Watermelon and Tomato Salad with Feta and Mint

Photography by Victoria Wall Harris

Here’s another recipe that was deep in my archives that I still absolutely love, but needed a photo makeover!  This is the time of year when I am furiously trying to maximize my consumption of all things summer.  The seasonal window for some of my favorite foods is just too short, especially tomatoes.  In my classes July through September, I always feature at least two recipes with the beloved tomato and I beg everyone to enjoy them while they last because fresh tomatoes won’t be appearing in my kitchen until the following summer.Continue reading

Tomato and Avocado Stacks with Ranch Dressing Recipe

How sad is it that I never had an avocado until I was in college?  Not even guacamole.  I mean, what kind of a life is that? Fast-forward I’m-not-going-to-tell-you-how-many-years later, I eat avocados almost every day.  I am crazy about the texture and flavor, and they go with everything.  Avocados are so amazing for your health — the fats are the best kind, so fresh and pure.  Recently, a few people have asked me to share my skincare regimen.  I am thinking about writing a post about it, but until then, avocados are an incredible beauty food!   Avocados can promote supple skin because they moisturize from the inside out. They are also rich in glutamine, a powerful antioxidant which can help with anti-aging.

Avocado Tomato Stacks with Ranch Dressing|Pamela Salzman

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Deconstructed Bagel and Lox Salad Recipe

Photos by Sarah Elliott

I accept with gratitude the privilege of growing older, so I don’t want to complain about it.  But.  Every 5 years or so, I get away with less and less with respect to what I can eat.  Sure, I could exercise more.  But I’m kind of busy and I already exercise a healthy amount.  One of those foods that is over for me is the bagel.

Bagels are nothing anyone really needs in his or her life.  They are completely devoid of nutrition and loaded with simple carbohydrates (and I mean loaded) which turn into sugar lickety split (and then the pro-inflammatory hormone insulin surges and fat gets stored.)  Even if I were to exercise like a maniac to burn off so many carbs, there’s the fact that I don’t feel great after eating a bagel.

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Deconstructed Guacamole Salad Recipe

deconstructed guacamole salad | pamela salzman

I just dropped off my oldest at college this past weekend.  Up until this point, nothing has made me feel as old as saying to someone, “I have a child in college.”  And it doesn’t help when people respond with, “Wow!”  Rub it in.  Thank heavens for Mr. Picky who is in elementary school and still asks me to cuddle him at night.

ingredients

My daughter goes to school in Dallas.  So when I visit, I make sure to b-line for some good Tex-Mex food.  You all know my weakness is guacamole and chips.  Guacamole = healthy food.  Chips, not so much.  In LA you can find places to give you jicama with your guacamole.  In Texas, not so much.  So I try not to overdo it when I’m there, but I’m not always successful.

deconstructed guacamole salad | pamela salzman

Although I grew up in New York, California cooking has stolen my heart.  Lightness, freshness, color.  It’s addictive.  And the best avocados!  Come visit me and we’ll have fun just prancing around the farmers markets.  We can make this salad, which is like fancy-pants guacamole.

deconstructed guacamole salad | pamela salzman

I taught this salad last year or the year before and it is one of my favorites.  First of all, it takes minutes to pull together.  Second, it includes two of my favorite foods, tomatoes and avocados, which I will remind you are both insanely delicious right now.  Use whatever tomatoes look great and have fun mixing colors and shapes and sizes.  Lastly, it’s basically guacamole that I can eat with a fork or on top of a piece of fish or grilled chicken and I don’t feel the need to have 25 tortilla chips along with it.

deconstructed guacamole salad | pamela salzman

It also happens to look very pretty on a buffet.  But tomatoes are leaving us soon, friends.  Enjoy it ALL while you can, because you’re going to blink your eyes and they’ll be gone.

Deconstructed Guacamole Salad Recipe
Author: 
Serves: 4-6
 
Ingredients
  • 4 medium tomatoes, cored and cut into wedges or 1 ½ pints of cherry tomatoes, halved
  • ½ small red onion, sliced very thinly (soaked in ice water for 15 minutes to tone down the onion flavor, if desired)
  • ½ jalapeño, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
  • 3 medium or large ripe avocados, pitted, skin removed and sliced crosswise into ½-inch slices
  • a handful of whole cilantro leaves
  • 2 Tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice
  • ¾ teaspoon of sea salt
  • a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper
  • a few drops of hot sauce
  • 3 Tablespoons unrefined, cold pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • optional: serve with broken corn tortilla chips on top or around the side of the salad
Instructions
  1. Place the tomatoes, red onion and jalapeño on a platter. Arrange the avocado slices on top. Scatter the cilantro leaves all over.
  2. Whisk together the lime juice, salt, hot sauce and oil together and drizzle all over salad. It’s best not to toss this salad, otherwise the avocados will get messy. Taste for seasoning and add additional salt if necessary. A sprinkle of flaky sea salt is nice.
  3. Serve with tortilla chips on the perimeter of the platter or crushed on top, if desired.
Notes
The amounts for the ingredients are merely guidelines. Feel free to adjust quantities to suit your taste.

