Mediterranean caprese salad

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I don't know if we can go back to regular oil-and-vinegar caprese after this. I love a good caprese salad, but I accidentally keep typing "craprese" and that's sort of a fitting description for a lot of them. If the mozzarella is rubbery or cold, if the tomatoes are mealy or our of season, and if the dressing isn't lively and tangy, then they're just...nothing. I mean, they're bad, but more than that they're just absent any flavor or texture or redeeming qualities.

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However, tomato season is upon us, so it's much more likely that your tomatoes will be delicious. And if you have any access to a backyard, side yard, fire escape, community garden, etc, I implore you to plant some basil and mint. Both of these plants are hardy in the summer and will save you so much money at the grocery store. AND, you'll have no excuse not to make the pesto that accompanies this caprese salad (and that you'll want to pour on everything).

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So, we have good tomatoes and a tangy interesting pesto, but what else does this salad need? Well, I also implore you not to serve cold mozzarella. Room temperature is SO MUCH BETTER. If you can get even a decent mozzarella, I think it's improved exponentially by sitting out for a short time (or, if you're also in the middle of our current heatwave, a few seconds?). And, I like to guild the lily by sprinkling a generous amount of crumbled, salty, briny feta on top. Is it necessary? No. Is it delicious? Yes. Should you do it? Without hesitation.

Buy a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes and you have a showstopper for a dinner party that requires basically no effort (I even opted for a pre-cut cheese because I'm that lazy) and better yet, NO COOKING. Did I mention the heatwave?

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We ate it yesterday as Sunday lunch on our back porch with some prosciutto and salami, some Bantam Bread, and white peaches. A glass of cold rose or Sancerre would have made it heaven, but I'm old now and can't day drink without needing a nap and an Advil, so we forwent the wine. Boo.

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Mediterranean caprese salad

4 large heirloom tomatoes
1 large or 2 medium balls of mozzarella
½ cup crumbled feta
¼- ½ cup mint and basil pesto (recipe below)

Mint and basil pesto
1½ cups basil leaves, loosely packed
½ cup mint leaves, well packed
1 large garlic clove (or 2 smaller ones)
1 medium shallot, quartered
2-3 Tbsp lemon juice (juice of 1 large lemon)
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt

To make the pesto:
Place all of the ingredients except the oil in a large food processor or blender. While the machine is running, pour in the oil and blend until you've reached your desired consistency. Add salt to taste.

To assemble the salad:
Alternate the mozzarella and tomatoes in whatever color combination you like. Top with the mint and basil pesto and sprinkle with the feta.

Serves: 3-4 as a main course, 5-6 as a side

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Pumpkin energy bites

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I refuse to call these "Pumpkin spice" energy balls because I am now and have always been, anti pumpkin spice. I understand it in theory, but the ubiquity of this spice combo is out of control. However, these guys are technically speaking, a combo of pumpkin and spices. They're also yummy and easy and perfect for lunchboxes because they're nut, dairy, soy, gluten, and egg free.

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Also, they're basically no cook. You must toast the pepitas in either a toaster oven, regular oven, or in a pan on the stove because the flavor is so much better, but this step only takes about 5 minutes. You want some browning and some "popping" sounds, which happens quickly.

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I fiddled with the ratios here for some time before settling on my favorite. Too much pumpkin and they're too wet, but not enough and they don't look orange and mostly taste like dates. The final product is a bit sticky, but they hold together completely and, once chilled, firm up quite a bit. You could also roll the balls in unsweetened shredded coconut to make them less sticky for kids who don't like that sensation on their fingers.

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Pumpkin energy bites


½ cup toasted pepitas
½ cup pumpkin puree
10 pitted dates
¼ cup shredded, unsweetened coconut
½ tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
¼ tsp ginger
Pinch of cloves
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup vegan chocolate chips (I like this brand)

Toast the pepitas in the toaster oven or in a pan on the stove just until the seeds start to brown and pop lightly.

Add the seeds and the rest of the ingredients (except the chocolate chips) to a food processor. Pulse until the dates and seeds are broken up and everything is well combined. You'll need to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times. I like to look for the mixture to form a large ball and spin around all together to know that I've mixed enough. 

Turn the batter out into a bowl. Add the chocolate chips and stir to combine.

With wet hands and a bowl of water to re-wet as needed, scoop 1 Tbsp of the mixture and roll it into a ball. Repeat with the rest of the batter until 12 balls are formed. To make them look more like pumpkins, chop up your favorite dairy, soy, and nut free chocolate bar (like this one) into chunks and stick them into the tops like stems.

Chill for at least 30 minutes, or up to 2 weeks.

Yield: 12 1 Tbsp balls

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Guacamole skewers

One of the most frustrating things about feeding a toddler is that one day's favorite food is the next day's reject. M used to eat guacamole by the spoonful until it was suddenly dead to him. But he still eats the components with no problem. So, I made a skewer out of it and let him pull off pieces and helped him cut them up. And he ate it.

This deconstructed guac is also a way to showcase your seasonal produce. I like hiding sub-par tomatoes and onions in my favorite green gloop, but this way, the still-warm-from-the-sun tomatoes can go right from the farmer's market to a skewer to your table. Feel free to double the sauce recipe if you want some leftovers: This bright, tangy sauce is a perfect topper for chicken, dip for veggies, or sauce for eggs.

The only (and I do mean ONLY) tricky thing about these skewers is timing the avocado right. But isn't that always the way? Too ripe, and the avocado can fall right off of the stick, but using not-ripe-enough avocados is very obvious here because there's no camouflage of mushing and lime juice.

Guacamole skewers

For the sauce
1 bunch cilantro, well-soaked
4 Tbsp avocado oil or other neutral oil
3 Tbsp lime juice
2 generous pinches of salt and more to taste
1 large clove garlic

Roughly remove the stems from the leaves of cilantro (but a few stems are fine). Blend ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more salt or lime juice, as needed.

For the skewers
Red, orange, and yellow cherry tomatoes
1 large avocado (halved, quartered, and then chopped into fours to get 16 pieces)
2 limes (halved and quartered)
1 red onion

Yield: 16 skewers