Tomato Salad With Cilantro Pesto and Spiced Pumpkin Seeds

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It is a little early for tomatoes in my neck of the woods but with a little luck, I will be making this salad very soon. Actually, I eat this all year round, but it is better when tomatoes are seasonally at their peak!

In this recipe, tomatoes are paired with a cilantro pesto, avocados, chipotle seasoned roasted pumpkin seeds, and vegan cheese. This salad is a bit of a twist on the Italian caprese salad.  

I might have a thing for smoked paprika. It was a key ingredient in my last post for quesadillas, and here I am using it again to add a kick to the pumpkin seeds. This salad is absolutely delicious by the way, with its really interesting textures and flavours! It is one of the simplest salads to prepare and makes a lovely summertime starter or light lunch. It would also be a great salad to bring to potlucks and picnics.  

To make this salad for 4-6 people (as a side), you will need:

  • 1-2 lbs. fresh tomatoes, any kind (I used an ensemble of cherry tomatoes for colour and effect)
  • 1 bunch fresh cilantro pesto (recipe follows)
  • 1 fresh, ripe avocado
  • Spicy pumpkin seeds (recipe follows)
  • Vegan cheese (optional)

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FOR THE SPICY PUMPKIN SEEDS

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup raw pumpkin seeds
  • 2 tsp. maple syrup
  • 1/2 tsp. cumin powder
  • 1/4. tsp. salt
  • dash chipotle powder or chili powder

DIRECTIONS

Preheat the oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with tin foil and set aside. Place the pumpkin seeds in a bowl with the other ingredients and toss thoroughly to coat the seeds well. Spoon the coated seeds onto the foil lined baking sheet and spread out as best you can in a single layer. I use an offset spatula for this. 

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Bake for 6-7 minutes – until lighty browned. Let the pumpkin seeds cool undisturbed on the baking sheet for a few minutes and then gently stir to separate any clumps. Cool completely and store in a covered container. I haven’t found it necessary to refrigerate these – they keep well in the cupboard for several weeks. They will, however, clump together on standing but I find that gently tapping the container a few times will loosen them. Or, dump the whole mess onto a plate and gently massage it with you fingers to loosen, It isn’t necessary to remove all of the clumps – a few seeds stuck together here and there is not a problem. (These roasted pumpkin seeds make quite an addictive snack all on their own, and for that reason, I usually make extra!)

FOR THE CILANTRO PESTO

This pesto is vibrantly fresh tasting! It is just like an Italian pesto in texture but the cilantro really changes the flavor. This pesto would actually make great spread to put on toast, or as a condiment on my quinoa burgers too.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 bunch cilantro, stems and leaves
  • 1/4 cup walnuts or pine nuts
  • 2 limes, juiced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and halved
  • 1/2 small Serrano chilli, seeded
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

DIRECTIONS

Wash the cilantro well and slice the entire bunch into thirds, including the stems.  Place all of it in a high-speed blender or food processor (I used a Vitamix). Add the nuts, lime juice, garlic, chilli and salt, and lightly pulse the mixture a few times just to break it down. Then put the blender on high-speed and continue blending until the nuts and garlic are well chopped and the mixture is is the consistency of pesto. In the VitaMix, this takes less than 20 seconds! The pesto does not have to be completely smooth.  

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If the pesto is too thick, you can thin with a little water or more lime juice, and if it is too thin, add a few more nuts and blend again. The pesto will release a bit of juice after blending due to the lack of oil or fat, which would emulsify the ingredients. If that happens to you, just stir the pesto before using, or drain the juices away – we’re only talking about a tablespoon, or less, of liquid. 

ASSEMBLING THE SALAD

Slice the tomatoes and set aside. Chop the avocado and set aside. You can slice any amount of tomatoes – use a few more if you are feeding a larger crowd. You will not have to increase the amount of pesto, cheese or pumpkin seeds if you do, since they are really garnishes anyway.  

When ready to serve, dollop the cilantro pesto randomly over the serving platter. Scatter the tomatoes on top of the serving dish, allowing some to fall on top of the pesto. Sprinkle  the tomatoes with with roasted pumpkin seeds, diced avocado and crumbled vegan cheese, if using. (I have linked a really quick and uncomplicated recipe for vegan cheese here but you can omit the cheese if you want). I would encourage you to try the recipe and add it though. The cheese really adds to the flavour and appearance of the salad. 

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Notes: If you omit the pumpkin seeds, this tomato salad is completely raw. 

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Crispy Roasted Red Pepper and Chickpea Quesadillas

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Dairy-free, oil-free, nourishing and super delicious, these quesadillas are quick to make and satisfying for snacking, lunch or dinner. This is a great recipe for entertaining too because all of the components can be made ahead and stored in containers in the refrigerator. Assembling and cooking the quesadillas when you’re ready to eat takes only minutes! Your guests won’t have time to miss you. 

Smoked paprika adds an unusual but rich layer of earthiness to the chickpeas and roasted red peppers and the filling blends beautifully with the typical line-up of condiments, including vegan sour cream and salsa. Seriously, these are quite sophisticated – but without any of the fuss.  And if you wanted to use a different type of bean instead of chickpeas, the recipe would work just fine.  I wanted to add guacamole to compliment the whole ensemble but I didn’t have any avocados when I decided to make these. To be honest, I didn’t miss the guacamole but if I were making them again I would be sure to whip some up to serve along side the vegan sour cream and salsa.  

Increase the amounts below if you want to serve a crowd. If you want to make these the day of serving the quesadillas can be filled and refrigerated for a few hours ahead of time until you’re ready to heat them up and serve.   

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 15-oz. can chickpeas, well rinsed, or 1½ cups cooked chickpeas
  • Zest from1 lemon; and,
  • 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tsp. smoked paprika
  • ½ tsp. garlic powder
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • ½ tsp. prepared mustard (wet, any kind)
  • 100g roasted red peppers, fresh or jarred (not oil-packed)
  • 1⁄2 a bunch of fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
  • 4 10-inch tortillas (for gluten intolerances you can use corn or GF tortillas)

DIRECTIONS

Pulse the drained and rinsed chickpeas 5-6 times in a food processor just to break them up a little. You want a chunky texture. Dump the pulsed beans into a bowl. Coarsely slice the roasted red peppers and add them to the beans with the dried spices, lemon zest and lemon juice. Stir in the chopped cilantro. Taste and adjust the seasonings – sometimes I like to add a little salt and extra lemon juice.

Yields enough filling for 2, 10-inch quesadillas

Assembling and Cooking the Quesadillas

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Preheat a non-stick frying pan to medium-low. (You want these to heat slowly so that the filling gets hot before the tortilla shells become too dark or crisp).

Lay 1 tortilla on your work surface and spoon ½ the filling on top. Spread the filling as evenly as you can, all the way to the edges. Transfer the tortilla to the pan and cover with another tortilla, gently pressing down on the surface.  Let the tortilla toast for a few minutes, until the tortilla is lightly browned and just beginning to crisp around the edges. Carefully flip the tortilla over to toast the other side. Remove and keep warm while you repeat the cooking process with the other tortilla. (You can cook both tortillas at the same time if you have 2 non-stick pans).

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When ready to eat, cut  each toasted tortilla into six wedges, as you would a pizza.

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Transfer cut quesadillas to a large platter and serve, with tomato salsa, Vegan Sour Cream, guacamole and extra limes. Yum!

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Yield: 2 10-inch quesadillas, each cut into 6 wedges