 

 

 

California Nicoise Salad Recipe

california nicoise salad | pamela salzman

I just arrived in New York for my annual summer vacay with my parents, my sisters and their families.  We’ve descended upon my parents’ house in Long Island for a week of old fashioned backyard fun with a few trips to the beach and the ice cream parlor.  It also involves some serious menu planning for 12-16 people at any given meal.  If such persons were all adults, this task would be less challenging than if half of them were children ages 1-19.  But I love a challenge!

blanching green beans | pamela salzman

Sometimes for lunch we’ll make a giant composed salad where each component has its own space and I serve the dressing in a small pitcher on the side.  I notice the kids (and picky adults, in general) eat much more of a composed salad than a tossed one.  My son, Mr. Picky, can always find something to choose from a composed salad versus one that is tossed, especially if there’s one ingredient that’s offensive and touching everything else.  Touching ingredients is a deal breaker!! This version of a classic Nicoise salad is always a winner, plus it’s one of my favorite salads of all time.

how to cut an avocado | pamela salzman

The classic typically contains oil-packed tuna, hard boiled eggs, tomatoes, green beans (usually the small haricot verts), Nicoise olives, and boiled potatoes.  It’s a perfect salad for summer because it can all be prepped ahead and served cold or at room temp.  And it’s a meal unto itself.

nicoise prep | pamela salzman

But I have made so many versions of this salad subbing chicken or slow-roasted salmon for the tuna or even white beans for the tuna for a vegetarian version.  Regular string beans for the haricot verts.  Even cucumbers have worked nicely.  But in this version, which I call a “California Nicoise,” I sub in the very Cali avocado for the potato, because everyone seems to be watching his or her carbs lately!  Because of the versatility of this salad, it was a hugely popular in my classes last summer with everyone — Paleo-types, vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free peeps and so on.

california nicoise salad | pamela salzman

Visually, I think this salad is so beautiful and quite healthful, too.  It is well balanced with high quality protein, fat and lots of veggies.  I love using the very best tuna for this salad.  I featured this Tonnino oil packed wild tuna in a recent Five Friday Favorites and it is perfect here.  If you want to use standard canned tuna, just drizzle a little olive oil on top for added flavor.

california nicoise salad | pamela salzman

Green beans can be blanched, radishes sliced and eggs boiled the day before and refrigerated.  But again, feel free to sub other ingredients if that would make you happy.  And if you notice more takers than usual for this salad, perhaps employ the composed method for other salads too!

5.0 from 1 reviews
California Nicoise Salad
Author: 
 
Ingredients
  • For the dressing:
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • ½ Tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2 Tablespoons champagne or white wine vinegar
  • ⅓ cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 ounces haricot verts (thin French green beans) or string beans, trimmed
  • 2 Tablespoons kosher salt
  • 4-6 hard-boiled large eggs,**peeled and halved lengthwise
  • 1-2 cans high-quality tuna, preferably packed in olive oil, drained and broken into pieces
  • 1 large avocado, cubed***
  • ½ cup olives, preferably Niçoise
  • ¾ pound cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 4 radishes, trimmed and thinly sliced
  • Bibb lettuce leaves to line platter, if desired, or shredded as a bed for the lettuce
Instructions
  1. Whisk all the dressing ingredients together in a medium bowl or shake in a screw-top jar.
  2. Prepare a bowl of ice water for the green beans. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add kosher salt. Add the beans and set a timer for 3 minutes. After beans have cooked for 3 minutes, test for tenderness. They should be crisp-tender, but not taste raw. Drain and immediately submerge in the ice water bath. Drain after 5 minutes or so and pat dry. Can be done the day before and refrigerated.
  3. Assemble the salad by arranging ingredients in separate groups. I like to line the platter with lettuce either just under the tuna or the entire platter. Drizzle everything with dressing or leave on the side for each person to dress his/her own salad.
Notes
*Ingredient amounts can vary based on preferences.
**Place uncooked eggs in a saucepan and cover with water. Place over high heat and bring to a boil. Cover, turn off heat and time for 10 minutes. Rinse with cold water or transfer to a bowl of cold water. Can be done a day ahead and peeled before serving.
***the avocado is in place of the traditional boiled, small new potatoes. But use 1 pound of potatoes if you prefer.

