Cucumber Crunch Salad

I often shamelessly glean inspiration for new recipes from the prepared foods section at my local food stores. On a busy night, I’ll pick up a pound of something fresh from the deli, and if it’s good, I’ll try to recreate it at home. The recipe below is loosely based on something I bought from my local Whole Foods store called Mediterranean Crunch, but the version that I made is simpler and better (at least in my opinion). I’ve made it three times within one week (twice for eating at home and once for a larger family get-together), and each time it’s all been consumed right away.

(Yields 4-6 servings)

Salad Ingredients
one cucumber, peeled, de-seeded, and diced
1/2 c. chopped red onion, rinsed under cold water
1/2 c. chopped bell pepper (red, yellow, or orange)
1/2 pint grape tomatoes (about 1 c., measured)
1/2 c. Kalamata olives, halved or sliced
1 c. cooked garbanzo beans
1/3 -1/2 c. chopped cilantro
1 Tbsp. chopped dill

Dressing Ingredients
1 clove garlic
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
juice from 1/2 lemon
1/4 c. olive oil
splash of red wine vinegar (optional)
salt and pepper

Prep all the salad ingredients and combine them in a large bowl. In a separate bowl or a spouted measuring cup, combine the dressing ingredients, then drizzle it over the salad and stir to combine. Add the salt and pepper to taste (very little is needed).

I love this salad because it is easy, fresh, tasty, and healthy, and the garbanzo beans make it very hearty. It’s great served alone, but to truly make it a meal, it can also be served atop lettuce or a grain, such as bulgur, along with some crumbled feta cheese. Enjoy!

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Taco Layer Dip

I often see this dip sold in the prepared foods section of grocery stores. It’s very easy to make and can be prepared with higher quality ingredients at less than half the cost of the store version. So with 30 minutes of time, why not make it yourself? It’s also a bit healthier than many typical cheesy chip dips, and I’ve watched this disappear in a matter of minutes at quite a few parties. There are as many versions for this dip as there are people who prepare it, so feel free to customize it to your taste.

4 oz. cream cheese, softened
4 oz. sour cream
1/2 t. chili powder
1/4 t. garlic powder
1/4 t. cumin
1 can re-fried beans
1/2 c. your favorite homemade or jarred salsa
4 oz. finely shredded cheddar or monterey jack cheese (or a combination of the two)
1 c. diced tomatoes
1 1/2 c. chopped lettuce
1/4 c. chopped green onion
1/4 c. chopped cilantro
1/4 c. sliced olives (your choice of black or green)
1 avocado, sliced and coated with a squeeze of lime juice (about 1/4 lime)

Choose a serving dish with straight side walls at least two inches high, such as a 9×13 Pyrex pan or a more decorative deep-walled pie dish. In a small bowl, combine the cream cheese and sour cream until smooth. Mix in the chili powder, garlic powder, and cumin. Spread the mixture as your bottom layer in your chosen dish. Next mix the re-fried beans with the salsa, adjusting the amount of salsa to your taste.  Spread it on top of the cream cheese mixture. Next, sprinkle the cheese and then the tomatoes. Toss the lettuce, green onions, and cilantro together and spread it over the tomatoes. Then drop the olives evenly over the top. Lay the avocado slices on top just before serving (so they don’t have enough time to discolor too much). Serve with your choice of fresh tortilla chips, and enjoy!

Tips and alternatives:

  • You can use a prepared taco seasoning instead of chili powder, garlic powder, and cumin. Start out with 1/2 tablespoon of the mixture, taste, then add more to suit your preference.
  • You can keep the beans and salsa as separate layers, or even omit the beans altogether if a bean dip isn’t your thing.
  • Instead of avocado slices, you can spread 1 cup of prepared guacamole as a layer on top of the beans and salsa.

Black Bean Burgers

I am very blessed to have the opportunity to send my son to a wonderful public school, which is a member of the Wellness in the Schools lunch program. The other day my son came home from school, and told me that the resident program chef had come into their class to make an all-bean chili, which he said tasted great! I love to see children so excited about good food and cooking! I only wish that every school child had the opportunity to eat good food at lunch and be educated about what one can do in the kitchen with just a little know-how.

