Almost-Guatemalan Stuffed Squash

Stuffed Summer Squash

One of the fortuitous by-products of writing about food is that friends and acquaintances share tidbits of all sorts.  Emails arrive with bold promises:  Best Brownies Ever!  Incredulity:  Beet Cake?  And practical advice:  Dinner Tonight.  I pour over old family recipes, tips for massaging kale and recipes for tasty green smoothies even kids will love—treasured food secrets, every one.  The more I read, the more I’m struck by what I don’t know about food—and the wealth of what my fellow cooks are willing to share.

The correspondence keeps me plugging away some weeks—like a letter from home invariably will on a lonely stretch at over-night camp—and offers nuggets to ponder just when I’d thought the bottom of the barrel had been scraped.  Earlier this summer I received just such a note from my friend, Liana.  For the past two summers she and her three daughters have ventured to the colonial city of Antigua, Guatemala, to spend a month immersing in the language and local culture.  And of course, the food.

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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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Stir-fried Cabbage with Cashews

Stir-fried cabbage with cashews

This easy stir-fry works with any sort of cabbage.  Bok choy, brussel sprouts or broccoli would be perfect alternatives.  If you like, make an extra batch of sauce as a marinade for firm tofu cubes.  Marinate the tofu for 15 minutes or so, then stir-fry the cubes (discarding the marinade) in hot oil before you cook the vegetables—until they turn golden-brown and slightly crunchy on the outside.  Set the tofu aside while you cook the veggies, then add it back in with the nuts and peas.  Serve over rice or cooked spaghetti noodles or by itself as a side dish.

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