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Hot, sultry, and downright oppressive, July has but one redeeming feature: vegetables.  (No, make that two: vegetables and peaches!)  And that bountiful summer harvest is all the sweeter when it comes from one’ s very own garden.  Yesterday’s haul from my modest vegetable patch was the inspiration for this fresh and colorful three bean salad.  Long, slender French gold beans, plump and juicy rattlesnake beans, a few early tomatoes, a fat red onion, and a handful of herbs made planning dinner easy.  A grilled flank steak and cornbread from the freezer rounded out the meal without heating up the kitchen.

Three bean salad with tomatoes and herbs

Serves 6

1/2 lb. green beans, cut into bite-sized pieces

1/2 lb. wax beans, cut into bite-sized pieces

1 lb. tomatoes, chopped (and seeded, if you like)

2 stalks celery, chopped

1/2 red onion, finely chopped

1 15-oz. can red kidney beans or chickpeas, rinsed and drained

10 fresh basil leaves, torn or chopped

10 fresh mint leaves, torn or chopped

3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

3 tbsp. red wine vinegar

Pinch of sugar

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Cook green and wax beans in boiling, salted water until just tender, about 2 minutes.  Drain, run under cold water to stop the cooking, and drain again.

Combine beans and remaining ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Toss.  Let salad stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for about 20 minutes before serving.

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This is my all-time favorite family dinner.  Not because it’s the most delicious or quickest meal I cook, but because nobody complains about it.  Even the one who habitually glares at every plate like I’m trying to poison her can’t muster a grimace.  And why would she?  Scallion pancakes are everything kids love:  mildly flavored, wedge-shaped, and dippable.

This version of the Chinese restaurant favorite is surprisingly easy to make at home and, less surprisingly, much healthier than take-out.  We like them with a huge plate of raw and steamed vegetables (carrots, red peppers, snow peas, and broccoli are good) and a tangy sauce or two for dipping.

Scallion pancakes

Yield:  24 wedges, serving at least 4

1 1/2 c. unbleached, all-purpose flour

1 c. white whole wheat flour

1 c. warm water

3 – 4 tbsp. canola oil, for brushing and frying (or use toasted sesame oil for brushing)

3/4 tsp. kosher salt

4 scallions, tender green parts only, thinly sliced

Measure flours into a large mixing bowl and stir with a wooden spoon.  Pour in water and stir again until dough comes together into a shaggy ball.  Turn dough out on a clean counter and knead until smooth but still tacky, adding a bit more flour if necessary to prevent sticking.  Lightly oil bowl, then drop in dough ball and turn once to coat.  Cover bowl with a clean dish towel and set aside to rest for at least 20 minutes.

Turn out dough onto a lightly floured counter and roll into a long rectangle of roughly 12 x 20-inches, dusting with additional flour as needed to prevent sticking.  Brush surface of rectangle with oil (canola or sesame) and sprinkle evenly with salt and scallions.  Starting at one of the longer edges, tightly roll dough into a rope.  Divide rope into four equal lengths.  Tightly coil each rope into a spiral, tucking open end under to make a round shape.  Flatten each round with your palm, then, adding flour as needed, roll from the center outward in all directions to make a flat pancake roughly 9-inches wide and 1/8-inch thick.  Lightly flour each round to prevent sticking, and stack between pieces of wax paper.

Warm a large skillet over medium-high heat.  Drizzle in just enough canola oil to thinly coat the bottom of the pan.  Lay one pancake into the hot skillet and cook until lightly browned on the bottom, 2-3 minutes.  Flip and cook another 1-2 minutes.  Remove to a cutting board and slice into 6 wedges.  Keep warm in a towel-covered bowl or plate while you cook the remaining pancakes.  Serve hot.

Soy-ginger dipping sauce

3 tbsp. tamari or other soy sauce

2 tbsp. rice vinegar

2 tsp. brown sugar

1/2 tsp. finely grated, fresh gingerroot

Whisk all ingredients until sugar is dissolved.

