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Everyday Eats: Lentil Salad with Peanut Dressing and Summer in NYC

18 Jul

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If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed a change in my posting patterns. Gone are the bright afternoon photos of homemade salads and freshly baked goods. Weekday posts are scarce, pictures of my usual Los Angeles hangouts replaced with those of decadent weekend brunches in Downtown Manhattan.

At the end of May, I moved from Los Angeles to New York City for a summer internship at Food & Wine Magazine. I cannot begin to explain all that has happened in the past two months–the lessons learned, friendships made, and delicious food eaten. What I can say now, though, is how much I miss cooking.

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I live with my cousin in a 300 square foot apartment in Midtown, our kitchenette equipped with nothing but a microwave and a miniature refrigerator. While eating out is a large part of the lifestyle here in New York, bars and restaurants bustling with people late into the night, it gets exhausting. I long for the leisurely hours spent flipping through cookbooks, baking cookies and cakes or tossing together fresh produce for simple summer salads. With its bounty of vibrant fruits and vegetables, summer is a much-anticipated season for cooks and bakers alike.

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Australian-inspired breakfast and coffee at Little Collins Café.

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Stellar brunch at Lafayette in NoHo. Try the chocolate-banana-coconut croissant.

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Lusting after sweet, dainty strawberries at the Union Square Farmers’ Market.

I made this salad on a lazy afternoon a few days before my departure. I was in the mood for a change and deviated from my usual drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice, creating a delicious Asian-inspired dressing using just a few pantry staples. A single ingredient, or in this case, dressing, can completely transform the flavors of a dish.

The creamy peanut dressing pairs well with hearty lentils and crisp arugula, but would be a welcome addition to shrimp spring rolls or a cold soba noodle salad. The recipe is more of a framework than a strict guideline, so feel free to improvise with whichever combination of lettuce, vegetables, and protein suits your fancy.

Recipe by Maral Tavitian

For the salad:

  • 1 1/2 cups arugula
  • 3/4 cup steamed green lentils, drained and cooled
  • 1/4 of an avocado, thinly sliced
  • 2 oz. medium-firm tofu, drained and sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • Handful of toasted cashew pieces, for garnish
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the peanut dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons unsalted creamy peanut butter*
  • 1 tablespoon unseasoned rice vinegar
  • Juice from 1/2 a lemon
  • 1 teaspoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable or other neutral-tasting oil
  • Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

* Use a good-quality peanut butter with a loose consistency. Look for brands that have only one ingredient (peanuts) and a layer of oil on top.

1. Place the lentils on top of the bed of arugula. Top with avocado slices, tofu, and cashew pieces. Season with salt and pepper to taste. For the dressing, combine the peanut butter, vinegar, lemon juice, soy sauce, and honey in a small bowl using a whisk or fork. Slowly drizzle in the oil, whisking to combine until the dressing reaches a smooth consistency. If the dressing seems too thick, add a bit more oil or water. Drizzle the dressing over the salad. Extra dressing can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week.

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Everyday Eats: Tomato-Chickpea Salad with Yogurt Dressing

20 May

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My cooking skills developed in the most unlikely of places: my college dorm. While most students associate the college diet with endless amounts of junk food, my eating habits changed for the better. Using limited ingredients, I learned to prepare healthy, satisfying, and delicious meals in under thirty minutes. I never worked with raw meat and fish, but discovered creative alternatives to incorporate protein into my diet.

Now that I am back home after completing my freshman year, I have expanded upon this cooking style that initially emerged out of necessity. Salads packed with legumes and veggies, rice bowls topped with a poached egg, and bean soups are just a few items on my list of “Everyday Eats.”

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Once I mastered a basic formula for these dishes (grains + produce + protein + healthy fats), I realized the endless opportunities for adaptation. I have decided to share my original recipes in this weekly column, with the hope that they inspire you to approach cooking from a different perspective. I offer possible variations for each recipe, showing how you can tweak according to personal tastes. An added bonus, almost all of these dishes are ideal for transporting to work, proving that a desk lunch can be something to look forward to.

