Couscous salad with butternut squash, mint, and arugula

I love fall and all the colors and flavors that come with it. The weather gets cooler and the food gets hardier. One of my favorite additions to our table are the squashes that start showing up at the market. I think the one I like most is butternut squash. This little guy is so versatile and tasty. We just found our first batch at Trader Joe’s. We bought 2 really large butternut squash and we’ll be able to make at least 4 recipes with them. Yippee!

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Related to my last post, I have a ton of mint that I don’t want to go to waste so of course I started looking for a recipe to combine my squash and mint. This one even added the Israeli Couscous that we love. This recipe is inspired by a vegetarian recipe I found that uses vegetable broth and adds currants. We changed it up to make it more savory and trying to highlight the earthiness of the arugula and squash.

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 3 cups of 1/2 inch cubes peeled butternut squash
  • Sea salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 2 cups Israeli couscous
  • 2 1/2 cups of chicken broth
  • 1 cup arugula
  • 1/2 cup slivered toasted almonds
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint

Directions

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees

Mix your squash and 2 tablespoons oil in a large bowl and season generously with the salt and pepper. Then transfer to a large baking sheet and roast for 30 to 35 minutes, turning once or twice with tongs or a spatula. Cook until the squash is fork tender. (As a side note, the squash is good just like this and you could eat it right away – we do this a lot) Let the squash cool.

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Using a medium sauce pan, combine 1 tablespoon oil, couscous, 1 teaspoon salt and the broth. Bring this mixture to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes, until tender. Remove from heat and let sit covered for 5 minutes, or until all liquid has been absorbed. Toss the couscous with the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil and spread on a large baking sheet to cool.wpid-israeli-couscous-with-butternut-squash.jpg.jpeg

When ready, toss the cooled couscous with the butternut squash, mint, and add the arugula. You can use this as a side salad or a light lunch. You could even turn it into a main entree by adding some grilled chicken strips to it.

We served our dish with the arugula covering the couscous salad. Next time, I think I will put the arugula on the base and cover the arugula with the couscous salad. We paired this with some herb brined roasted chicken.

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Potatoes with Ginger and Mint

Earlier this summer we bought a mint plant. It was part of our effort to create a more well-rounded herb garden. At some point we realized that 8 basil and 4 rosemary plants didn’t give us all the options we wanted. The mint plant has been the most bountiful but the problem is that we don’t really cook with mint, like ever. So, I’ve had to look up recipes for this culinary gem.

This time I chose potatoes because we have a bag of them and wanted to do something different with them .I was surprised that there were so many recipes that had potatoes and mint. I finally picked one from Martha Stewart as a starting point. Of course we modified it, mainly because I think she under seasons her food to make it more appealing to a wider audience. Sorry, but I like flavors so we doubled most of her ingredients!

This recipe has some ingredients that don’t sound like they should go together but it turns out really good. I guess if anything, I’d say it has a Middle Eastern flavor with a little Mediterranean influence.

Ingredients

  • 1/4 cup sesame oil
  • 2 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed and quartered
  • 3 tablespoons grated peeled fresh ginger
  • Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 cups water, plus more as needed
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3/4 cups fresh mint leaves, coarsely chopped
  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lime

Directions

First, heat 1/4 cup of oil in a large saute pan over medium heat. Then, add the potatoes and 2 tablespoons of the ginger. (You’ll add the rest of the ginger towards the end) Cook this about 7 to 10 minutes, until the potatoes are brown. Then season with salt and pepper.

Next, remove the pan from the heat and add the water. Stir in the 1/4 teaspoon of salt, cayenne pepper, cumin and turmeric. Then return to medium-high heat and cook until the potatoes are tender and the water has evaporated. After about 10 minutes our potatoes were getting really tender but the water had not evaporated so we scooped out the potatoes and then reduced the water and then put the potatoes back in to finish them.

Finally, add the remaining ginger, the mint, lime zest, salt and pepper. Cook this until the mixture thickens, about 2 to 3 minutes. Once you’re done, stir in the lime juice.

