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bulgur wheat

Italian Roasted Eggplant Tabbouleh

Italian Roasted Eggplant Tabbouleh

Spring has arrived in Philadelphia. Finally.

As I sit writing this post, the window to my left sits open, allowing a cool, but not too cool, breeze to flow in.

I could end my post here.

Spring is here, and that’s really all that needs to be said, right?

Italian Roasted Eggplant Tabbouleh

With these first few 70-degree days, I’m already feeling revived. My impulses to cook are breaking out of their winter hibernation and are quickly kicking back in. And my excitement for my new community garden plot is building by the minute.

Italian Roasted Eggplant Tabbouleh

Hopefully, this garden will yield lots of fresh veggies this summer, which will then propel lots of seasonal, healthy recipes for you on this blog. A garden is my ideal summer project. If such a project could make any money, and didn’t attempt to kill me while doing so, I’d already have quit my day job by now. I could spend every waking second outdoors and not get bored.

In fact, I did that for a few summers. My body wasn’t entirely quite as thrilled with me as my mind. But both still long for those days.

Perhaps one day, my camera will reunite me with farm life. Dream.

Italian Roasted Eggplant TabboulehThis easy tabbouleh (pilaf? casserole? whatever you want to call it?) is also kind of dreamy. Filled with creamy roasted eggplant and topped with not-to-be-taken-for-granted pine nuts, this is my attempt to swap pasta for whole grains and create a dish that’s equally as delicious. It worked.

Add some cheese on top, and you’ll create an even richer lunch and/or dinner for yourself. And once summer tomatoes arrive, definitely throw a few slices of those on top, too.

Italian Roasted Eggplant Tabbouleh

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Kale and Strawberry Salad over Bulgur Wheat

Kale and Strawberry Salad

Strawberry picking in the city is a funny thing. Or I guess I should technically say just outside the city – the ‘burbs.

You see, where I grew up, when you wanted to pick fruit, you drove to the local farm. You’d stop and say hello with one of the old-timers, who was of course part of the family farm. Usually, he be missing a few teeth. Always, he’d be armed with directions to the sweetest patch of fruit. He’d give you a basket or box to go pick, and then you’d be on your way.

It was always a swell time.

Kale and Strawberry Salad

In (or just outside) the city, it’s certainly a swell time, too. But the scene looks a little (and by that I mean a lot) different.

When you roll up to the ‘burbs farm, or at least the one I recently visited, you find not old geezers hanging around in their holey shirts and overalls. Nope. Instead, you find a parking lot packed with 200+ cars. I kid you not.

You also find kids. And cameras. And hot dog stands. And maybe even a carnival ride. Not sure if that last part actually existed where I went, but there was definitely some kind of train riding and face painting action going on, and I felt as though I might as well have been at a carnival. Although again, the only thing that was missing was the guys with no teeth.

What really set the experience apart, however, was the part where I had to pay $5 before even going to pick the strawberries I dreamt about all morning. Pay-before-you-pick? City picking isn’t cheap, I tell you. In fact, you might be better off just buying a few pints at the store. But that’s obviously no fun, right? It’s okay. I ate my weight in strawberries while out in the field to make up for it.

Kale and Strawberry Salad

I left my gorging-on-strawberries, red-stained, kid-like self in the strawberry field, and decided to become an adult again once I returned home. The results are this salad.

After this, I can tell you for once, I feel okay about getting older. Strawberries in my kale salad? Heck, I’ll call myself an adult any day if that’s what comes from it. Just don’t quote me on that when I’m eating a large bowl of strawberries and ice cream for dessert. And the strawberry juice is running all down my face. Because I’m licking the bowl. Because I’m a kid. At heart.

A little salty (thank you feta), a little sweet (cheers to local strawberry season), and a little earthy (thank you almighty kale), this salad hits every note in all the right ways. Plate it up over cooked bulgur to make it a meal, or send it off to a picnic and become the star of the party.  It won’t let you down – even if your strawberry experience is a bit more dubious.

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Baby Bok Choy and Mushroom Stir-Fry

Baby Bok Choy and Mushroom Stir-Fry

My friend runs a farm just on the edge of the city, and its first harvestable produce is beginning to take flight — into my hands. And my kitchen. And my bowl. And on my blog. Spring is here — as if I hadn’t told you a million times already — and this makes me happy. My kitchen too.

Now please excuse me while I take this next moment to praise the earth for baby bok choy.

Praise earth. Baby bok choy. Coming to a farmer’s market near you soon (or so I hope).

Baby Bok Choy

Its leafy greens are my first taste of the ground this year. (And I mean that quite literally – make sure to wash your bok choy extra well if you don’t want to swallow some dirt.) As tender as ever, early young greens are the best.

Baby Bok Choy and Mushroom Stir-Fry

This past week, I took a trip out to the farm after work to help toil some soil and sow a few seeds/starters into the ground. Radicchio was farm-boy’s starter of choice for the night, so into the ground we put plant after plant after radicchio plant.

Each one was so small sometimes I began feeling like a nervous mom, wondering how they’d all survive a night without me. I’ve planted my fare share of infants though, so fortunately I walked away with confidence knowing they’d take root. And that has nothing to do with my gardening skills – plants are tough little guys! I’m excited to watch the baby radicchio leaves, with their ever so faint pink streaks, grow into the mighty magenta that makes spring salads shine.