Ersatz duck sauce

1/4 c. apricot preserves (look for one without high-fructose corn syrup)

2 tbsp. rice vinegar

1/4 tsp. finely grated, fresh gingerroot (or more, to taste)

Bring all ingredients to a boil in a small saucepan or microwave-safe bowl.  Whisk well and remove from heat.  Cool to room temperature.  (If your preserves are very chunky, you can puree your sauce for a smoother texture.)

I’ve made this enormous, easy, and addictive pickled salad twice already since the new year began, in an effort to make good on a resolution to eat fruits and vegetables at every meal.  It’s an old recipe of my grandmother’s that I remember fondly from my childhood, with just a few alterations (fresh green beans instead of canned, bell peppers in place of jarred pimentos).  We like it for lunch, with just about any kind of sandwich.

Overnight vegetable salad

Yield:  A week’s worth, for at least two people

1 lb. green beans, trimmed and cut into bite-sized pieces

2 c. frozen peas

2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels

1 red bell pepper,  diced

1 green bell pepper, diced

1 sweet onion, diced

2 stalks celery, diced

1-2 jalepenos, seeded and finely diced

1 15-oz. can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

3/4 c. white or apple cider vinegar

1/2 c. granulated sugar

1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1/2 tsp. paprika

Salt and freshly ground, black pepper, to taste

Blanch green beans in boiling, salted water until just tender, 3-4 minutes.  Meanwhile, measure peas and corn into a colander set in the sink.  Drain green beans into colander with peas and corn.  Rinse with cold running water to stop cooking.  Drain well.

Combine all vegetables and kidney beans in a large mixing bowl.  In a separate bowl, whisk together vinegar, sugar, oil, and paprika until sugar dissolves.  Pour dressing over vegetables, tossing to coat.  Season with salt and pepper, to taste.  Cover and refrigerate at least 24 hours, stirring occasionally.

If you’re feeding a family of four or more and don’t have at least one recipe in your arsenal that begins, “Open a can of…” let’s face it:  you’re sunk.  This particularly can-tastic soup is one of my favorites.  It’s quickly and easily made with ingredients that are already in my pantry, and I actually prefer its simple flavors and creamy texture to other, more complicated black bean soups I’ve cooked in the past.  We like it with a spoonful of sour cream or plain yogurt (for a dairy- and soy-free option, try the coconut “nogurt”  recipe, below) and sweet potato quesadillas on the side.

Easy black bean soup

Yield:  Makes about 10 cups, serving 6

2 tbsp. olive oil

1 large yellow onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp. finely chopped, fresh thyme leaves (or 1 1/2 tsp. dried)

2 tsp. ground cumin

1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes

3 15-oz. cans black beans, rinsed and drained

1 qt. chicken or vegetable stock (boxed or canned broth is fine)

1 tsp. Tabasco sauce

Salt, to taste

Warm a large pot or dutch oven over medium heat.  Drizzle in oil, then add onions.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until onions are very soft and tender, about 8 minutes.  Stir in garlic, thyme, and cumin and cook 2 minutes more.  Add tomatoes with their juice, beans, stock, and Tabasco*.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer soup until slightly thickened, about 20 minutes.

Ladle about 1/3 of soup into a blender or food processor and puree until smooth.  Stir puree back into pot.  Season with salt as needed.

* Our kids are not big on spicy food, so I don’t add the Tabasco to the whole pot.  Instead, I add a dash or two to the grown-ups’ bowls just before serving.

Coconut “nogurt”

Creamy and tangy, a little like sour cream and a little like yogurt, I use it as a dairy- and soy-free substitute for yogurt, sour cream, and buttermilk in cooking.

Yield:  2 cups

1 15-oz can lite coconut milk

1 1/2 tbsp. fresh lemon or lime juice (from about 1/2 lemon or 1 lime)

5 tsp. cornstarch

4 tsp. granulated sugar

Whisk ingredients together in a small saucepan until well-blended.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, whisking frequently to prevent lumps.  Let cook about 1 minute, until thick and glossy.  Transfer to a pint container and press a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper over the surface of the nogurt (to prevent a skin from forming).  Let cool at room temperature until lukewarm, then refrigerate until cold.  Nogurt will thicken as it cools.  Stir well before serving.