Most experts agree that there is no comparison between fresh and dried basil in terms of flavor. The fresh leaves have a flavor complexity and intensity that is largely lost in the dried form. If storing for a week or less, basil can be wrapped in several layers of paper towels and placed in an airtight or Ziplock bag and stored in the highest section of the refrigerator where it will stay fresh for several days. It can also be stored for a few days in a glass of water placed on a counter top. ~Herb Society of America Guide
This week gently heralds in a new school year and I am back to work for two days of professional development. It has been a spectacular summer full of gardening, organizing our house, and reading and writing for pleasure. Yet, I am ready to reclaim my work schedule.
The morning glories that my mom planted from seed for me started blooming last week.
This school year I am changing things up a bit when it comes to my cooking routine. Normally I shop on Friday night or Saturday afternoon and engage in a cooking marathon for the week’s meals on Sunday. This fall I am going to try to break my grocery gathering up into segments. I will shop on Wednesdays after work and cook on Thursday and Friday (Thursday a large pot of soup and Friday a couple of entrees for both Mike and I). On Saturday I will take a trip to the Marquette Food Co-op and will assemble my Mason Jar Salads. Monday I will leave myself open to the possibility of another quick trip to the market.
Last year, submerged in piles of essays to grade, grocery shopping and cooking started to feel like a chore instead of a pleasure. I am hoping that my new routine will make meal preparation more manageable and help free up precious time on the weekend to grade, blog, do housework, and spend time with Mike, family, and friends. I also think that pre-weekend cooking will help me make strong food choices on the weekend since I will have healthy food already prepared.
When I joined Weight Watchers in 2006 I found that planning and prepping my meals was essential to my weight management success. I never allow myself the excuse that I do not have enough time. I make time for my health.
This summer, when I had the luxury of more free time on my hands, I tried to be flexible and spontaneous with meals and during the week took many small trips to the store and farmers market for fresh fruit and vegetables. I think that breaking my shopping into small trips actually helped save money and time. I found that I have not been dreading the weekly shopping and since I often grab one of the hand-held baskets, (instead of a large shopping cart) I am not stockpiling food and I am only buying what we will eat for the week.
One item that has not been on my list in the past couple weeks is tomatoes. My tomato plants have perfect timing and each day I am able to harvest enough ripe fruit for the day’s meals. I wait all summer for the candy-sweet tomatoes straight off the vine and I am savoring each juicy bite.
While my tomatoes have persisted and were able to survive our cold and rainy summer in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, my basil plants have not done as well. While I have been able to pluck quite a few clusters of leaves for basil vinaigrette and a few slices of bruschetta, the plants have remained small and many of the leaves are brown (a woman at the farmers market told me this was due to the cold temperatures we have experienced this summer).
Since one of my favorite fall food combinations is tomatoes and basil, I have been disappointed my lackluster basil crop. This Saturday my friend Brenda gave me a generous gift of robust basil plants from her father’s garden. The plants are healthy and thriving and I am so thankful.
I love the aroma of basil and this morning I picked a bowl of fresh tomatoes for tonight’s dinner. I will be making Vitamix recipe for a raw dish: Zucchini Pasta with Pomodoro Sauce (with extra basil, of course). This coming weekend I am planning on making homemade pizza topped with plenty of basil, green and ripe tomatoes, Greek olives, garlic, and extra virgin olive oil. As I type I am also imagining tomato and basil soup with fresh spaghetti squash from my garden.
Earlier this summer my recipe for Raspberry Basil Vinaigrette Dressing received many positive reviews. So yesterday I decided that I needed to come up with another basil dressing for a batch of Mason Jar Salads. I wanted a creamy dressing that featured the intense aroma and flavor of basil. Naturally, pesto came to mind.
Here is my version of a plant-based Creamy Pesto Salad Dressing that uses raw cashews as a thickening agent. A traditional pesto recipe would use pine nuts, but I did not have any on hand. I think that any nuts would work; almonds, walnuts, sunflower seeds. Next time I make this dressing I will toss in a few pine nuts but will still stick to raw cashews since I like the creamy texture that they yield. If you wanted to make this dressing a vinaigrette you could leave out the nuts. If you eat dairy you could also add a fresh grating of Parmigiano-Reggiano to the blender or to your salad. CREAMY PESTO SALAD DRESSING
- 1/2 cup of vinegar (I used 1/4 cup of white balsamic vinegar and 1/4 cup of raw apple cider vinegar. You may want to vary the amount of vinegar based on how tart you like your dressing. I recommend adding a little bit at a time and tasting the dressing with a bit of celery. I enjoy my dressing extremely tart and often sprinkle more vinegar on my salad before serving.)