Toasted sesame seeds

It always feels good to get my hands and jeans dirty, even if for just a couple of hours. City living or not, I’ll always be a farm girl at heart.

Perhaps with that comes an endless excitement for new harvests and crisp produce. I took this bok choy home with me from the farm and whipped it up the very same night. Simple dishes like these can be ever so satisfying when your produce is fresh. As any gardner, farmer, or farmer’s market enthusiast knows, spring is the golden season of all good things to come. The freshness just keeps trickling in until you have a steady stream of items to swap in and out of your diet. Just wait. Once strawberries arrive, I’ll be taking more than a small moment at the front of my blog to praise the earth for its fruit. I’m smiling just thinking about it.

Baby Bok Choy and Mushroom Stir-Fry

Be on the lookout for baby greens. If you can’t find bok choy, opt for something else that’s on the slightly bitter side, which will pair nicely with the Hoisin sauce in this recipe. This will serve 4 as a light meal, but to pump it up, feel free to crack an egg on top.

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Vegan Eggplant Rollatini

Vegan Eggplant Rollatini

I’ve happily walked into the life of someone who owns a grill. And a pool. Seeing as though I live in a small, city apartment with not even an inch of backyard space, this new addition to my life overcomes me with joy. I’m not talking about the new friend. Just the swimming and the grilling. (Kidding, of course).

While as a kid I had more than enough yard for forts and capture the flag, I didn’t grow up with a grill. Or a pool. But I begged my parents for both. I can see why they didn’t want to take on the latter, but the absence of a grill is still something I’ve never quite figured out. When veggies are in season, I find it to be one of the easiest ways to create a healthy plate full of flavor.

As of lately, I’ve been using my friend’s grill to feast on a ton of portobello mushrooms. It’s as simple as whisking up a 3-ingredient marinade of garlic, olive oil and splash of balsamic. From there, just throw those saucy rounds to the flame. Easy. Add some melted cheese, toast up a bun, and you’ve got summer’s easiest vegetarian burger.

Eggplant

Before I discovered my new friend had grill access, I invited him over for post-yoga dinner of Eggplant Rollatini. If I would’ve known about his backyard status, I would’ve saved this one for a later date. There are only so many eggplant slices you can fit on a countertop George Foreman. Chilling outside while waiting for food to char is one thing. Chilling inside, impatiently counting the minutes till the next batch, is another. Times that by four batches, and you get the true 2-br Philly apartment grilling experience.

Vegan Eggplant Rollatini

If you have a backyard grill, by all means, use it for this recipe. If you don’t, but have a grill pan or other smaller device, I assure you, the slight impatience you may suffer through will be worth the results. Take the time to slice and cook through several batches. Grilling the eggplant first ensures you won’t end up with a chewy, undercooked rollatini. If there’s anything that can easily ruin an eggplant parm or rollatini, it’s an undercooked base. Don’t let that happen.

Here, I’ve created a vegan version of the Italian classic by using a ricotta-like crumbled tofu and then adding bulgur wheat for a little extra texture. Herbs and nutritional yeast make sure this is by no means a flavorless vegan dish, and marinara seals the deal to compliment all the flavors. If you’re lucky, eat this pool-side or deck-side. If you’re not, don’t sweat it. Literally. Grab a beer, open the window and enjoy.

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Bulghur Lentil Pilaf with Tahini-Herb Sauce

This was a recipe I actually got from the Food Network Kitchen.  I was quite impressed with the results.  The moderately mild flavors of the lentils and bulghur pair perfectly with the creamy, herbiness of the tahini sauce.  The pilaf requires a few steps and a handful of ingredients, but it’s really rather easy to make and is worth your time.

Bulghur Lentil Pilaf with Tahini-Herb Sauce

Pilaf
-4 cups water
-1 cup lentils
-2 large onions, diced
-1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil  (I reduced this to about 3 Tbsp.)
-1 cup bulghur, medium grind
-1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt
-Freshly ground black pepper

Topping
-2 cups grape tomatoes, halved  (I felt that one cup sufficed)
-1/3 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, mint, or dill, or combo.

Tahini-Herb Sauce
-1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley
-1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
-1/4 cup water
-1/4 cup tahini
-2 tsp. honey
-1 garlic clove, smashed
-1 tsp. kosher salt
-Freshly ground black pepper

For the pilaf:  In a medium saucepan, bring the water and lentils to a boil.  Adjust heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, fry the onions in olive oil over medium heat until well browned, about 12 minutes.  (If onions begin to stick, add a few Tbsp. of water).  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  To the pan with the lentils, add the onions, bulghur, and 1 1/2 tsp. salt.  Bring to a full simmer, cover, and cook 5 minutes.  Remove from heat and let stand for an additional 15 minutes.

While the mixture is standing, make the tahini-herb sauce by pureeing all ingredients in a blender of food processor.  (I found that a  food processor worked best).

Transfer pilaf to a serving dish and top with tomatoes and herbs.  Serve with drizzled tahini-herb sauce over top.