Late Summer’s Nightshades

Roasted Pepper and Tomato Crostini with Ricotta

With its long, sun-filled days and warm temperatures, one of the great pleasures of late summer is the pepper and tomato explosion ignited in the garden.  Both are members of the sun-loving nightshade family, as are other favorites—potatoes, chiles and Sweet Pepper Plantseggplants among them.  In case you’re wondering, that’s the same family that claims more infamous brethren as well:  tobacco and deadly nightshade.  Though the edible nightshades contain the same alkaloid compounds that render their cousins toxic, in the amounts we regularly consume, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes and eggplants (any nightshades we find in the farm share) are entirely safe.  And considering the beneficial nutrients they contain, these beauties are healthy choices on an August dinner plate.  Our favorite red ones are loaded with dietary fiber, potassium, A, B and C vitamins, and antioxidant lycopene, known for its heart health and cancer fighting properties.

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Couscous Salad with Kale, Harissa and Roasted Vegetables

Coucous Salad with Roasted Vegetables and Harissa

This salad was inspired by my friend Jane and her sneaky tub of pepper-spiked harissa that made the journey all the way from DC to California without too much leakage.

Harissa is a paste made of chili peppers ground with spices, oil and garlic, that’s a wildly popular condiment in North Africa.  Here it adds flavor plus a touch of heat to an easy dinner salad.  In summer we’ll turn to sweet, juicy raw tomatoes, but in early spring roasted cherry or grape tomatoes are the way to go.

You’ll find harissa and Israeli couscous at Whole Foods or other specialty markets.  Harissa varies in strength from one version to another, so be sure to taste and add as much as you dare.

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Lentil Salad with Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette

Lentil Salad with Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrette This dish was inspired by my friend, Jane’s trick of puréeing sun-dried tomatoes with oil and vinegar for a bold, flavor-packed dressing that livens up simple lentils.  Even those Sun-dried Tomato Vinaigrettewho dislike the chewy texture of the dried fruit will love this zippy salad.  Vary the vegetables as you like.  Add chopped celery, fennel or radishes, or a handful of fresh herbs such as parsley, basil or dill.  Omit the feta for a vegan option.  Use brown or green lentils that remain whole with cooking, such as Spanish Pardina lentils or French lentilles Du Puy.

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A Mystery in Layers

We love a mystery. Preferably with a trail of clues, a touch of suspense and opportunities to toss our who-done-it theories around at the dinner table like amateur sleuths. This journal has chronicled such before—tales of monster zucchinis, mystery vines and compost packages. It’s been a while though, so when our youngest decided to clean her room recently it was only fitting that a puzzle emerge—along with a mountain of dirty socks.

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