not too hot – a pinch of the flour mixture dropped in should sizzle but not immediately sputter and smoke.

Working in batches so as not to overcrowd the pan, place slices, salt and pepper side down, in oil, leaving space in between them. Salt and pepper the tops and fry for about 5-7 minutes or until bottoms are golden brown. Flip tomato slices and fry on the other side for another 5-7 minutes, again until golden brown. Transfer to a warm plate lined with paper towels. Repeat until all slices are cooked.

Serve fried green tomatoes topped with the fresh salsa.

As a meal, serves 2 with fresh greens, such as arugula (my favorite!) or mesclun. Serves 4 as a side.

lola-rugula-how-to-make-fried-green-tomatoes-recipe

This recipe is a true celebration of the end-of-season harvest; the burst of tart green tomatoes topped with red, ripe tomatoes. The lime juice and fresh cilantro in the salsa contrast the crunchy fried tomatoes perfectly.

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I love cooking with fresh ingredients and love is a wonderful thing.

Celebrate fresh, in-season ingredients while you have them and experiment with different flavors as much as you can. Remember to never be afraid to play with your food.