 

Mediterranean Fish in Parchment recipe

You see that beautiful piece of fish down there?  That is my idea of a perfect dinner — simple, healthy, light, delicious, seasonal, easy-to-make.  If my family didn’t thrive on an ever-changing dinner menu, I would love to eat this twice a week with a fresh salad and a glass of rosé.  Perfect.

mediterranean fish in parchment

Fish in parchment is easier than it looks and one of the most healthful ways to cook fish.  I have taught and posted two other fish in parchment recipes which you may have tried, one with cilantro and ginger and the second with summer herbs.  Both are delicious and perfect when you want something light in the summer.

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The basic idea when you’re cooking in parchment, is to use ingredients that all cook pretty quickly and at the same rate.  Make sure that parchment is tightly sealed and you’ll create a little steam oven in that packet.  I always make sure the fish is well-seasoned with salt and pepper and that I add a smidge of fat, either butter or olive oil for flavor, and then there are lots of possibilities.

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Once I see those first local tomatoes at the farmers market, I start going a little tomato-crazy.  I especially love cherry tomatoes because they are always so sweet.  In this recipe, you can’t beat the combination with the sautéed garlic, salty capers and olives and zingy white wine.  I would eat this with a simple rice pilaf or quinoa salad or a raw zucchini salad.  My family would probably love a little pasta with pesto to go with it.

med fish parchment collage 1

I have taught this recipe in my cooking classes many, many times and sometimes I added some raw baby spinach leaves under the fish.  The spinach wilts beautifully and tastes delicious with all the other ingredients.  Shaved zucchini slices would also be perfect, but you could also add vegetables to the packet like blanched (not raw) green beans or slivers of roasted peppers.

mediterranean fish in parchment

Of course, if there are ingredients in the recipe you don’t care for, feel free to omit.  After I finish going over a recipe in my class, I take a few minutes to talk about substitutions.  Questions about how to change the recipe are the most common questions that come up — how do I make this gluten-free? My husband won’t eat anything with onion.  I hate olives.  Etc, etc.  I give you permission to take out the olives if you want.

mediterranean fish in parchment

Summer is here, friends.  Let’s get cooking!

5.0 from 3 reviews
Mediterranean Fish in Parchment recipe
Author: 
Serves: serves 4
 
Ingredients
  • 1 Tablespoon unrefined, cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ⅛ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 cup grape tomatoes, halved
  • 2 Tablespoons capers, drained
  • a handful of mixed fresh herbs (I like to use mostly parsley with a little basil and mint mixed in), if you have them or sprigs of fresh thyme
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt + extra for seasoning fish
  • a few grinds of freshly ground black pepper to taste + extra for seasoning fish
  • 4 filets of wild halibut or sole
  • 4 teaspoons unsalted butter or unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • 8 teaspoons dry white wine
  • 4 12-inch squares of unbleached parchment
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. In a medium saucepan, heat 1 Tablespoon olive oil. Add sliced garlic, red pepper flakes and cook until the garlic is fragrant and almost golden brown, about 1 minute. Remove from heat and stir in tomatoes, capers and fresh herbs, salt and pepper.
  2. Arrange each piece of fish in the center of the parchment paper and sprinkle with a pinch of sea salt and pepper.
  3. Top each filet with a fourth of the tomato mixture, 1 teaspoon of butter or oil, and 2 teaspoons wine.
  4. Bring 2 opposite sides of the parchment together and fold. Continue to fold all the way down until you reach the fish. Twist both ends of the parchment so that it looks like a hard candy wrapper. Repeat for each piece of fish. Place each packet on a baking sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes based on the thickness of the fish.
  5. Transfer each packet to a plate and use caution when opening – the steam will be very hot!
Notes
Sometimes I like to add a handful of baby spinach leaves to the parchment before topping with the fish.

 

Baked chicken with tomatoes, olives and capers recipe (variations for GF and vegan!)

 

baked chicken with tomatoes, olives and capers | pamela salzman

I just finished teaching this recipe in my March classes and it was a huge hit!  I don’t even like chicken and I seemed to always be looking for a bite at the end of class.  I had so many requests to post this recipe that I had to oblige, even though the images aren’t totally the best.  I think this would be perfectly appropriate to prepare for Passover, with one minor adjustment.  And it’s a great recipe to adapt as cherry tomatoes and beefsteak tomatoes become available.

pepper the chicken before dredging

The recipe is basically a braise, but the chicken is cooked uncovered for most of the time, which is why I call it Baked Chicken, versus Braised Chicken.  But the formula is still very much the same — browning the meat first to create flavor and color, sauteing onions, deglazing, putting meat back in and baking in the oven until cooked through.  Once you understand the steps, you can start making up your own recipe or adapting recipes like this one with other ingredients or flavors.

dredge the chicken lightly with flour

I personally like using bone-in, skin-on pieces of chicken since I think they taste better and stay a little moister, especially breast pieces.  Unfortunately, cooking with bone-in, skin-on pieces takes longer than boneless, skinless and may not be a great option for those of you needing a really fast recipe for after work.  Fortunately, this recipe can be adapted for cutlets and even a slow cooker, so look for those options in the instructions.

