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    Half-sour cucumbers, hold the salt

    Half-sour cucumbers, hold the salt

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This always happens right before vacation…

Finally, finally, we are going to the East Coast. We’ve had to put off seeing my mom and my sister (and assorted boys) twice since December due to incessant snow, none of which hit Los Angeles in the slightest. So as soon as school lets out, we’re packing for an ungodly wake-up call the next morning and getting out of SoCal for a bit more than a week. The cat gets a hotel/spa vacation without all the schlepping around between Bahston and New Yawk. We get the do-we-have-enough-clean-undies-to-make-it version.

So good, already. But as in many of my tangled big-event preparation schemes, I have a slight problem with the fridge:

Stuffed fridge right before traveling

The problem, part I…Note the tomatoes: 10+, excessively ripe, and the invisible 6 or so red peppers behind them. Not to mention the huge bag with 7-8 bunches of fresh herbs…

fridgedoor

Part II, the door…Note the huge bag of nectarines, lower left, the chiles just behind the mushrooms and two bags of apricots at right, just because…

AAAgh…just a little insane. Suffice it to say, it’s been an enthusiastic week or so vegetable-shopping-wise because the Fresno tomatoes are back in my local greengrocer’s, along with a lot of other produce, and I’ve gone overboard on a number of items, not least of which are lemon basil, mint, dill and tarragon (which I haven’t even decided if I like). The market beckons, the low prices for herbs and vegetables even more so, and the sun’s finally come out again after a month of gray days. And I’m a purple thumb as a gardener, so the greengrocer’s wares beckon even more strongly. How could I not want it all? But a little thought for the calendar might not have gone amiss.

So I’m in trouble again. We leave in 4 days. There are a maximum of three humans in the house (depends how we’re behaving at any given moment). Nobody but me really gets into gazpacho the way they should–though they will go with salads (the coarse-cut version of gazpacho). And it’s a sorry day when you have to threaten people with apricots and nectarines three meals a day. We should be reveling in the produce section, not roiling in it. If we were staying here, this would be an ideal scenario for the next week and a half, two weeks, and if we were just going a couple of days, it would still be fine. But as it is, 10 days is too long to leave it all, and we’re going to be eating whatever we can’t freeze.

Luckily, you can wash and freeze almost any bunch of herbs pretty well–at least for stuff that needs cooking and/or doesn’t have to look like utterly fresh leaves. Even mint does okay. Just twist off the stem end with the little annoying blue rubber band, rinse it all very well, stuff it into a ziplock baggie and squeeze out the air, toss it in the freezer. When you need some for cooking, crumble the frozen herbs a bit in the baggie and sprinkle them out. I wouldn’t let most soft-leaved herbs go a full year in the freezer, but I’ve had decent luck with dill, thyme and za’atar lasting several months.

I did at least manage to get down to only one bunch of cilantro (from three) by finally making a new batch of z’khug (motivated by realizing belatedly that maybe it wasn’t actually the best time to cook up a new batch of chickpeas for hummus…oh well, that freezes too). The last bunch I may grind up with a little lime juice for a fresh Vietnamese green sauce for white fish fillets.

Now for some pesto from the regular basil and whatever will work for lemon basil–I have a feeling it’s too sweet and citrusy for most dishes; probably best for a sorbet or gelato-type thing. Maybe freeze now; try it out when we get back. The apricots–if we can’t finish them, I can cook them down to a jam in the microwave and pack it in a freezer container in about 5 minutes. Not the ideal option for nectarines, but maybe I’ll cut the extras up, drop them in a bowl of just-boiling water for a few seconds, drain, cool and freeze. Not sure why cookbooks say to do that scalding step–sterilizing? Who knows. Maybe skip it. I know, we should all have such a problem. Meanwhile…

Tomato and pepper salad with feta, herbs, and yogurt

Current favorite option for managing the tomato and pepper overload (there are cucumbers somewhere underneath it all  too)

Here’s my current favorite take on the classic tomato-cucumber-pepper Israeli salad. The combination of feta with thick plain yogurt is surprisingly fresh and satisfying, especially with the scallions and the less usual addition of mint, and it works nicely with the vinaigrette on the tomatoes and peppers underneath. It started out as my way of getting a taste of the Israeli sheepsmilk feta (Trader Joe’s carries it) without overdoing the salt, and throwing a little protein and calcium into the salad while I was at it (we had an unexpected massive heat wave earlier in the week and suddenly it was all I could stand to eat for lunch).

Israeli-style Salad with Yogurt For 2-3 servings, and scale up as desired:

  • 1 big or two medium very ripe tomatoes, in wedges
  • 1 red bell pepper, in bite-sized pieces
  • 1-2 smaller cucumbers, sliced
  • splash each of olive oil and red wine vinegar
  • 1-T pinches each of fresh dill, basil, mint and a few snippets of scallion, chopped or torn over the vegetables
  • dollop of plain Greek-style or regular yogurt on top
  • a spoonful of crumbled feta (preferably Israeli sheepsmilk feta; it’s softer and less salted) on the yogurt
  • 2-3 slivered Greek-type olives, optional
  • cracked black pepper to taste

Layer everything in a bowl approximately in the order above, starting with the vegetables, then the oil and vinegar so the vegetables marinate just a little, then the herbs, and then the yogurt and feta on top. Obviously, you can add a little more oil and vinegar on top if you feel like it. Scatter olive slivers and crack black pepper over it at will. Serve with crusty bread or pita to dip in the leftover juices.

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