- 1/2-1 cup of fresh basil leaves (depending on how strong you want the flavor to be. I also tossed in a few extra leaves in the blender for good measure)
- 1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil (you can always leave the oil out and add it individually to your salad for portion control)
- 1/4 cup of raw cashews (you could substitute almonds, walnuts, or nuts of choice)
- 1/4 cup of water (the dressing was thick so I thinned it out with some water. You could add extra vinegar. If you want to use it as a dip you could leave it thick)
- 1 large clove of garlic
- 1 lemon ~ juice and zest
- Chives (I used fresh since I have chives in my garden. If you do not have fresh chives you could add a little bit of onion)
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Blend until smooth
The dressing turned out just as flavorful as I imagined it would. I knew that the salad that I created to accompany it had to be extra special. Since I had purchased a wide variety of fruit and vegetables I decided to capture a rainbow in a jar.
When making Mason Jar Salads it is important to put the dressing in first and keep it away from the greens. The acid in the dressing will make the greens slimy. If you close tight (I do not vacuum seal my jars) they will keep for over a week in the refrigerator. When you are ready to eat you can shake, and either pour the salad out on a plate or bowl, or eat straight out of the jar. I find with the quart sized Mason Jars that I need extra dressing. Sometimes I add extra vinegar or lemon juice to the bottom as well as the dressing.
I made two versions of the Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad. For the first one I layered the following:
- Three Tablespoons of Creamy Pesto Dressing
- Quartered cherry tomatoes
- Sliced nectarines
- Yellow bell pepper
- Sugar snap peas
- White beans
- Romaine lettuce
For the second version I layered the following:
- Three Tablespoons of Creamy Pesto Dressing
- White beans
- Quartered radishes and cherry tomatoes
- Quartered yellow tomatoes and yellow bell pepper
- Broccoli florets
- Pickled beets
- Romaine lettuce
Since part of the charm of the Mason Jar Salads are how visually appealing they are I think it is important to make them as pretty as possible. Plus, by filling them with a vibrant rainbow of fruit and vegetables we are making sure that we are meeting our nutritional needs.
If you are interested in other Mason Jar Salads, please check out my other salad recipes. I also have other plant-based salad dressing recipes. You can follow my recipes on Pinterest and please like my Produce with Amy Facebook page.
My goal for fall and winter is to continue coming up with new recipes and to blog at least once a week. As always, I really appreciate feedback if you try my recipes. I am so thankful to my readers and love that together we can embrace a healthy lifestyle.
I would like to extend a thank you to my dear friend, and Weight Watchers receptionist, Brenda and her father for the gift of basil. It really made my weekend special and I appreciate your kindness.
In the coming weeks Brenda has agreed to do a guest blog so I can feature the story of her incredible weight loss journey. Brenda has lost seventy pounds and for the past two years has done an amazing job maintaining her loss. I am thankful for her friendship and the way she inspires, motivates, and helps keep me (and our entire Weight Watchers group) accountable. Brenda strives to educate herself about nutrition and is always aiming to understand what her body needs to stay healthy, fit, and energized.
Since I launched Produce with Amy in January of 2013, Brenda has been my biggest fan and supporter. She is always willing to give my recipes a try and her belief in me helps give me the confidence and the drive to keep experimenting and coming up with new recipes. If you know Brenda, make sure you encourage her to write her guest post so others can be inspired by her hard work, determination, and weight management tips and advice. I am excited to share her story with you!
I know that Brenda will be trying the Creamy Pesto Dressing and I hope that you do too. If you do not have basil in your garden (or a generous friend who will share) make sure you check out your local farmers market or produce section of the grocery store for fresh basil.
Fill your plate (and Mason jars) with a vibrant rainbow. Your health will thank you.
Harvest Rainbow Mason Jar Salad with Creamy Pesto Dressing