Finally, in keeping with the everyday theme, I took these photos using my iPhone camera. Traditional photo shoots can be tedious, a process more suited for a lazy Sunday morning than a Tuesday afternoon lunch break. So, for the first installment of “Everyday Eats,” I give you a Mediterranean-inspired chickpea salad. Fresh tomatoes and basil provide bursts of bright flavor, complemented by smoky toasted pine nuts and a creamy yogurt dressing.

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Recipe by Maral Tavitian

For the salad:

  • 1 15 oz. can of cooked chickpeas
  • 1 cup of cherry tomatoes, sliced crosswise
  • 1/2 cup of cucumber slices (from about 2 medium cucumbers)
  • 1/2 avocado, cubed
  • 2 tblsp pine nuts, toasted
  • 2 cups arugula
  • Salt and pepper to taste

For the dressing:

  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt (not Greek, as it makes the dressing sour and thick)
  • 2 tsp of olive oil
  • 1 tblsp of lemon juice (from half a lemon)
  • 1 tblsp of basil ribbons
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste

Yields 2 servings.

1. Drain the chickpeas in a colander and thoroughly pat dry with paper towels. Mix together tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, chickpeas, and pine nuts in a medium  bowl. Season generously with salt and pepper. To make the dressing, combine yogurt, olive oil, lemon juice, basil, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Taste the dressing and adjust seasoning accordingly. Pour the dressing over the chickpea mixture in tablespoons, mixing just until the chickpea mixture is coated but not drowning in dressing. I had some dressing left over.

2. To plate, place one cup of arugula on each plate. Top with chickpea salad.

Adaptations: For a more Middle Eastern flavor, add 1/2 tsp cumin to the chickpea mixture. For an extra burst of sweetness, replace pine nuts with golden raisins. For added richness or if you’re really hungry, top the completed salad with an egg (fried, poached, soft-boiled). For extra crispness and robustness, roast the chickpeas with olive oil in a 400 degree oven until golden brown.

48 Hours in San Francisco

12 Apr

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Traveling to San Francisco feels like revisiting a childhood home. I see my favorite nooks in the house and relive wonderful memories, but I also observe details that I  overlooked before. My parents brought me to San Francisco five years ago, and from the moment I set foot on Market Street, I felt the city’s dynamic and creative energy. I immediately fell in love with the charming architecture, eclectic shops and art galleries, and the incredible culinary scene.

This past weekend, my family and I returned to our usual spots while also exploring unfamiliar areas such as Pacific Heights and North Beach. All of our meals were outstanding; I have shared a glimpse into my foodie adventures here.

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We began Friday morning with breakfast at The Mill, a bustling cafe and bakery located in a quaint neighborhood. The Mill has gained national recognition for its “hipster toast,” thick slices of freshly-baked bread, toasted until golden and crusty, then slathered with a variety of house-made spreads. Every component of this toast is outstanding, elevating a staple item into something note-worthy. I particularly enjoyed the country bread topped with butter, honey, flecks of rosemary, and a sprinkling of sea salt. With high ceilings and airy table seating, The Mill provides a comfortable environment to work or to just chat with friends.

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For lunch, we headed to The Slanted Door, an upscale Vietnamese restaurant located inside the Ferry Building. Eating here has become a treasured family tradition that I look forward to every year.

I appreciate The Slanted Door’s modern approach to classic Vietnamese cuisine, crafting fresh, boldly-flavored dishes. Think raw California yellowtail garnished with crispy shallots, thai basil, and tangy lime juice. The caramelized claypot catfish, silky fish filets surrounded by sweet sliced onions, ginger, and cilantro, all encased in a luxurious sauce, may be one of the best things I have ever eaten.

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As much as we adore The Slanted Door, we have never eaten dessert there. The Ferry Building hosts an array of artisanal vendors, including small-batch chocolate makers, ice cream shops using local dairy, and a pristine French bakery named Miette.

Even if you do not have a sweet tooth, the bakery’s impeccable display of packaged candies, cookies, and confections will grab your attention. While you cannot go wrong with any of these products, I highly recommend sampling the acclaimed French macarons. Miette uses all-natural ingredients and refined flavors for its macarons; simple vanilla will always be my favorite.

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Spring blooms and San Francisco’s distinctive townhouses.