In my son’s backpack that day were three recipes incorporating beans, which, to my surprise, my son was eager to make for dinner. When a child is excited about something, particularly regarding food, you should always go with it. So, the following night, I decided to try out the recipe for black bean burgers. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical while I was preparing the meal, as I am not the greatest fan of veggie burgers, but much to my surprise, everyone in the family thoroughly enjoyed these meatless patties.

Luckily I had some tzatziki in the fridge, which I spread on the buns. Because the bean burger’s texture is smooth, I wanted to add some crunch to it, and the cucumbers in the tzatziki worked nicely. I also whipped up some guacamole, which added another nice element of flavor. However, you could simply slice some avocado and place it atop the burger, along with some sprouts or lettuce of your choice. This really is a delicious alternative to a regular burger for vegetarians and omnivores alike. Plus, since there’s no cost of meat involved, this meal would definitely fit into our $8 meal category for a family of four.

Yield: 5 burgers (or 8 small sliders)
2 15 oz. cans black beans, drained and rinsed
5 Tbl. olive oil
1 clove garlic, peeled
zest of one lime or lemon
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
2 Tbl. fresh cilantro
1 egg, beaten
1/3 c. bread crumbs
6 brioche hamburger buns
3/4 c. grated cheese; cheddar, Monterey Jack (optional)
salt, pepper to taste
1 small squirt of Rooster sauce* (optional)

In a food processor, place one torn up brioche bun, the breadcrumbs, oil, cilantro, garlic, zest, and spices. Process until smooth. Add the drained beans, but only pulse the processor until everything combines. You want to leave some of the beans slightly intact. Remove the mixture from the food processor and place into a medium-sized bowl. Incorporate the beaten egg and cheese. At this point you can top the bowl with plastic wrap and keep it in the fridge until you are ready to cook the burgers.

Form the bean mixture into flattened patties; set aside. In a large sauté pan, with medium-high heat, add a glug or two of olive oil and allow the oil to get hot. You can test the oil by flicking a few drops of water into pan, and if it sizzles immediately, it’s time to add the burgers. Place two to three burgers to cook at a time, depending on the size of your pan. Sauté the burgers for about 3-4 minutes on each side. If the burgers are browning too quickly, turn down the heat.

Meanwhile, slice the brioche buns and toast them for a couple of minutes. When the burgers finish cooking, place onto a bun, and add any condiments you plan on including. I tend to serve this with a simple side of salad greens and homemade french fries. Happy Eating!

*Rooster sauce is a type of hot sauce, also known as, Sriracha Chili Sauce. It has a picture of a rooster on the front of the bottle, thus the referral of the Rooster in its name. It is a lovely, barely noticeable addition to numerous dishes, such as pizza sauce. Most grocery stores carry this item in the foreign spices and sauces aisle.

Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

My three-year-old was eating this hummus with a spoon, then mopping up the rest on his plate with raw broccoli — I love it!  This dip is so satisfying and delicious that you will barely notice that it’s 100% good for you.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups cooked garbanzo beans or one can drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 cup roasted red pepper
  • 1 large or 2 small cloves of garlic
  • juice of one lemon
  • one large, heaping spoonful of tahini, a.k.a sesame seed paste (optional)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • olive oil – enough to reach desired consistency, about 1/4 cup

Place all the ingredients, except the oil, in a food processor.  Turn it on and drizzle one or two tablespoons of olive oil as it goes.  Let it process until it is smooth, adding more oil, if necessary, to reach a smooth dip-like consistency.

Uses:

  • dip for crackers, chips, flat bread, etc.
  • dip for cut veggies – broccoli, peppers, carrots, etc.
  • spread for sandwich bread, accompanying veggies, meats, or both
  • did I mention the spoon?

Hummus is very versatile, and can be made in many different flavors.  You can keep it plain by simply omitting the red pepper.  Or substitute the red pepper with one of the following:  Kalamata olives, roasted garlic, rosemary, basil…you get the idea, right?

Do you have a favorite flavor for hummus?  Tell us by commenting on this post or writing to us at twodancingbuckeyes@gmail.com.