Friday, April 24, 2015

Flights of Fancy Food
What’s cooking? Artichoke Pesto and Salad Shirazi

The Kitchen Goddess is chagrined to note that it’s been more than two weeks since my last post. A shameful situation, to be sure, but we – my hubby and I – have done an obscene amount of travel this year (at least one trip per month), and it’s difficult if not impossible to collect my already scattered thoughts while on the road. But I will attempt to catch up today with not one but two easy recipes that celebrate spring.

In light of all this travel, it’s a vast understatement to say that I’ve had my fill of airport food lately. Of course, there’s no such thing as airline food anymore, unless you’re flying first class, where, believe me, the food they’re serving isn’t even up to what they used to serve in coach. So my habit of packing a few snacks has become something of an obsession. Part of it is driven by my desire not to throw away perfectly good food, yet it’s tough to imagine showing up at my neighbor’s doorstep with, “Hi, would you like some leftover risotto? Or this half of an apple? How about a cup of cucumber salad?”

The packing almost always takes place in the last few minutes before we leave. My prince checks his watch and paces while I stuff the food into baggies and wedge it carefully into my carry-on, adding one of those little cellophane packages of fork/spoon/salt/pepper and a couple of paper towels, because you can’t rely on airplane napkins to keep your hands clean. For our latest trip, I took a hard-boiled egg, an apple (which I sliced), and a pear (also sliced). I thought about adding some cheese, then decided against it to save my marriage.

The flight was just to Houston, only 35 minutes long, and he reminded me more than once that we’d have time to grab lunch in the Houston airport, so the food was really superfluous. Then a funny thing happened on the way to Houston. There was lots of turbulence, and as the plane neared the landing strip, the pilot made an abrupt adjustment and took us back up into the clouds. Whoa, what was that about?

“Sorry, folks,” said the pilot. He added something that sounded like, “Blah blah wind shear blah blah.” After which we spent an extra 20 minutes or so flying around for a new approach. A little unsettling, but we finally made it to the gate. Can you see where this is going?

“I hope we don’t miss our connection,” said my husband. “Looks like we won’t have time for lunch.”

I said nothing, but smiled triumphantly to myself as I thought about my stash. We made the connection (just barely), and as I unearthed my “lunch,” the look on his face reminded me of a golden retriever we once had who would follow me around the kitchen hoping for anything edible to fall on the floor. “Don’t worry,” I said. “We can share this.” But next time, I’m also packing that cheese.

* * *

All this travel has played havoc with my diet, so I’ve been concentrating lately on salads and other veggie-centric dishes. Today, I have two great finds for you: an hors d’oeuvre and a salad. Both would be great, by the way, as airplane lunches.

The hors d’oeuvre is Artichoke Pesto, another on my list of great pestos and a winner for anyone who likes artichokes. The Kitchen Goddess loves them. It was a find of my friend, Ellen, who says it began life as a Weight Watchers recipe. I’ve tweaked it a bit, increasing the garlic and adding lemon juice, but the master stroke was to use those marinated artichokes you find in the relish bars offered by most large grocers these days. You can trim back the calories by using canned artichoke hearts, but I think the oil- and herb-marinated hearts offer a huge improvement with very few added calories. If your grocer doesn’t have a relish bar, or it doesn’t stock artichoke hearts, go for the jars in the relish aisle. Just find a brand that incorporates some seasoning. And the marinated hearts don’t turn brown like the ones packed in brine.

This pesto is best if it’s the tiniest bit chunky, so I wouldn’t just turn on the food processor and walk away. Pulse it until the mixture reaches a consistency that’s spreadable, but not a purée. The Kitchen Goddess is so fond of this stuff that she’ll eat a large scoop of it over lettuce for lunch with crackers. Or over scrambled eggs with blue corn tortilla chips, like this, for breakfast.

Artichoke Pesto

Adapted from Weight Watchers, Inc.

Makes about 2 cups.

1¼ cups marinated artichoke hearts, drained with 1 tablespoon of the flavored oil reserved
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1¼ cups fresh basil leaves (packed)
¼ cup pine nuts
3-4 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
½ teaspoon (rounded) kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
freshly ground pepper, to taste

In a small Teflon skillet over medium heat, toast the pine nuts until they turn a golden brown (about 5 minutes). Add the nuts and the rest of the ingredients (including the reserved oil) to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until coarsely ground. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Transfer the pesto to a bowl, cover and refrigerate about an hour before serving, to allow the flavors to come together. Serve as a spread with crackers or chips or vegetable crudité.

* * *

My grocery store has this year been stocking bags of what I thought to be some variety of hothouse cucumbers. But in researching about this recipe, I discovered that they’re actually Persian cucumbers, a variety that’s been around for more than 3000 years! I wonder what took my grocer so long...

These cukes – also sold as Gourmet Baby Cucumbers – look more like the large English cucumbers than the darker, thicker-skinned ones we’re used to seeing. Persian cucumbers are about 6 inches long, with thin, textured skin that there’s no need to peel. They’re sweeter and crisper than common garden cucumbers, and have no developed seeds. They retain their water, so they stay cool tasting – one source I found said the interior can be as much as 20 degrees cooler than the skin. So they’re great in salads, and a terrific accompaniment to rich meats like lamb.

This particular salad is a traditional dish from Shiraz, a 4000-year old city and the sixth most populous in Iran. It’s light, fresh, crisp, and low-cal, and it takes almost no time to make.

Salad Shirazi

Adapted from Ellie on

Serves 4

For the dressing:
4 tablespoons olive oil
juice of 1 lime (about 2 tablespoons)
1 garlic clove, minced
½ teaspoon honey
salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:
5 Persian cucumbers
1 pint (11-12 ounces) sweet cherry tomatoes
2 scallions, white and light green parts only
½ cup mint, chopped
1 jalapeño, seeded and diced (or 1-2 tablespoons diced jalapeños from a jar. Yes, the KG is not too proud to get her jalapeños from a jar.)

Put all ingredients for the dressing into a jar and shake it well.

Slice the cucumbers lengthwise into quarters, then slice across in ⅜-inch cuts. [KG note: If this sounds too precious, just know that I thought ¼-inch cuts were too thin and ½-inch cuts too thick. So there.] Put them into a medium-sized salad bowl.

Slice the tomatoes into quarters, and add them to the bowl.

Slice the scallions thinly on a diagonal, and add them to the bowl. Add the mint and jalapeño, and pour the dressing over all. Adjust salt and pepper to taste. Toss well, cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving. Now, wasn't that easy?

1 comment:

  1. This looks really good! I am heading to Trader Joe's for some of those Persian cukes as soon as I finish this comment.........
    Eileen in Atlanta