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Clockwise from left: chocolate kouign amann, blueberry-banana scone, raspberry-almond croissant, and original kouign amann.

On Saturday morning, we treated ourselves to coffee and pastries at the beautiful B. Patisserie in Pacific Heights. Belinda Leong, pastry chef and owner, contributed a kouign amann recipe to the April issue of Bon Appétit. After reading the story, I had to taste the flaky, buttery pastries in person. The rose-shaped creation contains more than one hundred layers of caramelized dough and a gooey, custard-like center. Other notable items include the raspberry-almond croissant and passion fruit brioche. I have always admired traditional French baking, but Leong’s innovative, expertly-executed take on the classics makes B. Patisserie a true standout.

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Vibrant spring flowers at Bi-Rite Market.

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After such an indulgent breakfast, we craved a light lunch. Greens Restaurant, a San Francisco institution, serves healthful vegetarian cuisine. While many meatless restaurants can be trendy and unsatisfying, Greens offers wholesome, approachable food. I loved my warm spinach and artichoke salad, topped with parmesan shavings, toasted pine nuts, and a perfectly poached egg. My sister’s cauliflower and feta cheese omelette was fluffy and moist, complemented by crispy roasted potatoes. Greens is an ideal venue for a laid-back meal with family.

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Weekly Snapshots

8 Nov

Lunch at one of my favorite places in L.A. I have an entire post dedicated to this lovely spot coming up. In the mean time, can any locals guess where this is?

As the end of my first semester of college draws near, I have been swamped with endless reading assignments and essay deadlines. I cannot believe time has passed so quickly–my weeks spent mostly in the library, nose buried in a pile of books. My workload has not allowed for much experimentation in the kitchen, nor have I longed to do so, quite honestly. While I maintain a healthy diet, my meals have slipped into a monotonous pattern dictated by simplicity and efficiency.

This past week, anything that I could pile onto whole wheat toast (homemade tuna salad, almond butter and bananas, and scrambled eggs with basil) qualified as dinner. My breakfasts have been sad repeats of a granola bar and fruit, usually wolfed down while power-walking to class. So this weekend, I look forward to indulging in foods I crave during the school days. This means obligatory visits to my favorite breakfast café and the newly opened Din Tai Fung Dumpling House in Glendale. That’s what weekends are for, right?

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Every week, my mom surprises me with a different, hand-made flower arrangement in my room. One of the top three reasons I love coming home (after a good, long shower and clean sheets).

Flatbread pizzas from The Bread Lounge in the Downtown Arts District.

Homemade salad topped with the most perfectly soft-boiled egg. Eggs add richness and satisfaction to any vegetarian meal.

My family and I went out to our first dinner in months at Connie & Ted’s in West Hollywood. It doesn’t get much better than classic American desserts, done right.

Local Find: Baked on Oceanview

28 Oct

While Los Angeles is full of excellent bakeries, hole-in-the-wall ethnic finds, and fine-dining restaurants, its traffic is a headache. Driving into the city from my quiet suburban community can be a treacherous feat, leaving me exhausted and wishing to never sit in a car again. When I heard about a newly-opened local bakery serving homemade breads, seasonal pastries, and light lunch items, I could not wait to visit. 

Baked on Oceanview offers a wide selection of breads made from all-natural ingredients, baked fresh every morning. The Whole Wheat roll is soft and airy on the inside, with a subtly crunchy crust- a refreshing change from the stale slices I store in my freezer. A cross between rye and wheat, sweetened with molasses, and sprinkled with oats, the Squaw loaf is another favorite. 

Customers can create their own sandwich using any of the bakery’s signature breads, meats, cheeses, toppings, and spreads- all of which are fresh and made-to-order. The salads are simple and dressed with a grainy mustard vinaigrette, perfect for a healthy lunch. The comfortable, light-filled setting and easy parking add to Baked on Oceanview’s appeal. I recommend Baked as an accessible, local bakery with wholesome, tasty breads crafted from quality ingredients. 

Baked on Oceanview 
3600 Oceanview Blvd. No. 7
Montrose, CA 91208
(818) 249 3587
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Tuesday-Saturday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.
Closed Sundays and Mondays