olives, capers, thyme, jars of tomatoes

This dish produces very tender, flavorful chicken, as well as the accompanying onions and sauce.  In the ingredient list it offers the option of draining the juice from the jar of tomatoes or keeping it.  Here’s my thought process on that one:  if you will be serving the chicken with noodles or pasta, polenta, mashed potatoes or something that would welcome a lot of sauce, then you should keep the juice.  Otherwise, drain the juice and just use the tomato pieces.  I also love this dish during cherry tomato season, when I will use 1 1/2 pounds of  halved sweet cherry tomatoes in place of the jarred, and basil leaves instead of the thyme.  Large vine-ripened tomatoes that have been blanched and chopped are also great.  Both of these options create a much lighter, fresher dish.  But every variation is very delicious.

deglaze with wine and tomatoes

Other adaptations I discussed in class:

  • subbing fennel for half the onion
  • omitting the olives and adding chopped mushrooms with the onions
  • adding a healthy pinch of crushed red pepper flakes with the garlic
  • in the summer, subbing sliced sweet bell pepper for some of the onion
  • searing cauliflower steaks and using those in place of the chicken for a vegetarian/vegan option

add the olives capers and thyme

 

nestle chicken in the tomato mixture

I always use breasts when I teach because most of my students prefer white meat, and therefore it’s just easier for me to buy all breasts.  You can certainly use any part of the chicken you want.  In fact, it’s more economical to buy a whole chicken and have the butcher cut it into pieces for you.  But I highly recommend not buying 1 breast per person.  It’s too much meat to eat in one sitting, unless you are an Olympian or a body builder!  I have never actually seen anyone at my house or at a dinner party eat an entire breast.  I have seen people cut them in half and push one piece off to the side and just each one half.  What I love to do is prepare the breasts, allowing for 1/2 per person, and removing the bones after the chicken is cooked and has rested a bit.  Then I slice the meat on an angle.  It’s much more manageable to eat it this way, as well as more elegant and attractive to serve.  See this post on the gloves I use to get down and dirty when I carve chicken!

Let me know if you have specific questions about timing or with what sides to serve this.  Hope your holiday planning is going well!

baked chicken with tomatoes, olives and capers | pamela salzman

5.0 from 4 reviews
Baked Chicken with Tomatoes, Olives and Capers
Author: 
Serves: 6
 
Ingredients
  • 3 ½ pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces, sprinkled with 2 teaspoons kosher salt when you get home from the market unless you are using kosher chicken which you should not salt (read this post on how and why to season your chicken in advance)
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • Flour for dredging (all-purpose, spelt, GF flour, etc.) -- use matzoh cake meal for Passover
  • 2 Tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed, extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 1 ½ medium onions, cut through the root into sixths or eighths (or sliced thinly, but I like wedges better in this recipe)
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 18-ounce jar diced tomatoes with the juice (or drain juice for less sauce) (I like Jovial in glass jars. Read this post why.)
  • ¼ cup dry white wine
  • ¼ cup chicken stock, vegetable stock or more white wine
  • 6 fresh thyme sprigs or large basil leaves in the summer/fall
  • ½ cup pitted olives, such as kalamata or Bella di Cerignola
  • 2 Tablespoons capers, drained
  • chopped parsley for garnish, if desired
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Pat the chicken dry and season with black pepper. Dredge in flour, shaking off any excess.
  2. In a 12-inch ovenproof skillet or Dutch oven, heat 1 Tablespoon of the olive oil over medium heat. Add the chicken pieces in one layer and brown on both sides. Transfer to a plate and reserve.
  3. If the pan looks dry, add a little oil. If it looks like there’s more than 2 Tablespoons oil, drain a bit off. Add the onions, cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until softened and lightly browned. Add the garlic and sea salt and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the tomatoes, white wine, stock and cook, scraping any brown bits on bottom of the pan.
  5. Arrange the thyme, olives and capers over the onion mixture. Place the browned chicken pieces side by side on top. Bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover and place in the oven.
  6. After 15 minutes, baste the chicken with the juices in the pot. Continue cooking, uncovered, for an additional 30-40 minutes (depending on thickness), basting every 10 minutes if you have time. Sprinkle with parsley and serve. (You can also cook covered on the stove over low heat for 30 minutes.)
Notes
For a boneless, skinless version, check out my recipe for Lemon –Thyme Chicken Cutlets and follow the same directions.

For a slow cooker version, use skinless chicken and  3 Tablespoons each of stock and wine instead of 4.  Follow same directions, but after deglazing, pour everything into the slow cooker and cook for 4-5 hours on HIGH or 6-8 on LOW.