We were really surprised by this recipe. You get a tartness from the lime but it’s not in your face and the mint gives just a subtle hint of sweetness without bringing a strong mint flavor to the dish.

Mexican Martini

 

What drink do you order when you want something other than a margarita and not in the mood for beer? Well, a Mexican Martini, of course. I like ordering these when we go out for Mexican food but I had never made one and really not thought much about them, other than a tequila based alternative to the traditional margarita. A few weeks ago we decided we wanted something different at the house so I looked up a recipe on-line. I wasn’t surprised to find a bunch of variations, but I was surprised to find out this is an Austin invention and there is a competing claim as to who can claim to be the inventor.

Trudy’s has been known for making good (and STRONG) Mexican Martinis for years. They were already famous for them 20 years ago when I came to Austin for college. Their rival is Cedar Door. The Tipsy-Texas wrote up a good background on this. If you’re interested in this uniquely Austin drink, take a look at this story.

The recipe we settled on is supposed to be Trudy’s Mexican Martini. It did taste great, exactly like a Mexican Martini should.

Mexican Martini

Mexican Martini and ingredients

Ingredients

  • 2 oz of tequila
  • 1 oz orange liqueur
  • 1 to 2 oz of lemon-lime soda
  • 1 oz orange juice
  • Juice of 1/2 lime

These martinis should be served in the tumbler in a martini glass. Rim the glass with salt and add a couple olives to top it off.

Feel free to vary these ingredients to find the mix you like. I actually added the juice of a whole lime because I like the tartness. And, I know a few people who think you need a little (or a lot) more tequila to get the ratio correct. The recipe above tastes great and won’t knock you off your feet if you feel like having a few.

We substituted San Pellegrino Aranciata for orange juice and used Agravero as our orange liqueur.

Doña Sauce – a simple jalapeño hot sauce

This hot sauce shows up in various forms at Mexican food restaurants all over Austin. There are as many names for this sauce as there are variations but I like Doña. The Doña sauce is the green sauce from Tacodeli, a really popular restaurant here in Austin. The Austin American Statesman posted this recipe a few weeks ago and we’ve made it three or four times since then.

For those of you unfamiliar with this sauce, it is a very creamy rich sauce. It’s obviously hot, but I don’t think it’s fire-in-your-mouth hot. If the heat bothers you, try taking out the seeds and veins from the peppers to reduce the heat or you can mix in other peppers to balance out the heat. Other peppers you could try are Hatch, poblano, and bell peppers to temper down the heat. In fact, we’ve made a great sauce just using Hatch peppers that worked really well on enchiladas.

This recipe will make about 1 liter of Doña Sauce.

For a smoked version, try our Smoked Doña Sauce.

Ingredients

  • 12 jalapeño peppers (or serrano)
  • 6 cloves of garlic, peeled & minced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • a pinch or two of salt

Directions

Begin by taking the stems and seeds out of the peppers. Then boil the peppers in a medium pot of water. Simmer them for about 12 minutes. The peppers should be soft and start to darken. Reserve some of the water and then strain the peppers in a colander.

Using a blender, process the cooked peppers, garlic and 1 to 2 tablespoons of the cooking water and salt. Once these ingredients are mixed well and come together, turn on the blender and slowly add the olive oil. The sauce should start to thicken and become creamy.

Now you can use the sauce for a dip, add it to rice to give it a kick, use it as a marinade or what ever else you might do with a hot sauce. Some of the alterations that we’ve tried and work really well are using other types of peppers and grilling the peppers instead of boiling them. During Hatch Chili Season (yes, that’s a thing here in Austin) we made this sauce using grilled hatch peppers – it was so good and creamy with just a little heat.

Here is a link to another variation that is really good: http://whatscookinerndog.blogspot.com/2011/08/green-gold-erins-wannabe-taco-delis.html
The point being, you really can’t go wrong with this sauce so give it a try!