Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty, indeed. It's hot here. Summer is cranking up to full blast here in mid-June Phoenix, and everyone's feeling the effects. We're constantly fanning ourselves. My little dog spends most of his time limp on the floor like a steak frying on a grill--I know how he feels. You could, in fact, fry an egg on the sidewalk.......but I wouldn't want to eat it. In fact, there's an awful lot of cooking I don't want to do these days--whether it be on sidewalk or stovetop--but of course we still have to eat, and there's a limit to the number of garden-variety green salads I can eat over and over again. What is the solution? How do we go on without firing up the stove? Is this going to be a cooking blog without any cooking, or what??
My dear readers, let me show you the way.
Mediterranean-style stuffed tomatoes are the answer to everyone's green salad ennui (come to think of it, it solves a few problems with traditional 'tuna salad' as well, mainly that it's not oozing mayonnaise from every pore), as a light and delicious lunch packed with light protein and stunning flavor. Take several fat red tomatoes, carefully remove the stem end and core with a sharp knife and gently squeeze the tomato innards, seeds and all, into a bowl and set aside. This step is especially satisfying, I find. Squeezing things tends to have that effect.
Next, you spoon into the freshly excavated tomato cavities a sharp and well-balanced mixture of tuna, kalamata olives, fresh cilantro and minced red onion. Finally, you top it with a crunchy cap of buttery, toasted bread crumbs (okay, you will have to use your stovetop for sixty seconds to make these, but it's worth it) and drizzle over top a homemade tomato-olive oil vinaigrette. It's tasty, it's fast, it's healthy, and it's so much easier to look forward to than tucking into yet another bowl of green leaves!
Oh yes. My feelings on salad. Did I mention that I get what I like to think of as 'salad fatigue'? I can't help but think, during the salad days of summer, of Jeffrey Steingarten's hilarious 1997 essay 'Salad, the Silent Killer,' in which he debunks the myth of the 'healthy salad' by cataloguing all the various toxins, mutagens and carcinogens lying in wait in the depths of our bowls. In addition to which, he adds, these salad eaters with their 'heads bowed, snouts brought close to their plastic wood-grained bowls, crunching and shoveling simultaneously' are unfeelingly keeping him from his dessert (read the entire essay here). He was kidding. I think. It's hard to tell, it's Steingarten!
I eat big bowls of green leaves (sometimes the traditional lettuce but not often, if we're going to eat bowls of leaves around here we like to stick to things that I think of as having more nutrition, like spinach, cabbage or arugula) and various vegetables dressed in homemade vinaigrette pretty often. It's tasty. It's virtuous (well, except on those days when bacon or sauteed chicken livers manage to sneak themselves into the bowl). It's also extremely boring, and I get fatigued with my big bowls of salad faster than I ought to admit, but I'm admitting it now. But there is hope! There is a light at the end of the salad tunnel, my friends, and it is THIS SALAD:
.......which has two wonderful things going for it. First, that it is plainly not made of boring green leaves but of vividly orange scraps of carrot and other wonders peeking out from underneath, herbal flecks of green, salty white glints of feta cheese. Second, that it is a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen blog (originally posted here), and it's just nearly impossible to go wrong with a recipe from Deb's kitchen. That woman knows a gem when she sees it, and her 'Carrot Salad with Harissa, Feta and Mint' is a summertime gem indeed.
This salad is earthily sweet in the way that good raw carrots often are, balanced perfectly by the sharp tang of lemon juice and crumbled feta cheese. The mint, parsley and blend of spices in the dressing give this dish a fantastic North African flavor, and the swell of heat lurking in its depths (how spicy you make this is, of course, up to you) give it real authority, as well as helping you to cool down on a sweltering day. I never expected to have my mind blown by a carrot salad--a bowl of shredded carrots, come on!--but I bow before this recipe. My mind was blown. Salty, sweet, juicy, spicy, crunchy, earthy with spices.....and it was fantastically simple to make! Thirty minutes after having eaten it for the first time, still full from that first bowl, I was nonetheless craving it again.
Come to think of it, I'm craving it now.
I think it's time for lunch. No cooking required.
Mediterranean Stuffed Tomatoes
(serves 2 comfortably for lunch)
4 ripe, round tomatoes
2 cans water-packed tuna (this actually made slightly more tuna salad than we could stuff into 4 tomatoes, but your mileage may vary. We were happy enough to scrape up and eat the leftovers straight from the bowl)
2 tablespoons sliced kalamata (or other variety) olives
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
2 tablespoons minced red onion
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove of garlic, crushed
splash of balsamic vinegar
salt and pepper
2 tablespoons bread crumbs
1 tablespoon butter (or olive oil, or a mixture of both, whatever suits you)
Carefully remove the stem end and core from each tomato with a sharp knife, leaving the bottom intact so that the tomato form a 'bowl' shape. Gently squeeze the seeds and water from each tomato into a mixing bowl, set aside. In another bowl, combine tuna, olives, cilantro and onion. Spoon this mixture into the 4 hollow tomatoes.
In a food processor or blender, blend the 'tomato innards' with olive oil, garlic, and a small amount of balsamic vinegar, salt & pepper to taste, until well pureed.
Finally, in a small skillet, heat butter or olive oil over medium high heat. Add bread crumbs, stir to coat thoroughly. Cook briefly until bread crumbs are toasted to a light nut brown color, then remove from heat immediately. This takes very little time (maybe a minute or two, maybe less, depending on the kind of bread), so keep a close eye on it.
Drizzle stuffed tomatoes with the vinaigrette, then top each with a sprinkling of butter bread crumbs. Enjoy!
P.S. - If these recipes don't help to cool you off, you can always try what my little dog does when the heat is just too much! Stay cool out there, readers.......... :)